Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Timing is everything.

Last night I was thinking about the things I wanted to do today - nothing major, just stuff like yoga and writing...my stuff - when I noticed myself mentally scanning the day for chunks of kid-free time. As you can imagine with Liam homeschooling and Finn home with me all the time, these moments are few and far between.

I have Finn's nap time and when it happens to coincide with one of Liam's classes (like it does today!), I'm golden. But that only happens once a week. Other than that I usually have at least one boy with me all the time.



This is hands-down what I get asked most about homeschooling. "How do you find any time for yourself? I don't think I could do it without a break..." It always kind of surprises me. Not because I think it's a weird question - I'm sure I'd be asking the exact same thing if I were in a different boat - but because I honestly don't notice I'm with my kids 24/7 until someone points it out.

This, I realized last night, is a fairly new thing. Not that I'm with my kids all the time, but that I don't feel like I'm with my kids all the time. There was definitely a time in the not so distant past when I felt how together we were each and every minute of the day. But I think we may have turned a corner!

Finn is 2-1/2 now which means he's basically a different person every single day. He's growing SO MUCH. What he can do today seemed impossible a month ago. And tomorrow? I'm sure he'll surprise us with something new.



It's really fun to watch him discover himself and his world. I love seeing the look on his face when he's done something even he didn't expect he could do.



He's always been an independent little guy but now that he's growing more capable, he's taking it to the next level. He knows where everything is, helps himself to what he wants and asks for help when he really needs it (if I can't understand what he needs after a couple tries, he just motions for me to follow him and says, "come here," as he runs off to show me what he needs).



Now that he's talking more, he and Liam are having much more fun together, too. Finn used to get really angry when Liam got too bossy with him and would sometimes bite or hit or purposely mess up Liam's things. It was all he could do to try to make himself heard. But now that he can tell Liam to knock it off, things are going much more smoothly.





Which is awesome for them and, I realized last night, awesome for me. It's probably been like this for a couple of months now but for whatever reason I never really tried to take advantage of it.

Honestly, the last time I can remember trying to do something I really wanted to do while both boys were home and awake was last summer. Okay, that sounds crazy. But I think it's true! I do stuff, just not a lot of stuff I'm super excited about. Because there's no quicker way to make me frustrated than when I'm trying to focus on something important and my attention is getting pulled in a million directions. When it happened to me last summer (I was trying to write while the boys watched a show), I got so bummed out I decided the only thing I could do was stop trying to compete.

Which is what I've been doing more or less since then. But I'm thinking it might be time for me to give the whole multi-tasking thing another go. Not like cruising Pinterest all day while they fight over the remote but meaningful multi-tasking. Like doing a yoga video or going into the office to write. Maybe starting another illustration project?! Or trying to do something with the ones I've already finished...

I hope this works out for two reasons:

1) I will have more time to do the things I love to do.

2) My boys will have a better idea of who their mother actually is.

This is the part that I think is most important. Because if all they ever see me do on my own is fold laundry and unload the dish washer and make lunch and do crossword puzzles (which I enjoy doing but I think it's mostly because I don't have to focus very hard to do them) and flip through magazines (again, like reading but I don't care if I get distracted) and putter around the house doing all the day-to-day stuff that has to get done but isn't exactly setting my heart on fire, they might grow up never really knowing me at all. If I save all the stuff I really love (or even the stuff that's just for me) for when they're asleep or at school, how will they know what I'm passionate about? Will they think I eat, sleep and breathe them? How will they describe me to future friends or potential mates or their shrink?

I feel like my kids probably know me better than just about anyone, but I still think it's important for children to see their parents in action. If for no other reason than to show them that your world doesn't solely revolve around them. At least, not all the time.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

An education.

What does it mean to be well educated?

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. And by lately I guess I mean ever since we started homeschooling. Not all the time but probably at least once a month (PMS = Pretty sure I'm Messing Something up). Most of the time I feel very confident in the way we homeschool. But every now and then, we'll be coasting along fine, doing our thing (whatever that happens to mean at the moment...) when something comes up that makes me question everything I think I know.

If we're lazy homeschooling (kinda like unschooling with less conviction and more classes) and I happen to hear about a new classical charter school opening in our neighborhood, I might begin to compare what Liam is learning to what he could be learning.

