Thursday, September 27, 2007

Find Your Inner Grizzly

Go watch! Hurry now! Go! Then come right back.

I found this in a delightfully serendipitous way today! I was checking a blog I like and saw that Evie had done a radio interview about unschooling. I turned it on and up and washed dishes while I listened. (You should too!) It was very good, so I was intrigued by the radio show and went to the host's website.... "Talk Radio for Socially Conscious Moms"? Excellent.

I clicked on News which led me to the
Mothers Acting Up website - (How cool is that name?!) - where you can buy a Mothers Acting Up Datebook/Handbook and get yer activist-mama-self all riled up on a daily basis and not just when you happen upon horrifying things like this during your morning coffee-in-pajamas-internet-surfing.

From there I noticed the link to their
blog and one click later I was looking at the "Find Your Inner Grizzly" YouTube video. This made me laugh and made me think and made me humbler and made me feel guilty for worrying about the zit on my chin and what I have to make for dinner and how messy my countertop is when I should be grateful that I have dinner (and dinner options no less) and most striking, the time and safety to worry about these trivial things. *sigh*

I recently happened upon a brochure for
Women For Women International and plan to take the idea to my women's circle. We all have a little activist itch and each time we gather we give thanks that we have grrrl support and we have each other. We can share our wealth and our support and our voice and our wealth with those who don't.

I happen to be a morning growler. Today my growl is for a different reason.

Find your inner grizzly and growl with me!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Let's Play.... Which Boy?

Guess which boy did each of the following?

One of the boys scored two goals in his soccer game this weekend! Just in time for Dad's birthday, too. He popped them off early and helped usher in a 4-3 win over a team that just last week beat us 9-0. That was more than a beating, that was an annihilation. Talk about slumped shoulders. This boy hadn't had a goal in a while and was due. He earned some "soccer cred" with the boyz, and we parents were cheering so loudly you'd have thought we were playing in the World Cup.

One of the boys made his own SuperHero costume this week! He stayed up really really late, rummaging through the costume drawer and assembling various styles, each time running up to our bedroom to show us the latest addition amid our cries of "Cool... Now can I please go to sleep before I melt into a puddle?" He even came up with a name for his SuperHero self.

Think you know?





















It's "Brady-Man!" To the rescue! (It's Homecoming week.)

It's Soccer Boy! - after the big win.

Momentary Lapse

I caught myself using one of my old teacher tricks on Jonathan the other night. He was listening to something on the computer and had the volume turned WAY up. I was washing dishes nearby and my ears were starting to bleed, so I said....

"The music needs to be turned down.... THANK you."

Not so bad, one thinks upon first glance.

But first of all, I said thank you before he'd turned down the music. And therein lies the remant of the old bag of tricks. I can distinctly remember the veteran teaching advice.

Set the expectation clearly.... Make the assumption that the child will obey your command... When he hears you thank him he will realize he needs to quickly catch up and earn that thank you....

Um, Puke.

Sometimes coyly termed controlled choice, it's a way of railroading a child into doing what you want. I used to do it. I used to think it was a grand method. I used to believe and do a lot of things that now make me shudder uncontrollably and my eyes roll so far back into my head they may never come back down.

I realize that along the entire spectrum of parenting this ranks somewhere between "what's so bad about that" and "quit being so anal." But for me it's a marker that there are still some nasty little remnants floating around inside that need to be purged. I'm slowly unloading the ol' baggage, trolling the inner self, sifting through the sediment that's sunk to the bottom to see if I can't rid myself of those last hangers-on of my teaching days, mainstream parenting days, and caring-more-about-what-others-think-than-what-my-child-needs days.

And even though this isolated incident didn't really seem monumental, and largely went unregistered on Jonathan's radar, I feel better for having caught myself mid-stream, re-evaluated, and changed direction.

"Sorry, bud, I just mean the music is hurting my ears - would you mind turning it down a bit?"

So simple. So much better.

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Moving Violation... or Four

I'm an upstanding citizen, I am. I pay my taxes (grr), I mind my own bizness ('cept when I'm telling off bad mothers), and I vote (O'Doyle rules! Oh wait, that's from Billy Madison). I'm really a very non-threatening person, and I shouldn't seem very suspect to, oh, say... a cop.

