Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Socialization Question

OK, so I'm all excited.  On my post from a few days ago about being a h/schooled parent, Jackie left me a series of comments that I've decided to talk about here.  Her comments warrant their own blog post because the content of them is important.  I'm almost hesitant to add to her thoughts below...but you know me...I won't be able to resist adding my two cents.

First, let me copy over her comments here - all three parts of them:

Hi Ruth, 

I"m so happy you're back! I wrote such a long response, this box won't let me put it in. I'll paste it in installments! ha. This is part 1:

I’m super interested in those comments you get about h/schooled children possibly not being ‘socialized’. Particularly, I’d be interested in what kind of ‘socializing’ those folks think school is doing, precisely. Have you ever asked? While it has some probably wonderful outcomes, like mass literacy for everyone which contributes strongly to democracy, compulsory public education actually has a very, very short history, but in that short time it developed powerful cultural roots that are difficult to challenge or undo. Public schools were really formed for the children of the poor, who were pouring into cities looking for work in factories. Schools also started to resemble factories, and indeed, as soon as these children got into their teens or younger, guess where they went to work? Then during the efficiency movement in the USA, mostly driven by Ford Motors trying to increase their productivity and decrease their costs, this guy Frederick Taylor first helped Ford increase their productivity through standardization… well, guess who then went into the schools and studied them and then implemented the efficiency and standardization stuff in schools? Yup… Taylor. Worked for factories, would work for schools because the type of socialization going on in schools was preparing factory workers. Therefore, the cheapest way to educate the greatest number of children to be efficient and obedient factory workers is to standardize their education… prior to this there wasn’t even such a thing as GRADES… those are less than 100 yrs old anywhere including in universities. But leveling students and grading them and dividing them into ability levels etc… is exactly like a productive factory with maximum efficiency. Cars, children, chickens. No difference according to Taylor. Anything can be standardized and made more efficient. So, gone were the beautiful sandstone schools that looked like castles… hideous schools with all the same blah design, all children using the same textbooks (great for publishing companies and they make even more profit now), exams at the end to make sure the product is standardized and then you have perfectly created your workforce. Of course wealthy children weren’t expected to go to such schools or be “socialized” in such a way.


Despite many efforts at reform, this model of schools has really stuck in our cultural mind. So I think homeschooling somehow challenges this and therefore makes people uncomfortable. So I wonder when they say the children might not be socialized, if they are really terrified they might not be ready for WORK. You can hear this from the education ministries and in their curriculum language… when i first started teaching in the early 90s, the Alberta curriculum preamble said that the purpose of schools was to prepare young people to enact their role as citizens in a democratic society. But within the next 10 yrs with revisions, it said the purpose of schools was to prepare workers to compete in the global economy to enhance alberta’s economic advantage. This is how we want young people in society to be socialized? The new curriculum coming out in alberta is a lot better in this respect. It actually says that school is for creating “ethical citizens” (but also entrepreneurs!). Children are more than future workers, and I would argue that they are already ‘ethical citizens’ when they are 5 yrs old… there isn’t a magic age at when you become a citizen or ethical. In fact, young children are the most ethical and compassionate people I know….and schools might be educating some of them right out of this. They might be learning to be competitive and individualistic, as this is the model that schools are still fashioned after... each children is measured and compared and gets their own 'grades' and they are in a hierarchical system where some people are better than others, and some subjects are better than others etc. So despite all our efforts at reform (even the really wonderful ones) we are still stuck with this system and mindset that socializes young people in this way in schools. Until we can get rid of these culturally inherited structural elements of schools (like grades, both as in 'grading' for marks and having children divided into hierarchical grades by age) it's actually impossible to address things like bullying in schools, because the culture subtly enables it.


I think homeschooling plays a very important role in challenging these kinds of images of what schooling is for, and also in keeping a more open and broad understanding of and possibility for school and children circulating. I’d love it if you ask someone what they mean by socializing!! I doubt that they will say that children don’t get to learn to be friends, or how to get along with others, because of course it is obvious that homeschooled children get plenty of interaction with other children and adults and all kinds of people, maybe more than children in schools… I’m so curious to hear if their actual answer and fears, when it gets down deep, is actually about whether they worry that children won’t be ready to be ‘workers’ and that they won’t have a good ‘work ethic’. Because they haven’t been graded and standardized by a system, so how do you know where they belong? We all know where the cheap caged hens eggs are in the grocery store and where the expensive organic free range eggs are. They are easy to sort. Homeschooled children are unsortable and don’t fit in any category. This freaks people out. Your children are FREE RANGE CHICKENS and you are doing artisan schooling. Some people would argue that such things are priceless! 

Hear endeth my rant of the day. Thanks for getting me going!!!! I’m so happy to hear of Seth’s growing enjoyment of reading! 



First of all, by way of introducing my response, thank you so very much Jackie!  I'm so glad you're back here on my blog, too, and I was pumped to read your awesomely long, gloriously informative, and wonderously curious thoughts.  I loved every word...and laughed out loud at the end when you called my children free range chickens! How awesome is that.

So, allow me to further the conversation a little.

Yes, the interest in socialization.  I thought for sure I'd posted on this subject before, and perhaps I have, but I just did a quick search of my blog over the past couple of years and the only one I could find was this one, from June'15, where I was mostly just referencing another blog author's interesting post on the subject:  The Socialization Question.

I wasn't exaggerating in my post of a few days ago when I said that every h/schooler knows that the most popular question about h/schooling from non-h/schoolers has to do with whether or not we're worried about our children being adequately socialized.  We roll our eyes and laugh about it in good humour...really!  If only people knew that this issue is pretty much the last issue that most h/schoolers worry about...we worry about pretty much everything else, and often wonder if we're dong as much as we could/should, etc, but the question of socialization doesn't usually even make the top 100 list.

I am asked at least once every ten days if I'm worried that my h/schooled child won't be properly socialized.  I used to respond by asking strangers' thoughts on the issue (more in a moment), but in the past few months I admit having become a little tired of the repetitive questioning in this regard.  Usually I'm on the run to/from somewhere and I always have the kids with me, who are always just about to get into some kind of mischief...furthermore, after being asked hundreds of times (in addition to all of the questions about adoption), I admit that my sense of patience and/or graciousness has devolved a little of late.  So in the past few months my response to this age-old question of strangers (and friends and family) has been what I noted in my earlier blog post - that yes, I'm concerned about my child being well socialized...and therefore we are h/schooling.  It's a bit of a smarmy response on my part, admittedly, meant to shut down conversation - inevitably it generates a bit of a stunned silence on the part of the questioner...and that silence provides me with the opportunity to offer a quick smile and make a getaway. 

But until recently, when someone asked me about whether or not I was worried about my children being socialized, I would answer the question with a question:  "Well, it depends...what do you mean by socialization?"

Think about it for a moment. What does it mean to be well socialized?  How would you define socialization? And what makes the majority assume that the best (or only) way to go about achieving this is through the public education system?

I would suggest, upon reflection of years of this question of socialization, that every person who has asked me about it has been serious in the asking of the question.  Curious.  Concerned.  Even intense, in some cases.  Often with a hint of judgment in the voice tone of the question.  Usually with the unquestioned assumption that socialization happens best/exclusively within the context of the school system.

And socialization within the public school system is the norm.  It is the culturally accepted belief that children are better off within a public school system that, yes, offers some advantages that h/schoolers don't have, but which primarily espouses a uniformity of education and some kind of (intended? unintended?) indoctrination that intends to see children emerge from the system in similar, or standardized, fashion.

The brief history of our schooling system that you offered up, Jackie, is known to very few, I believe.  Even I was stunned, seven or eight years ago as we were about to launch our h/schooling journey, to learn how new, and relatively untested, our system of mass education is.  Less than a century old.  And yet it is as embedded into our social sense of expectation and consciousness so deeply that it is often very difficult to counter it.  Realizing this had a definite impact on our confidence in making the decision to h/school.

