October 31, 2007

From Euphoria To Crap And Back Again, Part 2

It's the morning after my birthday. Seeing Regina Spektor with my husband was the perfect way to spend a birthday evening.

Now, back to the more immediate issues of parenting and unschooling. Yesterday, I left you with this:
Just when I thought we were cruisin' along right smack in between "okay" and "euphoric"--CRASH!--I ended up feeling like crap. It happened yesterday at chess class. I'll call it the "chess incident." The good news is that today I had a brief but heartwarming moment of euphoria. I'll call it the "Tom Waits incident."

Let me explain.

Tuesday was my birthday, but Tuesdays are usually pretty hectic in our house because Jerry goes to three different classes during the day, then usually plays at a friends house in Hollywood, which means I spend the day driving all over town.

So, I decided we'd celebrate my birthday on Monday. I wanted to go to the Norton Simon Museum and I wanted Jerry to accompany me without complaint. I know. I know. He's twelve. He's "not a museum person," as he puts it. But, I thought playing the birthday card might change things. Stop laughing--I'm an optimist!

The museum opened a 12 so we spent the morning on our computers. I know. I know. I said we had a deal about no screen time before 4 p.m. but I was working on editing a newsletter, so I had to be on my computer and it seemed unfair to make Jerry stay off his. Besides, he was finding all kinds of really cool magic tricks, science experiments, and stop motion videos. It seemed silly to make him stop.

Around 12:30 we packed up Jerry's chess stuff, since we'd be going directly to chess class from the museum, made a shopping list of supplies for creating some of the cool things he'd discovered online, and took off for the Norton Simon.

We had a really nice time at the museum. It wasn't completely free of complaining--on a scale of 1 to 10, I'd put the complaint level at about 6. That's pretty good for a child who once refused to enter the John Steinbeck Museum and sat in the lobby moping for an hour while his dad and I explored.

We spent most of our time in the South Asian Collection because they have a really cool audio tour that tells the stories of the Hindu and Buddhist Gods. Then we had lunch at the cafe and Jerry worked on his chess homework. He gave me the answers and I wrote them in for him--teamwork at its best.

That part was the "euphoria--" the morning and the museum, and sitting in the garden doing his chess work together.

Next we picked up the supplies he needed and headed to chess, about thirty minutes east of the museum.

As we pulled into the parking lot Jerry slumped down in his seat. "I don't really want to go to chess," he moaned, "I'm bored with chess. I'm just not a chess kind of guy."

"I drove all the way out here," I said, "I paid for the class through today. You need to go, at least to this class, since we're here."

I won't bore you with all the whining and lecturing that went on. I will tell you that a well-meaning man at the ISP tried to show Jerry how to give himself a little energy pick-me-up by doing jumping jacks, which ended with Jerry being embarrassed and giving me a pretend punch in the side of the head (in slow motion) because I was laughing, and the man saying "Surely you're not so tired that you need to be disrespectful to your mother." I think that was the straw that broke the mother's back.

I hate it when people do that. Jerry's action didn't seem disrespectful to me until the guy said it was. It was certainly no more disrespectful than me laughing at Jerry's embarrassment. But once he labeled it disrespectful I got really mad. At Jerry.

So, tears were shed (Jerry's), blood boiled (mine) and we left. This was the "crap" part of the day.

On the way home, I told him he had to pay me for the class that he was skipping out on. I told him he had to wash my car to make up for my time spent driving out there. I told him I was so angry.

He cried.

I wanted to say more. There were a million things running through my head--mean things--but I knew they would all make him feel like a terrible person. I think I managed to keep them all in, but he felt like crap anyway. We both did.

In the end we got over it. Jerry was extra attentive at home that night. I was kind of mopey and tired. But, before bed we apologized to each other and had a good hug.

The following day--my real birthday, Jerry was still extra attentive. On the way home from Japanese he asked me to put on a CD and I chose Tom Waits' "Mule Variations." Jerry doesn't usually like to listen to Tom Waits but he didn't complain once, he just put it in the CD player and pressed play.

He read the lyrics as the music played and when the first song, "Big in Japan," ended he said, "I liked that song." My heart went a-flutter. I know it's silly but I love Tom Waits' music and it made me so happy to think that I would finally be able to share it with Jerry. From there it only got better because Jerry said he liked "House Where Nobody Lives" which is a ballad and Jerry usually hates slow songs. And then (joy of joys!) when we stopped at home so Jerry could grab his trombone he actually paused the CD before running into the house!! He didn't want to miss any of the music!

Ah, euphoria.

October 30, 2007

From Euphoria To Crap And Back Again, Part 1

Just when I thought we were cruisin' along right smack in between "okay" and "euphoric"--CRASH!--I ended up feeling like crap. It happened yesterday at chess class. I'll call it the "chess incident." The good news is that today I had a brief but heartwarming moment of euphoria. I'll call it the "Tom Waits incident."

