Sunday, November 06, 2005

At home with an intellectual life

I enjoy Half Changed World, but this week Elizabeth posted a comment from a reader criticizing at-home parents. To be honest, reading it made my stomach lurch. If it meant nothing to me, I suppose I could have let it roll off me with the internal comment that Amy's insecurities cause her to criticize what she cannot manage to do (or something of that sort). But of course, it is a challenge to have an intellectual life while raising children full-time. I am insecure about my claim to an intellectual life – always have been, even before I had kids and that must contribute to my reaction to Amy's comment.

I commented at Half Changed World:
Next week I will start my sixth year of stay-at-home motherhood. I have three boys – figuring-out-the-world five and eleven-twelfths, figuring out his moving-into-boyhood-self three-and-a-half, and learning-how-to-talk and how-everything-works nineteen months. I do not feel that I am in a multiyear desert. In fact, I feel that I have grown considerably in my time as a SAHM. I am a better person – more patient, more able to see that little actions can add up to big changes, more thoughtful about personal relationships, more knowledgeable about how the world works for real people, and with more ideas about how to make it work better. I have fabulous smart and thoughtful friends, most of whom are also stay-at-home parents. I know that staying at home can be difficult for some people, but it isn’t for everyone. Some have found/created/tapped into wonderful communities of like-minded people who nurture each-other’s spiritual and intellectual growth in the time they can find for each other.

All that is true. Paradoxically, I think it has become easier for me over time (and as more children joined our family) – perhaps it's all about managing expectations. I think a lot of my feelings can be influenced for the better by managing my expectations. I just wish my husband had some energy for that! But there is also frustration in my life – it comes and goes. Yesterday morning the two smaller kids were up early and I muttered "stupid kids" which is something I would hate to hear coming out of my husband's mouth. Sometimes I feel frustrated at my lack of career, usually when I've been reading an alumnae publication of some sort. But generally I like this life, feel lucky to have it, and don't see making any big changes any time soon.

The arguments that others have touched on about an intellectual life being overrated touch a chord with me. I think there is a great opportunity for spiritual growth in parenthood. I think of all those spiritual writers who discuss finding yourself in the everyday tasks of doing dishes, gardening, baking bread. Of course, those who are identified as spiritual do it without interruption. We who parent have the larger challenge of doing those tasks with constant interruptions. But I am absolutely convinced that there is personal and spiritual growth to be found in that kind of life. I’ll even claim to have found a little of it.

I’ll speak in a classist way here, for those who have a choice, but I believe that there are some people whose work is important, and outweighs the needs of their children. I don’t think that anything I do falls into that category, and so the most important thing I can do is raise children who can make the world a better place. I think I can do that best by being with them, and by giving them the opportunity to learn without being in school. I hope they have revolutionary ideas about improving the world. And I hope I will work alongside them to implement them.

P.S. You know what? Forget all this and go read The Mommy Chronicles.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Watching learning happening

I made notes for this post a few weeks ago when homeschooling felt great. Now, when it doesn't feel so successful, I need the post, so here it is!

It's been a pleasure watching my children learn lately. Parker (5)learned to ride a two wheeler after announcing suddenly on a Friday that he wanted to take his training wheels off. I did (hmm, maybe I should have let him do it), and two days later after some practice balancing for a day, and a few encouraging words from Daddy he was off, giving himself challenges (like, ride to the neighbors driveway and back to ours without putting his feet down). We played a writing game, which he took off with, figuring out phonetic spellings for the word he wanted to use. When I corrected his spelling he told me "Mom, you know it really irritates me when you do that." So I stopped. We've been reading about pilgrims in anticipation of a trip to Plimouth Plantation (which was unfortunately postponed). We've also been reading about sharks, including a book from the Scientists in the Field series, which I recommend. It is advanced for him, but he likes it, and I'm sure is learning more than I know from our read-aloud sessions. He's also been playing math games on the computer and asking for more.

Mason (3) is growing, too. He hasn't loved swim lessons, and I told him he didn't have to take them. He loves the water, though. We were at the pool for Parker's lesson, and Mason was jumping off the side to me. He would tell me exactly where he wanted me for his level of learning (closer, no -- farther away). I was impressed that he knew what he needed. His brother teaches him a little about letters, and he asks for more occasionally. He chooses number books to help him learn his numbers (a favorite at our house is Counting Our Way to Maine.

However, last week was very busy. On five days in a row we saw homeschooling friends. Tuesday was a mom's finance meeting, Wednesday I took care of two other homeschooling kids and we all went to gymnastics class, Thursday our regular homeschooling group day, Friday a mushroom hike, and Saturday a mushroom lab for the "older" (five and up) kids. It was too much. My house is a mess, and I'm not seeing the independent learning happening. I'm also not very happy with the Oak Meadow curriculum. My kinder review is that it isn't a good match for my child. My less kind review is that there isn't much to it, and the fairy tales aren't engaging. A while back I asked Parker to write a page of As. He looked at me as if I was crazy, and then we had a great time playing a word (writing) game. Much more relevant to him. At any rate, I was hoping OM would help me create an environment for child-led learning, but it isn't working. I'm trolling around a little, trying to figure out what I'd like to bring into the house next, yet very aware that I shelled out for OM, and I should be a little bit careful what else I buy. I have a (borrowed) copy of Five in a Row which I peruse. I like it, and I love the list of good books, but it also feels a little light to me.

But although I'm not convinced things are going well, Parker seems very happy. He doesn't mention going to Kindergarten, even when he talks to his friend about it. He wasn't affected by my less-than-perfect mood yesterday, and spent the day building cushion castles with his brothers. Today, although he didn't want me to read to him, he spent lots of time creating new and different (but symmetrical) weapons with duplo blocks. When I asked him how many chicken nuggets he would have left if he gave Evan two of his ten, he told me. Although he won't read a book, he shows evidence over and over of being able to read two syllable words. I have to tell myself over and over that he is where he needs to be. That if he needed to go into Kindergarten or even first grade, he would be at grade level.

Well, my first course of action is to clean the house up and re-evaluate what we have that might be of interest. I also need to be more careful about getting too busy, which will be difficult.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Educating women

I’m sure I’m not the only educated woman at home with my kids who has a blog, but I don’t read more than a handful of blogs, so I haven’t read other responses from people like me to the NY Times Article about Yale women planning not to have careers.

So here are some of my thoughts (and my husband’s) – I’m sure someone else has said it better.

First of all, nearly all college educations are not like vocational training. Instead, and education teaches you how to learn. Very few people have a job that exactly utilizes their degree – I didn’t, even when I was working, and my husband doesn’t either, and of course, I don’t now, as a stay-at-home mom. But I use my ability to learn constantly. I read about education and parenting, and provide plenty of information about how the world works. I love reading and learning and I (mostly unconsciously) model that for my kids.

In the past, women have made up a large, unpaid, community workforce, doing volunteer work. I’m not a big volunteer, but I am working on a library committee that is currently working to get a new library or a library addition built. I can’t say I’m exactly using my education, but I’d really like to reject that argument as completely irrelevant, since most people don’t exactly use their educations in their jobs. The committee members do need to be politically savvy, able to deal with finance issues, how to work with town government, architects, accountants, and other professionals. Like any job dealing with professionals, it is useful to speak the same language, and tossing around a credential of sorts or two won't hurt the working relationship any.

