Tuesday, February 16, 2010

And for Mother, Gorgeous Yellow Tulips

Okay, Thing One here, to report that Monday was not the day of my dreams. Thing Two did not appear at the door dressed and ready to go. On the other hand, that meant I got to go for a walk on my own, a kind of wander through the woodlot.

Since I won't go out and leave Thing Two sleeping after I've got the kitchen stove up to fever pitch and piled a lovely lot of wood into it, in case the place goes up in flames and she sleeps through the fire alarm, I called her downstairs before I left and gave her a to-do list. Just call me the wicked stepmother, and call her Cinderella.

The woodlot walk was good. One of these moments I'm going to get out the Audubon Society  Field Guide to North American Mammals and look up the big sort of dog like tracks I saw, to see if I can figure out how to tell coyote tracks from fox tracks. That will be a lot simpler than the other thing I wish I could learn, how to haul wood out of the woods with a horse. A Newfoundland pony seems about the right size for me and the wood I have.

I've been reading Guerrilla Learning, How to Give Your Kids a Real Education with or without School and thinking that I might be a lot less fiendish mother if I took the suggestions in it to heart. One of the interesting things is that they keep giving me quizzes about my own learning experiences and learning goals. I keep reading them and thinking, I have no answers to these questions.

The other thing I fall over is the idea that I just might be too old to learn to work in the woods with a horse. I can fell and limb trees all right. I took a silviculture course back in 1987 and I have a nice chainsaw and safety gear and like to use all of it. There is plenty of work to do, even without removing any wood from the woodlot. But, there is also wood that we could use for heating and for building projects and I know I never want to let a piece of heavy equipment in my woodlot again, so it's horse's muscles or my muscles.

When I got back to the house Cinderella was hard at it and had got quite a bit on her list done. We had breakfast and admired the two large bunches of gorgeous yellow tulips she had gotten for me for Valentine's Day. They are a truly wonderful gift, one that I would never have chosen for myself and yet perfect. They have opened more and more each day and finally yesterday evening I was able to catch their amazing lemony scent. I know I will be looking for them in the bulb catalog for this fall.

There is no more fortunate Thing One in this world than I, to be blessed with such a generous, spirited and amazing companion as my darling Thing Two.

Power of motivation, eh?

I did it! yes! I got it! My perfect dress has arrived on Valentine's Day, along with a balloon and a congratulatory mother. Its hanging up on our clothesline at this very moment! Now we'll see, will I still be able to get up on time without my motivation and banging my head on the pillow seven times while chanting, get the dress! get the dress! get the dress?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

She Did It! She Did It! Doing the Dance of Joy!

Wow. That Diplomatic Dress Deal. Wow. She totally did it. A checkmark every day! So awesome. Can't wait to buy the dress. Best deal ever. She is actually waking up before the alarm goes off, the goal I had back in April of last year.

So so so, good. Now for the next step. Will the habit continue with out the carrot? I sure hope so, because it has been a great two weeks of being out and walking at 7:15. Well, almost, except for the times I made us late.

Dance of Joy! Here comes the green dress, green dress, green dress!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Way to Go, Thing Two, Tell it Like it Is. On the Record: You Are Right.

So, hard act to follow there Thing Two. You've definitely got the good questions laid out. What may really surprise you is how much of what you describe so accurately is also true for me. It's harder than I expected. There are things I want to do, too, that seem to be stuck semi-permanently in the almost started, partly finished, going to start soon, messy pile of rubble, broken dreams stage.

Like painting with you. Relaxing more together. Sewing. Reading. Making pots again. Having a comfortable house where guests feel at home. Making walking trails in the woods and walking on them with you. I could go on, but you get it, I know. There's that broken down, discouraged feeling that comes when you think you have the bits lined up just right to realize your vision of the dollhouse, or the family home, and just as you get one right piece to fit in, something slips and it seems like its going to be totally impossible. This is where your grandfather's voice chimes in: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again."

As strategies to solve our problem, yelling, crying, neither one of us has chosen a winner. On the other hand, as long we continue to make space for conversation, to ask the clear, tough questions you have asked, we are on track to the land of Possible. High five to you. I certainly want to change. For one thing, feeling frustrated and angry, yelling and fighting, is not winning me any friends in Nowhere. Furthermore, it feels awful inside.