Having been asked, hundreds of times, if I'm worried about my children not being socialized, I would say that almost no one has responded to my question about the meaning of socialization by talking about preparation for the work force.

I can only think of two examples where people talked about schools as being places to cultivate workers.  The first time was someone who said that it was important for children to learn how to work in teams in order to be able to get along in the workplace; I was interested in hearing more so I asked how the school system, in her opinion, worked to cultivate teamwork.  She said two things: that recess breaks provide this opportunity for team building; and that various class projects involving teams of students would meet that goal.  Fair enough, I suppose, though I privately questioned the recess portion of her answer.  The second example that I can think of was a woman who responded by saying that socialization through school prepared children to stand around the photocopier or water cooler later in life and be able to hold a conversation with a co-worker.  I wanted to ask her (but didn't) if she's like to converse with my children for a few moments to reassure herself of their ability to hold a conversation.

In the vast majority of responses, the very things that you doubted people would say, Jackie, are the things I have heard, by far, the most often.  Shocking, in a way; but perhaps not if my theory is true that very few people actually understand how new our system of education is.  I also think that most non-h/schoolers do not appreciate that h/schooled kids often have more social interaction than other kids, and usually a very diverse life experience.

What has always surprised me is how utterly stumped some people are when it comes to the question of socialization.  There is always a moment (or twenty) of startled silence from the person who has approached me as s/he ponders my question.  Some (many?) have had absolutely no idea how to define socialization...as in, they are silent or offer a shoulder shrug; often these people move away from me without necessarily even engaging further in the discussion that they were the originator of.

From those many who have answered my question over the years, I've had fascinating responses.

By far, the vast majority of people respond by talking about how children need to learn how to be friends by going to school; that school teaches them how to get along with others; that they need to interact with other children their age; that they need to learn to accept the values and culture that our society espouses; etc etc etc..  As I mentioned already, it is very rare that I've heard people respond by talking about children preparing to be workers - I sometimes bring that up, but that's usually about it.  It almost always catches people by surprise to learn that h/schooled kids typically get a lot of opportunity to interact with people - children of their own age, to be sure, but also children of a wide variety of ages and, as importantly, with many adults of varying generations.  Interestingly, I have one kid whose best friend is two years younger than he is; I have another kid whose two best friends are two years younger and five years older than she is; and I have one kid whose two best friends are pretty much the same age as him (though, in the case of one, different 'school' years).

I recall sometime earlier this year asking a stranger what she meant by the word socialization. She hesitated for a long moment, and then said, very tentatively, something like, "I think it's the process of becoming like other people, like everyone else in society."  I responded by saying that under that definition, I wasn't sure that I bought into the idea of socialization through the school system; I said that I didn't necessarily want my children to become like other people, at least not merely for the sake of becoming like everyone else.  She was quiet for another moment and then said, "well, actually, I think I might agree with you."  She then wished me well in our h/schooling endeavours and went on her way.

One woman said that socialization was the opposite of what people do when they keep their children home for religious reasons and refuse to let them mingle with society.  I didn't even know how to respond well to that one.  Certainly we are a family of a committed faith; and certainly I hope that my children keep their faith for their entire lives.  But I see part of my job as exposing them to as much as possible, over time, and to as many ideas as possible, so that we can talk about these things and explore them...indeed, these are some of my favourite moments with my kids, and some of the times I feel I'm really and truly doing my best work as a mom and as a h/schooler.

Another woman, just this summer, said that she had survived the socialization system of the school system, including being bullied, and she thought that it was a pretty normal and important thing for children to have to go through.  It sounded like she was saying that if she could survive it, so should everyone else.  I clarified with her by asking if she thought socialization meant that children needed to survive bullying as she did.  She said that it didn't sound very good when I put it like that, but that yes, children need also to experience unpleasant people in their lives, even bullies, in order to grow up and know how to deal with people like that, and so bullying was an experience that was maturing for children.  Wow.

Someone else told me that she believed strongly that children needed to be with other children their own age in order to understand what it's like to mature - that seeing other children at the same age would help them understand.

Many have suggested that children need to be socialized in school so that they develop a common morality in society when they grow to be adults.  Common values.  I have frequently asked what made it so important that adults have the same values - don't we live in a society that apparently espouses various values, beliefs, opinions?  One person said that if we have the same values we will  have a peaceful world.  I commented further by asking her how we were doing so far - after all, her generation and mine have been largely publicly schooled, and thus well socialized from her perspective, and yet we are not living in a peaceful world whatsoever.  She said that she didn't know how to respond.

Years ago, after realizing how incredibly often h/schoolers are asked about socialization, I looked up the definition of the word and wrote down the answers I found (I no longer have the sources noted, with apologies).  This is what I learned and wrote down, whether in paraphrase or exact wordage I no longer remember:

Socialization is:
* the adoption of the behaviour and values of the surrounding culture.
* the act of adapting behaviour, over time, to the norms of a culture or society.
* a continuing process whereby one acquires a personal identity, and learns the norms, values, behaviours, and social skills appropriate to his/her social position.

My response, both then and now:  Really?  I'm supposed to want my children to acquire a personal identity appropriate to their social positions?  And, while I do hope that my children are law-abiding citizens when they are adults, do I really want them to adopt all of the behaviours, values, norms, and social skills of our culture?

I distinctly and definitively do not want my children to feel obligated, via some giant social system, to turn themselves into someone else - anyone else...merely because the 'system' expects it.  Doesn't that smack of brain washing to you...on a pretty grand scale, no less?  Particularly now that I see my oldest becoming a more mature thinker, the parts of him that I treasure the most are those things about him that are unique, that stand out from the crowd.  He is a little different from the average 11-year-old; sometimes a little strange, even, but mostly just unique because he is free to explore, and free to be comfortable with, who he is.  Oh, how I am envious of that and wish I had experience that in my own life...instead it's taken me most of my 49 years to get to the point of self acceptance that he seems to have at age eleven!  No, I don't want to risk my kids becoming cookie cutter adults.

I also think it far more important that my children learn to talk to and befriend all kinds and generations of people than mostly/exclusively their own peer group; surely it will be more valuable in a workplace someday to be able to talk with people of various generations than with only like-aged peers.  I have also noted, at times, that I am not in any way seeking to have my children's values come from their peers, which I see happening all too often in our peer-oriented schools; that's like the blind leading the blind!  Instead, I want my children's values and beliefs to be shaped and refined by the adults of significance in their lives - the ones who teach and coach and mentor them; the ones I get to have a say in choosing to be involved in my kids' lives; the ones who have already-established value systems, intact identities, and emotional maturity.  This does not mean that all of the adults in my kids' lives believe the same things as us - indeed, I see much value in surrounding the kids with kids and adults of varying beliefs/values/faiths/perspectives/ages, and I think we live that out in our day-to-day lives.

Perhaps my favourite response (or at least the funniest one to me), was one woman who braved to ask the old socialization question while we were standing in a grocery store line-up (so often the setting of these conversations).  When I asked her what she meant by socialization, she spluttered and hemmed and hawed, and then burst out with "the ability to stand in a line."  I stood there staring at her, and managed to ask if I was right in understanding that she believed that the reason kids went to school to be socialized was to learn how to stand in lines.  She nodded.  I looked back at my three children standing in line behind me, and merely gestured to them with a hand outstretched.  Even she saw the ridiculousness of her answer; she looked at my kids, looked at me, and said very quietly, "well, I guess you've got that one covered."

