My son Woody turned six in November of 2011. That would have been the kindergarten year for most kids, 180 days that mark the beginning of the school career. But Woody did his learning in the big, wide, beautiful world, without school being a part of it.

I'm Teresa Honey, and I kept this blog to document this time in my son's life, to share pictures and stories with far-away friends and relatives, and to add ours to the many stories of families living rich, engaging, loving lives with learning happening all the time and in many forms, totally inseparable from every other part of being human.

Here you'll find 180 or so learning moments recorded from August, 2011 to April, 2012 in the life of a 5-turned-6-year-old radically unschooled kid.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

96

I dug my heels in last night. I put my son in an impossible position. I seethed and punished, or rather, refused to help.

I felt it happening like a pick-ax in my side, striking, breaking, raising to fall again, hard, in the place made vulnerable.

It was late and I was tired and I went to bed. Later, maybe half an hour, maybe forty-five minutes, when blessed sleep had just fallen on me and I was drifting in my dreams, Daddy Honey brought a finally-tired Woody and Fox to bed. Woody whined that I was in his spot, Fox shrieked that he wanted to sleep next to me. I grumpily mumbled something ineffective about sleeping places not mattering and get in bed and be still and quiet because we're all tired and need sleep.

The whining escalated to crying. The shrieking continued, with added jostling and kicking to gain favorable position. I opened my eyes and barked more of the same: Bed! Still! Quiet! Need sleep!

No change, which, in situations like this, is bad.

Then, frustrated, past the point where I saw solutions, I opened my eyes wild and dropped the bomb:

"You know what? This is getting too hard. I am not getting the sleep I need like this. Tomorrow, we need to talk about you (Woody) sleeping in your own bed."

I swear I could actually see him falling from the edge of his place of comfort, the red handprint of my push an angry threat at his back.

The crying went from over-tired to deeply sad. I skulked over to the other side of the bed, where it's true I usually sleep, where I could have moved five minutes before. Woody fell asleep next to the wall crying.

Why do I have to learn these lessons over and over again at my children's expense? Me, so sensitive to the lash-out, pull it out of its holster when the smallest discomforts--sleepiness!--tinge my life. At so many points I could have helped, stopped, held back, chosen another time to engage, breathed. I didn't. I stayed angry and stuck that whole time, until sobs turned to snores and it was too late to do any good.

And then, this morning, I wanted to apologize. I moved over next to him and said, "I'd like to talk to you about last night." You know what he said?

"I want to say something to you first. I should have just slept where you said to sleep and not argued about it." (Pause, while I was speechless.) "I don't want my own bed yet."

I don't remember what I said then. Something rambling and trying-to-save-face and not very articulate. I was very sad and disappointed in myself, also moved by his apology and clarity. I did stop and breathe. And I told him I had spoken out of anger, that he didn't have to have his own bed, and that I was sorry. That was enough for him. Could he have a banana-peanut butter smoothie for breakfast, please?

Of course. We will mend the broken places and move on with our lives, blending fruit and giggling over farts and throwing sweetgum balls  in the backyard like bombs and agreeing that the Arcade Fire channel on Pandora pulls up some pretty rockin' tunes.




Friday, December 30, 2011

95

A curious J.D. China-dwelling goldfish that followed Woody's finger up, down, and around the tank's glass wall. Fox thought his eye looked like a piece of candy. Woody and I thought that was beautiful, and gross.

The Free Weekly did a center-page spread on a Chinese restaurant that has been in town for 27 years, so we went by today in the late afternoon. Woody's favorite restaurant in Tallahassee was the Bamboo House in large part for the buffet sushi and the friendly staff. J.D. China here in Fayetteville had both, so I had a feeling things were going to be good.

Please forgive the pink tones; the sun was low and shining brightly through crimson curtains onto our table.

A poster beneath the glass on the table prompted a conversation about tea plantations and labor. Also, how most Chinese restaurants make food from all over Asia, not just China, and also food that was inspired by Asian food but is actually American, such as Woody's beloved California rolls. I had read an article about a Chinese woman who just delivered octuplets, and so we talked very briefly about China's one-child policy.



Woody was So Excited to eat with chopsticks. We laughed a good deal at all the flip-flopped food and dropped attempts. Fox got his on the first try. He is that kid. He has never struggled at tasks that require physical adeptness or dexterity. Woody has never begrudged this ease, and I am so grateful for that.

Woody's first time eating Jello, and an alien.


There was a family of five at the booth behind us, and I heard the little boy, maybe four or five, ask to eat with chop sticks, but the dad said no. I wondered why; too weird? too messy? too silly? too busy to really hear the question? a standard response?

I wished for this little boy that he'd gotten the opportunity to try it out. It was great fun at our table. And I got to share with Woody the story of how Daddy Honey, as an idealistic and Very Serious teenager, went to Japan and came home wanting to eat out of one bowl and with one pair of chopsticks for the rest of his life, which he imagined he'd probably spend alone on some National Park mountain reading Thoreau, sketching, and finding fossils.

I don't know what Woody thought of that story, but I relished getting that kind of information about my parents when I was little. I was fascinated by the lives that led up to the one I shared with them. Actually, this is true of my friends and neighbors, too; it's a wonderful reminder that there is nothing static about who we are or what we do. I found out a week ago that my friend and choir director who is a trained opera singer and recently won the 2011 National Women's Music Festival with her band was once a computer repairwoman. In the same conversation, I found out her partner used to work as a cattle rancher in South Dakota. Life is so gosh-darn INTERESTING, and here we all are with our own wonderful stories of what was, what is, and what we hope can be.

