November 23, 2008

Waldorf School Revisited

We went to the Elves' Faire at Jerry's old school yesterday. Yep, he went to a Waldorf school for five years before we went to "school-at-home" for a whopping three days and then, out of sheer desperation, to unschooling. I don't regret our decision a bit but can I just say that I love his old school? I don't love the playground politics or the getting there bright and early and picking him up after seven hours only to struggle with homework until well into the evening.

But, I love that campus. And I love the people. And I love the peaceful feeling I get from being there--especially now that I can go to enjoy myself and visit old friends instead of working like a dog! In the past I've been in charge of costumed characters, usually taking a turn as one of the characters (the fortune fairy) myself. This was the first time I've ever gone to the Elves' Faire strictly for enjoyment. It was great!
I swiped that picture from my friend Jim's Flickr page (without asking...). Thanks Jim!

At park day last week one of my homeschool friends was saying she tends to think of parents at the Waldorf school as of a bunch of rich people dressed in funky (but super expensive) clothes. She knows that's not the case, she said, but that's the impression the Waldorf school gives. It's not my experience of the school at all, though. Sure there were some people I'd consider rich and there were a handful that shop in places where I can't even afford to breathe the air. But for the most part they are families who really believe in the Waldorf philosophy. Still, her comment made me think about the way people view homeschoolers.

When Jerry and I were at the hostel in Marin a couple weeks ago we were talking to one of the women that was staying there and she asked about Jerry's school. As soon as we told her we homeschooled I could see the wheels turning in her mind. She was making all kinds of assumptions about us: "social misfit....over-protective mother...ultra-religious...weird." I'm always amazed at how it's possible to actually see these thoughts flow through someone's mind. It's like they're flipping through a rolodex of qualities (none of them good) we surely possess.

Anyway, back to revisiting the Waldorf school. Some of you may be wondering how we went from Waldorf to unschooling since they're on completely different ends of the control spectrum. Waldorf keeps the kids in a very controlled environment. It's an environment of peace, serenity, beauty, music, watercolors, hand-crafted toys, and stories by candle light. I love that environment. But it turns out Jerry wasn't so keen on it. While we were trying to give him the best of the "old world" childhood (minus the infectious diseases and poor hygiene) he was dying to break out into the 21st century childhood of Nintendo and Club Penguin. Granted, we never went full on Waldorf. He was allowed screen time on weekends but our opinions ruled. And our opinion was that screen time was wasted time, or worse, it was detrimental time.

You can throw a stone and hit a study that says television and video games are ruining our children. But there are a fair amount of studies (you may have to look a little harder) that show us there's nothing wrong with video games or television and, in fact, the screen time we were so wary of offers opportunities for developing qualities and skills that are very much in demand in today's world. Personally, I'm not sure any of these studies has much relevance in our lives. It's possible to find a study on just about anything that will back up your own personal feelings so I think we have to take them with a grain (or ten) of salt. Still, it makes me feel better to know that some people think video games can help rather than hinder a child's development.

In the end, though, none of that really matters because when we opted to unschool we chose to take Jerry's interests seriously. And he's seriously interested in video game and computers and television. So we did a complete 180 and (after a few failed attempts at partial control) decided to give Jerry the freedom to choose how he spends his time.

We're obviously still working on being more accepting of his choices. When I start to worry (like I was the other day) I find the best solution is to keep my mouth shut, post something about my concerns here (devour the comments), read some posts at the Unschooling Basics Yahoo! group, and talk to other unschoolers about the issue. I'm usually feeling better about things in a day or two. If I'm not feeling better, at the very least, I have a plan of action--and a plan always makes me feel better.

My current plan is this:
  1. Plan more Jerry approved outings during the week. Even just going to the library gets him off the couch and out into the world so the outings don't need to be big.
  2. Spend more time hanging out with Jerry during the day. If he's watching television I'll watch with him. If he's playing video games I'll sit beside him and read out loud. I think I just need to devote more time to him. If I'm right next to him he'll be more likely to suggest that we do something together.
  3. Find out how I can expand on his video game/computer/television interests. I've posted a request for ideas on Unschooling Basics and I have a few ideas of my own. I think my support of these interests needs to be more active.
So that's the plan. As much as I need to respect Jerry's interests, I also need to help him make choices that will enhance his life. Hopefully more choices and more time together will mean more time spent off the couch. And more time off the couch will make Warren stop saying he thinks Jerry would be better off in school. And it'll give Jerry more energy. And it'll keep me from waking up at 3 in the morning to read Sandra Dodd and Joyce Fetterol and the unschooling e-groups. And then I'll have more energy. And then my house will be clean all the time and I'll become super organized and I might even start a daily exercise regimen and I'll lose weight and--Oh my God this is going to be GREAT!

