This weekend was our homeschooling group’s Educational Freedom Party — what other groups refer to as their Not-Back-To-School picnics, parties, etc.  I hate that this lifestyle gets defined in relation to school, when school is so very far from what we do. So I flat-out refuse to call it a “Not-Back-To-School” anything. It’s the celebration of what we have — freedom to educate our own children however we choose to — not of what we are giving up, avoiding, or rejecting.

Anyway, our party was this weekend. We kind of got rained out; there were many families who bailed because the weather was iffy. But we forged ahead, partly because I’d already cleaned the house (dammit) and partly because any time the schedule gets changed all hell breaks loose. We had a good time even with the smaller crowd, and I really enjoyed chatting with new people and people I don’t get to see very often.

The teens seemed to have a good time playing their instruments (music) together (socialization). When it wound down to just Noah and one other teen, they played Call of Duty (dynamic thinking, cooperative problem solving) together for a while. Young men bond so easily over shooting and stabbing, don’t they?

Note to self: we need to encourage more teen girls to join Natural learners!

Aengus stayed inside for a long time playing video games (dynamic thinking, cooperative problem solving) with Tori and Ash (socialization). When he came out later in the evening, though, he really hit it off with yet another girl, a ten-year-old named Madison. Together, they chatted and played for several hours — and got a good workout when they discovered the treadmill.

The rain came full-force just when we were about to light the bonfire, which is always my favorite part of our parties. I guess that means we’ll just have to have another party this fall! Hot dogs and hot chocolate and teens with guitars. Doesn’t that sound like the perfect autumn party? ❤

Noah was in a talkative mood this weekend, too, which is rare. We talked a lot about religion, society, politics, and particularly other cultures. He and I went to the Harrisonburg International Festival for a bit, too, where he got to play in a drum circle. He was slow to join in but thoroughly enjoyed it when he did.

Both boys have asked for me to push them to work on some academics, so we’re starting with math and foreign languages today (and for Aengus, reading). I’m not happy about this; I don’t like telling people what to do any more than I like being told what to do. But they want me to be the bitch, so here goes. If it affects our relationships, though, we’ll have to change course. I have always —always– said that I don’t keep the kids home so that we can fight. If our days become constant battles, they can either go to school or take on the responsibility of pushing themselves. Learning information is easy; repairing relationships is not.

And now it’s time to wake Noah. Getting him up before 3pm is step one of the new whip-cracking policy around here. Wish me luck.


Party, Party, Party!

Posted: September 24, 2010 in Aengus, Noah, Parenting

We’ve had a relatively uneventful week around here.

Last weekend was all about sleepovers and parties: I went to a baby shower — I haven’t been to one of those in ages! My friend found out on her fortieth birthday that the birth control she and her husband had used all through their marriage failed. Her kids are eleven and thirteen; she was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Part of me is jealous of her: it would be nice to have a baby now, now that I know a bit more of what I’m doing. But I also know the reality of parenting; as easy as Aengus was, I still don’t think I’s want to go through all that again. Although, I loved being pregnant and would totally do that part of it again in a heartbeat; I’ve even tried over the years to talk Jason into me being a surrogate. That’s when his Catholic upbringing reared its ugly head.

I’m happy for my friend. She’s an amazingly kind and gentle person, and her kids are lucky to have her. All three of them. But I’m glad it’s her and not me.

Also last weekend, Noah got to spend time with his girlfriend for her seventeenth birthday. They went to dinner, saw a magician, raised hell at Books-A-Million, and saw Inception. Then Noah went to his buddy’s house to play video games, eat junk food, and shoot Mountain Dew with the guys two nights in a row (double sleepovers FTW).

Aengus went to a laser tag party for a new friend one night, then slept over after his bff’s birthday party the next night. And on his way home from James’s house, he convinced me to stop by WallyWorld . . . where he bought a gun. (>.<) It’s just a BB gun, and he already has two rifles, but this one is different somehow. It’s a handgun, and he just sits around and looks at it. Caresses it. Times himself taking it apart and putting it back together. I think he loves it the same way Noah loves his guitars.

I am in distress.

I can’t deny that he is who he is and has interests of his own, completely outside of my influence. And we’ve known since he was six months old and wielded anything he could like a sword that he has an unusual interest in weapons. I also know that my kids have a particular sensitivity to forbidden-fruit syndrome, so I believe in my head that I need to just keep my mouth shut (other than stressing safety) and let him be who he is.

