Saturday, December 8, 2007

Talking to Jesus

Owen walked around the backyard talking loudly to no one we could see.

"Who are you talking to?" asked Jack.

"I'm talking to Jesus."

"Why are you talking so loud?"

"So He can hear me." replied Owen. "Because He's way up in the sky."

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The great, modern parental conflict

Jack and I stood back and watched out little boys’ joy find expression, as it so often does, in rapid movement. This morning they looped the sleeves of their shirts around their necks and ran running and whopping down the hallway.

“Why don’t you go to work and I’ll stay home with the boys?” said Jack.

I know and he knows that I wouldn’t like that, completely. I tried working full-time outside of the home last year. Hated it! Way too much time away from kids.

“How about we each work part time?” I suggested.

“My work couldn’t be done part time.”

True, unfortunately. His work requires more than the standard American 40-hour workweek to be successful.

“How about we start a home-based business together?”

“I thought we wanted to save our marriage.” He countered.

True, again.

But I love him for wanting to stay home with the kids.

Busted intentions

I have good intentions. I’m great with intentions. But I’m backing off on the book club one. I thought that discussing a book once a month that I’m already reading for my book club would be easy. I love books and talking about them. But I’m dragging my feet on it. So much so that I feel a pang of guilt when I fire up my laptop. Why?

The purpose of my blog is for entertainment, expression and enjoyment. Not obligation. I have enough of that in my life. Not nearly enough of the fun stuff. So I’m going to the leave the book reviews as I originally intended—when I feel so moved to do so.

Although I enjoyed both of the books I mentioned for the book club, and particularly enjoyed pondering and discussing Gilbert’s Eat, Pray Love, I won’t be writing about it here. I’ll probably write about some of our book club picks in the future, I just not making any promises that I can’t keep.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

But I need them!

At the end of our long weekend with family, the boys and I were headed toward the security line at the airport. I told them to say goodbye now because Grandmom and Uncle P couldn’t come with us. Jonas refused. He pointed his chubby fingers at the beloved relatives and exclaimed, “No, I need them!”

Happy wherever

“Do you miss your daddy?” a favored uncle asked Owen. The boys and I left Jack at home for a few days and visited my family up north.

“Not too much, I’ll see him the next day,” said Owen. “I’m happy wherever I am.”

Sunday, October 21, 2007

It's tough being a kid, part 3

After a couple 2-year-olds came running to me on the verge of tears, I had to pull Owen aside to explain that even though pillow fights are OK, he couldn't hit his little brother and cousin so hard with the pillows.

"Honey, you're much bigger than them, and you could hurt them without meaning to. You just have to play more gently with little kids."

"But Mom, everything inside of me wants to play rough!"

Friday, October 19, 2007

It's tough being a kid, part 2

I hugged and kissed Owen goodnight and said, “I love you.”

“I know. You always love me,” he said exasperatedly. “But Mom, I want to do what I want to do when I want to do it!”

Monday, October 8, 2007

Life happens

OK, this is a boring, housekeeping type of post, so I must apologize. I've missed my deadline to discuss the book club book, Eat, pray, love, and I'm very sorry. My Internet service was down, I hadn't quite finished the book and Owen's birthday is tomorrow so I've been consumed with planning/prepping that. In a couple of days I'll have my brain back in gear and ready to talk to about the book. Keep checking, I haven't forgotten!

By the way, our next book is The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Plan to read it by Nov. 2. And I will too!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Because I'm the mom!

Could you condense everything a mother says in a 24-hour period into a song just shy of 3-minutes sung to the tune of the William Tell Overture? This is so funny! Whether you've been the one saying all this or on the receiving end (or both), this will bring you a smile. Promise!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Aahh, the joys of siblings

Jonas stood facing the window nearest his carseat in the minivan and stubbornly said, "Don't look out my window."

Owen, sitting behind him in his seat, shot back, "I'm looking out your window."

"Don't look out my window!"

"I'm looking out your window!"

Oh, brother!

Friday, September 28, 2007

He's figured out what separates the kids from the grown-ups

Sitting at dinner tonight, Owen had an epiphany, "Me and Jonas do what we want to do and you two (pointing to Jack and I) do what you have to do."

He happier, she's less so

This headline in The New York Times caught my attention. So, after all our efforts to grant women equal rights, we've ended up more stressed. Read all the way to the end and you'll see why I want the author to come to my house.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Bob into reading


The timing couldn't have been better. I write about Owen beginning to read a few words, then I get this opportunity to review the Bob Books by Bobbie Lee Maslen and John R. Maslen. Perfect!

Our set arrived on our doorstep, which is always an adventure. It's like Christmas for the boys when packages arrive at the house. Who cares that we get deliveries much more frequently than only the chaotic month of December because I'm in love with free shipping on Amazon, it's still exciting. So, I definately had Owen's attention when I opened the big brown box to find our little blue box inside.

"Is it for me?" Owen yelled while practically jumping as high as me.

"Yes, these are books just for you. Books that you can read yourself."

"I don't know how to read, Mommy"

"You're learning. You can read cat and hat. I think you can learn to read these too."

So we cuddled up on the couch and opened the first of 12 miniature paperbacks. Together we sounded out the words through the simple eight-page booklet. As soon as we were done, he wanted to read it again. And again.

That night when Daddy came home, Owen met him at the door proudly exclaiming, "Daddy, I read a book today." Of course, Daddy was full of praise and couldn't wait to hear it. We shared a parental look of pride over the top of our firstborn's curly head.

