Yearly Archives: 2012

Five Things You Didn’t Know About Me

When Jessica posted this link-up, my first thought was what a fun little project it’d be.  Five things you didn’t know about me;  cool!  My second thought was, “Crap.  Is there anything they don’t know about me?”

I mean, you all know I’m a chronic insomniac.  You know that nothing bothers me more than misplaced apostrophe’s (see what I did there?).  You know that I’m addicted to caffeine, have an incorrigible sweet tooth, and make one heck of a cupcake.  You know that I’m hopelessly clumsy.  You know that I hate talking on the phone, that I’m uncomfortable in social situations, and that Friends re-runs and new office supplies make me sublimely happy.

But surely I’m not a completely open book yet.  Here are five things you may not know.  You’re welcome.

1. I once fell off a ski lift when I was on a school ski trip in Jr High.   It wasn’t right as I was getting on or off, which I would imagine is more common.  It was after I’d already gotten on, and was going up, up, up.   I’d never gotten settled correctly, my skis were all off-balanced, and the more I tried to scoot myself back in the seat the worse it got.  I yelled in a panic at my friend next to me, “I’m gonna fall off!”, and she laughed at me.  About 30 seconds later, I was nothing but two legs with skis attached, sticking helplessly up out of a snow bank.  They had to shut down the whole lift and come rescue me.  I was mortified… both at the time, and again on the way home when the rest of my classmates realized that I was the “idiot who’d fallen off the ski lift” and shut it down for at least a half an hour.

2. I had a tumor removed from below my clavicle as a young kid.  I’m told that I wouldn’t even have had a scar, except that they didn’t get it all the first time, so they had to do the surgery again.  I don’t mind the scar though – or really, any of my scars – because it tells a survival story.

 

3.  The texture of shrimp grosses. me. out.    I have no other way to describe it than this:  It makes me think of biting into someone’s ear.   That cartilage-like firm and crunchy texture gives me the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it.  As fate would have it, it turns out I’m allergic.  Which is actually a good development.  Saying “I’m allergic,” is much easier than saying, “You know, I would…. but they make me feel like I’m a cannibal.”

4.  The first live concert I ever went to was Meatloaf.  It was at a small little venue, and we were right by the stage… close enough to see the rivers of sweat flying off his hair as he flung it around.  It was a fun concert (flying sweat notwithstanding), and I will forever have a soft spot in my heart for “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”, and “Two out of Three Ain’t Bad.”

5.  I have a heart murmur.  It wasn’t found until I was in my 20’s.  It took lots of appointments and tests for them to determine that yep, it was there, and that nope, it shouldn’t cause any problems or concerns, at least not until I’m much older.  I never think about it these days, unless a new doctor brings it up when he or she is examining me.  And apparently sometimes doctors get excited when they hear anything out of the ordinary in someone’s heart.  I’m always happy to amuse.  Especially when I’m writhing in pain from a gall bladder attack, or 8 centimeters dilated with my third child.

Edited to add a bonus #6 I’m really, really, really bad at chess. 

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Now you go.  What are five things I don’t know about you?


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8 Month Dreadiversary

My crazy dreads are 8 months old! Here’s what they’re doing… And I apologize for all the “ums”. There’s a reason I typically write instead of, well, speak. :)


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Filed under about me, dreadlocks, update

Rolling in the Deep

Tegan loves Adele.  And when I say she loves Adele, I mean she really, really loves Adele.  I find Adele very refreshing, because she can actually SING, rather than relying on smoke and mirrors and spandex and pyrotechnic woo-woo stuff like so many of the other popular performers today.  But Tegan… she’s just enamored.   Adele’s the only thing we’re allowed to listen to in the car, and the girl only pauses in her singing long enough to sigh and say, “Oh that voice! It’s just so beautiful!” She’s often asking me to show her pictures of Adele online, and her imaginative play includes going to Adele’s house, drinking tea, and playing dress-up together.  :)  She knows all the words to all her songs, although this particular performance is more about the entertaining than the singing…

I love her.


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Filed under random, Tegan

breathing.

Sometimes I forget to breathe.

Not the kind of breathing you need to, well, stay alive (thankfully your body tends to safeguard against that)… but the kind of breathing you need to really LIVE.   And dude:  breathing correctly is important!  Dr Andrew Weil, author of Eight Weeks to Optimum Health – as well as a million other natural health books – says that changing the way you breathe is the single most important change that most adults can make for better health; even before diet and exercise.  When I started physical therapy for my shoulder recently, the entire first 90 minute session centered on breathing. And whenever the kids are hurt, or scared, or flipping out in one way or another, it’s the first thing I’ll tell them.  Breathe.