But this obsession with guns is way beyond my comfort level. Those who knew me when Noah was young know how adamantly opposed to violence in any form I was. Noah wasn’t even allowed to shape his fingers into pretend guns or play “fighting” with his friends. I’ve become a very different person, and Aengus has had a different childhood than Noah had. He plays the violent video games and runs around “shooting” his friends. My consolation has been that his enjoyment of violence never extended into real life. In real life, he flips out when I kill a bug and is disturbed by the plight of animals at the hands of humans.

But he really, really likes guns. I am disturbed, but I can’t find any logical reason for this to bother me. It’s just my instinctive, knee-jerk reaction. And that’s not a good place to parent from, so I’m biting my tongue.

But if he signs up for sniper school, I’ll put my foot down.

Several of my homeschooling lists seem to be discussing both video games and homeschoolers’ superior preparedness for the coming zombie apocalypse.

My favorite comment (from Morgana, a woman I have no doubt I’d be friends with IRL) came in a thread about strangers grilling us about whether our kids are really learning anything outside of school. Her response to them is a blunt but honest “None of your business.” But —

If I get any further questions, such as what we learn at home, I tell them that I only teach the basics: How to survive a zombie invasion, ways to take out a ninja, and how to run a successful pirate ship.

One of Aengus’s favorite video games is the Call of Duty franchise, particularly the Nazi Zombies minigame. He believes zombies really are possible and that the government is,  in fact, researching them in Area 51. Since I am a big believer in the educational value of video games, even the ones that involve shooting supernatural creatures, I’ve always  loosely considered zombies part of our “curriculum.” But as open-minded as I am to the academic potential of video games, I was unprepared for what happened this week.

When we went to the book store the other day, Noah bought some manga (language arts, art, cultural studies). Aengus? He bought The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead, by Max Brooks.

When I started reading this to Aengus, I was pleasantly surprised by the academic topics we touched on. By page nine, we had discussed wilderness survival (life skills), first aid (life skills, health), the afterlife (religious studies), viruses versus bacteria and the transmission of each (health), sex (health), how nerves and the brain work, (biology)  the various body functions necessary for life (biology), reflexes and instincts (biology), and I had defined several vocabulary words for him.

For example: When describing zombies’ five (or six?) senses, Brooks writes

Zombies have, literally, no physical sensations. All nerve receptors throughout the body remain dead after reanimation. This is truly their greatest and most terrifying advantage over the living. We, as humans, have the ability to experience physical pain as a signal of bodily damage. Our brain classifies such sensations, matches them to the experience that instigated them, and then files the information away for use as a warning against future harm. It is this gift of physiology and instinct that has allowed us to survive as a species. It is why we value virtues such as courage, which inspires people to perform actions despite warnings of danger. The inability to recognize and avoid pain is what makes the walking dead so formidable. Wounds will not be noticed and, therefore, will not deter an attack. Even if a zombie’s body is severely damaged, it will continue to attack until nothing remains.

It turns out that in the context of something utterly ridiculous, something created for pure fun, we can extrapolate the study of any number of “academic” subjects. Can you imagine the discussion that follows reading such a paragraph? My son stays home with me, reading this stuff with me, so we actually had that discussion. Multiply that times 365, then by eighteen, and I’m pretty sure his education will be fairly broad by the time he moves out.

On top of which, he’ll survive with all the other homeschoolers.

Aengus’s interest in video games sparked his interest in this book, but also in  iPhone apps, online games, and many television shows, each of which has led to their own discussions. I am a book lover, but as an effective means to learn about the world, I’d say books come in dead last. Helpful and informative, but only in a supporting role. Video games, television, and other electronic media bring learning alive in a very real way.

My kids’ education isn’t leaving a paper trail. It’s leaving body parts.

In Which Bedtime is Banished

Posted: August 26, 2010 in Parenting

When Noah was little, he was an early riser. I mean early : he never let us sleep later than six a.m., no matter what time we put him down.

In the ramp up to puberty, which started around age ten for him, Noah began sleeping later. He also began having trouble falling asleep (something that we still don’t know whether to attribute to puberty or heredity, as his father still sometimes suffers from it). I figured that since his body had started letting him sleep later than the roosters, it knew what it was doing. We dropped his bedtime and simply let him decide when he was ready to sleep, and let him sleep pretty much as late as he needed to.

For several years now, that has meant he’s up til four, five, or six in the morning and sleeps until three, four, or even five in the evening. He’s responsible about getting up early if he needs to and plans ahead for those mornings. I know my mother worries that he’ll never be able to hold a job with a “normal” schedule if he’s allowed to live like this now. I wholeheartedly disagree, but I suspect the point will be moot: musicians aren’t known for keeping bankers’ hours, after all.