These beginning readers with their simple stories, cute line drawings, and gradual advancement of new words, are the perfect first books. They give the child confidence to progress to the next book, and the next book and the next.

There are five sets in all, each providing a progressive level of difficulty. I'm already anticipating getting set two on my doorstep.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Homeschooler says no to Harvard

Great story about a kid who was homeschooled and the options he chose.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Book club: Eat, Pray, Love

I'm part of a monthly book club and I thought I share our reads with you. Each member takes turns choosing a book so we get introduced to new books, some of which we may not have picked up left to our own devices. Some we love. Some we hate. There's even a few that fall in the so-so category although we usually have stronger opinions than that. We read biographies, memoirs, novels, Christian literature and even an occasional romance here and there.

This month's pick is Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert. So far I only know what's on the book jacket. And that tells me that it was #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. For me, a more stirring endorsement comes from one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, who says, "A wonderful book, brilliant and personal, rich in spiritual insight.

If you would like to join me in discussing this book, check back on Oct. 4 and share your thoughts.

Friday, September 14, 2007

On Borrowed Wings

It's the 1930s and young girls, particularly poor ones, have few options. Adele, raised in the dust of granite that her father cuts, can barely think beyond her beloved town of Stony Creek although she rebels at the idea of an arranged marriage her parents are sure to make for her. Then her older brother dies unexpectedly and suddenly Adele has a choice. She cuts her hair, binds her breasts and puts on pants to attend Yale University under her brother's identity.

When I first started reading On Borrowed Wings, a historical fiction, I noticed the impressive writing, plot and character devleopment. I like Chandra Prasad's vivid descriptions and analogies. She's developed a well thought-out character in Adele who grew throughout the book--always a must for me to like a novel. Although the idea of a girl pretending to be a boy has been done many times, (Shakespeare's As You Like It and Barbara Streisand's Yentl come to mind) it's still an intriquing concept. Then there's added layers of interest in the mother-daughter relationship, the coming-of-age story, and the societal pressures and expectations for gender and class of that era.

What particularly captured my imagination was pondering what women could do given their limited options of the time. And as always, when I read books related to this subject, I wonder what I would have done had I lived then. Would I have had Adele's courage to try a different life? Would my hunger for knowledge and equality enable me push through boundaries? Would I have been depressed or suicidal? I am so thankful for the women who have gone before us and fought for the choices that I am allowed today.

I enjoyed many parts of the book, but then some scenes that seemed thrown in to elicit strong reactions for the sake of reactions and not for story or character development, turned me off. It's kinda like adding gratuitous flesh or violence in a movie to get an R-rating. That's just not my cup of tea.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Piano lessons

You would think with all the money my parents spent on music lessons and the years of practice I put in, that I would be a pretty decent musician. Not so! I took organ lesson from the age of 9 until I was about 17. Then I took a quarter or two of piano in college, and almost a year's worth of piano lessons sometime after I was married and while I was pregnant with Owen. I used to think that he's musicial because I played the piano while he was in utero, but a couple months of Kindermusik convinced me otherwise.

Anyway, since having children I've hardly had a chance to practice. Whenever I've tried, little fingers find their way to the piano keys and bang away. Or worse, they pull down the lid on their mother's fingers.

Today while browsing the book aisle at Costco I came upon The Library of Easy Piano Classics and decided I'm going to practice again. Afterall, there is more music in the world than Vegietales jingles. I bought the book.

I am extremely rusty. This arrangement of Debussy's Clair De Lune is easier than the version I used to play and I can't even get through it. How sad is that? Still, I'm going to try. I'll never be a great pianist, but if I can passably play most of the pieces in this book, I'll be happy.

What really matters

As we're entering the fire season here in southern California, I remember the first time we lived through it about four years ago. This photo shows the view from our back yard. By nightfall, the flames glowed through the smoke.

Watching the fire from my second-story bedroom window, I could see the bright orange-red flames outline the ridges. Every time I looked out the window, the fire seemed to be getting closer and closer. Then I heard that the homes higher up the hill than mine were being evacuated. Our street, only a few blocks south, was under voluntary evacuation. Jack was working late and I called him to come home. The police were guarding all the streets into our neighborhood and would let people leave but not to enter. Jack left his Jeep at the police barricade and snuck past them to walk the couple of miles to our home. We decided to pack our necessities into our car so we could be ready to leave if the authorities evacuated our street as well.

As we went through our house to grab what we needed, I realized that the things that I would pack if I were leaving town for the weekend—clothes, diapers, toothpaste, and such—was not the things I wanted to pack now. I wanted our family photos. I took the wedding photos off the wall—the ones that instantly transport me to that day when I looked into my husband’s eyes and saw the depth of his love as he recited the vows he wrote for me. I grabbed the photo albums that contained pictures of fun times with our friends, images of grandparents that had passed away, and portraits of our families throughout the years. I gathered up the discs that had all the digital snapshots we had taken the past year documenting Owen’s life.

It turned out that our street was never evacuated and no home on our part of the hillside was lost. Many weren't so lucky. Several homes and thousands of acres of woodland was burned. But that experience continues to serve as a poignant reminder of what is truly important. First, the safety of my family. I would have watched those precious photos burn rather than lose my husband or my son. Second, since we had time, we chose to save the most important items we had, and those were not the most expensive items we owned, but the most meaningful—our family photos.

