A Year of Homeschooling

June 10, 2015

We wore out this reading book.

We wore out this reading book.

Back in the fall, we started homeschooling Simone for a variety of reasons, many I made clear in an editorial that, apparently, everyone in the world read. So, I won’t talk about how it got started. Rather, I’ll talk about how it went.

At the beginning we started by using a series of books called Everything Your ___ Grader Should Know. Cate was homeschooled on these, and it seemed a logical place to start. We more or less threw out the kindergarten book right away. Simone already knew all of it. That’s going to sound like bragging or something, but it’s really just the truth. There was nothing there we needed to cover with her beyond a few basic social studies concepts. So, it was on to the first grade book.

The first grade material had real meat. You learn to read in the first grade. You start to learn real math and so on and so forth. In the beginning, things went pretty well, we were trucking along. And then James happened.

James spent most of the school year in a phase called, I AM A TWO-YEAR-OLD DEMON. This made schooling pretty hard and a lot of it got put off until after I was home from work when one of us could go over things with her while the other ran interference. It took us a while to adapt and there was a good month there where I felt like we did a pretty crappy job, but eventually we got a system figured out and Simone quickly got back on track.

Later in the year, Simone provided her own challenges. A lot of learning has come easy for her and when something was a little hard, she wanted to quit. Some fits were thrown, but we managed to find a way around. We both knew that was going to be the challenge with her. Most things come easy to Simone and when they don’t, she’s pretty inclined to walk away.

IMG_0695Having reached the end of the year, she’s just reached the beginning of second-grade reading and she’s started working on second-grade math. She’s very deep into lots of science concepts, especially biology, where she’s always on me to teach her about evolution (yes, really). And, she has her own library card!

This sounds more perfect and serene than it is. There are definitely areas where we need to improve. I feel like we could do a better job with her arts education and we definitely need to do a better job with history and social studies next year. I stand by our decision, however, and we plan to continue homeschooling for the foreseeable future. The world is still too testing-obsessed, and we enjoyed being able to adapt ourselves to her interests. It meant that she stayed in engaged in learning the whole year, and even if we struggled at times and even if we ended up with some tantrums and tattered books, it has all worked out for the best, so far.

Time Is Getting On

May 9, 2015

I am getting some white in my beard. My temples are turning a little gray. I am not old and I do not feel old, but some of the people around me are getting there. Some are losing the battle with mortality. Yesterday, I found out that an old family friend died. He had been omnipresent in my childhood. Always over at our house to visit my parents. He was strange, but in the end, a pretty interesting and good guy. He was one of my dad’s friends from high school. Only a few months older than Dad.

I was seven when my grandfather died. I was scared, so I didn’t go to the funeral. My grandfather is why I care about baseball. I loved my grandfather and even now, 27 years later, I still remember how much he loved me. I can still remember playing on the floor in the living room of the big, old house he shared with my grandmother.

Like anyone else, I’m self-interested. Until recently, I only thought about his death in terms of how it affected me, but about a month or so ago I realized that I am older now than my dad was when my grandfather – his father – died. I realized that my daughter is nearly the same age I was when that happened.

The people in my family have a stubborn history of not taking care of themselves and not going to the doctor. It’s taken him a long time, but Dad has generally reversed the trend. He goes to the doctor and generally does what the doctor tells him to do. I don’t think he’s going anywhere any time soon. But he could.

I’m not ready for that. I’m not even remotely ready for that. I know my children aren’t ready for that. They love their grandparents. But time is getting on, now. My dad lost a sister not long ago. School friends are going. Then generation before me is passing. But I hope I don’t have to think about that for a while. I hope my daughter sees my dad and all her grandparents at her high school graduation. I hope she doesn’t have to miss someone and wonder what it would have been like when she got old enough to really know them.

The Different One

February 22, 2015

Tomorrow, James is going to turn three, but we had his party today. I haven’t written about James nearly as much as I’ve written about Simone. Some of that is because he came second so I didn’t have any “whoa check out this parenting thing” experiences with him, but I think some of it is also because it’s been hard for me to wrap my head around him.