I want our kids, all of our kids, to come to know this. Our paths are full of places that we might pull on our boots and head out to explore or grab our binoculars and zoom in for a closer inspection. We can help our kids to find that freedom in their hearts and minds to do the things that are brave and unusual, worthy, hard, rewarding and fun. We are great collectors of experiences, experiences that help us to crack open the big wide world and sink our heart-cords all the way down to the center, where everything comes from, where we all meet. They will have the most wonderful stories to tell the children in their lives. They will have the most precious and freely given gifts to share.

This is Daddy Honey's desk at work. That's him and baby Woody at St. George Island State Park in 2006, and the insert is year-old Fox in pink at his first birthday party. And that is the One Bowl.



Thursday, December 29, 2011

94


At our play date today, Joy invited Woody and Fox out to feed her chickens and collect the eggs.


Woody was very interested, and happily followed her from coop to coop, doing the tasks she offered, looking at all there was to see, and helping Fox to understand what was happening. 



I think chicken-keeping suits his energy. He likes to be calm and deliberate and thoughtful. He told his dad when we came home that none of the chickens chased him because he "moved slowly." He didn't want to pet Jewel, Joy's big gorgeous hunk of a Copper Maran, but he did very much like watching them and doing the chicken chores. Back home, he wanted to get straight to the job of cleaning out the back corner of our old detached garage where I mentioned we might keep a few hens as early as this summer. Joy passed along the link to her blog for further research and fun pictures, so tonight Woody and I may sit together and look and make plans.


Joy is showing the boys the spikes on the back of the rooster's feet and the thick, strong claws. She showed them, too, how the roosters--her roosters, anyway!--don't eat much feed for themselves at first but rather call the hens over to where the feed is so that they may get their fill.





Wednesday, December 28, 2011

93

On days that it seems nearly impossible to relax into the moment, to find that flow, to be present (those words everyone says are the key to long life and good relationships), we can still make small moments of joy and wonder. Two hours. Twenty minutes. Even if we feel stressed, even if it seems hard, even if the mood seem tenuous, about to crack, it can be something. These moments, which for us are usually a trip to the park or a walk around the neighborhood or a short hike (today's), are like small escapes into the present, leaving for a short while the anxieties about the past and worries about the future.

And these trips are not panaceas. Rarely do we emerged fully renewed and restored. Our faith in ourselves and in humanity is often still frail when we return. But when night falls, and we have brushed teeth and put on pajamas, when we are laying in bed next to our little ones, we have the sense that the day was not a total loss. We salvaged something together. Our memories made together are real: hand holding, side-stepping puddles, climbing rocks, and watching sunlit grasshoppers walk clumsily, slowly, in the cold.






Tuesday, December 27, 2011

92

I slept in today, having been up most of the night with holiday food-induced indigestion, so the bulk of the morning proceeded without me. When I got up and around, the boys were playing Snap Cubes and giant Legos and K'Nex, and Daddy Honey was finishing up cleaning the kitchen.

Some laundry and some free play and some bathroom cleaning later, Fox asked to watch the Secret of Kells again (which is on Netflix instant watching). We did, and the boys watched some and built viking swords some, and then, Woody asked Daddy Honey to "draw Secret of Kells" with him. Daddy Honey got out the art supplies and pulled up one of the pages of the real-life, 1,000-year-old, illuminated text, the Book of Kells, on his IPad. Woody copied a page with the letter P using a green oil pastel.


Then, Daddy Honey printed out pages of other Celtic-inspired graphics he thought Woody would like. Woody traced these, and did more free-hand drawings.




My friend Jennifer, once-fellow teacher and sister in lapsed (or maybe transfigured?) Catholicism, told me something about learning handwriting as a child. One of the nuns who was her teacher captured Jennifer's imagination by describing each of the letters as having its own personality, a unique beauty and lovely form that we could capture and imitate to infuse our own writing with grace. This made a great impression on Jennifer, and while her handwriting today is quirky and flowy and full of fantastic loops and half-connected lines--not the Catholic-school "perfect" script that many of us adopted--I loved that she held on to the idea that letters themselves were powerful marks to admire. Writing for her, she said, became an almost sacred act, not one that imparted high-stakes, pass/fail, be-saved-or-condemned anxiety, but rather, a quiet, important, meditative act of beauty.

How powerful. How personal. How undeniably fantastic a realization: writing is art is sacred is connection is writing.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

91

It's Christmas, early afternoon as I write this, and we have been playing all morning with toys and games. This is the first year we are not spending Christmas with Nana, my sisters, and the cousins in Central Florida. We are holding the high energy of the day ourselves, Daddy Honey and I. It's a different sort of holiday, steadier and more focused, less rambunctious and diffused.

I forgot to get the recipe for my mom's delicious breakfast casserole, so we made do with eggs, bacon, and biscuits. Biscuits are the second best thing I bake. The third is cornbread, and the first is chocolate chip cookies, two dozen of which are cooling on the rack as the boys discuss the aunt-gifted Playmobil vikings placement in their fort. And I am casually picking up pieces and covers and socks and stuffed animals around the house, trying not to disturb the pleasant flow of play and conversation with my tidying.





Nana bought the boys a set of soft horseshoes for Solstice, but we hadn't gotten a chance to play yet since it was so soggy. But yesterday morning, Woody ran in to wake Daddy Honey first thing, and before breakfast (but with a first cup of coffee), they got in few innings. While Daddy Honey got his shoes on, Woody and I looked up how to keep score, and we learned the history of the expression "Close on counts in horseshoes and hand grenades."


And finally, we had a few breakfast guests who happily pecked at the pinecone bird feeders we made with new friends on Friday as well as the sourdough loaf I forgot about and left rising and then drying out into brickness in the oven overnight.





Saturday, December 24, 2011

90

We are at the half-way mark of the blog! Hooray! And this means we are more or less right on schedule to finish at the end of the typical school year, with a cushion to take a few days off from posting during the week now and again since we won't be taking a holiday break now or a spring break in April.