Everything else is replaceable

Monday, September 10, 2007

Our first camping trip

We joined our church group for a camping trip in the mountains this weekend. Thanks to a borrowed tent and stove, we made it. The boys enjoyed running through the trees with their friends, and Jack and I enjoyed the luxury of their prolonged entertainment so we could chat with our friends. And, of course, being in nature always makes me feel rejuvenated--like I can breathe deeply again and not worry about things in the normal hustle and bustle of life. So, even though the air mattress we slept on made me feel as if I was on a boat about to capsize in the waves, and even though it was so cold at night that when Jack returned from the bathroom and wrapped his frozen self around me I was thinking about mutiny, we will definately go camping again.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

I do it myself


Yep, Jonas was so proud of dressing himself in his jammies he had to show them off.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Its tough being a kid

I stiffled a giggle when Owen said this and instead said, "Yep, sometimes it is."

We were playing Uno on the family room floor and I had just suggested we switch places so I could lean against the couch. Hunching over the cards for the past hour was enough to make me wish for a personal masseuse who makes housecalls. Look, the boy had spent three house of bliss at the neighborhood pool, had played numerous games of Uno where, I might add, he had won more games than lost, and now when I asked to switch places to rest his pregnant mother's back he pops up with this its-tough-being-a-kid thing.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Another, much more encouraging, homeschool conference

Well, this past weekend I attended another homeschool seminar that left me feeling quite different than my first. I listened to Carole Joy Seid's wisdom for a day and felt excited about home education and thought, "Yes, I can do this!" Carole holds a master's degree in education and homeschooled her only son through high school. He currently has a master's degree and is working on a Ph.D., I believe, as well.

I so appreciated her well-researched thoughts along with practical application and her deeply held spiritual perspective. Even though this particular seminar mostly focused on the high school years and so wasn't personally applicable, I still gained much from the overall philosophy of education she shared. I'm very much looking forward to her seminar in January that will focus on the elementary years.

Listen in on her radio interview on her Website where you can learn more about her ideas.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The "Good Mother" debate

The other day while chatting with the girls (my sanity-saving group of mothers that meet once a week), the topic turned to homeschooling and one mom said "You guys are just better mothers," as if those who choose to homeschool were somehow "better mothers." No, no, no, 100 times NO!

I so don't want any of my choices to make another mother feel inferior. We get enough of that in our society, whether real or imagined. The so-called "mommy wars" perpetuate the image of catty, back-stabbing women while dividing a huge group that needs each others support. Truthfully, most of the women I know are respectful of other mothers even when they disagree. The women in my Tuesday morning group don't always see eye-to-eye, but we sure do support each other. I love their encouragement, their commiseration, their wise insights and their listening hearts.

I know I run the risk of sounding relativistic and trite, but I do believe it's pretty simple. You make the choice that works for you, your child and your family. When it doesn't work anymore, you do something different. And if you don't have people in your life who support and respect you when you're doing the best you can for your family, go find a Tuesday morning group for yourself.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Oh honey, I'm with you

I guess I'm too new at this blogging thing. I can't seem to figure out how to link directly to a blog post and not just the blog main page. Anyway, all you parents out there, take a look at Maybe I Shouldn't Have Said It and take heart.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Stewing and brewing thoughts in the wake of a homeschooling conference

I attended my first homeschooling conference this past weekend and, not surprisingly, I have a few impressions that are swirling around my brain. So much so that it's keeping me up. I'm just going to jump right into it so I can go back to sleep and be up to take the kids to the science center in the morning as I promised.

While there were a few sessions that offered practical advice to this newby (notably how to tell if your child is ready to learn to read; ADHD vs. kinesthetic learner; and fun, educational things to do with your preschooler), I came away with two key impressions: 1. the homeschooling community has fought so long to legitimize themselves that they believe the only right way to educate your child is at home, and 2. forget about grades, grade levels and preparation for college as following your child's development and interest is paramount. I have trouble with both of these ideas.

First off, I don't believe homeschooling is for everybody in every situation. Sure, anyone can and should be able to homeschool if they want to. But it's not the best choice for every child and every parent. Even if it may work well for the child and parent, circumstances may prohibit it. I'm not talking about government regulation here. I'm all for the legal right every American citizen has to choose to educate their children at home. However, there are a myriad of personal and intricate circumstances that just make traditional schooling a better choice for some families. I'm sure I'm not the only one at the conference with this belief. The last speaker of the day basically said the same thing as I, but many other speakers and parents said that homeschooling was the best choice.

The second idea is the one that I find most troubling. It seems that when you enter the homeschooling world the expectation is that it is for your child's entire education. As one speaker said, "we lose a lot at high school," implying that some wimpy parents coop out at that stage. When I asked about how do you know your child is on grade level or ready to go to college, the response reminded me of Bobby McFarrin's boppy tune, "Don't worry, be happy."

I'm approaching this decision to educate Owen at home on a year-by-year basis. It's completely overwhelming to me to think this is an either-or mandate for the next 12 years. Next year, we may decide to send Owen to school, or the year after, or the year after that. I want to know that he is somewhat on par with his peers and won't be woefully behind. Even if we choose to homeschool through high school, which I just can't fathom at this point, I want him to be capable of succeeding in college.

What's most important to me in educating my children, whether at home or elsewhere, is that they learn to think for themselves, can analyze and coherently express their resulting opinions verbally and in written form, and have a lifelong love for learning. With the pressure schools have to meet state and national education goals that are only measured through test scores, most teachers simply teach to the test. The students cram to memorize facts that they forget two weeks later. Students end up hating school because their natural love for learning is killed by endless busywork and boring memorization that holds no point of reference beyond the test. By the time they get to college they are so "schooled" in this method that the most common question professors hear is, "Will this be on the test." Jack even hears this from his graduate students.

