posts tagged with 'parenting'

Mama's home!

Leah came home from her convalescence at her parents' house this afternoon. We were all very glad to see her—the dogs most visibly. We kept them outside until she got herself established on the couch. I appreciated her the most at bedtime, when Elijah was yelling and throwing things and I didn't have to be the one to deal with him (or to be a bad parent by ignoring him and probably leaving the house, like I would have done had it happened the night before). And that wasn't the first time this evening that I tapped out, either! At the end of supper I wandered off, not because the kids were doing anything particularly bad, but just because they're so dang loud! I do love them, and often I enjoy being with them, but it's nice to get a break every little while. So welcome home, Mama! And single parents: props to you.

little signs of growing up

Last night I would have loved to have have gone to bed at 7:30—I was in bed, in fact, just finishing up reading to the boys. But I couldn't, because there were still things going on in my household. In school terms Harvey is a sixth grader now; that doesn't mean much for most things, but on Sunday he does go to Kids Church. Yesterday was his last day as a member of Elementary Kids Church, and while he won't be officially starting Youth Group until September all the sixth graders were invited to join the gathering yesterday evening for some get-to-know-you games... beginning at 8:00. Before too long, I'm sure that when Harvey chooses to stay up I don't need to play any part in his late-night plans. But for now he still appreciates having someone available to put him to bed. So I stayed up. At least I didn't have to drive him anywhere!

Elijah also showed signs of surprising maturity yesterday, at least in one small area. Apropos of nothing he told me, "sixty plus sixty is one hundred twenty," and then asked what 120 + 120 would be.

"Well," I said, "What's a hundred plus a hundred?"

"Oh," he said. "It's... two hundred and forty. And two hundred and forty plus two hundred and forty is four hundred and eighty. Four hundred and eighty plus four hundred and eighty is eight hundred and... no, it's nine hundred something."

Well! I'd included a lot about place value and adding tens and ones in my plans for his math work this school year, but I guess we won't need to work too hard on that! I can tell you that we didn't do anything more than add one-digit number last year, and not too much of that (I did work to build the foundation for understanding place value... but I didn't know how well he was listening). We'll just add it to the folder labeled "unschooling works." And maybe think about introducing some algebra this fall?

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work ethics

We're reading Farmer Boy at bedtime these days. I love that book. We're almost through; this evening we read the chapter called "Threshing", in which Almanzo and his father spend a snowy late fall day threshing wheat on the barn floor. As they get started Almanzo asks why they don't bring the wheat to the new threshing machine in town, and his Father tells him it's because all it saves is time: it wastes wheat, and it damages the straw so it's no good to feed the animals. And he doesn't see any purpose to saving time. After all, he tells Almanzo, they won't have anything else to do on stormy winter evenings; would Almanzo rather just sit around twiddling his thumbs? No, thinks Almanzo, he has enough of that on Sundays.

I'm aware of the perils of trying to raise children according to the Little House series. I think they're perils common to many in my circle of friends. But when the boys start the day with an hour of Minecraft, then enjoy a leisurely breakfast followed by an indeterminate amount of time reading at the table before they do their dishes, I start to wonder if I'm doing something wrong. At that just takes us up to 8:00! I wonder if Almanzo would have enjoyed the idea of leisure time more if he had had an iPad?

Of course, I can also look at myself—I acknowledge my own difficulties, historical and current, with sustained effort. And I count blogging here as work! But I have a long list of things I'd like to accomplish, which gives me a chance to try and model a proper work ethic. It might be working: today Harvey made breakfast—waffles!—and offered to pick up the slack of Zion's work before supper when Zion was absent. Of course, he's the one child who's not listening to Farmer Boy. I wonder what that means...

