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.

Camping it up · family fun · Independence · Kids · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 430: Undirected

You know, you can hold your breath and turn blue, or nag them for hours, and my kids still won’t have cleared the table; they’ll just bicker forever about who swept up more Rice Krispies or who unloaded the dishwasher last time and nothing will get done.

So it’s reassuring to know that the kids can formulate a plan, take action, and work together to achieve their goal. I mean, of course they can, because that’s what’s involved in building a couch fort; but somehow I’m always surprised that they can get it together to do anything.

Right now they’re carrying a tent as if it’s a chuppah, each kid holding a tent pole where it attaches to the corner. They have no choice but to work together and listen to instructions, seeing as they have to all move in the same direction or risk damaging the tent.

R and K have been asking us to let them sleep outdoors.

“We’ll sleep on the low wooden deck near the tree swing,” they told me.

“You’ll have to move the big pile of sticks off it and rinse the platform first,” I told them.

They went out and followed my instructions to the letter. Soon they were back saying, “There are bugs out there and we need to put something over us to keep them out. Like a tarp. Or some kind of net.”

“Or maybe a tent?” I asked pointedly. “We do have one.”

While retrieving the tent, K and I noticed the air mattress in its bag. K instantly decided it was also necessary.

I’m very happy that my desk is next to a huge window that overlooks the whole backyard, because this was fun to watch. The kids put up the tent with some basic instruction from Mr. December. Then they inflated the queen-size air mattress. And then they tried to put the mattress inside the tent. Now that’s entertainment.

Image description: After many failed attempts (first three pics) at getting the mattress through the tent door, they carried the tent and mattress back to the house (fourth pic).

I’m too impatient for my own good. After watching them for only a few minutes, I cranked the window open and told them to inflate the mattress when it’s already inside the tent. I should have watched to see how long it would take them to figure it out. I guess it’s not their fault: their dad is an engineer, and their grandfather is an engineer, and I believe it’s an engineering maxim that says, “If brute force isn’t working, you’re not using enough,” so they come by it honestly.

I just love watching kids—especially mine, but others too—play and work without adult direction. It gives me faith that one day they’ll be fully functioning adults.

family fun · Fibro Flares · Independence · Kids

Day 389: Nothing humble about this brag.

Today the kids made 130 sandwiches for Ve’ahavta to distribute from their street outreach van. I tried to step back and let them take the lead, ostensibly because I want them to learn how to organize this kind of endeavour, but mostly because I’m still trying not to overdo things.

I was especially proud of R, who ran the multi-step vegetarian-taco-wrap assembly line. She was pitching in wherever it was needed, moving things along, and telling the others when they should take a five-minute break to give everyone else time to clear the backlogs.

On the way to drop off the sandwiches I told the kids that I’m proud of them for doing the sandwiches. They rejected my praise, pointing out, “Eema, you made us do it. You signed us up and told us we had to.”

“Well, yes,” I said, “That’s true. But Judaism is about action, not faith. Our sages said it was better to do the right thing for the wrong reasons than the wrong thing for the right reasons. It’s results and outcomes that matter most, and you guys absolutely produced results. So I’m proud, and you should be too.”

Back at home, the kids continued to be useful (at our insistence, of course. This isn’t some parenting utopia.) Mr. December taught K how to use the reciprocating saw to cut up the branches that we pruned off the plum tree last weekend. She got a real kick out of it and made a decent-sized dent in the pile of branches.

I roped N into sanding our patio table, which is in desperate need of restaining. Armed with anti-vibration gloves, the Mouse sander, and an extension cord, he went to work at it. Five minutes later he was back inside. “I’m done,” he said.

“No you’re not,” I said, “You didn’t even sand half the table. And you’ve only worked for five minutes! That’s not what we call work! Get back out there. I’ll come out and keep you company.” He reluctantly returned to his job.

Three or four times he declared his intention to be done for the day; three or four times I pointed out that he was fully capable of finishing the job tonight. It ended up taking him maybe half an hour, tops.

In the meantime I assigned E the job of picking up garbage with one of those garbage grabbers. She found all sorts of lovely bits and pieces that must have blown into the backyard from our garbage cans on a windy night. Anyhow, she proudly presented me with a bag of trash when she was done.

Whatever concerns I may have about my kids, at least I can take pride in the fact that they’re capable of contributing real work to better our home and community. Now I just need them to heed me when I say it’s bedtime.

Fibro Flares · Independence · Keepin' it real · Kids

Day 387: Unneeded

I folded laundry this morning. It only came out of the dryer six days ago; I’m pretty proud that I did it in under a week.

Then I took a nap.

It’s the small victories, right?

I also managed to put in an online grocery order. Unfortunately my brain is still pretty foggy, so we might end up with a completely random assortment of foods that don’t combine into anything this family eats. Oh, the excitement! The anticipation! It’s like opening the front door in the middle of the day to find a box there: I’m ordering so many things constantly that I never know what I’m going to get when I open a package.