Home education offers an alternative--an appealing alternative that I'm willing to try. I just have to do it my way, which includes lot of fun, tailored activities to keep Owen excited about learning along with references that let me know what a typical kindergartener should know.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Raves for Miss Rumphius

I just discovered this charming book that has been around since the mid-80s, a bit past my picture book days. I've seen it listed on several book lists and picked it up at the vendor fair for the California Homeschool Network conference I attended this weekend. (More about that later.) I pulled it out of the plastic bag that was falling apart from the weight of my newfound treasures and read it to Jonas before his nap today. We were curled up on his bed with his head on my shoulder. I'm not sure when his baby browns finally closed because I was so caught up in this sweet story that I didn't stop or peek at him until I closed the book.

If you haven't come across this book yet, now's the time. Even if you don't have children, pick up this little gem. It's an enthralling yet simple tale with a message the whole world needs. I won't spoil it and say anymore. Just get ye to the library.

Do you have a sgtrane mnid too?

fi yuo cna raed tihs, yuo hvae a sgtrane mnid too
Cna yuo raed tihs? Olny 55 plepoe out of 100 can.
i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Pregnant pause

I suppose that's the best way to explain my sporadic silence on this blog. I'm finally nearly the end of my first trimester and I'm starting to feel a little more like myself. Of course, the infamous nausea is awful (although much, much better this time around), but the extreme exhaustion and lack of energy completely wipe me out. I've found that this pregnancy is more difficult because I have two highly active boys to care for while I just want to stay in bed.

What little gumption and brain power I have must be reserved for what's most important--saving my kids from major injuries. I've already failed in my house. Just this week the boys painted a 4-feet swash of carpet, poured a couple of gallons of water on the floor, cut my living room curtain and riped up my bedside lamp shade. Anyone wanna trade?

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Ready to read

Owen has known how to read the letters and the sounds for each letter for nearly a whole year now. I was so excited when he got that down that I was ready to jump right in on teaching him how to put those sounds together to make words. The few times I tried though, Owen got frustrated and stomped off saying, "I can't do it." I admit, I really had to fight the urge to force it. Just because I begged to learn to read at age 4 and have loved it ever since, doesn't mean that my firstborn is the same. All I have to do is look at this child, who looks nothing like me, and know that he's his own person. Frankly, that's who I want him to be. So I backed off.

Fast-forward to today and that same child can sound out cat, bat, mat, hat, rat, pat and sat. And I had nothing to do with it. The last couple of nights Jack has been spending a few minutes before bedtime with Owen helping him to read. He started with AT and quickly moved on to these rhyming words. I guess this is what the experts mean to wait, it will come when they are ready.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Fireworks in the back seat

While I was waiting for gas to fill up my hungry mini-van, I heard another form of gas explode in multiple toots in the back seat. I turned around to see Owen's astonished and gleeful look on his face as he said, "Mom, I've got fireworks in my butt!"

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Positive strokes for positive folks

A counselor friend of mine mentioned that children need ten positive comments to every command. Not just every negative comment, but every command. Like those things parents say a hundred times a day: "Get your clothes on," "Brush your teeth," and "Eat your broccoli." I can't say I live up to the 10 to 1 ratio, but knowing this has made me much more conscious of looking for opportunities to praise my boys more frequently throughout the day. I'm saying things like: "Good job sharing your toys." "That was so nice of you to help your brother get his shoes on." "I really appreciate you clearing your dishes off the table." "You two are playing so nicely together." "You did a great job using your inside voice and not touching things in the store."

Since I've been doing that, I've seen my kids behave better, particularly my independent-minded 4-year-old. I'm even enjoying a side-benefit I didn't expect.

Yesterday I had to brake quickly to avoid running a red light. I had just set my water bottle down, so it was perched somewhat precariously in the cup holder. The items in the passenger seat went flying to the floor, but my water bottle wavered and stayed upright. Owen said, "Good job in not spilling your water." Then at the next light, when I stepped on the brakes much more slowly and smoothly, he said, "Good job stopping, Mom."

Sunday, July 8, 2007

I'm surprised we haven't been to the ER yet

At a lovely potluck with lovely friends in the mountains, Owen tried to paralyze himself. (Or at least that's my version. Jack thought of it as good preparation for a hockey defenseman.) Owen laid face-down on a hammock with his fingers laced through the rope and had his friends push him as fast as they could. Then when he was pushed so high that the hammock swung completely around, he let go and landed flat on his back on packed dirt.

Then he got up and shouted, "Cool, let's do that again!"

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Raising (and educating) Cain

I first started researching homeschooling because I had read a few studies that said boys aren't typically ready for formal education at ages 5 and 6 when we're typically ready to trot them off to the nearest yellow bus. I have also read several articles about the rise of ADHD diagnosis, predominantly in boys and in the first few years of school. Let me hasten to say that I do believe there are many legitimate ADHD diagnoses. However, there are many boys labeled ADHD that are simply active boys who aren't ready to sit still for a few hours every day in school.

As Owen quickly approaches 5, I've been searching for answers. When should I send my active boy to school? Could he be labeled ADHD? What type of environment is best for him? What qualities should I look for in a good school? And what about the teacher? So I've read several education books to find an alarming trend: Kids don't like school! This may not surprise you, but it did me. Educator after educator wrote about kids losing their natural love for learning in the schoolroom. My motivation to seek out an alternative became even stronger. Not only was I thinking about my boys developmental needs, now I was seeing a strong connection between that and their future academic success. The more I read about education and the development of boys, the more I am convinced that homeschooling, at least in these early years, is the right option for my family.