So I start making him do more work. Some of it's fun and he's engaged and learning but a lot of it is just more. More reading, more math problems, more writing, more subjects, more fighting, more, more, more. Because if all the other kids in first grade are in school for seven hours a day and then come home and do homework, he's going to have to do more if he wants to keep up.

Right?

Most of the time I would easily say no. Definitely not! If you have quality, you don't need quantity. But every now and then the doubt monster creeps in and makes me think I am totally going to screw up my kids' education.

Which is different than thinking I'm going to screw up my kids. I mean, that's just a given, right? Even if it's nothing more than a hormonally fueled fleeting moment, I have surrendered to the fact that at one time or another my children will definitely blame me for every single thing. 

Fair enough. We all do it.

I'm just hoping they will be educated enough to eventually take responsibility for themselves so they don't have to blame others. But since I am the one in charge of their education...you can see why this occasionally stresses me out.

It's just a really big responsibility having someone's education in your hands. It's probably why most of us are more comfortable outsourcing. It takes a lot of guts to trust that you know what's best for your child. Even if we don't think anyone knows any better than we do, it can still take the pressure off to rely on the Board of Education or the school or a set curriculum or a teacher or the Core Standards or The Canon or The Bible or the guy down the street or some blogger to tell us how to educate our children.

Which is stupid. Really. It's not like there's some final exam that measures what we all Need To Know and if your child doesn't know All The Things, you fail and they fail and there are no gold stars or careers for anyone. I mean, sure there are SATs and ACTs and GREs and LSATs and about a million other tests out there but no one is expected to just know that stuff. They're expected to study, take the test and promptly forget everything they "learned".

Which is also stupid. 

But sometimes we have to just play by the rules. 

Will my kids be at a disadvantage if they've never had rules like this to play by? I don't think so. Because if either of my boys want to do something in life that requires a good score on a test in order to do it, I  have faith that they will KNOW HOW TO LEARN what it is they need to know. And since it will be something they WANT to do, they will probably actually enjoy learning about it.

I guess that's what it means to be well educated. 

It doesn't mean knowing all of the answers or learning All The Things. We learn what we need to know. What we want to know. If we're very lucky, we do this our entire life, whether or not there's a test at the end of the chapter. The most well educated people (in my opinion) are curious and engaged and thoughtful and happy. They make the choices they make because they want to make them; not because they're doing what they think they're supposed to do.

Because in real life, there are no rules. Not really. (There are laws, of course, but that's a different thing.) There isn't a core standard for life or a final exam we have to pass in order to grow a year older. We don't have to do...anything. That can feel really scary. But if you're brave enough, it can also feel incredible.

I may not know exactly how I want to educate my children but that's okay. Thinking is always more important than knowing. And there's certainly no shortage of thinking around here.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The stuff that mommy blogs are made of.

Okay, so the problem with making a deal with yourself like, "I will publish a blog post every single Tuesday," is that sometimes the day/week slips away from you and despite your very best intentions you realize it's 10:45 and in an hour and fifteen minutes Tuesday will be OVER, and you've yet to hit publish and/or write anything except for maybe the first draft in your mind which, let's be honest, was okay before dinner and drinks at the neighbors but now seems a little, um, less than stellar.

But the deal was to publish something, right? So who cares!? Something is (almost) always better than nothing.

Such a strong intro. I wish I had a wing man. Anyway, here goes...

Do you ever sit around the laptop with your family looking at funny videos on YouTube? I imagine we all do, like it's the equivalent to families of yesteryear sitting around the radio after supper listening to Little Orphan Annie or whatever it was people listened to before they had TV. Nowadays we have LOL cats and sheep yelling like humans but it's essentially the same thing.

Anyway. One night several months ago we were looking for funny animal videos on YouTube when a hippo one came up that blew everything else out of the water. I would explain it, but, well, watching it just makes so much more sense.



Right? So I know the sound of the hippo pooping is not real because I've also seen it without the extra loud fart but the sound is important to us because when Finn impersonates it (ALLLL the time) he waves his hand around like the hippos tail while doing the sound really loudly with his mouth. Without the sound it would just be a waggling little hand and eyes opened really wide like, "You guys. This hippo was INSANE."

It's really too bad I don't have that on video.