But....right now I need to go because it's my birthday and Warren and I are going to see Regina Spektor and we're leaving in four minutes! I'll tell you all about the "incidents" tomorrow.


October 26, 2007

On Trust

Now that we're starting to settle in to our routine (or non-routine, really) I can finally get back to talking about trust.

Here's how my handy widget dictionary defines trust:
-Firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability or strength of someone or something.

-The state of being responsible for someone or something.

-A hope or expectation.

-To allow someone to have, use or look after (someone or something of importance or value) with confidence.

A couple weeks ago I was telling Jerry that there's a form of unschooling where the parents give their children complete freedom to make their own choices. His eyes got really big and he got a huge grin on his face. "Would that be a good idea for us?" I asked.

"No way!" he said, "I'd probably just play video games all day."

I laughed, but at the same time I felt a little sad. I want him to trust himself with those choices, but I know I'm not entirely ready to hand them over to him. Thankfully, I've (finally!) recognized that I don't need to hand them over all at once. I'm working my way up to a "firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability or strength" of my son. But I'm taking baby steps.

One thing that stands out to me in the above definitions of trust is the emphasis on "belief" and "confidence." Part of the problem I was having at the start of our unschooling, with letting Jerry set his own screen time, was that I was giving trust without belief or confidence--and that's not trust. No wonder we were having problems!

Jerry knows I don't have all the answers. He can see that I'm asking questions, making choices, evaluating, and correcting as we go. We talk about my choices, and his, and we try to come up with a plan that works for all of us (my husband, included).

I still think Jerry takes comfort in some of the boundries we've set for him. But as time goes by, we'll lift those boundries and shift control to him. When we're ready.

As my confidence and belief in my son grows, so will his confidence and belief in himself grow.

That's my hope.

October 25, 2007

Settling Into Unschooling (Or, The Good News And The Bad)

I was driving down the road on our way to a costume parade with the homeschool group, Jerry, dressed in ninja attire, was in the backseat chowing down on some white rice, and I started to tell him about our idea to go to Hawaii. "The bad thing is," I said, "we would probably have to use our money from the loan to fix up the house or else pay for the trip with a credit card. So I'm not sure if we should do it."

Guess what he said? "No. Way. Do. Not. Do it. Especially if it means using the money for fixing the house!" He even kind of yelled it--I mean, he really meant it.

That's so annoying! I thought for sure he'd back me up. But through my annoyance I felt a little surge of pride. Who knew this child, the one that can't stand to have a dollar in his pocket for more than ten seconds, would be giving me sound financial advice!?

So, we're not going. We're staying home and starting a Hawaiian Vacation Savings Plan. Oh well. It was fun to think about for a while.

That's the bad news (or good news, if you're looking at it from a finacial perspective).

The good news (or the other good news) is that Jerry and I are settling into our days as unschoolers much more readily now that I'm not so uptight about the video game and computer use. Jerry even told me today that he really likes our compromise (no video games before 4 p.m.). I think he's happier when I'm not cranky. Go figure.

Should We Or Shouldn't We?

Our new compromise seems to be working well. Jerry thought it was hilarious, by the way, that I had made a mistake. He got a good laugh out of it.

There were lots of people over at the unschooling basics Yahoo! group who commented on a post I left there in regards to my problem with screen time. They were all really supportive and said it's true that if you let the child take control and if you stop freaking out, eventually the child will ease off on the games.

I would like to see that happen. I really would. But I just can't do it. It makes me so grouchy when he plays video games or sits at the computer all day.

Also, I do worry about what people will think. I know this is bad, bad, bad! I know I shouldn't care. But I do. Maybe as time goes on and I'm more sure of our decision to unschool I'll have more confidence. Maybe I'll lose the need for my choice to be acceptable to the people around me. I hope so. I think I'll get there eventually, but I'm not going to force it. It's not good for me or my relationship with my son--or my husband, for that matter.

Okay, on to more immediate issues....Here's the question. Should we or shouldn't we go to Hawaii?! Financially speaking the answer is a definite "No." It might even be a "No way! Are you crazy?!!" In fact, I think it is.

Here are the reasons (okay, justifications) for going:
1.) Warren has never been there.
2.) We're studying volcanoes and wouldn't a trip to Volcanoes National Park be an awesome field trip!!!??
3.) Warren's job is ending (he freelances in the film business) so he'll have some time off.
4.) Jerry's not in school so we're free to leave. (Yippee!!)
5.) My 39th birthday is next week.
6.) Christmas is just around the corner and it would be a fabulous Christmas gift for all of us.