There are no guarantees that women will find husbands who also buy into their idea of having a single-income family, or that circumstances won’t require that they work (divorce, for instance, or death of their husband). A good education increases your ability to get a good job, and therefore increases the possibility of working part-time to make the money the family needs. In my own case, I’ve been able to work part-time from home for consulting rates since I’ve had my kids, which is the best of both worlds, as far as I’m concerned.

I think the women interviewed in the article are so young that they don’t have a vision of what they might do after their kids are grown. Perhaps they won’t need or want to work then, either, but if they do, they will have credentials to use.

I would hate to see higher education be lost as a choice for women. I loved getting my degrees (well, at least to some extent). I met fabulous people, I learned tons, I came out of my shell in a way that I’m not sure would have happened in any other venue. Of course, I also met my husband while in college, but that is another story. It’s not like ROTC, where they pay and you owe, is it? Or am I somehow wrong?

Friday, September 16, 2005

Gulf reconstruction contracts awarded

I just listened to a Marketplace piece telling how many, many gulf reconstruction projects have already been awarded -- to firms who have been in Washington lobbying to get them. And many of the firms have ties to Bush through campaign contributions. Well, (imagine the sarcasm dripping here) isn't that a good idea.

And how exactly is the area to recover the economy is not revived? What an opportunity to revive the economy and fight poverty (mainly throughout the suspect trickle down effect, but in New Orleans, anything would help) through awarding contracts to local firms who pay local and state taxes, who hire local professionals and workers, who live and shop in the area. But no. Instead the contracts are awarded in a no bid process, before gulf companies even have their feet back under them. And the people and companies benefiting from these contracts will not be living in the area, but instead will be spending their new income elsewhere. Describing it as the last nail in the coffin is the wrong imagery. It's more like walking away from the body of a person who perished unnoticed, without any effort being made to save them, and stepping on them on the way out to reach the jewelry hanging in a tree, put there by the flood.

My only hope is that it will change the political course of this country toward a more progressive model where we take care of all Americans and maybe even others, too.

Monday, September 12, 2005

FEMA's firefighters

Our friends who are firefighters who went to work for FEMA are still waiting for a posting. They flew to Atlanta on Thursday, went to training on Friday and Saturday, and today (Monday) are still waiting for a posting. Very frustrating for hardworking people who left many commitments behind to help those who desperately need it.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

2 links

First, I was horrified to read this article about hurricane survivors being turned back at a bridge by surburban police who shot over their heads, reportedly used helicopters to blow down their shelters, and confiscated their food and water. I found the article through Bitch PhD. Today I saw a recap of the article in my local paper, with a New York Times byline. So again blogs are influencing the news (I hypothosize). Hmm, I see the article is now online at Socialist Worker. I first saw it posted at

Secondly, I saw a suggestion at Half Changed World to write about what we're doing for Katrina survivors. I gave some $$ to the UUA-UUSC Gulf Coast Relief Fund. I also just volunteered to coordinate a clothing and etceteras drive for our local La Leche League. We will ship our collected items to a group in Mississippi, who are reportedly ready to receive, sort, and distribute them. I'm a bit nervous about the shipping part -- I know how expensive that can be. I'm hoping we can get subsidized somehow, or maybe even find someone willing to drive a truck for us to Mississippi. My husband didn't think our chances were good for that, but -- why not?

Friday, September 02, 2005

Katrina's babies

I caught the end of a news piece about one of the babies born during or in the aftermath of Katrina and was horrified to see the baby being fed a bottle. I am less of a rabid lactivist than I was when my first was born (and I had a heck of a time breastfeeding him, but that's another story). I'm more understanding now about the choices people make.

However, that said, I think that the health of these babies absolutely requires that they have a steady and sterile supply of breastmilk. There is no telling what conditions these babies will be living in. They may not have reliable supplies of clean water or formula. Those are the conditions under which breastfeeding is clearly safer, and where formula fed babies can face illness and death as a direct result of their feeding method. Will someone please tell anyone delivering babies near the Gulf coast to inform new mothers of the realities of their feeding choices and to encourage in any way possible that these mothers breast feed their babies? I want to tread carefully around the idea that the medical community controls or should control how babies are fed, since I believe strongly in parental choice/informed consent for a variety of medical issues. But I do believe that the medical community has a strong influence on how new mothers feed their babies, and that simply offering "breast or formula" to new mothers in the hurricane-struck area is negligent at least, and shows considerable lack of regard for the future health of the newborn.

Katrina's aftermath

I have been watching, reading, and listening to the coverage of Katrina's aftermath, and I am deeply affected. I feel some kind of survivor guilt, I think. I am shorter tempered with my kids than usual, because I think they should understand how lucky they are to have a house and food and water, and therefore they should not squabble with each other. Yeah, right.

At eleven one night my husband emerged from reading the web and asked if he could go to the gulf coast for up to 30 days as part of a program with FEMA to mobilize firefighters. I asked if he was serious and then said yes, as long as he understood this would be our contribution and not just his. He already knew that -- I shouldn't have worried. It looks as if he will not go, at least not in the next month. Instead our town's only two full-time fire fighters will go – the chief and a firefighter/EMT – and my husband will be acting Chief while they are gone. He is trying to get his company to give him two half days a week to tend to fire department paperwork and inspections. The chief leave his family of six kids (one just started college) behind in the able hands of his wife, whose reaction was apparently similar to mine.

I don't know if I will talk to the two men who are going before they leave, or if my advice would be welcome or new to them, but I would tell them two things: one, they need to take care of themselves so that they don't become other people who need help – they need to eat and drink and sleep well, even when people around them have severe needs. The other thing I would tell them is to believe that they are making a difference, because it can be so hard to see when the problem is so large and the work that a single person (or a team of two) can do is so small. Chipping away at a problem does make a difference. Under difficult circumstances it may be all you can do, but if you do enough of it you will see a difference.

My heart goes out to people who have had to leave their homes behind. I'm very concerned about what their lives will be like in the immediate future. I see pictures of the Astrodome, and I know that I could manage there alone for awhile, but that it would be very, very difficult with my three children. I can't even keep them from running around the library! And how can you get your life going again from a refugee camp? There is no opportunity for any sort of employment or entrepreneurship, as far as I know. These people need to be where they can start to feel that they have a purpose. Presumably there will be reconstruction work starting soon in the Gulf Coast area that will jumpstart the local economy. Can able refugees find work as laborers? Is that an unreasonable idea? They won't be able to do that from Texas. Can shelters be created in the devastated areas so that people can work in reconstruction and provide services to those who are coming in? I hope that somewhere someone is working on a plan for the Katrina refugees who need the shelters that includes opportunities for work and a life that is more than sitting on a cot all day long. This great country should have more to offer than that.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Thoughts and Arguments

Today was my last day to return the Oak Meadow Curriculum for a full refund. I didn’t for a bunch of reasons. One reason is the reason I got it in the first place – I’m not confident about being able to take frequent trips to the library to follow interests. That reason was bolstered this week when we did go to the library, and all the kids wanted was videos. The videos are right at the bottom of the stairs as we go to the children’s room, so it can be hard to get them past the videos to the books. Then, at home, there were many tears over the videos – when to watch them, who gets to choose, etc. And two days later we’ve barely touched the books.

