It’s Mr. December’s birthday today. He’s 43, which is 101011 in binary — Dad and I figured that out when it came time to put candles on the birthday cake (43 candles seemed excessive.) I used green candles to represent 0 and pink candles to represent 1; Mr. December understood it pretty much immediately. It’s possibly the nerdiest thing I’ve ever done with a birthday cake, right up there with making a cake that looked like a stack of poker chips that added up to 31.
I’d love to write a heartfelt tribute to him, but I don’t think I want to feed the ego; it’s plenty healthy. One of the most spot-on gifts he ever received was a t-shirt that said “Mr. Perfect” on it. He actually wore it in public many, many, many times.
I’ve got three gifts for him today. The first is a luxurious, plush terrycloth bathrobe to replace the one he’s been wearing every day for the past 11 years. The second is that I won’t cause him to wait up by writing this post late at night. And the third is that I’m going to get off the computer right now and spend time with my sweetheart while it’s just the two of us.
Today felt like a highlights reel of all the great things about homeschooling.
My morning started with K. At 9:15 the two of us snuggled on the couch while I worked with her on learning her torah reading and haftarah for her Bat Mitzvah. Then she went into the library to do her math, and Mr. December and I took a walk around the neighbourhood. Predictably, we talked about our plans for the kids, but the weather was perfect — not too hot — and it was nice to be together, just the two of us.
Back at home I suggested to E that we do some math together. I’m not going to repeat the conversation, but there was wailing and gnashing of teeth until I finally said, “Actually, we’re doing trampoline math today. Go get your shoes.” She was off like a shot.
What’s trampoline math, you ask? Or course you don’t know. I made it up this morning. First we did some mental addition and subtraction where I asked the question, and she figured out the answer and jumped that many times. Then I got her to practice writing her numbers by tracing a number of her choice and then getting up and jumping that number of times. E started making up her own addition questions and writing them out, and after half an hour of trampoline math she didn’t want to stop.
Meanwhile, K was doing math online with Khan Academy (which is an excellent resource and free, by the way). She hit a wall in her geometry book this week and we’d made very little progress since Monday, so yesterday we sat down and googled other ways for her to learn the concepts. We ended up at Khan Academy and K seemed to be able to focus and learn, so we decided to shelve the Kumon workbooks for now and have her do math online. When I came inside after trampoline math I went into the library to check on her. Lo and behold, she was still doing math two hours after she started (which is not unusual) and she had made good progress (which is extremely unusual.) What’s more, there were no tears and no yelling the entire time she was working. This might sound very banal to some of you, but seeing K working diligently without any issues is so unusual that I wanted to put it in sky writing.
The wonders didn’t cease there. After some lunch K turned her attention to writing. She didn’t get much down on paper but she was able to choose her topic and research the facts she needed; all of this was self-directed. I’m still floored.
There were more joyful moments: E read me Hop on Pop, but only after Mr. December started clowning around and reading it wrong. Later, we played a board game and I enjoyed watching E add up the numbers on the dice. Mr. December took a break around 3:00 and we biked out to drop off some food and a gift for my cousins who just had a baby. That was my workout and could have been K’s phys ed for the day if we had remembered to invite her along (oops.)
(Pro tip: if you’re bringing food to someone with a new baby, bring something that’s easy to eat one-handed. And err on the side of more food rather than less — nursing moms get hungry.)
I found the weirdest thing on Youtube today: a South African program for kids about different religions that was teaching kids about Pirkei Avot. The craft was making their own Torah scrolls out of paper and chopsticks. E was eager to do the craft, and ran around getting all the supplies before settling down to learn the art of Torah-making from a Black South African lady sitting in front of a huge cross. It was a bit odd to me, but the show was reasonably well done.
Instead of dinner, I doubled up my order of afternoon-tea-to-go so that half went to my cousins and half came home with us. We set it all up on the back porch; I brought out a basket of poetry books; and we had our inaugural “Poetry Teatime” (we got the idea from Julie Bogart’s book The Brave Learner.) In between the tiny sandwiches and scones with jam, we discovered a few new poets today and learned that (sadly) we’re not fans of Leonard Cohen’s poetry (anybody want a Leonard Cohen poetry book? Free to a good home!)