Any time I’ve ever had a remotely positive reaction during a stressful situation as a parent, a spouse, or a friend… it’s been born of taking a moment to just breathe.  I know this.  I know this.  And yet sometimes, I still forget.  Yoga has been extremely helpful in that regard (as soon as you stop intentionally breathing, you stop doing yoga), as has 38 years of practice.  Still, reminders are always a good thing.

Which is why, when I was in San Diego for the Wide Sky Days conference and my dear friend asked, “Want to come get a tattoo with me?” I was elated to finally get this:

So, why was this word so important that I chose to get it permanently etched on my body?

Because breathing is the first answer to all of life’s problems, both large and small.    I’m not kidding.  All of them.  And the older I get, the more true it is.

Your 3 year old just destroyed your $600 camera?  Breathe.

Your fridge breaks, you lose a transmission, and your roof leaks all in the same week?  Breathe.

You’re stuck in traffic and you’re already 15 minutes late?  Breathe.

There’s too much month left at the end of the paycheck?  Breathe.

You’ve just read your 87th mean-spirited political diatribe on your Facebook feed?  Breathe.

You’re faced with scary news, a bad diagnosis, a new situation, or an uncomfortable moment?  Breathe.

It’s 3 in the morning and you’re up with insomnia for the 63rd night in a row?  Breathe.

It’s two weeks before Halloween and all the good costumes are taken?  Breathe.

I can’t think of a situation that wasn’t immediately and immensely helped by my telling myself, “Self, this is one of those times when you’re supposed to breathe.”  I think I must have learned to project an aura of calm pretty well, because people usually think I’m laid back.  But my brain is always going a mile a minute, certain things tend to make me freak out easily, and while I’m outwardly saying, “It’s all good,” inside I’m all “Aaaaaaaaaahhhhh!”, complete with the full-on Muppet flail.

Unless I remember to breathe.

Breathing brings me back.  Back to the person I want to be, and back to the mom I want to be.  And while I’m reasonably sure that with time and with practice I would remember that, tattoo or no tattoo, I am so infinitely glad it’s there to remind me.

 


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Books and Covers

 

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” 

Such an old, tired cliche, and one that has very nearly lost all meaning.  Sure, we pull it out from time to time, and make ourselves feel like it is a new revelation… but does anyone actually live by it?  From what I can see – both online and in the world around me – judging books by covers is not just still present, but very much alive and well.

A few weeks ago, I saw a comment on a blog from someone who said that in his mind, tattoos automatically mar a person’s inner beauty.  Now, I’m well aware that people feel that way, but having two tattoos myself (and I’m just getting started :)) the words still stung.  It’s one thing to have an opinion…. to not personally care for tattoos or dreadlocks or piercings or whatever… but to actually just look at a person, to see only their outer shell, and then make a decision about who they must be inside?  That’s a problem.

Last weekend, we did one of my very favorite things and went downtown to catch a Diamondbacks game.  They would lose, 5-0, but we didn’t know that yet.  We parked at our favorite $5 lot a few blocks from the stadium, and had walked most of the way there when we passed a homeless man sitting against a lamppost.  He looked to be in his 60’s, his skin dark and weathered from the Phoenix sun, and had nothing with him save for a hand-written sign that said simply, “Food.”

Living in a city this size, we see homeless people often.  I would never say I’ve gotten used to it – because I think we’re in trouble if we ever get used to such a thing – but it’s far from an unusual sight, especially in that part of town.  But here’s what I noticed on Friday night:

As we walked, we were sharing the sidewalk with two kids in their 20’s.  They looked… well, they looked like you’d expect two young people who’d just come out of a pub on a Friday night in downtown Phoenix to look.  They were tattooed.  They looked somehow totally chilled out and restless all at the same time.   Their pants were so low that I could very nearly see the bottom seam on their plaid boxers, and they were doing that weird waddle-walk that I’m assuming is necessary to keep them up.

“Are you hungry?”  They’d stopped in front of the homeless man just as we all passed.  “Here, take this.”  One of the young men handed him his plastic take-out container from the pub.  “We’ll bring you back some hotdogs, in case you’re still hungry later.  Bless you, brother,” he said as they walked away, and I lost sight of them as we all merged with the sea of people getting ready to enter the stadium.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Was there anything different about what they’d done than if they’d been well-dressed businessman in their 40’s?  Well, no.  A kindness is a kindness.  But the thing that I couldn’t stop thinking about – the thing that made me sad – was that just because they do happen to look a certain way,  they likely have to work even harder to disprove people’s preconceptions.  That they have to know that, just like that blog comment all those weeks ago, that there are going to be people who take one look at them and decide that they’re not as beautiful on the inside.  That they’re somehow less than.  Somehow less likely to be kind.  Somehow less likely to be giving.  Somehow less likely to be good.