Cate and Simone and I are all pretty obvious introverts. Nothing makes us want to spend a quiet night in like a fun night out. We like people, but we all have to recover from them. James is different. If there’s an extrovert in our house, he’s it. He makes friends with everyone. Right away. There’s not a quiet or shy bone in his body.

Unlike his sister, he experienced the terrible twos (she waited until she was three) and is just coming out of them. But like her, I find that as he reaches the end of his third year, he’s starting to be a person. There is something about kids before three that is more baby than anything else. They are all wants and no thoughts, if that makes sense.

So James is three now and he is fun. He laughs with his whole body and he makes us laugh with him. He likes trains and cars and baby dolls and dragons. He loves his sister more than anyone else in the world. He follows her and bothers her and it’s great because she needs to be bothered.

I don’t love it when he climbs on the counters or when he gets into things in a way his sister never dreamed, but I like that he’s adventurous. That he’ll take chances. He’s different from the rest of us, but that’s good. We all need someone to stir the pot, even if a little spills out sometimes.

Play me a blue song…

June 1, 2014

Simone with Gandalf

Simone with Gandalf

When my daughter was born, she was gray. Incompetent doctors and nurses had worked together to give my wife pain medication that should not be given when a child is minutes from being born. Hours earlier it would have been fine, but given at the time it was, my daughter came out not breathing. I do not know how long it took them to revive her. I know it was more than five seconds and less than an hour. I was watching in horror as they flopped her little body around. I was trying not to show my horror. I was trying to keep Cate looking at me. I was telling her what a good job she’d done. I didn’t want her to turn her head. I didn’t want her to look over there and see what I was seeing.

She didn’t. Simone sprang to life. She screamed like babies are supposed to scream. She turned pink with life.

At some point that day, new grandparents strolling in and out and dressing and undressing her like a doll, I fell asleep on the hospital sofa in our room. It was only a couple of hours, but I hadn’t slept at all the night before. That night, it was Simone’s turn. She didn’t want to sleep in the plastic bin they provide. I realize now that it was probably her reflux. She had terrible reflux as a baby. I picked her up and started singing to her. One of the songs I sang was “Waltzing’s for Dreamers” by Richard Thompson. I don’t know why I picked that song. It’s not lyrically appropriate. It starts, “Oh play me a blues song and fade down the lights/I’m sad as a proud man can be sad tonight,” and ends, just as cheerily, “Waltzing’s for dreamers and losers in love.” It’s a sad song, but it does sound like a lullaby with its lilting melody and gentle waltz rhythm, and that’s probably why I landed on it.

So I sang it to her and I remember her falling asleep to it. She wouldn’t let me lay her down though, and the nurses wouldn’t let her sleep in Cate’s narrow hospital bed. The sofa I was sleeping on pulled out to a double bed, and so I finally lay down on it with her. I slept lightly that night, scared the way new parents are scared of unseen disasters, my arm around her, checking every so often that she was swaddled and warm.

There were many periods in her first few years, when I sang her to sleep nightly. For one long stretch, she would only go to sleep if I sang to her while she held my hand, gingerly tugging it away when she drifted off. I went to “Waltzing’s for Dreamers” night after night. It didn’t always work, but it worked more than anything else.

Today, my daughter turned five. She had the much written about hobbit birthday and it was a smashing success. We spent the first half of the day building Bag End from Legos (which is still only about half complete, I’m sure we’ll finish the rest tomorrow), then she watched the old animated movie (another present) while her brother napped and we prepared for her party. Her friends came over and her grandparents and everyone had a wonderful time. Her cake had hobbit stuff on it. There was a dragon piñata that she named, of course, Smaug. The kids ran around batting balloons and blowing bubbles. Her Gandalf figure accompanied her for most of the day (Gandalf is her favorite, much to my pleasure and through no prompting on my part). It was the kind of day all of us want to give our kids from time to time. I don’t know, but I think she’ll remember it forever.

Of course, the party wound down, friends went home, and it was eventually time to get ready for bed. She had her final hobbit meal (cereal with strawberries on top) and we read book and she lay down in bed and I was about to go and she was resisting because she was too tired. Then, just as I was shutting the door, she said, “Daddy, will you sing ‘Play me a blue song,'” getting the words just a little wrong as children will.

