Sunday, March 30, 2008

How do we talk to our children?

A chance comment from a fellow shopper at the grocery store Saturday got me thinking about how my husband and I talk to our kids. She said "I love how you talk to your kids. It's so cute." Ever since, I've been trying to reconstruct our conversations in the produce section that prompted a stranger to tell me that. I'm still a little mystified.

I usually consider myself not terribly great about how I interact with my kids. I hear my kids talk to each other or to me and hear echoes of the bad habits I have influenced them with. They are soooo good at getting that annoyed tone of voice that I have used on them. The oldest is getting pretty good at my "I mean business" way of barking orders. I tend to beat up on myself about how I need to be better about how I talk to them.

In my defense, I do try to talk to them about everything that we do and let them know what I'm doing. If problem topics come up, I try to talk about them using truth and simplicity at the age level they need. I try to use good manners myself in hopes that they will copy me in that. I make a point of telling them that I love them several times a day.

So what was going on at the grocery store that was notable? Well, first of all, the whole family was there. Usually I go by myself or with just the baby so that it isn't nearly so chaotic. Tim usually stays home with the older kids. But last Saturday, we had a different schedule and decided to try it as a family for a change. To our oldest two, who don't get to come as often, it became a great adventure. I think what the stranger in the store saw was both Mommy and Daddy talking with our kids as we got things from our list. They only things that I can think of that might have been noteworthy were the fact that our kids were giddy with delight at being there, that the girls were actively helping us shop and that they were making suggestions about what we should buy(I think we should get some more grapes, Dad!). We were all having an adventure and enjoying it.

I will try to come up with some lessons to take away with this:


  • We as parents need to lighten up.
  • I was so obsessed with the bad behaviors, that I wasn't seeing the good behaviors.
  • Kids like to live like life is an adventure. We grown-ups are the party poopers too much of the time.
  • I definitely need to take advantage of every hint of helpfulness my kids display.
  • I also need to enjoy those good times because they all come to an end. By the time we were going down the last aisle before checkout, two of the three kids were in tears and we were getting sympathetic comments instead.
So, I hope this gets you thinking about how you talk to people. I probably would never have noticed this unless someone took the risk to tell a stranger what they thought. (By the way, have you ever noticed how people are more willing to talk to you when you have kids with you?)

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Spring means renewal

I like spring. Spring is a time of renewal. When I was a kid I liked summer better. I could play outside most of the day without any school. But now, Spring is the season I like best. Where we live, the trees are blooming the allergens are wafting on the breezes and the home improvement stores and plant nurseries are packed with people ready to get going on the projects they have in mind for good weather.

We are always busy, but it has seemed busier than usual this sping. We just mailed off our tax returns, so that is done. We finished out our new garden this weekend by putting in supports and planting snow peas and grapevines. The garden looks mostly like a muddy mess right now, but I've started to see tiny radish seedlings poking up (they are always the first ones, right after the weeds). We are all well again after a three week bout of illness which put all plans on hold. I don't think my husband will mention it, but he got a promotion and raise. It is always nice to be appreciated by one's employer.

Between the return of sunny weather, the garden, and life seeming good right now, It feels strange to be saying that the school year is running down. I can see the end of our currently scheduled work in just a month or two. We also do some kind of schooling pretty much all year, so it feels strange for that reason too. I have had trouble in the past being in sync with the traditional academic year. Somehow our daughter seems ready for something new long before fall, so for the past two years I have started her new school year in the first week of August. We are usually well finished with what I had planned by May, so June and July become a very light schooling time and we spend more time going for walks, playing outside, and doing fun things. That time becomes my planning time to get ready for the new school year.

This year however feels like a bigger challenge. Although I've been homeschooling for two years now, it has been preschool and kindergarten. Our daughter is above average in reading ability at this age so her reading skills are probably a grade or two advance. Still, This coming year is first grade. This fall she will be required by the state of California (based on her age) to be enrolled in a legally accepted educational situation. If you follow my husband's blog, you know that their is a current court case that has the homeschool community stirred up about whether homeschooling is legally recognized in our state. I will let him worry about that for now. What worries me is that I expect so much of myself in homeschooling our kids and this year was the year that I was going to be adding probably twice as much work as we currently do. In addition, my next daughter is probably ready to start working on some pre-reading skills.