As I worked on deciding whether to keep or return, I went to reread the introductory material in the Oak Meadow curriculum, and read the following in the preface:

“. . . each subject should be presented in a natural, informal manner, so that the child does not feel forced into the activity, but rather becomes involved because it sparks something within him. . . . we feel the best approach is to integrate the recommendations concerning stories, notebooks, poems, music, etc., into the natural flow of daily activities, so the child doesn’t learn to make a distinction between “school” and “live.” In this way, the child gradually develops the attitude that expanding one’s knowledge and capabilities is part of the process of life, and indeed is what life is all about.”

This is very close to my own (untested) philosophy, and I hope that the Oak Meadow material can work as my “enriched environment” for a relaxed, child-led, almost-unschooling approach. I also liked the part of the preface about "continually striving to unfold the potential within yourself so that you can respond more deeply and spontaneously to your child. . . . It is never the techniques you have learned through the years that cause a child to develop his capabilities. Rather it is the strength of your being, the light of your understanding, and the love you have for him as a fellow being that draws the latent spark of individuality within him into active manifestation." I am looking for good support around that striving, whether IRL, or in the form of an online list. I know that I will not find it with the unschooling list I had a run in with this week!

As I’ve said before, I find unschooling attractive. It is the main competition to the Oak Meadow curriculum. However, I have my suspicions that it’s not as simple as many make it sound. I suspect that some unschooling parents (although probably not all), have a mental (or even paper) list of topics they’d like to see the kids cover, and do quite a lot do direct their attention to those topics. I love the idea of child-led learning, and I hope that is what homeschooling will look like in our house,

And then there was my run-in on an unschooling list. Radical unschoolers seem to be quite intolerant – their way is the right way, and anything else isn’t good enough. They seem to be argumentative and have no problem criticizing other list members with copious quoting (of other posts). As for the run-in, I posted about a housekeeping matter – said that I (sometimes) tell the kids that if they don’t pick their stuff up I will put it in the cellar or the trash. I didn’t use many qualifiers, and in fact, I probably pull that only a few times a year. I was called creepy, and other negative assumptions were drawn (for instance, that I throw away projects and much loved items). On the one hand I was somewhat convinced to rethink this tactic. But on the other hand I was so upset by the episode that it has affected my parenting in the past few days in a negative way. Being “yelled” at makes me defensive and angry, not thoughtful and compliant. I could never share a parenting problem with this list for fear of being harshly judged. It’s not even correct to state it as a fear – it’s just a fact – I would be harshly judged. My main argument with unschoolers is that they don’t accord adults the same that they do their children. Children can find their own way to learn; adults must be browbeaten to do it the radical unschooling way. As I said in a post, people who bend over backward to allow their children to learn in their own way, at their own pace, the topic of interest to them, do not accord other parents seeking to guide their family into adulthood the same respect and latitude. That disconnect makes me suspicious of the whole philosophy. I also take issue with the extremism, and the absolutism of it – you can’t unschool halfway – it’s all or nothing. I want to read more about unschooling, but for now I may stick with articles and books, and avoid online groups/lists/boards.

I haven’t yet found a list with members with similar parenting philosophies to mine that I can ask for homeschooling and parenting support, and now that I’m keeping the curriculum, it’s probably too much to ask that I find a tolerant unschooling list. I would love to find a gentle parenting list where I can discuss my parenting issues in relative “safety.”

Monday, July 04, 2005

More on curriculum

I'm still struggling with the decision of how to approach homeschooling next year. I ordered the Oak Meadow curriculum recently to take advantage of their June sale. My thinking was that although I am interested in unschooling, I am not confident in my ability to get the library and otherwise follow up on Parker's interests, and I wanted to have some materials on hand. I'm still evaluating the curriculum, and I have nothing against it, but my thinking is turning back to unschooling for the following reasons:

* I have three kids, and I think a less structured routine might suit the whole family better. I hope to read to them everyday, and discuss a little with each child what is of interest to them. I'm looking at the Five in a Row book as a guideline of how to use that method, and also as a starter booklist. With a less structured approach I can have a music day, and art day, and outside day (as a rough routine) that will suit all three kids in some way.

* I think I might be able to spend $250 better – that is, in a way that is more likely to be used regularly by Parker. I can buy books that he is interested in – those are the books that are likely to push him over the edge into reading, not the books that I or someone else think he should be reading.

* Parker is not always a compliant child, and I'm not at all confident that I can say "Hey, come check this out" and he will. I think the unschooling idea of parent as mentor and guide would be better for our relationship than the model of teacher and student.

It's funny that I feel defensive about even thinking about using a curriculum. Intellegent people whom I admire unschool, yet I lack confidence in our ablity to do it effectively. On the other hand, if I want to do it, kindergarten is clearly the time to try – we are not accountable, Parker is already nearly at first grade level, and if it works it will give me the confidence to go on – if it doesn't, I haven't lost much.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Communicating differently

I’ve totally lost the train of thought I had in the shower. A mother’s life is constantly interrupted – I lose my train of thought, my momentum, my keys . . .

I want to make some changes in the way I communicate. This is prompted by two things.

I have been reading The Wonder of Boys. While I can understand this book’s mixed reviews (in fact, I’m kind of relieved to see them), I do think it makes some interesting points. Boys and girls are usually different – as a mother around young children, I can see that. Sure, some boys are more sensitive, and some girls are more aggressive, but I do believe that there are generally biological differences in behavior. It makes me a bit of an alien in my own home, with a husband and three sons. Gurian says that men do not hear as well as women. That was interesting. One of my hot buttons is feeling that I’m not being listened to – it makes me crazy.

The other thing that happened was two nights ago, when our five-year old was at a friends for a sleepover I was snuggling my three-year old and telling him that he makes me happy. He said “And Parker makes you mad.” Well, that’s not exactly what he said, because he mixed up his words some, but I’m pretty sure that’s what he meant. Yikes! That’s not what I want my kids to think! And I don’t want any of us to live each day thinking that my five-year old makes me mad just by existing.

I want to use this as a springboard to change my communication style. I think it will make life more comfortable for my guys and also for me. If I can limit what I say, and say it clearly, they can hear it, and I can feel that I am heard. I tend to say things quietly, to walk around while I am talking, to think out loud, to go off on tangents, and I criticize my five-year old liberally. I see him shrink back sometimes at what I say. I have to change. He’ll be telling me something and I’ll respond, followed immediately by telling him he needs to do something I just noticed (like put his shoes away). I’d like to reread my handouts on nonviolent communication – their framework seems complicated, but maybe it’s worth a try.

