Friday, July 31, 2009

Gone to the Big Easy

We're off to New Orleans to spend a long weekend with H's family.

See ya in a few days!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

More on Consistency

This post was generated by the comments on yesterday's post.

Yes, consistency can be hard. It helps if you've established a track record, so that your kids know that there's nothing to be gained from whining and wheedling. If, in the past, you've caved after an extended period of whining, they know that they simply have to whine two seconds longer and you'll give in. That's not a judgment, mind you; it's a simple reality.

As Deepa said, no one can be a perfect parent or be consistent 100% of the time. Heck, I don't even strive to be perfect. I strive to be "good enough, most of the time."

However, I don't want to let it go. I want to work toward being as close to 100% consistent with my words as possible.

Maybe it's not as important to some children, but my kids' personalities demand that I mean what I say and say what I mean - there are different reasons why that's important for each kid.

There is so much in life that's out of our control: the economy, the environment, heck, the weather ... There seem to be precious few things that I can control absolutely. One of those things is my word. My ability to be someone that they can count on. My choice to be someone whom they can talk to and know - know - that what I say is true. They don't have to wonder or worry. That's one area of worry that I can completely eliminate from my children's lives.

Most people don't think that being consistent is that important. But I disagree, at least for my kids. Maybe it's not that important for some children. But for others, like mine, it's essential.

Some parents think that by giving in to their children's demands that they're doing something nice for them and their children should be grateful. They can't understand why their kids don't then appreciate them for their "gift." The thing they don't realize is that, in the kids' minds, they're not distinguishing good vacillation from bad. The parents think they're doing their kids a favor, while the kid just thinks that the parent is spineless. Even when a child is too young to realize it, they don't think, "Oh, how nice that Mommy let me gorge on candy before dinner even though she said I couldn't have any." Instead, they think, probably subconsciously, "All I had to do was scream a little louder this time and Mommy gave in. I can't really count on what she says, even when she says she really means it this time."

I think that most people see consistency as a nice goal to work toward, but not that important. Yes, it would be great not to have to argue with their children, but if the argument gets too heated, they just give in and the argument is over. After all, it's easier, right? In my mind, no, it's not easier.

Once a kid knows that you don't necessarily mean what you say ("I really mean it this time!" Sure, Mom.), the groundwork is laid for endless argument, negotiation, manipulation, and dare I say, disrespect.

Think of your friends. Have you ever had a friend who you couldn't trust to follow through? Maybe she was always thirty minutes late. Or maybe she'd show up most of the time when she agreed to meet you somewhere. Or maybe she promised to keep a secret but then let it slip ... but it's no big deal, it was just one mutual friend she told.

How do you think of that friend? Is she someone you'd go to in a crisis? What if you really needed someone to be there emotionally for you? Could you count on her when the times got really rough?

I don't want my kids to be asking themselves those questions about me, even if those questions are subconscious.

This may all sound harsh and judgmental. It's not. Not at all. It's just my take on this whole consistency thing. All I know is, I don't fight the battles with my kids that I see other parents face when they don't follow through on their word.

We fight other battles, neither harder or easier, just different.

If you liked this post, you might enjoy More on Natural and Logical Consequences.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Consistency Is Key

In my post last Wednesday, I proposed a scenario. You're standing in front of a vending machine and your child is throwing a tantrum. What to do? You vacillate between giving in and holding your ground. I gave you some options for responses - I was curious to see what most of you would do.

So, what was the correct option to choose? The right answer is ... drumroll ...

... it depends.

What did you think? That I'd actually know the right answer? Ha ha.

The truth is, the correct option depends on lots of things: the age of your child, the personality of your child, what your day has been like, what you've done in the past, what your child's current mental state is, and what kinds of things make your child feel secure.

Today I just want to focus on Option A. When you give in to your child's demands in the middle of the tantrum, why is it that you always feel so defeated and disrespected? Does your kid appreciate getting his way? Probably not. But why not? After all, you're giving him what he wants. Isn't that what all kids want ... their way?

As it turns out, most likely not.

Think about the life of a young child. What is their world like? A place of newness and mystery. Every day they encounter things that they've never before seen: new technology, new people, new social expectations. For some kids, this is a delight. They wake each day ready to tackle every new situation they come across, and do it with an enthusiastic smile.

But there's another entirely different type of child, one that some of us can't recognize immediately, especially if we're more the adventurous type. This child is one that sees life's newness as frightening and threatening. This child wakes each morning, wondering what new situation he'll encounter and fearful that he won't know how to respond. Yesterday, it was Mom expecting him to have a conversation with the cashier at the grocery store - a total stranger! - and the day before that it was Dad expecting him to go on a field trip with his class to someplace he'd never been before - and get there in a stranger's car (the parent of a classmate he doesn't even like all that much!) - and do it without Mom or Dad with him.

What'll it be today? Will he be expected to go someplace with lots of overwhelming noise and bright lights with tons of people? Will he be expected to play with other kids he's never met before? He may wake each morning on edge, waiting for that "thing" that will happen that'll throw him off track.

What this type of kid thrives on is consistency. That's all those things that so many adults think is limiting a child's creativity: schedule, routine, order. For this kid - and I know, because my oldest is just this sort - he flounders with spontaneity and thrives on routine.

So how does this relate to the vending machine incident? Look at what the parent is giving this child. She's saying one thing ("I'll buy you a snack, but it needs to be healthy.") and doing another ("Here. Have the damned Oreos."). The child simply can't know what to expect. Will my mom stick to what she said, or will she waffle? I can't count on her.

One of the main things I want from my kids is to trust me. I want them to know that what I say is what I mean - without a doubt. I want them to know that if I tell them something, they can count on me following through - whether it's something they enjoy or something they don't.