See what I mean about today being a highlight reel? We had snuggling-on-the-couch learning, jumping-on-the-trampoline learning, self-directed learning, tea-party learning. I had time to go for a walk and a bike ride and to deliver food to some new parents, and all of these things flowed into one another in their own time. It was so relaxing that I completely forgot about how I promised my friend that I’d do something for myself today, like bike to a café with a patio and have a meal without people needing anything from me. With days like these, who needs a break?
This morning when I woke up, I rolled towards Mr. December. That’s not odd in and of itself, but I hadn’t intended to roll that way — there was a huge depression in our mattress. When we finally made it out of the mattress (gravity is not your friend when you’re in a valley, it seems) we took it off the bed and saw this:
Looks like we broke the bed.
(Cue raunchy jokes here. Go ahead, I’ll wait.)
It absolutely should not have broken. We bought it new less than two years ago and have only ever used it for its intended purposes. On closer examination, however, I noticed that IKEA saved money by using finger-jointed pine slats instead of solid wood. Sure enough, the boards were broken neatly right at the finger joints. Not smart, IKEA. Not smart.
I tried to leave a review on their website to alert IKEA to this problem, but one technical glitch after another meant that their website categorically refused to accept my review. I wonder if that’s a bug, or a feature?
Anyhow, we clearly had to fix it today… which was fun, actually, because fixing it meant buying new boards, which meant going to Lowe’s, which is my happy place. And I biked, which is my favourite form of transportation. I hopped on the bakfiets with E, who wanted to come along for the ride, and we headed out along the trail (there’s a trail that starts a few blocks away and goes straight to Lowe’s without crossing any major streets.)
I can’t believe I didn’t take a picture of the lumber and E sharing space in the bike. But I did snap this quick and blurry photo of her riding on the cart at Lowe’s, after we had the boards cut. She was very helpful, actually — if she wants an apprenticeship, she’s hired.
Back at home, it was a pretty quick fix. I removed the old slats (keeping two of them, one for each end) and laid the new, wide, solid wood ones on the rails. To keep them in place and distribute the force more evenly I created floating joists by screwing the boards to a 2×2 that ran up the length of the bed. I left the ends of the floating joist a bit long, so that they slipped under the bed frame, and added an extra floating joist around the middle of the bed (a.k.a. the “bouncy zone”) for extra strength.
Here are a few closeups of the newly repaired mattress support:
I think this repair is solid enough to withstand any and all “intended uses.” And now that my bed is ready for me, I’m going to get reacquainted with it. Good night!
Mr. December and I went on a date this afternoon — the first one since we saw Hamilton on March 7. Lunch out on a nearly-empty patio, with sangria no less, was just what I needed today. That Mr. December is so dreamy. I hope he asks me out again.
E and R have gone to my in-laws’ house for a few days. I miss them already. Having just the two older kids has its perks, though; we just watched Robin Hood: Men in Tights with them. N was especially tickled. The good news is that they’re so deliciously naive that all of the inappropriate jokes went right over their heads. It’s like that time I had a sleepover for my tenth birthday and my mom let us watch Dirty Dancing; later she apologized to the other parents and admitted that she had only remembered the dancing and had forgotten about the “dirty”. It was fine, though — only years later did I actually clue in to the abortion-gone-wrong subplot.
It’s apparently a long weekend. I had no plans beyond today’s date with Mr. D, but I assume there will be lots of snuggling with N, as long as he remembers to brush his teeth and take baths (R is right, boys are kinda gross.)