But my thinking on the subject of bedtime has always been: if he’s getting enough sleep — and if he’s not interrupting my sleep — he can keep any schedule he wants to. It’s not like he has to get up for school or anything.

Nighttime has since become Noah’s favorite time of day. He gets uninterrupted access to the XBox, peace and quiet, personal space, alone time. Like his mother, I think he savors being alone to do his thing.

But all that’s about to change: his little brother has apparently hit the puberty on-ramp now, too.

Aengus (who desperately wants to be like his brother) has been asking for ages now that his bedtime be dropped as well. My concern with that thus far has been that no matter what time he goes to bed, his body gets him up between seven and eight in the morning. Sleep is vital to good health, I’ve explained, so until his body starts letting him sleep in, it’s important that he go to bed a bit on the early side. I promised Aengus that once he’s able to sleep late any time that he’s stayed up late, we’ll drop his bedtime.

But even so, I think we’ve been pretty laid back: his bedtime, at nine years old, is ten o’clock. And not rigidly ten: as long as he’s up in his room before Jon Stewart, I don’t bat an eyelash.

The last two weeks or so have become difficult, though. He’s been having trouble getting to sleep and, in fact, now experiences a burst of energy when he “should” be settling down for the night. Were he younger, I’d say he’s getting a second wind that could be avoided if we got him to bed earlier. But, knowing what puberty does to a body, I’m pretty confident that would be fighting a losing battle at his age.

He’s also been sleeping correspondingly later in the morning, not getting up until after ten for a few weeks now, and not until almost noon for the past week. Though he hasn’t asked me to keep my promise, I knew it was time.

Today, we banished forevermore “bedtime” in our home.

Aengus will be given reminders, of course, about listening to his body’s cues and settling down when it shows signs of being ready for sleep. And we’ll have to talk a lot about going to bed earlier than usual when we have places to go the next day. And he most definitely will be lectured about the dangers of waking mom in the middle of the night. But being given responsibility is the best way I know to learn how to handle it. And so it’s time.

Noah is not going to like this.

Our family has felt . . . disjointed for quite some time now. With Noah in the throes of puberty (and my instinctive reaction to negativity being withdrawal), it’s felt like he mentally moved out already. I’m not ready for that!!! Aengus has never, by nature, been as open and connected with me as Noah always used to be. Add the Xbox and we’ve felt separate for a very long time now.

But on Friday, Aengus and I had a day away from home, just the two of us. We ate at IHOP (computation: percents, life skills), visited friends (socialization), walked through a few malls (economics), and talkedtalkedtalked (about aliens, gods, and ghosts: cultural mythology, about illnesses: P.E., and about politics). He never opens up to me the way Noah used to, but it was still nice to connect with him a little bit. We also bought the next book in the Magic Tree House series, by his request (reading).

Noah was in a good mood when we came home and wanted to watch Casablanca with me. When Noah requests that I do something with him — anything at all — I drop my own plans and do it. He and I used to be extraordinarily close; and while I know that shouldn’t last forever, I do miss it. So we watched Casablanca, and he loved it. I loved watching it with him.

Fridays are Jason’s short days at work, so after dinner (together!), we decided to watch a movie — together. We don’t often do that anymore, since we each have our own interests and are often just doing our own thing. But we decided it was time Aengus started his Pop Culture Tour and Noah returned to his. And the movie to reboot the tour was . . . Conan the Destroyer.

Can someone please tell me why this movie was made?!

Saturday is a blur, since I spent it spring cleaning my kitchen. We have mice, and I’d had it with them. I took everything out of my cabinets and drawers, washed it all, and cleaned the cabinets. We set traps, which I am normally opposed to; I prefer to let the natural food chain take care of things. That’s why you’ll find spiders in my house. But no snakes have moved in and our cats are useless as mousers. So the traps ended up catching nine mice. I haven’t seen any, erm, evidence of mice since then.

On Sunday, Noah went to his bandmates’ house for a sleepover/practice session (music, socialization).

Good friends and a guitar.

Their family is wonderful and a really good influence on him. While he was away, Aengus had his bff over for a sleepover. They actually managed to sleep a little this time, after spending the evening running around outside (with guns, of course; P.E.), building lots of Bionicles (engineering), playing chess (strategic thinking), and of course playing video games (cooperative problem solving, dynamic thinking).