I'm currently reading Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys and just in the second chapter I've found some excellent quotes that summarize well some of the research I've read that has led me to this decision:

From kindergarten through sixth grade, a boy spends more than a thousand hours a year in school, and his experiences and the attitudes of the teachers and other adults he encounters there are profoundly shaping. The average boy faces a special struggle to meet the developmental and academic expectations of an elementary school curriculum that emphasizes reading, writing, and verbal ability--cognitive skills that normally develop more slowly in boys than in girls. Some boys are ahead of the others on that developmental curve, and some girls lag behind, but when we compare the average boy with the average girl, the average boy is developmentally disadvantaged in the early school environment.

We are not suggesting that boys are good and schools are bad, or that teachers don't care about boys. Quite to the contrary, much of what we know about boys' difficulties in school is confirmed by the many caring, creative teachers we know who struggle with the challenge of working with boys in the school setting. We know, too, that there are boys whose talents or temperments make them exceptions, but if we're going to talk about the ways in which boys' life experiences complicate their emotional development or compromise it, we have to talk about the hidden hurt that the early school years inflict on so many boys.

Studies that track children's development through the school years suggest that, by the third grade, a child has established a pattern of learning that shapes the course of his or her entire school career. We see this clearly with boys: the first two years in school are a critical moment of entry into that world of learning, but boys' relative immaturity and the lack of fit they so often experience in school set them up to fail. Many boys who are turned off to school at a young age never refind the motivation to become successful learners.

The average boy's gifts are wrapped in high activity, impulsivity, and physicality--boy power--and the value of these gifts depends on the teacher, the boy, and the moment. These qualities serve boys beautifully on the playground, where there is room and respect for bold strokes of action and impulse. In the classroom, however, alongside girls--who are typically more organized, cooperative, and accomplished school learners--those "boy qualities" quickly turn from assets to liabilities. Even among those who aren't considered problem boys, many teachers identifiy the ordinary boy pattern of activity, attitudes, and behaviors as something that must be overcome for a boy to succeed in school.

When school is not a good fit for a boy, when his normal expressions of energy and action routinely meet with negative responses from teachers and classmates, he stews in feeling of failure--feelings of sadness, shame, and anger, which can be very hard to detect beneath that brash exterior. Unable to "talk out" the emotional pressure, boys typically act out though verbal or physical aggression that walls them off emotionally from others, straining or severing emotional connections to the people and circumstances they find painful.

The most important thing to remember, the guiding principle, is to try to keep your son's self-esteem intact while he is in school. That is the real risk to his success and to his mental health. Once he's out of school, the world will be different. He'll find a niche where the fact that he's can't spell well, or didn't read until he was eight, won't matter. But if he starts to hate himself because he isn't good at schoolwork, he'll fall into a hole that he'll be digging himself out of for the rest of his life.

When normal boy activity levels and developmental patterns are accommodated in the design of schools, curricula, classrooms, and instructional styles, an entire stratum of "boy problems" drops from sight. When a boy's experience of belonging at school is greater than his sense of differentness, then the burden of shame, inadequacy, and anger drops away, and he is free to learn.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Swimming lessons

Owen is in his first week of swimming lessons. No longer is this Baby and Me with the child held securely in his mother's arms. Now he's in the water independently, with his fellow classmates and teachers. Not only is this a new experience for our preschoolers, this is a big change for us parents as well. We sit on the edge of the pool calling out instructions: stay on the wall, listen to your teacher, don't splash the person next to you, etc. When the teachers wrapped noodles around our little charges and lead them into the deep end, we leaned in closer and held our breathes.

I'm fighting the impulse to be a smother mother. When Owen has strayed from the group, a few times I've reminded him to stay with the teacher and a few times I've remembered my decision to let the teacher lead and bit my tongue while the teacher encouraged him to come back.

We're both growing up, Owen and I. He is learning to jump into the deep end without me and I am learning to sit on the side and cheer him on.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

I am the Lord of me

Driving home from errands today I heard a sweet voice in the backseat sing, "I am the Lord of me, yes sir! I am the Lord of me." Although Owen got the theology mixed up, I give him props for heartily singing a song--on his own, about God, and without prompting.

(He was trying to sing "I'm in the Lord's army, yes sir! I'm in the Lord's army.")

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Night, night kisses

Jonas has started a new beguiling bedtime routine that has me wrapped around his finger, quite literally. After prayer and a good-night kiss, he flings his arm around my neck and plants a smacking wet kiss on my check. I give him another kiss. He leans in closer to rub his nose against mine and we giggle. We rub noses, we share kisses, we both have big grins. What could be better?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Let children be children

Melissa over at The Lilting House posted the following article from the San Francisco Chronicle and I had to share it. This is one of the reasons that I'm choosing to homeschool kindergarten.

Let children be children
Is your 5-year-old stressed out because so much is expected?

by Penelope H. Beven
published in the San Francisco Chronicle
Sunday, June 3, 2007

I was watching one of my second-grade girls try unsuccessfully to tie her shoes the other day, and I thought, "This is a person who is supposed to be learning plural possessives?" I think not.

We've just finished test time again in the schools of California. The mad frenzy of testing infects everyone from second grade through high school. Because of the rigors and threats of No Child Left Behind, schools are desperate to increase their scores. As the requirements become more stringent, we have completely lost sight of the children taking these tests.