And I think that if we’re being honest, we’ve all had or have something in this area that we can work on… some preconceived notion of how a person should be or think or act just because of the way they look.  And while I’ll never know who those kids were from the game, I’d like to thank them for reminding me once again that we need to knock it off.  Like, yesterday.

My kids are so naturally great at this.  So loving.  So accepting of differences.  I don’t want them to grow up in a world where it’s okay to think that anybody is “less than” just because of the way he looks.  That it’s okay to make a decision about somebody based on the way they dress, or the color of their hair, or the fact that they express themselves through piercings or tattoos.   I want them to know that a person isn’t more or less likely to be a good and kind soul just because of their outer packaging.

Unfortunately, yes, it’s a truth that sometimes people do bad things.  Oh but so very, very many people are good.

And until they’ve shown us otherwise through their actions, shouldn’t we be giving everyone the benefit of the doubt?


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Filed under acceptance, fears, kindness, labels, life

12 Awesome Things

Twelve years ago today, I went into labor with my fabulous second son.  It was the one labor of the four that unfolded even better than we could have planned.  It was fast, quiet, and peaceful.  Just us and the midwife.   He had lots of red hair, and a hearty scream.  I held him for a long time straight after he was born… no weighing, no scooping him away to deal with any issues, no interference.  Mike cut the cord.

It doesn’t seem right that he’s only 12.   In the past six months, he seems to have gone from kid to teen overnight.  He’s more mature than some adults I know, his voice is as deep as his father’s, he’s about 3 inches taller than me, and most of his friends are teens.  But alas, it’s true.  Today Paxton turns 12.   In honor of his birthday, twelve things you should know:

1.  He’s funny.  Oh this child.  Where Spencer’s humor tends to run towards the corny, Paxton’s is dry and understated, and he has a huge penchant for sarcasm.  I can joke with him in an entirely different way than I joke with the others.  What can I say?  He’s a smart @ss, and I love that about him. 

2.  He’s smart.  He has his dad’s head for numbers for sure, and is able to do complex calculations in his head that I struggle with even on paper.  He is amazing at just about any game he tries, and is a genius when it comes to computers.  He can also carry on conversations that you’d think would be eons beyond a 12-year-old (see above about seeming older than 12)  He’s our first child that was truly given the ultimate freedom to live and learn in his own way.  Spencer was too, but when he was little, we were still gaining our sea legs as parents and unschoolers.   By the time Paxton had come along, we fully trusted.  And he has blown us away

3.  He’s adventurous.  He’s always the first to fearlessly explore the giant rocks in the desert, climb to the top of the mountain, or squeeze himself into the crevasse of the cave.

4.  He has a big heart.  One of my favorite Paxton memories is from shortly after we moved to Arizona.  Our next door neighbors were having a yard sale, and he walked over and used his own quarter to buy his then-toddler little brother a stuffed Barney that he knew he’d love.  He has the same giving heart now, almost 7 years later.  This is a kid that would give you the shirt off his back.

5.  He’s true to who he is.  I never worry that he’s going to get himself mixed up in the wrong thing, be swayed by disingenuous friends, or follow the crowd if they go against his own sense of right and wrong.  He knows who he is, and he’s not afraid it.  A tiny example?  He doesn’t like shorts.  He lives in Phoenix, and doesn’t like shorts, so he wears jeans twelve months out of the year.  He is always true to who he is, in both small things and large.  And I love that about him too.

6.  He’s crazy.  So yes, most of the time, I forget that he’s only 12.  But then he plays with his 8-year-old brother.  I hear the yells, and the screams, and the wild-boy shenanigans.  I smile.  Oh yes, he’s also still a normal and crazy and fun-loving kid.

7.  He’s a homebody.  Our biggest introvert by far, he is happiest when he’s home on his computer.  In fact, I’d venture to say that his favorite part of the day is after midnight, when the rest of the house sleeps.  He has time, peace, and quiet to himself, and he recharges.  It’s something I can very much relate to, and I admire that he honors that part of himself instead of trying to fit into someone else’s ideas about what he should be doing instead.

8.  He’s independent.  The independence he has possessed his whole life is almost scary (in the best possible way!).  From teaching himself what he wants to know, to choosing to spend time on his own, to cooking his own food, he’s been an old soul almost from the time he was born.  A few months ago, he broke his ankle playing basketball.  While I hated that he was hurt, I selfishly enjoyed his recovery… because it meant that for those weeks, he needed his mom again in a way he hadn’t needed me for a long time.  We watched movies, we looked things up on YouTube, he practiced his card tricks.  I so appreciated the extra time we spent together, just as I appreciate the fact that he’s a strong and independent kid who’s well on his way to growing up.

9. He’s an excellent writer.  I’m biased (both as a mom and as a writer) but I love his writing style!  He started a blog about gaming back in January, and while he only wrote a few posts, I loved the peek into his head.