Of course, I'm not rigid or unreasonable. I always encourage them to give me good reasons to change my mind if I've said something they don't like ("no pizza for movie night this week" ... "but Mom, we haven't had pizza in a month, and here's a coupon!"). And I sometimes change my mind ("I know I said that we weren't going to get pizza for movie night this week, but I didn't go to the grocery store and I have a coupon"). And of course, if I'm forced by circumstances to not be consistent - say, if guests dropped by unexpectedly and we weren't able to have movie night - I always apologize and talk with them to work out an alternative solution.

My point is, I want my kids to trust my word and to find our home a safe, secure place that they know they can count on. Does that mean that they sometimes don't get what they want? Sure. Does that mean that sometimes I don't get what I want? Sure. But at least my kids know where I stand.

How would I have handled the vending machine incident? These days, it would be Option D. If they didn't have their own money, they'd have to live with what I'm willing to buy or go hungry. When they were younger, it would most likely have been Option C or E (depending on how far the tantrum had progressed and my patience lasted).

Was our house tantrum free when the kids were young? Good grief, no. (And some of those tantrums were thrown by my kids, not me.) We were Tantrum Central for years. It took me years to figure out, though, that many of those tantrums were caused by my child feeling out of control. By being consistent and providing a stable environment, I'm able to counter some of that anxiety.

One of my goals as a parent is to respect the personality of each of my children and to provide a home where they have stability and trust.

I can tell after reading this post that my thoughts are all jumbled up. I have a lot of ideas about consistency, high-needs children, and respect for individual personalities. I'll have to think about this and try to put my thoughts together better in another post.

If you enjoyed this post, you might like Natural and Logical Consequences

Photo of cookie by Torben H from here

Monday, July 27, 2009

"Parent/Teen Breakthrough"

I recently started reading a book called Parent/Teen Breakthrough: The Relationship Approach. I don't even remember where I heard about it. It's an old book - almost twenty years old - but it still has a lot to offer.

I'm not very far into it, but it has an interesting and refreshing way of looking at parenting kids when they become teens. The authors' premise is that, when kids begin to enter puberty, they switch from wanting to be nurtured, to thinking about becoming independent from us and getting ready to leave home, even if it's a subconscious thought.

In response, as parents, we must shift our focus from controlling and molding our children, to developing respectful, loving relationships with them. The more we control, the more they fight back, simply because their whole being is focused on becoming independent. The solution instead is to treat your child more as a peer and less as a problem to control. This is the first step to developing the relationship that you'll have with your adult child for many decades to come.

I'll write more about this book once I finish it, but for now I simply wanted to make a mention of it. It has some really good ideas about how to talk to your teens and preteens.

My only problem with the authors' approach is that I believe that we should be treating our children with this respect from birth instead of waiting until they reach puberty. My thought is that if you start out with your relationship with your child being mutually respectful, the teen years become much easier to handle, because you've already established that trust and respect.

However, I can't speak from experience yet, because we're just now beginning to enter this phase. So far, our pre-puberty period has been pretty easy - much easier than toddlerhood. It could be that we simply haven't gotten to the difficult stage. My sincere hope is that we've laid the groundwork for the relationship that this book talks about.

Unfortunately with parenting our children, we only know if we've done a good job once it's far too late to make any changes. No do-overs, ya know?


If you liked this post, you might enjoy APing Older Children: I'm Always behind the Curve.

Sunday's Gratitude Post

The highly observant of you will notice that Sunday's gratitude post is a day late. As you probably expected, it's related to yesterday's post.

Today I'm grateful for patience.

That's all I'm sayin'.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Saturday Quote for the Day

"We don't have the shipping bolts."
--spoken by Delivery Guy #1, who was supposed to set up our washer today

... followed quickly by a huge internal "Aaaaargh!," uttered by my evil twin inside my head, when Delivery Guy #1 said he'd have to come back tomorrow since he couldn't install the washer without the shipping bolts

... which was followed by begging and pleading and practically groveling to Delivery Guys #1 and #2 to hang around long enough for me to go get shipping bolts from the nearby Sears store, which, I swear, really is only five minutes away ("Really. It's only five minutes!"), since they kept saying that they had a delivery schedule to keep and couldn't hang around while I ran on a fool's errand

... which was followed by a mad dash to the Sears store, five minutes away, where I cajoled the manager into finding a vice grip to wrestle four shipping bolts out of the back of another Samsung display washer

... which was followed by another mad dash back home, still five minutes away, where I screeched into our driveway, relieved to see the Sears truck still blocking our cul de sac, and thrust the bolts into the hands of Delivery Guy #2

... which was followed by Delivery Guys #1 and #2 trying in vain to get the bolts into the back of the machine while I pathetically slunk upstairs to let DH deal with it

... which was followed by voices that were not saying things like "Hand me that screwdriver" or "You lift that end, and I'll lift this one" or "Look, it's a perfect fit" but instead were saying things like "These must be off a different model" and "The bolts could be stripped" and "I can't get these to fit" and "We can't install the washer without the bolts"

... which was followed by my wonderful husband asking me, "Do you want to hear the good news?"

... which was followed by me saying, "Is there any?"

... which was followed by H saying, "No."

... which was followed by me grumbling, reluctantly trudging downstairs to hear that they'd be back tomorrow, hopefully with the proper bolts in hand

... which should be followed tomorrow with a gratitude post that I won't even have to think of a topic for.

Our new washer, sitting forlornly in our garage, surrounded by our wet, dirty laundry. Notice the gorgeous gouge and huge dents on the top, which enabled us to buy it for half off.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Introverted Leader

On Monday, I asked what non-attachment parents think about the AP philosophy in this post. Here's why I was asking ... I've decided I'm going to pursue becoming an API leader!

One of my goals as a leader would be to make attachment parenting appeal to more mainstream parents, and in order to do that I need to find out what typical parents think about AP - that is, if they think anything about it at all. Hence my question. (But apparently, not too many non-AP people read my blog, or at least they don't comment.)

There also seems to be a lack of vocal parents of older kids in the AP community, so parents of young children have no one to ask questions of who've already been there, done that. Many attached parents are entirely comfortable being attached to their babies, but they question the usefulness or wisdom of maintaining the connection through the elementary ages and into the teen years.

