Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Prideful Confession

Munchkin #1 is trying out college. She is half way through week two and it still feels a little strange. Strange to me, as Mom, anyway. We made it through 18 years without any type of formal schooling and now she's jumped in with both feet. She's got a daily schedule with someone else making recomendations for how she fills her time for several hours each day. I wasn't sure she was going to tolerate the lack of freedom for the first few days, but she seems determined to give it at least a semester's try.

I have to admit that I've encountered a few moments of anxiety, but mostly I've struggled with what probably amounts to excessive pride. I have resisted the desire to say, "pblttttt... I told you so," to those who may have suggested a time or two that I couldn't possibly know that she was learning what she was supposed to know because, you know, I didn't have tests and worksheets and drills to back it up. I've also resisted (well, I guess up until this moment) the urge to yell, "In your face!" regarding the ACT benchmark test scores recently reported for our state. And yes, I'm ashamed for counting and keeping track at all.

I don't know that she's going to have an altogether easy time with school, but I know she will do fine if she decides college is where she wants to be. And if/then, she'll be fine with whatever else she decides, as well. I honestly can't imagine what that might be, at the moment, but I do trust she will fill me in as the time is right. In the meantime, I find myself missing her at odd moments, and being filled with a kind of overwhelming giddiness when it is almost time for her to be home again. I am trying to resist the urge to beg for all the details of her day.

There's something very satisfying about seeing her take these steps, however, and I know that we have turned a parent/child corner. There's no going back. She's a young woman. She's full of confidence. She's trying things out. She makes my heart swell with pride.

Then again, I guess that's nothing new.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

4-H Year Ending

4-H has been a big part of our lives, especially since we moved to our current location in Kansas. I was a 4-H member as a kid, as were my parents and my husband's parents. We don't have livestock, or even a house in the country anymore, but I have found 4-H a good way to connect with our new community and help us to put down roots where we started out as drifters.

Munckkin #1, Evie, is finishing her last year of 4-H this year. I keep waiting for my sentimental gene to kick in, but mostly I'm feeling like time is passing as it should. I keep going back to the words of our midwife so many years ago. She told me not to spend time worrying about parenting a teenager when I was only the mother of a newborn. When she gets there, my midwife said, you'll know what to do. It was wise advise, and I think of it now. No need to waste time worrying about being the parent of an adult child. As we get there, I'll somehow figure out what to do. Or not, as I've learned along the way. Not knowing is okay, too. A lot of parenting is just hanging in there and listening and staying in tune and being prepared to be there when needed... stand back as much as possible...

I've talked with several parents of younger 4-H members this year and I've found myself offering encouraging words.

  • Don't let your young kids take on more than you are willing to help them with. When I was full-time momming it and the kids were little, we had a lot more time for working on projects together as a family activity. If you don't have that kind of time, don't enroll in several projects. Just start with ones that you will enjoy exploring together and consider ones where there is strong leadership in place on a club or county level.
  • Don't let yourself get in the position of resenting what you/they have commited to. If it ends up being too much, back off. There is nothing more miserable than witnessing parents and children who are fed up and so angry with each other by the time the fair rolls around that they are no longer civil to each other.
  • It's okay to walk them through the process of completing record books and filling out award forms. Each year, they will require less and less input from you. And one day, like me, you'll find yourself watching from the sidelines as your teenagers handle all the business of fair time on their own.
  • If you find yourself with a teenager, who is capable but not taking the initiative, you need to step back and ask yourself who the 4-H projects are for. Let them choose. Let them say no to things that do not inspire them. Let them go in their own direction.
Some scenes from the fair:

Middle Munchkin made both of these outfits and Munchkin #1 agreed to be a model to help her out at the public fashion revue. They had a good time showing. It was fun to watch them together.

Munchkin Boy placed 2nd in archery this year, and Middle Munchkin was top shooter in air pistol and .22 pistol.

Munchkin Boy talks with the judge here about his cinnamon rolls. We don't really care what ribbon they get. He makes awesome cinnamon rolls and we enjoy when it is not fair time because we can gobble them up warm straight from the oven.