And so, I came back in, and I sat down on her brother’s bed where she could see me and I sang to her and she watched me and smiled at me, and I came out thinking that this is something else she will always remember and that I don’t sing her to sleep every night anymore and that one day, I will sing her that song for the last time and neither of us will know it.

Does This Matter?

May 16, 2014

Holy Crap Reader,

I have not written a new post in a long time. The last thing to go up here was on the Alfredo Simon rape accusations. That was a pretty weird thing. I posted it here because it went up, then down, then back up at Redleg Nation where I have been writing about Reds baseball for several years. It probably generated as much notoriety as anything I’ve ever written, which surprises me, even though ti shouldn’t. All I did was lay out the facts and demonstrate that if someone says an athlete raped them, they are very, very likely to be telling the truth. This caused an uproar because we live in a a strange world.

Which actually kind of leads into some other thoughts I’ve been having. It has struck me, recently, how crowded the internet is. There are so many people talking so much about every topic you can imagine that nearly anything one does is already being done somewhere else. It makes it even more inexcusable that so much of what is in the mainstream is so terrible. I generally think that what I put up is well-thought and well-written, but I worry about adding to the cacophony. It’s had me thinking about ceasing to blog anywhere at all. That’s probably not going to happen. I’m too much of a producer for that. But it might.

Further life musings…

Things are approaching mellow in my life (sort of). Cate has a new business and it’s getting off the ground pretty well and making us a little more financially relaxed than we ever have been. We’ve been secure for a long time, but it’s been tight a lot. It’s nice to be able to buy a book or an album and not have to feel guilty about it.

Of course, fewer monetary concerns are pretty much the only thing making my life more mellow. I’ve been going like crazy on the book (new chapter coming soon) because I really want it put to bed by the end of June so I can have one solid month of no responsibilities. Writing in serial has been very interesting. I’m still gathering my thoughts about it, but I know I’ll be glad when I’m done.

My daughter is about to turn five, and that seems impossible.

It is almost summer vacation. I love teaching except for the last month of every school year when I want all of education to burn down. I am tired. I want to sleep in some.

That’s all for now. See you sooner or later.

Education and Work

March 22, 2014

Reader,

I have found myself curmudgeonly of late. This comes of reading other people’s ideas about school and learning, and it comes from watching so many of us scurry around for the few crumbs dropped our way. It bothers me greatly that so much effort is put into the idea that schools should prepare students for the workforce and nothing more. I find it condescending and supportive only of the unbalanced wealth structure of our society.

Generally speaking, people work more hours for less money (inflation adjusted) than they used to. This is not how it should be. If you consider that technology has, in many ways, eased the production of so many of life’s necessities while scarcity of resources has not yet become a serious issue in our country, we should not find ourselves working more. We should find ourselves working less. Instead, what has happened is that, through various implementations of bad social policy, too much power has been placed into the hands to a wealthy few who then divy it out among the rest of us based only on how hard we are willing scurry around for it all while convincing us that we need many of the things we only want and that many of the things we want should cost much, much more than they actually do (go look at cellphone/internet costs internationally).

And so we work harder and harder for less. Failing to accumulate any kind of real comfort or wealth. Ever precarious. This is why I am a socialist (not a communist, there’s a difference).

And on top of all of this, we educators are coming to be regarded as mere cogs in the machine whose job is to produce more cogs that are “career” ready. I recently saw written that careers should be one of the results of education, but not the goal of education. This is precisely how I feel.

Much is made of the unimportance of the humanities in academia. Don’t study art history or English literature or film or anything like that. No. Engineering and hard sciences are the only way to go. Engineering and science are wonderful. No one who knows me will accuse me of deriding the STEM fields, but it is folly to think we don’t need the humanities. To point out the painfully obvious, there is a reason the first five letters spell “human.”

Instead of what we currently have, what we should have is a world where people have a vocation – a career – that contributes to society and which they find rewarding, but which also allows them the free time to engage with the world. Not to simply consume art and music and literature, but to make it if such things are of interest.

