Category Archives: Spencer

19 Awesome Things About Spencer

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Every year on my kids’ birthdays, I like to do a whole post just honoring them, and the awesomely weird and quirky and beautiful and wonderfully unique beings that they are. Last year, I made videos. In past years, I’ve written letters.

I’ve done lists like this before – one point for each year they’ve been earth-side – but I liked it so much I’m bringing it back.

Today our oldest, the one who made us parents, the one who overnight transformed our relationship from a couple to a family, turns nineteen. NINETEEN! While my mind reels at the fact that that can even by possible, my heart rejoices. My heart remembers… every story, every wound. Every joy, every heartache. All nineteen years – from hairy 5 1/2 pound newborn to (still hairy) young man – have woven together, their tapestry making up the very foundation of who I am as a mom, and by extension as a woman.

Like most moms, on most days of the year, the list of things I individually love about my kids is infinite. Today, on Spencer’s birthday, here are just nineteen:

1. He’s kind.  How could I not start the list here?  He has a huge, huge heart.

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2.  He’s loyal.  I aspire to be the kind of friend that Spencer is to everyone he meets.  Once you’re friends with Spencer, you not only have a friend who’d give you the shirt off his back… you have a friend for life.

3.  He’s enthusiastic about learning. It doesn’t matter if the subject at hand is politics or playing the drums or the engines he loves to diagnose and fix… he loves learning, and he does it eagerly.

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4.  He’s enthusiastic about LIFE.  An often uttered Spencer phrase is, “I’m so excited.”  It could be about any number of things, but it’s always genuine.  He’s a lover of life, and doesn’t shy away from showing it.

5. He feels things deeply. We joke in this house that Mike has no feelings, and I have ALL the feelings. The four kids all fall somewhere in between, with Spencer landing solidly in my camp.  Whether happy or sad, worried or excited, he wears his heart on sleeve, and I love that about him.

6.  He’s goofy.  He’s got the same corny, cheesy, goof-ball sense of humor he’s had since he was a kid.

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7.  He’s not afraid to love.  And I don’t just mean when he’s in a relationship kind of way.  I mean just overall, as a general rule, he puts his whole heart out there.   As someone who spent a good portion of her life putting up walls so I wouldn’t get hurt, I find his willingness awesome and admirable.

8.  He’s a good sport.  Living in our household means putting up with a whole lot of joking, craziness, and a mom who bursts into song multiple times a day.  He handles it all with aplomb.  It’s fair to say we sometimes drive each other crazy, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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9.  He works hard.  Whether it’s his online courses, yard work, or helping us run the conference, he works hard, and isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty.

10.  He knows what he likes.  Not one to be influenced by fads or brands or what the masses say is “cool”, he has his own unique tastes and wonderfully quirky preferences, from the music he listens to, to the clothes he wears, to the things he watches on TV.  He couldn’t care less what anyone else thought about it.

11.  He’s interesting.  Here’s the thing about living with Spencer:  When he walks into the room, you don’t know what you’re going to get.  A fascinating tidbit he just read online?  An excited monologue about a new game that’s coming out?  A passionate rant about people who use “u r” instead of “You are”?  It’s always new, it’s often crazy, and it’s one of the most endearing things about him.  He’s like a walking party.

12.  He’s strong.  He’s had oral surgery, eye surgery, shoulder surgery (along with many many many dislocations) and he handles it all like a rock star, and he keeps on going.

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13.  He has a big personality.  Small in stature, and a hundred pounds soaking wet, his personality is just the opposite… unabashedly big and bold. When Spencer’s nearby, you know Spencer’s nearby.  He talks loudly, laughs freely, and generally buzzes with energy.

14.  He’s random.  He takes a lot of good-natured ribbing for this, but I don’t know anyone who can take a dinner conversation from music to snow mobiles to the UK (to everything in between) with as much skill as Spencer.   No need for segues.  If it crosses his mind, it comes out of his mouth.  🙂

15.  He’s smart.  Ah, the humbling mom moment when you first realize your kids are smarter than you.  I think it’s so cool to see my kids surpass my knowledge in all sorts of different areas… for Spencer it’s everything from computers to problem solving to how things work.   And his MEMORY!  I’ve been in awe of his memory since he was very little.

16. He’s all in.  Just in case you haven’t gotten it by now, he is someone who is living life at 100%.  All the time.

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17.  He appreciates good food.  It is fun to have a kid to drink coffee with in the morning!  Beyond that, he has always, even from the time he was very little, has loved trying new and exotic foods, with a strong preference for seafood.  If there’s shrimp or crab legs or lobster anything on the menu… that’s where’s his eyes are going.

18.  He’s full of happy energy.  I’ve gotten so used to it that I tend not to notice it anymore until someone points out, but he is almost always in motion. Even when he’s standing still, he’s not still.  His legs are wiggling, he’s bouncing in place, his hands are going as he talks.    Almost like nervous energy, but it’s not. It’s HAPPY energy.  It just buzzes off him, and I wish it could be bottled and shared.

19.  He’s HIMSELF.  Is there anything better than this?  He’s awesome because he’s Spencer.

And I love him.  So, so much.  I’m so very thankful that I get to be his mom.