The main reason for not going is also one of the reasons for going:
1.) Warren's job is ending so he'll have some time off. In other words, he'll be unemployed. No paycheck. Zip. Nada. Nothing. Okay, he'll get something from the government--but it's not much.

Hmmm. I'm stumped. Should we be financially responsible and play tourist at home? Or should we through caution and fiscal responsibility to the wind, whip out the credit card and have a real vacation?

I'm leaning towards the later.

October 23, 2007

A Letter From A Mother To Her Son

Dear Jerry,

I'm such a dummy. I've been telling you that you should be charge of determining the right amount of video game time for yourself, that you should be able to regulate that amount on your own, and then when your view of enough doesn't match up with my view of enough I get angry and snap at you for no good reason. I'm sorry. Please forgive me--I'm still learning.

I know it's not fair for me to say I'm letting you make your own choices and then get mad at you for making them. The other day, when you said that I was giving you too much responsibility and that it was too much pressure, I think you might have been feeling me pressuring you to bend to my will, rather than feeling the pressure of making that decision. You said you didn't think you could be in charge of regulating your own video game time, but I think you're wrong. I think you are quite capable of determining the right amount of time for yourself to play video games. The only problem is, I'm pretty sure what's right for you will be way too much for me.

I have to admit something. I'm prejudice against video games. I know there are things you're learning from them. I know you're being creative and solving problems and I know playing video games makes you really happy. I've been trying to tell myself it's okay for you to play a lot, but my prejudice is getting in the way. It's making me cranky.

So, here's my solution:

During the week, let's have no video games until after 4 p.m. That way we can do other things during the day. We can branch out, see the world, play some games, explore interesting subjects and hopefully end each day with a deeper understanding of our universe. Once we've done that I don't think the video games will bother me so much.

I'm sorry I had you doubting your ability to chose what's best for you. You're quite capable of making that choice. I'm just not quite capable of giving it to you yet.

Thanks for understanding. I love you.


October 21, 2007

A Conversation Between A Boy & His Mom

Mom: Didn't Dad ask you to turn that video game off?

Boy: Yeah.

Mom: Why are you still playing it?

Boy: (shrugs) I don't know.

Mom: (simmering gently) Dad's already asked a few times.

Boy: (eyes glued to video game)

Mom: (big sigh) I'm trying to let you make your own decisions about how much time to spend playing video games and on the computer but it's really hard when it seems like you're not paying attention to any of the other things around you. There's a whole wonderful world out there but you can't see it if you're staring at a screen all the time.

Boy: (eyes glued to video game)

Mom: (starting to boil)

Boy: (eyes glued to video game)

Mom: (rolling boil) Would you like to know how close you are to having no screens at all? Ever?!

Boy: (eyes get large and stare at mom in disbelief)

Mom: Okay, I don't mean ever. I'm just really struggling with the video games and I'm thinking that for my own sanity we may need a screen-free week.

Boy: A whole week?!

Mom: I'm not saying we need it now. I want to try working out a balance without having to do that. I'm just saying that maybe we need to be without the screens for a while so you can remember what else you like to do. Let me read something to you from The Teenage Liberation Handbook. The writer says:

"I still think an 'anything goes' vacation in which you indulge some of your petty cravings is crucial. But it's just as crucial to recognize when you've had enough of that--and move on to phase two which is still a vacation, but a much more rejuvenating one, and will probably need to last anywhere from one week to a year. During this time do not strive to meet academic goals, but do actively experiment and play--no more excessive TV, eating, sleeping, VIDEO GAMES," (Mom's emphasis) "or hanging out with unexcited people. During this time you might experiment with transition rituals, or find other ways to engage with the world such as making new friends, changing your wardrobe to reflect your personality---"

Boy: I really need to do that. I need waaaaay more t-shirts about video games.

Mom: Right. Well. Anyway, the point is you've got to branch out. You have so many screen options now that I'm afraid you're forgetting about other stuff you really like.

Boy: Yeah. Like tetherball.

Mom: Exactly. Like tetherball.

Boy: Okay, tomorrow we'll spend 1/3 of the day playing tetherball, 1/3 of the day building that wooden T-Rex, and the other 1/3 playing video games.

Mom: Well. Yeah. We could.

Boy: Okay. Cool.

This is not exactly the outcome Mom was hoping for. It is what she asked for, though, so she's gonna roll with it.

October 19, 2007

A Graph Of My Emotional State While Deschooling

I was feeling extremely crappy today so I decided to make a graph of my emotional state since starting to unschool. I thought it might give me a good laugh. So I reread all my posts, tried to remember what was happening and how I was feeling, and this is what I came up with.

As you can see, there are lots of ups and downs, but overall it's better than I expected. My ideal emotional state would be right in between "Okay" and "Euphoric," and even though I only hit that note a few times, I was glad to see that I spent more time above "Okay" than below it.