And befitting of our halfway post, I'd like to share an unschooling product that resulted in something that looks a lot like a schooling product, and that is writing.  So I want to tell you as best as I can how Woody learned to write.

Since he's been little, Woody has seen us writing, he's seen other kids writing, and he's come across texts, both produced by hand and by printer. He knows that writing is a significant way that people communicate. He learned to identify letters by seeing them all around him, then he learned to copy them, then he kind of played around practicing them. Like most kids, he sometimes got the N's backwards, and he sometimes put too many downward strokes in a W, and S's were often backwards. I made mental notes of the problems, but didn't point them out every time, only when he asked about them. And sometimes, I made up little rhymes about how to form the letters so we could play with it together as he figured it out.

He asked for help when he had trouble. He sometimes asked us to write the letter out for him first so he could watch us make it. And then, one day, it was clear that he know how to form all the letters.

I am a writer, and I take great joy in writing. I write a lot, but I never sat down to teach Woody how to write. We wrote together when it came up: to keep score for games, to make thank-you notes, to label or show dialog in drawings, to pass secret messages to each other, and to send letters and postcards. It was always optional, and sometimes he said no when I offered a writing opportunity, but often he said yes.

When he was three and four, and other kids his age in preschool were writing letters and sometimes words easily and frequently and for a variety of purposes, I had little pangs of doubt, though not enough to abandon what I was doing. But at five, he hung out quite a big with his cousin, a year older, who wrote words and sometimes sentences. I think seeing what another kid could do spurned him on some, the same way I wanted to learn how to cross the monkey bars at age six when I'd seen other kids doing it on the playground. I think that's just the nature of being a social creature; we usually want to be doing what the people around us and like us are doing.

Writing was a regular and fun part of his life that was in no way forced and that he saw other people--including other kids--getting great enjoyment from. He had support when he needed and wanted it. He had ample opportunity to practice and fine-tune and take breaks and try again. Woody's learning to write followed the model that fairly guarantees success; it seemed as if it were inevitable, under these circumstances, that he would learn how to do it.. It is exactly how you or I would choose to learn a new skill now, as adults.




Here's the grocery list he made today. It's the longest and most cohesive piece of writing he's done in one sitting. He first began too close to the edge of the picture (see the "Vi" on the right?), so we talked about how to leave yourself enough room. He asked how to spell the words, and I showed him how to use periods for initials (T.P. for toilet paper) and how to use commas to separate items in a list. By the end, he was doing a little happy dance between words, clearly relishing his accomplishment. He offered me a high-five when he was done, and ran off to play.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

89

Daddy Honey worked with an absolutely wonderful woman named Katrina at his job in Florida. Coincidentally, she started her career at the same small progressive school that I started my career at, only several years before I was there. She really gets into learning, too, and was always up on the favorite toys and games and books, and was, in fact, the person to first bring the big Duplo Legos into the house. (You may have noticed in past pictures that they are everywhere, that the boys love them, and that they are integrated into nearly every play scenario!)

The Christmas card we got from her today contained gel window-sticks in the shape of a Christmas tree. The boys loved it, and were so happy to have some of their own after having seen them at their cousin's house. Woody recreated the tree exactly on our front window, and then did some freeform play on the plate. This one was "A Gem Robot Catching a Star," and it was commissioned by Fox.




88

This was a moment of three connections: playing, then reading, then singing; Nana, then our former neighbor in Tallahassee, Bea, then Daddy Honey. And it ended with a look at a map and a plan to someday soon visit Sequoia National Park.

Here's how it went:



Fox started playing with this cutey-pie Folkmanis puppet house that my mom got for the boys last Christmas. We all got in on it, taking a puppet or two each to animate with silly actions and incongruent voices. But then Fox started getting a little particular and possessive about the puppets, so Woody and I split off to read this book  that our former neighbor, Bea, had given to Woody back when he was about to turn four. It's a book about interdependence and shelter, and it's beautiful. And then, Woody remembered a Muppet Show clip that Daddy Honey had showed him back in the summer. It's a woodland scene with three bumbling hunters set to Buffalo Springfield's "For What it's Worth." Woody started singing the song. Then we were all singing that song, and I looked it up on the computer. While we were there, we looked up redwood trees, and where they lived, and planned to visit so we could see trees like this up close.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

87

My friend Joy just shared this article about a first-grade teacher who addressed gender variance gently and respectfully throughout the school year. I read it laying in bed with Woody cuddled beside me, asking me to read him strings of words and paragraphs, interpreting the pictures.

My sister, Woody's aunt, experienced gender variance from toddlerhood through age nine or so. I remember her saying at age two that she didn't want the doll my mom had bought her for her birthday. She accepted only blue bottles. She played with He-Man and Transformers and Legos and skateboarded and wore red and black and blue. She had short hair, though my mom wouldn't let her get a buzz. She wanted to change her name to Spike in kindergarten, and Rick in second grade. Her favorite TV shows were The Dukes of Hazard and Simon and Simon. My mom took her to a monster truck rally when she was seven, and it might have been the favorite thing that happened to her that whole year.

My mom accepted her  how she was. I remember once, my mom tried to explain to me that she herself had wanted to play with her brother's toy trains when she was younger, and how her own mother, my grandmother, did not let her. My mom said this had made her sad, and it didn't make any sense, so she thought my sister ought to be able to play with whatever she wanted to. She also told me that my sister would probably grow out of it.

But I rejected my sister's gender variance behavior, and my mother's explanation didn't seem to get at the heart of the problem. I was angry at my sister for flouting the dominant social customs. I was a big-boned, lazy-eyed, coke-bottle bespectacled, mulleted, awkward preteen with few friends; my place in elementary school society was too low and my own self-esteem too fragile to risk going out on the limb where my sister sat, alone. At home, worried and anxious about how her deviance reflected on me, I shouted down her choice of dress and warned her what others would think, reminding her of the gender expectations she was born into.

