Jan 26

I love God. I love my husband. And I still wear yoga pants in public.

Photo credit:  Lynn Friedman

Photo credit: Lynn Friedman

Every so often, I find myself frustrated because I keep hearing little comments, seeing little blurbs, or catching glimpses of headlines and don’t know what everyone’s talking about.  I’ve seen enough to know that whatever it is that’s making its furious circuit around social media is a “thing”, but I don’t know enough to actually engage in a conversation about it.  I don’t like feeling ignorant, so I’ll make the time to actually sit down and educate myself on the topic du jour. Sometimes it’s having to do with politics, or sports, or pop culture.  Sometimes it’s a particularly juicy piece of celebrity gossip, or a shocking bit of national news.  Last week it was…..

Yoga pants.

Specifically, whether or not women have some sort of moral duty not to wear them in public, lest men get tempted and think bad thoughts.

First, a disclaimer:  I’m not unbiased.  I teach yoga, and often go to yoga classes as a student, so stretchy pants are my uniform.  If I need to get groceries or gas or stop at the drugstore on the way home, so be it.  I don’t think twice about what I’m wearing.  My clothes are clean and neat and fit well.  Besides, yoga pants are pretty much the most comfortable thing on the planet, so I’m not about to get all stretched out and blissed out and zen….. only to change into something more restricting so as not to offend the delicate sensibilities of the guy working at the 7-11.

Second, if someone chooses for themselves not to wear yoga pants/leggings (such as the woman who wrote the blog post that started this most recent stretchy pants hoopla) I support that like crazy.  Your body = your choice what you do or do not clothe it in.

What I can’t support is this idea that they should be avoided in deference to the possibility of a man thinking “lustful thoughts.”  That kind of thinking contributes to rape culture, it demeans both the wearer and the onlooker, and it’s incredibly insulting to men.  Call me naive, but I’d like to believe that the men in my life are capable of thinking, and responding, and reacting, with something other than their sex organs.

I hear people saying that they dress a certain way out of respect for their husbands and the other men around them, but I’m just not so sure how respectful it is to assume that your state of dress is automatically going to be their undoing.

My husband takes the light rail to work, every day.  He sees hundreds of people, from all walks of life.  He sees old people and young people.  Men and women.  He sees attractive women.   He sees attractive women in all kinds of clothes.  He sees attractive women in all kinds of clothes, and sometimes he notices them.    Sometimes he even thinks, “Well that there is an attractive woman.”

AND IT’S OKAY!

Here’s the thing.  There is a very big difference between thinking, “Wow, she’s really pretty” and “Wow, I really want to force myself on her” (or any number of vulgar ways that may be expressed).  The former is normal and okay, and not at all a problem in a healthy marriage.   He notices pretty girls.  I notice attractive men. It’s okay!  And the latter?  The latter is something different entirely, and the onus is 100% on the man to own, and be responsible for, and deal with those thoughts.  Those are his thoughts.  His responsibility.  His issue.  I don’t care what you’re wearing.  And, let’s be honest, men who are going around thinking about sex with strangers likely aren’t going to care what you’re wearing either.

If you feel it’s more modest not to wear yoga pants – and I’ve gotta say it… I think yoga pants are some of the least of the offenders out there in the “non-modest” category.  But I digress – If you feel it’s more modest not to wear them, by all means don’t wear them!  The beautiful thing about personal choice is that we can all dress according to our own levels of comfort, both physical comfort and comfort as it pertains to things like modesty and personal appropriateness. But it’s unfair (to both men and women alike) to make it about what kind of bad thoughts these theoretical men may or may not have when they see you wearing them.

Because it stands to be repeated:  HIS thoughts.  HIS responsibility.  And my choice in leg wear is MY choice. MY responsibility.

So I’m going to keep wearing my yoga pants.  And he’s going to keep riding the train.  And I’m going to rest assured knowing that he’s not mentally undressing every pretty young thing in spandex riding next to him.   But if he did?  If he really was looking at some girl thinking “lustful thoughts”?  Those thoughts, his thoughts, would be the issue.