Feeling awful inside is clearly something you can relate to, even if  you don't feel like I understand. I know that feeling like giving up, crying or spending time lying in bed when, in your heart of hearts, you want to be painting, or being hugged, or singing on top of a pile of wood, or twirling a stick, or watching tv shows on your iPod, or reading a book, or just about anything other than feeling frustrated, like you did something wrong, oppressed, yucky, is certainly as awful a feeling inside as yelling, feeling angry, like nothing I say is heard, discouraged, confused.

I used to spend a lot of time crying when life seemed too hard. Crying didn't work. I still feel yucky sometimes. The results are not good. Please notice the sometimes.

There are countless moments with you
when I feel amazed, delighted! amused,
filled with joy, love, elation,
thrilled by your very existence and being.

As for "feeling the love" my heart aches. I hear you crying and I hear the things I sometimes say to you when you are crying and I just want to curl up and die. It feels like being two people at once to me. It's as if  I am you, and I am my mother, actually it feels like being three people. The third one, the one stuck in the middle, trying to figure out how to get out, is me, Thing One. You know that kind of stiff hug, the one where I don't seem to be able to get huggable? I totally recognize what it feels like to be on your side of that hug. Now, sadly, I'm learning what it felt like to be on my mother's side of it. What we are doing is going to change that.

So, while you may think that I have all the power here and that you are helpless, it ain't necessarily so. There are times when I feel helpless. Do you remember how I used to say to you when you were much, much littler, "Can you stop yourself, or does Mommy have to stop you?" If we were somewhere that there was a lot of traffic and you didn't want to hold my hand, and I didn't want to risk you skipping gaily out into the traffic and getting squashed by a car, I could offer you the choice of holding my hand, or wearing the harness. Sometimes you choose one, and sometimes you choose the other. Whichever it was, it kept you safe.

Arranging some things as if we are having a business meeting, insisting on using email when I am standing right there! is the choice I make to stop myself. I don't want to just speak off the top of my frustrated head and come out with some foolish thing my poor mother might have said when she was at her wit's end. I want to learn a new way.  Here's the scoop. Emails don't YELL without some extra effort being made. Using emails gives us a chance to think before we speak.

Look at that very formal email you sent me after you were expelled. It was polite and it offered a solution. Or at least a first step towards a solution. It was a useful strategy. It got my attention. It gave us a quiet forum to make a plan. Please note: I am telling you that you did right. That email is one of the many things you have done well, and right, not wrong. It was a much better approach to the mess we were in than days and days of sniping our way around the house trying to figure out what to do next.

When I feel like yelling, or you feel like crying, each of us has a choice to make. We can keep on doing what we are doing, whether it feels good or not, whether it gets us what we want, or not, most likely not. Or we can  figure out how to handle the feeling under the yelling, or the crying. It's not easy, especially if you have a long held habit of crying when you are upset, or of yelling when you are upset, to learn to do something else. But unless the strategy is working really well for you and it makes you feel great, investing the effort in changing how you respond to the way you feel is one of the most important things there is to learn.

You are free to disagree with that, after all, it's my opinion, and you want to do things your own way.

What I plan to do is to think of the place I am when I am yelling as just a place. Not some horrible monster that has taken over my whole being by pouring a huge angry bucket of frustration soup over my head, but a place. As soon as I start to feel like a yell coming on I am going to say to myself, "There's a different place right next to this one."

Then I'm going to stand up a little more consciously, and feel my feet on the place I'm standing a little more clearly. Next, I'm going to take a slow, deep breath and step sideways, very deliberately.

That's my plan. I may need to make a few signs to put on the wall.

Be Sure
Brain is Engaged
Putting Mouth
in Gear.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hi, its Thing Two. Recently I've been reflecting that some stuff is not working out for me as much as I thought it would. For instance, I thought homeschooling would be easier. Even being expelled is not easy. Must I plan everything?                                                                                                                                                 
Why is everything arranged like we are having business meetings? Do you know much I hate that? Why do we have to use email when your standing RIGHT THERE?  How come I'm not allowed to do stuff my way?  Although I like being treated older, I'm being told how wrong I am almost every second. Nobody seems to understand me anymore. You could say I'm not exactly "feeling the love". It seems that mom is always on edge more, ready to yell and fight, and that I'm even more ready to cry and give up, run upstairs and lie in bed. My dollhouse project is lying on the floor wishing (like me) that I could stop and work on it, instead leaving it a messy pile of rubble and broken dreams. The only thing that wills me out of bed in the morning is my perfect dress, so essential to my perfect birthday party and my hope that easier times will come along with the better weather.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

In Which Thing One Opens the Door to the Room Marked "Worries About Home Schooling" and Thing Two Cooks Another Amazing Meal.

