Thursday, December 5, 2013

Max: They dress dead people up in fancy clothes... ? I think that's really disrespectful.
Me: What do you think they should do with the dead? I mean what would you want me to do with you if you died?
Max: Burn me.
Me: What about immediately, like if you died right now in the kitchen?
Max: Let my body just sit for three weeks, and then, I want you to do a massive prank. Tie my body up to puppet strings and take it to the play place at McDonald's, and move it around like it's real.
Me: You want me to use your body in a prank, that's your dying wish?
Max: Yep. It'll be so awesome.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Goddamn Socks

I had this goddamn box of single socks that I drug from Minneapolis to Aurora to Fort Collins.

Every two months or so for five years, I dumped out the goddamn box of single socks and laboriously laid them across the floor trying to find matches for them, and although I always found matches for at least a couple, the collection just grew and grew.

During a positive patch, I'd make a sock puppet, and during a carefree patch, I'd let the kids stuff them into punching bags, but mostly, they just sat in the closet, oppressing me with my over-dramatic interpretations of what they meant, these goddamn socks.

The collection kept growing and growing until one night a few weeks ago in an attempt to just move on, I marched the entire box of goddamn single socks out to the garbage can, and I wiped my hands of them.

But I've done the laundry a few times since then, and there's two or three or four goddamn single socks sitting on the edge of the dining room table and the edge of the dresser...

and the fuckers are getting ready to take over.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Heavy Limbs and Crowing

When you find that special personality disorder that fits your personality, you may literally sit around all day thinking up things you have done over the last twenty years or so and label them crazy, crazy, bat-shit crazy, crazy, crazy, bat-shit crazy, and then, you may think of countless things people have said to you over the last twenty years or so, and you may realize how true those things were....  And self realization is a fucking bummer. I got so depressed my limbs were literally aching.

(Note: the first literal in that paragraph is the newly defined literal as figurative while the second literal is literally literal.)

(Parenthetical fun with etymology continued: I found out this weekend during a bit of drunken googling (once a brand becomes a verb, do I capitalize it?) with my brother-in-law that the -ify of deify, justify, petrify, mollify, etc. comes from the Latin facere which is also the root word of facitious. As those are my favorite group of words and being factitious is one of my favorite things, I am pretty sure life doesn't get any funner than that.)

And this weekend certainly didn't get any funner than that. In fact, it was the worst weekend in a long time. Potentially, it was a game changer in the long term sense.

But, beyond the heavy limbs, beyond the horrible weekend, beyond potential game changers, I want to focus on something positive... And since I can't muster up any positivism in a deep sense, I will just do some crowing:  

Public school started yesterday which fills me with the whole sense of "crap, we should do something" so I was happy to note that while the public school kids were roasting in their desks in the 90-plus-degree heat that we randomly hit on the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Sydney Opera House, robot street performers, the length of intestines, and the position of babies in the womb. Then, we found a mud dauber wasp (not out on a nature walk, just there on the wall in my bedroom). So, I considered that to be a pretty successful first day of school, I guess.

Today, after the second day of school, our house filled with public school kids once school was dismissed, and I was asked to referee arguments on vocab words, the medicinal use of steroids, soldier pay, and whether or not the Brits had any role in winning WWII or whether it was just the Americans. In every argument, my third grader won against a sixth grader. Of course, that sixth grader could read circles and do math problems around my third grader, but let's not let that get in the way of some crowing.

And so here we are, and I have no idea where we are going, but I am pretty sure it can't get any worse.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Borderline Personality Disorder

If you know me, you know that I hate over-pathologizing things. You're not depressed, you're grieving;  you're not OCD, you just enjoy having a clean bathroom, and so on, but then, I stumbled across a little thing called borderline personality disorder....  oh, wow, there's my entire personality described in the dsm criteria of a mental illness: excessive emotional reactions (anger), chronic feelings of emptiness, chronic boredom, impulsive behaviors (unsafe and inappropriate sexual conduct), tumultuous and unstable relationships, unstable self-image, fear of abandonment, idealizing people followed by hating them.   

In reading, I stumbled across several other symptoms (which may fall under the categories covered above or may not) but that I also see in myself: telling strangers intimate details about yourself, seeing anger in neutral faces, inability to manage time well, inability to keep track of things (driver's licenses, keys, etc), ability to manipulate others easily, self-awareness of certain issues or patterns and unwillingness/inability to change, inability to lie (except through omission) due to childlike nature, non-linear thought patterns, constantly changing emotions (minute to minute, day to day), being drawn to ideological extremes, intelligence, disassociating (I'm not sure about this one, the way that I disassociate may be normal or just drift-y), bursts of happy mania, fluid gay-straight sexuality, tendency to have more than 20 sexual partners, excessive guilt.

There's also a lot in the literature (yes, I'm calling random internet browsing literature) on self-harming behaviors, and aside from making bad decisions (regular and sexual), taking drugs excessively (back in the day, not really now), over-drinking (not too much at the moment), and fantasizing about suicide as an adolescent, I'm not really a big self-harmer besides maybe a bit of head banging and hair pulling while in a rage.  

There seems to be two types (or maybe it occurs on a continuum): people who are visibly very troubled and are in and out of mental health care their entire life and people who can hide all of these symptoms except in front of the people that they are closest to. I fall into the second category, mostly. So people whom I've known for 25 plus years actually aren't that familiar with many of my symptoms (although I have memories of being compared to the Sharon Stone character in Basic Instinct due to all the weird obsessions I was harboring in high school), but my husband and two people I dated about fifteen years ago can easily look at those symptoms and agree that they are a perfect match for me. 

I'm not really concerned about whether I have BPD or not. One one hand, it seems like identifying a mental illness at a time when I feel ready to change could be counterproductive and could become a crutch/excuse. On the other hand, it has been useful to read about the symptoms because they have elucidated some of the issues that I wasn't that self aware of. For instance, a couple yeas ago, I had a conversation with a neighbor (it was probably my second conversation with her and just so that you know how fucked up I was making the situation at the time, I should probably admit that I was hitting on her husband at the time using some weird manipulation techniques that (I thought) I hadn't used in years), and after that conversation, I came home and announced these huge changes to my husband: I'm putting the kids in school, I'm going back to school, everything is changing, and he protested that it was weird that I would have that conversation with a virtual stranger instead of running it by him. I don't think I realized that was actually weird/unhealthy until I started reading about BPD. There were several other situations that were made a bit clearer as well, and there were also patterns that I identified in my book (the memoir I wrote last year) that seem a little clearer now that I stumbled into the magical world of BPD.

The problem is that I have been aware of much of this stuff for years. I even talk about breaking patterns in my damn journals from fifteen years ago. If I took a red marker through those to identify BPD behavior, every page would be red by the way. So, I bought another damn journal, and I'm going to read it when I'm 50 (in case you lost the math that means I have a journal from age 20, one from 35, and then, I'm reading at 50 so 15 year intervals), and if I still have the exact same set of BPD-emotions, I'm going to... what...  who knows, but I'm exhausted, I have no interest in carrying the same destructive emotional patterns for another 15 years. Also, I think there were a lot of patterns (ie telling strangers intimate things) that I could get away with because I was young and cute, but telling random strangers about your issues when you're old and crusty is just tacky and gross. 