And in exciting news (well, exciting to me,) E has a new friend, a girl her age who lives on our block. When K met her bestie who lived on our street her world opened up and she gained a lot of freedom; R has a friend who lives just up the street, and she loves being able to go over by herself; N’s friend from school lives just a few blocks away and the boys are allowed to go back and forth by themselves, which means they can play anytime without parents having to be available to drive. I’m so glad that E now has a local friend. They’re little now, but before we know it they’ll be out and about in the neighbourhood together, popping in for a freezie or a glass of water.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about taking time for myself. Homeschooling during COVID (i.e. can’t really go anywhere or do anything) is a recipe for burnout if I don’t take a break. The thing is, I’m not sure what that break would look like. I mentioned it to Mr. December and he informed me that a break looks just like what I’m doing now.
“Your blog is time just for you,” He pointed out. “Why else are you doing it? Who else is it for?”
Hmmm. It’s true that I blog because I want to, but it still doesn’t feel like rest and relaxation to me. I suppose that it’s time just for me in the same way that quilting was, once upon a time. But it’s not the kind of “me time” I’m thinking of. So what is?
The reality right now is that I just want some quiet. I need everyone to stop talking at me for just a few minutes… ok, fine. A few hours. My ADHD is not the reason why I can’t finish sentences or remember what I was doing. Those problems are caused by moments like this:
I’m talking to Mr. December: “So the home insurance quote came in and it looks wrong to me. I’m wondering if they know –“
“HUG ATTACK!” N launches himself at my midsection and squeezes me like he’s a python.
“Right,” I plow on ahead, patting N on the back as I talk. “As I was saying, they have the alarm on there but they’re ignoring the –“
“UNDERBELLY ALERT!” E sashays into the kitchen holding her shirt up, inviting Mr. December to nibble her belly.
“Not now, E,” he says. “Go ahead, honey.”
“EEMAAAAA!!! I thought you said you’d get me some oatmeal!”
“IN A SECOND!” I call back. Then to Mr. December, “What was I saying?”
“Somebody’s ignoring something,” he supplies.
“You mean our children are ignoring everything we ever taught them about interr–“
“You guys, there’s food stuck in my expander and it’s driving me crazy! Have you seen the syringe?”
I grit my teeth. “Sweetheart, can I see you in my office for a minute?” Without waiting for an answer I pull him into our tiny pantry and slide the door shut. The kids are giggling on the other side. We look at each other, giggle, and kiss. The kids, hearing silence, try to peek into the pantry. I hear R say, “Ew. Gross. They’re kissing. Let’s go play.”
Now, what was I saying? Who knows? This is exactly the reason why I long for the time, space, and silence to think my thoughts from start to finish. The only reason I’ve got this post done tonight is that the kids are playing a computer game with Mr. December and I’m alone on the back porch. Sweet, sweet solitude.
And now I can hear the door opening. A tiny voice wafts out, “Eeema! I’m baack! And I’m hungry!”
I’ve heard from a few sources that we should take the time to “deschool” our kids and ourselves before we begin homeschooling in earnest. We’ve read many articles and looked at the reasoning, and I have to say that I’m not sure I see it. Not for three of our kids, for sure.
In part, the concept of deschooling relies on the assumption that our kids (and we, but let’s focus on the kids for now) have been indoctrinated by the school system and will need time to “deprogram” and to understand that learning doesn’t have to happen in a classroom, with the learning schedule dictated by bells and a calendar. Fair enough. I would contend, however, that our kids were never really indoctrinated in the first place.
Take N, for example: at parent-teacher interviews we were told that he wouldn’t move on from one thing to the next until he was fully ready to do so. “He’s never rude about it,” his teacher said, “but when I say ‘hey N, it’s time to put away Math and take out Language Arts,’ he’ll say, ‘Okay’ and then keep on working on his math until he’s done.”
Mr. December thinks that the whole concept of deschooling relies on a straw man version of conventional school. To that I say, “Remember K and her jacket?”
One day last winter, the principal called me to say that she was having a problem with K not wearing her jacket down to the lunchroom; apparently the kids weren’t allowed to go back upstairs after eating lunch because there was nobody to supervise that process. The principal was at her wits’ end and wanted to know if I could help her deal with it. I was polite and supportive of the school, and since I’m in favour of natural consequences, I suggested that K should just go outside without her jacket. At the end of recess the principal saw K wearing her jacket, so it would appear that K sneaked upstairs and got her jacket before going out.