Really, I think many of the questions about socialization boil down to people not knowing how to categorize h/schooled kids.  They are a unique lot, it's true.  Not easily boxed (or caged, as you put it so well, Jackie)...and willing, in many cases, to challenge the notion that someone might try to box them in!

I will long remember, Jackie, your comparison of my kids to free range chickens and to our h/schooling efforts as artisan schooling!  Time will tell how well our current endeavours will work, but I'm sure hoping that they end up producing the expensive, organic, free range, pastured eggs...precious, unique, and non-cageable!


Friday, November 20, 2015

First Snowfall of the Season.

We had our first snow yesterday.  After a long and lovely fall, Old Man Winter is here.  I'm not really a fan.  But as much as I really and truly dislike the snow and the cold myself, I do enjoy, dare I say love, watching the kids venture out for the first time of the season...with whoops and hollers and shrieks!  Yesterday, when I saw the early morning backyard of snow, my first thought was remembering how incredible a morning it was when Seth and Lizzie first saw and experienced (and ate) snow...and now here we are, entering our fifth winter of snow together (and Lizzie is still eating it...even with a dog in the family!).

This year, of course, we added the puppy to the mix.  She's nine months old now and still a baby, and she really didn't know what to make of this white stuff.  Before I let Charlie outside in the morning, I bundled her in her warm little plaid jacket (I really need to get pictures loaded onto my computer!) and then held her for a moment in the open doorway so that she could adjust to the chilly air and sharp wind. Then I put her down in the three or so centimetres of snow that had fallen in the night.  She took a step, shook each leg in turn, took another step and shook each leg again, and continued to make her way in this manner across the deck that she could no longer see.  (She was a great model of faith there...believing that the deck was there even though she couldn't see any part of it!)  Then, about a minute in, she took off running...and promptly tumbled over, head first, off of the low deck, and landed in the deeper stuff on the grass below. She looked down at her legs, buried in snow up to her armpits (what do you call armpits on dogs?), and then took off running...galloping, really.  She whipped around the yard a couple of times, did her business really quickly, and then raced back up the deck and to the house door and flew inside with a gust of cold air.  She was adorable...and shivering.  I wrapped her up in the blanket I was holding ready, and the two of us had a nice, fifteen minute cuddle in the library while she warmed up and licked me out of gratitude for bringing her inside.  (What a sweetie.)  I have no idea how she is going to get through the winter...especially because we had to shave her two weeks ago to even out the horrible shave she had over the bottom half of her body pre hip surgery.  We're not even into the super cold weather yet and she's all shivery and tiny looking.

Anyway, it was nice to see the kids spend some time out there...already busy building forts out of boards and plywood sheets and making hide-away spots with the big tarp.  And later in the day, Charlie voluntarily spent about 20 minutes outside with the kids, running around and biting the snow.  And so, sadly, we've arrived at this season again, and I'd love to just bury myself in an indoor hiding spot and never have to go out again...but I guess that's not so realistic, is it.

Ah well, time to pull out the remote start for the van.  Best. winter. gadget. ever.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Life of a Homeschool Parent

I don't think I've ever devoted a whole blog post to what it's like being a homeschool parent...though, in all truth, I may have...I forget what I've written here because it all just becomes part of the blur that is life most days/weeks/months.  My thoughts are a little unfocused on this topic...kinda all over the map.  But I've been sitting with a bunch of thoughts for the past several days, so here's my brain dump.

The family life of h/schoolers is generally a pretty good (albeit challenging) one...at least it is around here.  Although Geoff's time with the kids is largely what it might be were they in public school, the kids and I get to spend a lot of time together, and we all know each other really well...really. well.  The kids can read me like a book, and I them.  There's a deep intimacy that comes from spending this much time together...for better and for worse.  I have great relationships with each of my kids, I can respond immediately when I see something going on with one of them, and I know that when the kids are grown I will look back on this time and see it as the best of times.  I will have no regrets about the amount of quantity and quality time that I've spent with my kids in their early years.  And that makes me content.

That being said, the life of a h/schooling parent can be pretty challenging at times...sometimes for the same reason that we love h/schooling.

For example, as much as I love that the kids and I spend so much time together, this can also be very draining...I'm sure that's understandable!  I am someone whose personality lies near the border between introversion and extraversion and so, although I need to be with people on a regular basis, I also find it very draining at times to be with people all of the time.  And the truth is that I am rarely away from my children; where they go, I go, and where I go, they go.  If I have a doctor's appointment, they're waiting in the waiting room for me (or in the doctor's office with me); if I need to stop at the grocery store for one thing, they're right there, too...I haven't grocery shopped on my own in years.  I hear every argument, every question, every cry of frustration, every wail of sadness.  A three minute visit to the bathroom feels like a mini vacation to me...and when my dad takes the kids for a 15 minute walk around the mall once in a while while mom and I sit with a coffee or an iced tea, well, that's a vacation of rather grand scale!  The reality is that the kids and I are almost always together....even often at night, as there's usually a kid camped out at the foot of the bed.  My Thursday evenings on my own are a very blessed and cathartic time for me - I don't know how I'd survive without them!

Similarly, the role of a h/schooling parent in their child's life is pretty all encompassing.  I am:  solely responsible for the education of my children (including all of those areas where I am not skilled or knowledgeable..like science and about a hundred other areas); social coordinator; therapist and counsellor and mediator; provider of before and after care; the special needs person responsible for figuring out how to deal with various learning challenges; master scheduler; home manager; head chef to the little sous chefs in training; chief maid; entertainer; researcher; mentor; spiritual advisor; question answerer; pray-er; encourager; the one who tries to model for the child what growing up looks like; and on and on.  This list of things is likely very similar to the role of most parents (homeschoolers or not); it's just that they are more intensified because we're together so much of our time and because there's no one else to pull in to help with these tasks.

I always envisioned having a house full of noise and laughter.  And I have that.  I've got really, really loud children.  Like, loud.  Really.  Loud.  This brings to our home a terrific energy, which is great.  But it also means that peace and quiet is rarely to be found in this house.  And when they're in bickery or snotty moods (or when I am), the loudness becomes a rather ugly loudness that takes on proportions that, at times, has me opening doors and windows just to let a little of the noise find its way out!

Again, similarly, I am in constant demand...often by all three kids at once.  It can be very anxiety producing (did I mention that I started on some blood pressure medication a few months ago??).  I don't know about you, but I would never have thought I'd have the patience to do this kind of job.  I don't honestly know if anyone would have the patience to do this kind of job...or maybe I think that simply because it's so beyond the scope of who I am by nature.  It's so often only by the grace of God that somehow we get through the rough moments relatively intact...it's certainly not because I have the patience of Job (who, technically, I don't really think was all that patient, given the complaining he did, but that's his reputation anyway).   There are lots of days that I grit my teeth from beginning to end, and other days that I weep my days through; and yet, somehow we get through them and know that this whole h/schooling thing is in the best interests of our kids and family at this point in the journey.

The role is a big one and there's frankly not a lot of support for it.  We've been blessed to find ample and good friends within the h/schooling community, and I'm always so thankful for this because these are the people who understand what it takes to make this work.  They're often my shoulder to lean on, and the people I learn the most from.

A h/schooling parent needs to be pretty resilient/confident in the face of opposition, because most people around them are naysayers.  People who don't homeschool generally don't understand homeschoolers (at best) or are fairly (and openly) critical or suspicious of it (at worst).   Closely tied to this is the perception that most people have that sending a child to school is the (only) way in which the child can be socialized.  Any h/schooler knows that the most common question about h/schooling is 'aren't you worried that your child won't be socialized?'  And of course, the answer is 'yes - that's why we're h/schooling.' (At least that gives people something to think about, but the question does get more than a little tiring)

Sadly, we h/schooling parents/moms are also often left feeling rather discouraged not only by the general naysayer, but also by fellow h/schoolers.  I don't think this is intentional, actually, and I don't think these folks are ill-intentioned.  I think it's rooted in insecurity.