That said, whether we're dealing with BPD or just symptoms that are similar to it (who cares), I know this is not an intellectual game. If it were, I would have busted it at 20 or even last year when I identified many of these patterns in the memoir. I think...  it's more about emotional walls and letting myself break long long term patterns even if they are relatively comfortable to me in their shittiness.   

And what happens if I drop all my defenses, will I become a fat person in a hemp dress? 

Yes, yes, Minger, you will because, all mental health recovery involves getting fat and wearing hemp. 

Will I start thinking more linear-ly and does that mean that I will never be able to write the stream-of-consciousness masterpiece I've been dreaming of since I finally read Mrs Dalloway a few months ago? 

Or there is the remote possibility that by changing some of these behaviors (primarily the one where I fight against/build emotional walls against the people who are supposed to be the closest to me or the one where I freak out at the smallest things by having a rage fit) that I will be a happier healthier person and have happier healthier relationships. 

And what's my block, why do I feel noticeably tenser even writing that? 

Well, that question is why I'm paying for therapy. (and omg, btw, I can't wait until Obamacare kicks in in January so that I can actually get these costs covered, and according to what I've been able to find, it looks like we will be able to get a tax credit that could cover the entire cost of insurance at our income level, so we'll see how that pans out). 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


I dipped into a pretty negative place the last month or so, and after writing and deleting a blog post where I realized I was reliving my parents' marriage, I had the even worse realization that I am becoming my mother, so I immediately scheduled some therapy.

(That's supposed to be funny; I am a little worried that if therapy removes my defenses that I won't be funny anymore, but the therapist assured me that she's not that good so I guess I won't worry; I'm so tired at this point, that I would sacrifice a lot just for some peace, but it's a pretty scary process, trying to figure out what works and what doesn't, what is me, what is a defense.)

Anyway, I have an incredible support group, and in their own ways, they have given me respite from my head, lately. A few weeks ago, my good good friend cooked me dinner in her childless apartment, and it was just beautiful watching her cook as sweat streamed down both of us, and the urban-ish landscape stretched out behind her apartment window. She was fabulous, and during dinner, she and her husband who know our entire family well just made me feel very very loved.

Last night, I met with a friend who has been, in so many ways, a real growing experience for me to have. I read her bits from some fifteen year-old journals I had found in the basement, and she sang me the song she had written for me (I mean who writes me songs... sublime) which was incredibly touching, and I just love her.

And today, we went to the reservoir, which is really one of my favorite places on the planet, and it's just nice to get out, to know that people have the same goals, similar outlook on life as you and that it doesn't need to be too complicated.

And my other dear friend sent me a letter a few weeks ago, which was so reassuringly her, smart, caring, theoretical, perfect. I cried while reading it and saved it to reread.

There's probably more, but I just wanted to take a second from working to recount a few things that I was grateful for.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Dirty and Paranoid

I have been dirty my entire life, and "not in a good way", my husband would add (with a wink). I was dirty when I lived with my mother who is the cleanest person on the planet, and I have been since I've lived on my own. A few months ago, I was telling Max how dirty the carpet was in the apartment I shared with my husband and our friend when we lived in London--It was black because we didn't have a vacuum cleaner, and we smoked and cooked all the time.

And he said, "Were you mad about it all the time?"

No, of course not, I was never mad about it. I never thought twice about inviting people round for dinner and eating fabulous food on paper plates on the floor. So what's different now--now that I'm not 23, more importantly, now that I have kids, I'm supposed to be clean, and if I'm not, I'm supposed to feel bad about it? I'm also supposed to feel like I'm the worst mother if my kids are not tidy and obedient. Fuck that. Where do these ideas even come from?

Side note, my then-eight-year-old said, "No wonder we look naughty if all the other kids are on behavior drugs; they have an unfair advantage."

I've been trying to shift things, trying to see why things are dirty and not worry what it looks like to somebody who just stops by. If the carpet is covered in bits of foam and strips of newspaper and crumbs, it just looks bad, but I'm not going to worry about it anymore because I saw the day that created that mess, the creation with the foam and the studious taping of newspaper bits, and although it didn't amount to much (two swords), it took a lot of concentration and there must be something to process regardless of what it yields. If the kitchen is full of sugar and dirty pans, I know that it looks like that because the five year old made himself a snack with sugar and we cooked four meals in the last two days (instead of eating fast food or frozen food or boxed food), and I was probably distracted by working and had only done the bare minimum of dishes.

(As a parenthetical note, I feel like I'm working all the time, and my husband is working all the time. We've finally gotten our income up to what it was in 2007. After that year, it went steadily down until maybe 2010, and it's been going up from there. I know of a few things that we waste money on, but I also know that we live in a two bedroom apartment and don't own a second car and never go anywhere that would require renting a hotel room so... (it's too much to make conclusions there--let's just go with the ellipses). Also, we're working about twenty hours a week more than we did in 2007, and the kids eat more, and our cheap rent that we had been enjoying just got bumped up by $200/month (it's still less than the average in town). (And the magical answer to this is that I put my kids in a government institution for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, and I will magically make so much more money, but we're trying not to go to the place where we question every thing about what we're doing. Constantly reassessing stresses me out; I really tired of the idea that it is financially irresponsible to raise your own children.))

We also break a lot of things. All five of us, accidentally, on purpose, without even realizing that we are, and fixing them is almost always the last priority. None of the people who live here seem to be remotely handy when it comes to fixing almost anything, but I have to be positive and hope that in the next five or so years, my little eight year old will be fixing things.

So I was working and cleaning and trying to reframe things, and then, everything that makes it hard for me to reframe came splashing about... unexpected very clean company, my period which is now on a twenty-five day cycle, my landlord's yearly guilt trip where she goes into all kinds of issue with an accusatory bent--like needing a new roof--which have nothing to do with me and tells me how they worked hard their whole life so they could have what they have and how she doesn't want to raise my rent.

I think maybe that's why she gets to me because she's so emotional. I'm well aware that I'm very hard on her property, but let's just be business-like. Sorry, a BB ricocheted off the fence and hit a window, I will write you a check, I did the last time we broke a window, and I will the next time. If you need to raise my rent because it costs money to keep up your property, that's not a problem.

Summer has not been awesome the last few years. It is hot, we're crabby, and my husband always increases the amount of time that he spends at work. This sentiment from my eight year old pretty much sums up the last few weeks, "Mama, stop yelling at us. You're taking out your stresses on us, like Daddy takes his out on you."


Reframing isn't about making excuses. It's about realizing that we're the ones who have to live with ourselves, the choices we make, the priorities we set. We need to make our home around what is important to us, and if it's cooking instead of repairs, or going to the reservoir for the afternoon instead of cleaning, or experiencing life barefoot instead of worrying about the the dirt that gets into the carpet, or shaking pans to get the sauce right instead of worrying about the splashes getting on the walls, then so be it.

But stress sucks, and for the last few years, ours has jumped up in the summer, and when it does, the kids need to be obnoxious and naughty and test our boundaries because we've been stressing them out, and we need them to behave perfectly and quietly because we are stressed out, and together, those two things can become a vicious, self-depleting cycle.

I know at the end of the day, that I'm the one who needs to give. I'm the one who needs to let the stress go, just go, not onto anyone.

(I forgot to address the paranoia section of the title, but just think of figuring out where that fits in like a fun puzzle I created for your amusement.)