Part of me felt I should support the rules of the school and tell K off for doing what she did. The other (bigger) part of me agreed completely with K. Who wants to eat lunch while wearing a winter jacket indoors? And how ridiculous is it to tell a twelve-year-old that they are too irresponsible to retrieve their own jacket without an adult watching? Furthermore, I was impressed that instead of being confrontational and belligerent (as she so often is), K solved her problem quietly and without fanfare.
As for me, I definitely don’t think that learning needs to happen at school. I’m a fan of Mark Twain’s Grant Allen’s statement, “I never let my schooling interfere with my education.” I’m also not sure what most people retain from elementary school, besides the mechanics of writing (I would hope) and math.
If anybody here needs deschooling it’s Mr. December, who believes that everything should be measured and learning doesn’t count if you haven’t produced something from it. According to most homeschoolers, you need about a month of deschooling for every year your child was in school. So for Mr. December… hmm… elementary school plus middle and high schools… undergrad… masters degree… carry the one… it looks like he would need about 20 months of deschooling. And who has that kind of time?
Three years ago Mr. December and I signed a contract with a builder to completely gut, renovate, and add on to our home. We had done all the due diligence: checked references, compared pricing and contract types, and planned for several years. Still, after we had signed the contract and drunk a toast (the architect brought champagne), everyone went home and I felt a sinking sensation in my chest. I turned to Mr. December and asked,
“What have we done?”
Sixteen years ago, the night before our wedding, I was suddenly anxious. Holy cow, I thought, this is big. This is for life. Am I ready for this? After dating for eight years I was more than ready, but that evening I was very, very nervous.
After a fabulous wedding and honeymoon we came back home to his our apartment. I moved my stuff in. We went to IKEA, came home, and assembled everything together. It was exactly what I had wanted. But one afternoon I just had a hollow feeling in my chest, and I started to cry.
What have I done? I asked myself.
“What’s wrong?” Mr. December asked.
“I just… I just realized that I miss my mom,” I sobbed. “I miss being in my parents’ house. Playing house here is nice, but I don’t think I’m ready for this. I wanna go home!”
Mr. December, bless his unflappable soul, just hugged me and said, “So spend tomorrow at your parents’ house.”
I did; Then I came home to our apartment and everything felt fine.
This morning we booked a cottage rental for the whole month of September. We’ve adopted a system for large transactions: one of us does the research and makes the arrangements, and the other presses the final “confirm” button to make it happen. It’s a way to take shared responsibility for the outcome (and shared blame in case things don’t go well.) I’m generally the planner; This time I spent at least a month combing through possible cottages, creating spreadsheets and rubrics to weigh their pros and cons. Mr. December and I huddled together at my desk to decide between the two finalists.
“You know,” he pointed out, “Committing to this is basically a commitment to homeschool the kids. It makes no sense to go away for all of September if we want them in school. Are you okay with that?” I thought for a moment, then nodded resolutely.
“Okay,” he said. “Here goes.” He clicked “reserve”… and that was it. Transaction approved, reservations confirmed. Mr. December went back downstairs to get some work done and as I sat at my computer, staring at the screen, I felt the anxiety settle in my chest.
What have we done?
Later I confessed to Mr. December, “I feel like we made the wrong choice. I’ve been feeling anxious ever since we booked the cottage.”
“Me too,” he admitted. “It’s a normal reaction to making a big decision.”
He’s right: it is. So right now I’m listening to my inner voice as it freaks out and tells me that I’ll never have a day alone in a quiet house again; I’m doomed to spend the next year fighting with my kids over things like punctuation; and we’ve clearly done the wrong thing. I’m listening to that voice, and I’m taking a deep breath and thinking, It’s okay. It’s normal to feel this way. We’ll take it as it comes. We’ve planned for this. We’ll be okay.
So that’s it. We’re embarking on a new adventure. We’re homeschooling (and Mr. December is working remotely,) which means we can be pretty much anywhere (COVID permitting): the cottage, Barbados, Israel… anywhere. This feels huge. Epic. Amazing.