November 20, 2008

Just Like Old Times

Ah, it's just like the old days when I first started this blog. Well, maybe not just like them. I'm not totally freaking out about how Jerry is spending his time or what he is and isn't learning. I am, however, a little worried. And Warren is a lot worried.

Jerry does spend a huge amount of time sitting in front of the television watching cartoons. When he gets tired of TV, he plays computer games or breaks out the Wii or PlayStation. I don't have a problem with these activities (Warren does--more because of the time spent on them than the activity itself) but I am worried because he seems to be doing them out of habit--because it's the easy thing to do. He seems to have fallen into a kind of malaise--like he just doesn't have the gumption to get up and do something else. I really think he needs more physical activity but I have to twist his arm to get him to do anything that's active--including leaving the house.

Am I doing Jerry any favors by accepting his first (or second or third) answer to my requests that he get out of the house (or even just off the couch)? People pay personal trainers to help them do what they say they want to do, but fail to acheive without coaching. As a parent shouldn't I be coaching Jerry to become his best self? I want to honor his choices. But I also want him to be healthy and vibrant and engaged in the world around him.

I'm not saying he doesn't do other things but the days when he spends more than a few hours away from one screen or another are few and far between.

At this point I think my plan is to make more plans. He liked the unschooler park day in Santa Monica and he actually ran around at that one so that's a good first step. Yesterday we went to the library. He wanted to stay in the car while I went in but I just said no. He didn't complain and ended up finding a bunch of manga he wanted to read so I'm glad I insisited.

What I want to know is where does the line fall between honoring your child's feelings and rolling over like a wet noodle, always taking their first answer as the final one. I want to support his interest in television and computers and video games but I feel like Jerry is getting compliance rather than support from me these days and that makes me feel like I'm not being the best parent I can be.

At one of the Dragon Tree park days when Pam Sorooshian was speaking, she said that unschooling is like a dance. Sometimes the child is leading, sometimes the parent, and other times parent and child dance in perfect sync, together. So maybe I need to take the lead for now, with my eye on getting to a place where we weave freely in and out of leading, following, and gliding side by side.

November 19, 2008

The Big Four-Oh

So I mentioned before that I set myself a goal of walking the entire coast of California by the time I turn fifty. My friend Sol was the inspiration behind my decision. He walked the California Coastal Trail in seven years back in the eighties. And at 93-years-old Sol still walks four miles every day. Every single day! At 93!!

I decided that the first portion of the walk I wanted to do was San Francisco, starting with crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. Even though I went to junior high and high school in the Bay Area I had never walked across the Golden Gate before.

So on November 1 (two days into my forties) me, Warren, Jerry, my mom, my dad and my sister (all the way from Ireland!) drove down to San Francisco from Sacramento in the pouring rain. We checked into the youth hostel at Fort Mason (the only place in the city where you can get a bed in a beautiful location with free parking for 22 bucks a night!) and made our dinner in the communal kitchen. Here's my mom hard at work.My sister's friend, Amy, and her husband, Bart, joined us for dinner and drinks in the dining room.It had been pouring for two days straight so we were worried that we might end up walking in the rain and we prepared accordingly. Sunday morning was dry though. Warren and Jerry headed off to Zeum for the day while the rest of us met my friends Lindy and Zefra at the Cliffhouse (where our walk would end). My dad drove us to the north side of the bridge--the beginning of our walk. Here we are. From left to right that's Zefra, Lindy, me, Jenny (my sister) and my mom. And so we begin. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves from here on out.It felt so good to be surrounded by some of my favorite people on the planet for an entire day of walking in one of my favorite places on the planet. I have a lot to look forward to in the next ten years!

November 17, 2008

What We've Been Up To Lately: In Photos

Yesterday we made a tub thumping vortex cannon. It's kind of like an airzooka but bigger.
And we bought a fog machine.
So we could see the air blasting out of it.
When we got tired of blasting fog into the air we blasted each other.
Then we made fog just for the heck of it.
On Friday we went to a park day for unschoolers in Santa Monica. I could have found out about this park day on my own, I guess, but it was through a New Zealand connection that we ended up going. See, in New Zealand I met Lishelle. This is me and Lishelle at the airport in Auckland the day Jerry and I left to come home.
So, when someone on one of the unschooling lists said she was going to be in New Zealand, I sent her an e-mail and put her in touch with Lishelle. Little did I know Alison, the woman I was exchanging e-mails with, lived only thirty minutes from my house! It took Lishelle to point out to us that we might live near one another. So the new park day was really fun. I met Alison and lots of other really nice people that I look forward to getting to know better. We were there until after dark, when we finally had to hurry off to meet Warren at the Wiltern where the three of us saw Ben Folds. It was a terrific show and, lucky for us, he played Jerry's favorite song.