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Eighteen

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Today Spencer turns eighteen.  Every year on the kids’ birthdays, I write a special post about them, or make a list about why they’re awesome, or write them a public letter.  This year though, I’m at a loss.

What can I possibly say that would do him, and this moment, justice?  What can I say to the one who first made me a mom, at the ripe-old age of 23.  The one who first laid my heart open and exposed those parts that were somehow simultaneously more tender and strong than anything I’d ever imagined.  The one who truly taught me what it meant to love somebody unconditionally.  The one who taught me who I am, and who I want to be.

I love you so much, Spencer.

And all I can say on this day, as we celebrate your 18th year (EIGHTEEN YEARS!!) is thank you.

Thank you for choosing me to be your mom.  Thank you for giving me the privilege of being able to call you my son.  Thank you for eighteen years of fun and laughter and learning and love. Mostly, thank you for being so unabashedly, spectacularly, perfectly YOU.


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To Spencer, Who Taught Me How to Love

Even the butterflies love you

Even the butterflies love you

Seventeen years ago today:  I woke up a wife, a daughter, a sister and a friend.  I went to bed that night as a mom…. forever impacted, forever changed.  The following letter is to Spencer on his 17th birthday.  The one who taught me what it meant to be a mother.  The one who really taught me – and continues to teach me, in so very many different ways – what it means to love.

 

So 17 years.  It sounds like such a long time, and yet just as the cliche goes… it’s gone by in the blink of an eye.  It really does seem like yesterday that you were that adorable little toddler, with your cute little glasses and ready smile and ever-present toy tractor in your hand.  You were such an absolute joy.  So happy and carefree, so much fun to be around.

You still are.

Your teenage self is every bit as wonderful as a companion as your toddler self.  You are kind, and smart, and funny, and have one of the biggest hearts of anyone I know.  I think of watching you over the past year, of having the privilege of seeing you mature into a young man.  Seeing your relationships grow, your knowledge expand, your understanding of the world around you deepen.

I think of your surgery… the same exact shoulder surgery that knocked me flat. out. for so many weeks in so many ways… surgery that you handled like a freaking rock star. Everyone said it was because of the difference in our ages (and sure, that likely played a part), but so much more than that was YOU, and your positive attitude.  I never saw you complain, not once.  I never saw you feel sorry for yourself, as much as I knew you were itching to get back out to working on your engines.  You never doubted for a second that you’d heal completely, and quickly.  Like crazy quickly.

I think of the day that I screwed up.  The day that I didn’t handle a conversation the way that I should I have, and went to bed feeling bad and yucky and off-kilter because of it.  I knew that if I didn’t get up and apologize to you, I’d never get to sleep that night.

You were already asleep when I went into your room.  “Spencer,”  I whispered, before I kissed you on the forehead.  “Spencer, I just wanted to tell you that I’m sorry.  And that I love you.”

I don’t think you even opened your eyes.  But you smiled, and told me, “It’s okay.  I love you too.”

And that right there is the biggest lesson that you teach me, over and over.  When someone apologizes, you forgive.  When you accidentally hurt someone else, you apologize.  When you love someone you just love them.  Completely and unconditionally.  I’ve never seen you hold a grudge, not for a second.  Never seen you play games with emotions, never seen you turn on a friend.  Your loyalty is real, and it’s inspiring.

I want to be just like you when I grow up.

Happy, happy birthday, Spencer.  I hope you have a great time with your girlfriend today, and I can’t wait to go out to dinner with you tonight.

I thank God every day that I get to be your mom.

 


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Unschooling, According to the Kids

Yesterday, I took the opportunity to have a chat with all four of the kids about unschooling.  I wanted to be able to share their words, their thoughts, and their perspectives.  What follows is just a portion of the awesome conversation that unfolded.  Bold words are mine, and responses are from Spencer (16), Paxton (12), Everett (almost 9) and Tegan (5)

What is unschooling?

Everett:  It’s learning what you want, in the way that you want to learn it.

Paxton:  It’s hard to explain.  Being autodidactic.  That’s unschooling.

Spencer:  Unschoolers can learn what they want, when they want.

Paxton:  They’re not forced to go with the “system”

What is the best part of unschooling?

Tegan:  Playing, and playing tag, and playing dolls, and all sorts of fun stuff.  Okay… Playing.

Everett:  I like all of it.

Paxton:  Having the freedom to be able to do what you want, when you want.

Spencer:  Being able to set your own schedule.

Are there any negatives to unschooling?

Paxton:  Not that I can think of, no.

Everett:  No.  I like everything about it.

Spencer:  Nope.

Do you ever feel like you’re missing out on anything by not going to school?

Tegan:  I do!  Like story time.

Paxton:  Well I might be missing out on opportunities to make a few friends…

Everett:  Yeah

Paxton:  But I’m okay with that because I’m an introvert, and that’s what homeschooling groups are for anyway.

Spencer:  Absolutely not

Which leads me to my next question.  Do you feel like you have enough opportunities to be around other kids/make friends?

Paxton:  Yes

Spencer:  Yes

Everett:  Yeah

Tegan:  Mmm hmmm.

How do you know you’re learning if you’re not tested?

Tegan:  Well, I know I’m learning because everybody tells me that I’m learning every day

Paxton:  Because it’s a fact.  You learn something new every day whether you realize it or not.