A collection of Munchkin #1's fiber things. She knitted a sweater this year (Weasley style!) and a phone case. The octopus toy is her crochet project. Both of my girls enjoy fiber arts. I've decided it is a genetic thing that must have skipped a generation. I don't sew or do anything with yarn and needles, but my mother was very talented. She passed away when Munchkin #1 was only 1, but I often feel her presence when the girls are in the midst of fiber projects and sewing. I know she would be tickled to see all the fun things they create.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

In a World of Many Right Answers

I've rarely been quick with an answer. I'm the person who more usually decides on a comeback far too many minutes late for it to be appropriately served, and I am still dwelling on a comment/insult/unexpected question hours later, determined to come up with an answer, even though it no longer matters, so that I'll be better prepared next time.

When my son was little, he was once quizzed by a new-to-our-family physician.

"What color are my pants?" the doctor asked.

Kaman stood for a minute, looking thoughtfully at the man's knee.

"They're black," the doctor answered for him, apparently deciding my son wasn't up to that particular age-appropriate task.

"Actually," Kaman said, "They are blackish with gray and a little stripey white bit in them.."

The doctor actually bent over, examining his pants a little closer, eventually determining that my son was corrrect.

At this same exam, the doctor asked Kaman what color an apple was. Kaman immediately answered that apples were green.

"Red," the doctor corrected.

"Unless you live in our house," I said, "where Granny Smith is the prefered apple."

"Ah," the doctor said. He didn't seem at all convinced. Perhaps, he thought, I was failing my child by not providing the "normal" color of apple for eating.

Sometimes I want to blame this idea that there is "one right answer" on public schooling, but I don't think that's entirely fair. I am a product of public school myself, you see, and I feel as if I've spent most of my life insisting that there were many answers, many ways to do things.

It might be more accurate to say that many people simply glance at the surface of things and make their assumptions quickly. Then there are those who are hard wired to exam issues more closely, to note the bits of stripey white hidden among the grey. I think there are merits to both ways of seeing things.

In fact, I sometimes envy the person who is able to so confidently declare that the pants are black and that apples are red. I can usually see it many ways. And I'm not saying I'm wishy-washey. I prefer to say that the pants are striped, but I can also see the reason behind calling them black and calling them grey.

Sometimes people can't seem to understand why my children have not gone to school, and I can often see the reason behind their arguments. But what I can also see is the many ways those very same arguments support the decision I made not to send my children to public school. When the kids were older, I began to say that I opted to keep them out of public school and at some point, they decided themselves to continue not going. That made answering the question easier for me, but confused the people I was having the conversation with even more.

I don't despise teachers, or even schools for that matter. To the contrary, there several teachers among the people I most admire in this world. I simply don't send my kids to school to interact with them. They'll find other ways, other places, and those people will be as much a part of my children's worlds as any other individual might be.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Post People Recovery Period

I think it is safe to say that we are a family of introverts, though we enjoy the occasional stretch of time being out-and-about-with-people persons. The last several weeks have been full of go-go-go and we have been playing host. Two weeks ago we had a 4-H member from Michigan visiting. As part of the exchange trip, Middle Munchkin spent the week playing tourist in her own back yard and I spent several days as parent chaparone.

On the day our guest from Michigan left, the cousins arrived. We had two extra boys in the house for nearly a full week. Less tourist activity, more just doing things... skating, board games, card games, painting, baking, swimming... The boys left on Saturday. I pretty much haven't seen much of the members of my family in 24 hours.

"Did one of the kids just walk through the kitchen?" hubby asks.

"I think so," I reply. "But I couldn't tell you which one."

We've retreated to our repsective caves for some restorative mind time.

A sampling of stuff to do in Kansas:

Explore the Flint Hills.

Tour the Capitol in Topeka.

Visit astronauts in Hutchinson.

Mine for Salt, Hutchinson.

Eat an enormous pretzel at a KC Royals game.

Hang out with flying monkeys at the historic Emporia Granada Theater.