I don’t want my children to go to school only to learn career skills. I want them to go to school to learn how to be people. To learn how to engage the world in thoughtful and meaningful ways. If that is to happen those of us currently steering the world need to take more time thinking about why we spend so much time working. Why we have less time off than our parents. Why we don’t have paid maternity and paternity leave. Why so many of our children live in poverty.

As a society, we have surpassed the wealth disparity of the famously disastrous gilded age. This can’t endure. I’m not the kind of person who calls for revolution, but this isn’t acceptable. Things should be hard. They should take work. But they shouldn’t be this hard.

Books and Kids

February 20, 2014

A lot of time has passed since I spent this much time worrying about words. Chapters two and three of When the Sparrow Sings have passed through the editorial process and will be up over the course of the next month and a bit. Chapter four will be ready for editors soon. And, of course, I’m still teaching writing and English and blogging for way too many sites. It’s a busy time.

In putting this book together, I’ve found myself reminded of an interview where Paul Harding (who won the Pulitzer for Tinkers) talked about writing with small children around. He called it guerilla writing and that sounds about right to me. Until recently, I’d used the excuse of not being able to do it unless I had extended time to focus. Well, now that I have deadlines, that’s out the window, isn’t it? Kids are watching a cartoon? Write. Kids are in bed, but I’m really tired? Suck it up and write. Kids have forgotten I exist for at least 30 seconds? Write. Spare moment during my planning period at school? Write.

It’s worked surprisingly well, and I’m hoping it will serve as motivation for me to continue working hard on things when I’ve finished completely with Sparrow sometime this summer.

Speaking of my kids (as I did earlier), they’ve been interesting lately. And I mean that without any sort of connotation. Simone is getting an allowance now when she does her chores, and that’s working out well. She’s getting a little bit of a sense about how money works.

This past Saturday, Cate was out at a babywearing thing with James and I took Simone out for a special treat. She’d heard about The Hobbit just from being in our house and recently, there had been a line of questioning about just exactly what hobbits are. There’s a new edition out with lots of illustrations by Jemima Catlin and I thought she might be ready for it. I don’t think she’d sit through it without the pictures, but with them, it seemed worth a shot. So we went to Barnes and Noble because I knew they had it (sorry my local indie store, I still love you and I’ll be back soon). I showed it to her, and we flipped through the pictures. I asked if she wanted to try it (enthusiastic yes) and got it for her. It was neat seeing how thrilled she was to have her own, big, hardback book.

After we grabbed the book, we had lunch together in the little cafe at the back of the store. A bunch of people seemed irritated because the four-year-old was excited and four, but she was very sweet, and it’s a coffee shop, not an office, so they can go suck an egg. After that, we walked around the kids section a little and she quizzed me a bit about whether or not she could have things (no) and how long it would take her to save her allowance for them. We spent maybe an hour walking around before we headed home.

Once we were home, she wanted to read her book right away and laid on top of me through the first 20 pages. I was quite impressed with her and I’m thrilled to be reading her a book I really loved as a kid.

James has been teething so there have been some sleep issues, but he’s also finally going through a bit of a daddy phase. It’s nice to have him come to me instead of Cate sometimes. He’ll be two this weekend, and I’ve been waiting all that time for this to happen. We read together a lot and he’s still small enough that I can toss him easily into the air. Simone doesn’t always like it as she views me as entirely hers. She’ll need to learn to share. Hard as that may be.

As I’m typing this, it’s warmed up for the first time in ages, and I’m rather enjoying it. I do like all the snow we’ve had this winter, though. I’m normally miserable for much of winter, but it was nice to look out onto the blanket of white and it was fun to play in it with Simone. This further convinces me that it’s time to move to the northeast. One more year, I think, and then we’ll be ready.

The Perfect Age

December 2, 2013

A lot of parenting, I have found, rests on faith that your actions now will pay off later. This is certainly true in the early going (which is the only part of the going I have personal experience with). Preschool children can be little monsters. They don’t listen. Sometimes they don’t sleep. They don’t eat (but they would if you just had whatever you ran out of yesterday). They throw fits that can go on for hours.

It’s a challenge.