So it was with great surprise that I noticed the swirling red and blue lights in my rear view mirror on Saturday night as I rolled through a small town in WI... rolling so slowly I think I was riding with my foot on the brake pedal.

Normally my heart nearly pounds out of my chest when I get pulled over (yes'm, it's happened before). But this time I couldn't imagine what I'd done wrong. As I pulled to the shoulder I began the litany of "What?! I didn't do anything! What could he want with me?!" in utter astonishment.

I mean, consider this... it was Saturday night and I was driving home at 8:00pm, kids in tow. We had our road bikes strapped to the back because we'd completed a half-day ride. We had just left from a visit with the great-grandmas. And I don't drink much anymore so I'd consumed approximately one soda and eighteen glasses of ice water.

Not what you call your average Saturday night random stop, you know?

So imagine my surpise when the officer had not one concern (35mph in a 25), not two (headlight out), but three (bike rack covering the license plate) and then four (registration sticker expired on said covered license plate). Holy bat violations! I was suddenly a'fluster.

Ok, calm down, let's see. Speeding, ok, oops. I mean, 25 mph is, like, moving backwards, but ok, I guess I was wrong. The officer said, "You took off from Hwy 11..."

Took off? Took off?.. Hardly... "when I noticed your headlight was out."

Wow, so... so... criminal.

At least it wasn't like the time I was going 86 in a 55. (There was no getting out of that little jam. Cringe.) At least I wasn't getting hauled to the station. (My dad was, as you can imagine, slightly less than pleased that time. Double-Cringe.) At least I wouldn't have to go to traffic school for a burnt-out headlight. (Would I? My aunt designed our local traffic school program, so I just wanted to, like, you know - test the program's efficacy for her. Double-Double-Cringe.)

The cop asked my husband to step outside so he could show him something, and had his hand on his gun all the while. I was really starting to feel like a criminal. It seems Rob had placed a towel under the bike rack so it wouldn't scratch the van and the towel had slipped down. And seeing as the registration was expired, it looked like we were trying to cover something up. (Which, of course, logically, was why I was "taking off" so fast from Hwy 11... sigh)

He showed Rob how to move the towel. "Yes, sir."

He showed him the burnt-out headlight. "Yes sir, I'll change that first thing Monday morning, sir."

He showed him the registration sticker, and thankfully I'd kept all the paperwork to prove that we had indeed registered it, but apparently the sticker hadn't come.

In the end he let me off with a verbal warning, thank the lucky stars. I've never gotten a warning! Once, when ticketed for speeding (at the ripe old age of 16) the cop snorted, "And if you cry, I'll give you a seatbelt ticket too!" (Hey, it was 1988 - no one wore seatbelts back then!) This is the first time I've ever gotten away with just a warning, and I would've jumped out of my van and kissed the cop if I didn't think he'd pull his gun and go all excessive force on me or something.

The kids had a good time of smirking and scolding "Moooommmmm..... you were baaadddd....."

Huh. They don't know the half of it.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Where Did All The Mothers Go?

People often piss me off. (And no, this isn't a post about school!)

I've been wondering for some time now... where did all the mothers go? I'm talking about the "come sit on my lap and tell me what's wrong" kind of mothers. The "mama will kiss it" mothers. The ones who hurt when their children hurt, empathize when their children are upset, go soft on them when others go hard. I'm looking for the mamas who model empathy and extreme tolerance and softness and love. I'm looking for the mothers who put their children before principles, who offer a "there there" and "I'm here" and a dozen I Love Yous a day, who, yes, will indeed read that one last story before bedtime again even though she's already read it six times.

The mothering I see more and more these days makes me shudder. I don't know when they got so "hard." I always thought it a good thing for mamas to offer the nurturing balm while the rough knocks of life came from elsewhere. I believe life offers enough wallops across the backside without mother following them up with a few of her own, and enough obstacles will present themselves without mothers creating some where none need exist.

I know mothers who will be having a delightfully pleasant conversation with me, turn their head and rip their children to shreds, then turn back to me and resume the syrup. It always leaves me shocked and usually speechless, not to mention cringing for the children.

Not always though. Sometimes I find my voice.

Just the other day I came in late upon a conversation and overheard only the part where the mother bragged about making her child - who is TWO, mind you - sell his favorite toy in their garage sale. As a punishment.