10.  He’s fun.  What a blast to be around this kid.  A couple weeks ago, we were all out shopping, and Tegan had tired of wearing the huge sparkly crown she’d put on before we’d left the house.  It was her birthday crown, and it said something like, “I’m The Birthday Girl,” with a big number 4 on it.   She handed it to me when we were at Goodwill, and I put it on Paxton’s head.  He happily – and unabashedly – wore it the rest of the day, including out to dinner.  Just because.

11.  He’s determined.  He has planned out not only his entire future gaming career, but exactly what he needs to do to get there.  And I don’t doubt for a second that he can do it. 

12.  He’s accepting of others.  I’ve saved this for last because it’s possibly my favorite one.   Just as he’s true to himself, he wants others to be true to themselves as well.  He accepts people exactly as they are, and he doesn’t make decisions based on superficial things.   We were talking about bullying once in the car (we seem to have our deepest discussions in the car), and him, Spencer and I were discussing the news story of  another gay teen who’d been so severely bullied that he’d ended up committing suicide.   “I don’t understand why people are mean to gay kids,” he told me.  “It wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference to me if one of my friends was gay.”  And he means that.  And he lives by it.  Gay, straight, black, white, rich, poor…  To him, they’re all just people, and potential friends.

Happy 12th birthday, Paxton!  I love you, and I’m so proud to be able to call you my son.

 


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Should Christians Do Yoga?

(photo by MeditationMusic.net)

The first time I took a yoga class was over a decade ago.  I was a new mom looking for ways to re-center, and it was something that I’d always wanted to try.  When my parents gave me some money for my birthday, I decided to treat myself and sign up for a class.    It was nothing fancy… just a basic beginner class at the same Y where I took Mommy and Me classes with my son, but I will always remember it fondly as the class that introduced me to what would become a lifelong passion.

The day after my first class, when I was still feeling that loosy-goosy, super relaxed, post-yoga “high”, I mentioned to a friend that I’d started doing yoga and how much I loved it.  She just looked at me for a long time, before she finally asked,

“Isn’t it a bad idea for Christians to do yoga?”

I couldn’t answer her.  I mean I literally couldn’t answer her.  I had never heard that before, and I couldn’t imagine what might have been wrong with what I’d done the night before.  Plus, to be honest, I was a little bit irritated that I’d shared something I was excited about and she’d promptly rained on my parade.

I did the only thing I could think to do on the spot:  I changed the subject.

I finished out that 8 week class, and spent the next several years just practicing on and off (mostly off) at home.  Then about three years ago, I was called to become a yoga teacher.  I have no other words to describe it.  I was called.  I fought it too, with lots of excuses.  Too much money… too much time… my kids were too young… I’m too much of an introvert… I don’t like getting in front of people.  But the more I resisted, the more strongly it was laid on my heart.   I felt like I had no choice but to eventually answer, “All right, all right, I’ll do it!”

As I went through the 250 hours of training this year, I finally learned – with great clarity I might add – both the answer to my friend’s question so many years before, and the concerns that may have prompted her to ask it.

Yoga originated in the Hindu religion – I begin with this one simply because it’s the easiest to answer.  This is false.  Archaelogical findings show that yoga actually predates all of the world’s major religions.  While Eastern religions did eventually adapt and codify yoga for their own purposes, it did not begin there.  This is an important distinction to make, because many Christians fear yoga as something that was born out of another religion… which just isn’t the case.

Yoga is a spiritual practice that is meant to align yourself with Eastern religions, the occult, etc.   Yoga itself is a methodology, not a theology.  How it’s employed is up to each individual participating.  For example, as a Christian, I believe in prayer.  But I know that Christians are not the only people who pray!  Other religions pray, as well as some people who align themselves with NO particular religion.  While the method of the prayers may be similar, our theologies that we bring to the prayers make them different.   So it is with yoga.   Just like prayer, yoga’s benefits can be used by any (or no) religion at all.

The word “yoga” means to yolk, and join yourself with other Gods.  The word “yoga” comes from the Sanscrit word, “yug” which is translated as “to harmonize,” to “bring together,” or yes, to “harness or yoke.”  Again, I think it’s important to remember that who or what we’re joining with is up to us.  I find the meaning of the word ‘yoga’ beautiful, and think it perfectly illustrates both the coming together of mind, body, and soul; and, as a Christian, the coming together of myself and God.