But then, in kinder, gentler moments, when it was just us, two sisters playing in the playroom, I was grateful that she'd play Hordak, the Evil Horde emperor, to my She-Ra, Princess of Power. I think my mom bought me the villainous Purple Pieman of Porcupine Peak just so my sister and I could play Strawberry Shortcake together. Still, I was neither brave nor skilled enough to stick up for her when others made fun or questioned her behavior. I shrugged and said nothing, or mumbled some half-defense about her knowing that she was a girl, despite all the evidence that pointed to the contrary.

My mom switched her to Catholic school in 5th grade. She joined the track and soccer teams and excelled at both. She made friends. Things relaxed.

She and I have only once or twice talked about it as adults. We are pretty well versed in self-help, and long ago identified the cycle of psychological mistreatment that trickled down through our family, landing on her, the youngest child. And of course we have compassionate adult perspectives now on the plentiful cruel children at school and in our neighborhood whose unmitigated looks, comments, and rough treatment left their marks.

Still, I have basketfuls of memories that make me want to cry at how my sister suffered, especially when the suffering was caused or worsened by me.

I told Woody about this, all of this. It's timely for us. A few months ago, he began pushing back against my rejection of gender expectations. He told me "I know you don't think purple is a girl's color, but some people do, and I do." It was one of those moments when I had a split second to decide whether to come down hard or soft. I went with soft. I shrugged and told him I knew lots of boys who liked purple, and reminded him of his father's extensive collection of purple clothing, happily trotted out on Saturdays in the fall when LSU was playing football.

When I finished telling Woody my story about his aunt, he didn't say anything, though it was clear he had been listening closely. And then, Fox needed some immediate assistance with snot clean-up in the other room, so I had to get up.

Like the  teacher in this article, I think it makes the most sense for this subject and others to be brought up regularly and gently in small, personal ways rather than forced into our kids' consciousness through big, didactic, preachy, or shame-filled lessons. Will it be enough? Time will tell. Meanwhile, I offer Woody soundbyte responses to surprising unkindnesses from other children. Sometimes, having the words ready helps. And we seek out and spend time with people who treat each other and us well, people who accept one another's mistakes and learning curves, but who hold the line against unkindnesses and offer plentiful alternatives.

This, to me, is the best defense against ignorance and cruelty. I think we can help each other to be more confident in our compassion. We can teach each other and learn together how love and hurt work in the human mind and heart. We can celebrate the moments that we act in accordance with our highest values. And we can forgive ourselves in the moment and in the past when we don't. We are all worthy of that.




Tuesday, December 20, 2011

86

Woody made this movie by himself. He wanted to try doing 3-D effects using the spaceship he built out of Magformers this morning. He was disappointed to learn that what he really wanted to do--take three different videos and then combine them--we did not have the editing software for. But, this is what he had envisioned as the first of those three videos.


85

Both boys are sick with colds and low fevers. They and I slept fitfully last night with much waking to wipe noses and to cry about not being able to breathe. This being Woody's third day with it, he's on the upswing, but Fox is in the thick of it, quite literally, as in thickly clogging his little sinuses and causing great distress.

So, today began with us watching an old Jim Henson TV special, "The Christmas Toy," which, interestingly enough, has a very similar storyline to Toy Story with toys coming alive after the children leave the room and feeling great angst about being replaced. There is even one toy, a superhero named Meteora, who believes herself to be the real Meteora and not just a toy. (The dilemma is resolved differently than Buzz Lightyear's, though.) This prompted a talk about copying versus using something as inspiration, about building on previous stories and the meaning of originality.


I am so thankful for our Netflix. It has significantly enriched our learning environment, Woody's reading, and his computer skills.

Monday, December 19, 2011

84

Woody and Daddy Honey played Scrabble two nights ago. Since Woody is getting to where he can make real words, he wanted to keep real score. So, Daddy Honey showed him how to do it, adding up the values of the letters comprising the words, then running a tab. He showed me yesterday how it was done.



I looked at the way he lined up the numbers, listened to how he added out loud ("Six more than seven, let's see, six more than seven is 13,") and thought about how much time is spent on these concepts in school. Days of math class. Weeks, maybe. I remember that being so frustrating as a teacher. Some kids would get a hold of a concept in ten minutes. Sure, you could offer them activities and worksheets and puzzles and problems to reinforce the ideas, but that mostly bought you time to catch the other kids up, the kids who needed it explained in a different way, or shown with different tools, or who just needed a little more time to sit with the ideas, turning them over in their brains.

A veteran teacher friend described teaching as running a race while carrying all the kids. In order for everybody to finish, you had to get some kids running on their own. But others, you knew you'd be carrying most of the year. Still, all had to cross the finish line, so a teacher tried his or her best to keep the track interesting enough that the running kids stayed on the path while the other kids got scooped up from time to time to keep everybody together.

So much time in school is spent this way, managing different learning styles, and different paces of learning, and different personalities, and different circumstances. It's why some kids get bored and others get frustrated. Kids' brains are crazy fast. They want to be learning. They don't want to be waiting, or spending hours plugging away at concepts they're not quite ready for, or performing exercises that just aren't helping them to reach the goal. They want to 1) do what they like and are interested in, and sometimes what the people they look up to like and are interested in; 2) they want a good, honest challenge, something that pushes them to the edge of what they can do but that doesn't overwhelm them (and then they like to master that challenge); 3) and they want to be doing something useful and good and fun that helps them accomplish a goal or that brings them praise from their tribe, that is seen as a significant contribution.

That's not exactly true. It's not just kids that want that. It's all of us.

