Fourteen!

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My funny, sarcastic, insightful, level headed girl is fourteen today! There isn’t a day that goes by that she doesn’t make me laugh, make me think, and make me proud to be her momma. There is so much to love about this girl I hardly know where to begin.

I love how comfortable she is with herself and that she isn’t afraid to like what she likes and be who she is while still leaving room for others to be themselves as well.

I love that she is happy to simply be fourteen and is confused (and also annoyed) by those who think acting older is the same thing as being mature.

I love that she can lose herself in a book and hardly leaves the house without one.

I love that she can watch Netflix for hours and sees nothing incongruous about loving both Sherlock and The Nanny.

I love that we share so many common interests, especially when it comes to TV and books.

I love that she is proud and happy of her small town while still appreciating all that lies outside this tiny corner of the world.

I love that all of this is effortless for her and she doesn’t need to think about it or remind herself, it just is.

But here’s the best part, the thing that I love most. I not only love this girl I genuinely like her and enjoy spending time with her (which is good since we spend a LOT of time together). And I love that she seems to feel the same way.

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My People

The kids and had the absolutely amazing opportunity last weekend to attend St. Louis Comic Con.

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Just hanging out with Alan Tudyk…

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Shameless brag that we met (for about 10 seconds) THE DOCTOR and AMY POND (aka Matt Smith and Karen Gillan).

I had been looking forward to this for a long time and it was pretty much as awesomely amazing as I’d anticipated. In addition to the photo shoots we got to sit in on a panel with local Doctor Who “experts” whom had access to behind the scenes information and spoilers.

Jace even worked up the nerve to ask a question... a big deal for him because he's pretty introverted.

Jace even worked up the nerve to ask a question… a big deal for him because he’s pretty introverted.

And we sat in on huge-fill-a-theater panels with some big name stars who discussed upcoming projects, behind the scene stories from past projects and answered audience questions.

Blurry, pixelated, and too far away but that's Sean Astin, aka Samwise Gamgee!

Sean Astin, aka Samwise Gamgee!

Of course there were lots of people cosplaying, including Kya.

This adorable girl dressed as the 11th Doctor stopped Kya, who is dressed as the 10th, so they could get a pic together. Incidentally, Kya felt like a rock star. :)

This adorable girl dressed as the 11th Doctor stopped Kya, who is dressed as the 10th, so they could get a pic together. Incidentally, Kya felt like a rock star. 🙂

In the days leading up to to this event (and even in the car on the way there) Kya and I kept bringing up that the people there would be “our people”. People who are just as obsessed with interested in Doctor Who, Sherlock, Firefly, etc. as we are. Sean Astin even called us (as in the crowd, not us specifically, lol) his people in the panel we sat in on with him. And it was true. Lots of people commented (to us or just to their friends as we passed) on Kya’s cosplay or Jace and my t-shirts. And we, of course, commented on the t-shirts and cosplay of others. A few times we even had short conversations with people about items we were looking at on the exhibit floor or actors we were waiting to see. It was an atmosphere where we could definitely be completely open about how excited we get about the things we love. But, when I’m being perfectly honest, I’m not sure I’d say I actually felt the “my people” connection I was anticipating.  A lot of that has to do with how introverted we all are around crowds. None of us are the outgoing, strike-up-a-friendship with strangers type. And I suck at small talk. I’m okay with that though and I do enjoy observing the people around me while remaining safely in my bubble.

So, instead of connecting with “my people” I did a lot of observing. And what I found (or I guess reinforced really as this isn’t exactly new information) is that sharing a common interest with someone doesn’t necessarily make them “my people”. The people who attended this convention where a diverse group, as diverse as any sampling of the general population. Some people were friendly and outgoing, others were quiet and introverted. Some people were laid back and others seemed stressed by all the people. Some people were happy to interact, others seemed to want to be left alone. We encountered people who amused us as well as some who annoyed us. The only thing that brought us together was the fact that we all happened to like similar things, though even this wasn’t exactly true because while some people where there for their favorite sci-fi actors, others came because they love comics, cosplay, or video games (or any combination of these).

With all of these observations floating around in my head I had a very brief existential moment late in the evening when we were tired and had a few minutes of downtime before our next scheduled activity. As I looked around the room full of people who love, love, LOVE the same things that I love, love, LOVE I thought, “These aren’t really my people. ” And then I momentarily wondered where my people are.

Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of friends and family that I care a lot about, have fun with, and feel connected to. But I don’t ever feel like I completely fit in with any particular group. My interests, values, and beliefs are too varied (as many of you who read this blog regularly have probably noticed- I’m a bit all over the map) and I make references that people just don’t get, no matter who I’m with because of these varied, sometimes seemingly incompatible, interests. I had a very alone-in-the-crowd moment but then I realized, I do, at least for now, have a group who understands all of my references. A group who will go to Comic Con and fangirl/fanboy out over Matt Smith with me one day and watch the Country Music Awards with me the next because we want to see The Band Perry perform. A group who will spend hours analyzing the nuances of Sherlock and Doctor Who but also enjoy a completely mindless Friends marathon. A group where we can all just unabashedly be ourselves.

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Yep, I don’t just love my kids I love hanging out with them. Don’t worry, I’m not a sad, clingy, smothering mom; I have other friends and so do they. But we also genuinely like each other and pretty much like most of the same stuff. They are my people. And that’s more than enough.

Disclaimer: It was VERY hectic and crowded at times. The best I could manage with photos, aside from those professional photo ops, was quick snapshots with my phone. Sorry for the blurry, pixelated pics!

Fifteen

20130928_599I’m a few days late in writing this post because I spent the weekend doing things with J for his birthday instead of simply writing about him. 🙂

My son is nearly a man. He towers over me. The deepness of his voice is sometimes shocking. His size 13 shoes are too big for his dad. He’s made difficult choices this year and has done so with maturity and wisdom beyond his years. He is kind, courteous, generous, loving, and appreciative. The young man he is becoming makes me proud.

He and I are alike in many ways. We’re both a bit quick tempered but also quick to forgive. We’re both pretty good at talking through our feelings, letting others know why we were upset, and acknowledging our own mistakes if we handled the upset poorly. We both feel the criticism and judgement of others deeply. We are both inquisitive to a fault.

He has also learned, at only 15, to unapologetically loves the things he loves. From Legos to Star Wars and superheroes to video gamesm he embraces the label of geek and wears it proudly.

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He’s not afraid to be openly affectionate. Whether he’s hugging me goodbye in front of his friends, slinging his arm around his dad for a picture, or meeting a childhood favorite he just allows himself to be in that moment.

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He’ll tell you up front that he has some social awkwardness but he’s okay with that and doesn’t let it hold him back from having fun.

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He’s still messy and needs reminders about cleaning his room, showers, brushing teeth, etc. But he’s self sufficient in other ways. He’s developed an interest in cooking and sometimes makes delicious meals for the entire family. He feeds himself all the time. 😉

Right now he says he wants to design video games for  a living. He’s working on a game now that he hopes to finish by the end of the year and make available for download. This is his first step in building a portfolio. He also thinks a marketing degree would be valuable if he wants to sell his games himself. He isn’t afraid to dream but knows he needs a plan to make those dreams come true.

Each year that passes I am more and more aware of how quickly it all goes by. Fifteen. He’s studying to get his learner’s permit. I hold in my mind the image of him toddling away from me and soon he will drive away from me. But, just as surely as I knew it then, I know he’ll return to me. He returned then because he needed me. He’ll return now not because he needs me or even because he loves me, which of course he does. No, this time it will be because he genuinely respects and likes me. The feeling is mutual.

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The Greatness of Imperfection

Yesterday I had a not so stellar parenting moment. J and I were arguing as we were about to leave for a planned outing. He started to storm away and I yelled that we were getting ready to leave and he would be having fun! My exact words escape me but rest assured, it was not my finest hour.

We all have these moments and we need to be able to acknowledge that without fear, guilt, and self degradation. For too long we (mothers) have been held to an unrealistic ideal of perfection, placed on a pedestal that we are doomed to fall from. I don’t want to be on a pedestal. And if the internet has taught me anything it’s that no one else does either. Good for us! Mothers are learning to accept their limitations and (hopefully) be less judgmental toward each other at the same time. Hurray!

But…

Accepting our limitations and acknowledging that we aren’t perfect doesn’t mean we throw our hands up and say, “Oh well, nobody’s perfect,” every time we mess up. When our kids mess up we expect them to fix it. We love them anyway. We acknowledge that they are learning to navigate the world. And then we expect them to fix it. We have to do the same thing. We are learning to navigate the world as parents and there will be mishaps. But we fix it.