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culture of scarcity

It's been rainy the last couple days and we're coming up on the end of three solid weeks of relative isolation, and there have been few moments of testiness. Like yesterday, when Zion and Elijah were playing at trading imaginary Minecraft items. Lijah was trying to get some tridents from Zion, who kept raising the price beyond Lijah's offers of uncountable stacks of emeralds. Eventually Lijah got mad and started yelling, and Zion protested huffily that he was just trying to do a fair trade. I was pretty unhappy, and told them so—with Lijah for going into a violent rage instead of walking away, and with Zion for provoking him. "I don't know how we're going to get along as a household," I told him, "if you can't even be generous with imaginary things that don't even exist!" It's safe to say that we're all feeling some stress.

Of course, there are also many lovely moments. Prior to that unpleasant exchange—which happened right around dinner time—the boys had been playing super well together. Their game with their stuffed animals was so harmonious that I silently cancelled some scheduled home education stuff to let it continue, and then I lost track of time and failed to tell them to get on Zoom for their daily group read-aloud (they made it a couple minutes late, when Leah noticed the time and alerted us). So we'll survive. But we do need to keep working at it.

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executive function

Leah was away last week from Wednesday morning to Sunday night, visiting exotic Oklahoma and Florida. During the day, her being away doesn't feel any different, but at bedtime the kids did miss her some. The hard part for me I didn't realize until later, until Monday morning when I was meant to be getting ready for work and getting the boys ready to go to my parents' house for the day. As the clock ticked past 8:00 without anyone dressed or fed, I realized that over the past five days I'd completely exhausted my ability to make anyone do anything. Including myself. When I let Leah know she very kindly offered to make me breakfast.

Happily, I didn't have a meeting yesterday so there was actually no time pressure. Eventually I did get myself going, fed two of the children and myself (somebody always wants to hold out for breakfast from Grandma), and even made myself a lunch. My arrival time was not disgraceful. Today Leah was back at work and I acquitted myself reasonably well: we did some art, made some bread, read some stories, and played a math game. Of course, my recovery isn't entirely complete—I haven't been able to make myself go to bed yet...

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our police visit

Yesterday morning we walked the dog, like we do. As we were coming home at about 9:30 Zion was a little upset, and lagged behind on the sidewalk so he could be by himself. No problem; by the time we got home he was recovered and we were all ready to jump into school work together. Right in the middle of our drawing lesson, though, we were interrupted by a knock on the door. It was a cop!

It turns out someone had seen Zion walking "alone" along Hartwell Road, and when they reached the police detail at the permanent construction site around the corner they stopped to tell the officer there. I don't know what standard procedure is, but in this case whoever was in charge cared enough about it to send someone our way to check it out.

And even better, they figured out the address to look up—I suppose our neighbors on the force offered some information about our alternative schooling arrangements. Once he finally found our house—we don't have a number up any more—the cop was very kind and polite. He described what had happened, and I told him we had all been out for a walk, and he said he figured somebody had just been worried because it was after the start of the school day. Wanting to get things clear, I asked him what he thought of our sending Harvey down the street—the same street in question—to his friend's house by himself, like we do; he said he saw no problem in that at all. As far as I could tell, he was totally fine with the whole situation, and just checking on us to close the report or whatever.

Considering our lifestyle and looking to preclude future difficulties, I told him that we like to encourage our kids towards freedom and responsibility. He was fine with that. Then I invited him to let us know if anything we did ever made anyone important nervous. It could have been much worse, and once again it made me glad to live in a relatively human-friendly place like Bedford. For Eastern Massachusetts, at least, I think we're doing pretty good.

Here's hoping that's all our interaction with the police for the next year, at least!

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it's 7:30, do you know where your children are?

As I type these words it is, and I don't. I have a pretty good guess, but since Harvey disappeared soon after we got home this evening and Zion and Lijah headed out a little later, after some decompression time, I've had no solid knowledge of their whereabouts. Which is fine, right? The fact that they took off without worrying about letting me know where they were going surely has something to do with all that we've done to allow and encourage independence over the years.

