community · Just the two of us · Kids · love and marriage · waxing philosophical

Day 540: A love letter.

This is my favourite time of year.

Not for the insanity of the Jewish holidays (5 in one month!) or for the end of the summer break; no, I love it for the weather. Cool (but not too cold) at night and warm (but not too hot) during the day. It’s shorts-and-a-sweatshirt weather. The sky is clear and blue, the trees still have their leaves. It’s just a pleasure to be outside these days.

Actually, there are a lot of pleasures these days; More and more I’m noticing my feelings of contentment at odd times of the day and night. I’ll be reading in the back-porch hammock, or turning off lights someone left on in the library, or even emptying the dishwasher, and suddenly I’ll stop and think, “I love our life.”

I love Mr. December, of course, and I love how great a team we are. I love the house we’ve built together—seriously, I love this house so much—and the family we have together. I adore the kids and what’s more, I love seeing them together and I love watching them grow up. Our parents are all alive and well and living in the same city, and they’re a tremendous help and support to us. We have very good friends and neighbours.

We live in a neighbourhood that’s beautiful and safe, with public parks and a subway and shops nearby. We have biking paths, a community orchard, and a local farmers’ market.

I am, in short, lucky. Insanely, improbably so. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that life is completely unfair and often random; and it’s generally been unfair in my favour, which I appreciate every day.

There’s really nothing like this sense of great contentment, especially at this time of year. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going outside in my shorts and sweatshirt to sit in a hammock and sip some tea, and contemplate how very much I love this life.

family fun · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Kids

Day 538: You’ll forgive me.

It’s nice to be back.

I didn’t warn you ahead of time, but I decided to take a break from my computer over Rosh Hashana. Technically I could have posted last night after the holiday ended, but after two nights of getting into bed at 9 p.m., I found that I rather like going to bed early and didn’t feel like staying up to post. I’m sure you’ll forgive my absence.

It was back to the school routine today at our house. One striking difference between homeschooling this year and homeschooling last year is that this year, there are actually (a very few) places we can go if we want to leave the house for a while. Today we biked to the public library, where I taught the kids how to use the self-serve checkout, and biked back home via the park. Both library and park were deserted, of course—everyone was back in school today—and it was a beautiful day to be out, sunshowers notwithstanding. It was one of those days that makes me feel euphoric about our decision to homeschool.

The euphoria lasted until K looked at her history assignment. There was yelling, then crying, then hugging… then more yelling, at which point I walked away. I’m finding that K has very extreme initial reactions to things like this, and after the initial acknowledgement it’s more effective to give her some time for the big feelings to abate instead of pushing her to do the work immediately. Still, I’m hoping that by the end of this year she’ll no longer be frustrated by instructions to summarize or take notes. A mom can hope, can’t she?

Image Description: Two trees with bikes parked beneath them and a picnic table beyond the bikes. N is sitting at the picnic table, reading. A few feet away R is reading standing up.
Keepin' it real · Kids · parenting

Day 534: The youngest child and bedtime

It’s a cliché already: the child who is crying, “I don’t wanna go to bed! I’m not even tired!” while crying and yawning at the same time. E has been that child numerous times in the last few weeks and every single time she’s fallen asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow. Still, she resists.

I kind of get it: she’s the youngest of four siblings, all of whom are between three-and-a-half and seven years older than she is. Their bedtime is appropriate for their ages, not for hers. Still, this house is buzzing with activity well past 7:30 every evening; of course she’d be afraid of missing out on something if she went to bed early.

The other day I found myself thinking fondly of how K, when she was E’s age, went to bed at 7 p.m. on school nights. Looking back, it’s kind of unbelievable—she went to bed at seven and we got to have three hours of grownups-only time? For real? But yes, it’s true. N and R, being four and three years old at the time, went to bed right alongside her. Those were the days.

When I tried to tell E this bit of historical trivia, she gaped at me for a moment and then laughed. “But that’s SO EARLY!” she giggled, “nobody goes to bed that early!”

Every night I look at her and think, tonight I have to put her to bed early. She needs an earlier bedtime. Poor kid, she probably doesn’t get enough sleep. And most nights I fail to do it. Bad parenting? Probably, although from what I’ve heard this issue isn’t unusual with the youngest child in a big family. She’ll catch up on sleep when she’s a teenager… Unless she’s like K, who wakes up nice and early. I have no idea how she does it.

I, on the other hand, am most definitely tired enough to go to bed at E’s bedtime. Then I get my second wind and have to convince myself that yes, bed is definitely where I need to be at 10 p.m. I’ve yet to make it to bed by 10 since the summer began, but maybe now that the sun is setting earlier I’ll be able to convince my inner six-year-old that she really is tired.

crafty · Homeschool · Kids · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 531: Mapwork or Make-work?