Yuck. It is dark in here. And scary. So much of what is in here has to do with who I am. Have I grown up well? Am I a good citizen? Have I contributed to society or am I just a little blot on the landscape? Am I selfish? Who is this home schooling project really for? Did I take it on to provide a reason for not getting other things done? Projects which I say I want to do but which I am afraid will be too much work, or that I might simply never be able to do?

How can I ever hope to set a good example for Thing Two if I am still figuring out my own life week by week? I already know that one of the reasons Thing Two gives when asked about why she decided to leave school is, "Well, I was going to fail anyway." No matter how many times I tell her that her teacher told me she was fine, that she wasn't going to fail, that reason continues to pop out. Second on her list is, "Well, it was so hard, and so much work."

Are the habits that Thing Two has which get her in trouble with me, and are ineffective for her, the same habits I have, that haven't worked for me? Have I handed on the worst of myself through simple inattention to my own self talk?  Inattention, and laziness, the friends of bad habits. Selfish and lazy, that might be me, right? Laziness! I mean, I have it good here with Thing Two around to help out. What's in it for her? Wouldn't she be better off in school and doing homework when she comes home? Isn't it a mother's job to bring in the firewood, cook the meals, do the dishes, the laundry, the sweeping and tidying?

Fortunately while I'm in here rooting around in all the junk, Thing Two is very excitedly preparing her first ever batch of spaghetti sauce. Supper looks and smells like it is going to be very, very good. And it is, the sauce is meaty and flavourful, the spaghetti is cooked just enough and not a second more. There is plenty of freshly grated parmesan.

What is even more delicious is the ambiance. A song singing, dancing Thing Two has produced the meal with determination and enthusiasm. Supper fell in her lap tonight because when we were in town yesterday for the square dancing workshop we made a quick stop in the grocery store. She saw a box of frozen meatballs and asked for it. I said no, and told her if she wanted meatballs I would buy some ground beef. She said yes. We came home with about a half a kilo of lean ground beef.

Today I remembered it was there and had to be cooked. Around two this afternoon I said, "So you are making meatballs for supper, right?"
" I don't know how to", says Thing Two with iPod in hand.
 "Search for a recipe" says I.

Quiet Sunday afternoon and we both drift back to what we are doing. Around three I notice Thing Two is getting out her extensive wood project on the kitchen floor, a remarkable bark doll house for her niece and nephew which has been under construction for a week or so. I see supper preparations dropping off her to do list. So, says I, "Did you find a meatball recipe?" Small disappointment follows, then much searching and consulting. At some point Thing Two realizes that making meatballs actually requires handling the meat. Too gross to contemplate, on to plan B, a nice meaty spaghetti sauce.

She gets to the kitchen and discovers it is not in working order. The pot she needs for cooking the spaghetti hasn't been washed, nor the frying pans and a few other things. There is a temporary revolt. I stand my ground, administer hugs, agree that one of the things that is the pits about cooking is coming into the kitchen and finding it not ready to go. Suddenly, she is smiling, finding her apron and making amusing bubbles in the dishpan. Wow. Kudos to my favourite cook, Thing Two.

Over supper she tells me about the wonderful apple corer and peeler she got to use when we were at a local food movement workshop last fall. Helping to make the apple crisp there, she also learned about digestion and why the act of cooking is so healthy for us. While we cook, Thing Two reports, our digestive system is being primed with the secretions it will need to digest the food we are preparing. How cool is that?

I'm not going back in that dark room tonight. Chalk up some big we're fine, thanks Xs on the door. The other comment Thing Two made tonight, in among the "this is so exciting"s and the "my first spaghetti sauce"s and the "it's soo much fun"s and "what do you think?"s was, "You're teaching me how to look after myself when I leave home!"