(Sorry for the excessive bolding, but I've got my undies in a twist. This story calls for some serious emphasis.)

Um, excuse me, what?!

I was not the only person in the room, and wasn't part of the original conversation, but my ears perked right up.

Oh yes, she went on, noticing she had a captive audience but mistaking the interest for support. I gave him the quarter for it, she laughed.

You gave him the quarter?! I asked? This only encouraged her, because her utter lack of intuition (in this conversation and, obviously, mothering altogether) urged her to carry on.

And the neighbor kid bought it!

By now I'm wondering just who in the h*ll this woman is and could I possibly find a way to adopt her children and should I be rude because I'm a guest in an old college friend's house and I don't know any of the people well, even the old college friend, and ohmygoshsurelythere'ssteamcomingoutofmyears... when a man named Eric - whom I now love and adore forever - said harshly, "You better take that quarter and put it toward his therapy fund, because after that he's definitely going to need it."

And that was my cue to unleash "No kidding! Forget the college fund, that kid will be in therapy instead!" To which Eric replied, "I can't believe you made him sell his favorite toy!" to which I replied, "And to the neighbor kid! So he not only had to give up his favorite toy, he has to watch the neighbor boy play with it!"

This was gonna get ugly. But by then the mother had caught up and realized we were not supporting her disciplinary method and our laughter was shock and gall and not of the "I hear ya" sort. She slipped away. We carried on with our bike ride preparation, our reason for gathering.

And so again, I ask where have all the mothers gone? I don't see why the mothers have gone to the dark side, why they worry more about what the other parents will think than about how they should navigate each situation gently and with love. And why it doesn't hurt them deep down to shout commands at their kids or make them toe the line like army cadets or sell their most favorite toys in the whole wide world.

You know what she said in a last ditch defense? It was just a stupid little cheap toy.

Excuse me, but that is most decidedly not the point. *sigh*

When I was teaching, I'd meet all sorts of parents, some wonderful of course, some not-so-wonderful. And some of the not-so-wonderful, in my opinion, were creating their own reality - by assuming the worst in their kids at all times and employing a zero-tolerance approach to control and therefore offering their children no options but to fulfill that expectation. I wanted to grab them by the shoulders and shake them and say "But don't you realize you have a great kid here right now? And you're forcing him to become a 'bad' kid just to get a little say in his own life?" Why can't people see it?

The other day I took some pictures of Jonathan and his pal at the park. I asked if I could take some photos of them and Jonathan's pal asked, "Can we be obnoxious in them?" As obnoxious as possible, I replied. And the photo shoot began.

These days, the boys aren't always interested in posing for pictures, so getting goofy is a different incentive.

Why be ugly and controlling when we can be like this?

Or this?

And this is the "pretend we're stuck in this tree" silly shot.

And then there's always the "let's pretend we're stuck in this plane" shot.

I'll take "we just wanna be silly!" photos over no photos any ol' day. And I'll offer a hug and a chat over big-stick-discipline any day too.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

An Unschooler in School - Part II

So, here's the question for today... how did we get here?

The last few months have been totally consumed with the whole prep-for-school thing. I wavered between wanting to jam 8 years of schoolish stuff into Brady's poor brain before August and tossing all cares to the wind and saying "what will be, will be." I didn't want to send him unprepared and yet I didn't want to fill him with conjectures and predictions that may or may not come true and color his experience before he even began. I knew that all the things we most worried about would probably prove to be non-issues, and the things that we least expect to cause trouble, may.

It's all the soccer coach's fault, really. I mean, I have to blame someone so it might as well be him. He saw talent in my son and made the suggestion that Brady come play for him in high school. And that's where it all began.

This particular school was never on our radar before, and suddenly we were all raising our eyebrows, shrugging our shoulders, and saying, "Well... why not?" We talked about it off and on for many months, but Brady was unsure. And then - the night before the application was due - Brady said, quite out of the blue, "I think I might want to give it a try."

"Really?" I asked... "You do? Are you sure?" So I dug out the application information and one thing stood out - Submit a transcript along with... but the rest didn't matter. A transcript. A freakin' transcript. We didn't have anything that even remotely resembled a transcript unless you count the few-months-long record I'd kept during a particularly bad bout of unschoolers doubt when Brady was oh, about ten. Some good that would do.
I had about 15 hours to come up with a transcript.