The postures are meant to praise and worship other Gods.   This is where a lot of people get lost, but I promise it’s not that confusing.  Many Christians who fear yoga use this as their basis.  “The postures were created to worship other Gods.  The postures are inviting evil forces into your heart.  Etc.”   First, as I stated in point one, the postures were not created for that purpose.  Secondly, there is nothing inherently spiritual about a downward dog (or a warrior or a sun salutation) either for good or evil, unless you so decide.   The meanings of the poses come from the intent and the heart of the participant.  Just because one person – or one religion – assigns a certain spiritual meaning to a posture, it does not mean that that meaning then applies to me whether I like it or not.  I’ll be completely honest…. when people tell me that Christians should avoid yoga because we might “accidentally” be worshipping a sun god or a hindu deity, or inadvertently  joining ourselves with some kind of cult, my first thought is this:  Is your faith really so weak that you fear you have no control over what enters your heart, that you have no control over who or what you do or do not worship?  Yes, eastern religions have used yoga postures as part of their worship.  And I don’t mean to make light of it, because I respect that it’s a genuine concern for some Christians,  but… so what?  If some crazy, weird cult sprang up, and decided that as part of one of their spiritual rituals, they would sit naked in a circle in a sweat lodge and eat pizza… would that mean that Christians would then need to forever avoid pizza?  That pizza would suddenly cease to be crust, sauce, and cheese and instead become a harbinger of evil forces?  Of course not.  That’s ridiculous.

Yes, it’s ridiculous.  Pizza is just pizza.

And yoga is yoga.  It is one of the best ways to connect with, stretch, and strengthen your body… while at the same time quieting your mind, calming your spirit, and finding peace in your heart.  As a Christian, I’ve never found yoga to be at odds with my faith.   Just as importantly, I’ve never worried that it would turn me away from God.  In fact, when I’m there on my mat; when I’m finally STILL; when I’ve been able to quiet my mind and actually meditate on something of my choosing (and meditation by the way, is mentioned numerous times in the Bible) what I experience is very much the exact opposite.

It’s like coming home.


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Television Without Fear

Thanks to Alice for another spot-on guest post!

I was raised without cable TV.  Actually, there were long stretches of my upbringing where we didn’t even own a TV, until my aunt and uncle would come to visit and bring one of their (many) old black and white TVs that wasn’t being used in their house.  Then we would be able to tune in the local channels, wiggling the rabbit ear antennas around until the fuzzy lines actually resembled peoples’ faces.  Sort of.  To give you a little perspective, I’m 36 years old at the time of this writing.  My peers grew up watching Fame, The Cosby Show, Family Ties, The Wonder Years, and Beverly Hills 90210.  And probably a lot more stuff I can’t think of because, you know, we didn’t have a TV. 

Our TV situation was complicated even more by my parents’ prejudice against it; we could have afforded a TV, but it was beneath them.  TV?  No no, we’re readers.  Even when we owned those secondhand black and white sets, we weren’t actually allowed to watch anything.  The standing rule in the house was No TV On School Nights.  If it wasn’t a school night, I could maybe watch something but there was a whole lot I wasn’t allowed to watch.  On that list were innocuous things like Golden Girls (because Blanche Devereaux had indiscriminate sex).  Over and over again, I heard how TV was going to turn my brain to mush, or rot my brain, or was a waste of time, or was junk.  Why didn’t I read a book or go outside?  As a matter of fact, turn off that TV and do something else.  Sometimes I was allowed to finish whatever I was watching, and sometimes I wasn’t.  (And just for the record, my parents were and are excellent parents.  This post is not meant to malign or judge them.)  Their rationale – that TV was junk – was the same thing I hear all the time from parents today, and at its core is fear.  Fear that kids will somehow be damaged from TV; grow up too fast, become violent, materialistic, zombified, lazy, not smart.  And when you view TV as the harbinger of all of that, of course you want your kids to spend little to no time watching it. 

When a kid values something – anything at all, whether it be TV, sports, books, or Barbies – and their parents repeatedly tell them the thing they value is junk, it creates feelings of guilt and shame.  I’m not speaking in hypotheticals here, or repeating something I read in a study. 

I’m telling you that I found value in watching TV for many reasons, and was told my entire childhood that TV viewing was not worthwhile, and that created feelings of guilt and shame that lasted into adulthood.

It took until my oldest was 5 for me to find and fully embrace radical unschooling.  There are no restrictions on TV viewing (or screen time of any kind) in our house.  My kids are free to watch as much or as little TV as they want, and can watch any shows they are interested in.  The only limits have to do with the fact that we are a large family with two TVs – it’s a rare occurrence for that to be a problem, and it is generally easily resolved.  But what does it really mean to have no rules about TV viewing?  What does the reality of that look like on a daily basis in my house?  What if my kids want to watch TV all day?  And what do I do if the kids want to watch something I think is inappropriate?  And what about the materialism promoted in commercials?