By the way, it was the whole video game thing that got me down today. I think I might need to request a screen-free week so we can see what life used to be like before all these screens took over our home. Maybe that will help us find our balance.

Oh, and I told Jerry about the new allowance plan today. It didn't go over so well. There was some crying (his, not mine) but in the end we worked out an arrangement that we all felt happy with.

Jerry is spending the night at a friend's tonight so Warren and I are going out for a bite at one of our favorite cozy little restaurants. I'm going to have smoked chicken with macaroni and cheese. If that's not comfort food, I don't know what is. Maybe I'll be lucky and they'll have creme brulee for desert! I'll be back up to "Euphoric" in no time!

October 18, 2007

A Revelation (& Some Poetry)

I'm gearing up to start a teeny bit of "teaching." Not a huge amount. Just enough to make my husband relax a bit. We all have to be okay with what's happening in our house and at this point Warren is having some doubts about the whole child-led learning thing. I'm not quite ready to break out the workbooks, but I did order the "I Hate Mathematics Book" and I bought what looks like a really cool science book with some history thrown in called--shoot, I can't find it. That's the down side of being messy. You can never find anything when you need it. Anyway, the book is all about great inventions throughout history, who invented them and why, and it gives you instructions on how to create the inventions yourself. There's a pottery wheel, a trebuchet, vegetable dye...it looks really fun.

The reason I'm not jumping right in, though, is that I want it to feel kind of organic. I'm not sure if that's possible since organic would be coming from Jerry. I'm trying to devise a plan that will make it seem organic, at least--maybe even make it seem like Jerry's idea. But, before I start that I really think I should write out my educational philosophy. I know. I know. I said I was going to do that weeks ago. I'm procrastinating.

Why am I procrastinating? I think I'm kind of scared. Dumb, huh? I mean, I've already chosen homeschooling, then I went even further outside the norm and decided to try unschooling, so it's clear I'm taking my own path but writing down my educational philosophy will mean that I have to own it. It will mean that I'm not going by what other people are telling me is "right."

Oh my God! I've just had a revelation! I went from doing what the Waldorf school said was right, directly into doing what the unschoolers say is right. So I'm comfortable being told what to do because that's the usual way of life. The "experts" give their opinions, tell you what you need to do, and you do it--at least I do. So this whole time I thought I was such an individual, but really I just went from following one (not so mainstream) set of rules to following another (even less mainstream) set of rules. Sure, they weren't rules the majority of people in the US were following, but they were still rules. Wow! That explains my fixation with unschooling the "right" way. This is fascinating! I've been a follower for so long, that even though I'm on the road not (or less) taken I'm busy trying to step into someone else's footprints. Wow! I have to stop that!

Okay, here's the Robert Frost poem for some inspiration:

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

So, for about the 500th time I'm telling myself to mellow out, and do what feels right to me. I guess I don't even really need to "gear up." It's okay if I don't know what's right immediately. It's okay if I don't have a plan. I can still move forward.

One of the reasons I felt the need to prepare for this teeny bit of teaching, though, is that I'm still unsure about the place of the computer and video games in our daily lives. Jerry likes to turn them on in the morning as soon as he wakes up, which I completely understand because I like to do the same thing. It helps me ease into the day. It also tends to suck the day away, if we're not careful. So maybe I won't wait until I "figure out" the screen thing before I make some changes. I'll start the teaching (facilitating? guiding?) slowly by showing him some of the books I bought, by doing some of the experiements with him, by continuing our mental math and maybe even writing some of it down. Maybe our daily rhythms will adjust on their own and I won't have to "gear up" for anything.

But I do have to figure out MY philosophy on education. That I'm sure of. I need to know what I believe, so I can stop trying to do what other people think is best. Okay. I'll do that but I won't wait until it's finished to start making small changes to our daily lives.

I'm going to end with another poem. This is by my favorite poet, Mary Oliver.

Why I Wake Early

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety –

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light –
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

October 17, 2007

The Great Allowance Debacle

Before I get to The Great Allowance Debacle I just wanted to thank everyone who has been commenting on my entries. Some of the best, most insightful stuff is found in those comments. I really appreciate you all taking time out of your day to share your thoughts and experiences.

Oh, and one other thing. Read this post if you're struggling to find the right degree of unschooling for you and your family. It's great.

There's been such great "talk" in the comments on this blog about trust lately that I feel I should be writing about trust, BUT I've just spent two hours reading Money Doesn't Grow on Trees while sitting on a bench at the mall waiting for Jerry to finish playing and painting War Hammer, so my mind is on allowance.