I had heard that something magical happened between four and five. The word that kept coming up was “reason.” As in, “They become more reasonable,” or, “You can finally reason with them a little.” I had my doubts, but I was hopeful.

Our oldest, Simone, has been difficult at times. I haven’t made a secret of that here on the blog. But there’s also always been this wonderful child lurking beneath the surface of the fits. She’s always been very empathetic. If someone is upset, she tries to cheer them up (and she’s pretty good at it). She (usually) shares. She’s very curious and intellectually engaged. But, yeah, she can throw a fit if she doesn’t get what she wants.

Then, a few weeks ago, something happened. She’d been going through a rough patch. Lots of fits. Not listening at all. Basically, doing the thing kids do periodically where you end up questioning every choice you’ve ever made as a parent. And then, it stopped.

If I was a believer, I’d be tempted to call it a miracle. It’s not that she never thows fits now, but they are much rarer and much shorter and generally easily explained by hunger or tiredness. Her self-control is a lot better. She helps with her brother. She helps (in her way) around the house. We were cleaning recently and she spent half an hour scrubbing crayon that her brother had scribbled onto a window. She volunteered for this job.

And now, it’s Christmas time. I have always loved Christmas and since Simone was born, I’ve been looking forward to that age when it would be as magical for my kids as it was for me when I was little. Last year was great because she was three and a half and it was the first year she really, really got it (she had spent the previous Christmas figuring it out as it happened). She knew what was coming and she was excited. But she was still pretty high-maintenance and toddler-y at times. But this year, I don’t even know how to explain it. I just can’t imagine anything more – to use a term I normally scoff at – heartwarming than my daughter right now.

IMG_0461

Transcript for the preschooler disadvantaged: Dear Santa, Thank you for bringing me presents. *picture of reindeer* *picture of heart* Love, Simone. Thank you. It’s Christmas time.
Under “For Me” – Pictures of stroller, dragon Legos, doll. Under “For James” – Picture of Winnie the Pooh.

She is excited about everything. She was excited to get the Christmas tree and REALLY excited to decorate it. She was actually helpful with it this year, too. Yesterday, we wrote her letter to Santa. It took more than an hour (she is four), but she was so, so, so excited to put it in the mailbox when it was done. Last night, of her own volition, she made a sticker and ribbon collage to leave out for Santa on Christmas. She will periodically stop whatever she is doing to go look at the Christmas tree. Every night before bed, we count the days until Christmas. Last night, obviously, it was 24, and at the end she said, “That means Christmas is going to be here really fast!” For a few nights, she had trouble falling asleep, but she’s really calmed down now and goes to sleep quickly to speed the arrival of the big day.

It is everything I wanted parenting a small child to be. And it has come at the perfect time as her brother, formerly the sweetest baby in the world, has recently entered the limit-testing 18-24 month stage which he has supplemented with constant teething.

That also has been good for us, I think. Since he was born, James has been very sweet and it was impossible not to think of him as “easier” than his sister, but everything in childhood is a stage and that stage has ended for him. Which is fine. We’ve done this before, so at least it isn’t a surprise.

Parenting is hard. Sometimes, you question your choices, but this year, we’re seeing some of the payoff. Our daughter is happy and kind and she’s turning into an awesome little person and she’s going to make me cry one million times between now and Christmas and then… Christmas morning.

I might be as excited as she is.

Lack of Expectations

November 1, 2013

Last night was Halloween and it sucked. There was a lot of rain and even more wind and it was, frankly, a pretty big washout where trick-or-treating was concerned. This doesn’t affect me personally because I am a grown up and do not trick-or-treat. However, this was Simone’s third go-round and James’ first.

They had fun.

Simone dressed as the sun (orange sweats and yellow fabric-painted sun). James was a kitty. They stomped in puddles. They got rained on a little (we went out a little early hoping to beat the weather, so it wasn’t too rainy). They got some candy, but not much. Very few people were handing any out. This turned into the story of the night as lots of people didn’t know what to do with the weather. It took us 45 minutes to go around the neighborhood and we found maybe five houses giving out candy. We were damp. Cate and I were very grumpy.