And it wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference what kind of pants the girl was wearing.


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Jan 20

Q & A – Chores

The first of my Q & A videos is live! I started with chores, because it seems to be a pretty universal question. I have a lot more questions to answer in future videos, but if you have more, feel free to send ‘em!


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Jan 15

Things That Didn’t Happen Today…. (More Unschooling Misconceptions)

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Today was a typical unschooling day. I hesitate to use the word, “typical” (and I use it loosely) because I feel like there’s really no such thing. A typical day would depend on me, it would depend on the kids, it would depend on the season and how active we were wanting to be, it would depend on what sorts of things everyone was into at the time.

But it was a smooth day. A happy day.

Everyone slept late. There was icecream at one point. There was a “snack plate” (our home-made version of a Lunchable, with cheese and crackers and meat and fruit). There was a little bit of housekeeping and laundry washing and email answering. There was snuggling up in bed, watching iCarly, and discussing all the important things in life. There was Skypping with friends. There was reading. There was YouTube watching. There was a lot of internet research. There was trampoline jumping. There was an early evening dance class for Tegan.

It was a good day…. quiet and peaceful. I’m an introvert and a homebody, so those days are some of my very favorites.

There were however, some things that did not happen today. Things that so very many people assume are par for the course for unschoolers.  I feel like the detractors always seem to come in waves, and there’s a been a heavy tide of misconceptions floating around lately (Yikes.  Sorry for all the water metaphors.  Totally unintentional), and I wanted to address just a few.  Here then is a partial list of things that are NOT synonymous with unschooling:

No one was “left to his own devices” – People seem to have a general problem reconciling approaching education or life in any way other than the traditionally accepted format.  They truly believe that if you don’t send children to school (and/or do structured “school” at home) that the children are then just all on their own, with no help, no guidance, no partners.   Just yesterday someone used the word, “flounder.”   That it wasn’t fair for parents to just let their kids flounder with no parental guidance.  Gah.  If you take nothing else from this blog post, please take this: Unschooling parents are not leaving their kids to flounder.  We’re partnering with our children. We’re beside them.  We’re helping them.  We’re showing them.  We’re answering them.  We’re providing for them. We’re keeping them safe.  And yes, we’re guiding them (as they walk down their own path though, not ours)

No one watched TV all day - It was turned on exactly twice.  First, when I watched a couple of episodes of Friends to distract me while I was folding laundry, and later when Tegan asked me to watch an iCarly with her while she was still sleepy and waking up.  Note:  I wouldn’t care if they did watch TV all day, because I know that 1) it’s as valuable as anything else they may choose to do, and 2) any time they do do something literally all day, they get their fill and then move on to something else.  But it very rarely happens.  It’s just another option.

No one played computer games all day – Let me be clear.  And honest.  My kids spend a LOT of time on the computer.  And it’s a good thing!  This is 2015.  But computers are used for so very many different things, and in so very many different ways, which is one of the reasons that I find terms like “screen time” to be so mind-numblingly frustrating.  Yes, they play computer games, sometimes by themselves, but most often with others. They also answer emails.  Talk to friends.  Do research.  Watch YouTube videos on a wide variety of topics.  They read. They write.  They create.  The computers and the internet are huge, bottomless wells of learning. Yesterday, I overheard Everett (10 yrs) say to Tegan (not quite 7), when they were both using the computer, “Hey, how’d you learn to use an apostrophe correctly?”  And she answered, “I don’t know.  Mommy showed me.”  I’m sure I did show her at some point, but she also learned from doing, because she wanted to be able to type with her friends while she played games. Because she wanted to be able to email with her cousins back east.  Because she wanted to learn.  She wanted to be part of this world we all live in.