K and N started their History work today. It consisted of some reading, a few summary sentences, some timeline additions, and mapwork. In case you’re unfamiliar with what “mapwork” entails, it involves a blank map and a list of things to label and/or colour in.

Upon reading the mapwork assignment, K was not impressed. She went on a long rant:

“This is such a stupid assignment! The map they want us to refer to doesn’t even show the exact same area! And how the heck am I supposed to know whether the fertile crescent is the area inside that line or outside it? And shading it would make the labels look stupid! And how am I supposed to know where anything is, anyway? Besides, it’s impossible to do it exactly correctly…”

Then, in true Giftie-with-ADHD fashion, K made her counter-proposal:

“Can’t I just get a giant piece of watercolour paper and make a world map from scratch? I’d make sure I had all the lines right and I could colour it nicely and label everything and it would be like a work of art! Can I do that instead of doing all these dumb map assignments that are pointless and confusing?”

You read that right: she objected to having to label five bodies of water and outlining one geographical area on a blank map—work that would take her about five minutes to do if she’d let herself—and instead wanted to spend weeks or even months working on a large-scale world map. She’d rather do more work as long as it’s self-directed and creative, if it means getting out of following instructions that she doesn’t care about.

N, on the other hand, did the very same mapwork assignment in about three minutes. It turned into seven minutes after I refused to accept messy, sub-par work and taught him how to use a ruler to help keep his labels neat and readable. I wonder… how many years of “Go back and do it properly this time” will it take for him to just do it well the first time?

Camping it up · DIY · family fun · Homeschool · Kids · water you paddling? · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 520: Another Quiet Week

Sometimes life gives us do-overs.

We dropped K, N, and R off at music camp today. Last time we did a camp drop-off, they jumped out of the car without looking back; today they actually took the time to say goodbye. I guess that’s progress.

It’s brutally hot and humid right now, so I decided that after we’d unloaded the kids at camp, Mr. December and I would take E to a beach on the way home. We ended up at something called “Whale Beach” in Orillia: a lovely little beach with a playground, splash pad, kayak rental, and snack bars.

The water was warm—almost too warm to be refreshing—and we dunked ourselves before inflating our kayaks and setting out for a paddle. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I need a better kayak. Last night we went to the beach downtown and I saw a folding kayak and another kayak that comes apart for ease of transport; time for me to do some more research, I think.

Where was I? Oh, yes.

With the three big kids gone this week, I’m hoping to get some serious work done. Everyone knows that a great way to ensure you’ll do things is to be accountable to others; so I’m telling you what all I plan to have done by this time next week.

  • Cut, paint, and install drawer fronts in library.
  • Finish shelving all library books.
  • Finalize which book sections we have and order labels for the shelves.
  • Firm up our travel plans; buy plane tickets and book accommodations.
  • Learn to use Homeschool Planet, an online planner that looks like it’ll make my life easier. Plug in all the curriculum information and figure out our schedule.
  • Prepare history binders for R and E.
  • Make time for myself every day: see some friends, paint some rocks, go kayaking, whatever.

Looks like a full week, doesn’t it? I think I can do it as long as the weather cools down. If it doesn’t, well… I’m no Wicked Witch of the West, but I’m mellltiiiiing…

diet recovery · Kids · parenting

Day 518: Speaking of Food…

After my last post about the way we talk about food, one of my commenters said this:

“I’d love to hear about your approach to talking to kids about food! I’ve got lots of baggage when it comes to food, but our doctor said really early on “kids are born knowing how much to eat – see if you can manage not to break that” and I think we’ve done a pretty reasonable job…I think…”

Ask and you shall receive, dear reader!

How do I talk to my kids about food? What about when they seem to be gorging themselves on sweets? What if they’re eating way more than humanly possible? What if they’re starting to look pudgy around the middle?

Food is fuel for our bodies. If we’re hungry, our bodies need fuel. If we eat and are still hungry, we either need to eat more or to eat something different (i.e., our bodies are crying out for nutrients we’re not giving them.) So if a kid has eaten a lot of crackers and complains that they’re still hungry, I might say, “Maybe your body is asking for nutrients that crackers don’t have. Try some other kind of food that gives you some fat or protein, and see if that helps.”

I try to convey that it’s fine to eat something for pure enjoyment. If a kid is scarfing down their ice cream in a rush, I remind them to sit down and really enjoy it instead of rushing through and not really tasting it. Mr. December, who is constantly finding the teachable moments, has taught the kids the economic principle of Diminishing Marginal Utility—in other words, the first bite is the absolute tastiest and best; after a few helpings, the taste barely even registers. Makes total sense to really slow down and enjoy those first few bites, doesn’t it?