(The link above is to Daniel Pink's TED talk on what motivates people. It's fascinating, and after watching it, you'll never want to offer money for grades again.)

another link

Here's another link that I got from an online friend (Sarah's) real-life friend (Justine), who I "met" through Facebook when she realized that we both unschooled. I've been on the Internet since 1994 and this still blows my mind, how, across hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of miles, people can connect, share resources and insights, and broaden each other's worlds. I know the Internet is a thing, but as a verb, it describes a pretty cool way to learn, too. We cast our nets out to each other and to other ideas, moving information and understanding back and forth across sinuous ropes. I envision a fisherman's net, maybe one that the Lord of the Rings elves would weave, sparkling and magically strong, and feather-light so that it almost sails out to the furthest reaches of the possible. What one pulls in from such a cast can be the most interesting, odd, thought-provoking, and soul-satisfying stuff  to examine, add to the collection, learn from and then toss back out.

This is a good image to start a day with, you and your children standing on the soft sand at the edge of a silver-blue ocean at sunrise, casting out your nets with a few sweet words whispered to the wind to carry it somewhere spectacular, then feeling the muscles in your arms and legs warm as you pull in people and ideas that glint and twirl in your head, reminding you how rich and wonderful life is, how glad we are to have found each other and the wisdom that is ours to share.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

83

The enthusiasm for the Advent calender has waned somewhat. We are all burning out on crafts and baking, and twice I've spoiled the following day's activity by accidentally telling the boys about it the night before. But, we are working with it. Yesterday's Advent calender activity was to build a Nacimiento scene together. I got the idea from the book Circle Round (p. 97). We talked a little bit about Christmas being a holiday that celebrates birth, and how births are beautiful events whose joy and responsibility all of us share, how new babies are gifts to their families and communities but also opportunities to extend hope and love.



We looked among the toys for suitable mothers and babies, and came up empty. But I had found this doll at the thrift store when I was pregnant with Fox and I had her in the box of special things I have from their babyhood: snips of their newborn hair, their first pairs of shoes, tiny hats I knit them, cards people sent us on the occasions of their births, etc. So, we had mother and child. We are still hunting for the partner. All of the other action figures and dolls we have are either very small or very large in comparison, so it may take a few days to get the family set. Or, it may stay mother and child. The boys didn't really seem too attached to one idea or the other, though they had fun making tiny Batman and Army men pretend to be scared of giant mother and child.

I wanted to make the shelter and star and cradle, but they had more or less moved on, so that was my project. I'm OK with that. They gave me run-by pointers on how the shelter might be designed, and Woody added the greenery at the end.

Friday, December 16, 2011

82

You probably need to know two tangential things about this picture:

1. Fox has adopted a hanging skeleton from our holiday decorations box as his dear friend, Skelly. (I assume Woody or Daddy Honey helped with the name, but I'm not sure.) Skelly has been eating with us, riding in the car with us, and has been featured in most Fox-commissioned drawings in the last two days (see Daddy Honey-drawn and Fox-colored picture in the middle of the table).

2. I wasn't joking about yesterday's lack of housework.


On to the learning moment. So, the two "Lego" (really Cobi) kits they are working on so earnestly were purchased this morning at the hobby store with a $20 that Woody's Grandmama sent for his birthday. He first picked up a kit that cost $24.99, but I showed him that it cost more than he had. Then, as he shopped, I wandered down the aisle to look at the science experiments (marveling that they still sold the exact same gyroscopes I remembered owning as a kid in the mid-'80s). A few minutes later, he came up to me with this little armored car bricks kit, eyes lit up, smiling, and said to me, "Since this is only $9.99, we can get one for Foxy, too!" 

I was stunned. Really and truly. This would not have occurred to me as a 6 year old. My money ='ed my present. I might have let my sister hold my toy, on the second day, after I was beginning to tire of it.

So, we walked back over to the kits, and Woody showed Fox which ones cost $9.99 or less. Fox picked up the same one as Woody, and we walked up to the register to pay. I explained to Woody about tax (high in our county at 9.25%), and how I'd kick in the couple of extra bucks to cover it. He was delighted with his purchase, and told the cashier we didn't need a bag, that he and his brother would like to carry their kits out in their hands. 

There were ups and downs in the play once we got the cars and guys full assembled, with Woody growling at Fox at one point that he wasn't "playing realistic enough!" But soon thereafter, they found common ground again in figuring out how to artfully illustrate terrible military deaths (decapitations, being shot out of their cars, etc.) I'm happy that Woody made the play possible, that he shared not out of coercion or in deference to a rule, but from his heart. For some kids, sharing this way comes naturally, but Woody struggled with it. I'm glad that he found a peace with it, and I'm glad for all those times I accepted the frustrated looks of other parents when I didn't "make" him share with other kids, but rather let him choose whether or not he wanted to.




a link...

Don't worry. I'm not cheating. I'm not counting this as one of Woody's posts. But maybe it could be a post for me, Teresa's number something or another, because the clarity of something I read this morning about unschooling shifted things around in my brain so that they lined up quite nicely. (And was a good follow-up to yesterday's fuzzy brain.)

What I read came from a blog written by an unschooled teenager, and it's called I'm Unschooled. Yes, I Can Write. Boy, howdy, she sure can. This entry is called "Unschooling: Are We Teaching Ourselves?"

Thursday, December 15, 2011

81

I spent a good portion of today in a state of mild distraction. I was here, stirring the oatmeal and putting on the small socks and shoes and helping to fix broken ax blades, but it was mostly on autopilot, with the boys having to ask for things twice or sometimes three times before I finally heard them. I was daydreaming, writing poems in my head.

This can be terrifying for a homeschooling parent. You look up at the clock at some point and realize that hours have passed somehow, and you can't exactly say what's been going on. Of course the shrieks and the lap-climbing requests for cuddles and the yells of "MAMA!" from the other room get immediate and full attention, but that's just biology. I have yet to meet a mother who has ever even half turned her brain away from her children when she is in the presence of her children. But when I wasn't immediately needed, well, time got a little soft around the edges, and this can come with a big ole sack of guilt.