I got on the horn and called Elizabeth - who's good for help under pressure - and she agreed to edit the narrative I was about to write off the cuff. 8 hours of compiling and translating and emailing ensued.

And we were off. He applied. He visited the school. He tested in. We went to information nights. He signed on for soccer. And we suddenly found our life facing a very different direction and it's like we just kept on driving even though we didn't know exactly why we'd made that last left turn off the interstate.....

So fast forward a few months and we're past the anxiety about starting, past the awkward introductions, past the honeymoon that all is well... and find ourselves in a foreign place, one ruled by serious time restrictions, stifling class requirements, an extremely busy soccer schedule, and pressures and requirements and restrictions and expectations hovering over us like a storm cloud about to burst...

I'm not sure how we got to this place where we've joined the chorus of complainers about school. Whenever we unschoolers would hear the school folk rant on and on about this or that wrong with school, we could offer support and then send waves of gratitude to the universe for not having to live in that space. And now I'm there. And worse, Brady's there too.

He's feeling pretty bad about himself tonight. The transition has proven harder than he expected, the workload is very difficult (it's a college-prep private school), and he said tonight, with agitation bordering on overflow, "I have NO TIME...."

I don't want him to feel bad about himself. He never felt bad about himself before. We've always known what his weaknesses were, but we've also known and celebrated his strengths. We've gone from a community that celebrates who-he-is and everything he does, to one that points out his failings in scratchy red marker. I walked with the soccer coach to the bus after the games today and he went on about how great Brady is doing (as a freshman playing varsity) and he's improving so much and he's quite pleased, and I about fell to my knees to thank him for giving us something *positive*.

But maybe this is just the low that must follow the high and if I wait a bit longer the pendulum will swing... and perhaps next week I can write about what a fab time he's having and how all these troubles were just minor glitches along the way and now he's deliriously happy and we're so glad we made this choice.

It could happen.

And I really REALLY don't want to be one of those people who complains all the time, so let's end this on a more positive note, shall we?

Let's see....
* We sat through two soccer games today on a most gorgeous, sunny, 70 degree day.
* I had a long lazy morning drinking coffee, watering plants, and reading blogs while the sun streamed in my window.
* All my boys are busy watching football, playing drums, laughing and enjoying a relaxing Saturday evening.
* I spent the day with my mom and we got some heavy-duty chatting time.
* I love my boys and they love me.

So Amen. Blessed Be. Namaste. Lord Let Things Get Better. And All That.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Random Thursday Thoughts

Photo: Brady dressed for formal Black&White day at school

I'm afraid the ol' blog is going to get neglected a bit. This new school-ruled lifestyle of ours is a little difficult to navigate. I feel busier than ever, now that we're tied to someone else's calendar. And I'm tired. So for today, a few random thoughts (format inspired by Kelly) to match my skittish mood.

1. I'm detoxing from drugs. Ok, meds really, but saying drug detox sure has more of a ring to it, eh? I've been downing allergy meds like pez for the past month. This allergy season was especially horrid, probably due to the gazillion inches of rain we got in August. The meds make me jittery and keyed up and cause insomnia (worse than my usual insomnia), which are not helpful characteristics when they accompany large life transitions. I've been off the meds for 3 days now and have had a massive headache instead. Lovely. This makes me pissy. Just ask Rob.

2. Mom and I were grouching about fall today. Everyone says fall is such a lovely season but I can't help being a little resentful of it, seeing as it ushers in winter - which is too damn long - which brings on my SAD - which causes me to grumble about silly things and my husband to utter things like "not this again". And we pined away for the deep greens of spring and the deep spring-like green we experienced this August, thanks to the flooding rains. (Does every gift have to come with a cost? I'm giddy about my green yard while others are wading in 3 feet of water in their living rooms.)

