bikes planes and automobiles · family fun · Keepin' it real · Travelogue · whine and cheese

Day 580: Trip Day 1

It’s late at night, so I’m just writing a few lines and some point form notes so I remember what happened today.

  • Flight was delayed for an hour—which we spent sitting in the plane. Mr. December and I had the worst seats on the entire plane—back row, couldn’t recline AND slightly less legroom than the rest of economy class.
  • Shuttle to hotel fine, hotel great, remind me to tell you the story of its founder.
  • Woke up early this morning and met guide for walking tour. Visited parks, markets, pedestrian malls; saw an iguana sunning himself next to the “temple of music” in one park; took pictures in front of bronze angel wings that were a gift from Mexico. Tried ice cream from a vendor that’s been making it for like 100 years—delicious. Vanilla with cloves, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg… I loved it. E and N, not so much.
  • E ate next to nothing all day. At breakfast she tasted the bread (plain white bread! with butter!), the pineapple pudding, the granola cereal. She didn’t like any of it, so she didn’t eat.
  • On the walking tour we stopped at a fruit stand, bought a bunch of different local fruits. Our guide cut them up and we sat down and tasted everything. Except N who tasted nothing. Mr. December took him to a bakery and they came back with a loaf of—wait for it—white bread, which N shared with a ravenous E (to her credit, she did taste the fruit.)
  • All very tired. Back to hotel. Mr. December to his company’s San Jose office. “I’ll be back at 5-6” he said.
  • I took a nap. Kids watched Shrek 2, then played computer games. Went out briefly to convenience store for snacks, since Mr. D was due back in a couple of hours and we’d go to dinner together then.
  • Mr. D did not come back at 5. Texted me at 5:30 that he’d gone to get something to eat with coworkers. I was pretty miffed.
  • Kids were hangry; we went to the hotel restaurant. Pleasant surprise—menu full of things they’d actually eat (except for E, who ate fries and that was it.) Ordered Panko crusted chicken, steak, beef stir fry, chicken soup, tomato soup with grilled cheese. Chicken soup came with tiny pot of plain rice. E ate nothing, kept whining about how hungry she was.
  • Restaurant staff probly thought I was upset with them or the food. I kept looking around for Mr. D and putting my face in my hands in despair b/c E wouldn’t eat.
  • Mr. D arrived at 7:15. We went out to get E something to eat. Almost everything CLOSED. One bakery open. E didn’t want any of the savory options. Ended up with a donut. If we hadn’t suggested a donut she’d have gone hungry.
  • Back to hotel; packing up for tomorrow’s 6:30 departure to the coast. Trying not to be quite so annoyed with Mr. D, with mixed results. No idea what to do about E and food.

TL:DR—beautiful country, friendly people, great tour guide. Food excellent, esp rice and beans for breakfast. Fabulous coffee. Picky children. Tired me.

Keepin' it real · whine and cheese · Worldschooling

Day 577: Well, I tried.

I had such high hopes of packing light for this trip. At one point I even did a trial pack to prove that we could probably go with carry-ons only—which was a neat idea until Mr. December (the killjoy) pointed out that it would mean keeping track of twelve pieces of luggage (one carry-on suitcase and one personal item each.) That’s just too many pieces of luggage. I agreed that it might be better to take one large suitcase with everyone’s clothes in it, and have each person take care of their own personal item.

That was the first nail in the coffin of my aspirations. Then Mr. December decided we all needed hiking boots. Do you know how much space those things take up? I managed to convince R and K to wear their boots on the plane, and I’ll wear mine—but that still leaves three pairs of clunky boots that need to be packed. When I realized that, I brought a second large suitcase upstairs.

Another blow to my plans: the CPAP machines. Mr. December and I both have sleep apnea, so we have two CPAP machines—each of which takes up an eighth of a suitcase—to pack. I know there are tiny little machines for travel, but they’re expensive and we figured it wasn’t a big deal. I’m pretty annoyed that the case for my machine is so much bigger than the actual device. Maybe I should just bury it somewhere in the middle of all the clothes and forget about the special case. Then again, I can see the CPAP cases as placeholders for any stuff we pick up on our travels; on the way back we can take our CPAP cases onto the plane in addition to our carry-on and personal items, because they’re medical equipment. I guess that’s the silver lining.