Let me explain.

I see h/schoolers, by necessity, as often having to re-invent the wheel to make things work in their (unique) family.  We're all flying by the seats of our pants and hoping for the best.  So when we hear what the Jones' are doing in their h/schooling world, and realize that we haven't done any of those excellent things, well, it's really, really, really easy to feel shitty about one's own h/schooling efforts.  As for the Mom in the Jones family (the one who's doing the talking about what's going on their h/schooling), she's likely just talking about everything she's doing because she's so worried that she's missed a whole bunch of important things and, in order to feel competent and enough, tells her fellow h/schoolers everything she's doing.  Make sense?  It happens over and over again, this cycle of people feeling insecure about what they're doing and inadvertently making other people feel badly about what they are doing/not.

The truth is that we're all doing our best and there are many, many ways of h/schooling and that what works for one family doesn't necessarily work for another (hence the need to usually re-invent the wheel and hence the reason why we all have unused curriculum in our houses because we've tried doing what the Jones' are doing but it doesn't work in our home).  Our family is a perfect example of this - I tried schooling at home via curriculum for almost four years and it was a mostly horrible experience (not the being-at-home part...the part where we were attempting to do school at home in a way that might look something like what the school system might do).  I tried hard.  And it didn't work, for lots of reasons that I've talked about before.  When, after tons of research, we began unschooling, suddenly things began to make more sense in our family, and the kids proved very capable of learning...but in a different way than might work for other families (or even for me).  That doesn't make us better or worse than the next h/schooling family, but it's easy to be left with one of those feelings when we're not all that sure that what we're doing is the right direction to take.  It's taken me years to (mostly) quell that feeling of incompetence whenever I hear another h/schooling mom talk about everything they're doing...and even as I write that I can think of two recent conversations I've had that left me feeling a little panicky about everything I'm not doing.

I also find unschooling particularly challenging because, for us, this looks like following the kids' interests as much as possible.  But often their interests aren't particularly aligned with my own interests (or knowledge and ability) and so I spend time (invariably at night, instead of relaxing with a book or Netflix!) researching something or figuring out ways they can learn more about something.  And then, sometimes, of course, their interest changes over the course of a couple of days or a week and we're on to the next thing of obsession focus.  Unschooling in our family involves much less structure than when we were following a curriculum, and I occasionally (usually) long for more structure and routine...and for a curriculum-based at-home school.

I pretty much always feel incompetent. Sad, but true.  I'm not trying to feel sorry for myself here, truly - I'm actually fairly used to the feeling and usually ok with it...I'm way more accepting of myself now than I used to be.  But it's still true that I usually feel this way.  I'm not organized enough, not tidy enough, not knowledgeable enough, not patient enough, not able to prioritize well enough, not godly enough, not forgiving enough, not groomed enough, not disciplinary enough, not creative enough, not quick enough, not prepped enough...you get the idea.  When I used to work outside the home I could feel kinda crappy about some things that were happening in my life, but I always knew that I was good at my professional work.  I was confident, capable.  On top of it.  Good.  (And getting paid for it. Bonus.)  I miss that so much sometimes.  Not because I think I should be doing something else at the moment...just that I long for that feeling of competence and confidence...that sense of surety.  Does that make sense?

I am no stranger to feeling tired, impatient, and a little lonely at times - lonely not for lack of people or friends, because I have lots of people and wonderful friends in my life, but lonely because the homeschool journey itself can be fraught with anxiety and uncertainty and a sense of being somehow a little alone on this not-very-beaten path.  It can be overwhelming and isolating to be the one responsible for my kids' education and life experiences, and for growing them up to be godly, productive, socially conscious, compassionate and competent people.  There aren't a lot of accolades in this job, to be sure, and I often feel not enough to be doing this job; my hope is that someday I want to look back on this period of our lives with great thanksgiving for having been able to spend this time doing what I'm doing.

So...enough about the challenges.  I'm sure every homeschooler could add to this list in a way that is unique to her!

What are some of the other things that I love about being a h/school parent?  Lots of things!!!!

* I love that I can let one of my kids can sleep in because he's a night owl and was up (too) late the night before, and get my other two up early in the day because they're raring to get going.  Usually by the time my oldest gets up, I've done my reading lessons with the littles and have moved well into other things.  Likewise, it's often after my littles are in bed that my oldest wants to talk and read out loud and be read out loud to.

* I love that we eat three meals together every day, almost every day.  I can't help but think that's a good thing.  Sometimes it feels like a little too much, if we're in a bickering kind of mood, but mostly it's a good thing, and it gives us a chance to talk and laugh and be silly and, as always, loud.  I love, too that, increasingly as the kids get a bit older, they're involved in the prep and in the clean-up of meals, too.

* I love that I've been able to help two of my children attach deeply through h/schooling.  One of the (many) reasons we began h/schooling Matthew was because we hoped to adopt children and we could think of no better way to build attachment with our new children than spending a great deal of quality and quantity time with them.  It is a very different process than with children born to us.  Then Seth and Lizzie joined our family and this is exactly what has happened.  Our kids are well attached - not without challenges, but well attached...and when issues do arise, we see them immediately.  Furthermore, given Seth's unique learning and language challenges (related specifically to trauma and how it impacts children's brains and development at certain junctures), and my learning about how too much academic pressure could actually result in cognitive decline, the single best thing we've been able to do for him from a learning perspective is give him the time he's needed that he would not have had within the school system.  There's no question in my mind that, given our circumstances, h/schooling has been a great option on all counts related to adoption.

* I really love that I can cater each child's education to that which suits them the best.  Whether it be teaching them how to read, helping their interest in cooking/sewing/riding/math/writing/etc etc etc, I can help them cultivate that, and in a way that works uniquely for each child.

* I love that when we get together with friends, we can get together for hours at a time if we want to...we're not restricted to an hour or two or after-school hours.

* I really love that I have never, ever had to spend a single evening doing homework with my kids.  I remember doing lots of homework at night when I was a kid, and I really do enjoy that I don't need to do this.  Of course, that's because we're doing everything that needs doing during the day, but still, I really hated (from a student perspective years ago) the nightly need to work on homework and make a bagged lunch for the next day.

* I love that I get to see my kids learn in a fairly organic, grass roots, developmental kind of way.  Despite the despair that goes along with so often wondering if I'm doing enough, or the right thing at all, these moments come along once in a while (even regularly sometimes) where I see a child making a huge leap in some skill/aptitude/understanding/etc and it's awesome.  Like, truly awesome.  I see it happening.  Right in front of my nose.  It's almost my favourite feeling in the entire world and it takes my breath away.  I feel then like the luckiest mama in the whole world.  Following kids' interests as a way of educating them is very scary, and feels really 'out there,' but wow, when the learning happens, it's like a rocket taking off into space - that big a thing.  I'm seeing this right now with my Seth, who is actually developmentally ready to learn how to read.  We've finished 21 lessons, as of yesterday, in our How to Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons book and, for the first time in the 4.5 years he's been my child, he's doing it and remembering it.  He's truly absorbing it, not forgetting what he's learned one minute or one day later...and the joy that I feel when I see him successfully sound out a word and look up at me with wonder...well that joy brings me to my knees with thanksgiving...I have tears in my eyes as I write this, just remembering yesterday.  There's just not much better than seeing your child, who has struggled and struggled and struggled and tried and tried and tried and failed and failed and failed suddenly begin to be able to do it - not because of any great thing I've done, but because as a h/schooling parent I've been able to allow him the space and the time to wait until he's truly and developmentally ready without him feeling like a failure about not having been able to do it until now.  It's like watching little miracles unfold regularly before my eyes.  This is what's so awesome about being a homeschool parent.