Yesterday after the anger dissipated I went to talk to J. I didn’t blow it off. I didn’t chalk it up to everyone screws up. I didn’t just apologize and expect all to be forgiven. I opened the door for communication. I listened without getting defensive. And I learned something about my son and about myself as a result. Through our discussion I was able to piece together the root of the issue. It turns out we’d both misinterpreted something the other had said as an  indication that they were annoyed/angry with us. After reflecting on that it occurred to me that this is an issue for me- going on the defensive when I’m afraid someone is upset with me. And apparently I’ve passed this “coping technique” on to J. Damn.

So, I guess I can add “passing along a dysfunctional fear of being misunderstood and the slightest rejection that accompanies it” to the ways I’ve unintentionally screwed up as a parent. But I still have “listening to my kids” and “trying to be not just a better mom but a better person as a result of the things I learn from my kids” in my arsenal of things I’ve done right. And you better believe my kids have made me a better person. Case in point, yesterday’s events- I’ve always know I feared rejection but now, thanks to my son, I’ve pinpointed an unhealthy way I’ve been dealing with that fear. And when I know better I can do better and (hopefully) help him do better as well.

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Like so many other momma bloggers I’m admitting my failure and saying I’m a damn good mom in spite of my imperfections. But I want to be sure to add that there’s a big difference between accepting imperfection and wallowing in it. It’s the difference between beating ourselves up for our mistakes and simply acknowledging that we can do better. I don’t hate myself for raising my voice yesterday. I am not walking around weighed down by guilt about the defensive coping technique I’ve been using for so long. But I am trying to change it. I want to show my kids that accepting your own imperfection, loving yourself no matter what, doesn’t mean you stop growing and learning. It doesn’t mean you stop striving to be great.

Follow Your Dreams?

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I have to admit, the older my kids get the more complex this unschooling life becomes. When they were younger it was easy to see that they were learning in every activity, no matter how big or how small. But as they get older it isn’t really enough that they are learning. We are all learning. But at some point, and it’s admittedly ambiguous when that point is, we have to actually begin to do something with all we’ve learned and are continuing to learn. This, it seems to me, is the logical progression of our unschooled life.

These thoughts, and more, have been rumbling around in my mind for the last few months. More and more conversations with friends and family who choose homeschooling (in various forms) turn to how we’re approaching the high school years. It seems to be a fairly common concern because I have a Pinterest board dedicated to unschooling with teens and the followers for it grow almost daily. It’s mostly a board about online classes and tutorials I think my kids will find interesting but lately I’ve realized that it also needs to be a place for me to keep information about helping them achieve long term goals, not just short term interests. The board is a digital representation of the idea that as their needs change, so must my role.

As always, to figure out this changing role I have to begin with them. For quite some time now J has expressed interest in video game design and K is increasingly talking about a career in fashion, specifically as a stylist/personal shopper. I know a lot of teens express similar desires and my first instinct was to tell them that they need a back up plan. But I stopped myself because it occurred to me that it’s probably a good idea to have a plan for your actual goal before you start talking about plans for failing that goal. It’s a scary prospect though because the path to success in the fields they are interested in is not clear cut like it would be if they wanted to be engineers, nurses, or bankers. And if it’s difficult to even imagine the path it stands to reason that at times it will be even more difficult to follow that path.

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However, I know that in the end, it’s not likely to be any more difficult than a life full of regret and laboring endlessly at a monotonous job. So, as my kids grow older and we look more toward the future my job as the facilitator of their education shifts. Instead of simply giving them space, resources, and support to find their passions I have to help them turn those passions into something tangible.

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I love the above quote from The Princess and the Frog because Tiana’s father acknowledges that the star, the wish that is the beginning of a goal, is important and it will take you places, just not all the way. Too often we are told that growing up means being realistic and that being realistic means following the safe, easier path. But it’s entirely possible to have your feet planted firmly on the ground and still chase your dreams.

So, how does that translate into our everyday, unschooling life? Well, J and I have been talking about dreams versus goals and, in turn, long term goals versus short term steps to reach them. In the interest of game design he’s decided that his goal this year is to complete an indie game. He works on it almost daily and is saving money for computer upgrades. For my part I’m expressing interest, checking in with his progress, and helping him save (and contributing funds as I can) for equipment he needs. For K, who is a bit younger and not quite as settled on her long term goals, I’m trying to find ways for her to explore her interests. We’re looking for local fashion shows and talking about jobs she can do related to fashion (like working retail when she’s a bit older) which may help her decide if she’s truly interested in pursuing this as a career.