We’re also packing almost two litres of maple syrup as gifts for Mr. December’s co-workers in the company’s Costa Rica office, as well as for anyone else we feel we should give a gift to. Fortunately it’s all in small bottles which just happen to fit perfectly into E’s and N’s hiking boots. And Mum, when you read this: of course I lined the boots with plastic bags. This isn’t my first travelling-with-liquids rodeo—I’ve brought more bottles of vanilla essence back from Barbados than I care to admit.

Runners-up in the “taking up space” category are sunscreen and bug spray. I burn—badly—and K has (localized) allergic reactions to mosquito bites, so we need quantities over and above what the average family might take. Even with our sun shirts and sun hats, I’m taking no chances with the sun at the equator. When the bug spray and sunscreen went into the suitcase it displaced an entire packing cube full of clothes; I had to bring up a small carry-on suitcase to accommodate the overflow.

In case you’re not keeping track, here’s our current luggage list: two large suitcases, two carry-on suitcases, four backpacks, and a guitar. I guess it’s an improvement over the twelve items we would have had before, but it feels to me like we’re in a bit of a no-man’s land where we haven’t packed light, but we’re still working with limited space. My dream is dead.

Also dead is the idea of buying myself a new Kobo before we travel. I checked online, and it seems they’re just about to bring out some new models; so either I can get a new model with a better display and audiobook compatibility, or I can pay less for the old models they’re trying to sell off. Either way, now is not the time to buy a Kobo. I do sometimes read on my phone, so I guess I’ll just do that when E is monopolizing my e-reader. Besides, “I can’t ever use my Kobo because my six-year-old won’t stop reading on it” has to be one of the best humblebrags ever.

The packing is almost done. Tomorrow I have to pack up everyone’s medication, finish packing my clothing that’s currently hanging to dry, fill out the health declaration form for Costa Rica, and then double- and triple-check everything. No big deal. I might even have time for a bike ride.

Image description: three pairs of hiking boots, identical except for their size and the colour of their shoelaces.
family fun · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Kids

Day 574: Field Trip!

09:25 “Hey everyone, we’re leaving in fifteen minutes! Be ready!”

09:40 We tell everyone it’s time to get in the car. Some people need to go pee before we leave—because somehow that wasn’t part of “getting ready”—and that takes another ten minutes because they all line up for the main floor powder room instead of taking off their shoes and running upstairs.

09:50 We’re finally in the car… but wait! “Oh, do we need masks?” one child asks. We go get masks.

09:55 I turn on a Freakonomics Radio podcast. Traffic isn’t too bad.

10:10 R pipes up, “Were we supposed to bring masks?” Everyone groans. Mr. December launches into his “you need to be responsible for your own stuff and yes, you should always have a mask with you” spiel. We find R an extra mask.

10:13 We burst into MEC like a SWAT team. Or maybe we tumble into MEC like a landslide—I don’t know. “Footwear is upstairs,” I say, and we head in that direction like a six-headed, twelve-footed monster.

10:15 The shoe department is completely empty. When we announce that all six of us need hiking boots, the associate looks flustered. Mr. December suggests, “Maybe you could call another associate to help too, then we could do this in parallel.” “Oh, yeah. Good idea,” the guy says. A second associate arrives moments later and we begin the process of trying on boots.

10:35 Mr. December has chosen his boots. So have K and R. N, E, and I are not as lucky—so far I’ve tried about six different boots and found none of them comfortable. There isn’t much available in E’s size, so I reassure her that we can look for her boots somewhere else. N is covetously eyeing K’s and R’s boots.

10:55 I’m still trying to find a shoe that fits. Meanwhile, N and E have decided to get the same model of boots as K and R; looks like I’ll be buying colour-coded shoelaces to tell them apart (at least for the older three.) Mr. December takes the kids to choose some good Merino wool hiking socks.

11:05 Oh, for crying out loud… I’m still trying shoes. I’m down to two pairs now. Mr. December and the kids go off to find sunscreen and bug spray.

11:15 For better or for worse, I’ve chosen my hiking boots. Now it’s time for socks. Mr. December takes E to the bathroom.

11:20 Mr. December catches up to us on our way to the cash. “Where’s E?” I ask. Mr. December looks around and says, “I’ll be right back.”

11:35 All six of us are back in the car. The podcast comes on again. Good thing, because…

11:38 We’re in line to turn left onto Bayview Ave. It’s a long line, and the drivers are acting like they’ve never seen a left turn arrow before.

11:43 Still waiting to turn left. I hate Toronto traffic.

11:48 We finally get through the light. As I approach the on-ramp, I can see that traffic is moving nicely on the 401.

11:41 Traffic is not moving nicely on the 401. It was an illusion.