We have swung every possible way a pendulum can swing in regards to giving a child an allowance. We've given no allowance. We've given allowance for chores. We've given allowance for merely existing. We've given a combination allowance (a base rate for merely existing plus extra for completing chores). Our latest system uses the combination formula except that we've done away with the word chores--they're called "responsibilities" now. Jerry gets a base rate just because he lives and if he takes care of his chores (I mean responsibilities) without being told to (this has NEVER happened) he gets a bonus. As you can see, the last twelve years have truly been an allowance debacle.

But, today I was at the ISP store buying a few books, because buying books always makes me feel better, when I stumbled upon Money Doesn't Grow on Trees by Neale S. Godfrey. Now we have a new allowance plan. A New Deal, as it were. It's probably not very unschoolish but after reading Tammy's entry about Zen-Schooling (the link is up at the top where I wrote "Read this post") I've realized it doesn't matter if it's unschoolish or not. It sounds good and I'm going to give it a try.

Here's the basic idea. The allowance WILL be linked to chores (we're back to that word again). We'll require both savings and charitable giving. We'll give Jerry enough so that he can conceivably buy his own manga, video games, War Hammer (that stuff's outrageously expensive!), and whatever else he would usually be begging us to buy, as long as he manages it wisely and saves. He'll get his allowance on the same day every week. 10% will go into the charity jar and the other 90% will be divided up between long-term, middle-term and quick cash. If he doesn't do all of his chores he won't get the allowance. That's it.

The really good thing about this plan is that Jerry will be learning a lot about spending and saving and it will all come from direct experience (so maybe it's a little unschoolish). I've already figured out that even though he hates math I can slip in loads of mental math while we're driving, as long as it's related to buying something he wants. For example, I might say "If you want to order one song for $.99 and one game for $4.99 from iTunes, what will the sales tax be? And what's your total?"

So that's the plan. I hope it works. My battery is about to die so I'm signing off!

October 16, 2007

Degrees Of Unschooling

I've included some pictures of our kittens today. They have absolutely nothing to do with this posting.

Last week I felt such a sense of relief. I really thought I was settling in to the deschooling groove. I wasn't having all kinds of angst over televsion or computer use (it was down). It was so freeing not to think of the television or computer as evil. When Jerry was playing a game, or watching a show, I wasn't feeling like a terrible parent for letting him do it. For all these years, almost every time he's in front of a screen, I've felt like I was not parenting the way I wanted to or the way I "should." Last week, though, there was a shift. Instead of thinking "He's watching television--I'm a bad parent." I just thought "He's watching television." So that was one milestone in the deschooling process that I definitely felt.

I've been thinking a lot about degrees of unschooling lately. I mean, first of all (and I know this sounds really dumb and will show how judgemental I can be) it had never even occurred to me that a thinking, intelligent parent would ever allow their child to watch television or sit in front of the computer all day. I had just assumed (backed up by a fair amount of research) that these things were bad for children and that any parent who allowed unlimited time in front of them was not parenting very well. It certainly never occurred to me that allowing unlimited screen time could be a conscious choice! So, my eyes have been opened and I'm trying to fit this recognition into our lives.

Like many parents who come to unschooling later in their child's life, I struggle with finding the right degree of unschooling for my family. I've read posts by other moms, and I've written a fair amount of them myself on this blog, that reveal a real sense of inner turmoil surrounding how much freedom we should give a child to make his or her own choices. On the one hand, there's a belief in the principles of unschooling and a budding sense of certainty that unschooling makes much more sense than the education and the lifestyle that most of us grew up with. On the other hand there's a lifetime of programming and stacks of parenting books that say children require limits--that they thrive on them.

It's confusing! I mean, we can't just flip a switch and reverse a lifetime of programming and beliefs. I'm doing my best to trust that Jerry is getting what he needs to have a happy, fulfilling life, however he chooses to define that. But years of expecting visible proof of learning die hard. As far as I've come in my own deschooling process, I still want to see results. But every time I try to influence Jerry's learning with more than a gentle nudge, or a book left open on the table, I wonder if I'm slowing the deschooling process. I worry that my desire for this evidence will somehow negate all the benefits I want him to experience as an unschooler.

This worrying doesn't help me though. I'm thinking that if there are degrees of unschooling, there can be degrees of starting to unschool. Why should I expect myself to make such a big leap right off the bat? Maybe there are ledges where I can stop along the way for a rest. Little outcrops where I can stop to assess the situation before taking the next jump.

So I'm going to try thinking more in terms of a slow decent instead of leaping into a void. I've got to stop worrying that I'm doing this the wrong way and just do what feels right to me. One of the best things I've learned in the process of researching unschooling and reading other blogs is not to negate my son's interests. This realization has been a real gift to both of us. If I really do take his wishes and interests into consideration, I can be sure that what feels right to me won't be wrong for him.