No one was “undisciplined” or “unparented” – Everyone was safe.  There were no forks in toasters, no playing in traffic, and no running with scissors.  When I asked for help taking out the overflowing recyclables (my shoulder’s still not quite up to the task), they gladly did it for me. When it was time for Tegan to get ready for dance, and I asked her to wash her face and brush her teeth and hair, she did, happily.  Those things just don’t happen unless they have self-discipline, and unless they have involved, invested parents.

The kids did not “run the house” – I think that people are so used to a from-the-top-down, authoritarian, “because I’m the parent and I said so” style of parenting that they mistakenly think that any alternative must mean that the kids are in charge, or that the home is “child-centric”. But it doesn’t work that way.  Our home is FAMILY-centric.  Our ultimate goal is to have a happy, healthy, cohesive home where everyone’s needs get met.  Where everyone is respected.  If something is not working (if, for example, the night owls are being too loud and infringing on the early bird’s right to a quiet, peaceful sleep environment) we address it, and we work to solve the problem in a way that’s mindful and respectful to all involved.

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And absolutely, I’m not at all saying that those things can’t or don’t happen.  Sadly, they do.  In unschooling homes and schooled homes alike.  Permissive parents exist.  Neglect exists. Abuse exists.  But let’s call those isolated cases what they are.  Let’s address those issues (and indeed, they do need to be addressed) rightfully on their own, and stop lumping them in with unschooling as if they were one and the same.

They’re not.

And as long as people keep insisting that they are, they’re missing out on truly understanding what unschooling (when done well, and done right) really is:  in short, an absolutely beautiful and amazing and joyful way to live.


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Jan 12

Choosing Joy

I made a little video.  I’ve never made a video like this (and don’t plan to do it again) but I don’t know…. I started thinking about talking about fear, and I kept seeing the words in my head as little blurbs instead of one long written-out thing.

I apologize for the unprofessional-looking video, but it was my eighth attempt and I finally decided that I was just going to believe that you’d appreciate the message and forgive the imperfections.  :)


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Jan 08

Why We Need To Keep Talking About Leelah Alcorn

Leelah Alcorn, 1997-2014

Leelah Alcorn, 1997-2014

I’ll be 41 in 2 days.

Even at 41, it still stings when I get disapproval from my parents.  At this point, it’s stupid little things:  they don’t like my nose ring, or that I gauged my ears.  They stopped being excited about my tattoos after number 2 or 3. They hated my dreadlocks for every day of the three years that I had them.  Such silly, inconsequential, superficial things, and yet I still – even as a grown, confident, very true-to-myself adult – I still falter, still wilt a little bit under their disapproval.  Yes, I understand that they love me, but the feeling is still there, just under the surface.   The feeling that I’m not living up to expectations.  The feeling that I’ve disappointed in some way.

I cannot imagine, even for a second, the pain of being a teenager… a child… a time that’s confusing and difficult and rife with growing pains even under the best of circumstances… trying to figure out who you are and where you fit in…. and being met with rejection from your parents, the very people who are supposed to be your rock and your protector… rejection not for something immaterial like a hair style or a clothing choice, but for who you are.  

Make no mistake, Leelah Alcorn was rejected by her parents.

In an interview with CNN, Leelah’s mother, Carla Alcorn said:

 

“We don’t support that, religiously  [In response to her identifying as a girl].  But we told him that we loved him unconditionally. We loved him no matter what. I loved my son. People need to know that I loved him. He was a good kid, a good boy.”

 

And you know what, I’m sure that she did love her son. I don’t know Carla Alcorn. I have no reason to doubt her words. The problem is… this son that she loved didn’t exist.  In Leelah’s own words, she knew she wasn’t “Josh” from the time she was 4 years old.  She was 17 when she took her life, so that means that she lived for 13 years as someone other than who her parents wanted and expected her to be.  And when she did tell them?  She was met with disapproval.  She was met with rejection.  She was sent to Christian therapists… therapists who didn’t address her big feelings, didn’t help her with her depression, but instead tried to “fix” her.  Tried to tell her how wrong she was.  Tried to tell her how she just needed to pray it away. Pray away the person that she’d been since she was four years old.