Now ... all I have to do is figure out how to find the time to go through the application process - not to mention the actual meetings. :)

If you liked this post, you might enjoy Attachment Parenting: Permissive Parenting?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Meditation on the Fragility of Clean Laundry

Alas, poor Kenmore 80 Series Heavy Duty washer.
I knew it, Horatio. A machine of infinite clean, of most excellent fancy.
It hath borne dirty laundry in its bowels a thousand times, and now, how abhorr'd in my imagination it is! My gorge rims at it.
Here hung that lid that I have closed I know not how oft.
Where be your drain now? Your water? Your buzzer? Your flashes of cleanliness, that were wont to set the dryer on a roar?
Not one now, to mock your own spinning? Quite Tide-fallen?
Now get you to the back of the Sears delivery truck, and tell them, let them find a new home for you, to this favor they must come. And make them deliver my new washer.

If you liked this post, you might enjoy Calling the Cat

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Vending Machine Vacillations

Picture this scenario ...

You're standing at a vending machine, because your child is starving and you weren't prepared with your usual store of snacks and there isn't an healthy, unprocessed gram of food for miles. There isn't even a moderately healthy nugget of food in the building. The closest thing you can get is what's in front of you, staring out at you, taunting you, from behind fingerprinted Plexiglas.

You say, "Okay, I'll buy you a snack, but it needs to be something relatively healthy, something with protein, since you haven't had lunch yet." You survey your choices, and here are your "healthy" options: Cheez-its, Fig Newtons, and oatmeal raisin cookies. Oh yeah, and a squished Nature Valley granola bar that looks like it's been there since the Clinton administration, but at least it has some nuts in it ... somewhere. You search in vain at the bottom of your purse for that half-eaten bag of peanuts that you were sure your kid stuck in there last week. No luck.

Out of the corner of your eye you see your little devil-child, who only moments ago was your sweet little angel, spying the top row: Snickers, Oreos, Reese's. Her gaze moves down a notch to take in the potato chips and Doritos. Yikes. Your stomach knots up, knowing you gotta get her outta here pronto, with something not too gross to hold her over for an hour until lunch.

You smile weakly. "What'll it be? Cheez-its might have some protein; Fig Newtons and the cookies have fruit [okay, that's stretching it]. Hey, that granola bar looks tasty, doesn't it?"

"I want Oreos! I want Oreos!"

"Remember how we talked about how eating only carbs and empty calories makes you short-tempered? We really need to choose something with protein. How about those Cheez-its? Mmm, don't they look good?"

"I want Oreos! I want Oreos! Waaaaah!"

"I don't want to waste our money buying anything junky. You can pick something relatively healthy to tide you over, or you're welcome to wait until lunch to eat."

"I want Oreos! I WANT OREOS!!!" Your child crumples in a heap at your feet - from hunger, frustration, manipulation?

What do you do?

Option A:
You sigh and punch B4 and the Oreos fall with a sickening thud. Hey, at least your kid will stop screaming at a decibel level sufficient to make people stick their heads out of their office doors to see who the demon seed is. After all, you hardly ever buy junk and it'll be a treat this time. Your kid will be grateful.

Option B:
You say, "Come on, honey. You need to choose. Please? Hurry! People are staring! Make a choice already!" In frustration, you finally choose the granola bar, which lands like a brick with a clunk. Hey, your kid should be happy - at least it's food.

Option C:
"I'm willing to buy you either the granola bar or Cheez-its. If you don't want one of those, you can wait until lunch." You gave a choice, right? That should be enough. You didn't even have to do that much.

Option D:
"Did you bring your own money? If you're paying, it's your choice." Your child may not make the best decisions, even when you're standing there watching, but it IS their money, and you don't have a bit of authority over it.

Option E:
"Just get the Oreos. Whatever you want. Just stop the screaming!' You can't take it anymore and will do anything just to get out of the situation. You'll deal with the repercussions later, and the two of you will discuss better ways to handle the situation in the future. For good measure, you buy yourself a Snickers; after all, you deserve a little reward for surviving through that tantrum!

Option F:
"I'm trying to help you, and you're screaming at me. I'm happy to talk this over when you're reasonable." You walk away. You did the best you could, and your child wasn't willing to compromise. Next time, (s)he'll make a choice without arguing and you'll both be happier.

Option G:
Something else. What is it?

If you liked this post, you might enjoy APing Older Children: Allowances

Photo of vending machine by Rkob from here

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"If You're Not Scared, You're Not Doing It Right"

That quote I heard tonight at our monthly homeschooling support meeting. It was meant as a joke, but in a sense, it's true.

Just about every homeschooler I know - even those who on the surface look like they have it all figured out - secretly ask themselves two things on a regular basis:

"Am I doing enough? Will my kids know enough to get into college and pursue the career they want?"
"Am I doing too much? Am I cramming so much information down their throats that they'll end up rebelling, hate learning, and forget everything anyway?"

The mom who made the joke is a long-time veteran homeschooler with highly accomplished children. If she gets scared sometimes, what chance to I have?

One day I'm convinced that my kid is destined for life as a grocery bagger (not that there's anything wrong with that), and I need to "Hurry! We only have five years left to learn everything he needs to know!!! Get the curriculum catalog, and let's get cracking!" And the next I'm convinced that they're way ahead of the game. After all, they have one-on-one time with their teacher throughout the day, they're learning things they enjoy (and thus are less likely to forget), and they get lots of free time to be kids.

What's the answer? Considering I have a different answer just about every day, I don't know. But I do know that my kids are happy and healthy, and they enjoy being around each other. We love spending time as a family. So no matter what happens, at least we have that, which is a lot more than many families can say.

If you liked this post, you might enjoy What We Give Our Kids

Photo of cloud question mark by fontplaydotcom from here

Monday, July 20, 2009

Attachment Parenting: Permissive Parenting?