When I say there are no limits to TV viewing in our house, I really mean just that.  And it applies to computers and video games as well.  My kids (8, 6, and 3 year old boys, and 1 year old twin girls) can choose to use or not use electronics in the same way they can choose to read, ride bikes, dig in dirt, build with legos, or anything else they think of.  There is a stigma attached to using electronic devices that doesn’t seem to be applied to anything else, and it’s that stigma, and the associated fear that accompanies it, that motivates parents to place arbitrary limits on their use.  When you view the world through that veil of fear, there’s so much to be afraid of.  I don’t discourage my kids from talking to people they don’t know; the majority of strangers are nice people, and I’m right there with my kids should things seem to be heading in a strange direction.  We talk to them about internet safety, but not to the point that they’re paralyzed with the fear of online predators.  We talk to them about the kinds of images that you wish you could unsee, but can’t, and why that could be harmful; but not because we want them to be scared of the world around them.  I don’t fear that my kids will become lazy, or unhealthy, or less intelligent because I’m right here with them, seeing for myself that they have a variety of interests that extend beyond screen time.  Fear does not enter into our decision-making process for our family, and when you remove the element of fear, the need for arbitrary limits disappears.   

I can already hear it coming: “If I let my kids have unlimited screen time, they wouldn’t do anything else all day.”  Well, yeah.  If you limit your kids’ screen time, and then all of a sudden one day you don’t, then of course they’re going to get as much screen time in as they possibly can.  History has shown them that limits will most likely be in place again soon, and they’re going to take advantage of the reprieve.  I know I would.  When we stopped limiting our kids’ screen time, it did take a while for them to believe the limits weren’t coming back.  And now?  Some days, they’re on the TV and/or computer all day long.  Some days, they don’t go anywhere near either screen.  And that’s really what it looks like in a house with no limits.  Screen time becomes just one more option in a whole world full of options.  It’s not better or worse than anything else.

My kids can choose to watch anything they can find.  That statement tends to shock people.  But here’s what it doesn’t mean: it doesn’t mean that I leave them in a room alone with a stack of R rated movies riddled with violence and sex and encourage my kids to watch them.  I know what my kids like to watch, and I know what would scare them, or bore them, or bother them for some reason they maybe can’t articulate.  I’ve explained what the different ratings on movies and TV shows mean, and they frequently check them on new shows – not because they might get in trouble for watching them, but because it might be something they wouldn’t like.  And if they’re not sure, they ask.  The most important thing I can do is be there.  I’m there to explain what a show might contain, or to read a description of it, or to suggest something they might like better.  If they want to watch a show, but I think it might be scary or confusing, I make sure I watch it with them so we can turn it off if they want, or so we can pause it for me to explain something they have a question about.  They have no interest whatsoever in shows with adult themes of love and sex, and I can’t imagine them tolerating even a few minutes of it.  But at some point they probably will, and rather than forbid them to watch it I intend to watch it with them so we can talk about it together.  (And I’m not talking about porn here, people.  Work with me.)  Let’s say, for instance, we happen to be watching Golden Girls and good old Blanche gets friendly with a gentleman caller.  Perfect opportunity to discuss a whole variety of things with my kids!  Just be there, and be willing to talk.

As for violence, I would argue that movies marketed to kids are way, way more disturbing than a lot of PG-13 movies.  In one 5 minute stretch of The Lion King (which we watch a lot of around here), Simba’s uncle commits treason, then murder, then usurps the throne, and tries to have Simba killed.  Right up until that point, everything had been love and roses.  Pretty much every kids’ movie follows a similar formula.  Everyone’s happy until some horrible tragedy, which the main character must then overcome.  Whereas in a movie like Spiderman, everything is laid out a little more clearly.  There are good guys, and bad guys; there’s a battle, then the good guys win.  The end.  Seeing violence in a movie does not encourage my kids to be violent.   My kids are kind, sweet, gentle and friendly.  They are peaceful because we as their parents are peaceful.  My husband and I were watching The Hunger Games recently, and my 6 year old came into the room and asked what it was about.  We paused the movie and explained the concept, and he said he wanted to watch a little.  He watched a few minutes of it and was interested in the bow and arrows carried by the main character, and then he got bored and wandered out again.  If he had decided to stay and watch, I would have spent more time watching him than the movie, to see how he was handling it and if we needed to stop watching.  It’s really just that simple.  We were there, and we were willing to talk.