Her parents did not support her, she’d been cut off from her friends, and even her “therapists” (who are supposed to help!) only served to tell her how shameful she was.

I think about how alienated and alone she must have felt and I feel sick.

And if you’re reading this and thinking, “Well it’s sad that she took her life, but being transgender is wrong,”  I don’t care that you think it’s wrong.  And I mean it in the most respectful way possible, but I really, truly don’t care.   Because there’s such a thing as a right and a wrong way to treat people, and we have failed – all of us, as a society – we have shamefully failed in our treatment of people like Leelah Alcorn.

As for her parents:

Her parents have the right to their religious beliefs.  They have the right to disagree with her decision to transition to female.  Absolutely.  But as parents they also had a responsibility.  A responsibility to realize that their right to their own beliefs did not and should not supersede their daughter’s right to feel safe and loved and accepted in her own home.  A responsibility to understand that their religious rights end where another person’s human rights begin (and not just any old person, but their CHILD!).  Leelah had the right to be loved and cared for and protected FOR WHO SHE WAS, not who they wanted her to be.  Even in death, they refuse to call her by her chosen gender pronoun, and that to me speaks volumes.

I hesitate to bring religion into it, because I don’t really believe it’s about religion.  I believe it’s about love and acceptance.  But I feel like it has to be addressed, because I have seen far too many comments along the lines of “This is why I hate Christians.”  [And as an aside, I need to believe that the people who say that don’t actually hate all Christians, because if they did, it would mean that they practice the very same bigotry that they’re speaking out against.]  It stands to be said that not all Christians would behave the same way as Leelah’s parents.   Not all Christians are the same.  It bothers me – deeply – how often I find myself needing to say that, but it’s true.  In fact my faith informs me very very differently.  My faith tells me to love…. deeply, truly, unconditionally. My faith tells me that in order to parent, and parent well, that I need to accept and honor my children for WHO THEY ARE, not tell them through my words and actions that the essence of their identity is wrong or bad or shameful.

My faith tells me that the God I love would not create my child in a particular way (in Leelah’s case as a chid born with male genitalia but who ultimately identified as female), only to want me to reject and alienate the very person He created.

And don’t misunderstand me.  I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to be the parent of a transgender child.  I can’t pretend to know the pain of losing a child, and the pain of knowing that my own choices contributed.

What I do know is that the words Leelah spoke in her heartbreaking suicide note reflect not just the anguish of her own life and death, but also speak to a much more universal problem.   There are countless other “Leelahs” out there, and they need our support.  And as the days pass, and people mention her name less and less, I feel almost panicky inside. Panicky because I feel like we NEED to keep talking about this.  I feel like we need to remember.  I feel like we need to take the lesson learned from Leelah’s life and death and live it.

What does it take for our society to wake up?  What does it take for us to stand on the side of compassion and understanding and acceptance for all people?  What does it take for us to err on the side of love?

These are the questions we should be asking ourselves all the time, not just in response to tragedy.

Leelah shouldn’t have died.  Oh she shouldn’t have died!  By all accounts, she was a beautiful and talented soul. But I thank her for leaving her words for all of us, for the powerful and important and timeless message of love, acceptance, and kindness for all.  I pray that she finds the peace that she never found on earth.

 

The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.

 

Sending love to all, in Leelah’s honor.

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If you are transgender and contemplating suicide, you can call the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860

LGBT youth (24 years and younger) can call the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-7386

For all ages and identities, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

 


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Jan 02

2014 Top Ten

I love looking back at my year of blogging.