October 15, 2007

A Birthday Surprise

Jerry says his twelth birthday was his best ever. It was certainly full of surprises! The day before his birthday he received a card, completely out of the blue, from a family we had met at family camp last August. There was a check for $120.00 in it! $120.00!!! We hadn't spoken to this family since camp ended. It was such a wonderful, exciting, out of the blue thing for Jerry to find in the mail box.

He knew exactly what he wanted to buy with it. An electric guitar. So we went over to Guitar Center that same day and he bought a Les Paul junior. Jerry kept it a secret from his dad all day, so that when Warren got home he would be surprised. Boy was he!

When I told friends and family about the check almost everyone's first reaction was "That's weird." Isn't it sad the way we just can't wrap our heads around receiving gifts or sometimes even kind gestures from people we don't know very well? How fabulous for that family, to be in a position to surprise a twelve-year-old boy on his birthday. And how nice for Jerry to be on the receiving end of such kindness. It's not weird. It's wonderful!

There's a hilarious book by Danny Wallace called Join Me that addresses this very topic (among other things). Wallace placed an ad in a freebie newspaper that just said, "join me." He didn't say what joinees we're joining him for, just that they were to send a passport photo to his address if they were interested. The photos started pouring in. Before he knew it Wallace found himself leading a cult, only he had no idea what the cult was meant to do.

After much thought, and a few pints, Wallace created a first assignment for his followers'. It was simple. "Make an old man happy." They were to buy a random old man a cup of tea, pay for his bus fare, that kind of thing, and they did. Many of them even documented these acts with photos. Eventually, Wallace extended these random acts of kindness to everyone, regardless of age or gender, and the Karma Army was born. Wallace's followers would strive to practice one random act of kindness each week. The only stipulation was that it had to be random, unexpected, and kind.

As long as I'm on the subject of Danny Wallace his second book was just as good as "Join Me." It's called Yes Man. In this book Danny has taken the advice of a stranger on a bus who suggested he "say yes more." But instead of saying yes "more" he decides he'll say it all the time--to everything. It's laugh out loud funny but the book really gets you thinking about where a simple "yes" can lead.

I guarantee that if you read both of these books you'll say yes more and leave some surprised strangers feeling grateful, even if they do think you're a complete lunatic.

October 10, 2007

A Lovely Mess

Jerry's 12th birthday is tomorrow. We're having a few boys over on Saturday for a slumber party. We'll be painting Munnies, playing ping pong, watching anime, eating cake, listening to music, and having a rollicking good time. I tend to save all my cleaning for just before we have guests, so I have a lot to do! Since today and tomorrow I'll be cleaning house, and the weekend will be devoted to kid wrangling and fun facilitating, I probably won't post anything new until Monday. In honor of all the cleaning, organizing, and rearranging I'll be doing these next two days (all because I don't clean regularly or put things away as I go), I leave you with some thoughts on tidiness--or, more specifically, the lack of it--and why it's not such a bad thing to be messy.

In this interview with theoretical physicist, David Deutsch, at TakingChildrenSeriously.com, Deutsch says he's pretty sure he couldn't be very productive without also being untidy.

When the interviewer asks, "Can you be sure you are not just rationalising this? Could it be that you just hate tidying up?"

Deutsch responds, "I can't deny that I hate it! It is a fact that tidying up is boring. There are so many interesting things to do in life that doing boring things is hardly ever top of my list of priorities. The question here is not whether tidiness is boring, but whether it is necessary, or useful. I think that there are no good practical reasons to be anywhere near as tidy as is conventional in our society. Tidiness is a thing which is foisted upon children, and it results in all sorts of unpleasant things for them like boredom and having their privacy invaded, and so they get nervous and uptight about their personal space, and sometimes this translates itself into hang-ups about tidiness which they then pass on to their children."

Last December, the New York Times ran an article called Saying Yes to Mess by Penelope Green. In the article, Green wrote "An anti-anticlutter movement is afoot, one that says yes to mess and urges you to embrace your disorder. Studies are piling up that show that messy desks are the vivid signatures of people with creative, limber minds (who reap higher salaries than those with neat “office landscapes”) and that messy closet owners are probably better parents and nicer and cooler than their tidier counterparts." (Finally there's proof!!)

How can you not love a book with the title A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder, How crammed closets, cluttered offices, and on-the-fly planning make the world a better place? This book, by David H. Freedman and Eric Abrahamson, "shatters the myths and misunderstandings about messiness and disorder that have led to an often pointless, counterproductive and demoralizing bias toward neatness and organization in our society." Sounds good to me!

And, lastly, I leave you with a quote from that most prolific and profound philosopher, Anonymous:

If the shelves are dusty and the pots don't shine,
it's because I have better things to do with my time.

Hear, hear!