Spencer:  Just because I know more stuff than I used to know

Paxton:  Over time, you just realize that you know more and can do better

Everett:  Even in school, the teachers can’t really know if you’re learning, because they’re not inside your head

Spencer:  Yeah, that’s a good point.  You could get an A on one test, or you could get an F, even if you know the answers.

Right, some people just don’t test well.

Everett:  So the teachers can’t always know, because they’re not you

Some people think that unschoolers will only learn things that are easy for them, and will not ever challenge themselves.  So do you learn things that are difficult, or do you just go for easy things that you know you’ll do well?

Spencer:  I like a challenge!

Paxton:  Yeah, if it’s too easy, it’s no fun.  If it’s too hard, it’s no fun.

Everett:  And if at school, if you were doing something hard that you didn’t want to do and were forced to do it… you couldn’t take a break and do something easy for awhile when you wanted to.  With unschooling, you can put the harder thing down for awhile, and do an easier thing.

Paxton:  Absolutely.  I’m going into programming games in Python, and that’s learning like millions and millions of lines of code.  It’s not exactly an easy thing to do.

But you have the motivation to do it because…

Paxton:  Because that’s something I want to do for a career.

Do you think you’ll ever want to try to go to traditional school?

Spencer:  No

Paxton:  Unless it’s necessary for what I want to do with my coding, no.

Everett:  I might eventually want to go, just to try it out to see, but I’m happy being unschooled.

Spencer:  There’s so many advantages to unschooling.

Do you think unschooling would work for any child?

Paxton:  Not necessarily… some people might be more inclined to want to go to school.

Everett:  Yeah

What would you say to a parent who says, “Unschooling would never work for us because my kid would just sit and watch TV all day, and would never learn anything?”

Paxton:  You learn something new every day

Everett:  You might think they’re not learning, but they really do learn something, whether you see it or not

Paxton:  What if they’re watching shows about something they want to do as a career?

Spencer:  Exactly

Paxton:  Then being able to sit and watch TV all day would be a huge bonus

Paxton:  I watch Mythbusters because I want to blow stuff up.  Blowing stuff up is cool.

Everett:  I totally agree with that

Paxton:  But the science on Mythbusters is really cool

Some people that with unschooling, the kids run the house.  Agree or disagree?  Who do you think runs our house?

Spencer:  You and Dad.

Tegan:  Spencer took my answer!

Everett:  I think we all run the house

Paxton:  Disagree.  Obviously you as the parents get the final say if an issue comes up, but it’s really pretty much a family deal around here.

Tegan:  Mommy and Daddy, and everyone except the pets

Some people say that unschooling equals unparenting… that there’s no guidance, and that the kids just run around all willy nilly.

Paxton:  No.  Just, no.

Paxton:  I mean, to an extent.  You’re not strict like other parents, but there’s still guidance.

Spencer:  And there’s rules…

Paxton:  Not so much rules, but just general.. what’s the word…

Principles?

Paxton:  Principles, yes, but something else.  Just general… The word’s on the tip of my tongue.  It’s two words… (he’ll think of it later)

Okay, we’ll come back to that.  How do you learn to do math if you never have a math lesson?

Spencer:  Just doing it in our daily life

Paxton:  I use math on a daily basis… sometimes for fun, and sometimes just to figure something out.

Everett:  I taught myself.

But how did you learn it?

Paxton:  By doing it.

Everett:  You just do it, and then you do it more, and practice and you get better…

How did you learn to read?

Spencer:  Books

Everett:  The same as math

Paxton:  Self-taught.  Autodidactic.

Spencer:  Playing games, doing things on the computer…

Do you feel like you’re being sheltered from the real world?

In unison:  No

You guys are giving really short answers..

Paxton:  Do you want a novel for each question?

Yes  (laughter)  Okay, what do you think is the biggest misconception about unschooling?

Everett:  That kids don’t learn anything, that they are just running around doing what they do.

Paxton:  I agree with what Everett said, and also that the kids run the house.  That’s not true.  So not learning anything, the kids running the house deal.  I’m still looking for the two words from that other question…

Do you feel like you’ll be prepared for a future career?

Spencer:  Yes, because I’m already working on what I want to do for a career right now (working on small engines)

Paxton:  Yes, that’s why I’m starting that Python class next week.

When you have kids, do you think you’ll send them to school or will you unschool?

Tegan:  Well, I’m not going to send them to school when they’re little, but I might send them to school when they’re big

Everett:  I would do what they wanted to do.  If they wanted to go school, I’d let them go to school.  If they wanted to be unschooled, I’d unschool

Tegan:  I want to change my answer.  I’d let them choose.

Paxton:  I’d let them do what they want to do too, but I’d definitely try to urge unschooling

Spencer:  I’d unschool

…………..

Paxton:  Common sense!!!  Common.  Sense.  Those were the two words.  I don’t even remember what the question was, but common sense.

Was it the question about not having any guidance?

Paxton:  Maybe… In the context of knowing what to do, and what not to do.  Common sense.

Ooooh, okay, you mean you don’t have to have rules, because how you act in a household is just common sense?

Paxton:  Yes!

So how did you learn to have this common sense if you didn’t have rules, weren’t punished….

Paxton:  Because it’s common sense…. Like if you do something once and something bad happens, you say to yourself, “Oh I probably shouldn’t do that again.”