2014 was a bit of a strange one, in that I didn’t spend as much time posting as I had in years’ past.  Life sort of went in a different direction for awhile there.  Still, it is heartwarming and encouraging to see that you guys still show up, and you still read what I have to say, no matter how fickle I may be with my writing.  And 2014 holds the distinction of my most-viewed blog post EVER, so thank you for that! You’re still reading and sharing older posts too, which is very cool  - My Promise to My Children, Just Wait Till Your Kids Are Teens, Why My Kids Will Never Be Socialized, and Entitlement are all posts from previous years that are continuing to be shared enough to make it into the top ten most-read posts for 2014.

Here are the top ten new posts from 2014, from most to least amount of views:

1.  5 (Alternative) Reasons Modern-Day Parenting Is In Crisis - I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  You guys really respond when I write rebuttals to mainstream parenting articles.  While I will forever have mixed feelings about these (one criticism that particularly stung in the past year was that “it’s the easiest thing in the world to critique someone’s else’s work when you don’t have any original thoughts of your own” ) overall I am happy to be a voice for the other side, and I’m glad I wrote this.  A follow-up to this post made the list as well, at number 10.

2.  Five Words & Phrases We Need to Stop Saying About Moms and Motherhood - This one was born of straight-up frustration.  It felt good to write it.

3.  Phone Fear and “Real” Relationships - Our relationships – with our children, our friends, our spouses, our loved ones – are the most important thing in the world.  Anything taking precedence over those relationships should be checked, for sure, but throwing out the baby with the bathwater by villifiying phones and social networking isn’t the answer… especially when those phones and social networks can sometimes be the very impetus to said relationships.

4.  Hitting is Hitting is Hitting - I’ve written about it again and again and again, and I’m sure I’ll forever continue.  I’m glad that these are getting read.  Hitting is wrong.  Full stop.

5.  Ten Tips for Happier Living With Your Teenager - I’m super happy that this one made the list!  I ADORE having teenagers, and am so disheartened by the negative image of teens in society at large.  I think that the more positive words out there about life with teenagers, the better.

6.  And They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Arrogance, Judgment, and Intolerance - Writing about issues pertaining to faith and Christianity is scary for me (my Christian critics are mean), but I’ve been called to do it more and more.   So much so that this past year I actually started a separate blog for exactly that, although I largely ignored it after just a couple of posts.  I think it’s important though, so this year, it’s definitely something I’d like to write about more.

7.  Giving Our Children Everything They Want…  - This is the only one on the list that I actually had to look at to see what it was.  A response to a mainstream parenting meme…. of which I am sure there will never be a shortage of material.  Let’s stop being so afraid to tell our children, “YES.”

8.  The Elephant in the Room:  Do’s and Don’ts When a Friend is Depressed - This one was personal.  I’m humbled and honored that it resonated.

9.  I Don’t Care Where Your Kids Go To School - Homeschool.  Unschool.  Public school.  Own your choices.  Do what makes you and your children blissfully happy.

10.  We ALL Need Boundaries – some thoughts on my nanny response, one week later - Sometimes there’s just too much to say for one little post or comment, and a follow-up is necessary… to either clarify, expand, or answer comments/critiques.  This was one of those times.

And that’s the list, created by you, of my top ten posts of the past year.

Do you have a favorite?

Thanks as always for reading, and I can’t wait to see what 2015 holds!


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Dec 31

A Quick New Year Post

Sears Kay Ruins, December 28, 2014

Sears Kay Ruins, December 28, 2014

It’s 3 hours before midnight on New Year’s Eve. We just finished a late dinner of Mexican food, and as has been fitting for our culinary theme lately… the first restaurant we tried (and had had our heart set on) was closed, and then the second sent us home missing one of our entries. Thankfully it was only five minutes away, they fixed the mistake, and even threw in some taquitos for the trouble.

I’m drinking my [insert a number here that is more than one, but less than whatever number will make me sound like I have a drinking problem] margarita, watching a movie with Mike and the girl, and reflecting on the year that was at once painstakingly slow and way too fast.

It was an eventful year.  A stressful year.  There were growing pains.  A major car accident. Another surgery. Way too many house repairs.