Anyways. Anytime we would mention going potty, as in, "Hey, Finn, any chance you'd like to poop and pee IN THE POTTY?" he would immediately reference the hippo pooping. Because obviously hippos (or "poopos" as he likes to call them) are the ultimate champs when it comes to going potty. So, last week when we were at homeschool open play at the park and Finn came out of the women's bathroom totally naked from the waist down (because he had a "wet diaper"), I started thinking, maybe it's time to stop talking about potty training and do something about it.

So I asked him if he was up for it and he immediately said, "Hippo potty." Naturally. Thank goodness for the Internet, right? Within moments we had ordered Finn his very own hippo potty. And today, it arrived:

It's pretty obnoxious in that it has a couple buttons that play stories or sounds (I'm not a big fan of anything with batteries...) and it's bright blue and shaped like a hippo, but it's fairly color coordinated so I can handle it.


Plus, you know, Finn is super excited. So excited in fact that he actually used it as soon as we got it out of the box. This may not have been his first choice but once I set it up and took his clothes off for a trial run, I wasn't about to put on a "clean diaper" just so he could poop in it. He obviously had to go - he knew so better than anyone - why not take advantage of his desperate times? So instead of giving him a clean diaper like he wanted, I just sat back and encouraged him to give it a try without making too big a deal about it. He's headstrong to a fault so things HAVE to be his idea. I pretended like I didn't care one bit and tried not to giggle as he ran from room to room shouting, "clean diaper!" and stopping to bend over like he was in labor every few minutes. 

Finally he ran as fast as he could straight into the bathroom. I peeked in for just a second and saw him standing up with his little bootie positioned just over the hippo seat (he was holding onto the side of the bathtub so he didn't fall over...). I left him alone so he could have some privacy but not ten seconds later he shouted, "Mama! Come look! I did it!" Sure enough. I won't go into any more details but I did make the whole family come take a look so we could fully congratulate him, a ritual Liam found utterly disgusting. But it's a really big deal! 

Afterward, he got to go to the treasure basket, AKA, the basket where we stuck all the stocking stuffers we found in the trunk of the car AFTER Christmas.

Because he's Finn he wasn't satisfied until he and Liam got to pick a prize.


And then everyone was happy.

I half figured the pooping thing was just a fluke because Liam seemed ready to potty train at 2-1/2 but didn't really want to do it until he was almost 3. I would so much rather wait and get it over and done with in a few days than sort of do it for months on end, you know? But after his nap I asked him if he wanted to try the hippo and he went ahead and peed on it. 

Then he spent some time hanging out without pants on because that makes sense to me and he likes being naked so win-win.


At some point he dropped what he was doing, ran into the bathroom and sat on his hippo just in time to have a pee. Then he dumped it and flushed it all by himself (after showing us what he had done, of course...).  


So maybe we're there? Or maybe not. Either way he's bursting with pride over his newest accomplishment and I couldn't be more impressed with my little/big boy. Agh, he's so cute...

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Strange paradise.



As I was taking the hottest, longest bath of my life while overlooking most of Las Vegas from 45 floors up, the Beach House song Irene came on my Spotify mix. As the singer (who shall remain nameless... the less I know about that amazing witchy woman, the better) crooned, "It's a strange paradise," over and over and over I thought, Yes. That is exactly what this place is.



Because so much of Las Vegas is like paradise. Completely over-the-top, indulgent, air-conditioned paradise. Our panoramic view of interesting architecture, gorgeous mountains, and the ever-changing sky; people who seemed genuinely happy to wait on us hand and foot; the insane talent that is Cirque de Soleil; the dinner conversations that consisted mainly of, "mmmmm," and, "this is sooo good..."; the window shopping that felt like walking through the pages of Vogue magazine; the art and beauty and complete sensory overload everywhere we looked; and the luxury of doing whatever I wanted ALL DAY LONG. It was pretty fantastic.





But also really strange.

I've never been anywhere that changed so much depending on what time of day it was. Most of the day feels like a collective hangover where things like walking from one hotel to the next in a borrowed robe (ultimate walk of shame) or falling asleep in the lobby of your hotel (or someone's hotel...) and sawing logs like it's your job are perfectly normal occurrences. You can look fabulous if you'd like, but if you prefer to skip the shoes and keep rocking last night's makeup, that's totally fine as well.