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Faking It

I've been in a bad mood for a while now, at least nine days. The only way for sure to tell how long would be to start on January 1st and add 26 days over and over until I got to the date in June when I got my period and had one crabby day followed by four pretty depressed day where I couldn't get even mildly excited about anything and everything was meh, followed by a string of crabby and then rage-filled days. Yesterday, I was just throwing shit at the wall over and over in my mind's eye as I lied on my back and tried to take deep breaths. I was on such a hair trigger.

Earlier in the day, Max had asked me to look up something online for him. My opinion was that he whining-ly ambushed me with a request for a time-intensive and pointless task while I was in the middle of doing yard work which was desperately behind, and his opinion was that he had politely asked his mother to help him with something super important. While helping him, two of them got into a fight about (seriously) who had bit whose arm harder and left deeper marks and thus proved something about bravery. One of them was locked in the bathroom screaming while the other one was banging on the door and yelling insults. This all happened in about a second, and my sensible response was to throw my keyboard across the room and start screaming along with them. Or at them, really. Until, it dawned on me that I'm the oldest and thus the most able to control my emotions and I tried to get some order in the place.

I keep thinking that I was crabby this time last year (and I was), but then, I remember that I was crabby (or depressed) in January when I got back from Minneapolis and then again around Easter and probably on many days between those days as well as on many days between then and now. So, maybe I'm just crabby (or depressed).

Today was perfect though. We went to the reservoir and hiked down to our "secret" swimming spot and swam and hiked on rocks and climbed up another trail and explored the graffiti cave and went swimming again and did some fishing. And I barely worked but made all the money I needed to, and I just generally felt pretty happy and didn't really notice that the kitchen needed to be cleaned or that we all ate chips, leftovers, or fish sticks.

People who don't live with boys, or these boys in particular, have no fucking idea about the constant energy levels, and sometimes, when I'm having displaced anger, I get really upset with people who only have one kid or people who see a kid running and say stupid things like, "They'll sleep well tonight." No, no they won't. Are you fucking high? They have a limitless amount of energy which is both awe inspiring and annoying.

If we ride four miles to the BMX track, spend two hours riding up and down the hills, and then ride four miles home, they will maybe be tired for twenty minutes. Then, they will spend no less than three hours running in circles and doing back flips from the dresser to the bed. It's also impossible (apparently) to shut off the bedroom light without it involving a series of huge jumps from bed to bed until the switch is slammed down as they drop towards it mid-flight.

I'm really trying to make peace with the dirt and the action. The more distance I give the action, the harder it is to tolerate. If I'm spotting front flips, for instance, my life is easier than if I'm telling them to calm down and do whatever, but it's annoying. I can barely walk across a room without having someone catapult themselves on top of me. Oh, but so it is. When I don't feel like murdering them, I think it's pretty cool. On a bad day, there's probably a 90-10 (murder-cool) split, but on average, it's probably more like 50-50 (I'm not actually sure if I can quantify how often I want to murder the action out of them, maybe it's less, maybe it's more--they probably perceive the murderous contingent as higher than I do, and I should probably keep that in mind), but today was a 5-95 (murder-cool) split if I have to pick a number.

Maybe today was the first day of the rest of my month, maybe I'll get a few good days in until the vengeful 26 day cycle comes back around.

One of the reasons that I don't blog often is because I prefer to make a relatively cohesive statement (which is time consuming), and here, in these post-sun-hike dehydrated musings, I've ruined my well planned/partially-written-in-my-mind posts on boy action, moods that don't correlate with reality, and some other things, but at least I've reminded myself that the boys will always perceive more murderous emotions than I emit so I should try to emit fewer. And if all else fails, fake it.

That's really fabulous advice that should be cross stitched on a pillow. If you feel like murdering your kids, just pretend that you like them. Just fake a little love. It's better than throwing your keyboard at the wall.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Inner Voices and Casting Issues

Toward the end of my midlife crisis, my soul got older and fatter and sat down crossed legged; it felt very visual, very tied to that metaphor/concept.

In part of becoming more grounded and more comfortable there, I became engaged in a gradual but constant process of trying to be more okay with myself, with what we do, with the things that don't look like what other people are doing, whether it be the dirty carpet or the lack of artwork on the walls, and most importantly, with the flaws that the boys and I show.

Someone said today, "You're especially too hard on yourself." It was a really comforting sentiment to hear--because I interpret it to mean that I must not be as bad as I let myself think I am sometimes--and I can't tell you how much I appreciate the people around me right now.

I've thought a lot about inner voices the past few months.

When I started thinking about painting the living room, I thought, over and over, "I can't paint a room."

Really? It's four fucking walls, not brain surgery.

After a couple weeks of listening to that discouraging voice, I called my friend for the basics of painting and a much-appreciated pep talk (between that conversation and this post, she became a mother, and I am so happy for her baby that he gets to have this person who has been an encouraging voice in my life for twenty-six years as his mother), and I was off. It was easy, and it makes everything feel so much cheerier, but while painting, I tracked the voice I was hearing in my mind to two specific memories where that was said to me.

Regardless of how those lines were delivered, regardless of the intent of the speaker, those were the words that stuck for a long time, and as a mother, you know you have that potential. What you say to your children will become their inner voice.

Of course, there's always room for forgiveness, always room to say something kinder, to alleviate pain, to try to explain a joke, but you can't take it back. You can't take back anything you say, at least not easily.

Beyond what we say to each other, the way we cast each other is important too. For a long time, I was casting my kids as bad, and myself as a horrible mother--of course, I've also been looking at some of the voices that have explicitly delivered those sentiments to me as much as to the scenes where I just thought that was what everybody thought.

I'm always happy to jump in with my faults--it's just better to get them out of the way before someone notices and calls you on them, and I do the same thing with the boys. Yesterday, my neighbor was telling me how nice my son was, and then, I had to go on and on about what a fire-birthing-fuckstick he can be at times. She's like, "Your son is so nice and polite and honest and gentle," and I'm like, "Oh, wait until he loses his temper. He can get really angry and crazy."

Just, take the compliment and move on.

There are times when I lie in bed next to them and whisper nice things to them to try and undo some of the damage, but beyond words, I notice that the days I believe they are good, are the best days. The days I can distance myself from the voices in my head that make me feel like I need to cast them or myself in a certain negative light are the best days.

And a lot of that is about settling in, about not feeling that I constantly have to explain away some issue that someone may be seeing or that they may eventually see.

At least once, Max has said, "Can you hear me, or are the voices in your head too loud?"

He was referring to the captivating voices that make me not notice anything that is happening regardless of how near it is, but in the context of this, it underlines an important issue, the voices can be loud, and for three people, I have the potential to encourage their voices to be pleasantly loud or encouragingly loud. And in my own mind, I have the power to cast them as good little creatures rather than issues that need to be managed.

And so, finally, for my uncle who has said he likes kids' quotes and who deserves a prize if he's read this far, my favorite few things that these good little creatures said yesterday:

"I need a levitating shirt." --the sun-burnt one while crying in dramatic agony.

"You know what happens when you leave me alone with a sink." --the little one.