11:50 At least the podcast is interesting and educational… and long.

12:00 We arrive at home. The podcast is still not over. The kids take everything into the house without being asked.

12:02 Still sitting in the car, Mr. December and I look at each other. Wordlessly, we decide to call off school for the rest of the day.

Class dismissed.

blogging · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · lists · whine and cheese

Day 573: Brain Dump

I barely slept last night. I could blame Mr. December’s late-night meeting (it ended at 12:30,) but even after I was in bed with the lights turned off, I couldn’t sleep. I was exhausted, my eyes were closed, and I was lying fairly still, but I was still very much aware of ambient noises (thanks a lot, Metrolinx,) and I tossed and turned a whole lot. I woke up before 7, which in my world is pretty early, and I couldn’t fall back asleep.

The point is, I’m so tired that I can barely think. I have a vague feeling of panic—we leave in less than a week and I just know I’m forgetting something. But my thoughts are going around in circles (kind of like dogs, actually. Three circles and then they lie down and go to sleep.) Unfortunately for you, I need to use tonight’s post as a brain dump so when I wake up rested tomorrow, I’ll have a sense of what’s going on.

Today Mr. December decided that we all need hiking boots because we’ll be in some rainy parts of Costa Rica and the hikes will be muddy. After spending a lot of time on the Keen website (because we just bought shoes from them a few months ago so I’m sure of the fit and sizing) I decided that the most sensible course of action would be to just go to a store, all of us, and buy everyone shoes. Guess what, kids! We’re going on a field trip to MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op)! Feel free to place bets on how much unnecessary-but-really-nifty stuff we’ll come home with.

I’m working on picking out the elements of our Biology curriculum that I think will be most relevant on our trip. The evolution unit will probably be covered pretty thoroughly in the Galapagos; I think it could be neat to record observations of the different biomes we visit and compare them to our biome here in Toronto; I’ve got a few chapters of the history curriculum that discuss ancient Mesoamerican history; and I should probably choose a novel for us to read for literature. And I have no idea what I’m going to do with E for reading—I love the program we’re using but it has a lot of parts and we want to minimize stuff.

I definitely need to print off copies of all our reservations, as well as photocopies of our passports, and stash it away in one of the suitcases.

I now have two (count ’em, two!) bikinis that fit nicely and a third that needs to be tried on. I’d better try it tomorrow and then return it if it’s no good.

I managed to forget about E’s flute lesson today (not our usual day and time) and we missed N’s piano lesson. I’d better make sure I’ve told all our music teachers that we won’t have any more lessons until the end of December.

I need to take down the sukkah. Also, the kayaks need to be wiped down, folded, and packed away for the winter.

We need to start packing this week. I particularly want to see how many devices we have that will need chargers so that I can decide whether it makes sense to take our 6-port charging hub (readers, I’m pretty sure it makes sense. Mr. December seems to think that it makes more sense to have ten different adapters—hence the need to have a look in advance.) We also need to see whose carry-on has space in it, because R is taking her guitar as a carry-on and will need someone to take her other stuff in their bag.

K has asked me to head over to the optician tomorrow and get her glasses adjusted—apparently they’re feeling loose; it occurs to me now that if we’re ziplining and such, we should probably have some secure sport straps to keep our glasses on.

If my writing is still coherent, I’ll be amazed. My head is lolling back on my neck as I type. E is standing by, ready to tuck me in. I go shower now. ‘Night.

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.”

bikes planes and automobiles · diet recovery · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Worldschooling

Day 569: Ten days more…

I’m having a bit of trouble accepting that we leave for our trip in ten days. It doesn’t feel real. We’ve been planning for months, and we’re still planning, and right now I can’t imagine getting the six of us on a plane and going anywhere.

Part of my brain does seem cognizant of the timing, though, since today I sat down and organized our first aid kit for the trip. To give you a sense of the kind of first aid kit it is, I’ll tell you that of five pencilcase-sized pouches, one holds such useful tools as a stethoscope, thermometer, otoscope, pulse oximeter, and peak flow meter. The other four pouches contain ointments and creams; medications; gauze and tape; and six different kinds of adhesive bandages including steri-strips. If it sounds like a lot of stuff, that’s because it is. Most of the time we don’t need these things, but when we do, we need a lot of them; if we’re suddenly struck with a stomach bug we’ll need to hunker down next to a bathroom—not run to the store to get more Immodium and Gastrolyte.