Last week was Warren's first short work week. So even though Jerry and I didn't get back from San Francisco/Sacramento until Sunday, we still had two days to spend at home with Warren before he went back to work. During those two days we discovered the joys of hanging out on the roof.
Going further back in time, when we were up in Northern California for my birthday we spent an afternoon with one of our favorite people in the world, Lyssa.
She lived with us for a year when she was in college and is like a big sister to Jerry. Now she has a beautiful baby of her own, named Phoenix.
Jerry and I spent a couple days at the Marin Headlands youth hostel.
The setting was beautiful.
And we were very close to the beach. Jerry and I walked on the beach at sunset the second night of our stay.
Okay. I walked on the beach. Jerry sat on a log and played his DS.
The following day we went to a Bar Mitvah where it was all gambling all the time (once we left the temple, anyway).
I mentioned before that we visited the new California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco while we were up north. Here's a picture of the living roof.
And here's the freaky albino alligator.
I'll leave you with that image for now and post my birthday photos separately.

As you can see we've been keeping busy, but that's no excuse my recent blog neglect. Now that my birthday and Jerry's have passed and we're home with no plans to leave for a while I'll be much better about posting regularly again. I promise. Because, you know, I'm sure you've all been missing me right? Right!?

November 6, 2008

Catching Up

I haven't downloaded the photos from my beautiful birthday celebration walk in San Francisco last Sunday but I will soon (or maybe next week when I get home). Yesterday we celebrated the Obama victory by going to an arcade (Jerry's choice) and then to Sutter's Fort (my choice) in Sacramento where we bought a flint and steel fire starting kit. We're going to try making some fire this morning before we head back to San Francisco to visit the extremely cool looking, brand new, California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. We'll be staying at a hostel in Marin for two nights before going to my friend's son's Bar Mitzvah on Sunday. Then, finally, on Monday we're going home.

I few things have happened that I haven't had a chance to write about. First off, literally one day after I told a friend we weren't really being affected by the economic crisis I was forced to eat my word (they're always so tasty) when we learned that the studio had decided to put the movie Warren's working on on hiatus (read: unpaid vacation). I won't go into the reasons for their decision (hint: it has to do with stupidity and incompetence) but suffice it to say we were a little freaked out. But wait! There's good news, too. Most of the crew is being let go but the studio wants to keep Warren and the visual effects editor working just enough to keep them from finding other jobs so they've proposed a three day work week (with one overlapping day when they're both in the cutting room). A three-day work week definitely beats unemployment but we were still a little freaked out. I mean it's not like we have extra money at the end of the month. But we've decided to look on the bright side, cut back expenses where we can, and enjoy the time together.

This is a classic case of "be careful what you wish for." I've always wanted Warren to work less. Always. And I'm about to get my wish. Next time I make that wish, however, I'll be sure to wish louder for the part where he works less but makes the same amount of money--a small but crucial distinction. Ah well. We're going to look on the bright side. We'll cut back. Conserve. Stick to a budget. We'll get back to the careful spending patterns we had established back when we first met and had barely enough to get by but still managed to save $7000 (it took a long time!) so we could backpack around Europe. It'll be good for us, I think. (Will someone please remind me that I wrote that two months from now when I'm complaining?)

In other news, my sister and I had a fabulous visit while she was here. I love her so much and I can't wait for her to come back to California. Did I mention that she's pregnant? Yep, both my brother and sister are having babies now and once again I had the pleasure of listening to my grandmother tell me how sad it is that Jerry is alone in the world. How he "has no one" because he is an only child. Yes, my grandmother has actually told me we need to have sex more. In her defense she was heavily medicated at the time. Still. I'd have to say that was one of the most surreal moments of my life and I hope it never happens again. Ever.

November 4, 2008

The Middle of Nowhere

My friend Maggie is a singer/songwriter and has just put this video up on YouTube. The song is especially timely considering the current economy. If you like the video please pass the link on to your friends (and leave nice comments, too!). Oh, and be sure to look closely at the closing photo montage--you may see me and Jerry (we're on a slide).