Let’s go back to the question about kids just watching TV or playing video games all day, because that’s a real concern for some people.  Do you think that it’s an actual thing that happens, or do you think it’s a misconception?

Paxton:  I think it just depends on the kid.  It can happen, but it’s not a bad thing.  If you think about it, a kid that’s free to choose isn’t going to play a video game or watch a TV show all day unless it’s something that they’re really interested in or passionate about.

Everett:  Yesterday, I was watching a video about how educational video games could be

Do you think you get a well-rounded education being able to follow your own interests? 

Everett:  Well with unschooling, you’re not forced to learn about any one thing.  You can learn about other things if you want to

Paxton:  But do you want to?  When you’re following an interest, do you learn a variety of things, or do you just learn about that one thing?

For example, basic skills…. reading, writing, math… do you feel that you get all those basic skills just by following your own interests?

Spencer:  Yes

Everett:  It kind of depends on what your interest is, but yes

Paxton:  I definitely got my math brain from my father, but even just by learning about what I’m passionate about, I’m definitely learning a lot about math and numbers and words… how to put this together and that together and try this… engineering….

If you want to learn about something, what do you do?   What tools do you use? Who helps you?

Tegan:  Well, you help me.  I want to learn about going on the green slide, and driving and stuff.   You help me.  You’re my person.

Paxton:  You’re her person

Spencer:  Well, right now I’m interested in getting better at small engines, so your uncle’s been really helpful

Paxton:  If I want to learn about something, my first instinct is to go to YouTube

Everett:  Yeah

Paxton:  Or, you know, find a book or something.  Or find somebody that I know who has an interest or knowledge of that subject

Oh!  Here’s a question.  Some people think that unschoolers don’t use books.  True?

Spencer:  Wrong!

Everett:  That’s totally not true

Paxton:  I for one, don’t particularly enjoy doing my reading from books.  But I will do a lot of research online… find articles, forums, everything on the subject that I want to learn about

Spencer:   I like books.  You got me that whole set of books on engine repair, and they’ve been a good resource.

Paxton:  Yeah, you’re very supportive of what we want to learn about, and help us find what we need to learn more about it, and to follow the interest.

Spencer:  Yes, you are

Everett:  But you don’t force us to do it

Paxton:  No, you just help us when we need it

So you don’t feel like I’m “hands off”, or that you’re learning on your own?

Paxton:  Not at all

Everett:  Because if we have an interest, you support it, and you help us research it.  And even if we want to do something, and can’t figure out, “how do I do this?”  we can ask you.

Do you ever feel like you’re overly encouraged?  Like do you think that you’re being pushed to take certain paths?

Spencer:  No

Paxton:  You’re encouraging us in the areas we want to pursue.

Everett:  Right, you’re not encouraging us to go into chemistry if we want to go into math.

Paxton:  I feel like any job we chose would be supported

So, Spencer you want to go into engine repair and landscaping;  Paxton you want to be a computer programmer.  Everett, do you know what you want to do when you grow up?

Everett:  Making games would be fun

Paxton:  He’s said he’d like to go into sound effects

Everett:  Yeah that’d be really fun job to do

Some people think that since we don’t really have rules in the house, and since the parents aren’t really the “boss”, that you’ll never learn how to respect authority.  What do you think about that?

Everett:  That’s not true.  We learn to respect others.

Paxton:  Again, it’s just common sense.  There are rules everywhere, and we learn to follow them if we want to be part of… Part of…

Society?

Paxton:  Yes, society.  We’re respectful members of society, just not the system.

Okay, let’s talk socialization.

Paxton:  I’m socially awkward

(laughter)

Paxton:  No, I’m not that socially awkward.  I’m not Sheldon.  I know how to introduce myself, say hello, shake people’s hands….

Spencer:  In school,  you’re mostly just around other kids

Paxton:  In the same room, all day

Everett:  With kids that you might not even choose to be around.  Or be friends with.

Paxton:  And being out of school, we’re around people of all ages.  I like being able to make friends with other people who have similar lifestyles, but if we don’t, I can adapt and still say hi and be friendly and become friends with one another.

Here’s one someone asked me the other day.  How do you know that you prefer unschooling to school, if you’ve never been to school for comparison?

Spencer:  We can just talk to friends that have gone to regular schools.

Paxton:  Well I’ll find out next week, even though I’m not actually going to school.

Right, but it’s one class that you chose, and something that you’re interested in.

Paxton:  That’s true.  It’s really different than going to school for what, 7 hours a day?  Being forced to learn something and do things that you may not want to do just doesn’t sound like a fun concept.

Everett:  And even if there is something you do want to learn about, you can only learn about it at certain times.

Paxton:  And you’re forced to learn it whether you want to at that time or not.  You don’t have the freedom to do what you want, for how long you want.

Do you think that unschooling is a good option for someone who is considered “special ed”, has ADHD, etc?

Everett:  I think unschooling is better than regular schooling, because they can learn at their own pace, instead of being forced to learn things in a certain way.

Paxton:  I think everyone would have some sort of label if we went to school.

Spencer:  I think unschooling would be the best choice, because something might be harder for them to learn in the traditional ways.