Often my problem is that my thoughts aren’t clear, and it feels that the world will pass me by if I take the time to figure out what I need to say. I know that this will happen with some of my friends who fill up every quiet millisecond (very bright, and very talkative). With my family, I feel like the moment passes and they’re not interested in whatever it was I needed to say, that I’ve only just figured out. I’m not sure how to figure out what I think more quickly. I’m pretty sure that native stupidity is not the problem! Maybe I need to always know what action I want my listener to take. I’m working on letting silence do its work – I know that if I can keep quiet, I often am given gems from my family members – particularly my husband. However, I don’t know that they are doing the same work! Overall, I’m feeling pretty frustrated, but I hope I can make some changes:

* More silence: just because I think it doesn’t mean I have to say it.

* Criticize less: I believe what many authors say – good behavior comes from feeling right. I need to help my kids feel right by cutting the criticism, and hope that the good behavior follows.

* Speak more clearly: speak up, and speak on one message at a time. Make eye contact, don’t multitask when I’m speaking.

And hopefully all this can come from a relaxed and happy Mama.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Pottery vs. Ultimate Frisbee

I finished up my pottery class and didn't sign up for another session because we (that is, me and my husband) decided to try to play ultimate frisbee this summer. I really enjoyed my pottery class – I found it very engrossing and a good break – I hardly thought (or worried) about home at all. Although class ended last month, I just picked up my glazed stuff last Friday. I'm really happy with it – glazing can be tricky, and often people are happy with a piece until they glaze and fire it, and then it is disappointing. I got some good advice on which glazes are reliably good, and I have some beautiful things. I'm hoping to do another class in the fall – many Christmas gifts this year may be mugs, bowls, and other pieces of pottery!

My husband and I used to play Ultimate (please don't assume that we're any good at it) before kids, and even a little after the first arrived. Parker didn't enjoy watching me run up and down a field, and didn't really understand the idea of an invisible line that he wasn't supposed to cross, so I didn't get much playing time. However, at about 20 months old he could throw a frisbee better than I could – really, I'm not kidding. It didn't go far, but he could throw it to the same place over and over again.

Now, at five, he does understand about that invisible line that he's not supposed to cross, and he and the three-year old enjoy going to practice. We take a picnic dinner for them (in my civilized Longaberger basket, no less), and they play with eachother and climb on us when we're on the sidelines. The baby is less enthusiastic, but he does fine. And our team is fabulous about helping out if it's needed (i.e. dragging the baby off the field).

Necessity is the Mother . . .

We got an escrow analysis this week that informed us that our morgage payment is increasing by $400/month. We put an addition on our house last year, so we expected our taxes to rise, which they have, but not by $4800/year. I need to call the bank to find out why the discrepancy, but, unfortunately, I don't think there's necessarily been a mistake – I think it has to do with the way escrow for taxes and insurance works.

Like most households, we don't have an extra $400/month laying around. My husband recently changed his witholding to get more each month and less of a tax refund, so that will help (and I was so excited about having a little more buffer every month – so much for that). So this has forced me (or given me the opportunity) to think about how to earn some money. It's been interesting. I think that taking care of three kids and running a house is a lot of work. But for the most part I choose how to do it, when (or if) I'm going to do certain housekeeping tasks, and I'm not supervised or critiqued.

The idea of having to work gets me a little down, and reminds me to count my blessings. I've worked in the past as a technical writer. I do a little here and there for former clients – it adds up to a few hours a month, if that. I wrote part of a book about two years ago – I had a nanny one day a week (who did my laundry in addition to taking care of the kids), and a babysitter two afternoons, and somehow I got a fair amount of work done. I haven't done anything that intensive since. It's hard to write or edit in small spurts.

I'm thinking about sewing baby carriers, which I can do in small spurts. There is some home sewing which seems to generate a profit –unlike sewing cloth diapers, which seems like a lot of hard work for not much money, unless you happen to be the next big thing in which case you have more work that you really want to do while caring for small children.

I'm also exploring part-time technical writing work. The baby is 14-months now (and needs me a little less), and summer is coming up (with more babysitter availablity), so maybe I could land a fabulous 20-hour/week contract job for three months and make the extra money we need for the whole year.

Complicating the situation is the fact that my husband doesn't like his job and would really like a new one. So we talk a little about whether I should get a job and let him quit. It's not really what I want, and he's not pushing it. I probably couldn't earn as much as he does if I took a salaried job. I probably could if I worked as a contractor, but that's risky. And I think it would be a tough lifestyle to be out working and then come home and be Mommy. Lots of people do it, I know, but if we have the choice not to, I'd rather not.

To Curriculum or Not?

As the reality of homeschooling comes nearer I've been toying with buying a curriculum. I know I said I'm attracted to unschooling (and I still am), but I'm worried about my ability to get to the library and find age-appropriate material on a topic of interest before that interest disappears. I like the idea of having some resources on hand –in a box, even. I like the idea of having reading material for both me and him. I like the idea of being able to tell the skeptical that we are using a curriculum. I don't envision following it day by day, just as using it as a springboard. I'm close to buying the Oak Meadow first grade curriculum. The Kindergarten set looks too basic for Parker – it covers capital letters and numbers 1 through 10. He's past that. I like that Oak Meadow recommends teaching recorder and knitting (it's Waldorf based). Anyway, I'm still thinking about it. I'm very excited though, and when I read Parker about the list of science topics, and told him it was the first grade curriculum, he just lit up.

Going S l o w

We've been busy lately. Fortunately, the baby seems to have gotten over the stage where he cries when you walk across the room without picking him up -- that was really a drag.

I've also been tired lately. It could be because I have three little kids and never get an uninterrupted night's sleep. It could also be because I'm hypothyroid. I was diagnosed back in November as slightly hypothyroid (TSH of 3 point something). I didn’t have many symptoms except fatigue, which can be explained in other ways. I had lost a lot of hair in the first few months postpartum, but seemed to be over that. I declined medication at that point because I hate the idea of everyday medication, and because my TSH was pretty borderline. The doctor and I hoped that it was postpartum hypothyroidism, and that it would improve.

At the baby's one-year checkup I had another blood test. I thought I was feeling pretty well, and was hopeful that the results would show an improvement. I didn't hear back from doctor’s office, and four or five weeks later, when I had been tired for a week or so, I called the office talked to a nurse who looked up my test result and told me that my TSH had worsened (to 5 point something). After another few weeks of being tired and wrestling with the medication decision, I decided to get my prescription filled. I’ve been on a generic version Synthroid for a week and a half, and I’m not feeling noticeably better yet (I hear it often takes a few weeks to have an effect).