I'm curious to know what people who aren't attachment parents think about the practice. Is it child-led parenting? Permissive parenting? No-holds-barred parenting? Mom-as-doormat parenting? Unparenting?

Do you think that attachment parenting can work for older kids? Does it extend beyond breastfeeding, cosleeping, and babywearing?

I'm curious what you think, and I'll explain why in an upcoming post.

What are your thoughts?

Give me your feedback! Leave a comment here or email me at

Don't know what attachment parenting is all about? Look at Attachment Parenting International's website, where they talk about the "8 Principles."

If you liked this post, you might enjoy The 8 Principles with Older Kids ... Still Valid?

Photo from here

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sunday's Gratitude Post

Tonight I'm grateful for organizational urges. They don't come to me very often.

Well, that's not true, actually. They come to me quite often ... but they whiz by before I can grab hold.

Recently, however, I've been watching for them and anticipating, so I can latch on before they disappear. For the last couple of months, we've taken a few hours out of our weekends to pick one small section of the house and organize it. Today it was the office, and it got to be a bigger job than I had planned. I ended up going through piles of stuff, recycling a bunch of junk, putting some in the Goodwill box, and even organizing drawers.

I'm dirty and tired, but I feel refreshed. I can open my drawers and see what supposed to be in there!

Now, let's see how long the organization lasts.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Saturday Quote for the Day

"Don't underestimate the skinniness of the T."

--spoken by T, after helping me go through his closet and trying on pair after pair of pants that either fit in the waist and were high waters, or were the right length and had room for another child in the waistband

Friday, July 17, 2009

My Understated 100th Celebration

So this is my 100th post! I had big plans for this post (well, as big as my plans tend to get). I was going to come up with something clever, probably centering on "100." 

Maybe ... "Top 100 Big Blog Plans"

Or ... "100 Ways to Say 'I Don't Know. Let's Go Look It Up.'"

Or maybe ... "100 Secret Places to Hide Junk When Someone Shows up at the Door Unexpectedly"

Or how about ... "100 Quick Fixes for Broken Toys, Using Only Duct Tape, Thumbtacks, an Old Band-Aid, a Dirty Sock, and That Little Piece of Stretchy Plastic That Came with That Thing They Got for Christmas Two Years Ago That's Missing Half Its Pieces"

Or the ever-popular ... "100 Reasons Not to Sneak out of the House and Drive down the Coast, Leaving Last-Night's Leftover Tofu Surprise for the Family Dinner"

And the ever-useful ... "100 Ways to Say, 'Just a minute! I'll Be Right There!'"

Or perhaps ... "100 Speedy Ways to Clean up Vomit, Pee, and Other Bodily Fluids, with Bonus Tips for Chunks and Dried-On Stains!"

And my favorite ... "Kids Confess Their 100 Methods for Avoiding Bedtime, Kitchen Clean-up, and Reconciliation with Siblings"

With its converse ... "100 Ways to Bribe, Cajole, Wheedle, Coax, Coerce, Guilt, Manipulate, and Bully Your Kids to Go to Bed, Clean up the Kitchen, and Stop Fighting"

Alas, I didn't have any good ideas, so you'll just have to live with this non-celebration.

Join me for the next 100. Maybe by then I'll have a suitable party and a respectable "Top 200" list planned.

Photo of fireworks by Berriehol from here
Photo of 100 by Johannesen ( from here

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Calling the Cat

Here in the Eclectic House, we have our own special way of calling our cat. "Call a cat?" you ask. "Can't be done."

Oh, but I beg to differ. 

"Here, kitty kitty," you suggest?
Snap our fingers, you ask?
Make smooching sounds, kissing sounds, or clicking sounds?

All those things might work on some cats, but not ours. When we try that, she just looks at us like my kids look at a plate of brussels sprouts. Mildly amusing, but not too interesting, and with the hope that we'll magically disappear.

Instead, here's what we do.... We screeeeeech!!! We've developed an entire litany of shrieks, howls, screams, yowls, and caterwauls that have the effect of enticing her to us. (Um, sometimes.) The kids see her from across a room and commence a cacophony that makes innocent bystanders temporarily deaf.

If the kids are lucky, she'll slowly start meandering their way, trying to look as if she has an errand to run, which has nothing to do with the humans staring at her screeching at the tops of their discordant voices. When she gets in the same room, she sits down, acting for all the world that she'd forgotten that she'd already returned that overdue library book, so she didn't need to run that errand after all.

If they're really lucky, she'll walk all the way in the room, stand for a while swishing long arcs with her tail, acting as if she'd made it to the library but realized that the overdue book was left sitting on her kitchen table. At which point she'll promptly trot out of the room, belly fat flopping from side to side, presumably to check that the book wasn't left sitting in a pool of spilled milk.

If they're really really lucky, supremely lucky, stupendously lucky, she'll deign to come up to the kids, actually acknowledging their presence, and hunt for the sound, overdue book be damned. She might even permit us to pet her. For a moment.

Over the years, we've had to modify our squalls, as she quickly tires of our shenanigans and forces us to create new sounds previously unknown to mankind (or at least to our little cul de sac). What used to be little squawks and whines have morphed into this huge production of anti-melody. 

Tonight she glances, slowly blinking, front paws primly together as she observes her minions. Her look says, simultaneously, "Yes, I know you feed me, human. No, you do not amuse me. Hmm, I wonder if you're worth my time. If I ignore you now, will you feed me later? If I pay attention to you now, have I demeaned myself? Oh, I think I'll lick this paw."

Ah, cats. Gotta love 'em.

If you liked this post, you might enjoy A Sure-Fire Way to Stop the Bickering

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Homeschooling Threatened in England

There's been a lot of talk on the homeschooling lists lately about a report in England recommending that strict regulations be placed on home education, ultimately threatening its legality.