Monday, June 23, 2014

For the Love of Books: Our Time Reading Together

The kids and I just started a Bill Bryson book, At Home: A Short History of Private Life. I've been a fan of Bill Bryson for many years now, ever since discovering his book, A Really Short History of Nearly Everything, which was a really long book tape I picked up at the Topeka Public Library many years ago. The kids were still pretty little and we were doing a lot of driving back and forth to playdates then, so I listened to the stories in the car and I found them good background listening while we worked on art projects physical tasks around the house, like cleaning. Evie, my oldest, says she remembers bits and pieces from the book. I started reading At Home on my own, but quickly decided it was a book we'd have fun reading together, so I suggested it, and after a couple of trial chapters, Evie and Kaman were all in. (We will have to catch Maddie up as she was away at camp when we got started.)

There was a time when I worried that once the kids started reading on their own, they wouldn't need me to read books to them anymore. And they don't need me, anymore, but that hasn't slowed us down any. It's only been six years since I had a need-to-read-to kid in the house, and I can hardly remember what that was like anymore. Though I don't spend as much of my time reading aloud as I once did, the reading we do now is more challenging and every bit as enjoyable, as far as I'm concerned. I am happy that the kids seem to continue to look forward to our books together as much as they seem to enjoy reading on their own.

When the kids were little, I would sometimes read until my voice grew hoarse. Evie would bring me book after book, and on our visits to the library she started making me read a page or two from the books on the shelves before she would agree to check them out. She learned quickly that beautiful pictures didn't necessarily equate to a good story. Evie had very little tolerance, in fact, for easy readers. She wanted depth and conflict and never seemed to tire of the words.

I remember one day sitting in the recliner with a sleeping baby Kaman on my lap. I was re-reading The Mists of Avalon, one of my all-time favorite books. Evie climbed up beside me and asked me to read so that she could hear the words. I thought for a minute that I should probably put my book away and let her select one of her own story books for us to read, but then I reconsidered. I began reading outloud and she was hooked. She didn't sit through the whole book, of course, but it was then that I decided our reading selections should be based on good story rather than tailored for age.

Everything from Pippi Longstocking to Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! became fair game. We have started books and put them away because they didn't hold our interest. We read a few books on a whim that turned out to be so fascinating they opened up whole new topics we'd never before thought to explore. I've read and enjoyed books with the kids that I was unsucessful at reading on my own at earlier times of my life. When Evie became a reader, she and I took turns reading aloud. Maddie joined us within a couple of years, and finally Kaman, whose skill for reading aloud now includes reading in different accents.

Over the years, the kids and I have enjoyed membership in different book clubs, both together and individually, but I think the book club of four that I have with my children is my all-time favorite, and it is certainly the longest running that I have ever been involved with.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Unschool Grad

We went back and forth on the subject of hosting an event for Evie... we were getting so many invitations to high school graduations, and we finally decided we wanted to do something special to mark the occassion, as well. She's 18 now. Technically, an adult. She's got her voter registration card. And she's all enrolled for college, which is a whole new kind of adventure. It will be her first experience (aside from a class she took this past spring) in a traditional school setting.

Thus was created the Simmons Family Unschool Ziggurat's Class of 2014. We called it a celebration of Evie and we had a wonderful time. I'm not always keen on crowds, but I think everyone should make an opportunity or two in a lifetime to gather the important people in your life in one place. The whole event just filled me up with love and happiness. I think the rest of the family felt the same.

Here is what I said to welcome those who came:

Welcome everyone to the first, and possibly only, celebration of the Simmons Family Unschool Ziggurat. I say only because, as we are all well aware by now, our three children are very different people and I suspect that Maddie and Kaman, at the very least, will come up with their own name for their own unique experience when the time comes.
Eighteen years ago our midwife shared words with us that began the unfolding of an amazing journey. Children, she said, from that first wobbly raise of the head when they are babies, are striving for independence. Our job as parents is to allow it. It seemed as good a philosophy to follow as any. Allow. Support. Explore with. Delight in. Honor. And respect this individual who so quickly became a central part of our lives. 
Evie became our very first test subject in the job of parenting, and all of you became partners with our family on this journey. You each helped to open our world to new and different experiences. You shared your wisdom. You shared your resources. You joined us on long travels across the country. You joined us on short trips down the road for work, for play, for exploring, or just for walking and talking. You shared your backyards and your houses for play dates and parties. You read books with us. You worked with us. You learned with us. You loved with us and experienced loss with us. 
We are so glad to have you here today to celebrate with us.