 "I'll just tell the cops I'm a seventeen year-old midget with bad knees. It'll be fine." --the free range one

"I need a new outfit for every day of the year. It's important to have style. I need to get my panache on." --the one who (please, god, please) is going to have an act a a drag bar some day

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Function Over Form

A few days after writing "No Rules", I finally realized (explicitly because I think the realization was already there implicitly in the text) that it is more important to be responsive to your kids' needs, your needs, the situation at hand than it is to abide by any rule or ideological paradigm.

Because I tend to be a fairly ideological person, this is a theme that I have to constantly revisit and relearn. Now, in unschooling, we are facing the same issue--but somehow, this time it's a lot easier for me to choose function over form. By many people's standards, that means I am no longer a real unschooler--I could care less about that. It also means that I have to foray into the world of mainstream education and hear crap touted about the importance of early reading and early intervention and other conventional ideas that really rub me the wrong way.

What is Unschooling?

Unschoolers really like to argue about this question. On the defensive, they say things like, "unschooling is not ignoring your children." I would argue that for some people, it may be. My neighbor came to me last year and said her kind and amazing and polite (my adjectives) son had been kicked out of another school, she was tired of drugging him to keep him compliant in the classroom, she was interested in unschooling, but she was worried that as a single mom working from home that she couldn't give him what he needed. My advice was that keeping him out of school where he could ride his bike and get bored and read books and watch movies would be a more positive experience than failing and getting punished at school. In this instance, I would say that she could ignore her son (to work) and it would still be considering unschooling.

Conversations like these--whether they are started on the defensive, a state many unschoolers seem to maintain because of their counter-culture lifestyle, or started because people love to crouch this movement in light and love and peace and rainbows and glitter and then judge other people when they don't--are a useful way to talk about ways to optimize the unschooling philosophy, but for the purpose of defining unschooling, they are not useful.

Unschooling is, just as suggested by the word, not school. In not being school, unschooling is not restricted by place (ie. it does not happen in a predetermined spot like a school building or at the kitchen table) and not restricted by time (learning is always happening). Disciplines (literature, history, math) cease to exist--this is not a new idea, Foucoult wrote about this. Learning moves from an exclusive reading-and-writing-based model to whichever model works best for the learner who is considered a learner (or even just a person) not a student, because there are no teachers. Learning happens for the sake of learning itself not to get a gold star or impress anyone or to beat another student. There is probably more that can be said, but hopefully, you've got the basic idea.

So, there is my form, the outline by which we have lived most of the last nine years. It has been fascinating. The things these kids have decided to pick up, the things I have learned about learning just by watching them, and the ways they have challenged me to move past my presumptions has been amazing, and I wouldn't change a thing about it.

Dyslexia and Unschooling

While reading about dyslexia, I couldn't have been happier that we have embraced such a different-than-most lifestyle. On any list describing a dyslexic person, insecurity is pretty near the top, and in every case, it is insecurity based on the fact that the dyslexic person, although they were incredibly intelligent, just couldn't make it in the reading-and-writing-based learning model that is used at most schools.

My kids have never had to face this. They have learned most things through observation, through watching videos, through experimentation, through being read to, and they have expressed what they have learned through mimicry, through conversation, through play.

As I continued to read, I decided that my older two children have all of the tendencies of dyslexics (and they have a 50% genetic predisposition for it), and if what I am reading and the many people I have talked to about are correct, the dyslexic brain does not learn to read naturally. Its bits (let's go with bits because I can't remember the technical phrase) are positioned in such a way and its processes are run in such a way that it does not have the ability to decode language in the same way that an average brain does. At the same time, the positioning of these bits lend themselves to strengths in areas like narrative reasoning, predictive abilities, and three-D imaging.

Unschooling is based on the idea that humans are natural learners. A baby who learns to roll and crawl and coo will turn into a toddler who will learn to talk and walk and jump, and that toddler will turn into a human who is interested in the world around him, who will tell stories and ask to be told stories, who will figure out how things work and build his own ideas.

Before the rise of the city-state (and if I've gotten tipsy around you anytime in the last ten years, you'll know how I perilously idolize hunter-gathers even though I try to argue myself out of it), it would have never dawned on anyone to read anything because humans were living in preliterate societies. There was no dyslexia because there was no reading. There may have been ways to distinguish whether or not someone had certain qualities that eventually down the road could have predicted dyslexia in their ancestors--or maybe all of the brains were dyslexic because the formations that favored reading hadn't evolved yet--clearly, I don't really know because I'm not an evolutionary brain scientist.

Although I'm not an evolutionary brain scientist, I am a mother, and we figure shit out, and I've figured out that in my opinion, my older two are not going to read naturally--their brains just aren't wired for that. (I can hear the unschoolers cringing here.)

Because the unschooling philosophy is so firmly entrenched in the idea that all people are natural learners, the community largely fails to acknowledge learning disabilities--unfortunately, I haven't read enough on any learning disabilities but dyslexia so I can only comment on that. I've heard many stories about parents who, rather than assigning their kid a label and intervening, wait until their kids learn to read haltingly at fifteen and never fully comprehends how to do it (mind you, illiterate kids are buried in schools all the time at a much higher cost, I would argue). This is where I break with this philosophy in order to favor function over form.

I agree that all people are natural learners, but I don't agree that reading is necessarily a natural pursuit. (Take any of the disciplines that I discarded above, and I will argue to the death (maybe) that learning about them is natural--even something like civics which didn't exist before the rise of the city-state is natural because people want to know what is going on around them--even if they can't read about it, even if they have to catch a documentary or listen to the news, even if they only want to know a smidgen about it, but I digress).

So, My children cannot read. They're only 8 and 9.5, and in most unschooling circles, that wouldn't be a problem. In fact, many homeschooled kids (and even kids who go to school) don't learn to read until those ages or later--I'm touching on so many counter-cultural ideas that it is tempting to go off on a explanatory tangent, but I'm trying to keep my train of thought--if you want me to extrapolate on something, just ask in the comments.

Many dyslexics are smart enough to memorize enough words that they can read for the gist of content (especially when they rely on their advanced narrative reasoning skills and predictive ability). However, many of these readers will always struggle when they encounter a new word, from what I understand, or when they have to read something that is very de-contextualized. I know too many adult dyslexics who cannot fill out the paperwork at the dentist, who cannot send a text message without grievous errors, who choose their professions because they absolutely couldn't do anything reading-and-writing centered or even anything that remotely included reading or writing.

I want my kids to grow up in an environment that plays to their strengths, to their interests. I want their challenges to be ones that are organically selected rather than ones that are arbitrarily forced on them by a set of state standards. However, we living in a reading based society. I want/need to ensure that they can read and write. This is critical.

It sounds simple when you write it. Of, fucking course, reading and writing is critical. But the schools aren't treating it critically when they only employ, for example, one special ed teacher who doesn't have the training to diagnose dyslexia, and many unschoolers don't treat it critically either.

In short, there's my philosophy, and there's where we're departing from it so that my kids can learn a critical skill. I would go on and on about the effing cost of the so-called-best programs and the well-trained tutors, but someone is calling my name.

However, I want to just say that although I have decided that I don't think two of my kids have brains that are naturally wired to read, I think that most kids can learn to read easily and naturally when they're ready. As I said above, by foraying into the conventional education arena for answers, I have to hear ideas that I don't like such as that "no kids learn to read naturally". Uh, I know tons of kids who have learned to read naturally, quickly, and fluently with no instruction (most at an age that is significantly older than the reading age that is pushed at most schools), and I hate hearing such disparaging comments about it. I think that sentiment underlines some of the fundamental issues I have with the whole teaching-learning model that most of us currently embrace.