Why independence? Well, I'm sure it's great that we're helping them become self-actuated problem-solvers who will go on to do great things; also it gets them out of my hair so I can do the dishes. But now they're old enough that I'm starting to consider a different problem: in all that time away from our happy hippy household, are they being too exposed to Bad Influences in the shape of their hooligan friends? Sure, right now it's only Pop Rocks, Pokemon cards, and video games, but can hard drugs be far behind—or even pool?!

I laugh, but of course there's a serious worry beneath my hyperbole. Lots of my life choices are pretty counter-cultural, and there's nothing more culture-following than a third-grade boy in public school. So there are moments of mild concern, at least, around things like Flavor-Ice consumption and name-calling. But then I figure that, to be real, independence can't be limited. My role is to tell the boys my own opinions and to try to help them make good choices for themselves—I can't make their choices for them. Luckily, they're good kids so it's not as fraught a process as it may be for other parents. Long may it last; so far I do see some connection between independence and responsibility, so I'm prepared to say, at least, "so far so good".

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often barefoot, sometimes balanaced

One of the many books I took on our camping trip was Balanced and Barefoot, by Angela J. Hanscom. Super appropriate, since camping is all about the ways which, per the subtitle, "unrestricted outdoor play makes for strong, confident, and capable children." Among many other worthwhile points, the author notes that "going barefoot in nature helps develop normal gait patterns, balance, and tolerance of touch in the feet, all of which provide a strong foundation for confident and fluid movement." Check.

three boys barefoot atop a mountain

they're doing it

That is to say, they had plenty of time barefoot in nature—like they do. I actually made the two who were doing their own walking put on shoes to start both hikes, but both times they quickly decided they were too hot, and the footwear became cargo. The book suggests that outdoor play builds core strength and endurance; I don't know about the former, but over the two days of hiking we covered about six and a half miles, with something like 1800 feet of elevation gain. (Now that's a vacation!) Zion actually did more like six and a quarter miles—Leah carried him a couple times, for encouragement—but either way it was an impressive effort.

Since we've been back, they've dived right back into playing with their friends in the neighborhood. Lots of that play is outside—none of us parents wants a gang of eight kids filling up the house for long (of course, video games, pokemon cards, and play sets all exert a powerful indoor pull...). I do wonder, though, if the outdoor play that's happening on Beacon Street fulfills all the requirements Hanscom would look for in proper therapeutic play. For one thing, I think it might involve a few too many plastic weapons.

One of the things she talks about in the book is how using natural materials in play spurs kids' imagination and social-emotional development. Store-bought toys, the argument goes, have specific and limited modes of play—a toy car is a car and it's only supposed to drive one direction. To say nothing of a Batman Batcave play set. The problem is all those toys exist, and they exist in the houses of our lovely neighbors (and, yes, in our house too). How can sticks and pinecones ever hope to compete? There's a question of space, too; our woodsy play area is pretty small, here on our suburban lot. Most of the kids are old enough now they should be playing in the town forest less than a quarter mile away, but they aren't allowed to on their own.

I don't know what to do about it. Certainly, I have no worries our boys aren't spending enough time outside, and in nature. But I think they need more time to play in the woods. On my adult schedule, we do hikes—which they love!—but the limited play times available in hiking pauses isn't enough to start to develop complex interpersonal games. Although, now that I think about it... the last time we went to Fawn Lake on a summer camp outing the rocks above the pond turned into a spaceship and a pirate ship and I don't know what else during the half-hour post-lunch play time. We're going there again today, and play time will definitely be on the schedule. Maybe we're doing alright after all.

Harvey's feet, dipped in the spring

how beautiful are the feet...

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our kids are good kids

Every once and a while someone responds with alarm when Lijah walks out through the library doors without me. I try to respond appropriately for the situation so they don't call social services, but honestly? He mostly just likes pushing the button for the automatic door opener. He's not going anywhere—and he has plenty of good sense not jump off the 20-foot-wide expanse of sidewalk into the sparse traffic of the library parking lot, if that's what they're worried about.