At the top of the stairs, if you look behind you and to the left, there’s a door painted in blue. That’s my bedroom (okay, fine. I share it with Mr. December.)
N made the “knock first, then wait for an answer” sign for me. I’d love to have a prettier sign that says the same thing, but, in a prime example of the constant tension between aesthetics and parenting, I decided to honour N’s effort and thoughtfulness by using the sign he made.
Let’s open the door…
Let’s start with the windows. They’re high enough that all we can see is trees and the sky. The walls are white, and the ceiling and trim are my favourite Benjamin Moore paint colour, Windmill Wings.
(Is it weird to have a favourite paint colour? I’ve loved this one since 2003 — my old bathroom at my parents’ house was painted this colour as well.)
The ceiling light is from IKEA, and fulfils Mr. December’s major requirement of being very bright but very diffuse: you can lie on your back facing the fixture and still not get spots in front of your eyes when you look away.
The bed is from IKEA too, as are the side tables. I’m building the headboard myself, with the side tables and reading lamps attached, so that we don’t have things falling down behind the bedside tables all the time. My plan is to clad the front of the headboard with distressed, whitish-bluish wood boards; we’ll see how that pans out. Right now it’s way down on my list of priorities.
The curtains, however, were a high priority; Mr. December was hesitant to have so many east-facing windows in our bedroom and only agreed to them after I promised that we’d have some kind of complete blackout treatment for them. They’re full-length, lined with blackout fabric, and wide enough to overlap with each other. They also happen to include the colour of our trim (which is hard to match, as it has a touch of violet that other light blues don’t.)
There’s a small nook on my side of the room that I call my treehouse. It looks out into the big old Douglas fir tree outside. I’ve hung my own hammock chair here, and it’s my quiet space to sit and chat on the phone with friends. The reading light in the nook is my favourite light fixture in the house; K has cleverly named it “Dimwit.” Beside Dimwit I’ve hung my favourite photo of the two of us, taken twenty years ago at Half Moon Bay, California.
At the foot of our bed we’ve hung our Ketubah (Jewish marriage contract.) Mr. December had it custom-made for us. I only noticed after we hung it up that it matches our ceiling perfectly and echoes the trees outside. We couldn’t have known that sixteen years ago, and we didn’t even think about the ketubah when we designed this room. There’s something to be said for designing your house to your specifications: in the end, everything (even the things you owned before) just fits.
Just to the left of our ketubah is the doorway to our walk-in closet. My goal was to keep all of our clothes in one well-organized place. I could have gone with an expensive custom closet place, but why bother? I went to IKEA, which (aside from looking really darned good and being completely modular) allows me to go back later to get new components or storage trays and boxes with the assurance that everything will fit perfectly.
See the mirrors in the two pictures on the right? Another example of my reluctance to waste a single square inch — they conceal shallow cabinets inside the wall, and when I open them they create a 3-way mirror so that I can see all of myself at once (above, last picture on the right).
And now, my favourite part… the bathroom.
Some people find ocean views relaxing; for me, a view of a forest with a lake makes me feel good whenever I see it. The image is a wallpaper mural, laminated to be waterproof, spanning the entire wall (Mr. December and I installed it ourselves.) The floor is the same Scotia slate flagstone that we used in the front hallway and by the back door.
On your left when you enter the bathroom is our double vanity. This was one of my builds, my second-proudest moment after the herringbone shelves in the living room. I wasn’t originally planning to build my own vanity, but after my architect refused to give me three extra inches in that room, I couldn’t get a ready-made vanity to fit the space. After seeing the cost of a custom vanity and scoffing (“It’s a box! I can build a box!”) I decided to do it myself.
The toilet is behind the half wall, which (predictably) contains a few in-wall cabinets that house toilet paper and books. To the right of the toilet is the shower.
I wanted it to feel like we were showering outside; the floor is teak, which is never too cold on the feet and keeps the feet out of standing water. To keep costs down, I bought a ready-made teak mat and just trimmed the sides a bit. In case you’re wondering, it’s been nearly two years of daily use and the mat still looks good, although it’s probably due for a new coat of teak oil.