My mouth was probably too full of spaghetti, mmm mmm good, for my brain to do anything but smile then, but I'll say it loud and clear now: I'm sure going to miss Thing Two when that day comes!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Aw, Shucks, and Just When Things Were Going So Well, Too. But At Least We Got A Good Dinner!

Hey, Thing One here. The kicker-outer, grumbling, take my time and do something else with it, silly home schooling anyway, "older" scholar. No one said getting older automatically created a grown up. Unless a grown up always comes equipped with a powerful speaker system, and the Anxious Doubts cd on endless repeat.

Not a great soundtrack for a person trying to retire her perfectionist, pearls of wisdom, got it all figured out, let's just follow the plan I imagined, persona. Yes, I can hear you thinking, "and pretty controlling too." So right you are, all part of the territory. Nowhere is like that, full of places that turn out to be slightly different than you expected. Some of them are nicer than you could ever dream up. It's important to hold that thought.

You can be heading full speed up the hill at 7:15, topic at the ready, the day just glowing in your imagination when suddenly around the corner comes the big truck with the pushy driver. Wham! Your day hits the ice, sliding to a part of Nowhere you don't like to visit. You rev up the engine on your imagination drive and whisk yourself away. There, the schedule you set up is just right. People can't wait to hit the books, the topics are so close to their hearts. Heck they want to do more!

Yup, clockwork! Not one of those digital babies either, real precision meshed gears you can see through the glass back of a pocket watch. All the tasks around the edges of "school work" flow as if by magic to their proper places: wood from the pile outdoors to the pile by the stove, clothes from the lines in the living room fold neatly as they float to their tidy drawers, dishes clean themselves, doing counters and shelves while they're at it. But imagination, strong though it is, does not make it so. Banging your head against the wall by the schedule will not help.

So, you can see me struggling here. When Thing Two's queries like, "Well, why can't we just change the schedule, it's our schedule?" and "Why do we have to have a schedule, anyway?" dance up the hill with us, I have answers longer than our combined attention spans. While I'm droning on, part of me is jumping up and down saying, "Sure! What does it matter really, as long as we're busy and happy?" It's hard to jump up and down with your hand over your mouth.

See me divide? The droning on part of me is looking far down that trail. I glance at the shadowy bit of Nowhere inhabited by the big green mold monster and a score of other unfriendly characters. I squint to read the tiny print on their name tags. Bet you wish you hadn't done that and met me, eh? and Well, where did you think you were going to end up, you left home without a map! are smiling and waving, calling "Come on down!" I don't want to fall for it, I think their grins are fake.

Besides, they have friends named, Welcome, I'm Picnic! You must be One sandwich short of a basket! and Hey, if you had listened to me in the first place! It's never quiet, except when everyone is too angry to speak. Over  in a really dark corner there is a big power struggle going on. Well, don't blame me!, Sorry! I forgot! and Oh no! Were you saying something?! are making faces and exchanging sarcastic remarks as they try to see who can be the first to kick the door down and run out into the sunnier parts of Nowhere yelling and spreading misery.

We took a quick tour of that bleak area of Nowhere on our walk yesterday, just after I didn't fall on the ice as the early school bus came round the corner heading up the hill. I don't remember what we ... I say we, but as you will see it is really I, were talking about when Thing One interrupted me. I did not take it well. I won't say interrupting people is genetic, it's clearly more of a nurture thing. Those are the ones where you look at your kid in disbelief just as you realize she is holding up a mirror. I despise looking in that particular mirror.

Without that mirror though, how would I learn? I'd like to take this opportunity to ask forgiveness of  the countless people I have interrupted over the past six decades. It is bloody annoying and I wish I had learned at a much earlier age not to do it. I'm retooling that part of my brain, but please, don't be patient with me, it doesn't seem to help.

Thing Two has perfected the look. She gives it to me right between the eyes when I interrupt her. It seems to be having an effect. Using a talking piece helps even more. Negotiations on using her twirling/walking stick as a talking piece went badly last week (Note to both of us: ask first, don't just grab it out of the other person's hand. Wait! If the other person is speaking, don't even ask!). So far, neither of us has had the presence of mind to find something else to take out walking with us.