Everett:  And with unschooling, you can focus on strengths

Does it bother you – or maybe this hasn’t happened to you – if someone says for example, “You’re in sixth grade, you should know this by now?” 

Paxton:  It doesn’t bother me, but it’s annoying.

Spencer:  Yeah, when someone says that it’s like they’re boasting and rubbing it in your face

Paxton:  Exactly.  They’re being kind of rude.

Spencer:  Like, “Ha ha, we know more than you.”

Paxton:  It doesn’t bother me at all if I’m “behind” where the public schools think I should be, because everyone learns at their own pace, but I’d be pretty irritated if someone actually walked up to me and said something like that.

Okay, to expand on that… Do you think there is a certain group of things that kids should know at certain ages?  Or do you think everyone should just learn at their own pace?

Spencer: Everyone should be able to learn at their own pace.

Everett:  I’d say, if they want to learn it they will, no matter what age they are

Paxton:  Everyone learns at their own pace, but there will be some things that will be necessary in life sooner than others.   Like reading, math… that kind of thing

So do you think unschooling has provided you the environment to learn those things?  Or the tools to know how to learn them when you need them? 

Everett:  Definitely

Paxton:  Yes.  It’s provided me what I need to know, what I already know… AND has given me the tools to learn more when I want to or need to.

How about this… do you think it’s important for kids to learn for example, all the state capitals, or who was president when, or the dates when certain things happened…

Spencer:  It just depends on the person

Paxton:  For some people, it’s really cool for them to learn about stuff like that, and for others, it’s just really frustrating and hard to remember.  And if they don’t need it…

Everett:  No one’s going to want to be forced to learn it

Paxton:  And they’re not going to remember it anyway, if it’s not something they’re interested in

Okay, upper level math.  Necessary?  Not necessary?

Spencer:  Not

Paxton:  Yeah, unless you’re going to go into a field that requires it, you’re probably not going to need more than the basics in day to day life.

Some people worry that if kids are given too much freedom, they’re not going to make good choices.  What are your thoughts on that?

Spencer:  I think most kids would make good choices if they’re trusted

Paxton:  I agree

Tegan:  Ask me the question!

Tegan, do you know what are some good choices, and what are some not-very-good choices?

Tegan:  Hitting and punching aren’t very good choices.  Saying bad words isn’t a good choice.

Paxton:  Oh, are we going to talk about swearing?

Did you want to?

Spencer:  It’s just about knowing when

Paxton:  When, where, time and place, being aware of and respectful about who’s around you

Tegan:  Spanking someone isn’t a good choice.

Oh!   Let’s talk about spanking.  How did you learn to stay out of the street if you were never spanked?

Everett:  Because you told us to.  You talked to us.

Paxton:  There’s no need to cause physical harm to teach someone to be safe.

Spencer:  You can just say, “Don’t go in the street.”  It’s pretty obvious.

Everett:  Or you can say, “That wasn’t very safe.  Please don’t do it again.”

Paxton:  And again, it’s common sense.  If you do it once, and are told not to, you don’t do it again.  And then you get to a point where it’s like, “Hmm, that car is coming pretty fast.  Maybe I shouldn’t jump in front of it.”

Here’s a question.  We don’t require any of you to do chores, but you all pitch in when we ask anyway.  Spencer, earlier I asked you to bring out the recyclables, and you did.  You didn’t have to, but you did anyway.  Why?

Spencer:  Because the bin was overflowing, and we all use it.  It needed to be done.

Everett:  And it’s just the nice thing to do

Spencer:  Yes!

Paxton:  That’s exactly what I was going to say

Tegan, why do you brush your teeth when I ask you to, even though it’s never been something I’ve made you do?

Tegan:  Because I want to keep my teeth clean and healthy.

So how have you learned to do things if they were never a requirement?

Everett:  We just choose to do them

Paxton:  Yeah, choose to do them, then learn from the outcome.  Learn from the outcome, and decide whether or not it would be a good idea to do whatever it was again.

Along those same lines… you’re all able to set your own schedule in terms of sleep, etc.  How will you adjust to having a job and having to get up early/be somewhere at a certain time?

Paxton:  I’d just set an alarm, and get it done.  Eventually you get into a routine, and you’d get used to it.

Everett:  Yeah, you just keep doing it, and it gets easier.

Spencer:  What I do when I want to adjust my schedule is just start going to bed an hour earlier each night until I get on the schedule I want.

Paxton:  Yeah I’d rather just set my alarm.  I’d have to force myself to do it the first few times, but then it would become a habit, and get easier.  Just do it, and get it done.

At this point, I tried to ask them what they’d learned from video games, but it rabbit trailed into a very long discussion about the zombie apocalypse.  They did eventually tell me that in addition to learning what to do in case of zombies, that they’d learned (and are continuing to learn) things like reading, physics, problem solving, grammar, spelling, math, cooperative play…

Paxton:  If you’re exposed to anything enough, you learn from it.

Everett: In the video I was watching yesterday, the guy was talking about Minecraft and about how many different things kid can learn from it… even just from how big the blocks are, how they fall…

Paxton:  Portal II is also a great game to figure out physics, puzzles, how things fit together, how to think outside the box….

Here’s something that has been pretty hotly debated lately.  Do you think it’s possible to unschool part-time?  For example, saying, “We unschool except for math and english?”