I have heard numerous times from homeschoolers that the first year is the hardest. I think it was true for us (at least so far) because we were feeling our way and our daughter was so young that many curricula were just mismatched to use with her. This past year has felt easier. We had our plan of action, it worked relatively smoothly, and we made steady progress. I was pleased with the curriculum materials we had chosen. We covered language arts appropriate to a Kindergartener (reading practice, writing practice, memorization, vocabulary words, and spelling words), beginning math skills (using Horizons Math published by Modern Curriculum Press), Piano and lots and lots of art.

Next year we are adding formal grammar, history, and science. My first challenge is to finalize our plans about what we will be doing and what curriculum we need for what. We are planning to follow a classical education plan (for those of you who are familiar with educational theory). We still have not decided about when to introduce a non-English language and which language that would be.

Since we are winding down on our current school year with what we had planned so far, and since my daughter always seems to be ready for something new when everybody else is taking a break, I am tempted to try something new. I am tempted to take our year-round school literally and slowly add new aspects that we plan to cover next year a little at a time. I know that she is ready for more formal grammar instruction for example. Why don't I go ahead and get that started and keep up some form of reading and writing practice like we already do. Maybe I could just do the reading and writing in a new way to keep it fresh for her. We could do more math play during the late spring and summer to keep her from forgetting it all before I start her in the next level. It would also help reinforce her understanding of the facts she has covered so far. I already know she needs more work on learning money and measurements. Those are both best learned by hands on practice. Once she has had the added work for a month or two, I could try adding history or science. That way when we start school up in the fall as a first grader, It won't all hit at once and feel overwhelming.

I suspect it would be easier on me that way, too. I know I don't like feeling like I've had extra work dumped on me either. And whether I like it or not, teaching children in the early grades requires a lot of one-on-one attention. I keep hearing that the older they get the better they work independently. I know that my daughter can work steadily for hours without help if she loves it (art is like that for her). But however good she is at other subjects, she needs someone right there to remind her what she should be doing.

So I am in the process of figuring out how to renew our homeschooling for another year. Let's hope the court case allow us to do this for many years to come.

Sunday, March 02, 2008


I've been tagged for an internet meme by my beloved husband. My link to his blog is on my sidebar. By participating in this meme, I am to reveal 5 sordid things about myself. "Sordid" for this game is to be defined as: adj. wretchedly poor; filthy; morally degraded.

The rules are:
1. Link to your tagger, and post these rules.
2. Share five wild crazy facts about yourself.
3. Tag five people at the end of your post, and list their names, linking to them.
4. Let them know they've been tagged by leaving a comment at their blogs.
Before I start, let me address the debatable merits of participating in such a game. Anyone who reveals 5 truly sordid things about themselves which would come back to haunt or hurt them, is too stupid or naive to be using the internet. I am assuming this is a game to be done in the spirit of fun. the fact that the rules also use the description "wild and crazy facts" gives a lot of leeway. Also, since I have not had an outrageously sordid life, my facts will be too tame to be used for gossip or blackmail. I have gotten beyond my embarrassment of them and they now are simply whom I have been, am currently or possibly may be in the future. Nor am I a perfectionist in any form or shape. My hope in life is in God's grace. So, with no further ado....

  1. I have cleaned my toilets on average once a year since we have had children. I was raised with much cleaner standards of hygiene than this, so it is still something I hope to change in the future. But in my current reality, it is what it is.
  2. Besides the fact that I was raised in this country as an English speaking person, went through very good schools all the way through graduate level, and (I like to think) am a contemplative person who thinks before I speak, I have produced some uses of the English language that are truly wretched and thoroughly amusing. I am constantly making my husband laugh on nearly an everyday basis on my strange and ill-starred word choices. It doesn't come out nearly so bad in print.
  3. As a librarian I have what in the profession is almost considered a moral deficiency in that I can toss a book in a trash can with no compunction at all. To those of you outside of this profession, I must explain. You see the library profession tends to attract bibliophiles (that is people who love books). In fact many of these people are so extreme in their love of books that they have a physical revulsion of discarding in any way any book. They may try to save their consciences by trying to find the book a loving home by way of book sales, book swaps or donations to other groups, but eventually some books for a variety of reasons just need to be tossed on the garbage heap. The dislike of having to take responsibility for such a decision and actually doing it is such that some libraries have to hire an outsider to come in and do the dirty deed. It has crossed my mind that I could swing that as a part-time job if I get the right connections.
  4. I have punished my children for things that were not their fault and treated them harshly when they were needing extra compassion. There is not one parent on this planet that hasn't done that at some time or another. It helps keep us all humble.
  5. I lied to my second grade teacher about finishing my math workbook so that I could go play the cool math games that some of the faster students were doing. I don't think I ever finished that workbook and my subsequent troubles with the multiplication tables may have been a direct result of my trying to skip ahead before I was ready. I reaped the consequences of my error and finally got back on the straight and narrow learning my math properly and managed to go all the way through calculus before I decided I had enough. Looking back on this I now see that although I idolized this teacher at the time, she wasn't that great of a teacher. She did not deal with her students justly, she was petty and lazy. This doesn't excuse my behavior, but it does explain how a second grader could get away with not having her work checked.
That is my list for your amusement. However I am not passing this meme on to anyone. I just think passing things along like that is too much like a chain letter. I always hated those. Feel free to participate if you wish.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Light at the end of the tunnel