There's a lot at stake parenting little people with big needs they can't yet meet fully on their own. The homeschooling parent is the full-time need-meeter, the feeling-namer, the boo-boo kisser, the fellow explorer, the question answerer, the sharer of jokes, the brusher of teeth, the fixer of lunch, the sock finder, the book reader, the movie pauser, the computer rebooter, the high-shelf reacher, the smile and breather, the broken-plate sweeper, the scissors-helper, and the defeated zombie ninja, to name a few roles. Falling down on some of those jobs has big consequences, but all of them are important.

Still, sometimes it's just hard to get one's shit together. The zombie ninja breaks character and starts doing the breakfast dishes, then gets distracted and misses the 2-year-old walking into the bathroom with the Sharpie marker, and before making chase puts the clean bowls away in the refrigerator instead of the cabinet.

On Facebook, my working friends post about it by saying how many more cups of coffee they will need before they are competent to answer the phone, or what project is languishing on their desks while they catch up on NPR's Little Desk Concerts online. But at home, you feel very keenly that you are the only one making this happen or not, and these are your kids, souls you invited to Earth to love and care for and help and guide and share with, so it's just really bad manners to mentally play hooky one day.

This is unexpected to me, and maybe it looks like I am trying to cover up some undiagnosed mental illness or at the very least shoddy parenting, but with all of my not paying close attention today, they were fine. I'd even say they had a good day. How could I tell? Because they were content. They were happy. I was free to sit on the couch, distracted, because I heard giggles from the bunk beds. I could drift in and out of dialog because Woody was doing a heck of a lot of explaining to himself, figuring things out as he went along, and I was mostly the smiling sounding board. I could debate in my mind because the boys spent ten minutes pretending they were lost in the jungle in the greenery section of the hobby store. I could write my poem because they were looking out of the car windows lost in their own thoughts. And really, it just made good sense for me to not put my broken brain on housework today anyway, in the interest of not catching things on fire.

So as today wraps up, I can't bring myself to pick up the sack of guilt. We didn't look like a Montessori classroom today. We weren't ablaze with single-minded motivation. We didn't explode with new ideas or innovations. But, we did have a lot of peace. We had a flow. We had time to call our own, for whatever bubbled up to get a voice. I wrote a poem about being a part of November and they were here with me, OK with the world and their place in it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

80

Once I had a conversation with another parent whose children are in school, and she was encouraged by the fact that we thought Woody would probably eventually take classes, since that is a very common way for people to learn things. Karate and SCUBA diving and rock climbing come to mind as things that people usually, though not always, learn in group settings. Pure science and higher-level math often happens in classrooms, too. This other mother thought it was important to be able to understand the classroom dynamic, what's expected in a student-teacher relationship, how to get along with a lot of other kids, etc.

Woody's six now, which means he's old enough to go to the homeschool P.E. day at the community center. We'd never tried it before, and I didn't know quite what to expect, so I wore my sports bra and barefoot running shoes so I could play with him. Happily, it was "parent participation day," so there were six of us taller folks playing along.

It was straight-up P.E., taught by an ex-college b-ball coach, with warm-up stretches and drills, relay runs, and dodge ball! It had been a long time since I rolled a hoop around my hips or shimmied through a fabric tunnel on the ground. And the somersaults! My gods! I lost my hair stick and I got so dizzy I had to recover for a moment before standing up! (When did that happen!?!) But I bounced back and forth between doing the activities with Woody and hanging with Fox, who was entertained climbing up and down and behind the bleachers on the sidelines.







I don't think classroom or team dynamics are that hard to pick up on. I think our social natures more or less kick in, and while all of us have circumstances under which we're more or less comfortable, it's not one of the trickier interactions. Woody understood and accepted the coach's authority. When he wanted to get a drink once and come over to talk to me about the rules of a game once, he did, without fear that he was violating some code of conduct. And the other stuff--shaking off disappointments during the games, dealing with the intense cheering and urging from the sidelines from his fellow teammates during relays, sharing balls during dodgeball, laughing with the other kids when he got beaned in the head--these things happened.

So I guess if we had a checklist of schooly-type things that we were aiming to expose Woody to, then today's checked boxes would be "class behavior" and "group dynamics." It would also be "fun" and "silly" and "active" and "new." I figured if we could all get through a game of dodge ball smiling and joking, then it was a pretty great first "class" experience.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

79

My mom likes to get Daddy Honey and I books for Christmas, and because she is a practical kind of gal she asks for lists ahead of time so she can get books we'll like. The Christmas that Woody was two, I asked for and got a few Waldorf books, as in, how to do Waldorf with your kid. I read them. The part where wool underwear was suggested as a health measure gave me great pause. I lived in Florida. 

A mama friend of mine, Candice, recently said something that I thought was so spot-on, that lots of us are attracted to Waldorf ideas because we wish that we could look back on our childhoods and see more peace, and gentleness, and beauty. And for a moment, I thought, yes! That's what I liked about Waldorf! That's what I wanted to get from the peachy-pink milk-painted walls and stories of acorn-capped friends and hours spent strolling among wildflowers making fairy houses and drinking chamomile tea sweetened with honey. Peace, gentleness, beauty.

But then I remembered something. My mom had the Hearth Song catalog back in the '80s. We did have little gnomes and pretty wooden instruments and sweet naturey books and tons of arts and crafts supplies around. I don't think my mom knew or cared a thing about Waldorf (we went to Catholic schools as kids), and it didn't matter. She picked and chose what she thought would be interesting and fun for us to learn about or do or play with.