Paxton:  That’s not unschooling.  That’s homeschooling.  If you’re forcing them to do it, even if it’s just one or two subjects, that’s homeschooling, not unschooling.

Everett:  With unschooling, you should be learning what you want to learn.

Spencer:  Yeah, I think if you’re going to unschool, you should unschool.    Traditional homeschooling is pretty much the same as going to school, you’re just doing it at home.

So you think that you’re either an unschooler or you’re not?

Paxton:  Yes, there’s not really an in-between.

What would be your response to somebody who said something like, “Oh I like the idea of unschooling, but I’d be worried that my child wouldn’t learn everything he’d need to know.” ?

Paxton:  If they truly need to know something, they will learn it.

Everett:  Yeah.  If they really needed it, they would know it, and they would learn it.

Paxton:  If something is truly a NEED to learn, the child would learn it… on his or her own, at his or her own pace, with no force.

And finally, are you going to grow up to be murderers and drug addicts and criminals?

Spencer:  No

Paxton:  Yes

Everett:  Well, not those things. But I might be a hippie.

Paxton:  HIPPIES!!

Everett:  Hippies rule!!

Thank you, to the four most awesome kids I know.

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What is Apraxia?

Imagine that you want to invite a new friend to a party.  You’re a little bit nervous, and you have trouble getting the words out.  Your mouth doesn’t want to work at all.  You stutter,  you mumble, your speech is “bumpy” and halting, your voice is too loud or too soft, and you leave endings off of words all together.  The more self-conscious you feel, the harder it becomes.  After what feels like a painfully long time, you finally get out your question… and are then asked to repeat it because she didn’t understand what you said.

Or imagine that you’re asked to fill out a simple form, asking for basic information such as name, phone number, and address.  You’re a teenager and you’ve been reading and writing for a decade.  You know how to make a 5, or an 8, or spell McGrail, but a connection is lost between your brain and your fingers, and writing is difficult and slow… your words too big for the box, and your penmanship hard to decipher.

Or think about shopping for shoes.  You’re faced with pair after pair with laces, so many options, so many choices… and you look at them all, try on several pairs, but ultimately end up choosing one of just a few that slip-on.  Because even though you CAN tie, the process is arduous, and you – like everyone else – want to be able to just toss on your shoes and go.

Now imagine that because of all of the above, people make automatic assumptions about your intelligence, about your future, and about your other abilities.

That’s apraxia.

In the simplest terms, it’s a motor-planning disorder.  Your brain correctly tells your mouth (or your hands, or any other part of your body) what to do, but there is a breakdown in the motor planning necessary to complete the action, making said action difficult or in some cases impossible.  Apraxia behaves differently in each person, and can affect any motor system.   Some people with apraxia may have trouble with the large motor coordination necessary to ride a bike for example, but not struggle at all with handwriting.  The examples I gave above are specific areas that Spencer (16 at the time of this writing) finds most difficult, but we’ve been told that he likely has other, more subtle apraxias as well.

I am so thankful that I’m able to unschool all my kids, but particularly Spencer.   I can’t think of any other type of education, or life, that would be more respectful and uniquely individual to his needs while still keeping his amazing self-confidence and tenacity intact.   Apraxia doesn’t define him, and he knows that.

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Still, it’s frustrating both for him as an individual and for us as his parents to deal with something that is in most cases not even on anyone’s radar, and poorly understood when it is.

What can you do to help?

Next month, our entire family of six is participating in a walk to raise money and awareness for this cause that is so deeply personal and important to us all.  Any contribution you could make (even if it just means passing on the link to share with others) would be so appreciated.

Click here to view our fundraising page.  (Edited to reflect our current page) We thank you, and Spencer thanks you.

*Please note that this post was written and posted with Spencer’s approval and blessing, because he wants to get the word out.  I wouldn’t have posted it otherwise.*


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The Engine and the Caboose

Spencer and Tegan’s birthdays are 3 days apart.  Well, 11 years and 3 days.  In the past, I’ve found that stressful, because 1)  I find birthdays a little bit stressful to begin with, and 2) it meant twice as much planning, twice as much baking, twice as much money….

This year though, I realized for the first time how incredibly fitting it is that we get to celebrate them both in the same week:  Spencer, the one who made us a mother and a father.  The one who took us from just a couple to a family.  The one who taught us what it meant to love another person so completely, so intensely, so ferociously.  The one who showed us what we wanted to do and who we wanted to be as parents.  The one who brought us more joy, more heartbreak, and more pride than we’d ever experienced before.  The one who forged the way for his three younger siblings, and the one who continues to lead the way with courage and passion and tenacity.   When Spencer was born, we ceased to be who we’d been before, and we became something entirely new… something brighter, and something stronger.

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And Tegan, the one who completed our family.  The one who showed us the new joys and experiences of having a girl after three boys.  The girl we never knew we always wanted.  The one who almost wasn’t.  The one who made her presence so strongly known even before she was conceived.  The one who made me know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that someone was still missing from our family.  The one who made me sob to my husband, “You don’t understand.  If we don’t have another baby, I will regret it for the rest of my life.  Someone is STILL MISSING.”  The one who continues to teach me so much about love, about life, and about myself.  The one who reminds me to play, to smile, and to live every moment as if it were my last.  The one who has brought us so much joy and laughter in five short years.    So much joy!

