Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Bedtime Free House

Last night the kids watched a movie after their dad and I went to bed. This is not unusual. The kids have been setting their own bedtimes since they were wee little. We've only had one rule from the beginning. If you are going to stay up late -- or at least past the point that other people in the house have begun to go to bed -- you just have to be respectful that others are sleeping. Staying up is fine. Keeping up people who would prefer to be sleeping is not.

I can barely recall maybe a handful of times when they were younger that I had to get up and say something to them about being too loud. Occasionally things would get rowdy when they had friends over, but even then, it seems like the kids were as likely to get things quieted down on their own as need my help.

The girls still share a room and it has only been since the oldest started college that I've heard grumbles between them about when the lights were turned out. The last time it came up, the oldest agreed that if she still had studying she wanted to do once her sister wanted to go to bed, she'd bring her stuff down to the kitchen table to work.

The only times I have made suggestions about bedtimes were when something was going on the next day that required us to be up and out of the house earlier than usual. And even then I always offered it as a suggestion. We have never had arguments about bedtime in our house. I have three teens that go to bed, most often, at what seems like fairly reasonable hours to me. They get up on their own. And they are pretty good at recognizing when they are sleep deprived and they take responsibility for fixing it.

Throughout this past summer, and it seems much of last winter, as well, the kids (often all 3 of them) joined my husband and I for our early morning walks, 3 days a week. This meant they were rolling out of bed at 5 am most mornings. Now I must admit here, that I had strongly encouraged each of them to find some physical activity that they enjoyed doing. As they'd gotten older, we were spending far less time at the park and playing outside. The recreation classes that they had once enjoyed participating in were no longer quite so plentiful for their age group. I admit, I was concerned that they were becoming couch slugs.

So we had given them a parental speech about maintaining an active lifestyle, and had told them that they could join us on morning walks until they figured out what they preferred to do. I was surprised, quite frankly, that it stuck. They, in fact, were quite often better about getting up and around in the morning than I was. Our morning walks became even more regular. For a long stretch while the weather was nice, we were walking 5 days a week!

This past week we've had morning temperatures in the single digits and head colds running through the ranks. The coordinated morning rise time has been disrupted. I'm starting my day with a few minutes of alone time. It feels like it has been many years since that has happened.

Last night, the kids stayed up and watched a movie. As I drifted off to sleep, I heard them talking and laughing. It must have been a scary movie. I woke up later to a shriek, followed by much louder talking and laughing. My husband set up in bed and called the kids in. They quieted immediately, and it was kind of funny to see them sheepishly gather in the doorway. Or maybe that was just a memory of days gone by. I am pretty adept at closing my eyes and drifting off again, but I heard the oldest one say, "I know. You're sleeping. We'll be quiet."

Monday, November 10, 2014

Raising Writers

My post on Raising Children Who Love to Write went up at home/school/life today. I had difficulty focusing that piece enough for a blog post. When it comes to the subject writing, I guess I can write and write and write!

The fun part in preparing that piece was going back to look at my notes on what the kids were doing over the years. I'm sharing some of those journal entries here.

Journal entries on writing…(ages added)

Middle Munchkin (age 3) started drawing stick people this week. These people have circle heads with stick bodies. Her drawings of people looked like balloons blowing in the wind, but the balloons had eyes, noses, and big smiles. She assured me they were people.


Munchkin #1 (age 4) tells me stories and I type them. I break the story into scenes and print the pages for her, with room for illustrations. We read the sentences together and she draws the pictures.


Munchkin Boy (age 6) says he doesn’t need to know how to write anything but his name. At this point, that’s the letter, K. “What if you need to write something else, like a grocery list?” I asked. He said I could write it for him.


Middle Munchkin (age 8) started writing a new Harry Potter story this week. She says she can barely read her handwriting from the one that she was working on last year.


Munchkin #1 (age 10) is still working on her story. She hasn’t asked me to read it in quite some time. Middle Munchkin, however, has been reading it and she loves it. In the car the other day, she said to Munckin #1, “It makes me feel like I’m watching it. It’s really good. I love it.”


We had a conversation about using spellcheck on the computer. Munchkin #1 (age 10) asked if I thought it was okay for her to use spellcheck to correct her work. I said, “Absolutely, it’s a tool and you should learn to use it!” Then she told me she did use it, but it felt a bit like cheating. I find it interesting that she uses a word that I so strongly associate with school and school work. I don’t think we’ve ever talked about cheating before, though I suppose she’s come across the idea in other places, television and conversations with friends.


Munchkin Boy's handwriting (age 11) is not neat, but his spelling is superb and he can get his point across. When he types, I would say his composition is well beyond his years. He’s slack on things like capitalization and punctuation. He says taking the time to capitalize slows him down too much.
 Munchkin Boy (age 12) won first place in the 2013 Kansas Book Festival Contest. He entered an essay about Kansas stereotypes. His entry was titled, "Why do people think Kansas is flat in the first place?" It’s hard to admit that he’s getting paid more for writing than I am!