Commercials and marketing and materialism aren’t an issue for us, mostly because – in an ironic twist – we don’t have cable.  What we do have is an xbox, internet, a Netflix subscription and a Hulu subscription.  We stream everything we watch through the xbox to our TV.  Netflix has no commercials and Hulu (which the kids rarely watch) has about two 30 second commercials in a 25 minute show.  But when we go on trips and stay in hotels, the kids see commercials.  I’m not concerned that they’re being brainwashed into wanting things.  If anything, my kids are totally annoyed by the commercials and talk wistfully about getting back home to “good TV.”  I get really excited when I talk about how little we pay to watch TV (in fact I once received a call from a cable company who wanted me to pay for cable, and I’m pretty sure I convinced the salesperson to get rid of hers), but my point here is that while marketers do want to convince people to buy things, I just don’t feel it’s a major concern for us.  We rarely see commercials, but the bottom line is that we are more influential in our kids’ lives than marketers.  We are not materialistic, we don’t constantly shop for the latest and greatest things, and we talk to our kids about money and budgeting and consumerism.  We talk to our kids.

Not too long ago, I wouldn’t have been able to say this without feeling guilty, but I love television.  I love it.  It brings the whole world into our home.  I love watching shows that make me laugh, or cry, or think.  I love watching shows with my kids, and seeing the things that bring them joy, or peak their interest.  I love learning new things with them.  I love the conversations we have that start from something we saw in a show.  I love being able to show them countries that we will most likely never visit, or give them a televised preview of countries we hopefully will get to someday.  I love that when they feel like lying on the couch all day and watching TV, they have the freedom to do that with no strings attached.  I love that TV is just one more choice available for them in a whole world full of choices.

At this phase in my life with so many small children, I rarely have time to watch TV on my own.  But someday, in what will feel like the blink of an eye although it will really have been years, my small children will be bigger.  I’ll find myself with some free time, and maybe I’ll choose to read a book, or go outside.  Or maybe I’ll choose to sit down on the couch and watch TV all day, without guilt or shame.

Alice Davis is an Army wife, mother of five, and probably the last person on earth who doesn’t have a blog.  She loves to talk about unschooling, attachment parenting, and mothering multiples.  In her copious amounts of free time, she sells custom baby hats, tutus, and embroidery in her etsy shop www.AlicesHandmadeCrafts.etsy.com

(photo by videocrab)


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Whirly, Swirly Unschooling Days

One of the first things people ask me when they begin to get a tenuous grasp on unschooling is, “So what does a typical day look like?”  And my gut response is typically led with,

“Um….”   Not because we don’t do anything, and not because I don’t know what we do, but because each day is different than the last.  Because it depends.  It depends on the season, it depends on the kids, it depends on me, it depends on current interests.    The common thread though is that when we’re in our groove, the days just… flow… like a river that’s winding its way among the rocks and the shore.  Sometimes raging, sometimes trickling, but always, always moving.

Yesterday was one of the whirling, flowing unschooly days that started before I even got out of bed.  The girl and I were laying in bed, snuggling and laughing and talking about the very important things that moms and daughters talk about, when she decided that she needed her “brudder,” Everett.  We called the brudder, and he joined us for about 30 seconds, until he remembered that I’d promised him the day before that we could play Monopoly.

We went straight from bed to the kitchen table, where we played Monopoly until we realized we needed to go to the store.  Tegan has been living to bake lately, and she needed rainbow sprinkles for her most recently chosen cookie recipe.

The keys were not even in the ignition before Everett excitedly asked from the backseat, “Can you ask me a question??”  One of his current favorite things to do in the car is play a sort of impromptu quiz game.  He picks a subject, and I make up a question.  Car-schooling at its finest.   Yesterday it was math.  We played all the way to Fresh and Easy  (where the sprinkles ended up costing $37 because we also ransacked their clearance shelf while we were there) and all the way home.

When we got home, he asked me to help him find a website where he could practice his math.   He’d been having so much fun with the questions in the car that he didn’t want to stop.  I remembered that I’d just recently heard someone talking about Khan Academy again, and I’d yet to check it out.  So I googled it, and got him signed up while the girl gathered all her cookie ingredients on the counter.  I was looking at the website, impressed, and told Everett, “Wow, this site has everything from basic math to geometry to chemistry to physics….”

“What’s physics?”

Spencer and Paxton were up by then, and they both nearly simultaneously spouted,

“All actions have an equal and opposite…”

and

“An object in motion stays in motion…”

No idea where they learned it.    Paxton said something about them talking about physics on Dr Who, which made him want to watch Dr Who, which he then went to go do immediately.   Spencer went back to his computer, where he was working on creating a step-by-step instruction sheet for setting up your own server on Minecraft.   Tegan and I got to work on our cookies, and Everett did this, for the next eight hours:

Tegan and I played with My Little Ponies and watched Chipwrecked while we waited for the cookies to cool, then I whipped up some frosting so she could decorate them.    After dinner, Everett moved on from math to computer science, and he and Paxton spent the rest of the night learning and playing with simple programming.

I went to bed early to watch a movie, exhausted.  But the best kind of exhausted there is.

This morning, Everett was right back on Khan, we played another game of Monopoly (this time played right through till the bitter end.  I may have lost); and we spent the greater part of the afternoon out running errands.