I've ordered so much stuff online during quarantine, don't even know what's  coming anymore. If UPS shows up with a llama tomorrow, it is what it is. -  America's best pics and
Image description: Yellow background with red text that reads “I’ve ordered so much stuff online during quarantine, I don’t even know what’s coming anymore. If UPS shows up with a llama tomorrow, it is what it is.”

Finishing the grocery order just about did me in, cognitively speaking, and an online choir rehearsal took me the rest of the way to “time to lie down now.”

Good think I’ve raised the kids to be fairly independent: they came to me this afternoon and said, “We’re going to the park. ‘Bye!” And off they went, all four of them. They stayed out for a couple of hours, and I rested.

There’s a common sentiment that it feels good to be needed. That’s generally true. But after thirteen years and three months of being needed almost non-stop (there was that one cruise Mr. December and I took) it’s a bit of a relief when they don’t need me for a change. Especially during a flare.

Fibro Flares · Homeschool · Independence · Keepin' it real · lists · mental health

Day 294: My day in Google searches

Lenovo usb-c monitor only works intermittently
It works beautifully, except when it doesn’t—which is every few days. Apparently it’s a common problem, although nobody mentioned it in the product reviews I read before I bought the darned thing.

“Morons of Peggy’s Cove”
We just learned about Peggy’s Cove, NS in geography. We were discussing the dangers of walking on the black rocks when I mentioned a Twitter account dedicated to shaming people who ignore the warnings. Naturally, the kids wanted to see it.

Unicorn Colouring Sheet
E regularly asks me to print colouring pages for her. The subject changes every so often: it used to be Paw Patrol, then Peppa Pig. Today it’s unicorns. E really is getting quite good at colouring inside the lines.

ADHD meds in non-pill form?
All I’m going to say here is, if ADHD meds are so commonly prescribed to kids, why has nobody come up with a liquid formulation that doesn’t taste absolutely awful? If Tylenol can do it, why can’t Concerta?

Teach beginning guitar
I’m cracking down this term and making sure that all of the kids are learning musical instruments. I gave R a free choice (of any instrument we own) and she opted for guitar. I can play guitar, but it doesn’t naturally follow that I know how best to teach it. Google to the rescue!

Good winter hikes near Toronto
I need to get all of us out of the house more often, and it seems the only way to ensure everyone’s participation is by taking them for a long(ish) drive to a hiking trail. If we try for a hike close to home (in the neighbourhood) the kids who don’t want to go will just turn around and walk home by themselves.

Seasonal affective disorder irritability
This would explain why I completely lost it and shouted at the kids several times today. It’s rough.

COVID numbers Ontario
We’re on week 3 of a “lockdown” and numbers are still rising. What gives?

COVID numbers Barbados
This was just wishful thinking. Mr. December thinks it would be fine to travel. I don’t. Did I mention the lockdown?

Is this a coup?
My cousin (who lives in Washington, DC) posted to reassure everyone that he and his family are safe, which led me to ask why they wouldn’t be, which led me to Google. Again. The USA is still a flaming dumpster fire. Maybe we should unplug them, wait ten seconds, and plug them back in?

education · family fun · Homeschool · Independence · Kids

Day 277: Break? What Break?

R is livid.

She said something about being on winter break this week and I said, “Break? What break?”

“You SAID we’d have a break! I NEED A BREAK!” she said as she stamped her foot.

I don’t know about the kids, but I need a break. I think this is the time when any teacher worth their salt pulls out the “edutainment”—movies, miniseries, that sort of thing. But I’m not willing to let us all descend into two weeks of the total anarchy that our weekends seem to bring.

Since some of you might be in a similar boat (we’re none of us going anywhere, am I right?) I give you my list of things I’ll be getting my kids to do for the next two weeks.

  1. Write a cookbook. The other kids can thank K for this one. The mission, should they choose to accept it, is to write five recipes, test-cook them, and add photographs. (I’m hoping to get some yummies out of this task.)
  2. Research potential travel destinations. Why should I have to do all the work? The kids are perfectly capable of googling information on any country we might visit.
  3. Map a travel route and include flight times. This is straight-up geography. If we want to see Thailand, New Zealand, Israel, and Iceland, what’s the most time-efficient way to do that?
  4. Create YouTube videos that teach kids how to do basic household tasks. Tell me if I’m wrong, but I’m assuming that those tasks would be getting done as part of the filming process, right? Sounds like a win to me. I hope they start with “How to change the toilet paper roll.”
  5. Go skating. It counts as phys. ed. And since our swimming classes were shut down due to COVID, the kids have had precious little exercise. Maybe a gym class intensive week is a good idea.
  6. Clean their rooms. Decluttering and organizing is a life skill they could all use more of.
  7. Read the newspaper and discuss. So many fascinating topics, and so little lesson planning for me.
  8. Music class intensive! How cool would it be to just spend all day every day teaching them how to play new instruments? I bed they’d make some real progress in two weeks.
  9. Reshelve all the books in our library. There’s a huge mountain of books on the floor of our library that seems to be overflow from two crates of books waiting to be shelved. The kids will learn about classifying books by subject, and there’s a chance they’ll find their next great read.
  10. Play the silent game. A classic. Whoever can be absolutely silent the longest wins my most heartfelt appreciation. Oh, and a brownie.