Lots of the rest of yesterday's walk went well. My new snow pants were doing the trick. Thing Two had taken to heart the phrase "dressed for the weather" in her determination to get the dress. Hearing the wind howl while she was still nestled under the covers she remembered what she had read about wind chill on Monday and actually bundled herself up enough to face -22.

We were amazing ourselves at even being out. Uphill, the road has views to the north, open to the wind off the lake. Almost at the crest, we recognized how cold it was going to be if we kept going. The subdivision road offers the protection of the woods and fabulous views of the river valley. There is only one house, where no one lives. We backtracked and went up there.

We shared a little fantasy, of what it would be like if there was a cohousing community there, houses clustered together to save the wild land we love, with a welcoming common house where we could enjoy a morning visit. The folks there would be the people eating what our not yet big enough garden might produce if we were a CSA site. We could feel the warmth of our imaginary neighbours' welcome.

Turning for home and seeing the whitecaps on the lake, Thing Two told me how excited she had been several summers ago when her English cousins were visiting and one day at the shore called out "Oh, look at the white horses!"  That was my learn something new every day moment, as I'd never heard whitecaps spoken of as white horses before. Thinking back to that moment, full of her fun memories from the summer of the English cousins, it is hard to see why the day derailed again later.

I don't even remember what little bit of the big ball I roll around when I'm wearing my dung beetle disguise I tried to pass off to her as a pearl of wisdom. I do know that a couple of times this week I've gotten out my schoolmarm voice and yattered on about fidgeting, not looking at me when I explain something, more fidgeting, and, can we stay on this one task for more than thirty seconds, puhleeeze!!!!

In that context, having her come into the kitchen because I had something important to tell her, and then, while I was doing so, having her struck so dumb with amazement by something she saw on the shelf and just had to tell me about instantly, was one more interruption than I could handle. That was the moment when she got expelled. From home school, for crying out loud! Can you do that? Yes, just before you reset the mouse traps and bleach that place on the shelf where the one, tiny, little, damn mouse poo was.

Bottom line seems to be that the parts of Nowhere that are not so nice have to do with parts of myself I'm not so happy with, and with that room I still haven't showed you, the one with the big sign on the door: Worries About Home Schooling. Like the real rooms in our house, there's a lot of stuff crammed in there. I was going to write about them yesterday but as I was getting ready to open the door, all this other stuff fell out and distracted me. As soon as my head clears and I remember what's in there, you'll be the first to know.

Here's one little bit that's been sticking out the door as we've gone from excited first day to having hands too wiggly to think about taking ownership of the textbook. It's more of the puzzle around why bother with a schedule. My dear dad was a great guy, as far as I was concerned. Viewpoints vary. As a kid I saw this:
  1. He was special 'cause he never had to do any of the day to day things houses and families require to be done, but he did make fabulous bagels and lox for Christmas morning breakfast.
  2. He never set me any more difficult hoops to jump through than to be quiet when I came into his room,
  3. I could use any of the great stuff he had: tape, scissors, paper, pencils, cool ruler thingy with shapes in it, as long as I put anything I took from his desk back where I found it.
  4. He never, as far as I can recall, had any part in disciplining me.
  5. He gave me a cheque book and made sure I learned how to write the details of every cheque I wrote in the register and tell him when my account was getting low. Luckily my vices ran to raspberry danish.
I put my pillow over my head if he yelled at my sister as she was so much older than I was that the basis of his displeasure was far beyond my ability to comprehend. His one fault in my eyes was to spend a great deal of time and energy on trying to save me from the mistakes he had already made. I took this activity as a direct challenge and spent an equal amount of time and energy telling him that I was planning to make different mistakes. I believed it was a fundamental right to go out in the world and make new mistakes. Who wants to learn from an old textbook?

He was sure I'd repeat some of the ones he'd made if I didn't follow his directions. Oddly, now that I think of it, he didn't actually tell me what these mistakes were, but he sure did want to save me the trouble of making them again. No wonder the long running game of family chess ended in stalemate. Now I realize that the general aura of mystery around his past pretty much ensured that I'd make some of the same whoppers.

Thus, the so precious schedule is a life raft I'm clinging to, paddling frantically down the home school river, trying to sneak some of what I believe I've learned in under Thing Two's radar. The water is moving surprisingly fast, maybe from the flood of mistakes I went out and made as soon as I left my parents' home.