But oh, well, live, learn, don't get too crazy about any one ideal, and carefully consider your koolaid...


Monday, May 27, 2013

Blue Nail Polish

There's blue nail polish on the bathroom counter top. I think I could maybe get it off if I bought some nail polish remover, but I feel like it needs to stay there for a while.

When Toby was three (fucking three--it's a baby), he got blue nail polish all over the carpet in the basement bedroom of the house we were renting. I, of course, rushed in there, yelled at him, and violently threw him to the side when I realized what he was doing.

I could say a lot of things...  as soon as I get the house under control, as soon as I remember to cook on a consistent basis, as soon as I pull back on working from home, as soon as they get a little older, but none of these things are the real issue. They can be triggers to rage, but they aren't the things that need to be changed.

When I started getting along with my husband, it wasn't because we suddenly managed to manage our money better or because he learned to close the bread bag or because I started paying better attention to his laundry or any of the other ridiculously trivial things that used to trigger fights (not to say that we don't fight anymore, but we do so with increasingly less frequency and intensity). We started to get along because to put it bluntly, I decided to stop being such a fucking bitch, and as soon as I did that, things got better.

This time, when my now eight year old got nail polish all over the bathroom, I didn't get mad. He was being ever so careful with toilet paper, and I told him not to worry that it was an accident and accidents happen. But I still get mad. I still stomp and yell and throw things  I just didn't this time over the nail polish.

Eventually, we left the house where my little son defiled the carpet. It wasn't the only damage that was done so they kept our deposit and sent us a bill. Now, there may or may not be a roll of old carpet with blue nail polish on it in a landfill somewhere, and there may or may not be stained carpet in the basement of a house I will never walk into again. It doesn't matter.

The only thing I have left from that day is my son--the eight year old version of the three year old I can see in my mind's eye crouching on the floor, painting the carpet.  And that's my responsibility, not the fucking carpet, not any of the other trivial things that have flown me into a rage. My responsibility is my son.

And this is not the sentiment I want to leave him with...

"All I ever learned from love was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you." --Leonard Cohen

So, for now, I'll leave the blue nail in the bathroom while I think about it.

Friday, May 24, 2013


I think while I was writing a book, I felt a clearer sense of purpose, but I knew while writing it and engaging in the drama that surrounded its conception that I was ignoring my kids, and I promised myself that when I was done, I would spend a year writing essays about them, about us.

Studies say you're less likely to follow through with plans if you announce them in advance, and people say the best laid plans of mice and men are often set asunder so why fucking bother (making plans or announcements).

The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Robert Burns

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What Are Your Scallops?

I picked up my husband from work the other night, and he was a little blue that everybody seemed to be making more off his talents than him. So, he cycled through some petty complaints about this and that, and finally, he said, "It doesn't matter. At the end of the day, they go home with all their money, but I get to go home knowing that I've cooked the scallops... I do whatever I want all day, and I love it ."

So, clearly, this brings me back to me.... what are my freaking scallops?

About a week before this conversation, we were having another argument. (God bless, my friend Nicole, by the way, who convinced me to get married in the first place and who has listened to recaps of about a million and ten arguments since then.) During the argument, I thought my husband was being a real ass by turning everything on me when the argument wasn't even about me. After the post-game with Nicole and a bit of reflection on my own, however, I realized that he was just utterly frustrated by my unhappiness which I, of course, blame on everybody else (I'm miserable because you're disgusting slobs who don't help or I'm miserable because you all eat all the time and I hate cooking or I'm miserable because of whatever you're doing wrong.)

So, it was those two conversations together that brought me back to...  what are my freaking scallops?

First of all....  let's be honest about the fact that scallops for women are different than scallops for men (not in every case but statistically in most cases and on a biological level, it's a different bowl of seafood). My husband can spend all day doing whatever he wants in spite of having children because he has someone on tap to watch them. Whether he needs to go to work at a nine in the morning and work til well past midnight because of a wine dinner or whether he needs to grab a drink to unwind after work, he doesn't need to worry about where his kids are or how much extra he needs to pay the babysitter or even arranging a babysitter or anything else because I'm here taking care of that shit.

I had a little "first of all" pity party for myself for a couple days, and then, I thought about writing. I think writing is my scallops...  If I were making a bowl of scallops, they would come in the form of a book deal and a sun flooded room above a garage and some part-time child care and a garden outside that I wasn't responsible for weeding and maybe some fruit trees while we're at it. But that's not the case.

So, I "first of all" and "but-ted" for a few more days, and then, I remembered. I remembered that I had a what-are-my-scallops party two years ago (see all drunkenly written posts from April of 2011 and read between the lines), and at the end of that party, I decided to write a book which I did (more on that later probably). And by the time I got to the end of the book, I decided yes, I would like to write another book, but more importantly, I decided that I wanted this life, the one that I have, the one where I cook for people who are hungry and clean for people who are dirty and read to people who are bored and work (writing actually but about boring things like car insurance) to help support all of that.

And when my husband says he gets to do whatever he wants in a day, he is slightly overstating the fact. He has to peel potatoes when his wrists are aching, and he has to sweat his balls off in a cramped space in the summer, and he has to deal with countless other petty things that I'm sure are not awesome, but they're part of the package.

And so finally... It took a week of asking myself what are my freaking scallops before I realized that I have the freaking scallops, I just need to cook them and enjoy cooking them and try not to blame everybody else when and if I fuck them up.

*** I just want to note that thinking about scallops is a luxury. As life happens, choices often get whittled away, and for some people, the choices available to them are painfully scarce. They're lucky if they can open a can of spam much less think about cooking scallops, and I'm grateful for the amount of time that I can devote to thinking about these issues because I know that not everybody gets to.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Mother's Day

For some reason, Mother's Day made me a little depressed this year. Really, I've been on and off depressed since January so it being Mother's Day may have not really been the cause, but as it spun in my mind, there were two reasons:

A. My mother. I think I am purposefully distancing myself from that woman, and although it doesn't make me sad like I miss her, it makes me a little sad. Also, because I only remembered Mother's Day the day before it happened, I forgot to send her a card, and I felt guilty all day, but I decided the guilt was easier to deal with than actually calling her. I don't think I've ever really sent cards in the past, but now that I'm distancing myself, it seems important to keep up with gestures like cards so nobody notices that I'm not making phone calls or coming to holidays. (Not that anybody calls me, and if they did, I'd let it go to voice mail because I need to build up to that kind of thing.)

B. My cynicism. I can't deal with greeting card holidays, and although I know that Mother's Day has ancient roots, I have it grouped in the greeting card section of my mind. I do well with the Christian holidays because they more or less align with the seasons in ways that feel right to me. That said, Easter was way too early this year, and I could have used Mother's day as my spring time bacchanal, but the idea didn't occur to me until after I had gotten all depressed about it. Sometimes, I wish I wasn't so cynical...  that I could just take a day and not over think it.

The kids found out it was Mother's Day, and they all picked flowers, and that was really the highlight.  

And the next night, we had steak and crab and friends over for dinner, and it's nice to know that people will come eat our food and mull over life even though the house was disgustingly dirty and I hadn't showered in ages.  