The wave of winter illness struck us almost two weeks ago. The first two kids to get the virus that causes fevers for up to seven days, have now got their appetites back and are merely drippy nosed. Those two happy ones are the Adrenaline Junkie and the Happy Boy. Somehow they managed to get sick on the exact same day (unless I misread symptoms). Now the Pillowfight Fairy is sick with the fever and off her feed. So far, Tim and I have not come down with it. I've been fighting something like a cold the whole time. As of today, however, I'm beginning to think that it's Spring allergies.

It's not easy going through a wave of illness like this. I'm grateful that this time the parents were well, during the bulk of the kid-sickness. We are still on the brink of a serious case of cabin fever, however. At least we have had nice weather for the last week. There were a few days when we were able to get outside for walks or playing in the backyard (hence my suspicion of allergies) and that seemed to help us a little. The trees and flowers are blooming and it feels like spring. Day by day we are getting closer to being well... the light at the end of the tunnel.

My husband is planning on doing a post on our project today as we took turns taking care of kids while the other parent worked outside. I will summarize from my perspective. We planted a vegetable garden. Yesterday, Tim moved around dirt to level things out, killed a bunch of weeds with Round-Up, and mowed. Today he roto-tilled the garden area for me. Then I raked it level, divided it up and made rows. Then I bought seeds and planted. It doesn't look all that big when you see it in context with our huge backyard. But, it is really a very big garden.

I've waited four and a half years to plant that garden. It is an early spring garden, so I've planted cooler weather vegetables: carrots, cabbage, lettuce, spinach, radishes, onions, chives, parsley, basil, and brussel sprouts. Next weekend, we hope to get supports in so we can plant grape vines and snow peas. We decided that a spot in our small orchard would work for our compost pile. We have almost finished our backyard. Once again a light at the end of the tunnel.

I'll be spending a little time every day watering, weeding, and eventually picking fresh veggies. There will be a lot of weeding. The weeds have spread widely since we've moved in. We keep underestimating how fast the weeds go to seed, and kill them after they've gone to seed. As a result, we have more weeds. So much of this coming growing season will be a fight against the weeds. We will need to eradicate them from several large sections of our yard and then put down ground cloth and wood chips. In the garden, I expect that I'll be pulling weeds nearly every day.

Since finances have been a little tight after the big project from last year and several unexpected expenses, we don't think we will be finishing up all the landscaping just yet. But to make the patio area pretty, I think I'll sow several packets of wildflowers that I already have.

Getting outside and making things look nice again has been really satisfying. I'm sure it will take a few seasons yet before everything is just the way I imagined it. But, it is getting there.

As for the sick days we have had recently, I've had a lot of "light at the end of the tunnel" thoughts. Our oldest child is five years old. Five-year-olds are still fussy and clingy when sick, but they are much easier to work with than a three-year old or an infant. The three year old is super fussy and clingy when sick, but at least she can talk and communicate how she feels, if she's hungry, or if her food is about to come up. The baby (or I should say toddler, since he's walking) is as hard to figure out as ever. If he's not happy, something is wrong.

I realize that sick days will only be getting better as the kids get older. The Pillowfight Fairy is ten times better as a sick child now than when she was three. I have wondered how many of those people I know who decided to stop having kids after one or two, decided this after a bad bout of sickness while the kids were preschool age or younger. I know it crosses my mind on those really tough days.

Somehow, as my kids get older I am seeing another light at the end of the tunnel. We still hope to have another child, but even so I'm not going to be having pregnancies much longer. I'm forty. If we are blessed again, it will be our last I think. Eventually, the baby years will pass. The Toddler years will pass. Preschool years will pass. I will get to rid myself of spare toys and baby clothes, maternity clothes and bottles. Some day we will no longer need booster seats at the table. I am looking forward to the older kid stages.