Why should we care? After all, it's all the way across the pond, and we gave the king the boot centuries ago. Well, the truth is that the world is a much smaller place now, and things that happen in Europe frequently find their way across the ocean to our shores (and vice versa). When homeschoolers are threatened in any part of the world, homeschoolers here are threatened as well. Besides, as Americans, we want the citizens of the world to enjoy the same rights that we have.

The Report to the Secretary of State on the Review of Elective Home Education in England, make by Graham Badman (yes, his real name - and the guy he reports to is Ed Balls ... really), is a response to allegations that homeschooled children are at more risk of abuse than those at school. (As we all know, abuse can happen whether a child is in public school, no school, homeschool, or even exclusive private school. Abusers don't need the cover of homeschooling.) 

His own report makes it clear that the allegations are unfounded.

If the recommendations in the report are followed, the government would be established as "parent of first resort," giving the state automatic access to private homes to interview children without another adult present. That gives me cold chills. Just the thought of our government, any government, being the parent of first resort to my children is horrific. 

There are plenty of other recommendations of the report that are scary, but that one item is enough to make me want to rally the troops. 

Whether you homeschool or not, choose to put your child in public or private school, or even have a glimmer of thought that parents should have the right to choose alternative education, please consider signing this petition. We truly live in a global community now, and homeschoolers in England need our help.

Oh, and if you want to spend a few minutes laughing, check out the spoof blog of Graham Badman, written by some unknown extremely clever writer. You really need to start from the first post, though, for it to make any sense (only eight posts).

If you liked this post, you might enjoy "The Bitter Homeschooler's Wish List"

Photo of school crossing sign in England from here

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Convergence of Educational Ideas

Several things converged recently having to do with education - namely, traditional education versus alternative strategies. First, H sent me this blog post, "The Varieties of High School Education," which is interesting partly for its comments. The post wasn't anything intellectually earth-shattering, but it's always nice to see confirmation that others think about education as a means to truly learning and not just "getting an A."

I also was talking with a couple of friends about traditional educational methods, such as grades and memorization. One mom, who is sending her seventh-grade daughter to a new private school this fall, was disheartened to learn that the school will be using traditional grades. The school has many positive things going for it, but my friend was highly disappointed to find this same ol', same ol' being used in what otherwise promises to be a progressive, alternative school. 

This ties into a talk I saw back in April, which I posted about in "A Vision of Students As Accomplished Learners." Robert Duke, the speaker, said that, as soon as students find that they'll be tested or graded, the entire focus of learning changes. Instead of "Cool, this is interesting. Look at this Wikipedia entry about this topic!" you get "Will this be on the test?" or even (unspoken) "What's the minimum I have to know in order to get an A?" The focus shifts from learning to learning as little as necessary.

The online conversation I had with my other friend had to do with memorization of facts. We were talking specifically about math facts, but it generalizes to other areas as well. I agree that sometimes memorization is a good thing and necessary. But the big question is when? Should I drill my kid over the summer on his multiplication facts before he understands why they're important? What's the point of that?

Let's face it. Memorizing something like the times tables is simple and doesn't take too long. Why do we stress over that one little thing so much? There's plenty of time in a kid's younger years (and it goes faster at an older age) to master that when it's necessary, and the kid is much more willing to do it when he sees the reason.

Take T, for instance. He recently finished division (we follow a mastery vs. spiral approach when it comes to math). He had never memorized his multiplication tables back when we were focusing on multiplication, but it was abundantly clear that he completely understood the concept. He was inventing little mental tricks to figure out the answer to problems without anyone teaching him the tricks. So when long division came around, he found himself spending a long time doing the problems. Again, it wasn't because he didn't understand the concept - that part came easily - it was because he was having to take time to do his little mental tricks to figure out the multiplication problems.

(Side note: I recently bought Secrets of Mental Math: The Mathemagician's Guide to Lightning Calculation and Amazing Math Tricksbut haven't had a chance to sit down with it yet. The kids thought it was cool that Bill Nye wrote one of the forewords.)

Yes, it would have been easier for T to have already mastered the times tables, but he didn't see the reason for it until tackling long division. When he realized that he was wasting a lot of time figuring out multiplication problems in the middle of a long division problem, then he was motivated to learn the times tables. I didn't have to fight him about memorizing; instead he did it when he saw the necessity of it and it went fairly smoothly.

Granted, there are some kids who, for whatever reason, don't seem to be motivated on their own. Is it personality? Smarts? Peer pressure? Who knows? There will always be those students, and it's our job to figure out what makes them tick.

The question is, does traditional education further the learning of these kids - not to mention all the self-motivated ones? I have yet to see any hard evidence that it does in any real way. As Duke said, the educational system has it all wrong.

Now I just have to figure out how to do it right. Sigh.

If you liked this post, you might enjoy Transitioning from Love of Learning to Academic Excellence

Photo of "Rules for Class" by theeerin from here

Monday, July 13, 2009

Lazy Dazy Summer

Today my kids learned to do the "bridge" when shuffling cards. I can now rest easy, knowing that my children accomplished something over the summer. Whew! At least the learning portion of the summer is behind us!

My kids have immersed themselves in cards recently, and we frequently have four decks going at once. The kids think it's so nice to be able to do something with each other, without actually having to do what the other one wants (at least for solitaire).

Does anyone have any good suggestions for books on card games, primarily on solitaire or two-person games? We have Hoyle's Rules of Games and it's good. But I'm looking for a book that focuses on card games, specifically ones that kids can play by themselves.

Cards are an amazing invention. After rediscovering them with my kids this summer, I marvel again at how brilliant those people were centuries ago to create this little stack of paper (then wood, I think) and that it can be used in so many myriad ways. I need to read up on the history of cards. It must be a fascinating one.

Ooh ... unit study!

Oh wait ... after that bridge thing, we'll need to hold off until fall to learn something else.

Photo of cards by ralphunden from here

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sunday's Gratitude Post

We love Photo Booth! This is quality family time at its best. I'm truly grateful for anything that causes all of us to want to spend time together, laughing, being silly, and looking really stupid. 