Monday evening, after Aengus’s friend left, he crashed while I ran out to get Noah back. We had our own little one-on-one time at the mall, checking out books and posters and DVDs and talking, talking, talking. It was wonderful to talk about stuff with him, real stuff like the “Ground Zero Mosque” and financial responsibility and the importance of interpersonal skills and whether it’s group psychology or biology that determines what we find attractive and why physical attributes are so prized when it’s intelligence that really matters.

I absolutely loved it.

Aengus slept over last night at his good buddy’s house. He took his new iPod (he’s already had the talk about responsibility and that we won’t replace it if he loses or breaks it, blahblahblah) and TWENTY-SEVEN motherfucking Bionicle creations.

I know it was TWENTY-SEVEN motherfucking guys because he set them all up in our living room, organized them into teams, tallied them, and counted his tallies. That’s computation, number sense, and the beginnings of multiplication, people. Add in all the building of those guys and you’ve got physical science and engineering.

The only traditional sleepover item he packed was his toothbrush — although I had to remind him, and I was under no delusions that he’d use it. He crashed around six this evening after staying up most of the night. 😀 I’ll nag him about his teeth in the morning.

Me? Yesterday, I peeled peaches. And peeled peaches. Then, when my ADD couldn’t take it anymore, I facebooked for a bit . . . then peeled more fucking peaches.

Almost done with one bowlful (and the compost bucket is already overflowing)

I only got about halfway through the ones I’d picked that morning, so I put those in the freezer to later be turned into wine (when my bff’s daughter gets out of the hospital, I’ma have mah girls over to maykah da wahn). I’ll be peeling the other half for jelly tomorrow. Focus, Adesa. Focus.

After Shelby left last night, Noah spent some time with his other girl, a little Fender acoustic number (music), then played some Call of Duty (strategic, cooperative, and dynamic thinking; history) with his friend Nick. No idea how late he was up, but he didn’t get up today until after four. I’ve only spotted him occasionally tonight; he’s spending today in his room, I guess.

I hate when he has days like this. He’s already cutting those apron strings (not that I’ve ever worn one), and it breaks my heart. But to go an entire day without spending any time with me . . . it feels like I’m in mourning.

Aengus’s friend’s family brought him home this afternoon, and while the boys played outside (P.E., imaginative thinking, leadership skills), his friend’s sister and mother watched Across the Universe with me. I’ve seen it before, and I like it very much. Beatles music, with a plot — what’s not to like? I got a bit weepy, though, when they sang “Let It Be.” My dad loves the Beatles (and, I think, fancied himself as one of them in another life). I grew up listening to them and know most of their songs by heart.

My dad was just like most dads in the 70s: worked all day, came home in time to discipline the kids after they’d gotten in trouble with mom during the day, fixed stuff around the house, and put the kids to bed. When we did get to see him relax and hang out with us, though, he was always singing. He’s the reason people’s conversations always remind me of song lyrics and why I always break into song myself — apologies to the world for that.

Hearing them sing “Let It Be” in the movie got me to thinking first about my fantastic dad . . . and then about Noah, and what kind of father he’ll be. Although I sing A LOT to myself and there’s always music around here, I really never sang to him the way my dad did to me.

My one piece of advice to Noah when he enters fatherhood will be: sing to your kids. And don’t ever stop, even when they get bigger. Especially when they get bigger.

Ahhh . . . Tha’s Be’er

Posted: August 15, 2010 in Uncategorized

After beating up my face massaging my sinuses last night and drinking diluted apple cider vinegar, I’m feeling much more like myself today. I’m still congested, and I can feel the pressure mounting again in my sinuses, but at least I have more energy — ’cause I got shit to do!

Closer to my usual, perky self (no comments from the peanut gallery!)

Up for today: harvesting our shamefully overburdened peach trees, taking Noah and his girlfriend (Shelby, for you noobs) to a movie, taking Shelby home, and taking Aengus to his bff’s house for a sleepover; cleaning the wreck that is my kitchen; shredding then freezing or baking all this frigging zucchini; then a manicure and facial ’cause it’s True Blood night!

Last night, while I was trying not to whine about my sinuses (I’m such a pussy about pain, even after giving birth without drugs), I was cheered by two of my favorite sounds in the universe: Noah and Shelby, being affectionate and laughing together while playing Super Mario; and Aengus, laughing hysterically while playing Halo online with his bff. There’s just something about your child’s laughter, isn’t there?

Now, to work. Wish me luck as I make my first attempt at using a neti pot. :6

UPDATE: After the neti pot:

Well, a neti pot isn't glamorous, dainty, or at all girly to use . . . but it works!