So, as you may have guessed, there’s a rant or two coming. First, why the heck didn’t my doctor’s office call me? The doctor still hasn’t called – I need to call in to tell her that I started the Synthroid. Secondly, what is killing our thyroids? Synthroid is the most prescribed medication; 40% of the population is estimated to be hypothyroid (many undiagnosed). I may yet explore alternative treatments – I have an appointment with a holistic MD in August. I’m willing to see a naturopath or a doctor of Chinese medicine – however, I’d like to feel that the treatment is likely to work before I throw my money into it. And third, what's with this –
Doctor: Your thyroid is low. Here's a prescription for medication you'll need to take for the rest of your life.
Me: Is there any way to encourage my thyroid to work better?
Doctor: Not as far as I know.
End of discussion. We also did not discuss why my thyroid might be broken. This symtomatic approach to fixing ailments drives me crazy. Why can't we figure out why things go wrong and figure out how to fix that? I often think that if we knew exactly how to eat (and it would be different for each individual) we could improve many of our health issues. (I know there are books on this, and I haven't read any of them. ) But there's not a lot of money in that, and there's plenty of money in pharmaceuticals.

It's been quite a journey to decide to fill the prescription. As a friend noted, it's a self-image thing – I'm not a sick person, I'm not one of those people who takes drugs. On forms that require you to list medications, I haven't had to write down anything since I went off the pill back in 1998. That has changed. Bummer.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Parent arrested for tress passing at school

This is an article about a man arrested for trespassing at his son's school. He wanted to be informed when same-sex marriage was discussed in his son's kindergarten class, so that he could take him out of school.

I don't agree with this man's politics, but I'm very disturbed that a parent can be arrested for trespassing where their child goes to school. No where in the article does it make it sound as thought this man was a threat. Public school is generally far from transparent, and I certainly believe that parents should know what their kids are learning, and have the right to edit and enrich as they think appropriate.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Talking about homeschooling

Having made the decision to homeschool (although I'd rather refer to it as letting my kids pursue independent learning, or something like that), I am now beginning to talk about it with other people who are not homeschoolers. I had mentioned to my mother-in-law that we might homeschool, and then the other day I told her our plans. She clearly pictures us sitting down for a few hours a day and doing lessons. I don't! And she is concerned about them "learning what they need to know" -- in other words, what the school teaches in each grade. At church playgroup today it came up too. The other mothers there are fairly supportive, but also share the view that schools teach what kids need to know, and that especially at the high school level, school, or at least teaching, are definitely needed.

I don't share that view. One of the main reasons for homeschooling is to let my kids see the world and find their own place in it. I think school fails miserably at that. I was good at school, and so I went to graduate school. I didn't learn much in 18 years of "education" that made me good at life -- I feel like I'm just getting the hang of that now, at almost 38. I feel like I finally have a feeling what I'd like to do when I grow up. My husband is currently trying to figure out how to alter his career trajectory -- he wants to combine his job with his hobby and make money doing it. I would like my kids to be able to figure out what they like and be able to pursue it, so that maybe they can know how they want to shape their life before they hit their mid-30's. Maybe I can't do it, but I can't believe I'll do a worse job of guiding them towards a vocation than the schools do. People do not all need to know the same things, and the life of a school-age kid should allow time to pursue special interests independently. That's crucial, I think, to finding a fulfilling career.

Of course, my oldest is five, and I don't imagine he'll be finding a career anytime soon. But I do see him figuring out what he needs to learn, and then figuring out how to learn it. He's working on addition, and he makes up games that require addition. He's working on writing, so he writes signs and notes. The other day completely of his own volition, he labled lots of household items (I walked over the "stairs," and "rug" labels for a few days!). I have great hopes for the unschooling approach. I hope I can keep from triggering his reflexive "no" with my suggestions!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Starting to live with the decision

We didn't go to kindergarten registration today, and I mentioned to Parker that we will be homeschooling. Now I'm starting to settle in to the decision. I need to feel firm about it, because if Parker feels me waver, he'll push and push. I feel almost hungover today -- my temper has been too close to the surface, and I feel tired like I do after a bad headache. I feel like I'm grieving a bit. I would like to remember this indecision, because as I become more sure of my decision, I may become less tolerant of the other choices people make.

I have had some good suggestions about one-line answers when people ask why we homeschool, my favorite is "I like the flexibility."

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

How to school, that is the question

I'm really struggling with whether or not to homeschool. In fact, I got out of bed to write because I'm worrying about it so much. Tomorrow is kindergarten registration, and I'm skipping it. I feel anxious about it, which is almost certainly about me, and not about my son. I hate the way school wastes so much of kids time, I hate the rules, the authority. I'm worried that I'm making the decision based on my feelings, not his. I didn't realize I felt so negatively about school, but all I can think of is getting into power struggles with the school. Before I gave birth, I imagined getting in a power struggle with the hospital. I avoided that by having birth center and home births. I don't regret that choice, maybe that's a clue for me. I don't even know that much about our public school – I'm not sure what I would have to do to find out more about the kindergarten program. Also part of the equation – I've run into people who have their children in public school and almost wish they were homeschooling. The people I know who homeschooled and then put their kids into school have usually had lifestyle reasons, not educational reasons for doing so.

My husband is on board, but sometimes I worry that he’s not on the same boat. He pictures me in front of a blackboard every day, and I don’t! But I think we’ll be able to work that out.

So here are some pros and cons of homeschooling:


  • Preserve the sibling relationships – My kids play together a lot, and school would take them away from each other and create the idea that kids should mainly play with other kids their own age. I already see that in my oldest, although I can’t be sure that it’s because of preschool.
  • Help them figure out what they want to do in life – this is a big one. My husband is just figuring out what he wants to do “when he grows up.” I would like to give my kids the tools to figure this out before they have a family to support – it’s difficult to make a change then. I’m not sure that it was school that prevented us from finding our path, but I don’t think that school helps, because it expects everyone to be good at the same set of skills and know the same set of knowledge. In the end, people do different things, and need different knowledge and skills.
  • Less wasted time, more time for things they love – school wastes a lot of time. You have to wait for the teacher, for other kids, for the “right” time to think about math, or writing, or history.
  • Time flexibility, not constrained by daily and yearly school schedule
  • Family first – again, sibling relationships, not constrained by school schedule, able to take day trips and longer trips on our own schedule and not fight the school break hordes.
  • Scheduled time to engage with each child – I don’t always engage positively with my five-year old, and my hope is that by homeschooling I will be sure to do so everyday.
  • Avoid conflict with school district (?) – I’m not positive about this one. I’m not sure what kind of relationship we’ll need with them to homeschool.


  • He doesn’t get attached to a class of kids – this is one of my biggest cons. However, I can work around it by finding other groups – our homeschooling group, for instance. Also, we can meet kids from in town by playing soccer or another sport.
  • He may not learn the same set of information as other kids.
  • Possible mommy burnout – this is my husband’s biggest worry.
  • Less time to myself – this is probably a given, although as kids get older I can have more time to myself. I can also arrange to exchange kids with other parents (playdates).
  • Other adults to learn from – I will be sure to make this part of my to do list.

I still hope to persuade Parker. The beginning of school is still over five months away, and I’m hoping to use that time to get more involved with our homeschool group so that he identifies more with it. Right now he identifies with his preschool friends, all of whom are going to kindergarten (as far as I know). I feel like I’m making a life or death decision for him, and I don’t feel qualified!

I'm still looking for a quick answer to "why are you homeschooling" that doesn't put down anyone's choice of traditional schooling. I've had enough trouble deciding what I want, I have no need to put down anyone else's decision.