Here, for your enjoyment ...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Saturday Quote for the Day

"You look like a witch."
--G, on my last two attempts at profile photos on my website

"Yes, you do."
--T, in agreement

Hmm, maybe it's not that I just look like a witch ...

Attempt 1:

Attempt 2:

I'm guessing they won't like this one, haha:

I like the "Color Pencil" effect in Photo Booth because it hides the wrinkles. :)

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Object of My Desire

I hate to admit it, but I lust. I yearn and ache for the new Kindle. Imagine, curling up with a slim piece of plastic with enough reading material for days and days. Imagine, packing one tiny device, light enough to slip inside my purse, that holds books and books. Imagine, sitting in a waiting room and having the book I want to read literally at my fingertips, virtually instanteously (for a price, of course).

I can justify it because the price just came down, right? I can rationalize it because I'm a homeschooler, right? It's educational, right?

Sigh. Now I just need to figure out a way to make enough money not only to buy the thing but also pay for all the books to put on it.

That's the thing about fantasies. Reality never measures up. (That's something I learned in my college days. hehe) I'll just stick to my fantasies ... at least for now.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Texas Talk

An online friend is moving to Austin shortly, so I thought that big event merited a post devoted to Texas sayings. So this is for you, Era! (Check out her blog on Today's Thought.) If you need a reminder about living in our fair city, check out the "Rules for Living in Austin." There will be a test.

Here below, from Rice University's website, is a page called "Texas Talk." It outlines many of the sayings one might hear in the Lone Star state, but then again, maybe not. :) A lot of the sayings listed are ones that I haven't ever heard, even though I grew up in Redneck, Texas, and lived there my whole childhood (don't bother trying to find it on a map).

So, Era, we're mighty proud to call you one of our own. I'm so happy I'm just all swoled up like a stomped on toad frog. Shoot, I think you'll take to Austin pert near right away. When ya get here, just hunker down in the cool AC and wait it out 'til we git our next gully-washer. It was 108 yesterday, and today's lookin ta be hotter. Myself, I'm fixin' to make me a mess a iced tea. Welcome!

Texas Talk
used to describe everything from mild annoyance to dangerous, murderous rage. Usually pronounced "agger-vated."
all swole up
an alternative to aggravated, but sometimes carries connotations of being obstinate, proud and self-abosorbed, in addition to being aggravated.
all choked up
upset, overcome with emotions (other than aggravation). A person is usually "all choked up" when they are deeply moved by sadness or by the thoughtfulness of others.
all worked up
in a state of aggravation, arousal of some type, in a state of deeply offended pride, offended sensibilities, in a state of anxiety, etc. Agitated.
a synonym for coffee, when the Arbuckle brand was virtually the only one available.
usually means football.
adjective used to describe milk that has begun to sour.
blue norther
storm that comes up as a giant, blue-black cloud of cold air comes over the warm gulf air and "just about freezes us to death!" Rain and wind may accompany the black cloud.
catty whompus
used to describe something that doesn't fit properly or is out of line.
clabber milk
butter milk
come hell or high water
shows determination to proceed, regardless of the problems, obstacles, etc.
to have conniptions is to get upset and raise a ruckus.
tough and/or bad tempered man, woman or horse.
dad blame it, dad gum it, dag nab it
euphamisms coined to allow expressive speech without swearing.
depending on the Dillo, this can be the noontime meal or the evening meal.
eat up
eaten up, destroyed, oxidized.
fess up
fit to be tied
really upset.
food; the rest of the meal, excluding the main dish.
fixin' ta
getting ready to do something.
an extraordinary amount of rain.
an old cowboy term meaning "old rascal." It's generally meant affably.
go ahead on
"You go ahead, I'll catch up later."
go to the house
go in for dinner/supper, depending on the Dillo.
an extraordinary amount of rain.
hissy fit
This term was never actually defined, but I get the impression it's a state of extreme agitation and not a pretty thing to see.
How do you do?
i'll swan
used instead of "I swear."
a few fingers tastier than finger-lickin' good.
lit out
took off, started out, or absconded across some terrain.
a pretty girl.
a loner, an independent cuss, wild. First used to describe cattle owned by Sam Maverick of Galveston Island. His cattle were "wild-like" and he'd swim them across West Bay and join up with the herd going north. When cattle broke the herd, the wranglers said, "That's one of Maverick's."
a storm; not as bad as a blue norther.
ole cuss
and old rascal (or galoot) who is tough and/or bad-tempered.
over yonder
a directional phrase meaning "over there."
over in through there, also: you go up in through there.
Directional phrase; one I'm told foreigners (read: anybody except a Texan) have trouble understanding.
an individual's farm or ranch.
common mutt horse.
see above. This is definitely not a compliment, and should not be treated as such.
knocked down, smashed flat, with dramatic force.
post oak
wood that is hard and resistant to rot and can be used for fenceposts.
ridin' high
doin' aw'right; probably a reference to the quality of horse you are riding. If you're poor, you ride a burro (short) or a plug. If you're wealthy, you might ride a thoroughbred or Tennessee Walker; therefore, you're ridin' high.
an expletive (should be used with an exclamation point).
a piece of wood that is cut on an angle is cut slaunchways.
a particularly important Texas adjective meaning worthless, no-count, useless, bad. Enhanced inflection makes it more emphatic.
squaddies (or is that quaddies?)
cowboys. This was a very common term in the 19th century.
Once again, depending on the Dillo, this can be either the noon or the evening meal.
sweet milk
milk that tastes good.
a very heavy downpour.
taken to
began, adapted, started liking. Use #l: He's taken to drinking." Use #2: She's taken to that new job of hers right off."
the friendly creature
19th century term for whiskey.
to spill or dump
walkin' in tall cotton
doin' aw'right (see ridin' high)
as far as I can tell, this is an extremely useful, if somewhat vague verb of many uses. It's usually used as a past participle. "The wheel was wallered out." or "The Dillo List wallered down an gave that little nawthun lady a bunch of Texas Tawk."
whole nuther thing
soemthing else entirely
when something is not fitting properly, e.g., "You'll never get that wine open, the corscrew is all whomperjawed!"
wore out
fatigued, exhausted; also sometimes used for "worn out" machinery, etc.
type of human who is at the bottom of many Texas methaphysical, moral and cultural paradigms. Damnyankee is thought to be objectively descriptive rather than profane, and it is comfortably accomodated in some social environments where "bad language" is otherwise controlled by inherent coercive prohibitions. (Note: Although it is often said that damnyankees do a pretty good job of compiling Texasisms.)