Thursday, May 9, 2013

No Rules

My son and I recently watched an episode of Wife Swap that featured a radical unschooling mom (Dayna Martin) and a military-discipline style mom. If there was a winner on this episode, it was clearly the unschooling mom, but not necessarily because she unschools but because she believes in loving and listening to kids rather than ruling them for their own good. I think that level of responsiveness is far more important than any ideology a person may be using.

The one idea that stuck with me (actually there were several) from this episode seems to be pretty common in the unschooling world (particularly in the radical unschooling world), and that was her one rule of "no rules."

Conceptually, I get it. Personally, in this house, the more rules we have shed, the better we have all felt and acted. Clearly, there are some social and cultural rules and laws that have to be followed at certain points, and these rules may differ from situation to situation i.e. Martin's kids were allowed to jump on the trampoline at 1 in the morning which my kids really want to do. However, that family seemed to live in the country, and we live in town where it's not appropriate to jump on the trampoline (because it's loud) after ten. (This article from the Guardian briefly touches on that idea as it pertains to cultures where the kids are more or less not ruled by their parents.)

There seems to be a pervasive idea in the unschooling/AP world that if you respect your kids enough or model good enough behavior or let them explore the natural consequences enough that they will magically not be dicks, but... These people don't have my kids, and my kids are freaking lunatics.

I've gotten a lot of parenting criticism for not saying no enough, but I feel like I'm saying no all the damn time.

No, don't shred carrots so that you can shove messy handfuls of them into your mouth while jumping up and down and playing video games with the neighbors and spraying carrots all over the floor.

No, don't jump on the mini indoor trampoline while eating a muffin, the crumbs of which you will grind into our already disgusting carpet when you start running around in circles which you will undoubtedly start doing at any moment.

No, don't drag the rotten old mattress, which is only in the garage waiting to go to the dumpster because you jumped on it so much that you broke it, through a mud puddle and into the yard, where it will kill the grass and the landlord will evict us because she's a grass lover, to make a landing pad so that you can jump off the shed.

No, don't swing on the clothesline and break the line (again) because the dryer has been broken for over two years, and the clothesline is the only option.

No, don't drag every blanket we own into the yard (again).

No, don't say nigger in the house or anywhere. (Note, this is not a word that I ever use, but their friend likes to walk in the door and shout, "What's up my niggers?" as a greeting so they've picked it up, and although I've gone over the cultural and historical background of this word and although it may eventually become more socially acceptable as slang continues to adapt, it's just not an appropriate word for little white boys to be saying).

No, don't use the entire bottle of cleaner that I just bought for my yearly shower cleaning to wash out a footprint of mud that you got in the bathtub.

I see the benefit of listening to my kids, to figuring out what they really need to do rather than what I think they need to do, and every move we've made further in that direction has been a positive one. I see how much they appreciate it when we respect them and their choices, but no rules....

Maybe it's just a case of letting them get older or helping them think of better options than dragging old mattresses into the yard (and if I had a couple acres and a dirt yard, they could put the frigging mattress right next to the broken down cars and the other yard rubbish and it would be swell).

At the moment, though, they say this, "All you see are messes, and we're just trying to have fun."

At the moment, though, when they approach me with their ideas, they preface them with hand gestures to calm me or admonitions of "Don't get mad, can we..." and then, maybe they continue with "dismantle the food processor to build a meat grinder."

I'm not sure how I can be any more permissive without losing my sanity, but maybe I had it above, maybe I just need to chill til they grow out of it or help them think of better things to do... but I'm not sure if there are better ideas than mattresses in the yard or dismantling working appliances to make new ones.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Legend Boy


My nine year old is going to write, direct, and star in his own movies so that he can be richer than us and have his own room. He's also worked out an allowance that he'll send us (his parents) on a monthly basis so that we have some spending money while we live with one of his younger brothers.

He has a few plots already worked out, and the following is a transcription of one that he has been telling me for a few months but just dictated to me the other day. It's long, and this probably isn't the best place for it, but I want to put it somewhere....  we've been having long conversations about the publication process and the various self-publication options so he probably wouldn't be happy to know that I self-published it on my blog before he had the chance to make it big with this one... so don't tell him.

How I helped...

My role was to type as he spoke. When he got ahead of me, I would have him wait until I caught up, and then, I would repeat the last few words so that he could continue. A few times when his words made no sense, I repeated them and waited while he verified the syntax. We reread it once to edit. Initially, he had started the story in third person and switched to first person after the second sentence so that was perhaps the biggest edit. There were one or two instances were I repeated a sentence with a grammatical mistake in it so that he could notice it and fix it or not notice it and not fix it as the case was twice. There were a few instances where he requested that I remove something and replace it with something else, but I was very pedantic in terms of repeating what he had written, only deleting what he specifically said to delete, and only typing what he actually dictated.

The first time I heard this story, I thought he had made it up on the spot, but he said it was one of several that he'd been working on during his quiet time for months. It retains the same basic plot every time he tells it with small additions like a hoverboard after our Back to the Future marathon weekend. The fact that he could repeat certain sentences verbatim indicates to me that he's also worked on the syntax in certain sections in ways that are really valuable to pre-writing. Obviously,  I also punctuated this because one doesn't punctuate aloud while dictating. So on to his story...

The Legend Boy

by Max Parker

Chapter One

It was a normal day. I was playing Minecraft on my laptop. Then, Toby came along and hit the power switch which really sucks because I was about to build Big Ben. Then, my dad, Hank said, "Hup. Hup. It's time to go to hockey practice."

So I put on my hockey uniform and one boring hour later came back. Then, I wanted to go back to play on my laptop so I could build Big Ben again, but Dad said I should paint something. I kind of agreed with him. I mean it's been awhile since I painted something, but I've never built Big Ben.

So, I took three pieces of paper and taped them together. Then, I painted them. I painted them upwards like how you build a snowman -- one, two, three. It was beautiful. It kind of looked like the Mona Lisa, but happier. But there was one thing that was missing. It was a necklace. I decided that I didn't want to paint one on. I wanted to glue a real necklace on.

I thought it was a great idea. I could probably sell the painting. With the necklace plus the beauty and the paint value and the blah blah stuff like that, I thought I could sell it for about $40,000 at least.

Holden, the town bully, decided to take the painting and chuck it into the town cave. So I went after it. I thought I was halfway through the cave when I realized I had no food or water so I decided to go out of the cave to go get food and water. So I got all my favorite snacks including Gummi worms. Then, I went back to the cave. There were stalactites and stalagmites all over the cave.   

I heard a noise, and I got scared. But I just realized, it was only a bat. I gave the bat some Gummi worms, and then, it seemed to follow me. I was about to trip on a stalagmite when the bat stopped me so I wouldn't slip on it. I rewarded him with a Gummi worm. I decided to give the bat a name. I named him Petey.

Chapter Two

I could see the light at the end of the cave. I knew it was the end of the cave. Then, I realized I went through the whole cave without finding my painting so I needed to start looking, and I needed to start looking good.

I told Petey to help me look for my painting, and believe it or not, he actually started looking. I couldn't tell if he was looking for food or looking for my painting, but either way, I didn't care. Three hours passed, and I still hadn't found my painting. It was taco night so I wanted to get home. I decided to go out through the light, but it wasn't the end of the cave. Believe it or not, it was a necklace. It was shining bright.