* I used to watch closely older h/schooled kids and see how neat they were, and wonder if my kids would be like that some day.  Now my oldest is approaching that season/age and he's becoming this neat kid who's confident in himself and who knows himself (and I'm sure my littles will follow).  Just a few days ago, at a grocery store, the clerk looked at our groceries and asked what we were going to be cooking; I said that my older son was planning to make a scratch soup and cheesecake for the family and his grandparents.  I gestured in Matthew's direction.  She looked at him, with his long head of ringlet hair and she appeared confused - and she said something like "you mean your daughter...the pretty one with the beautiful hair??"  When I gently mentioned that this was my son, she was immediately embarrassed and apologetic, and that Matthew boy of mine just stepped forward with a smile at her and said "no worries - I get that all the time - it's really ok and I'm comfortable with who I am on the inside - so don't worry if you think I look like a girl."  Later, on the way to the car, he said to me that I needn't bother correcting people who think he's a girl - he plans to just continue to say thank you for the compliment.  I tell you this - having your son express (and believe) that he knows who he is regardless of what others think of him is a really, really neat thing.

Probably the neatest thing about being a Christian h/schooling parent is knowing that I am doing precisely what God wants for me at this season in life.  Not all Christians are called to h/school their children, but this one is at this juncture in her life.   I still miss things that I otherwise could be doing, such as:  Working at a profession and being able to earn a little money at something I'm good at; finding more of an outlet for self expression (which is one of the small ways my blog comes in handy); being able to read more (for pleasure...I do plenty of reading with the kids and plenty for research when I'm trying to learn about something my kids are interested in); getting out of the house a little more on my own (I really love Thursday evenings and the monthly book club I'm part of, but I do long for a little more time on occasion).  But that season of doing things more on my own and for myself, will come again someday...I feel as confident about that as I do about knowing that the job I'm doing right now is the job God has in mind for me.  So although this is a season of my life fraught with challenges and big hard feelings, it's also a peaceful thing to know that this life as a h/school parent is the one I'm meant to be experiencing right now.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Being a Disappointment

Do you ever feel like you just can't win?  That no matter how hard you try, you end up being a disappointment to someone?

That's kinda where I'm at.  I disappoint everyone...and yes, this is an exaggeration, but it's the place my heart plummets to instinctively at times.  At this exact moment, my youngest child is angry with me (and went to bed angry) because I didn't make her brother turn off the tv when she had to go to bed; my middle child is disappointed that I won't make his bedtime later (and so stomped off to bed soon after the first, huffy and without wanting our usual hug routine); and my oldest is disappointed because I didn't know what to stuff his small, oddly-shaped, pillow-like, machine-sewed creation with and because I don't have a single dry bean in the house for this purpose (and so he threw his creation into the garbage with a large hand flourish and a nasty backward glance at me).  I'm sure, though he rarely says anything, that I disappoint my husband for not ever being able to get the balance right between happy/educated children and a home that is presentable.  A dear friend is disappointed with me for not being the sounding board that she needed me to be yesterday and for having insufficient time and mental capacity to dedicate to this task.  I even disappointed a stranger this morning for homeschooling my children.

Sigh.  Sometimes I get really tired of being the bad news person...the one who just ends up disappointing those around her...the one who will simply never be enough for those who depend on her for a lot of things.  Sometimes the weight on my shoulders gets a little heavy, in addition to everything else.

I used to feel abject terror if I'd disappointed someone.  I grew up in a fairly strict, conservative community of family where expectations were high and pretty clear, and disapproval upon deviation keenly felt.  I struggled with feeling like a total failure - incompetent, unlovable, etc etc.  When those feelings would overtake me, I'd turn into people-pleasing mode and try to be the best/most loveable/most competent person around just to alleviate that feeling of disappointment and make people love me again.  Heck, I think I even took an entire university degree just so as not to be a disappointment.  I had it bad.

Honestly, I think it took becoming a parent to move me along this journey a little.  I realized when Matthew was still a baby that if I took everything that everyone else told me about him and about parenting to heart, I was always going to disappoint someone.  I learned that I needed to have my kid's back even in the face of disapproval and I went about practicing, deliberately and very consciously, to be ok with doing things the way my gut was telling me, and to mostly disregard what others told me was a more 'appropriate' way to be.

Becoming a homeschooler was the next big thing to move me down this road.  It's the road less taken, lined with naysayers and "you should/could..."ers.  To be a homeschooler (or at least to be this homeschooler) you've got to have strong inner resolve and conviction because it'll darn near kill you otherwise.

Adoption was the next thing to help me along.  So many people had opinions about how we should do things and what we should do, how to build attachment and how our kids were just 'normal' like everyone else's - disappointing people became almost the expected in this context...and so I learned all the more to accept that I could survive it.

It's almost as if all of these steps along the journey have helped me accept who I am...even to embrace it.  And truly, that is my heart's biggest counter move to feeling like I'm a disappointment to others.  Because, ultimately, I'm answerable to God and to myself for my actions/inactions/responses/ etc and not to others.  I am created in His image and created by Him for a purpose and with a design that is unique to me.  And if I can hold onto that place where I can be ok with that, then disappointing other people becomes a little more expected and a little more ok.  I can feel the discomfort and pain of it, acknowledge my instincts while not acting on them, and know that I am ok and will survive it.

The hardest times are days like yesterday and today, when I'm physically very tired and overwhelmed (and PMSing) and then to have to deal with other people being disappointed in me...well, it's like the straw that just breaks the camel's back and my old instincts kick in for a time.

Thankfully, in a lot of these moments, I feel like God has my back....where something else happens to bring about a bit of encouragement at just the right moment...to balance out the scales a little.  Today it was an afternoon that the kids and I spent with a newish friend and her kids - it was an unexpected delight and blessing to spend that time with them, and I left feeling bolstered and hopeful and encouraged.  A little buoyed up.  Optimism (and sanity) returns.

I don't know if I'll ever totally get used to the feeling of disappointing other people.  But when I think back and see how far I've come, well, perhaps that's the biggest encouragement of all.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Our Homeschooling Journey Continues

In other news, we are still homeschooling...unschooling.  I have implemented a few changes this fall, which are working out pretty well so far.  The main changes are:  A wee bit more structure to our days; and, for the first time in 2.5 years, I am using a little curriculum.

When I first cracked open a piece of curriculum with the kids a few weeks ago, it felt a little strange - we've gone so long without that it suddenly felt really formal to pull some out.  I felt like clearing my throat and making some grand announcement that "...today we will be starting to make use of a little program that someone else prepared for us to use...it is called curriculum."  I restrained myself, however, and simply made some mugs of tea to mark the occasion in my own brain.  All that to say that it feels odd to me still.   However, it seemed like the right time to introduce a few new things, and I've never been opposed to curriculum (in fact, I spent the first year longing for it because it makes life sooo much easier and more structured); it's just that I've just learned, slowly and painfully, that for the kids I have, I can't assume that curriculum will do a better job of teaching them than living life does.

One further little note about exactly that:  Curriculum vs. living life.  A few weeks ago, someone who worked a little with Matthew in June noted that he made some big developmental leaps over the course of the summer - in the way his thinking works and how much more advanced it is than just three months before.  That startled and delighted me, because we'd done no curriculum-focused work whatsoever in the intervening months and yet his brain was clearly working on its own and cultivating new aptitudes and abilities that I, too, have been noticing.  It is so fascinating and bewildering, and still such a surprise, somehow, that our kids simply do learn when their lives are full of experience and when their bodies and brains are ready to learn whatever it is that they need to know.  I wonder and marvel at this constantly, and am slowly learning to trust and believe that what we're doing, and the way we're doing it, is really and truly working.