It’s a pretty good life.


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The Five R’s For New Homeschoolers

A couple days ago, I read an article aimed at new homeschoolers that outlined several tips for what the author considered to be successful homeschooling.   She mostly wrote about schedules, rules, and minimizing distractions.   Now, I’m not going to tell you how to homeschool – partly because I’ve done that elsewhere on my blog; and partly because it tends to make people mad, and I’m not in the mood for another round of either getting yelled at or receiving platitudes like, “We all have to do what’s right for our own family,”  or  “to each their own.”  What I will tell you though, is that I really believe that the ins and outs and details of the HOW of homeschooling are secondary to the overall picture of how we treat both our children and ourselves.

Here then are the top five things I wish someone had told me when I started…. and these apply to all homeschoolers, no matter what style or approach you end up taking.

1.  Research – Homeschooling is a big decision to be sure, but it’s one that I made largely after one pointed trip to the library.  I read that first stack of books and I was hooked.  For the next several weeks (and months and years), I read everything I could get my hands on.   I can’t recommend doing your research highly enough.  Read the books,  visit the websites, peruse the blogs, talk to those of us who’ve walked the walk, immerse yourself in the big wide world of homeschooling information.   The two big caveats when it comes to research:  1)  Keep, and learn from, the things that resonate with your heart and your soul and your sense of reason, and simply leave the rest.  And 2) If you start feeling overwhelmed or stressed out or anxious, STOP, BREATHE, and move on to number 2…

2.  Relax –  Seriously.  Relax.  Breathe.  Homeschooling is supposed to be fun!  I hate seeing parents stressing themselves out (and by extension, stressing their kids out) by either worrying about particulars, or wondering if they’re doing the right thing.  Nobody’s going to benefit from homeschooling if the atmosphere is one of panic and anxiety.   Relax.  You successfully  saw your kids through learning to walk and talk and use the bathroom…. you can see them through learning to read and write as well.  The best indicator of a successful period of homeschooling is not how organized you were, or what kind of curriculum you used, or how they scored on a test.  It’s about CONNECTION.  If you relax, if you trust your kids, trust the process, and trust the connection, everything else will fall into place.

“Children may not remember exactly what you said, or what you did, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”

3.  Remember that learning is everywhere – I discovered a long time ago that I wouldn’t be very good at having kids in school.  For one thing, my kids would have all kinds of absences.  I’d keep them home on nice days so we could go to the park or the zoo.  I’d keep them home on rainy days so we could snuggle up and watch movies.  I’d pull them out for weeks at a time so we could drive across the country, or explore the desert, or go camping in the mountains.  In short, I’d take them out of school all the time, and I’d do so knowing that they’d be learning the entire time.  Learning isn’t something that can be scheduled.  It’s not something that happens in a certain place, between certain hours, under the guidance of a certain person.  Learning is everywhere.  If you homeschool, you have the awesome and unique opportunity to embrace all the learning that life has to offer, wherever and whenever it has to offer it.   If your kids don’t get to watch the construction on the street or the bird outside the window or the helicopter in the sky because you’re insisting that they stay seated at the kitchen table… you’re truly missing out on the best part of homeschooling.  Learning is everywhere.

“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.” ~ John Holt

4.  Respect your kids’ individuality – Kids are all different.  Kids are so different.  One of the limitations of public school is that they can’t possibly take into account every personality and every learning style in the room.  I know that many great teachers would like to, and I know that many try, but with 30 students and one teacher it’s not practically or logistically possible.   It’s just not.  But that problem completely goes away when you homeschool.  You get to honor your children’s unique strengths.  You get to let them learn in their own way, in their own time.  You get to help and support them as they chart their own course… not a school’s, not yours, but theirs.  As a homeschooling parent, you have the privilege – and the responsibility – of allowing your children’s education to be 100% customized and unique to them, their interests, their learning styles, and their path in the life…. something a typical school just cannot do.   And on those days when your kids are needing nothing more than a day full of down-time?  You can honor that too.

5.  Rest and restore – That means you, Mom (or Dad).  Giving yourself permission to take care of YOU is hugely important to keeping a homeschool life healthy and happy for all involved.   I’ve never liked it when people have framed this as “getting a break” or “getting away”, because I strongly feel that your family life should be designed in such a way that it’s not something you ever feel you need to get a break from.  Part of doing that successfully is taking good care of yourself.  Getting your rest, getting your exercise, letting your kids see you pursuing things you’re passionate about.  Meditating.  Praying.  Playing.  Yoga.  Whatever helps you feel good and whole and better equipped to be the parent that you know deep down you’re able to be.

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By no means is this little list comprehensive, but it’s a start.  And I promise you if you research, relax, remember, respect, and restore… everything else won’t seem nearly as scary.


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