On a more upbeat note, I’ve been shopping for bathing suits—bikinis, to be precise. Since I’ve finally accepted that a bikini body is just having a body and putting a bikini on it, I figure I should take advantage of what two-piece swimsuits have to offer: namely, easier trips to the bathroom and no more cold, wet midsection.

I’ve been ordering bikinis online with the intention of trying them all on and keeping one or two. So far the frontrunner is a hot pink high-waisted number with a top that’s both secure (i.e. I won’t fall out of it) and just a touch sexy. I still have to try a couple more that should arrive this week too, but I’m already feeling good about my bathing suit situation.

As for homeschooling supplies: it’s hard to strike a balance between how much work we’d like to do in a perfect world and how much work we think will actually get done (Mr. December estimates that we’ll do about ten school days on our sixty-day trip.) My current plan is to load up my Kobo with books on different subjects that I can read aloud and discuss with the kids, and for each of them to take their writing notebook to write about either what we’ve read or what we’ve done each day. I’m also bringing things like a monocular for wildlife-watching and a pocket microscope. Oh, and sketchbooks and drawing supplies. That’s it.

On second thought, I’m not as oblivious to our looming departure as I thought I was. I’m sure I’m forgetting something basic—while I’m busy planning for pulse oximetry and microscopy—but what?

Five different-coloured zippered pencil cases with transparent sides. They contain adhesive bandages; pills in blister packs; gauze and first aid tape; medical instruments; and creams, ointments, and sanitizer respectively.
Keepin' it real · Kids · snarky · well *I* think it's funny... · whine and cheese

Day 568: I didn’t even know their names.

I’m feeling pretty cruddy today. In classic mom style, though, I saw a need and filled it: the dishwasher needed to be run, so I started loading it up.

Then around the corner strolled Bob (okay, fine. I didn’t ask his name; I’m making it up.) Also Donna, Jameel, Mitzi, and Edna (again, not their real names.) All five of them, with their segmented bodies and six legs each, scattered across the countertop.

Ants.

“R and K!!! Get down here NOW!!!” I bellowed (as much as one can bellow while feeling ill.)

“What is it, Eema?”

“You two ate outside on the back porch. Fine. Then you left your dishes outside. So I called you to bring them in, which you did. Great. Know what else you brought in? ANTS! When you bring in dishes that were left outside, you have to rinse them immediately to make sure no insects have hitched a ride! Now they’re ALL OVER THE COUNTER! WHAT GIVES?”

By this point, Bob, Donna, Jameel, Mitzi, and Edna had been joined by at least a dozen other ants. I didn’t ask their names; it’s probably for the best, since I knew I was about to kill them. Down slammed the executioner’s dishcloth, and the ants were washed away in the sink.

“Sorry, Eema. I didn’t actually know that would happen,” said a child who will remain nameless (but not blameless.)

“Seriously? You didn’t know that if there was an ant inside the bowl when you brought it inside, it would crawl out of the bowl and into the kitchen when you failed to rinse it? Come on.” I huffed.

In a very small voice the child said, “Is there something I can do to help you now?”

An exasperated sigh from me, and then, “Just don’t do it again,” I grumbled as I turned back to the dishwasher. A lone ant marched along the cutlery tray, probably giving me the stink-eye; I popped in a detergent tab and closed the door.

So long, little ants. We hardly knew ye.

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

Day 567: The Party’s Over

For fifteen months, nobody in my house got sick. It was amazing. I only know this intellectually, though—I don’t remember what it was like at all. We got our first post-COVID cold when the kids came back from camp in August; as of today, three of us have our second cold of the past two years.

Miraculously, I’m not one of the three. E started with sneezing and a runny nose two days ago, and yesterday R’s nose was stuffy (different from her usual allergy symptoms.) Last night K said she wasn’t feeling well; today she’s been droopy and miserable all day. She even napped on the couch this afternoon, which I haven’t seen her do since she had mono in the fall of ’18.

I can feel that my body is fighting it, though, and I can only hope that sleep and rest will allow me to bypass sickness this time around.

R’s birthday party—she’s turning ten—was supposed to be this weekend. It’s now been cancelled, and she’s kind of bummed out about it. “This is the worst birthday ever, and that’s making it the worst year ever,” she said morosely. I can sympathize. I can also remind her that this year is about to turn awesome, since we’re leaving for Costa Rica in under two weeks, but I don’t think that will make her feel any better this weekend. I should probably just get her a cake and line up a whole lot of fun stuff we can do together until we’re past her birthday.

education · Guest Posts · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · snarky · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 565: Homeschooling Backstory Part 2 (Guest Post)

Ed. note: He’s back! Did you know that Mr. December’s posts get higher stats than mine do? Anyhow, enjoy the next instalment in his gripping tale of woe bravery evidence-based research.