When we were at the very beginning of our homeschooling journey, I used to wonder (and feel anxious about) what our kids would be like some day.  When I'd go to various homeschool events featuring older kids, teens mostly, I'd watch these super cool homeschooled kids who were older than my oldest by a good eight or nine years, and I'd wonder if my kids would ever be that awesome and cool and delightful and smart and creative, and all of those other things we see in other kids and long for in our own.  Now, six or seven years later, I see my Matthew, not quite a teen, showing signs of being like those boys I watched so carefully five or six years ago.  He's smart, philosophical, super creative, curious, shaggy haired, friendly and caring towards others (who are not his siblings!), and shows every sign of someday being one of those incredible teens I'd love my kids to be like.  It's so amazing to see these things slowly working towards fruition, mostly by cultivating their natural interests and aptitudes and by attempting, with prayer and wisdom, to foster their inner spirit.  Some days I can hardly wait to see what comes next for these crazy kids of mine.  How thankful I am, most days, to be on this wild and uncontainable and messy journey we call homeschooling.

With that long pre-amble, here are a few things that we're doing this school year:

* I am working now with Seth and Lizzie on a simple learn-to-read program because I think they are finally ready for it.  My dear Seth, with all of his issues over the past few years when nothing seemed to stick when it came to reading, is slowly starting to learn how to read; he's actually remembering things from day to day and week to week, and it is a huge joy to me to see him interested in and finally capable of learning how to read.  The first 'short story' that he read on his own, about two weeks ago, was "See me eat."  He was thrilled with himself!  There were days when I wondered if this would ever happen.  I'm so glad that we have been in a position of being able to wait until he was ready to make this huge leap of learning; and I hope and pray that this is Seth's year.

* All three kids are working a little more regularly on their printing.  For Seth and Lizzie, this is going hand-in-hand with their learn-to-read program, and I'm taking it slow and easy with them both, so as not to frustrate them.  Matthew loves writing me notes and little letters, and so I'm using this as an opportunity to work on printing.

* Matthew, though a reader, is not a very confident reader and so one of my goals this winter is to help boost this in him by sitting with him several times a week while he reads out loud to me.  He has decided that Harry Potter is what he wants to read aloud so that's what we're doing, slowly, and bit by bit!  He just finished chapter 1 and we'll begin chapter 2 this afternoon.

* Of course, I'm reading lots to the kids, including the books that they each need read for their monthly book clubs.  Currently, Seth's and Lizzie's book club is doing The Secret Garden, while Matthew just finished Lois Lowry's The Giver and has started Underground to Canada for his next month's book club (which I co-lead...how fun!).

* I'm also reading to the kids individually.  Currently, I'm reading Inkspell to Matthew (the follow-up to Cornelia Funke's first book in the series, Inkheart, which we read last winter);  Survivors: The Empty City, the first in the Survivor series by Erin Hunter, to Seth (ever the dog lover); and the first book (Shadows) in Jacqueline West's Elsewhere series.

* I have just begun a spelling curriculum with Matthew, whose spelling is atrocious and who is wanting and asking to learn how to spell now (hence the introduction of this piece of curriculum).  So we're dabbling in this, with some success so far.

* I am also just beginning a history curriculum with the kids (Mystery of History), which I think all three are ready for.

* We picked up again a book that we started (and didn't complete) a couple of years ago, called Who is God...and Can we Really Know Him, which is really interesting and thoughtful, and is prompting lots of great discussion.  We are working through this two or three times per week.

* This week, all three kids resumed the Math tutoring that they began briefly in June.  Over the course of the winter, each of them will have a one-on-one hour with our amazing Math guru/teacher every week, and they are very excited to be doing this.  Our Math friend/teacher is wonderful - no curriculum, but real life and games focused...she is truly something and the kids come home loving Math...how awesome is that??!!  I feel very blessed to have this teacher in our lives.  We spent a good chunk of our Wednesdays at her house, and while she works with one child, I work upstairs with the other two - games, reading, writing, audio books, etc etc.

* The kids are still involved in weekly piano and art lessons, as well as swimming lessons (Matthew is just finishing level 9 Red Cross; Seth is in level 5; and Lizzie is in level 4).  Piano practices might just be the death of me, I'll be honest...just thinking about the last two weeks' practice sessions with my youngest makes my blood boil!

* Just this week Matthew started a six-week course to learn how to sew with a sewing machine.  He sews by hand all of the time (all self-taught because I don't sew!), but has been itching to sew by machine for almost two years...and this course just fell into our laps.  He's so excited, and this week sewed a pillow together with the machine.

* I feel a bit uncomfortable that this year, for the first time, the kids aren't involved in much formal physical activity - only swimming lessons.  It didn't work to attend gym class this year, for the first time in seven years, and none of the kids were interested in the usual soccer/gymnastics/etc etc activities.  It's made our evenings lovely, because we're not running around to sporting events, but I was a little worried.  However, I guess I needn't have worried too much - the kids are naturally so physical anyway.  They trampolined every day of the spring/summer/fall that we were home, until last week when the trampoline was dismantled for the winter.  And the boys have taken up jogging - they jog around our large neighbourhood block a few times most days; and in order to make that physical work more intense, they have created a system whereby they pull wagon loads of bricks behind them - they created some kind of harness thingee to fit to the wagons and to their bodies, loaded the wagons full of bricks, and they then jog with these large loads behind them.  They come back exhausted and breathing hard...even Matthew's swimming teacher noted last week that he's got great endurance!

* On Tuesdays, we attend our Learning Centre, and it was nice to resume in fall having already had a year behind us.  We moms, relying heavily on the kids' input to inform us, have created a pretty dynamite program for fall and early winter!  The kids will be involved in a range of activities through the Learning Centre over the coming months, including book and writing clubs, science, cooking, art, stop animation, current affairs (I'm particularly excited about this program because I want my kids to learn more about the country and world around them), geography, and so on and so on.  And, of course, the kids will be performing in the annual Shakespeare play that our Learning Centre puts on every April - this year it will be Henry IV, and advance preparation is already well underway.  It feels great to have a regular and supportive community to hang out with, and the kids and the moms have become some of our people.

* I'm continuing, at a general level, to work with the kids on learning how to manage a household.  My parents, in their great generosity, offered to pay for a cleaning service to come and help me clean the house every two weeks, but I'm doggedly (stupidly) resisting at the moment.  They did this for us for a few years after Lizzie and Seth came home to Canada, to help us through the hardest of the adjustments, and I am so thankful to them for that; but when that lovely cleaning woman/friend retired in January of this year, I decided to go it alone...for better and usually for worse!  I jokingly commented to my sister-in-law in Vancouver yesterday that my house has been neither clean nor tidy since she and the rest of my extended family were at our house for Thanksgiving dinner a month ago, and I'm sadly not really exaggerating.  But the house does get tidied and it does get cleaned - just in bits and pieces here and there rather than on a specific day.  The kids are all fairly competent and independent when it comes to cleaning a bathroom; my boys are moving towards self-sufficiency when it comes to laundry; they all vacuum and empty/load dishwashers; and they are (ever sooo slowly) learning to tidy after themselves.  Matthew is learning how to cook and maintains/uses his own cookbook; Seth is not far behind him; and Lizzie is starting to show an interest.  I am determined to continue down this path, so that by the time they are adults and living independently they take for granted that they can cook and clean and care for themselves and, ultimately, for their families.  We are just beginning on the path towards financial management with them, because this will be the other big piece in being able to manage their households some day.

* Beyond this, we do lots of things that involve pursuing the kids' varied interests...which we all love and have gotten used to over the past couple of years.

And that's all that my brain is generating right now in terms of where we're at on our homeschool journey this winter, although it feels like I'm forgetting one or two chunks.