I don’t feel like I’m writing well, and may add to this list as time goes on. I want it to read when I wonder why I’m homeschooling!

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Fulfilling Motherhood

Hubby and I watched Garden State the other day. It’s another one of those movies that reminds me that many, many people feel just hopeless in their lives. Can I state for the record that I do not feel that way? There have been times in my life when I have, but I don’t now and hope to never feel that way again. I count my blessings. Life is busy taking care of a house and three little people, and I don’t have as much leisure time as I might like, but I do not hate my life.

I’m usually pretty happy with my lifestyle as a SAHM. I live in my insulated little world, and my friends and I all congratulate each other on our excellent parenting. Every now and then I emerge enough into the other world to recognize what I don’t have. Last year when the baby was very small, when I was still measuring his age in weeks, I went to my 10-year graduate school reunion. I got to introduce myself as a stay-at-home mom to people who create policy and run companies and governments. I said I wrote letters to the editor (had to say I did something “worthwhile”).

This weekend I’m going to a baby shower for a college friend. In college she was very fun. Now she’s a pathologist. I can hardly fathom what it is she does and the amount of knowledge she’s crammed into her head. So on Sunday I will be leaving my safe little world and heading out (without children) to talk to people who may not be parenting small people. Who may be doing highly worthwhile work. Who, if they have children, may not parent like me. I am nervous.

No value judgments, of course.


I've been uncertain about homeschooling for awhile. I've told people that I love the philosophy, but "we'll probably ship Parker off to kindergarten and see how it goes". Well, we're getting close to decision time. Our kindergarten visit is March 17th.

The funny thing is, what I'm most worried about is what I though I'd been "talked" out of (that is, convinced otherwise by what I'd read) -- socialization. I'm worried about him feeling like he belongs. It's kind of a cultural literacy thing. I need to go back and reread some things, I think.

On the side of homeschooling, kindergarten feels like it will swallow our lives. It will be hard to do anything with the two younger kids when we have to meet the bus twice each day. And Parker will miss out on fun stuff like playgroups and visits to fun places.

There's the vaccination issue too. The thought of having to fight the authorities gives me a stomach ache. That also pushes me more toward homeschooling.

Right now I hardly have time to spend with Parker working on whatever. But by September the baby won't be ten months old -- he'll be 18 months old, which could easily be a different world. How much time would I realistically need with Parker? It seems like an hour a day would be plenty, and I could buy that from the other two with TV.

A few months ago Parker would tell people he wasn't going to kindergarten, he was going to do homeschool. Now he says he wants to go to kindergarten. Maybe because we haven't been to our homeschool group recently. His opinion matters, but it won't make the decision for me.

I'm very on the fence right now, but I don't want to close any doors, in any way.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

February is finance month (2nd meeting)

For our second finance meeting our homework was to figure out what percent of our spending was in each of eleven rough categories. Of course each of us tracks things differently, so even the large categories weren't exactly equivalent. We compared percentages to account for differences in income, which we haven't specifically shared. I imaginee that much of the difference in spending would be found in the housing category, and certainly there were differences. The highest percent on housing (which included utilities) was 33%, but that household is paying extra interest on their mortgage.

When we got to groceries, we shared actual numbers -- they varied from something over $300/month to over $700/month. Some of the discrepancy is in the categorization of household items like soap, shampoo, detergent, etc. But the woman with the lowest grocery bill works hard on saving on groceries -- she reads circulars, makes list comparing prices of items she buys, and uses coupons. Since it looks like she's saving about $200/month over the rest of us, that is work that seems to pay off.

I found the exercise useful. I'm not sure that these are the supercategories I will use, but at the bottom of the list were Entertainment or Frivolities, Donations, and Investments, and in our household those categories are big enough that I can see where we could cut if we wanted to. My husband isn't that happy at his job, and I'd like to feel that if he takes a lower paying job, we can figure out how to keep paying for the house and generally making ends meet. Interestingly, although I haven't been reading blogs lately (until today), apparently personal finance is the topic du jour. Elizabeth at Half Changed World is discussing it, as are some others.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

February is finance month

I have been meeting with four friends to talk about household finance. We all have kids, so this meeting is five women and eight of our eleven kids — try that in an office!

I think we all have a slight sense of panic around our finances, even though it doesn't appear that anyone is sinking. I know I feel out of control of our finances, and now that we have a family, it matters a lot more. When I was single, or when we were married without kids I always had the sense that we could recover from any financial setbacks (as, in fact, we did). In a pinch, we could live with our parents. That no longer feels like an option, and so knowing how much we earn, how much we spend, and how much we save seems important.

My friend Carrie did an excellent job of putting together an agenda for our three meetings. The first meeting we talked about our systems — where we have our accounts, how we spend money (cash/debit card/credit card/checks), how we keep track of money, how we know when we're in financial trouble, and whether we have a budget. It turns out that none of us has a budget, although we all have a sense of how much we spend in various broad categories. We have a variety of systems. Two of us use Quicken (older versions, though) and do some online bill paying. Another has a spreasheet that she uses to track spending in a variety of categories (it takes a fair amount of hand calculation using checkbooks and credit card statements, and she’s usually months behind). One (who owns and rents apartments) has a fairly comprehensive manual system with good filing. The last system is all manual with less overall tracking.

One issue that comes up for all of us to one degree or another is how our approach to personal finance differs from our husbands', and how to talk about finance. There are the wives who want to pinch pennies and the husbands who don't want to talk about it. There are the husbands who wants to retire in five years (at thirty-something) or are simply happy with very little and the wives who wants to spend "normally" (my designation, not theirs). I imagine few couples are totally in sync about money, and it can be an anxiety-producing topic, which makes it a mine field in a marriage.

These meeting have helped me to talk with my husband about money. Actually making changes is more difficult. I recently gave up one of two days of babysitting a week. I’ve had the arrangement for years, and in previous years I used the time to do paying work. I’m no longer working much. Also, the sitter doesn’t take the baby, so I wasn’t really gaining “free” time. The kids adore going to the sitter, so cutting it out entirely didn’t feel like a feasible option. I’m hoping my husband can find a similar small, relatively painless change to make in his spending. Although we do okay from month to month, I’d like to save a little more – mainly for trips in the future, but also for any large home repair bills, and for down payments on new cars when the time comes.

I’m trying to find “enoughness” around many aspects of money. I’d like to keep enough records and do enough analysis to know where we are financially. I don’t have the time to track every penny, and I’m not convinced that the time it would take would be worth it to us. I want “enoughness” in our planning – I’m not convinced we need a budget per say, but I do think we need some way to be sure we don’t overspend on a regular basis. I try to find “enoughness” in my purchases – I like to end up in the middle. So my grocery budget is in the middle compared to my friends’. When I buy something, I don’t buy the cheapest or the most expensive, but try to end up somewhere in the middle. For instance, my new digital camera (good, but not the SLR I yearn for), my PDA (about $100), and my sewing machine (it does embroidery, but I got it used for under $1000). I’ve read Your Money or Your Life, and I admire the approach, but I’m not sure I want it for myself. Or maybe it’s that I’m almost positive I could never persuade my husband to do the program. At any rate, in my book, it’s more radical than the middle ground I seek in my financial affairs.

