Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Different Life for Both of Us

Hello. Thing One here. Nowhere is still here, and the school of life continues. Thing Two is in high school now and gone to live in the capital to be with the rest of the family: sisters, nephews, niece and brothers-in-law. It is good for her. It is good for me. But it is also an emptiness that nothing but her presence can fill.

Since the end of July I've been tenting at the shore. Not every night, but enough nights to realize the tremendous restfulness of being on the ground near the water. To see the light move and the stars shift. To hear the heartbeat of the water in all its tempos.

Last night I woke for a moment and looked out. The window in the door of the tent lets me see a small patch of sky without moving. The big dipper was in that patch, to my right of the north star. And finally for the first time, I visualized momentarily how that movement works, how the north star is the centre point for the time teller of the big dipper, that the front edge of the dipper is the hand of the clock coming out from that star, and all the rest of the dipper just follows along.

Ah. So many nights looking. So much to learn at such a slow pace.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Another Country Heard From... or What Thing One Thinks.

Another two days, and a month will have gone by since Thing Two wrote her most recent post, the one with the opening paragraph her older sister described as "the single greatest argument for home schooling I've ever heard." As a professional writer, Thing Two's sister doesn't kid around about writing. Well, actually, she does, she can be very funny about what it takes to write day after day. Having my impression that Thing Two is a hard act to follow confirmed by that particular powerhouse helps me feel that bursting with motherly admiration is actually warranted.

Much as I have enjoyed Thing Two's daily presence at home, I want her to make the choices that make sense to her. I know that the company of her peers is important and good intentions on having friends over regularly don't fill the gap... in fact those particular good intentions seem to be the ones the road to hell is paved with... a little bit of information my boarding school gym teacher has left in my brain, along with deep knee bends being the best cure for menstrual cramps. Apparently, other than those two nuggets, grade eleven phys ed was never written into memory.

But there is a field hockey stick in the attic, and I sometimes long to be out in my bloomers and tunic -- is that really what we wore? -- running down the field with that stick. A couple of years ago when I went to the decade of the 60s reunion I realized that I wish I had stayed at school longer. And kept in touch with the people from that bit of life better. Let this be a lesson to you, young readers! It seemed like a good idea to me at the time to rush on to university, not that I had a realistic sense of what that meant, but because I could. Pause and reflect? No, I had no pause and reflect button then, as far as I know.

So, yes, Thing Two has made her decision, written her report, shared it with us and gotten on with enjoying summer. We went up to Halifax where she went to a digital movie making, animation and claymation course at NSCAD. She happily zipped back and forth on the city bus on her own every morning and afternoon and enjoyed the downtown during her lunch break. Seeing her on the go in the city, coming in with her bike helmet in her hand, full of news about where she has been, who and what she has seen -- delightful! Something like watching a rose bloom suddenly. She ditched dance camp in favour of swimming for hours at the Commons pool. It's outdoors and she can get there on her bike. Good summer magic!

Me? Summer is my high gear season for attacking the most midden-like parts of the house. We've already dedicated one room to be the study room, with a hook for the school bag and virtually nothing else in there but school supplies and a table, with a good view out the window. The other downstairs guest room is nearly ready for the August visit from Aunty Canterbury. We've done it up as a sitting room, with tons of mirrors and a great backdrop for doing photo shoots. We know it works because Thing Two's friend came over and they did fashion, fashion and more fashion.

Yesterday I defrosted the fridge. I had to. The freezer door had frozen shut and all the coffee was inside. It was a long job which I faced by playing lots of scrabble online in between shoving pans of boiling water into the fridge. Getting to the stage where I could open the freezer door took a few games right there. It took ages because I wasn't wearing my glasses when I started and discovered later that the little letters I thought said OFF actually said MIN... and the darn thing was working hard to freeze the water as soon as I put it in there. After a while I realized that if I was going to sit at the computer I actually had work to do.

I had made a start on Monday writing my comments to send in with Thing Two's report to the Department of Education. It was unsatisfying, it didn't reflect the way I feel about Thing Two. Instead I was wandering around looking over the last six months, re-thinking the decision I had made to expel her, wondering how our winter might have gone if I had stood by the schedule and figured out how to make it work for us.