October 9, 2007

My Mantra & W.B. Yeats

"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire."
-William Butler Yeats

I'm going to add that to my mantra. So, my new Beginning Unschooler Mantra is "Light the fire, watch it grow." That's much better than "We'll see." And it still leaves room for the unexpected--which is important since just about everything, at this stage of the game, is unexpected!

Since it was Yeats that inspired my new mantra, I'm going to post one of his poems. Last Christmas Warren, Jerry and I (I'm using full names now, by the way) went to visit my sister in Ireland and we went to the very same Hazel Wood Yeats mentions in this poem. The photos were taken there.

The Song of Wandering Angus

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread:
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire aflame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

-William Butler Yeats
Here we are in Hazel Wood. Going clockwise, that's my sister with her daughter Cora in the Baby Bjorn, then me, Warren, my nephew Carson, and Jerry.

October 8, 2007

Funky Town

My husband finally bought an electric guitar! He's been talking about getting one for ages, all the while religiously playing his acoustic every night before bed. Yesterday, he finally made his choice and brought one home. Here he is with J leaving the Guitar Center where, after many hours of deliberation, he chose a Les Paul.J wanted to be the first to play it once we got home. Here's Warren giving him some pointers.
It was a good weekend. We acheived a nice balance of family time and personal time, the weather was perfect, we finally got the guitar. I can't complain. But, you know, I still didn't feel quite right. I felt happy, but not my usual happy. And I've been feeling that way for a while now.

I think I'm in a funk.

It's time to take action. Time to say good-bye to Funky Town. Here's my escape plan:

1.) Take my vitamins every day. (I've been slacking.)
2.) Stop putting things off. The main things I've been putting off are a) balancing my checkbook; b) securing an interview for my next newspaper column; c) mailing the numerous birthday and baby gifts I've purchased in the last couple months; d) dropping off our donations at the Goodwill. These will all be crossed off my To Do List by Friday.

3.) Go for a walk or a hike at least once a day.

4.) Stop reasearching and reading about unschooling and just do it. I've been obbsessed with figuring this whole thing out, but I'm coming to the conclusion that the best way to figure it out is to stop looking over my shoulder at what other people are doing and just do what I think is right for us. (Yes, I know I already said something like this, but I need to get hit over the head several times before a new idea sinks in. This is whack number two.) So, this week I'm not going to read about unschooling, except for in the John Holt book that I started last week. I'll still read the blogs I 've discovered, but I won't go searching for information. I'll just read the daily posts and go on about my business.

So that's the plan. Let's hope it works!

October 5, 2007

My Computer & Me (Or, Schedule? What Schedule?)

I was just reviewing some of my posts from last month and came across Let's Make A Deal (Or, Creating A Schedule). Two weeks later I can only say Ha! Ha! And double Ha!

Okay, we have a skeletal schedule due to the fact that J takes a few classes, so we do have to be at certain places at certain times. These are the bones:
Monday 4:00-6:00 Chess class
Tuesday 10:00-11:00 Drawing, 12:00-1:00 Japanese, 3:00-3:30 Trombone (It's a busy day!) After Trombone J usually goes to a friend's house to play.
Wednesday 1:00-2:00 Science class (just started this week)
Thursday 1:00 Park Day or Homeschool Book Club, depending on the day (One Thursday per month is free.)
Friday we are blissfully free of commitments.
Satuday J is taking a six week War Hammer Academy class at Games Workshop from 4:30-6:30.
Starting this Sunday he's also taking a six-week class called Kid Inventors at the Art Center in Pasadena.

Mornings are generally spent at the computer, but I'm really hoping this will change. I'm kind of waiting to see at what point J will decide he's had enough sitting on his butt staring at a screen. If he doesn't make that decision soon, though, I'm going to have to get clever about providing some other, more enticing, alternatives. Here's the problem, though. I'm spending my mornings at the computer, too. We sit at the kitchen table, in front of our own little laptops. I kind of like it. I probably shouldn't even admit to this in print because my husband asked me no less than six times this afternoon what we did today. I kept trying to evade the question, but he can be damn persistent. Oh well. The cat's out of the bag now.

What am I doing spending so much time on the computer? I'm reading about unschooling, of course. I'm reading blogs, mostly. I'm looking up articles. I'm putting books on hold at the library. (I maxed out my card today!) I'm posting to this blog. I'm hungry for information and reassurance and the internet seems the best place to find it. At the same time, though, I AM getting tired of sitting on my butt staring at a screen. It makes me feel kind of lumpy--like the blob.

So today, J and I had another computer discussion. We talked, again, about how the computer sucks our day away. He said he'd be a lot less likely to play on the computer if I weren't at my computer so much. (Rats!) So we're going to try a two hour maximum per day--for both of us. You may recall that in my Let's Make A Deal (Or, Creating A Schedule) posting I mentioned that our schedule would include no computer time at all during the week. Well, all I can say, once again, is Ha! The good intentions were there, but now they're cobbled between other, similarly good intentions, paving the way to the infernal regions.