We invited all the kids to come forward and stand with Evie as we presented her with our own brand of diploma. Several of them were not actually kids anymore, but we wanted all of those she has grown up with to be a part of the ceremony. She was surrounded by cousins and friends. 

Middle Munchkin (Maddie) and I had a great time desiging the certificate. It was wordy as heck, but I think I managed to say everything we wanted to say. 

From Evie's "Certificate of Confidence":

that her Pursuits, Passions and Choices will continue to take her upon her chosen road, or perhaps just to places worthy of Exploration, Inspiration, and Just Plain Fun, even if just for the moment, as she sees fit and worthy.

... and we had cake!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Because Not Blogging About It Haunts Me So...

My last attempt at updating this blog was almost a year ago. I've been thinking a lot lately about unschooling. Perhaps because kiddo #1 is now 18 and it feels like a milestone of sorts that we've made it this far without sending a kid to school. We had a celebration in June that I will write about soon.

I write, mostly because I remember the time I spent, when my children were much younger, hungry to read about what others who called themselves unschoolers were doing. Perhaps my window for followers is long past, but feeding my own satisfaction of documenting day-to-day doings is worthy enough.

The kids and I have recently shifted our schedule so that we spend the early morning hours at home together. We've been making our way to the office each day at about 10:30 where we typically work on individual projects and focuses.

Kaman shares a room with the cat and the copy machine. If I'm being honest, he spends much of his day on the computer, and I am probably entirely incapable, at this point, of describing exactly what he is into as it is all well beyond me and over my head. He would tell you he enjoys geopolitical history. His grasp of European geography is amazing. I would say that much of this has been sparked by games such as Crusader Kings II and Europa Universalis IV. He plays these games (and others) and then he searches places and events online and reads and reads and reads. His following of current world events has helped me make connections through history better than I probably ever have in my life. It's helpful, of course, that these topics also are of interest to my husband, but I've seen Rand scrambling more than once to "catch up" with a topic they've been discussing.

Kaman has been learning computer programming -- he has a mentor he meets with once a week (or did until this month -- they will take a break for the summer/4-H fair prep time, and likely start again in the fall). He has dabbled at making videos about his computer gaming and he's written a few game reviews. He keeps a Tumblr account that I try to follow in order to maintain some inkling of what is going on in his brain. He's been reading voraciously of late. Re-reading series that he loves and picking up new ones. I'll have to ask him for a list. I know the discussion is a lot about mythology and critiquing the job the movies have done with various books, but I honestly couldn't tell you the names of the books he's been reading lately.

Kaman and I had the rare morning home alone together today. We reviewed some math stuff. He spends quite a bit of time on Khan Academy and I was being the nosey mom, wondering where it had led him. We updated his 4-H records and I helped him make a list of projects he is committing to taking to the fair. Then we played a Wii game that he bought me for Christmas. Kaman played big time Santa this year and saved his money to buy a new system, as well as a game for each member of the family. My game was called Rayman Legends. My interpretation of the game is that it was perhaps designed with young players in mind. Multiples can play at one time, and there is a character named Murphy where you can use the touch screen rather than a joystick controller... a hand player unit? Anyway, it allows me to play along with Kaman without getting too frustrated by my lack of skill. In fact, I think I've become quite good at it. We've played together several times since Christmas and today I actually finished a section of the game myself.

Middle kid, Maddie, is at camp this week. She left, very excited on Monday, as this is her first year attending as a camp counselor.

The eldest kiddo had a babysitting job today. She took the car and left the house before I did.

This evening we had a mowing party. Got most of the yard done.

I feel a bit like our German Shepherd dog. I keep looking around, wondering where I've misplaced the third kid.