A stolen quote

I'm borrowing this from rebecca's pocket. It reflects my blog name.
Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I should get out more

I started a pottery (Wheel Forming I) class last Friday. It's three whole hours away from my family — heaven. There are only five other people in the class, and they are all basically like me. Their ages range from 20s (the instructor) to maybe 50s, all women, and well enough off to afford this class. But none of the other students has small children. They have been together in this class for at least one session, and they chat as they work, and I listen. I suddenly realize that they have spare time, leisure, time to themselves. For me it was a window into another world — when you have small children, you are always "on," always working. Even when I do take time for myself, I am likely to be called away from it very soon. And the volume of work to do in my house is heavy — there are dishes, laundry, meals, changing diapers, picking up, vacuuming, organizing, etc. It is literally never done. I am an adequate housewife, a long way from a neatnik, and I could be busy with this stuff all day long. But anyway, my point was that I felt like a window opened into a different world when I was listening to my classmates. It made me aware of how much I live in my own world — and when I get out, I socialize with people like me who have small children and stay home with them. My husband lives in at least three worlds — our family, work, and the fire station. This class will be good for me, I think. Being reminded that there is another world out there reminds me that there are many other worldviews out there.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


I have an internal fight with television. On the one hand, I’d like to totally get rid of it and see what life is like. On the other hand, I make good use of it: the kids watch in the morning while I take a shower, I occasionally use it as a babysitter, and I very much like watching West Wing. What bothers me most, I think, is the addictiveness of it, that when I turn it off the kids whine (usually when we’ve watched some extra, out of our routine).

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Mommy crashes

Wow, was Blogger really down?

I’ve been in a tailspin for the last couple of weeks, and I’m not sure I know you well enough to share it with you! It may be because it’s January. I don’t like to complain about New England weather because I agree with my friend who thinks that it’s unbecoming to complain about the weather. Also, I didn’t grow up in New England, and I feel that I chose to live here, and therefore should not complain. But last January I “ran away” overnight, and this year I was ready to leave again. It started with a busy, week, compounded by my husband going to two firefighter funerals. Neither was close by, but I dislike being reminded that firefighters die, and it makes me a little crazy that he uses precious vacation days for an optional activity that doesn’t include his family at all. Then my mother called to tell me that she’s taking my brother and his family to England to see my aunt and uncle. My uncle has some heart conditions, so I’m getting the sense that she want to see him just in case. My family and I are not invited. And the thing is, she could have saved being hurtful just by asking us. What’s the chance we’d fly our family of five to England in March? After that I had a really bad day. I was ready to leave home without my kids, make a new start somewhere warm. Or maybe just move out and persuade my husband to hire me back as the Nanny – I’d get paid, and every evening I’d be able to go back to my own space. My husband got it, kind of, and shooed me out of the house to have dessert and coffee with a friend which somehow helped to restore some perspective.

Today I’m recovering from a stomach bug I had on Sunday night. It was just for a few hours, but it was intense. I’m still feeling a little shaky. But I had a Mommy payday this morning – my five-year-old wrote me a note:

To Mom
I Like all the things you do for me Love Parker

He said it was a get well note. I cried and told him it was wonderful.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Note to Bookstores

I just got back from buying Amy Dacyczyn's The Complete Tightwad Gazette at my local chain bookstore. Yes, I know it's ironic that I paid full price for that particular book, however, it's for a Yankee Swap of women friends that I'm going to on Saturday. Fortunately, I asked an employee where to find the book and she led me right to it – in the Reference section. The Reference section, as you know, contains books like thesauruses and dictionaries. I could have looked a long time before I stumbled across it (which is why I usually prefer to shop online when I know exactly what I want to buy – but I’m short on time).

I looked the book up at Amazon, and the list of topics at the bottom of the page includes basically Personal Finance and Reference. Apparently, there is no homemaking category despite the fact that nearly everyone has a home and had to figure out how to run it. I personally have at least four books with I would put in the homemaking category (Home Comforts, Sink Reflections, Speed Cleaning, and A Housekeeper is Cheaper than a Divorce), and I have read many more. I think a homemaking category makes sense and would have a large market. Granted, it would overlap with personal finance and decorating, and many other topics, but it would prevent homemaking books from ending up in the Reference section!

I'm sure that the fear is that in creating such a subject grouping, feminists would boycott the whole bookstore. As I've said before, homemaking takes skill that has to be learned, and that skill is almost never acknowledged or valued. I think that creating the the section would define the work I do as worthwhile and valuable, as worth explaining and analyzing. A small step toward that goal, granted, but I'll take what I can get.

More on the environment

Aargh, I just lost my post! Here is a facimile therof!

I want to add to my discussion below of the Christian right views of environmentalism with a few quotes from the Grist article. I highly recommend the article.

"Christian politics has as its primary intent the conquest of the land -- of men, families, institutions, bureaucracies, courts, and governments for the Kingdom of Christ," writes constructionist George Grant. Christian dominion will be achieved by ending the separation of church and state, replacing U.S. democracy with a theocracy ruled by Old Testament law, and cutting all government social programs, instead turning that work over to Christian churches. Reconstructionists also would abolish government regulatory agencies, such as the U.S. EPA, because they are a distraction from their goal of Christianizing America, and subsequently, the rest of the world. "World conquest. That's what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish," says Grant. "We must win the world with the power of the Gospel. And we must never settle for anything less." Only when that conquest is complete can the Lord return.

People under the spell of such potent prophecies cannot be expected to worry about the environment. Why care about the earth when the droughts, floods, and pestilence brought by ecological collapse are signs of the Apocalypse foretold in the Bible? Why care about global climate change when you and yours will be rescued in the Rapture? And why care about converting from oil to solar when the same God who performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes can whip up a few billion barrels of light crude with a Word? Natural-resource depletion and overpopulation, then, are not concerns for End-Timers -- and nor are other ecological catastrophes, which are viewed by
dispensationalists as presaging the Great Tribulation.

We do not need politicians who believe that environmental atrocities are the route to salvation and the return of Jesus Christ. We need leadership to do the right thing for the environment – to reframe our consumerist paradigm that more is better, that a better life can only be achieved through more money and more stuff, and that our country must, at all costs, grow economically. There is no real "out" to throw things to; we will run out of oil, probably in my lifetime - we must change. Some change will happen at the grassroots level, but I know I need leadership to do the right thing, even when I know what it is – and I bet I’m not alone.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Bill Moyers and the Rapture

I'm extremely disturbed about the ideas Bill Moyers put forth in a recent speech about belief in the rapture and policies that ensure (or fail to ensure) a better world for our children. (Our minister spoke on this subject this Sunday.) The crux of the rapture is this:
Once Israel has occupied the rest of its 'biblical lands,' legions of the anti-Christ will attack it, triggering a final showdown in the valley of Armageddon. As the Jews who have not been converted are burned, the messiah will return for the rapture. True believers will be lifted out of their clothes and transported to heaven, where, seated next to the right hand of God, they will watch their political and religious opponents suffer plagues of boils, sores, locusts, and frogs during the several years of tribulation that follow.
If you believe in the rapture then there is no need to take care of the earth, to work for social justice, or to do anything else that ensures a better world for the future. And many of our leading politicians are born again Christians who presumably believe in the rapture. The politics are detailed in an article by Glenn Scherer in Grist. Scared yet?