We got to go to Cirque shows at 7pm both nights and both nights I felt totally overdressed. Going into the show I looked like I was trying way too hard. Coming out at 9? I was simply wearing way too much clothing. Evidently while we were oohing and aahing over the insane acrobatics and creepy big babies, everyone else was changing out of their sweats, cleaning themselves up and slipping into a sparkly tube sock and stilettos. Meanwhile my ass cheeks and torso were totally covered. I know! I'm such a Puritan...



Over dinner last night I was telling Liam and Finn about my trip (it was a quick one!) and when I got to the part about our room, Liam got really jealous. I had sent a MTV Cribs style video of it to my sister who was staying with the boys so he knew exactly what he had missed out on. I couldn't lie; our room was really cool. But no matter how much my boys would have enjoyed the view, I did not for one second regret leaving them home. Vegas is totally for grown ups. Sure, there's a Sponge Bob standing outside the humongous M & Ms store posing for pictures but right next to him is a guy in a "GIRLS DIRECT TO YOUR ROOM IN 20 MINUTES!" shirt passing out fliers. Um, NO. I sincerely hope my children will not experience Las Vegas until they are old enough to enjoy the fun bits while not being too disturbed by the rest of it. Twenty one sounds just about perfect.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Seven.

Happy 7th birthday to my precious Liam! It's been yet another wonderful year...



{Is seven the age that kids suddenly seem really BIG? Because, yeah...}

Friday, February 1, 2013

Home ec.

Last night a couple of my friends came over so we could watch Project Runway together and drink wine. It's like getting together to watch football only way better because, fashion.

Which is exactly what my friend texted me before she came over. "I'm wearing pajama pants and slippers! And a fur coat because, fashion."

She's great.

I haven't watched Runway in years but this season it's my civic duty to watch and discuss and do everything in my power to make sure Amanda Valentine sweeps the show. She's a Nashville gal who is beyond cool (remember when she and Liam totally hit it off at a Cinco de Mayo party?) and it's really fun to watch her make it work.

I had to get Finn to bed right around the time my friends were meant to arrive so I left the front door unlocked and asked Liam to be a good host if anyone showed up. When I came out of Finny's room, he and my friend Linnet were chatting in the living room. She said that as soon as she arrived, he offered her a drink or something to snack on. So sweet.

We started catching up even though it was clear Finn had no intention of going to sleep. After a few minutes I realized I should probably take him that juice we had talked about. It's his new bedtime thing - we read and he has some milk, and then as soon as we turn off the light and lay him down he says, "Juice? Juice please, Mama." If we dare say NO, he launches in to a full on screaming assault. But there have been times that I've gone to get him some juice only to come back to find he's almost asleep. Or at least he would have been if I hadn't busted in waving a cup in his face. So I started lying to him. I'd say, "Ok, I'll go get you some juice. Just lay here and I'll be right back..." Nine times out of ten he'd just fall right back asleep. But Bill thought it was a silly thing to lose his trust over so we agreed on a five minute rule. So now I say, "I'll bring you some juice in five minutes if you still need it." And then if he still needs it, I have to bring it to him. Nine times out of ten he doesn't. But last night, of course, he did.

Since Liam was being such a good helper (and I had already switched out of mom mode...), I said, "Hey bud, if I got Finny some juice, would you mind taking it to him?"

"How about I'll pour him some juice and take it to him?"

"Uh, yeah. Really?"

"I think I'll read him another story too..." (Later he suggested I do this, too. "He really likes it, Mama...")

My friend was looking at me like, "Is this kid for real?" After he left the room I told her that he's been like this ever since he offered to make dinner last week and I let him. Like, really let him. I didn't come in the kitchen or offer suggestions or freak out when he asked me to remind him how to turn on the stove. He needed me to help pour the macaroni into the colander because it was heavy for him to manage on his own and he didn't want to get burned. But I kept my eyes closed the whole time. And that was the ONLY thing I did to help. He made macaroni and cheese ALL BY HIMSELF and served his family dinner.

I've maybe never seen him look more proud.

Ever since then he's had a little extra spring in his step. And now when Bill goes out of town and Liam gets to be a "grown up" to help me, he takes it much more seriously than he used to. Whereas I think it used to just be a good excuse for him to stay up late and sleep in my bed, now he seems to see it for what it really is. "Being a grown up is hard work," he told me as we unloaded the dishwasher one morning. "There are a lot of responsibilities but also a lot of rewards." Ain't that the truth.