"Out of the Mouths of Texans."

A group of descriptive phrases, many of them similes. I've grouped them according to . . . well, you'll see.

You don't want to hear a Texan say you're:

  • ugly as a mud fence
  • ugly as homemade sin
  • ugly as homemade soap
  • plug-ugly
  • all hat and no cattle
  • dumber than dirt
  • older than two trees
  • tighter than bark on a tree
  • like ugly on an ape
  • dumb as a box of rocks
  • crooked as a dog's hind leg
  • crooked as a barrel of snakes
  • dumb as a box of hammers
  • as handy as hip pockets on a hog (If a Texan says this, it's a compliment (honest!)
  • You're cute as a possum.
  • You're happy as a gopher in soft dirt.
  • You're tough as a boot.
  • You're quick as a hiccup.
  • You're wolverine mean.
  • You'll do to run the river with. (This means you're reliable.)
  • You're big enough to hunt bear (bar) with a switch. (You're very big.)
  • You just don't know what he might do. (This, I'm told is the safest reputation to have around potentially violent fellow Texans.)

Emotional states in the state of Texas:

  • Happy as a gopher in soft dirt.
  • Like a one-legged man at a butt-kicking contest. (I assume this would mean you're extremely frustrated, or perhaps out of place, or dumb as box of hammers.)
  • Like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. (Nervous. Very, very nervous.)
  • Like a gnat in a hail storm. (Evokes quite a picture, doesn't it?)
  • Having a fit (or a hissy fit) and stepping in it. (Sounds like a tantrum of major proportions.)
  • Somebody who looks like he/she has been rode hard and put up wet. (A tired individual who looks somewhat the worse for wear.)

Other Lonestar similes:

  • He beat him like a rented mule. (Ouch!)
  • Hidden in the basement like a crazy aunt.
  • Blacker than midnight under a skillet.
  • Fine as frog's hair.
  • Like the dogs was after him. (In a big hurry.)
  • Cold as a well digger's lunch pail. (This one is subject to some dispute, some Dillos claiming the cold object in question is actually part of the well digger's personal anatomy.)
  • Look at somebody/something like a calf looks at a new gate. (With either confusion or dismay, maybe?)

Texas Sayings

What's a Texas Saying? Why, it's something they say in Texas, a course! Some of these "sayings" might be considered adages, and some are just ... well, sayings, I guess. Judge for yourself:

"Never ask a man if he's from Texas. If he is, he'll tell you on his own. If he ain't, no need to embarrass him."

"The Lord never closes one door without opening another one."

"Evil thoughts are like chickens--they come home to roost."

"You can always tell a Texan, but you can't tell him much."

"I want you to jump when I say frog."

"Tend to your own knittin'/rat killin'." (Mind your own business!)

"_________________ (fill in the blank) is good enough to make a rabbit spit in a bulldog's face." (This better be something awfully durned good!)

"If you've done it, it ain't braggin'."

"That's tellin' him how the cow ate the cabbage."

"You done stopped preachin' and gone to meddlin'." (You're sticking your nose into my business, here, pal.)


Now, if you're gonna say things Texans say, you've got to be sure to get the pronunciation right. Here are a few tips:

In Texas, the "g" in the suffix "ing" is silent. Thus, "fixing to" becomes "fixin' to."

chester drawers: that piece of furniture you put your socks in.

nuther thing: another thing

hairyew: a greeting used when one wants to discern the physical and emotional wellbeing of his/her companion.

ah'mo: I am going to. E.g.: "Ah'mo get back to work."

sure'nuff: (one word). Used as a superfluous question in place of "Really?" or "Is that right?" Also used as an adverb in sentences.

rench: the process of laving with water, possibly to remove soap or shampoo. You can also "rench out" socks, if you've a mind to.

warsh: the process one engages in before renching.

One other item of pronuncuation involves a popular expletive that damnyankees usually give just one measly syllable. I have it on good authority, however, that Texans have been known to stretch the "S" word into two, and in some extreme cases, three syllables. (It should be noted that the added syllables involve a long "e" sound, coupled with a short "u".) I leave the rest to the reader's imagination.


If you liked this post, you might like "Rules for Living in Austin"

Picture of Texas flag by Brian L. Romig from here

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Boundaries: Good or Bad?

Think about the Empire State Building. You know that rail that surrounds the viewing deck? Obviously, it's a fence. It's a clear, immovable boundary. But it gives us freedom. Freedom to move easily, without fear, knowing that we're safe. Without it we would feel vulnerable, exposed, and lost. Or, even worse, we'd not even try something that feels a tiny bit dangerous.

Does everyone benefit from a rail of the same height? Obviously not. Some people would be perfectly safe with just a short, light railing, since they're not dare devils and go through life methodically - a tall rail would obscure their view and they'd feel penned in. Others need not just a strong, tall rail but instead a totally enclosed cage to feel safe. Most of us are somewhere in the middle, needing a fence that we know is secure - low enough to see over but strong enough to catch us if we slip.

When many people first hear about attachment parenting, they think of permissive parenting. They think that being attached means that the child calls all the shots and the parent is at the mercy of the kid's whims. They picture a haggard mom trailing along behind her preschooler, letting him dip grimy hands into the bulk bins of candy at the grocery store and buying him any cheap plastic toy that he spies, simply because "that's what he wants."