I continue to be ever mindful of the fact there’s a fine line between pushing my own agenda and helping them pursue theirs and I try to pay attention to their reactions to my suggestions and offers of help. My dad has often expressed that he is like a chain; you can pull him just about anywhere but if you try to push him you won’t have much luck. This is always in the back of my mind when it comes to my role in helping my kids achieve their next goal, no matter how big or small. I offer a helping hand but it’s up to them to grab hold.

As I said in the beginning of this post, as my kids get older our unschooling life becomes more complex because life, unschooling or otherwise, becomes more complex as we grow up. But no matter how complex unschooling is something I still believe in. Something which sets them on a path for well rounded success, not just financial security (which is absolutely a spoke in that well rounded wheel). Something which continues to allow space for mutual respect and understanding. Something which I think prepares them for the future without sacrificing the present.

 

Family Time

The kids and I have been in a reading haze for the last few weeks. We all got new, great books for Christmas and we’ve been cocooned in piles of pillows and blankets, devouring them ever since. It’s been really great but I have a confession to make.  I miss watching TV with my kids. Don’t get me wrong, I love books and love reading but I also really enjoy TV. And TV is something we can do together.

Often TV is viewed as a passive experience while books are thought to be more interactive- I don’t really understand this. Both TV and books have the potential to open us to new ways of viewing the world, new people, places and ideas. Both have high quality story telling along with really trashy options. Both have fiction, non-fiction and a mixture of the two. Both can be thought provoking or mindless, depending on what we choose from their varied smorgasbord of options. So, why is it that if I told you I spent the entire day lounging and watching Netflix it would conjure completely different ideas than if I told you I spent an entire day reading? And if I told you that my daughter stayed up all night reading but my son stayed up all night watching videos online your judgements would probably be vastly different despite not knowing what she was reading or he was watching?

The truth is that in the last few weeks we’ve all spent more time reading. I’ve enjoyed it immensely and so have the kids. But we are more disconnected from each other as a result. We each have different interests but there are a few TV shows that we all like and usually watch together. We are actively engaged with each other while we watch- we talk about the characters and stories, we exchange knowing looks at plot twists and subtle jokes. We reference favorite quotes in daily conversation. It is anything but a passive, solitary activity for us and after a few weeks spent with each of us reading alone, in our own little worlds, I miss it.

Day 27/Post 26: They’ll be so far behind…

I keep running into this phrase. It comes in a few contexts, all relating to homeschooling.

Concern from parents that their kids are falling behind their peer age group.

Concern from the kids themselves about falling behind their peer age group.

Condemnation from family members and strangers who think homeschooling should be school-at-home and if it isn’t the kids will fall so far behind they’ll NEVER be able to catch up.

But what does “falling behind” even mean? Falling behind an age group? Falling behind a grade level? Falling behind in what areas? Who decides what kids should learn and when? What are they basing this decision on?

I have a lot of experience in the field of education. I’ve worked in daycare, as a classroom teacher and special education teacher in public schools (at various grade levels) and as a GED instructor working with teens who had just left high school up to people in their 60s. I am here to tell you that there is no average student. Age does not determine what people know. Grade level does not determine what people know. In fact, one of the most common topics of discussion among professional educators is differentiated instruction- trying to find ways to teach students in the same classroom who are at different levels of skill and ability.

Based on my personal observations “falling behind” is based upon what works best in the classroom* environment. In that particular setting it is necessary to move at a specific pace, introducing new ideas at specific times for organizational purposes. This is loosely based on when some kids seem able to master certain skills. It’s not based on current brain research or what we know about how people learn. For example, the reason kids who can’t read by the end of 2nd or 3rd grade in school are at risk of never reading fluently isn’t because they are no longer capable of learning this skill. It’s because classroom teachers don’t have time to work on reading skills beyond that grade level. And the kids lose interest because books that are increasingly difficult are required so they give up. This isn’t a critique of teachers, please don’t misunderstand me, it’s a critique of the inherent flaws of the system as it is currently structured.

So, when I hear people concerned with kids “falling behind” I take it with a grain of salt. Many of the arbitrary guidelines necessary for schools to run smoothly disappear in the home environment. I still, of course, listen when parents express concern because there are times when a legitimate concern might arise. However, I don’t think it happens often and certainly not as often as I hear it from “concerned” bystanders.

*Classroom here is referring to a K-12 classroom. Post-secondary instruction is organized differently in that it is, for the most part, voluntary. Additionally differentiated skill can be addressed by the individual student in these instances in the form of taking necessary per-requisite courses.