I touched it, and it darkened. I brought a flashlight with me in case I couldn't see through the whole cave so I looked around, and I saw it. It was a skeleton man with the necklace around it. I grabbed the necklace.

Then, I saw that he was holding a sword so I grabbed it. Then, I saw a mouse. I decided that since Petey was such a good friend that I should add him to my team of animals too. So I gave him a few Gummi worms, and then, I told him that he was now a part of my animal team and that he needed to protect me just like Petey did. I told him the story of how Petey protected me from tripping.

Then, the necklace whispered in my ear.

It said, "They can understand you." It was creepy and loud how Voldemort sounds in the movie Harry Potter.

Then, Petey spoke to me, "G'Day, Mate. Top of the morning to you."

Then, I said, "Petey, you can talk!"

"Well, I can't speak human, but that magic necklace allows you to speak to animals. How did you guess, my real name is Petey? The mouse's name is Jane."

I thought it was a weird name for a mouse, but I decided to keep calling it Jane. You're probably wondering why I thought it was weird, but I thought he was a boy, and Jane was a girl name. Then, she spoke, and then, I could tell by her voice that she's a girl.

All she said was, "Can I have some more Gummi worms."

Then, I said, "No, you've already had a bunch."

Chapter Three

Jane and Petey touched the necklace. Petey started to glow like he was some kind of gem or something. Then, Jane turned golden. I asked them why they were turning that color when they touched the necklace. They told me that the necklace had super powers and when they touched it they became super animals. Then, I stepped on something sharp.

I turned around, and it was a bear claw. The bear tried to slash me, but Jane made a force field around me. I didn't ask questions, I just knew it was one of their super powers. Then, Jane levitated the bear up in the air and knocked him on the ground.

I talked to the bear since I could talk to animals. I told him that it was only an accident that I stepped on his paw and that I wasn't an intruder. Then, the bear said, "Go on." There was three ways we could go. The bear said to go in the middle. The bear told us that there was two kinds of paths in the cave. There were double paths, and when they came across a double path, they should always go on the right. If they came across a triple path, they should always go in the middle.

We went through many passages until I came to the light. I could tell it was the light at the end of the cave because it was just a different kind of light. Like when you look through a drain pipe, and you can see the other end, and your friend is there. It was that kind of light. I could see trees, but they looked different.

Then, the sword I was holding, the one that I grabbed from the skeleton man, exploded. It came back to my hand nicely again, and I turned it over. It said, "Time Sword. Do Not Touch." Then, I found a newspaper outside of the cave in a garbage can.

Chapter Four

It wasn't like old papers that we had in the modern day. It spoke to me so I didn't have to read it, and it levitated in the air so I didn't have to hold it.

Then, what it said to me is, "Happy New Years! Thirteen Thousand." Then, I realized, I wasn't in the year 2013, I was in the year 13,000. Then, Petey told me that the only way to go back to my own time if I took the time sword from this time and the time sword from my time and put the two swords together, and that should blast me back to my own time.

So I asked a random person if they knew where a sword is that said, "Time Sword" No one knew. I asked everyone in the town. Then, a lady with green hair came up to me and said, "I know where that sword is. Follow me." I followed her to the forest.

Then, I met the bear again that I met in the cave. He was still alive. He asked me what I was doing still alive. The bear told me no human could survive for more than a century. I told him the whole story, how the sword exploded and now, I'm in this time. I told him how I could only get back to my time by clicking the two legend swords together. The bear touched the magic necklace, and it turned golden. He started flying and told me to get on his back. I got on his back and flyed.

So he showed me the rock where the time sword was stuck in. Everyone tried to pull it out but me. It was my turn, and I pulled it out with ease. I clanked the two swords together, and it didn't work. Then, I realized the first time sword I had had a gem in it, and the second one didn't. Then, I realized my necklace had the exact same gem as the first sword. I took the gem out of the necklace and put it in the time sword. I clanked those two together, and I blasted back to my own time.

Chapter Five

I was going through the cave at probably a hundred miles per hour. I saw my painting and grabbed it. I realized my necklace I was wearing had a gold gem in it instead of a blue one I was wearing before. When I went out of a cave, I realized I had found the necklace for my painting. I put the necklace on, and it seemed a perfect fit.      

I glued it on, and it was perfect. I still had the newspaper for that year, and it started to change. I realized the newspaper from the future, you don't have to grab a new one everyday, they just change and update you  everyday. I read it, and it said a ten year old boy named Howie -- that's me -- pulled the sword out that no one else could pull. Explorers are looking for the boy.

I realized there was a speaker on the newspaper, and I yelled into it. I thought I was talking to the town, but I couldn't be certain. There was like a ninety percent chance I was. I said, "Don't look for me. You'll never find me." Then, I thought it wasn't safe to have a newspaper from the future so I ripped it in tons of pieces. I buried it under the ground where no one would find it.
Then, the necklace gave me one last gift. In the middle of the golden gem, I pulled out a tiny skateboard. I didn't know what to do with it. i tried to ride it, and because the necklace was magical, I thought there was someway i would be able to do it. Then, the skateboard turned big. I realized it wasn't a skateboard -- it was a hover board. I found out how it worked, and I sold it. I also sold the painting.

Thirty Years Later...

Chapter Six

I became rich and was very successful. I invented the hover board, and that made me rich. I married a beautiful woman, and I had three kids. They were all boys. Then, the town bully Holden tried to beat me up and told me if I didn't give him my money he would kill me. But I had learned a lot from that cave experience. I tricked him, and his face fell in mud. I told him to scram and he did. His gang of bullies ran with him. They were never seem again.

And my little brother Toibin became a successful shoe store owner.

The End.

I hope you have enjoyed the ride of The Legend Boy.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Note on procrastination....

You'll remember that not procrastinating was my goal for the year, and you may wonder how that's going. There are times when it goes splendidly--I walk past the washing machine, and I take out the clothes and hang them on the line. There are times when it goes miserably, I let the clothes in the washing machine weigh on my mind while I avoid them and they grow musty smelling.

It's not just housework that I procrastinate about...

Let's say, for instance, that I received a really awesome gift on January 25th that totally made my week and a collection of follow-up gifts, I would have totally procrastinated on writing a thank you note. Two months later, I would have not even penned a thank you note, but I would have probably spent a lot of time fantasizing about writing the thank you note.

I may have even had my kids draw pictures to send with the thank you notes, and then, I may have thrown their lame sketches of golden temples to represent gratitude-for-cash in the garbage in a Joan-Crawford-like outburst because I knew they could make better sketches.

I may have even spent a few days accidentally getting rich and buying the person who sent the gift a house, but if I've learned anything from obsessively watching Louis C.K. stand-up while avoiding housework it's that people like to fantasize about themselves doing nice things because it's easier than doing nice things, and at heart, they're just assholes.

I'm not sure what accounts for the difference between the assholes who just think of nice things and the nice people who actually do the nice things, but I'm glad there's nice people in the world--it makes it more bearable for the rest of us.


Remembering Little Things for Sanity...

Last Wednesday, everything felt perfect, but by Friday, it was all crap.

Wednesday started out with an ordinary conversation...

Husband: Why is there a bloody knife in the bathroom? It wasn't there when I went to bed.