This is one of those roads you have to look over on your personal internal map from time to time, the road not taken. I'd like to imagine that you could choose your time, to keep yourself from being late for the immediate destination. I'm not sure it is possible. What I do know is that the road ahead of you is always different from the road you didn't take back then. There are things to be learned from studying the map after a journey, but sometimes if you get too absorbed in the map it is hard to get to your current destination. Yesterday, thanks to the slow melting freezer ice cap I finally managed to get back on the road marked Thing Two, Now. There the rest was relatively easy.

I finished and called her on Skype. She told me about her last couple of days, swimming, playground, swimming, goggles, diving for rocks, going to Clay Cafe and painting a cereal bowl, what she hoped and imagined the two glazes might do, how the dog was breathing, which grandchild was standing on the stairs on the way to bed, and eventually she went and got her ipod and checked her mail. The pause while she read my comments was long, very long. I wanted to fill it up. I reread the comments and started thinking about things I might change.

Finally I heard her draw breath and say, "Oh Mom, it's perfect!" The delight in her voice was the best payoff of the day.

I said, "Do you think so? There's a couple of things I just noticed. I was thinking I would change... just a word, or two, here or there."

Thing Two laughed. "Mom, when I say it's perfect, you can believe me!" So, I decided to believe her. It feels like the right thing to do! Now, here it is, not what I learned this term but what I see these days when I look at my young partner on the home school journey.

Thing Two has grown wonderfully over the first sixth months of this year. I am extremely pleased with her progress.

She has made great strides in her confidence in herself, in her ability to make sensible choices and in her willingness to consider information on all sides of a situation before making a decision.

She has demonstrated an impressive ability to set a goal for herself and stick to it. She has shown determination in meeting her own needs. She has behaved responsibly about sharing her energy, both at home with household work and at the community hall by helping out in the setting up, serving and clean-up at the monthly breakfasts.

She is a good worker and has developed a strong understanding about the difference a “get it done” attitude makes to successful and timely completion of the many tasks she has been expected to do in the house and yard.

Her decision to explore cooking has allowed her to develop a strong sense of competence, not just in the kitchen but in other aspects of her self.

She has participated fully in writing a blog about our experiences as a home school family. Her entries are concise, witty and well-written.

She has consolidated her understanding of the benefits of accepting or setting limits for herself, especially with regard to healthy and safe lifestyle choices.

She recognizes that being prepared requires forethought and an ongoing effort to maintain focus on her short and long term goals. She realizes that learning requires practice and that asking for help and clarification is a useful skill.

Thing Two’s natural rate of speed through the world is one of relaxed, attentive wonder. She takes in enormous amounts of information at this pace, observing and reflecting on what she sees and encounters.

I applaud her decision to return to the company of her friends at school, refreshed by her many experiments and experiences while home schooling. I look forward to seeing her practice her growing ability to meet the world as she finds it and especially to make the necessary adjustments to her rate of travel to achieve her goals and to meet the expectations of others in such a different environment.

I know, as does she, that her determination to be focused and work hard will be exercised every day. I am delighted she has taken the time she needed to find her own inner strength for the task and have no doubt in her ability to handle it.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Decision day at nowhere.

So, the report has been written and the choice has been made. The bombshell, glittering in the sun, has been delivered. I'm returning for seventh grade. Maybe a bombshell was not the greatest
choice of words. You've boarded the plane, you've jumped off the swing, you've gotten in the castle dread cart at the carnival. You're moving fast and agonizingly slow at the same time.In the dark, a blur of clanging noises, sharp turns, eyes peering at you from every angle.The track is determined already for you now, but how you deal with it is your choice. You close your eyes, put your hood up and think about the engineering maybe, or sing Lady Gaga at the top of your voice, whatever. School is like that, in a way. I've sent the email to the principal, report attached. Be proud of what you have accomplished, what you're doing, your goals, achievements. Remember why, what, when, how. Then, you're done, you're out, you're finished, you're proud. I'm going to miss homeschooling, the freeness of it all, learning the stuff I'm interested in. But I'm also glad I'm coming back. My friends, the activities. And of course, I only said back for seventh grade right?

Here's the report, before I forget..

Home school report January to June 2010
By Thing Two

This year I have learned many things. I have learned important life skills, such as cooking and gardening, by preparing meals using food from our garden. I have done large amounts of dishes and many other things that are necessary when in working in kitchens. I have tried many edible plants growing in our garden. I have also tried many new foods, such as duck, squid, and lamb.