Middle Munchkin (age 13) continues her obsession with learning to write with her left hand. I can hardly tell the difference now if she writes with the left or the right. She sometimes practices mirror writing, as well -- both hands writing at the same time in opposite directions!


Munchkin #1 (age 15) is keeping a journal. She doesn’t share it with me, but I know that she is writing in it pretty much daily. She says this is one of the things she most enjoys about our current routine. Together we have been working on the mechanics of writing. Most of the time, this is me providing paragraphs of text that she edits. Sometimes we use worksheets we find online, but I enjoy creating my own. She does very well at this. She will usually pick out every single error, from punctuation to spelling.


I found out yesterday that Middle Munchkin (age 15) signed up for one of those Coursera courses. For a couple of weeks now she has been taking a beginning college composition class. I had no idea. I don’t know how I missed it. When I asked her about it, she said, “You sent us that link and said there might be some stuff there we’d be interested in. I really want to learn to write well, so I signed up for it.”


Munchkin #1 (age 18) asked me to review a paper she had written for her honors composition class this morning. It was a last-minute request for a quick review before she submitted the piece to her instructor. I found one misspelled word (a word spelled correctly, but not the word she was going for). I suggested she rein in her frequent use of semicolons. “I know,” she said. “I just really love semicolons.”


Sunday, October 05, 2014

The Seamstress

Middle Munchkin sews. She's very good at it. Some days it spooks me, how good she is, because she reminds me sooooo much of my mother (the grandmother that she never knew). My mom was an incredible seamstress. She made a lot of my clothes when I was a kid. Most of them, in fact, until I was probably 7 or so. She made ALL of my dressy clothes, including prom dresses, bridesmaid dresses, and eventually my wedding dress.

Technically, I learned to sew as a kid. Mom sent me to a neighbor to take lessons one year because she was not happy with the progress I was making under her tutelage. My memory of sewing lessons is that the woman had a machine you ran with your knee rather than a foot pedal. It kept sticking and the machine would take off crazily stitching across my fabric. I think the neighbor thought I was a reckless seamstress. She didn't seem to believe me that the knee-thing was sticking. I think, perhaps, she thought I was trying to get out of sewing lessons.

Middle Munchkin started sewing in 4-H, and for the first three or four years she worked with a woman here in town who is incredibly generous with her resources and time. She sewed at home, as well, and when my dad caught on to her interest he bought her a very nice sewing machine at an auction. I remember the first thing she made at home without her sewing mentor because I mustered all the patience I have in the world and I sat with her and helped her read the pattern.

Reading patterns can be hard. They aren't always well written and often skip steps. I'm pretty sure they are written, more often than not, by non-native English speakers... or maybe even translated by computer programs without any human editing.

Good instructions or not, sewing has always made me tense. I find it stressful. Even helping... just in the form of reading the pattern... made me occasionally want to bang my head against the table, but I managed to get through it (and really, I was just reading... she was doing all of the really nerve-wracking stuff). Middle Munchkin just kept sewing... and kept sewing... and I was so relieved when she no longer needed my help reading patterns.

She eventually started creating patterns of her own.

At 16, my daughter is an amazing, accomplished seamstress. I'm pretty sure her skill is equal to my mother's, and I have no way to explain it except that she is given the gift of being allowed to embrace her flow.

Flow is something I've learned a lot about as an adult (as a writer, and in many of the day-to-day activities that fill my time). I spent several years of my adult life, in fact, reclaiming the ability to simply slip into this state of being, most often of creating something, any time that I am so moved. I don't find flow in sewing, but my daughter does. When she is involved in a project, she sometimes spends most of the hours of the day working on it. There have been weeks where very little else was accomplished.

This week, I watched my daughter take her scissors to someone's wedding dress! The very thought absolutely tied me up in knots inside, but Miss Middle Munchkin was calm, cool, and confident. It was a "simple" adjustment (she assures me), turning a zippered back to a corset back. She worked quickly, and the result was beautiful.

I think one reason this sticks with me is that my mom, who was the most talented seamstress I knew before my daughter, was always nervous about taking on important occasion projects, like wedding dresses. In fact, she mostly refused, except when it came to her daughters and, eventually, daughters-in-law. Too much pressure, she once told me. What if she messed something up?

Sewing is something Middle Munchkin has always had the power to chose or leave behind. She chooses how much, how involved, how many drafts she is going to create before tackling the final project. She's had the benefit of a mentor whom she will occasionally still go to if she has a question, but she is just as likely to Google for help these days, or simply keep reworking a piece until she gets exactly what she wants from it.

I think about Mom often when I watch my daughter sew, and I imagine how much fun she would have had coming up with projects to work on with this grandchild. It feels to me like something they share, even though they never knew each other.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Now Blogging at Home / School / Life

Be sure to check out Home / School / Life Magazine where I am now a member of the blog team. I look forward to posting monthly notes there about life with teen/young adult unschoolers.

I still plan to write here, as well. More frequently, perhaps?

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 are 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.