But we also celebrated 6 more birthdays.  We organized a successful conference.  There were road trips.  There were new tattoos.

We grew, in so many ways.

There were tears.  But oh there was laughter too.

And as I sit here, ready and more than happy to say goodbye to 2014, it’s firmly ahead that I’m looking.  And while I understand intellectually that tomorrow is just another day, like any other, there’s still the part of me that gets undeniably giddy every year – every single year – at the newness of it all.  Blank slates and fresh starts and new possibilities, in all their Hallmark glory. New plans and new goals and new dreams.  More time to take care of my family, and more time to take care of me.  More chances to do things that scare the ever loving shit out of me. Figurative (and literal!) to-do lists smelling of fresh Sharpies and bright, crisp Post-It notes.  A veritable rainbow of opportunities… of growth, of healing, of discovery.  Another year, another day, another moment of becoming more authentically US.

Sigh.

I do so love New Years.

Have a happy and blessed 2015, friends.  Thanks for sticking with me another year.

 


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Dec 15

Saying No to Say Yes

unnamed It’s a week and a half before Christmas, which is always…. tricky.

I adore Christmas.  Love it.  Love the spirit. Love giving presents. Love the lights. Love the food. Love the Christmas cookies. Love hanging out with my family.

But it can be so BUSY, which, if left unchecked, can lead to stressful.  Exhausting. The exact opposite of what you’d want a holiday season to be.

This year I was well on my way to the latter.  I haven’t been sleeping, I’m still smack in the middle of my recovery and rehab, I’m still in daily pain, the house has once again gotten away from me.

And there are gifts to wrap!  Plans to make! Events to attend!

There’s a six year old, looking to her mom with love and expectation and wonderment, trusting that I’ll make the season magical and fun and exciting.

I literally couldn’t “do Christmas” at the speed I was going, and take care of all my other responsibilities, and focus on my recovery, and make things nice for the kids, and maintain any level of sanity.  

So, I started saying no.

The first thing I said no to was Christmas cards, even though we do them every year.  The pictures, the designing, the addressing, the stamping.  And you know what?  The earth is going to keep spinning even if all my relatives and friends don’t get a smiley picture of the McGrails to hang on their wall for two weeks before they recycle it.

Then I said no to a writing project, one I’d actually really wanted to do, but that carried a deadline of ten days before Christmas.

I said no to adding 237 new cookies to my repertoire this year.

I said no to causing myself physical pain by making the house reach some magical level of cleanliness before we have guests.  They’ll deal.

I said no to feeling like I needed to answer all my emails, or respond to everyone’s questions, or to fulfill anyone else’s expectations.  Yesterday morning, I got up and cleaned out my email box with one big (what I’d like to think was polite) response along the lines of, “I’ll get to this after the new year.”

I said no to doing, deciding, or thinking about anything that isn’t a priority right now.

And those “no”s freed me.

Those “no”s mean that I can say YES to my girl, and to my family, who shouldn’t have to pay the price for me not being able to say no when it’s needed.

YES to a lazy day at the zoo.

YES to paper snowflakes.

YES to a movie and popcorn first thing in the morning.

YES to playing with new dolls.

YES to gingerbread houses.

YES to playdates.

YES to driving around at night just to look at Christmas lights.

YES to Christmas parties with friends.

YES to spending hours reconnecting over Pay Day or Minecraft or Little Big Planet.

YES to hot chocolate and whipped cream.

YES to carpet picnics.

YES to quiet moments, and loud moments, and silly moments.

The “yes”s come quickly and easily, or at least they do when I’m not bogged down with Very Important To-Dos (ie: things I probably need to say no to).  I often find it strange and frustrating how hard it is to say no sometimes. Why should it be hard?  Why shouldn’t we be able to say no at any time, for any reason, and not give it a single moment of regret?

I can’t be all things to all people at all times.  I said those words on my FB page just a couple of weeks ago, and I know I’ll say them again.  I seem to need the constant reminder.