Not all parents are so sanguine. A while ago I saw a mom with an elementary-age girl and a four- or five-year-old boy tell the boy, who had drifted maybe 10 feet from her as she and the daughter checked out books, "you're getting too far away!" And this evening a dad checking out at the same time as us had to momentarily abandon the desk to chase down his three-year-old, who was headed out the door.

They're our library friends, so I know that he has to deal with some questionable listening and occasional wandering from his two kids—maybe it was understandable that he wanted to hold them both tightly as they walked down the path to where their car was parked. That my own three kids had left before I finished checking out so they could get started reading their new books in the car probably wasn't the best example we could have set. His girl pointed out the disparity and he answered her, "that's because they're good kids".

I don't know about that, but I did appreciate that when I got to the car they were all in their seats and the two that can buckle themselves were buckled (books are a strong motivator in our family). I have to wonder, though, which came first: the good behavior, or the freedom to make good choices? Are some kids so crazy from their first moments that parents have no alternative but to constantly constrain them? I can easily imagine that being the case.

Our own boys each spent the first four years of their life unable to leave our side, so we didn't have to worry about telling them not to do dangerous things. I think that helped. And I think parents can even overcome their kids' foolhardy toddler-hood to give them independence as preschoolers, at least in the right environment; I'm pretty sure Jo and Eugene did just that with their oldest. But it does call for a certain amount of trust—both in your kids, and in the people around you not to freak out too much. It's probably worth it, though. After all, all kids should be able to be good kids.

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work-beach balance

Our outing on Monday was wonderful and educational and great exercise. And it was productive for the work of our household, because Leah was home using her bigger computer to do hours of work and appreciated not being interrupted. That's why, after exhausting the possibilities of the pond, we finished up the trip with a stop at Whole Foods and the play space. Yesterday the weather was even hotter, so we needed—really needed!—to go to the swimming pond. But Leah was away at the office, and there were things that needed doing at home. So how was I to justify spending three hours at the beach?! (besides, of course, the fact that the beach is really awesome).

the boys at the edge of the pond, Zion jumping

jump right in!

We sure enjoyed it. The water was super cold, but with the air hitting hot-for-summer levels there were lots of people there in swimsuits, even if it was only preschoolers and college kids that showed any real interest in playing in it for long. After about two hours in the sun I finally got hot enough to brave full immersion, and it almost stopped my heart. Sure made the air feel a whole lot nicer afterwards, though!

Lijah smiling with this towel over him

warm and happy

With no ropes and no lifeguards, the boys were free to roam and play to their heart's content, and they did. Harvey and Zion headed off right away; Lijah was a little slower to get started, but after a bit of sand-piling with me he too was off to join the fun.

three boys playing far away along the beach

independent play

So I read a book. It was delightful, but I couldn't help thinking of all the other things I could be doing while my children were playing independently, if I could be somewhere else. One problem of modern parenting is the need to constantly provide our kids with entertainment. When I read the Little House books I don't see Pa trying desperately to interest his girls in one thing or another so that he can have ten minutes together to plow the field!

Still, if I had been off cutting wood or whatever I wouldn't have been there to help when Zion tripped and fell headlong into the deep water. As it was I was right where I needed to be to yell at Harvey to go bring him a towel (delegation is the best parenting).

Zion holding his towel to his face

cuddle towel

I was also there to hear Zion's pride, which he was ready to share as soon as he got the water out of his eyes. "I swam!!" he exclaimed (he can't properly swim yet). "I flapped my hands like this and I flapped my head out of the water! Like a fish! Maybe my totem animal is a fish!"

"Great!" I told him. "You'll have lots more chances to swim this summer." Too bad there's no swimming holes they can walk to by themselves. Oh well, the work will all get done somehow...

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