We'll see. That's my mantra. We'll see. I've diverged so far from the Waldorf path we'd been on before that I'm beginning to get a little worried. But...we'll see. I'm trying to have an open mind. I'm questioning my beliefs and trying to find answers that are all my own. Heck, I even checked out a book called Don't Bother Me Mom--I'm Learning, about how computer and video games prepare children for success. I never would have even entertained this thought two months ago. Of course, I'm balancing that book out with another one called Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men, which makes the opposite argument. We'll see....

October 4, 2007

Things To Do When You Start To Unschool

I've decided to come up with a list of Things To Do When You Start To Unschool. These are things I wish I'd done a month ago when we started this adventure. Some of them are still on my To Do list but I'll be checking them off soon (I swear!).

  1. Take a daily multi-vitamin. This is first because it will help with the inevitable ups and downs that accompany any attempt to step outside the boundries of what our society calls "normal"--and, it's good for you. (I'm starting mine tomorrow!)

  2. Read Teach Your Own by John Holt and Pat Farenga. It's so full of wisdom and common sense--you'll be a lot less likely to doubt your decision once you've read this book. (I'm only half way through and I can already say that!)

  3. Relax! This is easier said than done, but thinking back to what you learned in school and how much of it you use on a daily basis will help. Also, try thinking of the first months of unschooling as a time to rekindle your relationship with your kid(s). Let the relationship be your focus instead of "Learning."

  4. Develop your philosophy of education and write it down. This site will walk you through the process by asking all kinds of terrific questions. (I haven't done this yet either. If I had done it, I probably wouldn't have bored you to tears with those last few whine-o-rama sessions because I would have been able to reread my own personal education philosophy, thus reaffirming my choice to unschool and sparing you all the annoyance of listening to--I mean reading--that drivel.)

That's all I've come up with so far. Can you think of anything else I should add to the list?

October 3, 2007

I'm A Bloupie

Since I have yet to meet the friend I described to you in my last posting (apparently finding such a friend takes more than twelve hours), I've decided to become a blog groupie (a bloupie?) at The Parenting Pit. The guy that writes it, Arun, is exactly the friend I need right now--except that he lives a million miles away, or thereabouts.

His posting entitled An Unschooling Journey was really helpful.

Uh oh, gotta go. J is asking me to get off the computer (a little role reversal!) so I can watch him build a Space Marine.

October 2, 2007

A Tall Glass Of Whine

I need a friend. She should be a seasoned unschooler, as full of wisdom as I am full of doubts. She needs to live in Los Angeles and she should be planning on staying for a while because I'm tired of having my friends move away. If her husband happens to work in the film industry so much the better. While our husbands are working twelve to eighteen hour days, we'll have dinner with the kids, go on field trips and plan fun (and educational!) vacations. We'll share our whines over wine!

As you can no doubt tell, I took another ride on the deschooling express and it's going downhill fast. This whole unschooling business just seems too easy. We're having fun. J is taking a few classes in subjects that interest him, so I know he's learning something in the traditional sense. But all this fun is making me nervous. I mean, isn't learning supposed to be difficult? What am I doing to his future? Why can't I just pick an emotion (a happy one) and stick with it!?

October 1, 2007

Back On The Rollercoaster

Was it just yesterday that I said "I love this!"?

I woke up this morning with doubts. Maybe I've just misinterpreted the residual sadness from watching Japanese Story as unschooling doubt. Even so, I find that when I'm feeling doubtful the first thing I want to do is hide J's computer and whip out the Saxon math. Oh yeah, and assign lots of chores.

Luckily for J I wake up earlier than he does, so I have time to google things like "unschooling doubt" before my angst gets the better of me. This morning's google search led me to a gem of a web site. It's called The Home-School Curriculum Advisor and the page that was so helpful to me this morning was Unschooling: Is It Right For You?.

One of their suggestions is that, as a new homeschooler, you take some time to determine your core values and develop your educational philosophy. Mary Hood made the same suggestion in The Relaxed Home School. I really do need to solidify my beliefs. Maybe once I have a stronger grasp on my own personal philosophy and values my doubts will wane and this ride will level out a bit--the highs are fun but I could do without the lows.

Isn't homeschooling great though? How often, especially where education is concerned, are we asked to develop our own philosophy and consider our core values? We're more likely to be handed core values on a platter while someone else's philosophy is shoved down our throat.

When we choose to unschool we grant credence to our children's philiosphies and values as well as our own. What a gift! If our kids never learn that the philosophies we live and work by must always come from other people, won't they be more likely to live lives that are consistent with their own beliefs? And aren't we happiest when the way we live is an extension of the things we believe?

I've found my way back to "I love this!". Phew!