For 30 years as a teacher of primary kids, I have operated on the Any Fool Can See principle. And any fool can see that the spread between what is developmentally appropriate for 7- and 8-year-old children and what is demanded of them on these tests is widening. A lot of what used to be in the first-grade curriculum is now taught in kindergarten. Is your 5-year-old stressed out? Perhaps this is why.

Primary-grade children have only the most tenuous grasp on how the world works. Having been alive only seven or eight years, they have not figured out that in California there is a definite wet and dry season. They live in high expectation that it will snow in the Bay Area in the winter. They reasonably conclude, based on their limited experience with words, that a thesaurus must be a dinosaur. When asked to name some of the planets after he heard the word Earth, one of my boys confidently replied, "Mars, Saturn, Mercury, Jupiter and Canada!" to which a girl replied, "No, no, no, you gotta go way far outer than that."

Research has shown that it takes approximately 24 repetitions of a new concept to imprint on a young brain. The aforementioned plural possessives come up twice in the curriculum, yet they are supposed to know it when they see it. This is folly.

Currently, 2 1/2 uninterrupted hours are supposed to be devoted to language arts and reading every morning. I ask you, what adult could sustain an interest in one subject for that long? Yet the two reading series adopted by the state for elementary education require that much time be devoted to reading in the expectation that the scores will shoot up eventually. Show me a 7-year-old who has that kind of concentration. Show me a 64-year-old teacher who has it. Not I. The result of this has been a decline in math scores at our school, because the emphasis is on getting them to read and there isn't enough time to fit in a proper curriculum. Early math education should rely heavily on messing about with concrete materials of measurements, mass, volume and length, and discovering basic principles through play.

There is no time for this. The teaching of art is all but a subversive activity. Teachers whisper, "I taught art today!" as if they would be reported to the Reading Police for stealing time from the reading curriculum, which is what they did.

It is also First Communion time in second grade. Yes, I teach in a public school, but First Communion happens in second grade, and it is a big deal, the subject of much discussion in the classroom. The children are excited.

A few months back one of my girls exclaimed, "Jeez, I have a lot to do after school today, Teacher. I gotta do my homework, go to baseball practice and get baptized." I laughed to myself at the priorities of this little to-do list, so symbolic of the life of one second-grader. But there was a much larger issue here. What is happening to their souls? You may ask, what business it is of the schools what is happening to the souls of these little children?

I will tell you. Any fool can see that those setting the standards for testing of primary-grade children haven't been around any actual children in a long time. The difference between what one can reasonably expect an 8-year-old to know and what is merely a party trick grows exponentially on these state tests.

Meanwhile, children who know they are bright and can read well are proved wrong time and again because of the structure of these tests. Teachers spend inordinate amounts of time trying to teach the children to be careful of the quirky tricks of the tests when they should be simply teaching how to get on in the world.

Twenty years ago, I had a conference with a parent, a Sikh, whose child was brilliant. I was prepared to show him all her academic work, but he brushed it aside and said, "Yes, yes, I know she is quite smart, but I want to know how her soul is developing."

The present emphasis on testing and test scores is sucking the soul out of the primary school experience for both teachers and children. So much time is spent on testing and measuring reading speed that the children are losing the joy that comes but once in their lifetime, the happy messiness of paint, clay, Tinkertoys and jumping rope, the quiet discovery of a shiny new book of interest to them, the wonders of a magnifying glass. The teachers around them, under constant pressure to raise those test scores, radiate urgency and pressure. Their smiles are grim. They are not enjoying their jobs.

Our children need parents and teachers who, like Hamlet, know a hawk from a hand saw, who know foolishness when they see it and are strong enough to defend these small souls from the onslaught of escalating developmentally inappropriate claptrap. The great unspoken secret of primary school is that a lot of what is going on is arrant nonsense, and it's getting worse. Any fool can see.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Fingerprint owies

"Mommy, Mommy!" yelled Owen as he came running to me with a Thomas the Tank Engine bandage in his hand.

"What's the matter? Are you hurt?" I said thinking there must be blood.

"I got fingerprints rubbed into me. Can you get them out?"

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Falling for Flotsam

Based on the recommendation of a couple of friends, I bought the latest Caldecott winner, Flotsam, and I'm glad I did. It is a charming picture book using incredible artwork to tell the story with no words whatsoever. Children have the marvelous and often rare opportunity to use their imaginations to narrate the tale.

The American Library Association has this to say:

Flotsam is a cinematic unfolding of discovery. A vintage camera washed up on the beach provides a young boy with a surprising view of fantastical images from the bottom of the sea. From fish-eye to lens-eye, readers see a frame-by-frame narrative of lush marinescapes ebbing and flowing from the real to the surreal.

“Telling tales through imagery is what storytellers have done through the ages. Wiesner’s wordless tale resonates with visual images that tell his story with clever wit and lively humor,” said Caldecott Medal Committee Chair Janice Del Negro.

The boys have been mesmorized by it. And so have I.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Why Gender Matters

Jack picked up Why Gender Matters at the library before a long car trip. We took turns driving and reading to each other while the boys colored, looked at books, stuck stickers on the windows and made faces at each other. Perhaps we are somewhat nerdy, but this was one of the highlights of our trip.