I listened to Terry O’Reilly, on “The Age of Persuasion”, a show about advertising. I have made PowerPoints and I’m constructing a menu. I have read books and looked at art about and in restaurants. I have talked to people about how they create their dishes.
I have experimented and created my own meals.

All these skills and the information I’ve collected will help me realize my dream to become a chef and have my own restaurant.

I have studied with my mother the importance of different plants in our environment. We took walks each morning during the winter. I have continued to take riding lessons weekly. I have watched things grow intently by growing my own flower garden. During the warmer part of spring that I was here for, I explored our river nearly everyday, watching Nature come alive again around me.

I learned about how to budget and travel well, thanks to our wonderful trip to England. By talking with and buying from the people at outdoor markets and yard sales I learned budgeting. I also learned about currency exchange by turning my dollars into pounds. Earlier in the year I also studied bookkeeping. I have learned how to pack, how to navigate large crowds, and how to get somewhere on a subway, bus and ferry.

I have read about cultures of other places, such as Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, and past and present England. I explored their gods, lifestyles, houses, and jobs.

I have practiced my French by talking with the students from France that came over to England for a field trip. Also I practiced Spanish and took Gaelic lessons. All this is good because one day I want to travel the world.

I was amazed by architecture past and present by visiting and exploring Bodiam Castle, Dover Castle and the secret war tunnels, Canterbury Cathedral, Kew Gardens, the London Eye, and Tynemouth Priory. I visited the Tate Modern and took a Thames River tour in London.

I have practiced techniques for looking after children, learned about my relatives, and discovered courage and compassion from my family.

I am very pleased with what I have accomplished this year. This summer we will be taking a well deserved break and attending a day camp at Louisburg Fortress and a dance camp in Halifax. In the fall I will be returning to school for seventh grade.

Just because I'm back in school doesn't mean I'm going to stop learning, right?

Thing Two

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Ah, so I've been doing it wrong... again.

Yes, we were away for a fabulous five weeks, four in England and one in Halifax. The best of the travelling was that it was all family related: visiting, helping out, enjoying gardening in different gardens, eating other people's cooking, playing with cousins, nieces and grandkids. Sandwiched in with all that was a huge amount of sightseeing. More on the sights later, the short version is castles, London, botanic gardens, back gardens, and allotment gardens. More walking, trains, double decker buses, and even boats than the queen has jewels. Very satisfying.

On the way home the week in Halifax was an unplanned Nana and Aunt stop filling in between nannies and filling in a gap in the backyard fence at Thing Two's eldest sister's home. That is, at my first ever baby's home. She's turned out a pretty amazing woman, thanks more to her own efforts than to my early attempts at child rearing. I was twenty-four when she was born and most of my parenting skills were of the seat-of-pants, not the way I was raised, dammit, variety. Erratic, inventive, experimental. Throw in a good dose of getting advice from my clever older sister and a fair bit of reading. The book list is worth a post on its own. The main hitch is I read, but I don't necessarily get it in one pass. Surprise! Like everything else, changing how you parent requires not just reading, but plenty of practice.

While I think I used some good techniques which weren't available in my mother's time, there's lots I wish I had done differently, not the least being actually listening to my mother when she said that children like routines and schedules. Hilarity, Thing Two's oldest sis, and her best beloved husband, are all over the routines and schedules. Clearly it pays off. For one thing, parachuting in to cover a three and a half year old and his two year old sister, was a lot simpler because their parents were able to tell us what the kids expect during the day. At twenty-four I probably would have said, well whatever, she'll be fine and left it at that.

Anyway, why I say I've been doing it wrong is that while stacking things up on a table chez Hilarity, I found an article by Alfie Kohn explaining why saying "Good job!" to a child ought to go the way of the dodo. Extinguishing that phrase from my lips is going to take some doing. But Kohn does a very persuasive rundown on why it is worth the effort. For the lead in, see his article and you will be convinced. Unless of course you do actually want to manipulate your children... and of course, it is no secret that sometimes we do. But in the end what we want is happy children who are satisfied with the choices they make and derive satisfaction not from being praised at every move they make but from the moves themselves, and the self-direction they use.