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The one who started our little family, and the one who completed it.

Our engine and our caboose.

I love them both more than words could ever adequately express, and I thank God every day that I’m lucky enough to be their mom.


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I’m a Better Mom When My Kids Are Sick

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I had an uncomfortable realization yesterday.

Spencer spent most of the day in the ER with a dislocated shoulder.  He is home now, put back together and sleeping comfortably, but yesterday was a long miserable day for him.   Mike brought him to the ER while I stayed home with the others feeling anxious and useless, unsure of what to do with myself.  As I’d imagine any parent would tell you, there are few things worse than knowing your children are in pain or sick or hurt in any way.  It was with great relief that I finally met him at the front door, smiling, whole (if a bit drugged up), and home where I could dote on him.

So glad to have something to do after a day of waiting, I made sure he was comfortable on the couch and that he had the remotes controls he needed.  I fixed him some toast and put water on for tea.  I kept him company while he watched one of his favorite shows, I brought him ibuprofen when it was time, and I even helped him with his belt buckle when he admitted with a laugh that while he managed to get it UNdone with one hand to use the restroom, he couldn’t get it done again.   I was attentive, and I was patient, and I did it all gladly.  It made me happy to be able to do something, anything, to help him stay as comfortable as possible.

In short, I was the kind of mom I should be striving to be all the time.

It occurred to me on my third or fourth trip out of the living room to get him something that didn’t I have it backwards?  Not that we shouldn’t be so vigilant when there is an extra need, but shouldn’t that same level of patience, of compassion, and willingness to give be present when the kids are well?  Especially with kids like mine who are almost never sick?  And it’s not that I don’t think I’m a good mom.  It’s just that crises tend to make me a BETTER mom.  A more aware mom.  A more patient mom.  And if I can choose to bring that “extra” to my parenting when someone is sick or hurt, can’t I choose to do it all the time?  It’s not even a choice now that I think about it…. it’s just the default.  Someone is hurt, and out comes that “other” mom.  The one who isn’t irritable because she hasn’t been sleeping enough, the one who isn’t distracted with silly things like Facebook and housework and outstanding bills, the one who has all the love in the world and all the time in the world to give it.

Yes, I’ve had it backwards, and I can change that.

I don’t really do resolutions, but if I did, my new resolution would be this:   For this year… this week… this day… to make more of an effort to treat my kids – all my kids – as well as I’d treat them if they’d just spent the day in the ER.


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Then He Read Hunger Games

A couple of days ago, a fellow unschooling friend was telling me about her eight year old, who’d been complaining of being bored lately.  She said she’d suggest a swim or a game of catch or an offer to do something new together… and then a few minutes later he’d be bored again.

It’s rare that my eight year old is bored… in fact, most of the time, the day just doesn’t contain enough hours for all the things he wants to do, try, and experience.

My 15 year old though,  he’s been bored.  In thinking about it, I’m not sure ‘bored’ is even the word.  He’s been in a very quiet season.  He’s been sleeping a lot.  He’s been regrouping.  He’s not been especially focused on one (or any) particular pursuit, beyond doing that aforementioned regrouping.  Like my friend, I’ve been offering up suggestions when he seems to want them, while at the the same time trying to respect his space and his needs.  Many days, that means simply letting him be.   For the past couple of weeks, a casual onlooker might have thought he hadn’t been doing much of anything at all (though we know that’s not the case.)

And then, three days ago, he started reading The Hunger Games.

Spencer has never been much of a pleasure reader.  He reads for information.  He reads magazines and articles on the internet.  He’s a Google expert.   He’s not one to really pick up a novel.   But he picked up The Hunger Games, and something happened.

Suddenly there was a new burst of passion.   It’s been followed by in-depth conversations (and lots of them) about everything from geography to character development to plot lines to war.  There have been explosions of learning.  Lists of other books he wants to read.  New interests.  New excitement.  New activity.

And just like that, the period of rest was over.

A short, but important side note:   It’s actually a pet peeve of mine when parents point to their child’s love of reading as a proof of unschooling’s – or perhaps their parenting’s – success.  Not because reading isn’t wonderful (you’d be hard-pressed to find a more avid reader than myself), but because it’s simply a tool, one that once it’s mastered is no more or less valuable for its learning potential as anything else.  My point would have been the same whether the impetus for Spencer’s current burst of activity had been a book or a movie or a video game or a trip to a local museum.  He was inspired, and he’s running with it.

I actually don’t care if my children read for pleasure.  What I care about is that they follow that spark, that passion… wherever it comes from, and wherever it leads.


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15 Awesome Things

Fifteen years ago from right now, I was in labor.  Just a couple of hours away from meeting my five pound, eleven ounce oh-so-breathtakingly handsome and hairy first child.  In honor of each and every one of the last fifteen years, I give you fifteen things that make Spencer one of the coolest people I know:

1.  His sense of humor.  No complicated, deep, not-sure-if-you-get-it kind of humor here.  Just straight up corniness, with a big hearty laugh on the side.  If you know my dad, you know why I’d appreciate a corny sense of humor.

2.  His taste in music.  He has one of the most eclectic ears of anyone I know.  You might find anything from Broadway show tunes to Christina Aguilera, to classic rock, to modern pop, to heavy metal on his play list.