Minger: The kids have been waiting for a bloody nose so that they can wipe it on a knife and create death scenes. Someone must have gotten a bloody nose and set props in the middle of the night.

At nine that night, I was standing in crap using the last of our clean towels to wipe up an overflowing toilet while thinking, "Wow, I really like my life. Things are so stable and great."

That's actually what I was thinking. In the past, if the toilet was overflowing, there were ten other chaotic things happening at the same time...  someone was painting with poop or punching somebody else or escaping out the front door naked or I was pregnant or someone was losing a job. Now, it's just a blissful amount of water gushing from a toilet...  We've reached a milestone. The kids are all over five which is much easier than when they were all under five, and we haven't changed jobs, bred, or moved for two years and four months, and that is the calmest things have ever been with us in the last ten years.

My over bounding happiness was completely gone by Friday morning at which time I couldn't finish a sentence without crying. Two cloudy days and a little PMS will do that to me, and just to make sure everything felt horrible, I did everything wrong last week.

I know the little things that I need to do so that we feel sane, and I neglected most of them last week.

Leaving the house...  I've found that in order to be happy, I need to take the boys out for sustained physical activity at least three times per week, and that usually works out to be a quick hike on Tuesday, park day with homeschoolers on Wednesday, archery lessons and swimming on Thursday, and possibly a hike with our hiking group on Friday. If we skip those things, my life starts to feel like I'm locked in a dirty two bedroom apartment with a lot of boy energy. (I tried to go for a metaphor, but it just came out as a statement of fact.)

Meeting social needs... I'm an extrovert so if I don't get to stand around talking with other parents for several hours on Wednesday, I get all water logged with my own thoughts. Due to work and hunting trips, my husband hadn't had a day home in over two weeks so I was starting to get all head-racy lonely psycho feeling, and I really shouldn't have ignored all of my social needs.

Meal planning...  I hate meal planning, and I totally forgot to do it all of last week--by forgot, I mean that I knew I needed to do it and I consciously avoided it.

Working too much...  I got a new job that pays daily, and it is easy to ignore the kids all day at the prospect of having cash in hand the next morning so I worked way too much last week which is a problem because... A) If I'm out-earning my husband, I'm bitchy to him about it so that was happening. B) I end up ignoring things like cooking so end up spending money on fast food which isn't filling and makes us all crabby. An hour cooking is a better investment of my resources than an hour working followed by spending all that money on fast food. C) Three unruly boys left to their own devices while I click on the computer turns this place into a disaster so I end up yelling and yelling at everyone because the mess overwhelms me.

So, this week has a clean slate. Meals are planned--breakfast, lunch, and dinner for five days--all of our regularly planned activities will be attended, and I won't overwork and get bitchy about it--well, maybe just a little.

It's a matter of balancing everything...  of not working for twelve hours and then trying to cook three meals at the same time to make up for not eating for two days. I know that with a little planning, things just feel better and flow better. I'm not one of those people who naturally seems to fall into positive rhythms so I need to nudge myself a little to make life work for us.

I just can't forget to nudge myself.

Friday, March 1, 2013


"Maybe we shouldn't question why the universe began. Maybe we should just be grateful that we're sexy and alive." -- Max

Circumcision to nature to god to evolution to a pun on Genesis/Genesex -- just a normal five minute conversation during an eight and nine year old birthday party.

I never realized peeing in the same room could spurn such an intellectual journey.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

To anyone who wonders what we do,

Regarding school, we do absolutely nothing. By letting the kids do whatever, the hope is that they will live a life of engagement rather than boredom. By letting them learn what they are interested in, the hope is that they will embrace learning rather than eschew it. By letting them memorize what is important to them, the hope is that they will strengthen their memory rather than destroy it by an endless series of memorizing and forgetting (read testing). By not joining the meritocracy, the hope is that they will pursue things because they are interested in them rather than to get praise or acceptance.

Watch people, watch yourself, you will notice when their mind or yours closes to information, almost reflexively. It’s sad, and I think it’s caused by being forced to learn. Am I right? No one knows, but we do the best that we can with the thoughts and views that we have.

What is this “doing nothing about school” called? By some it’s called unschooling, by others it’s called by neglect. By me, it’s called nothing (or just living) because I don’t like to define things by what they are not.

What does that look like on an academic level? It looks like they are behind in the three r’s but ahead in general knowledge, vocab, and rhetorical skills. Does this worry me? No. I know anecdotally and from reading case studies that kids who learn to read later (9 to 10) than the norm (6 to 7) have stronger comprehension skills and read at an adult level faster than those who are forced to read too soon.

Do my kids have problems? Hell yeah. Are they caused by the lack of school? No. They are caused (imho) by my short temper and too many days spent hiding in their bedroom while their adults scream at each other. That said, all adults give their kids some emotional scars, and the important thing is that we speak honestly about those issues and pursue growth in all of those areas.

What about college? I wouldn’t push my kids toward college, but if they become interested in going, it is not difficult to learn whichever skills are necessary to obtain that goal when we get close to it, and places like Harvard eat this shit up.

What about work? There seems to be a popular idea that kids must be bored at school so that they learn to be bored at work. I have no interest in raising cogs. Please, refer to the life of engagement. If that means being a ski bum, so be it. An artist who works retail on the side, so be it. A capitalist, so be it. The important thing is that they pursue something that interests them rather than get trapped in a box because they are so mentally used to being trapped in a box that they just stay in the cycle.

What’s your role? My role is to play games with them, answer their questions, show them how to find info when they want it, create a stimulating environment. It means noticing when a kid is watching tv because they’re bored and helping them to find a better use of their time but it also means noticing when they are watching tv because they need to zone out or because they are truly interested in the show and giving them space to do that. It means listening to them recount the most boring summaries of the book they’re listening to or the movie they’ve just watched because I see those summaries and the construction of the accompanying analysis as valuable rhetorical and pre-writing skills. It also means modeling engagement which is difficult for me.

I was thinking for the 30th year in a row that my New Year’s resolution should be to be more organized, but I’m shifting that. My goal is to stop procrastinating. I procrastinate a lot because I don’t dig on many of the tasks I have to do to keep a house a float (laundry, cleaning, menu planning-eww). I’m trying to embrace those tasks as things I want to do because I want to live in a reasonably clean and organized house where everyone is fed. Procrastination is the least engaged thing that one can do and it creates bad vibes. Instead, I want to do those things as necessary, and just be more. Just be. Be more engaged.

In the category of engagement, I started the New Year watching this great documentary about Tony Kushner's adaptation of Brecht’s Mother Courage and her Children starring Meryl Streep. The documentary was fabulous, super exciting, and when I fill my mind with things like that, it give me something to ruminate on while I fold the laundry, cook the food, and clean the endless deluge of debris.  

I’m really excited about the next year. The littlest one is turning five in a couple weeks, and there is so much more we can do and learn now that they are all over five rather than all under five. We changed our diet a few months ago, and I see more clearly than I have ever seen before.

I see particularly the value of being positive, of responding to people positively (I’m going to devote an entire post to this soon). When people express dismay about what we are doing or not doing here, I want to acknowledge what they are saying is coming from a place of concern and try to explain what we are doing, what we’re trying to accomplish. That’s all that I can do. So farewell procrastination and hello positive communication.