At her mom’s suggestion, Simone ended trick-or-treat by gathering leaves for a craft they’ll do this weekend. When we got home, she dumped out her bucket and counted her candy (she counted 22, but she skipped about five numbers in there). Eight-year-old Simone would probably have been pissed. Eight-year-old me certainly would have. But four-year-old Simone knows that she got to run around outside and jump in puddles and collect pretty leaves. All while dressed as the sun and getting occasional handfuls of free candy.

One of the nice things about having small children is that they don’t have expectations (okay, this is nice sometimes. It sucks when they wake up at 5:00 AM and think it’s time to get up). That means they will often enjoy things that we (their parents) are busy being grumpy about because it hasn’t gone how it normally does or how we planned. It doesn’t come close to our idea of perfect, so we get grumpy. But Simone and James don’t know what perfect Halloween is. They just know Halloween is fun.

I, personally, can be especially bad about rolling with the punches at times. I could certainly be a lot better, and I wonder how many fun times I’ve missed out on because it wasn’t the fun time I expected.

All the Ketchup I Want

October 18, 2013

Often enough, when one of the kdis throws a fit, Cate and I will joke about it to each other. The jokes are usually along the lines of how hard it is to be a kid because you get to play all day and you don’t really have any responsibilites and boy, wouldn’t that be nice.

But we also have conversations sometimes about how hard it is to be a kid. James has been a royal pain in the ass lately because he’s teething and not sleeping really well, and so he’s fussy and all that. His general buttheadedness has been kind of rough on Simone because she isn’t getting the attention we would like her to get. Don’t get me wrong, she’s not really suffering or anything, but she doesn’t get read to as much. We aren’t as patient with her.

She’s been reacting by being pretty cranky herself. Lots of fits about little stuff, which only tells us that she feels like she doesn’t have control over what is going on. And you know what? She doesn’t, and I bet it really sucks.

Think about it for minute. Imagine you come home and your spouse is too busy with work or whatever so he or she can’t really interact. Fine. You’re a grownup, you can cope with that. Maybe you decide to have a cup of coffee, but just as you start to get it together, your spouse chimes in that the coffee is needed for tomorrow so it will have to be tea. Okay, fine. Oh and wait, not that mug. No, you have to use this mug.

Why? Why can’t I pick my own damn mug?

You sit down to watch a little TV, but the show is bothering your spouse, so you have to turn it off. You pick up a book, but the spouse says know, I need that for research.

You decide to order dinner. The spouse shoots down everything except for the place you don’t like and the place you’ve been three times in a row.

You sick of this yet? This is the life of a kid. The only difference is, they often don’t understand our reasons even if we try to explain it.

It is really hard. I wouldn’t want to do that. If Cate acted like the spouse I descibed, I’d have told her to go to hell and then gone and gotten the dinner I wanted and she could fend for herself, thank you very much. Kids, of course, can’t do that.

A month or so ago, Simone and I were at a local park together while Cate and James were off at a baby-wearing function. It’s a big park with lots of woods and a nice walking path. We started at a little playground and Simone had fun, but after a while, she was ready to explore.

I let her take charge and we went from tree to tree so she could try to climb them. Then she was ready to go into the woods and explore. She was adamant that she stay in the lead, which was fine with me. She took us down one path and than another and then another. It was kind of sticky and there were bugs in spots, but it was mostly pretty nice. It was quieter than usually get in the city and she was having fun exploring and being in charge for a change.

And then I looked up and saw a white-tailed doe with her fawn. I stopped and pointed them out to Simone. We looked at them for a moment, I snapped a few pictures and we kept going down the path. Much to my surprise, however , the path curved, and we ended up circling the deer. We got closer and closer. At our nearest point, we were maybe 10 or 15 feet away. They were reasonably tame from living so close to lots of people. They skittered around, but didn’t run.

It was all very cool and Simone had a ball and was very happy and I felt very close to her.

As a parent, trying to teach a kid how to be a person, it’s easy to forget that it has been a long time since someone told me what path I could go down or how much TV I could watch or how much ketchup I could have. I’m an adult. I do what I want. As Jerry Seinfeld once said, “If I want a cookie, I’m having a cookie.”

Sometimes, we have to let our kids have cookies. Life is better when we do.