My complaint about the article was mainly that it took Kohn so long to get to the crib sheet -- the what to do instead that I can post in my kitchen and read every day until saying the right thing becomes more automatic than saying the wrong thing. I've probably wittered on that long myself now, but hey, as my grandmother used to say when there was nothing else positive to say about someone... "She means well."

So here, courtesy of Kohn, is the crib sheet. Study up.

And what can we say when kids just do something impressive? Consider three possible responses:

Say nothing. Some people insist a helpful act must be "reinforced" because, secretly or unconsciously, they believe it was a fluke. If children are basically evil, then they have to be given an artificial reason for being nice (namely, to get a verbal reward). But if that cynicism is unfounded ' and a lot of research suggests that it is ' then praise may not be necessary.

Say what you saw. A simple, evaluation-free statement ("You put your shoes on by yourself" or even just "You did it") tells your child that you noticed. It also lets her take pride in what she did. In other cases, a more elaborate description may make sense. If your child draws a picture, you might provide feedback ' not judgment ' about what you noticed: "This mountain is huge!" "Boy, you sure used a lot of purple today!" If a child does something caring or generous, you might gently draw his attention to the effect of his action on the other person: "Look at Abigail's face! She seems pretty happy now that you gave her some of your snack." This is completely different from praise, where the emphasis is on how you feel about her sharing.

Talk less, ask more. Even better than descriptions are questions. Why tell him what part of his drawing impressed you when you can ask him what he likes best about it? Asking "What was the hardest part to draw?" or "How did you figure out how to make the feet the right size?" is likely to nourish his interest in drawing. Saying "Good job!", as we've seen, may have exactly the opposite effect.

This doesn't mean that all compliments, all thank-you's, all expressions of delight are harmful. We need to consider our motives for what we say (a genuine expression of enthusiasm is better than a desire to manipulate the child's future behavior) as well as the actual effects of doing so. Are our reactions helping the child to feel a sense of control over her life -- or to constantly look to us for approval? Are they helping her to become more excited about what she's doing in its own right ' or turning it into something she just wants to get through in order to receive a pat on the head

It's not a matter of memorizing a new script, but of keeping in mind our long-term goals for our children and watching for the effects of what we say. The bad news is that the use of positive reinforcement really isn't so positive. The good news is that you don't have to evaluate in order to encourage.

Copyright � 2001 by Alfie Kohn.

Thank you, Mr Kohn, and thanks to for putting that article out there for my daughter to find, and share with me.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Hello, I'm back from England and home at last. So far I've made a pillow stuffed with rosemary, ( the rosemary sweated so its actually pretty stinky) and planted some lavender. I would like to have enough lavender planted so that I could harvest and sell it. Also I started my flower garden. I cooked something that looked like caille and did not poison anybody. ( I toasted it lightly in olive oil with some fried onions, pepper, thyme, and summer savoury. Then sprinkled some salt, soya sauce, and extra pepper. The caille I used was pretty young. At least, I think it was caille.) The books I'm hooked on now are pretty much the same. Redwall, by Brian Jaques. A new one is The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. I really want the rest of the series. Nobody is going to believe me but I accidentally took my nephew's copy home which I will be returning soon. Soon.

Thing Two

Monday, April 12, 2010

Moments I Wish I Had Film For....

Thing Two and I are listening to the radio as we eat our fruit salad, yogurt and granola. We are about to leave the house for our first visit to a day long Gaelic immersion program which meets each Monday. The radio makes an announcement about a late bus in our area: ".... will be running a half an hour late due to mechanical problems". Without missing a beat, Thing Two chimes in, hand cupped to ear, slight smile, "and if you listen carefully, you can hear the cheering."

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A conversation in which Thing Two says something funny, & Thing One tells her to blog it.

So Thing One and I were talking about impulse control. She asked me to give three sentences about impulses.
My sentences were:  Maria's first impulse was to run when she saw the bear.   Donald's first impulse was to laugh when he saw what the committee was wearing. Anne's first impulse was to stand still when she saw the strange bird.  Later we were talking about fixing ourselves before we fix other people. I said we could write a book. The title would be :

Impulse control with Thing One and Thing Two.
How to stop being such a bitch !  We did it, and you can too!
People may have doubts, but its true!  You can control your impulses!