Granted there are a handful of families that follow this approach, but it's not at all what attachment parenting is about. If you look at the principles of attachment parenting (feeding with respect, positive discipline, etc.), you'll see that the current that runs through all of them is respect. Even the last principle, balance, has at its core the basic tenet of respect: respect for not only our children but also ourselves and our family.

When I hear new moms talk about not wanting to place boundaries on their child's exploration of the world, I can totally understand their fundamental wish. But I also want to say that all humans require boundaries to feel safe. We find boundaries in our "tribes," our social expectations, and our personal interactions. Without boundaries, would we feel safe? I personally wouldn't feel safe with my child if a stranger came and sat an inch away from me on a bench in an otherwise deserted park. My internal boundaries would say Danger!, and I'd feel threatened. 

The restrictions or expectations that we raise for ourselves and society raises for us are set in place for a reason. Without them, anything goes, so we feel like we're floundering.

Imagine how it must feel to a child to have available a huge world that's new, unfamiliar, and (sometimes) scary, but without the help of guidance from a parent as to what's safe and what's not. Often, when I've seen a child "acting out," that behavior stems from a fear of not knowing what expected, not feeling comfortable in a situation, or feeling out of control.

So is the answer to set up a long list of what's acceptable and what's not ... a list of rules, perhaps? No, that's not it either. 

Every child will have different boundaries that work best. The key is to find out what boundaries best fit your child's personality. With my oldest, he needs lots of unambiguous, clear-cut rules in order to feel safe; anything less makes him feel like his environment is out of control. With my daughter, she needs fewer, more nebulous boundaries. If we give her too many rules, she pushes back, because she has a fierce need to be independent. With my youngest, he's pretty comfortable with just about any level of boundaries, but they have to make sense to him. If they seem arbitrary, he'll balk.

For each of my kids, that rail at the top of the Empire State Building would be at a different height. That's my challenge ... having boundaries that work best for each of them, all at the same time.
If you liked this post,  you might like What I've Learned As a Parent

Photo by carlduniii from here

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Food: The Great Equalizer

I don't get it. How can two bites of food completely change a child?

Kids are at computer camp this week, and they're really enjoying it. It's a long day: drop off at 9:00 and pick up at 5:00. The day is busy, busy, busy. They're playing, working, enjoying campus, filming, and eating. Apparently they do just fine until 4:59.

Then at 5:00 the cloud descends and starts raining toxic waste on my kids. They get in the car and immediately start bickering. They pick each others' words apart, blame each other for non-existent perceived slights, and throw invisible daggers at each other. I look in the rearview mirror and see three small black clouds hovering over their heads. I turn on the audio book, crank it up to drown out the squabbling, and drive home as quickly as safely possible (although at this point a car wreck would almost be a welcomed diversion). 

We make it home, the kids losing their interest in fighting because they were distracted by the story. But once home, we have to turn off the story to make it into the house, and the squawking starts again, in the ten feet from the car to the front door. 

In my mind I'm thinking, these kids haven't eaten in five hours, so their brains aren't functioning properly. Get some food in them so they'll turn into humans again. But one of the problems is that they're so far gone over the crabiness threshold that they can't even think clearly enough to realize they're hungry. They each insist that they're not.

G is throwing things around, sniping at every warm body that enters his personal space (which reaches out to about fifteen feet at this point). S is harping on every word that someone else utters, whether it's intended for her ears or not. T holes up in his room, slamming the door and threatening some unknown offense against the family that "we'll find out about tomorrow morning." Yikes.

By some miracle, I'm able to get two bites of food - not great food, mind you, but food nonetheless - in each of their mouths. (There's a whole long story about homemade milkshakes that involves not enough of one flavor of ice cream for those who want it, coupled with refusal to compromise, that I won't bore you with. But let me just say for the record that I simply don't understand the logic of refusing a white chocolate, raspberry truffle milkshake simply because there wasn't enough intense chocolate for two people. But that's just me.)

Two bites. That's all it takes. By the third bite - or slurp, as the case may be - they're sitting on the couch, draped all over each other, watching a "Bizarre Foods" together (ironic, huh?), yucking it up and thoroughly enjoying each others' company.

I shouldn't be surprised. They've been this way since before they weaned. I guess it's just more noticeable now that they're older, louder, bigger, and more practiced at being obnoxious.

Thank God for ice cream.

If you liked this post, you might like "A Sure-Fire Way to Stop the Bickering"

Photo of ice cream by joyosity from here

Monday, July 6, 2009

Doing vs. Being

A week or so ago I picked up an audiobook at the library because I was in a hurry and it was on their "new arrivals" shelf. Little did I know it was an Oprah pick.

The book is Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth and it was slow going for me at first (partly because I had to get over Tolle's voice - see below). But about halfway through it Tolle started talking about parents' relationships with their children. A lot of what he said struck a chord with me. (I still have at least a third of the book to go.)

He talks about "doing" versus "being." When we're madly doing - while we fulfill the mom role, for instance - we don't really connect with our kids, and frankly, we can never do enough. We're judging, providing, evaluating, doing for, doing without, doing instead of - none of which allows us to get to know who our kids are. I find myself in this state far too much.

If we're only "doing," we feel superior to our children, because (let's be honest) we're bigger, stronger, more experienced, more capable, etcetera. We often are superior in the physical sense. 

However, when we're "being," we're equal - meeting them on a soul level (sorry to sound so new-agey, but I can't think of a better word). More of an emotional level than a thinking level. When we're there ... present ... being alert, or still, or even talking perhaps, we can connect on a much more fundamental level. This is what our kids want and need.

Kids want us - who we are as a human - and our attention. Not some perfect role model, not a maid, not a provider, not a "doer." They want us, with all our flaws, hopes, wants, needs, fears, joys ... and love.

Audio version

Sorry about this, but Tolle's voice kinda reminds me of Dieter, Mike Myers character from the SNL sketch, "Sprockets":

I couldn't resist.
If you liked this post, you might enjoy What We Give Our Kids.