3.  His exceptional memory.  He never forgets a name, a street, or a “remind me to…” request.

4.  His ability to fix things.  He’s been taking things apart and putting them back together again since he was old enough to hold a screwdriver.  This means our house is often overrun with stray screws, nails, and various parts and pieces… but it also means he has an admirable (and useful!) skill that will serve him his entire life.

5.  His loyalty.  If you’re fortunate enough to gain Spencer’s friendship, you’ve made a friend for life.

6.  His JOY.  It just bubbles out of him.   He loves life, and he wakes each day excited for new experiences.

7.  His unshakeable sense of self.   Perhaps one of my favorite things about him, he’s a person who knows exactly who he is and never tries to be anything else.   Right now that means a person with one foot in adulthood, and one foot still firmly in childhood.  A person who will unabashedly build with legoes one minute, and have an in-depth conversation with his mom about Law and Order: SVU the next.

8.  His determination.   Apraxia has made certain things more difficult for him… but he never lets it stop him.

9.  His love for his family.  If I only could have bottled all the hugs and “I love yous” he gave me when he was younger, I would be set for life.  Fortunately, he hasn’t stopped showing his love for myself, his father, and all his siblings (even the little sister who often tries with all her might to drive him crazy)  Over the past few years, while we were still working out all my gall bladder-related issues, he’s also always been the first to offer a sincere, “I’m sorry you’re not feeling good”  even if it was the third day in a row that I’d been sick.

10.  His fascination with fascinating facts.   He loves to watch Dr G: Medical Examiner, Untold Stories of the ER, and a host of other real-life medical and crime shows that make a lot of people queasy. When we go on field trips, he’s right up front, intently listening, asking questions, and mentally filing away information for another time.

11.  His concern for others.   He has such a huge, huge heart.  He’s always touched by stories of illnesses and hardship, especially when it comes to children.  We’ve been praying for a little girl with cancer here in the valley for a few years now, and he continually asks how she’s doing, and reminds me to give him updates as soon as I have them.

12.  His enthusiasm.   I don’t think I can adequately describe just how enthusiastic he is unless you’ve seen it for yourself.  Excitement isn’t an emotion he does half way and I LOVE that about him.  He throws himself into new hobbies, new pursuits and new friendships.

13.  His steadfast refusal to curse, or to take God’s name in vain.  People are often surprised to hear this since I so rarely swear on my blog, but strong language doesn’t generally bother me.  It does bother Spencer though, and I so respect that he takes a personal stand against it… so much so that when he created his own Minecraft server, one of the first things he did was install a plug-in that would filter any coarse language as people chatted.  (To give you an example of how seriously he takes this, when he refers to the TV show, “Jackass” he always self-censors it as “Jack Butt.”  :))

14.  His willingness to face fears.  As a young child, he had a severe fear of the dentist, compounded by issues with having his face touched.  Thanks to a wonderfully patient and compassionate pediatric dental team, he faced his fears head-on.  Today he’ll sit through HOURS of orthodontia and patiently endure fillings with nothing more than a shot of novacaine.

15.  His friendship.  Yep, I’m one of those moms, and proud to be.  Yes, I’m his mom, but I’m also lucky enough to be his friend.  And he – like the rest of my children – is one of the best friends I have ever had.


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My Mom, by Spencer

 

So, this further confirms that my life very much revolves around food… specifically chocolate, and cupcakes.  And caramel.  And it makes me sad when… oh just read.  I LOVE these kids.

 

1. What is something mom always says to do?

Make coffee.

 

2. What makes mom happy?

That’s easy.  Caramel.  Chocolate. 

 

3. What makes mom sad?

When people are mean.  But before that he said, Well last night you were sad because the shot glass was missing.  Ha ha ha ha ha.

 

4. How does your mom make you laugh?

I don’t know (apparently I only make the 3 year old and 11 year old laugh)

 

5. What was your mom like as a child?

Well, not very safe.  You got hurt a lot when you played with your friend Amy.  (He speaks the truth… most notably the time I knocked myself unconscious on a zipline, and won myself an ambulance trip to the ER)

 

6. How old is your mom?

38

 

7. How tall is your mom?

 5’7″

 

8. What is her favorite thing to do?

Blogging

 

9. What does your mom do when you’re not around?

 Nothing  (Ha, nice)

 

10. If your mom becomes famous, what will it be for?

Writing a book

 

11. What is your mom really good at?

 Being a mom

 

12. What is your mom not very good at?

I don’t know what you’re not good at  (atta boy)

 

13. What does your mom do for a job?

Takes care of four kids

 

14.What is your mom’s favorite food?

Milk Duds  (OK, I do eat actual food.  Honest.  Good food even.)

 

15.What makes you proud of your mom?

Your cupcakes

 

16. If your mom were a cartoon character, who would she be?

I’m not too much of a cartoon watcher. 

 

17. What do you and your mom do together?

Hang out and watch TV

 

18. How are you and your mom the same?

We both like chocolate

 

19. How are you and your mom different?

I like licorice, and you don’t

 

20. How do you know your mom loves you?

You show me by doing stuff for me.

 

21. Where is your mom’s favorite place to go?

What’s that restaurant up in Sedona?  (Javelina Cantina?)  Yeah, that.

 


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