3. I get to mama a whole new bunch of kids. It's too early to judge, but the pattern so far is that the same few parents attend the high school soccer games and therefore we frequently find ourselves schlepping extra kids, making phone calls to find lost players, & waiting to see that all are accounted for before we head for home (they're usually not). It's interesting to find that in the homeschooling world I sit on the very far lenient/hands-off/trusting end of the spectrum, and in the school world I seem to be the meddling/hands-on/overly-involved parent. I know others have had 8 years more practice in sending the kids off for the day and trusting that all will be well, but beyond that, I want to be there. I want to be a part of it. Already parents ask me what time the game will be over, when practice ends, who we're playing tomorrow, and when will the bus return. And I'm cool with that. I got in my van yesterday to find 4 new faces and I laughed and said, "Who are you and what are you doing in my van?" The reply: "Thank you for the ride Mrs... Mrs... Mrs. Brady's mom!" Not a problem, my new friend, not a problem.

4. Brady and I had laughing fits over his algebra homework tonight. Let it be known algebra was not my strong area in school, so I'm basically 1/2 page ahead of Brady. Meaning I recognize having done it before, but have to review the examples myself in order to help him. I think he was doing a problem incorrectly tonight, then another. He insisted he was right. We bantered back and forth in fun and he said, "Wanna bet?" and I said, "Bring it" and we've got $5 riding on 2 separate problems. He thinks it's a hoot that he gets to tell his friends tomorrow that he and his mom are betting money on his homework. It's important to me to set a reeeal good example like that.

5. One day into school - Brady told me about a teacher and said, "She's got the same philosophy as you, Mom."
Two weeks into school - He.Couldn't.Be.More.Wrong.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

An Unschooler in School - Part I

So my boy's in school. How do you like them apples?

I'm still not sure what to think of it, as it's only day 8 and all, and we're in "transition mode." For Brady that means adjusting to the incredibly annoying buzz of his alarm clock at 6am, learning how to multi-task, and asking things like, "What's an essay?" For me, so far it's meant crying in a Starbucks parking lot for 30 minutes before I could compose myself enough to go in, many sleepless nights, and wandering aimlessly through the empty house saying, "Brady? Brady?!"

You think I jest.

I've been known to be a tad heavy on the emotional side, so this change is throwing me for a bit of a loop and it's going to be a doozy of a ride.

It's funny what stress'll do to a grrrl. I didn't sleep for 3 nights straight in anticipation (aka dread) of his first day at school, and my sleepless nights continue still. My skin broke out. Last night I had to pull over while driving because I seriously thought I was going to faint. I've never fainted in all my life, so I don't know what that was all about. Luckily Rob was there, so he drove. I got a raging headache and did some deep breathing while I chewed 3 children's aspirin ('twas all I had on me) and muddled my way through my duties at Jonathan's soccer practice. (I've been appointed "Club Administrator". A new job to add to my muttly resume.)

But school is going well - surpringly well - and for that I am grateful and incredibly relieved. So relieved that I dare not gush on, lest I jinx it. That wouldn't be very good of me. "Mom, things were going along all fine, and then you had to go and SAY things were going well.....!" 'Round here, we don't like tempting the gods.

The friends have been warned not to ask too many questions, because as is my way, the tears lay in wait for the verbal cue. On the first day (the Starbucks parking lot-wallowing day) we had our homeschool group gathering, and I almost skipped it so I wouldn't have to face people and answer any questions. Sure enough, when Tina asked how it went my answer was given by way of tears and snot and a nose-dive into a tissue. After I recovered, I quickly told the next friend I was fine if I didn't talk about it, and I made it through the rest of the day acting like we hadn't just gone through a monumental transition that very morning. Denial is my friend.

Brady looked a bit like a deer caught in headlights that first day, though he says he wasn't nervous. But we knew the first day or two would be scary, since he not only has a new school to adjust to, but school itself in its entirety. So far the biggest challenge hasn't been the algebra homework, as expected, but how to know what to bring to which class and where and when and why and says who. I told him to ask lots of questions, but he won't. That's not his way. That's ok - he's gotten through just fine. A few minor scrapes, but nothing earth-shattering. H*ll, he can fail a test and I won't find it earth-shattering. Says the unschooling mom.

Last night, sleepless yet again, I rehearsed my unschooling-turned-school-mom mantra - that happiness is more important than grades, that there's a reason we opted out of the system for all these years and those reasons still stand, that even though his vocabulary list sometimes throws him for a loop he can build a computer from scratch and that's a d*mn amazing thing whether some authority figure grades him on it or not. And I'm all steeled and ready to be his advocate, if and when it's needed, after detecting the slightest disparaging tone from one teacher as she referred to "considering his prior situation..."