Having a schedule at all is relatively new for me. I discovered how well it could work in 1993 or so, when I was 45, the teen years of my adult life. Finally having decided what I wanted to be when I grew up, a potter, I started a business. This required me to be in certain places at particular times, prepared to sell my goods.

It was a liberating experience to go from the unstructured life of getting up, wandering through the day, getting late for whatever was supposed to be getting done, having great ideas and not knowing the first thing about how to realize them, to sitting down in January when the first craft market application came in and making a schedule.

Market dates determined what days of the year I was loading my kiln, firing, cooling, unloading, and packing my van. Working backwards from each van loading day showed me the best before date for great ideas,  last wet clay day -- the deadline for making something with a reasonable expectation of it being dry enough to fire and take to a particular show.

Suddenly I knew, not only where I was going to be for the next twelve months, but what I had to get done when. Since my studio was at the road by my house and folks going by could see me in it, visitors popped in at their convenience. This was fun, as long as I didn't end up wandering off to the house with them for tea and a couple hours of chatting.

To help myself stay on track and give people something to aid comprehension of this new, more focused me, I wrote out my hours of work and posted them next to my monthly schedule in the studio. I could happily do an eleven hour day because I had tracked how my internal rhythms worked as a side effect of logging my time in order to have reference points for pricing my work.

So, here's my reasoning. Since there is no hope I can teach Thing Two the curriculum her mates at school are being exposed to, I am taking another path. First stop is that pesky issue of time management. The classrooms with no clocks, the report cards with "does not use time wisely" are behind her. But the learning is still ahead of her. Any reluctance I have to face the piles of questions in the room of worries only holds us back.

I suspect the box in there I have to tackle next is the one with the schoolmarm dress in it. There's a few other not-too-becoming dresses in there too, and a responsible parent tee shirt, right under the fancy hat and purse for days when every time I open my mouth the words, "what will people think if I let you...."  come out, each time at a bit higher pitch. Thing Two really has an attitude about that hat and purse, and it's not one that usually works to get them banished.

We may not have the perfect schedule yet, but I'm sure we need one. I spent too long fighting against routines, believing them to be constraints rather than helpful frameworks. With our beach band, the Excited Ideas playing so often, it's easy for Thing One and I to get swept into the flow. Staying there is another matter. If we are swept away for hours we risk missing shore leave where meals are regular and rest comes in decent sized blocks. Coffee and chocolate, yummy though they are, don't really keep our brains afloat.

The good ship Schedule may only be a leaky life raft so far, and the tide is certainly strong, but each day that we spend a little bit more time paddling and studying the currents brings us closer to the day when we can safely dive in, knowing we'll remember when to come up for air, food and R & R.

Since yesterday

Hi its Thing two. So yesterday two interesting things happened, in this order:

Number 1: I got kicked out of homeschool.

Number 2: I cooked supper.

Thing one and I are going to discuss whether I am going to homeschool myself, or continue the way we had planned.

The supper I cooked went like this: I made rice, and added carrots and kale to be steamed in with it, fried some onions, then scrambled some eggs with cheese and fish, added onions and fried that. Then I added some grated cheese to the rice and took it off the stovetop. Then i took the eggs of the stovetop. I served it (served with a French accent, so I guess I seeerved it). Later I added some Soy Sauce to my rice. Aaand thankyouverymuch.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Diplomatic Dress Deal (and other such words, some imaginary, with d)

Hi, its Thing Two! So Sunday we went shopping for snowpants for thing one (excited comment from thing one: I LOVE MY SNOWPANTS!) but also while we where there we devised  (divined? discovered?   dislopocated?) the Diplomatic Dress Deal.

(Cue classical music). The dress is about a mile too big for me, but with some complicated adjustments it looks gorgeous. Blueish, greenish, tealish, it looks almost mermaid like, with big sleeves and perfect ripples... (someone slaps me in the face).

Ow! Oh, right diplomatic dress deal. Well, Thing One agreed to buy it, if, for two weeks, she would not have to wake me up, but I would be ready at the door, fully dressed for the weather, ready for the walk. Day two, still going strong. Talk about motivation.