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.

1 comment:

  1. Schedules and I have a difficult time, TO you developed one when the potting business became a priority to you and you started learning and doing things determined by the needs of success in the business.

    As a teacher and student I have observed that by far most people want - no INSIST - on learning all the really important life lessons by direct experience. Yes they will make mistakes, but the mistakes will be THEIR own mistakes despite all the warnings that doing . . . will be a mistake.

    The teacher is the one that helps the learner recognize the mistake, learn from it, and try some new approach to get the reward they thought was coming.

    But in the repair business (repair of broken dreams, broken hearts, broken promises, broken furniture) ya can't fix it if it ain't broke. And you only find out how strong it is by breaking it.

    Sorry this isn't the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything.

    That answer is 42.