I can’t be all things to all people at all times.

Because the thing is, there is nothing more important than my family, especially right now.  So when the moment comes and I have to make a choice…. when I feel that little tug of “But, but… you need to do this!  You have to do that!”  I’ll answer, “You know what, as a matter of fact I DON’T.”

This year I’m giving myself the gift of NO, and what a gift it is.


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Dec 07

Q & A – Should I Just Let Her Play?

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Once upon a time, I decided I’d devote a day of every week to answering some of the many questions I get about unschooling and/or gentle parenting.  And for a few weeks in a row, I even succeeded.  But, well, life happens, and it’s been many many weeks.   I’m excited to bring it back again, for however long it lasts.  :)

This first one is from the wall on my Facebook page.  Thanks, Heather!  (Have questions for me?  Post them there, or send me a message, and I’ll get to as many as I can)

 

“I am trying to wrap my mind around unschooling…how do you set goals (do you?) how do you meter growth/success…do we even need to? if my 6 yo doesn’t want to sit down and read, I just let her play? please help!”

 

“How do you set goals (do you?)”   

My goal when it comes to my kids is to continually help and support them as they strive to reach their own goals.  Everyone’s life/plans/timetable/passions are different, so it wouldn’t be fair for me to me to impose my own (arbitrary) goals on my kids.  I also think it’s important to consciously ask ourselves if what we’re doing/encouraging is based on what our kids want, or based on what we as their parents want.  For example, the child who loves gymnastics or soccer or figure skating at age 6 might not want to spend hours training, or in competition, or in climbing through the ranks, and that’s okay!!  As a writer, I was always told I needed to go to college and major in English or journalism of some sort.  I tried college…. It wasn’t the path for me.  And my husband, who has a very good job working in finance, has long wished that he hadn’t listened to those who told them that his proclivity for math meant he should go into accounting, when his inclination had always been to pursue a career outdoors, working with his hands.   We don’t want our kids to ever have those regrets, so their goals will always be exactly that:  THEIRS.

“How do you meter growth/success…do we even need to?”

No need to formally meter anything.  Just as it’s impossible for a child not to learn and grow when he or she has caring and involved parents, it’s also impossible not to SEE said learning and growth when you’re paying attention to your child.  You’ll see it every day when your child is doing things he wasn’t doing the day before, asking questions she wasn’t asking the day before, interested in things he wasn’t interested in the day before, discussing things she wasn’t discussing the day before.  Children are always learning, and it’s something you will see with your own eyes, every time you look at them.  One of the best illustrations of this that I’ve ever read, the thing that really made it “click” for me so many years ago was the idea of thinking about knitting.  If you learn to knit… whether you teach yourself, or someone else shows you how… do you give yourself a test or a quiz at the end to see if you’ve learned?  No.  You knit!  And it’s the same way for children, whether it’s knitting or reading or baking or geometry.  You’ll know they’ve learned, because you’ll see it.

“If my 6 yo doesn’t want to sit down and read, I just let her play?”

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!  Let her play at 6, let her play at 8, let her play at 16.  Forcing a child to read when she needs to play (or for that matter, forcing a child to play when she wants to read) is counterproductive at best.  As John Holt says, “True learning – learning that is permanent and useful, that leads to intelligent action and further learning — can arise only out of the experience, interest, and concerns of the learner”  Your child, when given the proper support and attention, is the one who best knows what she needs to be learning, when, and how, and for what reasons.  Natural learning isn’t always linear.  It goes in fits and starts, in circles and loops, from one interest to the other.   But when you step back and look at it, you’ll see that it was all interconnected all along.

Six months ago, my daughter (7 in February) wasn’t yet reading.  Today she is reading, better and better each day, largely because she  started playing Minecraft and other online games, and wanted to be able to chat with her friends.   Her three brothers before her learned in much the same fashion – at different ages, in different ways, for different reasons – because it was important and necessary and useful to them.  Looking at them now, at 10, 14, and 17, you’d never be able to tell who started reading when… and it doesn’t matter.  They all can read.