Based on emerging science, Dr. Sax offers a fascinating look at the differences between girls and boys. He begins by discussing the biological differences scientists have discovered that are not widely known. For instance, when your son acts as if he didn't hear you, he may not actually have heard you. Apparently, a boy's sense of hearing is not as acute as a girl's. This has all sorts of implications, such as a boy who sits in the back of the classroom getting into trouble when he simply may not have heard the teacher. Or a girl feeling like her father is yelling at her when he is simply speaking in a normal volume for him.

Although Dr. Sax provides compeling research, the second part of the book branches out to his opinions on how to apply this knowledge in everyday situations. He discusses discipline, drugs, sex, self-esteem and education. In regards to drug prevention for example, the research shows that boys tend to get into drugs because of peer pressure, whereas girls do drugs because of a low self-esteem. When it comes to education, Dr. Sax is a strong proponent for single-sex education. I've heard many arguments in favor of single-sex education for females, but I haven't heard much about the benefits for males until I read this. I can see his point. In single-sex education, the students can learn regardless of gender stereotypes and the teachers can tailor their lessons to meet the needs of the students more effectively. For instance, a high school English teacher at an all-boys school divided the students into two teams and asked questions Jeopardy style. This teacher drew upon the boys natural desire for competiton to help them review for the exam.

As with all discussions that put people into categories, you must be careful not to generalize to the extent that you forget that these are guidelines. The descriptions may fit the majority of boys and girls, yet it may not fit you or your child. Nonetheless, this is a thought-provoking and must-read book for all parents.

Owen the orator

"Mommy, I need you because I need you." Sounds like a good reason to me.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Lessons in the produce section

The boys were taking turns picking the food items off the shelves at Stater Bros. this morning.

"Jonas, please find the bananas," I say.

"I got nanas," says Jonas.

"Great! Owen, what's the first thing we put in salad?"

"Guacamole."

"Well, yes, sometimes we put avocados in our salad. But what is the first thing we put in the salad bowl?"

"Uhhhh...," he replies.

Then I realize that he calls all forms of lettuce salad, as in he wants pickles, cheese and salad in his sandwich. So I switch my tactic. "Where is the lettuce?"

"Right here!"

At this point a woman leans close to me and says, "You're doing school right here."

Exactly!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Shopping for compliments

I dragged the boys to Penney's this morning to find a few summer clothes for me. I wasn't feeling good about this since most of my clothes from last summer don't fit. Aagh. The boys weren't enjoying shopping either. Jonas, sitting in the back of the double stroller, seemed to think it funny to hit whatever was in front of him--Owen's head. Thankfully, Owen didn't scream or hit Jonas back. After Jonas' time-out, Owen said, "I don't like shopping. I want to go home." I'm with you kid.

Somehow I was able to grab a couple of items and managed to get us all squeezed into the dressing room. I miraculously found an outfit that fit and didn't look too bad either. Owen said, "You're beautiful Mom!" Aaaahhh, that made the whole outing worth it.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Me without children

Here I am relaxing in a serene spot at the B&B we stayed at in the Okanagan Valley. Jack and I (That's right, just the two of us. It doesn't happen often and it was wonderful!) spent a lovely long weekend there to celebrate the wedding of some good friends. I'd rather post a photo of me immersed in a novel, something that I actually spent more time doing and actually preferred. But that photo was embarassingly ugly. So my vanity wins out and you see me painting my toenails rather than educating my mind. Sigh.

The view we soaked our souls in. The very same one I enjoyed from the wicker chair above. Now I know why the license plates advertise, "Beautiful British Columbia."

Monday, June 4, 2007

Happiest day of my life

Having just returned from a wedding, of course, that topic is on my mind. Even now, six and half years after Jack and I publicly stated our vows to each other, I'm instantly transported to that day whenever we witness others doing much the same thing.

As a mother I know I’m suppose to say that the happiest day of my life was the day my children were born. But let’s be honest, it was quite painful. Lest I be misunderstood, I’m trilled to have my children in my life! Although parenting is much harder than anyone can understand pre-baby, I really don’t want to go back to life before them. I love them more deeply and thoroughly than I could have imagined.

Yet the happiest day of my life was the day I married their father. I knew that marrying this man was the right thing for me. No doubts. And without that day, my boys wouldn’t have come into my life.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Motivated by MotherStyles

MotherStyles: Using Personality Type to Discover Your Parenting Strengths has truly been an answer to prayer for me. Since I’ve become a mother I’ve often found myself comparing my mothering style to other fabulous moms and I come up short. I wondered if some women are just natural-born mothers. Perhaps I missed the necessary DNA.

I struggle with the homemaking aspect of being a stay-at-home mom. I’m not nearly as organized and structured as I think a good mom should be. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with all the physical needs of my kids. I see many moms who left their careers without a backward glance while I have grieved the loss of my built-in way of learning new ideas, engaging in stimulating conversations and creating things.

While I’ve moaned about my short-comings, I’ve forgotten what I am good at. I’m tuned in to my kids feelings and I encourage them to be themselves. I love playing with them and getting to be a part of their imaginary worlds. We enjoy pretending the swing set is a pirate ship and we're hunting for buried treasure in our backyard. We love to snuggle on the couch to read stories, have picnics in front of the fireplace on chilly nights, play games and so on.

This book uses the Myers-Briggs temperament indicator to help mothers recognize their strengths, understand their struggles and provide practical tips to reenergize themselves. Penley describes each of the personality types in depth so you can understand yourself and possibly other mothers better.