Having had a lot of that already in my childhood, I don't think I was looking back longing for it. I think I was looking in longing for it. Gosh, who isn't? Who doesn't want inner peace, to be gentle in thought and deed, to see one's self and the world as beautiful? I think our kids want that, too, and not in retrospect, but right now.

And for Woody, inner peace sometimes comes cuddled next to his mom on the couch with a quilt watching Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas. Gentleness is giving his brother the toy he picked out of the treasure box at the dentist office because Fox lost his in the thrift store. Beautiful is running fast across the field at the park and the way his toes feel in a mud puddle.

And then, then in the thick soup that is life experience, moments such as these can arise spontaneously, equal to and enriched by all the others:



(Woody, sitting at the computer playing an aim-and-throw game, calls me into the room where the back door is open to let the dogs go in and out.) "Mom, do you hear the birds singing outside? Isn't it delightful?"



Monday, December 12, 2011

78

I have put off taking the boys to the dentist for a long, long time. There are reasons for that, some logical and healthy, some cowardly and wifty. But, today we went. We had an appointment for Fox today for a "Happy Visit," which (and this may be common knowledge to those of you who are regular and faithful about dentistry, but it was news to me) is just a quick hello with the dentist and the hygienist plus a picture of and quick peek at teeth and then a sticker from a big fake treasure chest and off we go, happy.

Our dentist is a man of the Bible. We found him through our food co-op; he's a Weston Price fan, too. He had a Bible quote on his office wall done in letters from butterfly wings. Woody had fun comparing the various 2's and E's. We talked about negative and positive space and what a proverb was.



They were very kind and sweet and gentle once we got back to the room, and Fox wanted nothing to do with them. He had no problem telling the hygienist what he wanted ("I want you to go away.") or telling me what he thought of the dentist ("I hate him.") or letting me know his plans ("We're going in the car."). So, I will have to think harder on that one, since he's the one with brown spots on his teeth and significant decay. We were referred to a pediatric dentist.

But during all this, Woody stood by, watching and listening, glad, I think, that the focus was not on him. When the hygienist wanted to take a picture of Fox's smile, and Fox buried his head deep into my jacket, Woody agreed to get the picture taken first to show Fox it was quick and fine. I don't think he would have been OK with that being his visit, but he was fine with being the older brother at Fox's visit. Sometimes it's easier to go out on a limb for someone you love than it is for your own self.








Sunday, December 11, 2011

77

Today started with last night's fever still warm on Woody's cheeks, but ended with the red soccer ball kicked to every edge of the baseball field, gingerbread cookies in sweet regalia, and a battle between two make-believe K'Nex-made armies, the Ravitanians and the Okwoks. The hours unfolded slowly, and most of what I'm telling you about happened after 4 o'clock. It's like that sometimes, a day that rises from a hum to a pretty pitch, and then stays there, plays there, up and around that note until bedtime, then Lemony Snicket and licorice toothpaste and everybody smiles and bobs their heads when Johnny Cash comes on. Clean sheets and warm covers and that's it, falling asleep to the rhythm of a day gone well, loved happily and in good company, when you are so pleased that things turned out just exactly this way, even though you couldn't have planned it, even though you thought all those years ago that the life you wanted would look different.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

76

This post was written by Daddy Honey after he took the boys and their cousin, Aila, on a little trip up the hill...


When Woody's cousin, Aila, was in town, Teresa and her mom went out for a while on Sunday morning. So the three kids and I took a hike up Rock Street to the top of a hill near our house (historically known as East Mountain). The boys have been to the Confederate Cemetery there a few times before, but I hoped Aila would also enjoy the historic site. We had a great time...especially after we all made it up the mountain despite some disbelief that it was possible. Woody and Fox got to show Aila the marble cannons on the memorial in the middle of cemetery and the hole in the western wall where Woody likes to pretend the cannons have fired. I got to show her the Arkansas champion sugar maple that was planted soon after the cemetery was established in 1872. 

Across a gravel road from the Confederate Cemetery is the family cemetery of a prominent Fayetteville family, the Walkers. The southwest corner of the Walker Cemetery contains the graves of Judge David Walker and many of his immediate descendants. That section is plenty creepy and cool for a visit--so much so in fact that Fox gets a little scared in between excited discussions of zombies and skeletons and the soldiers buried there--while being regularly maintained along with the Confederate Cemetery. A few of the Walker men served in the Confederate Army, and the Judge was President of Arkansas's secession convention. There are crumbling sarcophagi, including one for a baby, and the wrought iron fence is bent in parts so the effect is pretty good. 




But what makes the family cemetery really fascinating--for me at least--is that there is another three quarters of the Walker Cemetery that is not maintained at all. The rest of the cemetery has been overgrown by decades of trees. I cannot tell for sure whether some of the toppled headstones and obelisks scattered in the grove are discards, but there are several identifiable burial plots. Many of the graves are unmarked, while others have only broken stones remaining or crudely carved pieces of the local sandstone now wedged between roots with nothing engraved at all. 




As we poked around along the small paths and around the undergrowth past where the fences that are still standing, I noticed a headstone with only a first name: Sally. A few feet away was an even smaller one with no markings at all. I asked Woody and Aila , why did they think the grave would only have only one name? They weren’t sure what to say, so I suggested that she might have been a slave. Like most prominent southern gentlemen, Walker owned slaves. I mentioned that to the kids and said that it is likely, as is a true of family graveyards throughout the South, that somewhere nearby or within the graveyard there would be graves of slaves and former slaves associated with Walker and his descendants. Not one to beat around the bush, Aila stopped me before I got too far off on a lecturing tangent and asked, “what is a slave?” 