Not that I don't expect it. I was a teacher and I used to feed the same lines that I now read between. And I actually understand exactly where their hands are tied and know the reasoning behind certain concerns. I get it all. I've stood on all points of the circle in our journey from one realm to the other and back again. And now I'm especially grateful for my perspective as a radical unschooler, grateful to the pioneers before me who've helped me find my voice and see straight through the sh*t, and I'm poised and ready to do whatever it takes to see that Brady's experience there is what he needs it to be.

There've been many highlights, too. It's been lots of fun meeting new parents, meeting Brady's new friends, listening to him recount his day as he sits on the end of our bed, and hearing the roar of the crowd as his soccer team dominates an entire game. It's been surprisingly easy to rise early in the morning (helped, no doubt, by the minor fact that in some cases I hadn't gotten to sleep yet) when it's to help Brady and not to trudge off to some dreaded job myself. It's given Jonathan and me some amazing quality time together, something he's gotten less of being the younger child. And it's proven to me - whether I sought 'proof' or not - that after 8 years of total unschooling, my child can walk into a college-preparatory high school, at grade level, and do just fine.

And if that doesn't make the "powers that be" pause and think for a moment...


School quotes for today:

"You know, Mom, I wouldn't mind school at all; I'd like it even - if it weren't for all this homework." ~Brady

"I hate school. School takes people away." ~Jonathan


Saturday, September 01, 2007

Showtunes and Coolness

Photo: Courtesans and Marcus Lycus, backstage, before last performance of "Forum"

I'm listening to the soundtrack from "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum", the musical I was in last March. When I listen to the songs I can remember every dance step, every entrance cue, every nuance of every moment of the show. I'd like to think it's because I have an astounding memory and aptitude for such things. More likely, it's because it was my one big hurrah and I relive it like the town drunk relives the amazing game-winning touchdown he made in the final seconds of the homecoming game back in '76. In other words, it's probably only a big deal to me. But hey, let me have my moment, would ya?

I've always had an affinity for soundtracks, especially showtunes. I've been known to get hooked on a showtune or two and belt them out at the top of my lungs, to which Jonathan shakes his fists in the air and commands, "Mom... MOM... STOP!"


Singing is something I can't help but do, especially in the car. Or to Jonathan's loud iTunes music, or to late night retro music on car rides home. When we drove to Colorado for family vacations when I was young, we'd throw on some John Denver as soon as we crossed the Colorado border from Nebraska. We'd get excited thinking we were almost there, when after 2 or 3 go-rounds with the John Denver tape and we *still* couldn't see mountains, we'd all grumble back to our books or sibling-poking or thumb-sucking. But we did harmonize a mean
Wild Montana Skies.

Now when I harmonize, my music-loving but singing-ignorant husband just thinks I'm singing off-key. Sheesh - tone-deaf chump. He joins Jonathan in wishing I'd stop. Sometimes I have to sing very quietly, almost under my breath, in the car so I don't bother the other riders. Kinda like a dog wearing a bark-collar who is jones'n to howl.

Once I found myself in a whole tubful of fellow showtune-loving grrrls, and we sang every tune we could think of until the wee hours of the morning. Yes, I said tubful - we were in a hot-tub, at a women's retreat at a B&B many years ago.

But the other day when we were driving to Willow, van loaded down with coolers and tents and yard games and lawn chairs, growing more eager by the mile, Rob popped in his iPod. And on came the Wicked soundtrack, blasting forth. So naturally, Jonathan began belting out the lyrics since he knows the entire album. Brady wasn't quite as enthusiastic about the choice, and when we pulled into a gas station for ice and beverages, he started laughing uncontrollably. Here we were, piling out of our van, ready for our hippy-dippy festival, with Defying Gravity filling the air. And of course, there were dudes on motorcycles and vans full of teens nearby, who looked at us like we were the strangest things to be seen in these parts since, like, ever.

And Brady, gearing up for a weekend with friends (including a former grrlfriend) and needing to exude coolness, begged - begged - us to turn it off as he dove for cover in the back of the van.

Hey, at least we can harmonize.