In my last installment I talked about our initial journey, and how we started to hit a wall with our kids. I had never taught before (well, I was a teaching assistant in university,) so there was a lot of making things up as we went. One idea was to set crushing expectations in order to catch up quickly and justify our life choices (and perhaps even our social status.) So no choices, but plenty of rewards and punishments. We figured that even if this failed, we could shift the blame to the children by talking about “grit” a lot (Read any Prof Duckworth paper on grit – do you see now how your failures are your own fault?) Maybe we could enroll them in a relaxation course so that they could internalize that high-stress schooling is a normal, acceptable occurrence. Anyways, rewards and punishments seemed awesome, and we used this to get past the initial objections from our kids. We had a few more problems though: 

  • No way to punish K: She didn’t like computer games, and didn’t need a lot from us. Rewards and punishments also don’t help when skills or structure are the issue (as opposed to motivation). Her stubbornness also meant without buy-in there would be no progress. Anyways, we quickly understood why her teachers made like Elsa and just Let It Go.
  •  N was a relentless optimizer: He loves computer games, so taking them away was an effective punishment. But he’d do the absolute minimum, juuuuust enough to meet the bar, with the minimum learning. He’d also ask questions like “okay, if I don’t do that, how much screen time do I lose?” so he could weight his options, and once you got past a threshold he would simply say “well, I don’t get screens today, so I won’t do any work either”. So despite his brilliance, progress was hella slow, and we knew extended conflict would grind down our relationship with him over time. 
  • R was mostly doing fine: She was a great writer but needed time to write stories not do worksheets. She was behind but compliant in math, but had a lot of trouble focusing. Rewards and punishments didn’t seem fitting here either.
  • E was only 5: We eventually enrolled her in part-time online school. We added in a bit of math, but mostly we figured, meh, she’s 5. 

In the last post, we had some early successes but now needed a new philosophy. Fortunately for me, I have a secret weapon against ignorance: extensive research. I have a high capacity for technical detail, so I got a dozen books on education & homeschooling, which I read cover to cover, as well as many research papers and a few education websites (my favourite was Alfie Kohn’s blog). 

You may not have the time or interest, so here is my summary of my learning: 

Public schools suck. Schools suck, including private schools, which suck in different ways. Your school sucks, and the way your children are taught sucks. Grades suck, competition sucks, and coercion sucks. The rewards you gave that you thought made you better than other parents also suck. If you teach at a school, maybe you don’t suck personally, but you probably do, and just listen to this teacher of the year talk about how he sucks too so don’t feel too bad. Even if your kids don’t suck when they enter school, they will by the time they leave, and if they don’t suck by some miracle they’ll be anxious and unhappy, go into the wrong fields to please you, burn out and then hate you later. 

To summarize the summary: Modern education systems will produce the suckiest bunch of sucks who ever sucked and your kids will be personally be the suckiest of the bunch of sucks who ever sucked. 

I don’t feel this way about the education system (they do a lot of things very right,) so I was surprised at how negative some sources were. Even worse, there was some publishing mishap where the chapters that deal with what to do differently were missing (it’s surprising how common this issue was.)

But whether you see it that way or not, this was a great result for me: I could not do worse. 

Since my older two kids were, in postmodernist educational parlance, “sucking big time,” I had the luxury of choosing my path. With an Alfie Kohn video playing dramatically in the background, I took that 50% math test and put it in the garbage. That was the last grade I ever gave. I’m not saying grades aren’t important – they are so, so important – and here is a chart highlighting the value they have by age range: 

Child’s AgeFucks You Should Give About Grades In Homeschool
4-80
9-100.0
11-140 + 0i
15-17e(3iπ/2)+ i
18Just make up a bunch of grades and submit them to universities – what are they going to do, call your principal? 

I did later understand better the power of review, which we do more of, and I still need to add in some testing for learning. 

I kept hoping someone would recommend bringing spanking back, but no one did. Very few modern experts even advocated for reward/punishment based systems: they talked about being “student centric”—as if our previous education attempts were just for our own benefit. 

Okay, all good. But what to do next? Stay tuned.


About the Guest Author: Mr. December is an engineer and homeschooling dad who also moonlights as a blogger sometimes. He likes data, writers who cite their sources, spreadsheets, and his kids. He also has great hair.

education · Guest Posts · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Kids · Montessori · snarky · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 562: Once More with Rigor

Ed. note: This is a guest post by Mr. December.