In the coming days I'd like to post a little about what it's like to be a homeschool parent...it's been on my mind of late because it can be rather overwhelming at times.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

A Brief Recap of the Last Few Months

Well, maybe not very brief after all...when have I ever been brief in my life, especially in written form??!

But a recap of the past few months might be in order...it's been fun and busy and challenging and, well, full of life.

Summer was pretty awesome, by most accounts.  The weather was mostly great, the kids were developing reasonably well, the puppy turned out to be an awesome addition to our family (Charlie's sprawled out right here beside me as I write), and life was pretty good despite a few hiccups.

The kids, all three, went to a day tennis camp for one week, and to a daytime adrenaline adventures camp for a week.  They had a blast during both weeks, and these days were a real gift to me, too.  This is the second summer the kids have all been away during the day for a week (and this year, for two weeks!) and what a huge blessing those days on my own were, though perhaps in a different way than I'd thought they would be.

I had huge plans for my first week of days alone.  I planned to spend three days doing various projects around the house, and two days just relaxing or going to see movies, or doing whatever else struck my fancy.  So on the first day, a Monday, I came home after dropping the kids off and began to tackle the master bedroom closet that hadn't been cleaned out in an embarrassing number of years and which had become a dumping ground for...well, who knows what all.  I went at it great guns, and had a good chunk of it cleared out by the end of the afternoon: bags of giveaway; bags of trash; and a small mountain of stuff that needed further organizing.  I'd even managed to clean about half of the closet - wiping down walls and baseboards and shelving, and so on.

On Tuesday, after taking the kids to tennis camp, I came back home to continue on the closet.  But first I sat down in my little library with a cup of chai, puppy mashed in beside me on the chair, and I basked for a few minutes in the silence of the house.  To my surprise, and without warning, I started to cry.  An hour later, I was still crying...and a little alarmed because what did I have to cry about??  Nothing had happened, no tragedy had befallen us, and I was on a week off.  And yet, cry I did.  Pretty much for the full day...and the next day...and the next.  I basically spent that first week on my own crying.  Just as I'd think I was through the worst of it, another wave of something akin to grief would overwhelm me and I'd be back at it.  The closet didn't get touched again that week, nothing else on my list got scratched off, and I never even got to see a movie.  I basically did nothing other than get the kids to camp in the morning, and start to cry the moment I'd waved them off.

I'm still not entirely sure what happened that week early in July.  But I think a good few buckets of those tears came from a place that was really, really exhausted.  I was kinda done.  Fried.  Baked.  Done in.  The winter had been really full, and go-go-go and I don't generally get a lot of time truly on my own.  I realized during that week that I really hadn't had much opportunity to feel a lot in the previous number of months/year? and that this was all coming from a gutteral place that needed voice.  I pay attention to a lot of things in my life, and I had not been one of them for some time.  I had fallen through the proverbial crack and had ignored me for too long, in the busy-ness of life.  So, somewhat annoyed with myself, I gave up on the week's agenda and just was.  I sat in my favourite library chair a lot with cups of tea or coffee and I filled the silence around me with gut-wrenching sobs that scared me on occasion.  I processed a lot of stuff, didn't process other stuff, felt more than a little anxiety about what was going on, and wasn't quite ready for the week to end.

But the week did end and I took a deep breath to carry on.  And it was ok.  Better than before the week on my own, actually.  The kids and I spent the next nine days on our own at my parents' cottage and in the evenings after the kids were in bed, I just sat.  I'd invited a friend to come with us, but that didn't work out and so the evenings were long and slow.  No wifi, no tv (well, there is one there, but I'm not a tv fan at the cottage), no books (just wasn't interested that week).  Part of me craved adult companionship those evenings, someone to share my musings with, but the other part of me was fine as it was...a lot of quiet, time spent listening in the dark to the waves lapping against the shore.  I was a little bored, to be honest, but mostly just wanted to sit and think and feel.

Daytimes at the cottage were lazy and easy.  We took the puppy with us, and Charlie loved being on the dock with the kids and me down by the water.  At first she was very anxious when the kids would jump in to the lake and disappear for a couple of seconds beneath the water's surface.  She would bark and yip until they reappeared and when they clambered onto the dock to do it all again she would lick their faces as if to say she was so glad to have them back.  It was adorable.  And one morning, she even plucked up the courage to jump into the lake after the kids, wearing her little life jacket!  She didn't last long in there and I soon scooped her up from the water, but she then did a big race-around the cottage property - totally pumped and proud of herself for having been brave enough to jump in...she was adorable and we all cheered and celebrated her.

Fast forward to August, when the kids attended an adrenaline adventure camp, and I was a little worried that my week might look the same as the first week on my own.  So I planned very little, in anticipation that my week might be side-lined again.  But, thankfully by that point, I was ok.  I ended up having a good week (despite my van being in an accident when I stopped to get a Starbucks coffee one morning; a trailer ran over the corner of the van while I was waiting for that latte) getting that darn closet done and a few other projects around the house.  My tears seemed mostly done, and I felt lightened up and relieved.

The kids and I (along with my niece) spent another week or so at my folks' cottage in August, and that was a lovely week.  We didn't do much of anything.  The kids swam and kayaked and basically frolicked in the sun and played and ate and watched movies in the evening and had a blast.  And when Geoff came out on the bookend weekends, we got the big boat out and the kids screamed their way around the lake from the vantage point of the tube...they so love that thing.  I need to post some pictures.

Matthew also attended a one-week cooking camp at a local college and boy, did he ever enjoy that experience.  It was an expensive camp, so I was glad to have saved our pennies throughout last winter to pay for all of these camps.  He loved the experience of cooking and baking things like: Greek chicken souvlaki and greek salad; making pasta from scratch, as well as the sauces to go with it; brownies and muffins and pretzels in great variety; pizza from scratch (which he knew all about already from when we make that at home); vegetarian sweet potato burritos with all manner of fillings; and on and on...I can't remember much of it.  He came home, new cook book in hand, full of a desire to cook and bake more...and so he has!

Seth, horse lover that he is, got to attend a one week daytime horse camp not that far from home.  He was there with a friend, which made it all the better for him, and what a wonderful experience they had.  The camp owners had the kids participate in daily farm chores (herding and collecting goats, picking the apple trees clean of their fruit, sweeping and shovelling pens, feeding the alpaca, etc etc), gave them riding instruction, taught them how to care for their horses and saddle up, and took them on 2-3 trail rides every day.  He loved it.  This was totally up Seth's alley.  On the last afternoon, friends and family were allowed to come to the horse camp to watch them do some skills riding, and Seth was awesome...and so pleased with himself!

Finally, Matthew and Lizzie participated in an art camp for a week of mornings, and because the weather was so great, spent the week in their teacher's backyard, painting and building dioramas.  It was wonderful for them both...and it was Lizzie's first experience of taking art lessons.

A challenging time began when Charlie had her spay operation on the last day of August.  She came out of surgery great, but seemingly wasn't recovering all that well in the days and weeks following. She seemed in considerable pain, and was limping.  We finally had her x-rayed, and she was diagnosed with a disease that is really unheard of in Havanese dogs.  Essentially the disease meant that blood supply was cut off at the femoral head in both rear legs; the upper neck and femoral head on both rear legs were basically atrophying.  She began limping more and more, and using her rear legs less and less as we waited for a consult with an orthopaedic veterinary surgeon.  Poor baby.  Finally, on October 15, she had surgery to correct the problem with both hips - it took the surgeon over 1.5 hours to carefully work his way through muscle and cartilage and cut off the tops of the femoral bones and the shattered upper necks of those bones.  Thankfully, when we advised our breeder of the situation, she and her husband refunded us the money we had initially spent purchasing Charlie, and this covered most of the cost of the surgery.  It's been 2.5 weeks since Charlie's surgery, and she is thankfully recovering really well - she is regaining her pre-August 31st mischievous character and is using those rear legs far more than she was in the six weeks leading up to the surgery.  The vet expects a full recovery (though her gait will likely be somewhat different and she'll likely never be a powerhouse in the rear), and we're very thankful!  She is eight months old now and totally my baby!