I try to talk about how food makes our bodies feel: “Ugh, I feel kind of icky. That happens when I eat a lot of ____.” I make it clear that I’m speaking only for myself, but I’m modelling an awareness of how the foods we eat affect how we feel (which is a very individual experience, so they need to learn to be aware.) One of my kids has slowly learned to pace themselves because of many experiences where too much dessert made them feel vaguely ill. That child doesn’t eat themself sick anymore, because of how it makes their body feel… not because of what we think about eating that volume of food.

We’re coming into the teenage years now. If you’ve never seen a teenager eat, you’re missing something spectacular. The “hollow leg” theory is the only one that makes sense, because nobody’s stomach is big enough to hold the amount of food that a teenager consumes. This is a real challenge for those of us steeped in diet culture: it can’t possibly be okay for the teen to eat that much, can it?

Well, if the teen has a decent sense of their own body’s needs, it absolutely can. It’s hard for me to trust my kid’s understanding of her own satiety level, because I’ve been taught for so many years not to trust my own; but if I want my kids to be free of the food issues that I have, I have to bite my tongue.

As for the “what if they’re getting pudgy?”… my policy is to NEVER comment on anybody’s body. Period. It does more harm than good. We prioritize active play for the kids (we have swings and a huge “running-around” space in the attic,) we ensure that they get appropriate medical and dental care, we see that they get enough sleep, and we make sure that they’re getting plenty of time with their friends—all of which are much more relevant to their health than the shape and size of their bodies are.

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.

family fun · Kids · parenting · water you paddling?

Day 509: Driving

I hate driving my kids to and from activities all the time. I also love driving with my kids. Like, I really really love it.

Biking is wonderful for lots of reasons, but it’s not at all conducive to having long, important conversations. Kids are a captive audience in the car; also, sitting side-by-side staring ahead at the road is a very comfortable way to address potentially uncomfortable subjects. Just today I learned that thirteen-year-old girls are still having the same conversations we were having when I was thirteen: namely, whether using tampons means you’re not a virgin anymore. After that revelation we had a good and important conversation about how and why virginity became a big deal, the double standard for boys and girls, and a bit of English history. I think we covered enough to consider it a couple of health classes—it was a long drive.

We also listen to things together: podcasts like Freakonomics, audio books, and—our favourite—soundtracks to Broadway musicals. Today I introduced K to Les Miserables, both the original Broadway cast recording and the more recent movie soundtrack. We both agreed that the casting of Russell Crowe as Javert was a tragic mistake (“The words and music are powerful, and it should feel like, oomph, but then he’s singing it like nothing’s happening,” K observed.) And thanks to what must have been almost a year of listening to the original cast recording on constant repeat in the car when I was ten, I was able to clarify some of the lyrics for K (“Oh! Now the plot makes sense!” she said.)

Our long drive took K, R, and I to the cottage of friends of ours from school (two schools ago) and camp (two weeks ago.) The visit was a huge success: the girls all had a great time together, I got to chat with their parents (whom I love,) and we swam and kayaked in the bay. Given how much I love being out on the lake, you’d think that was the highlight of my day… but no; I’d have to say that my favourite thing about today was my four hours on the road with the two girls. While the highway took us home, the conversation took us everywhere.

education · Homeschool · Kids · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 505: I <3 Back-to-School

I felt well enough today to be mostly up and about, with a break in the afternoon when Mr. December took all four kids out for a few hours. I still wasn’t equal to anything requiring original thought, but I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to print out all the new curriculum materials I just bought.

I’m still in love with our new (last year) printer; All I do is hit “print” and it does, double-sided, every time. It’s one of my “best purchase ever” items, alongside other workhorses like my bakfiets (cargo bike,) my power tools, and my giant Omnigrid rulers. You know, stuff that does what it’s supposed to do, reliably and without a fuss. And that, friends, is why my bakfiets is better than people.

But I digress.

The printer has been running pretty much nonstop since 3 p.m. So far I’ve printed and hole-punched History Odyssey for both K and N (one copy each,) History Quest for myself (I still need to make copies of the notebooking pages for R and E,) and Real Science Odyssey: Life for E.

I must admit, I’m getting pretty excited about school this year. Between my super-organized school supply drawers and now my beautifully printed curricula, I’m like that dad in the back-to-school commercial (“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”). Except, of course, that I’m not celebrating getting the kids out of the house everyday, but learning amazing new things and using all these beautiful supplies. Back-to-school never gets old.

Unless, N pointed out, you’re not in homeschool, in which case back-to-school is a drag (for him.) He’s heard from outside sources that back-to-school also necessitates clothes shopping, which he hates. Good thing he’s not going to school. As our homeschool motto goes, “Excellence begins with wearing pants”… but really, any pants will do.

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?