(Homeschool Backstory Part 1)

Our kids’ school careers began at Montessori. Every day N and K would come home and tell us how much fun they had, puttering around the classroom doing random materials with their friends, with no homework whatsoever. It didn’t seem rigorous enough. They needed something more: evenings of tear-filled pointless homework where we’d eventually do most of it for them. High pressure testing to give the school bragging rights. Music pieces that they hated with lots of difficult notes. Remember: if they’re not resisting practice, it isn’t rigorous enough. You’ll need shorter lunchtime and recesses to make room for all the rigor of course. 

So we pulled our happy kids out of Montessori and put them into school #2, which was supposed to be more rigorous in both English and Hebrew curriculum. In terms of happiness it was perfect – both kids were miserable within weeks. But it wasn’t working academically. The math curriculum proceeded glacially, with one assignment asking the kids to write a story about 7×3 (true!). Most assignments were so abstract that I could not see what a right or wrong answer might look like (such as: “what are the physical and emotional state differences between two mountains?”), yet alone how I would do the work myself. In one math test, K got every number right and every spelling wrong – final grade: 50%. The best objection I could muster was to write “Grate Work” on her assignment when I signed the test. 

Maybe we needed to face the fact that whatever the hell this school was teaching, my kids weren’t good at it. When the school complained K was late 19.0 times, I saw my opening. After asking repeated questions about why a float instead of integer – is there a way to be late 0.5 of a time? – I wrote a (spoof) email asking if she was the most late in the school, saying we were looking to find things she was good at to encourage her. But alas, talking to other parents, 19.0 was nowhere close to the record – several overachievers were late every single day. K’s dream was to be late 0.5 of a time, but they wouldn’t tell us the secrets of how to do so. We tried everything – just a minute late, half a day late, late but didn’t get the slip, late and then forget something in the car to be even later, but nothing worked. 

The next year we switched the older two kids into a public gifted program (school #3), which was wonderful socially, but didn’t seem to help academically. 

So along came COVID, the kids were home, and suddenly we could see clearly what was going on. Nothing. Nothing was going on. Our kids were terrible at school and did not know their fundamentals in math or writing. Oops, my bad. 

Okay, so what to do – I figured the best thing was to back to rigor. Put the “fun” back in fundamentals. S said to forget public school – let’s try out homeschooling. Teach the basics, and once they learn their fundamentals, power them through the grades. And, perhaps surprisingly, it actually worked, in the short term – the math instruction and drills worked wonders, with the kids’ accuracy improving and their processing time cut in half. I was starting to think I could even work in a few humble brags. But then we hit the wall: they didn’t want to do two hours of Kumon every day plus the basics of writing. 

Okay, no problem, I thought, I’ll make my own rigorous work. Math was easy: Every last Kumon math problem done correctly, in order, for a certain amount of time each day. That seemed rigorous enough. 

Then I got stuck, as it turns out I didn’t know about anything except math. No matter, we created our four pillars of non-incompetence: 

  • Math: A goal of being two years ahead. I figured that lofty goal would satisfy most people and then they’d forget about it.
  • English: No idea, but that’s S’s problem
  • Science: I could not remember anything I did in elementary or middle-school science. Did we even do chemistry? Was it just a bunch of digging in dirt? Wait – thermocline – I remembered that word, for when water changes temperature depending on depth. But I think that was grade 9, so I figured I’d wait to teach them that gem. For now, we just joined HENSE*
  • Everything else not in the other three: This is S’s problem, so I left it to her, with the only condition that it be rigorous

Now that we had a model, I figured I’d start with a math test: what could be better for rigorous evaluation? That would show the parents we’re not total idiots. So I used a New Jersey grade 5 math test, and then my son got 50%. He rushed through, didn’t know some terms, and there was this one question I had no idea how to solve either (see below). 

What the &^$% does this diagram even mean? Who would do division this way? At least we know it isn’t to scale—that’s really helpful, thanks.

So what should I do now? Punish? Reward? Unschool? Back then I saw unschooling as the opposite of rigor: sprinkle (sorry, strew) some books around and they’ll be 18 and out of the house in no time! 

Stay tuned for the next installment of my journey.

Ed. note: Mr. December offered to change the last two words to “our journey”. I declined. The views expressed in this guest post are those of the writer, and do not necessarily represent the views of all of us here at SweetCrunchyJewy. -S

*HENSE: Home Educators with No Science Education