I believe this topic needs to come out of the closet. If people thought that W started war in Iraq to fulfill some biblical prophecy providing the necessary preconditions for the rapture, would he have been re-elected? And if so, then what does that say about our country?

And at the very least, we should deny rapture-believers driver's licenses. If they believe that at any moment they are going to fly out of their cars, clearly they are a danger to the rest of us, much as an epileptic with uncontrolled seizures is.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Why did I have kids?

I went to knitting group at church today (we learn doing these dish cloths), and a very nice woman asked me why I had kids. Before I knew it, I had practically told her the story of my adult life BC (Before Children), but had never answered the question. When I realized that, I told her it was biological imperatave. Why don't I know why I had kids?

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Not at my best

My five-year old seems to need (or rather "need") me to get mad at him. I have days when I feel like I'm nagging at him constantly: "get dressed," "take your plate to the kitchen," "tell your little brother what you want him to do, not what you don't want him to do," "don't be bossy," "you don't have to be the mommy, that's my job," "Where are your shoes? If you put your shoes in the mudroom we wouldn't have this problem" and so on. Some days I make more of an effort to turn that off (I'm working on it). Today I don't think I was even thinking about not nagging, but we had a fabuous morning. It was sunny and in the forties, and we went to the park to swing. We didn't stress about getting there at a certain time. Mason (who is two) went on a big swing so that Evan (nine months) could have the baby swing. Parker can pump and mostly keeps himself going.

After that we drove around to get the little ones to sleep. Parker and I were having fun, then suddenly we weren't any more. I did realize, though, that it didn't go bad because of something I said or did. It must have been a sudden drop in blood sugar or something like that. Then there was a small transgression a little while later with a small consequence (help me clean up to pay me back for time spent other than I had planned). Followed by passive aggressive lollygagging, at which point I lost it a little. He did clean up, and did a pretty good job, but had a headache from crying about it. After that uncomfortable couple of hours, the rest of the day went fine. And it doesn't seem so bad now that I write about it and realize that it was only a little while out of a long day.

One of the hardest things about being a mother is getting past the mistakes without ever being able to remove myself from the situation. Also, not letting a bad time ruin the whole day. I don't want to lose it, ever. I know that I will sometimes lose it. It is useful to me to discover that it isn't always me. My five-year-old and I sometimes have a rough relationship, and that is my biggest doubt about being able to sucessfully homeschool. It may be the age, and it may be more than that. He's an awful lot like me (or like I used to be) with a tendency towards mopiness, and I lack sympathy with it, and resent the energy it pulls from the rest of the family.

How Christmas Went

I thought I was doing pretty well with the holidays this year, but then Christmas Eve came along. We went to church. We want that to be part of our Christmas tradition. What were we thinking!? Last year, with a four-year-old, and a one-year-old it went pretty well. My husband thought we were crazy to sit near the front, but the kids could see a little and it kept them interested. So this year we sat near the front again and my husband didn't think it was crazy -- at first. M, who is two, could not sit still. After one carol he announced "Dat was pretty loud!" At one point he came out with a line from Bob the Builder. Meanwhile, the baby (nine months) is taking apart the pew, chewing on sharpened pencils, flinging everything he can reach to the floor after first testing it for gum-easing properties. No one screamed and cried, but oh my! After it was over the guy in the pew next to us leaned over and said "Give them a screwdriver and they'd have the whole pew taken apart by the end of the service!" Ha ha.

So that wasn't fun. And then we head to Grandma's. On the way there I chime in with a comment and my husband tells me that I'm shanghai-ing the conversation, that my comment was not on topic. I cry. Later that night, at home, I have a hissy fit. I was totally overcome my the number of wrapped packages. After we go to bed I sneak downstairs to take some presents away from the tree!

And after all that, Christmas was fabulous. The number of presents seemed about right to me. I got stuff I wanted and so did everyone else. At Christmas dinner at a relative's our five-year old had the giggles, and I had a good time (and these are my husband's relatives). So I hope I learned something for next year.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Expectations and Reality

I was raised with a wealth of expectations. I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I never answered that I wanted to be a mother and housewife -- that was not a correct answer to the question (and not an answer I would have given anyway)! I was bright (still am, I hope) and took difficult courses in high school, went to college, and then three years later, did a professional master's degree at an well-known university.

Last week my women's circle topic was a look back at 2004 and a look forward to our hopes for 2005. Although I had thought about what I wanted to say, it still shocked me a bit to hear it come out of my mouth: I want to be a better mother; I want to develop more routine to my housework; I want to support my husband in his search for a new job. Who is this person? I'm not unhappy with my choices, but they are so at odds with the way I've viewed myself for so long. I identify myself as liberal and a feminist, and when I hear myself say these things I think I sound conservative. But I am not. And I don't know why conservatives have a perceived monopoly on making motherhood and homemaking a profession. The individual tasks I do each day to take care of my family are not difficult, but as a whole, it is a complicated job and a time consuming one. I know how to shop for a week's worth of food for my family. That's not a task that is glorified, but it also isn't one just anyone can do -- witness the men in the supermarket, cell phone in hand talking to the primary shopper (not that I'm saying that no men know how to grocery shop -- I'm just saying that it is a learned skill). I know the rhythm of my children's days, and can usually manage sleep and hunger issues so that the kids avoid meltdowns. Daddy is not as good at this because he isn't with the kids every day. He also isn't always willing to listen to my guidance because he doesn't always value my knowledge. Society does not value the work done by a mother and housewife.

As a liberal, I feel ashamed of saying that taking care of a family is a difficult job that takes some skill and is worth doing well. When I see emails with quotes about the value of motherhood at the end, I assume the sender is conservative. It should not be that way. I'm liberal, and I still believe quotes like this one even though they make me wince:

"The mother is the most precious possession of the nation, so precious that society advances its highest well-being when it protects the functions of the mother."

~Ellen Key

I think sometimes about taking to young women at my alma mater,
and what I would say about the life ahead of them. I'm not sure they would listen -- I don't think I would have. But I would tell them that most women (I think 80%) have children, and that it makes sense to think a little about that and plan for it. They can watch women they work with to see how they handle balancing motherhood and work. I would suggest that considering money and income before children arrive allows for more choices after. If anyone had told me to marry a good provider I would have laughed and said that I would provide for myself, thank you very much. But a husband or partner with a good income provides choices about staying home or working.

All of this feels like disloyalty to feminism and liberalism, but it shouldn't be. Raising a family is work, however it's apportioned between parents and paid caregivers and household help -- the work is valuable and should be valued by all people, regardless of politics. Recognizing the value of parenting and homemaking would allow young people to make more realistic plans about their future, perhaps choosing careers or employers that would make balancing family and work easier.