I found the specific tips on how each type can reenergize herself particularly helpful. For instance, as an INFP, I need at least 30-60 minutes of solitude a day to energize my introverted preference; I feed on new ideas, perspectives and dreams as an intuitive so I’m at my best when I take time to read, talk to an interesting person, learn something new, or daydream; as a feeler I need a break from others’ needs; and as a perceiving type I need freedom from a tight schedule, so I give myself unscheduled hangout time and break the routine once in awhile. My house is certainly messier since I’ve been implementing these ideas, but I’m a much happier mommy. And my kids are happier because I have more patience and energy for them.

The best part about this book is how validating it is to EVERY mother. There is no perfect mother. There is no temperament that is better at mothering than others are. We all have our strengths and this book helps us to value what we are naturally good at.

Monday, May 28, 2007

It's a conspirament!

That's what Owen says when he's mixing things together, like the ketchup and water I saw him stirring the other day. I can't help but wonder if the experiment is a conspiracy or a conspiracy is an experiment.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

My life in a chestnut shell

I know it's hardly the time for mistletoe and Santa Claus, but I thought posting our latest Christmas letter would give you a sense of what our lives are like.


November 26, 2006
Dear Diary,
Today, I’m going to get a head-start on our annual Christmas letter. I want to get it done in plenty of time to mail before the holidays. Let’s see, what have we done this year… uh-oh, Owen just poured a gallon of milk on the kitchen floor, gotta go!

November 30, 2006
Dear Diary,
Today, I’m going to write our Christmas letter. The boys are playing quietly together, so I finally have a chance to sit down and think a bit. They’re such good friends. Jonas copies everything Owen does. Of course, they have the usual squabbles 4-year-old and 2-year-old boys are going to have, but they really are buddies. What? Looks like someone destroyed someone’s train tracks. I never knew I’d grow up to become an expert track builder.

December 1, 2006
Dear Diary,
OK, now’s my chance to write the Christmas letter. Jonas is taking a nap and Owen is playing outside on the swing set the boys got for their birthdays. I think I love that thing almost as much as they do! Oh no, I hear a cry for Mommy. Owen got a scratch and “needs” Grandpa’s band-aid (Grandpa gave him Dora the Explorer band-aids and they are much more popular than the plain Band-aids I buy at Costco).

December 3, 2006
Dear Diary,
Today, I really am going to write that Christmas letter. I don’t know what to say in it though. I mean, we haven’t had any exotic trips, nobody’s offered our boys a modeling contract and Jack hasn’t won the Nobel Prize in chemistry yet, so what can I say that will make the letter fun and interesting?

December 6, 2006
Dear Diary,
Today, I really, really AM going to write that Christmas letter. I love being home with my kids, but it still amazes me how busy I can be all day yet by day’s end still have laundry tumbled on the couch, dirty dishes in the sink and bread crumbs and jelly smears on the floor. I tried working outside the home for a while earlier this year. I was feeling restless and missing the challenges and affirmations I got while working, not to mention the money. So I started looking for a part-time job. Then I got an offer with a local company editing nonfiction books. They offered flexible hours, so I could work in the evenings and weekends, but it had to be 40 hours a week in the office. While I was debating whether or not to take the job, our backyard fence blew down and our bank account was hovering near zero balance. I took the job. I soon realized that I missed my boys too much. I worked long enough to pay off the mini-van. Those five months now feel like an unreal hick-up in my life. It settled that nagging question I’ve had the past four years though—I am happier at home with my children than at the office right now. But I do need something. I’ve been working seriously on developing a part-time freelance career since I left that job. I’ve made some contacts and have done a couple editing projects so far and am confident more will come. Actually, I need to finish up one of those projects. With the boys in bed for the night this is my time to get some work done.

December 10, 2006
Dear Diary,
Jack and I have been married for six years today. So why am I trying to write that Christmas letter? I have something, or rather, someone, more important to focus on today. See ya!

December 12, 2006
Dear Diary,
I haven’t made any progress on that blasted Christmas letter. What can I say about Jack… As usual, he’s been working hard on getting his results published and seeking an NIH grant. One of the sweetest sounds of the day is when we hear the motor for the garage door opening. All three of us yell, “Daddy's home!” and run to greet him. That’s him now, gotta go.

December 18, 2006
Dear Diary,
I’ve got to write that thing! It’s been hanging over my head like a mistletoe encrusted guillotine. Let’s see, Owen is now 4 and broadening his interests beyond Thomas the Tank Engine. We took him to Legoland to celebrate his birthday and now Legos are his favorite toy. He still loves his trains and cars and airplanes though. In fact, that’s what he’s building with his Legos. He’s also become very curious, asking questions that require trips to the library to learn about the solar system and weather. Jonas is a charming 2-year-old who follows his big brother like a shadow. He’s become a little “Me too.” He is expressing himself better every day. “I help,” he says and he drags a step stool to wherever I am. I’ll often find him standing on that step stool at the kitchen counter and he’ll say, “I cooking Mommy.” Oops, that what’s he doing right now and how in the world did he get the lid off the peanut butter jar?

December 23, 2006
Dear Diary,
I cannot put it off any longer! It’s practically Christmas!! We’ve drove the past two days to spend the holiday with family and I still haven’t finished that thing. At this rate it won’t be a Christmas letter or a New Year’s letter, but an Easter letter! Oh well, that’s our lives. We’re busy with kissing scraped knees, mediating disputes, reading stories, singing and dancing and blowing our “trumpets” (empty toilet paper tubes or the like), cleaning messes, making trips to the grocery store, playing trains, working at home or the office, answering questions like “Why does it rain?”, playing at the park with friends, building vehicles out of Legos, and so on. And as I’ve learned earlier this year, it’s the way I want it.