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Kids know how to learn.  Do they ever know how to learn.  The best thing we can do as parents is to pay attention, support, encourage, engage…. and otherwise get out of their way and watch it happen.


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Dec 06

Love and Hatred in Phoenix

Photo Credit:  Kevin Spencer

Photo Credit: Kevin Spencer

I don’t even know where to start.

Just a couple of days ago, I wrote Race, Compassion, and Some Thoughts on Ferguson, to which the response has mostly been really lovely and supportive.  A few people find me uninformed and focused on the wrong issues…. which is fine.  Truly.  The beauty of blogging (and by extension, the entire internet) is that people are of course free to focus on, write about, and discuss any issues they’d like.

My blog = my issues.

And today, I’m sad.  I’m tired.

The last time I wrote, Phoenix wasn’t yet getting national attention for the death of Rumain Brisbon, whose name has become the latest addition to the list of high-profile officer/civilian killings.  As more and more people hear about it, the comments and the questions and the accusations – from all sides – carry a personal sting.  This one is too close to my own backyard. Too real.  I have driven by this neighborhood, many times.  I could get in my car, right now, and be there in minutes.   And as more details and discrepancies emerge, while people start to organize and protest (so far, peacefully), I feel like I’m holding my breath to wait for what happens next.  I feel like I’m watching it all unfold…. from a different time, and a different place. Surely this can’t be 2014, in a civilized society.

In a separate, but not totally unrelated note, I also learned since the last time I wrote that the valley has its very own Westboro Baptist-style church out there promoting hate.  Again, way too close to home.  In a recent sermon, posted online like all his sermons, the pastor proudly declared that the cure for AIDS was found in the Bible, and was as simple as executing everyone who was LGBT:

“And that, my friend, is the cure for AIDS,” he said. “It was right there in the Bible all along — and they’re out spending billions of dollars in research and testing. It’s curable — right there. Because if you executed the [homophobic slur] like God recommends, you wouldn’t have all this AIDS running rampant.”

Right here in the valley, knocking on people’s doors and literally spreading hate.

I couldn’t help it.  I looked through every corner of his “church”‘s website with the same sick morbid curiosity one would have at the proverbial train crash.  And in an at once illuminating and disturbing turn, I realized that I’ve come across this man and his family before.  I don’t always remember all my online critics (there are a lot of them, and it’s not exactly the most productive thing to focus on) but a few stand out to me.  One of them turned out to be his wife.  Her post was years ago, but I still remember it.  In no particular order, she 1) was one of the few who managed to include almost ALL the hateful misconceptions that people want to perpetuate against those who advocate for gentle parenting, all in one blog post:  According to this woman, my children will grow up to be “angry, hateful, violent, defiant children.”  They’ll be “disobedient, self-entitled monsters”  ”Lazy jerks who want to live off welfare because having a job isn’t fun.”  ”Axe murderers.” She “pities the mothers who have to endure living with such offspring.”    2) used “biblical values” as her rationale, and 3) was local.  Yep, I won’t forget that one.  And it actually makes so much sense to me now, why a stranger would have such vitriol towards another parent, especially a fellow Christian.  It’s what’s preached in her home, day in and day out.

I’m….. I don’t even know what I am anymore.  Appalled doesn’t do the feeling justice.

I’m sad, and so so tired.   I’m angry too, if for no other reason than that Christmas is 19 days away, and there’s just so much ugly right now.  It’s 19 days before Christmas and I’m thinking about heartache and sadness and hatefulness instead of love.

I mean, love still exists, right?

It does.  It does.  I know it does.  It’s there in the muck and the mire and the trenches.  In the houses, on the streets, in the families.  In the KIDS!  My sweet, sweet kids who, if that pastor’s wife met for even five minutes, would see are the very opposite of what she assumes them to be.

There’s still love, even in Phoenix.


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