I told her how African Americans were once owned by others and didn’t have a lot of the freedoms that all Americans enjoy today. I know, it’s a big topic, but we were able to talk about issues like choosing what kind of work to do and being able to get an education and whether to get married and have a family. We revisited a couple of things we talked about in the Confederate Cemetery, about the Civil War and the soldiers from Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, and Louisiana who are buried there, and how the Confederacy, which defended slavery, lost. I told them how part of being a slave was not being able to really have anything that was all your own, including your own identity. Slaves were often known only by their first names and that not having last names was part of not having any control over what happened to themselves or their families. 

To be honest, I cannot say for certain whether Sally was a slave or not. (The history of the evolution of the cemetery is an ongoing pet project for me now.) Was she owned by the early Fayetteville leader? Did she live to see freedom and to still be denied a last name, a last indignity, even in death? In family plots, children are often remembered with only their first names, and in many private cemeteries, families didn’t engrave any stones. So she could have been one of the Walkers. But being in that space where nearly two centuries of Fayetteville history is observable, and where the changes of a Southern town can be looked at in detail or encapsulated succinctly, provided a chance to talk about a complex issue while we were exploring and playing together. The dimensions of historical time (how long ago is 150 years anyway?) can be hard to grasp for anyone. One of the things I love about cemeteries is that the change over time a place has experienced is so clearly illustrated. There are the dates and names and personal descriptions of course. But there is also the decay and the landscape, the monuments and artistic preferences, and in memorial cemeteries, the direct association with local  and national history. 

Public monuments can make for tricky history. (Like discussing cause and effect and the Civil War through memorials erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy dedicated to the “just cause,” or in the case of Fayetteville, a cemetery established by an even earlier group, the Southern Memorial Association). Still, cemeteries are so wonderful in how they lay it all out, plain and visible and with equality (in the end) for all. Aila, Woody, Fox and I got to see the cool and the creepy stuff, and we got to explore history while having fun, all just a half a mile or so from the house.



Friday, December 9, 2011

75

The post office, with its busy back-and-forth, many sized and priced packaging materials, bins and slips and slots and scales and security, is a fascinating place. And the idea that for as little as 23 cents you can put something wonderful in someone else's hands is pretty amazing. (We have been enjoying a postcard exchange with our friends Hope and Mike who live near D.C. and who go to neat places.)

Woody had many questions as we went to mail Nana's package today, and we lingered a while at the P.O. boxes to play a little number-hunt game.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

74

Woody started wrestling with the Santa thing earlier this year. He really wanted to pin me down on it, what I thought happened, what I thought he thought, what he was supposed to think, what most kids thought, etc. And I could tell it was unsatisfactory for him when I kept trying to turn this questions back at him for him to come to his own conclusions. Apparently, though, he has. This is what he said to me today:

"You know, I'm glad I know the truth about Santa Claus. That way, I don't have to worry so much about 'is Santa real, or is he just a big red misunderstanding?'"

But he still wants me to sign presents "Santa." This makes me smile.

73

We took Brodie, our Doberman, to the vet today. Brodie has a slipped disk in his neck. He was in a lot of pain, but he is growing happier by the minute with the muscle relaxers and pain medicine that he's on.

But while we were there, the vet techs gave the boys two comic books on dog parasites (published by Frontline). Woody found them very interesting, but also revolting, which is to say we read them both several times.  To tell the truth, we all learned something from them. Downright educational flexitarians, us.



And at home, he found some old blank cards of mine and decided to write his cousin a note. Here's what it says:

Dear Aila,

Are you still reading the Lemony Snicket book?

Love,

Woody

(We started reading the first book in the Series of Unfortunate Events series together while she was in town. My mom downloaded it onto her Kindle so they could keep reading at home as we kept reading the paper copy.)




Wednesday, December 7, 2011

72

Oh, how I am embracing the flops.

For post 72, I will tell you about the cinnamon dough ornaments and tissue-paper window stars that we made on our last day with Nana and Aila.


Cinnamon dough smells amazing while you're making it, and even more so while it's baking. And when you make ornaments out of it, your box of holiday decorations smells of cinnamon all year and when you open it up again the next year. I was really, really looking forward to this activity. 

Aila loved it and carefully chose holiday-themed shapes: trees, hearts, diamonds, stars. Fox grabbed what caught his eye: a tooth, a pair of pliers, a rocket, a wrench. Woody pressed a ghost in the dough and then went to do what he had been really wanting to do all morning: try to camouflage himself in the backyard.


He did pretty good, I thought. I can't quite figure out why closing his eyes mattered for the effect, but he was pleased with it. While the ornaments were baking, I went outside with him to play soldier. He held my hand.


Back inside, I showed the kids how to make the window stars. 


I got the idea from the Waldorf blogs I've been reading. The idea is to bring bright, colorful, geometric beauty into your home. Woody wanted a black and white star, and he wanted me to make it for him.

Fair enough.



So my mom and I made the stars while Aila and Woody played with the leftover cinnamon dough. And don't you know they did something far cooler and more imaginative than I could have dreamed up.


And I need to share something. After they played this, Aila and Fox made horse stables out of blocks and Woody went back outside to play cammo in the bushes. Do you know what I did? Folded all the clothes in a laundry basket for the first time in I don't know how long. 







Tuesday, December 6, 2011

71

Snow!!!

Some time in the night was our first Arkansas snowfall. When he woke for work around seven, Joshua sneaked around into the rooms to see if anyone was stirring, and of course any flicker of movement counted, so he could whisper that we come to the window and look:



By 7:05, coats and shoes and pants were on. We were quite unaware that this would be happening and still had the tent up from the party day. The garden hadn't been readied, either. Oh, well. We still have much to learn about gardening in zone 6b.



Sadly, I fell short on my promise to have Woody's pair of mittens completed by the first snowfall. Still, he made do with one. 


And when the novelty gave way to the cold, we went inside and the kids played Playmobils on the bunk beds, stealing glances out the window to make sure the snow was still there.