(to be continued...)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Well, Helllllooooooo!!

Ahhh.  I'm back.  I hope some of you good folk are, too.

It's good to be here.  Feels a little like coming home after a long time away...you know that vacation-y feeling, I'm sure, when it's so good to get away but always good to return to home, too, where familiarity and routine and a bit of comfort await.

In the several years since I started blogging, I've never been absent for this long.  I didn't expect it, but apparently I needed the vacation from it.  I'm still not quite sure I'm fully ready to be back, but that's more of a time thing than anything else because when I stopped blogging a few months ago (I can't even remember what I was writing about back then...I'll need to go back and take a peek) the time I used to spend blogging got eaten up pretty much immediately by the rest of life's stuff, and it's hard to sneak that time away again, even for something I love.  And I need to love it in order to be here - because I've never wanted to advertise on my blog or make money off of it, for me to spend time on it means that I've gotta love it enough to make it worth the time.

And I do love it here.  It is worth it.  Maybe I won't be blogging as often, but I keep coming back to a few simple facts:  I love writing; I love interchange with you all; and I love keeping some form of record of what life is like in these crazy days that I know someday I will miss and will want to relive a little through the re-reading of what goes on here on my blog.

So thank you for the concerned and interested comments and emails (and Charity...your recent email was the final push to get me going again, so thanks for that), and for inspiring me to continue.

Talk again soon.  And I mean soon.

Monday, June 15, 2015

I Need more Time to Blog...and to Cultivate a Few Personal Interests

The last month or two has been nutty around here.  Since mid March, actually.  I don't even know exactly what it is that has us running, and we're mostly having a great time doing a large variety of stuff, but still...it's a little crazy.  It's no wonder we can't keep up with house mess!

Since Romeo and Juliet ended in mid April, the kids (and I) have been involved in piano (including their first ever recital - yay - and they did great!), swimming lessons, two nights/week of an intense bike riding program, sailing lessons, golf lessons, a bit of academic sort of stuff, trampolining, building forts and putting up tents and fire pits, roasting way too many wieners and marshmallows, playing with friends, being involved with our Learning Centre's weekly activities, art classes, Math classes, going on farm trips and to the theatre, taking horseback riding lessons (Seth), running errands, getting involved with church activities, playing games, staying up way too late, enjoying picnic lunch after picnic in the mostly-great weather we've been having (I am honestly so terribly sick of preparing picnic lunches, and we're in the early days of summer yet!), and on and on.  I also travelled to Vancouver for a delightful four days with family, to celebrate my nephew's graduation from high school.

Just tonight, Geoff's workplace took families to a pro baseball game and Matthew said (as he has a couple of times recently), "Mom, I have a great life - I can't imagine life being any better than it is."   And they do.  Life's not perfect and we are having challenges as well and, like every family (I hope), we fight and bicker and argue and then have to forgive each other.  But all in all, the kids are being exposed to so incredibly many things these days, and it is a great life they lead.

In addition, I decided recently that, now that the kids are a little older, it's time for me to branch out just a wee bit and do something that interests me outside of family...something that I feel somewhat called to.  So I've taken on a small volunteer role at our church, working with the new Pastor of Community Care to help vision-cast a program (that word sounds way too formal) for the women of our church.  That's taking a small amount of evening time, from time to time, and I'm also trying to spend a wee bit more time with my broad and interesting array of lovely friends on an 'extra curricular' basis.  So I've gotten busier outside of kid- and family-related things and, as a result, always feel a little behind the eight ball around the house.  I'd also love to start up a university course at some point (I want to study something that would be purely out of love of the subject, rather than for some objective or degree or something).  And I'd love, some day, to start French language lessons - I took some lessons briefly a number of years back and would really like to resume something like this.

But I digress...

Tomorrow the kids and are off to a provincial park for a day of fun with our Learning Centre, and I will (yes) be preparing another picnic lunch in the morning.  Sigh.

I'm hoping things wind down rather soon because I'd like to find some time to breathe, clean the house, and blog a little more frequently.  I miss writing more than I do...it's something I love and am committed to, even in my small way via this blog.  I actually created two additional blogs last year (bet you didn't know that!), both born out of areas of specific interest that I have, but I haven't blogged on them even once...I can't even keep up with this one much less with two more.

So all of that to say that it's felt a little like running on a hamster wheel lately (again, in a good way), and I hope that things quiet down soon...I think they will in about two weeks.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Four Years Ago Today...

...Geoff, Matthew, and I brought these two precious children into our lives and into our family forever.  Live changed dramatically in an instant, and there have been many bends in the road since that day, but I can't imagine things any differently!


 ...And Now.

(Performing Shakespeare!!)

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


Charlie knows what she's supposed to be doing in the alley beside our house.  It's a 30' long x 5' wide, beautifully gravelled space with no purpose other than being bathroom to our dog...it's as if the original owners of our house knew that 25 years later a dog would live in this house and so they built a bathroom just for her!

She totally knows what she's supposed to do out there.

The challenge is that she doesn't really connect that bit of outside knowledge with her impromptu desire to pee on the kitchen floor if we fail to catch the little signal she's giving off that millisecond before it's too late.  It can be very frustrating.  Now, the good news is that her voiding product is actually quite tiny - she is a small dog, after all...plus, because she is on a raw food diet, she doesn't drink a lot of water (hence tiny little loonie-sized messes on the kitchen floor) and her body uses the raw meat so efficiently that her bowels produce tiny poops.

But still...I want this to be a non-issue altogether at some point soon.

Little dogs are notoriously difficult to house-break.  Charlie's doing ok in that she's got about a 90% success rate, but that success is (to be frank) mostly because we (read: I) strive to be vigilant about every possible time at which she might need to do her business.

She can be a stubborn little thing (like her father, I always say).  If I catch her in the kitchen just as she's about to squat down, and rush her outside, she'll refuse to do anything other than sit there like a lump for a full 45 minutes before finally grunting up at me and 'giving in' and going about her business...which I know full well she's been holding with amazing bladder strength for that whole 45 minutes.  Several times it's happened where she'll hold it, hold it, hold it (up to 70 minutes one time!) and then we engage in a staring contest for about five minutes, which concludes only when she breaks eye contact, makes that little growly-grunt sound up at me, and then goes about her business.  (Little shit...and I say that with much affection and a half smile.)  She doesn't know me well enough yet, clearly, because she doesn't seem to understand that I can out-wait her any day of the week.  Any.  Day.  It's possibly not just her father that exhibits some sign of determination.

The vet tried to assure me this week, at her first check-up, that these next few weeks are the critical ones for small dogs - the age at which their brains just 'click' into gear when it comes to toiletting issues; but what the vet didn't realize about me is my generalized anxiety around the whole thing.  All I can think about now is well, what happens if we can't accomplish it in the next few weeks...will she never be fully toilet trained..will we miss the window of her brain?  I'm rather pathetic, really.

The truth of the matter is that she really is doing pretty well.  She's hard to motivate with treats because she doesn't like treats all that much...even the tried-and-true wieners are scorned.  But just this week I finally found some raw, dehydrated, grass-fed liver treats that her delicate palette seems to deem acceptable for a post-urinating reward system.  That's helping.

We've just put up a bell by the garage door, and I'm hoping that eventually she learns to ring the bell when she needs to go out...but I'll believe that when I see it.

P.S.  Any tips are greatly appreciated.

Some of the pictures below are a little blurry (thanks iphone), but you get the idea of her adorableness!!