I flirted with the idea of using outdoor siding as the shower walls, but I couldn’t find anyone who had done it and had suggestions, and the manufacturer didn’t recommend it (probably because it never occurred to them.) In the meantime, I found these tiles and decided that they would provide the desired effect.
Finally, we have the bathtub. I don’t use it often, but for the ten times a year that I want a bath, I really don’t want to use the one in the kids’ bathroom. Our tub is contoured like a chaise, and surrounded by teak decking that echoes the shower floor and the countertop. I also installed a reading light on a dimmer switch so that I can enjoy my bath in a darkened room while still being able to see my book. There’s a skylight over the tub too — although in hindsight I would have put it over the shower, which we use far more frequently.
So that’s it — my sanctuary. A ceiling the colour of a perfect sky, trees all around, the warmth of natural materials, and a place for everything. I love it here.
Today is our sixteenth wedding anniversary, although I’ve known Mr. December for 25 years and we’ve been a couple for 23 of those. This was us perhaps two years into our relationship.
I’ve always known we would get married. I don’t know how I knew; let’s call it a flash of intuition. There was no way I could have known, the first time I saw him, that he was my other half.
Where I’m a writer, he’s fluent in math and numbers. I’m spontaneous; he’s a planner. I’m creative and handy, and he’s analytical. Even though we were both music majors in high school, our musical skills were complete opposites. He could sightread music very, very well but struggled when it came to ear training; I learned music very quickly by ear and aced every ear-training or dictation test, but had to work very hard at sightreading.
With our children, I excelled with babies and toddlers (which he decisively did not,) but with school-age kids he was (and is) a superstar. I fill our home with creativity and beauty while he creates structure. I love highway driving; he dislikes driving in general.
When we built our house, I did the creative design and chose finishing materials while Mr. December was delving into the technical specs of different kinds of insulation and cladding. We often played good cop/bad cop. Sometimes we still do.
More than once or twice, complete strangers have told us that we’re obviously a good team.
When we fight it’s doubly painful: not only am I fighting with my husband, but I can’t talk it over with my closest confidant, because he’s both of those things. We’ve weathered grief and frustration and illness together, and we’ve been blessed with tremendous sources of joy and comfort. We are tremendously fortunate and privileged.
It’s a bit of a running joke that I was certain of our future together long before he even asked me out. I once told him, “[girlfriend at the time] isn’t good for you. You deserve better — you deserve me.”
He looked at me regretfully and said, “But I love [girlfriend] and she’s the one I’m going to marry.”
“Over my dead body,” I muttered resolutely.
Eight years after that conversation, as we walked back up the aisle after the Chuppah (the Jewish wedding ceremony,) I looked at Mr. December, kissed him, and said, “I told you so.”
I still don’t understand how I could have known, but am I ever glad I did.
It was a beautiful day today. Not too hot, not too cold — just right for wearing a comfy old hoodie in the shade. I knocked a few items off my honey-do list early, went for a solo bike ride, and snuggled my kids. Life is good.
The same way my Mum feels instantly happy near a large body of water (especially the ocean), I feel an instant sense of contentment wash over me when I’m in a forest (although a nice lake doesn’t hurt either.) Lying on my back looking up, seeing nothing but trees, always feels like a gift. Being able to live in a home that’s surrounded by trees is a privilege I wouldn’t give up easily.
This afternoon I lay on the trampoline and looked up at the sky;
At dinnertime I enjoyed this view from our back patio.
Mr. December and I went for a walk this evening. Both K and N declined to join us. I was sorely tempted to find an ice cream truck, buy a huge treat, and walk into the house with it while saying, “Oh man, it’s too bad you weren’t there with us!” Then again, we had a nice peaceful walk and intelligent adult conversation, so it probably is for the best that they didn’t join in. A long walk together is as close as we’ve gotten to a date night in months.
Arriving home, I felt a rush of satisfaction when I saw our house. It’s blue… it’s pretty… and it’s ours. This view never gets old.