Monday, April 30, 2012

Inquisition Monday: the Second

Continuing from last week, Betttina asked, "how are you a different mom to DS than DD? Not a different mom b/c kids are different genders but different b/c you have more experience now as a mother than the 1st time?"

On one hand, I'm not sure. I did a lot of the same things: breastfeeding, bedsharing, lassez-faire ECing. The "gentle" parenting part is pretty much the same. But I've done different things because they are different people and also, the family is now different.

Because they are different people:

I do a lot more intervention on physical boundaries. Margaret never went out into the street. Ever. I don't remember teaching her not to, she just would stop. Isaac doesn't get that as much, so there is a little more chasing and guiding him back. He's "getting" it now, but a few months ago, he wasn't.

I also do a lot more free range parenting. Margaret was (and still is) a very cautious person. At Isaac's age, she wouldn't step down from a curb to the street without sitting down and scooting off it. Isaac challenges his physical boundaries more. I don't think you could have ever described me as a "helicopter" parent with Margaret because I knew she was cautious and careful, but I did have to be more aware when she tried new things. If it was too scary, she would freeze up and then risk hurting herself. For example, last week at the park, Isaac went down a huge fast cement slide by himself. I think that if Margaret had wanted to go down that particular slide at his age, I would have taken her on my lap because I knew once she got going, she'd panic and freeze up- and lose control of her speed/balance and get hurt. Isaac however, does not panic so much. Yes, he froze a little, but he was able to control his speed and direction well. I watched him go down, but I wasn't right there with him like I would have been with Margaret.

I let Isaac help out around the house more than I did Margaret. I'm not sure if it's his age or his personality, but Isaac is huge into helping. With everything. Unloading the dishwasher, gardening, laundry, sweeping. He wants to be involved in everything.

Because the family is different:

Having a four year old in the family means we do a lot more outings. When Margaret was little, I rarely took her out. That zoo trip last week? It was because Margaret likes outings, not because I think Isaac needs them. When Margaret was Isaac's age, she had regular naps. Now, because I need to get Margaret out, Isaac doesn't get regular naps. He needs them: 3 hours in the afternoon is important, but it doesn't always happen because we are out more.

Also, having to stretch myself over two children means I do a lot more free range parenting. When we're out, not only am I required to give less time to each while monitoring the safety two children, but I'm burned out more often. So at the park, I try to catch up on my "me" time: knitting, chatting, etc. Last week, Margaret came to me asking if she could go with one of the moms and some kids to the rose garden across the street. In the past, I would have wanted to go with her, but instead I let her go off and let Isaac go off doing whatever he was doing (playing with a soccer ball) while I sat under a tree and knit.

I think I wear Isaac less than I did with Margaret. Margaret was in the mei tai all the way up until I gave birth to Isaac. While Isaac loves the mei tai and I wear him often, I do let him do a lot of walking because he likes to hold hands with Margaret and play with her. I also use the stroller a lot more because I can't wear both kids if they need breaks on walks.

Another thing that was different, and I'm not sure why, is how much I held Isaac as a baby. I almost never put Margaret down. I spent my days watching movies (and all the audio commentaries) because if Margaret fell asleep on my lap, I was afraid to get up- even to change the DVD disc- and wake her. So lots of sitting, lots of lap time. On the other hand, even just 3 hours after having Isaac, I was totally fine with putting him down and doing something else. I suppose you could say that not wanting to hold him was a hormonal thing (depression? anxiety?) but I don't think it's typical for those postpartum mental illnesses to set in only 3 hours into the baby's life. But I just didn't want to hold him. Or anyone at that time. I think I was touched out.

I'm better at buying snacks. With Margaret I never bought snacks- it never crossed my mind! I'm still not a huge snack-buyer but it does happen more often. I guess with 2 kids, I see it as "worth it" more.

Because our location/life situation is different:

Being in the Bay Area without snow and having access to a yard means that the kids both get more outside time. And whether it's laziness or that my brain is dead, I forget their hats a lot and they also get more sun. The places we frequent are much closer to our hone and I now own a bike, so that's another reason for the more outings.

Moving to California also means we get a babysitter more often. When we wanted to go out with Margaret, it wasn't a big deal to bring her along on dates. We now find ourselves getting a babysitter every 2 or 3 months. And that's mostly due to McKay working for Pixar. Pixar hosts a lot of events for employees and their "plus one." There are movie showings (we saw John Carter at Pixar), in-house comedy troops, Wrap Parties, holiday parties, and other events. Babysitters are really expensive out here and so we take advantage of all the free events through McKay's work. Instead of having to pay for a movie AND a sitter, we only have to pay for a sitter. However, I think it's not very good for Isaac. Margaret has always been pretty accepting of alternate care providers, but there has not been a time we've gotten a babysitter that Isaac hasn't cried throughout the entire evening- and sometimes to the point of making himself throw up. I feel bad about it, so it's not a regular occurrence, and we try as much as possible to make it more manageable. For last year's wrap party, we came home between the movie and the party to nurse the kids to sleep. Wrap party nights are long (5-6 hours) and Isaac was not even a year old, so I wanted to make sure he was able to go to sleep peacefully. If we didn't have free dates through Pixar, we probably wouldn't go on any and this whole babysitter issue would be null.


This is silly, but I didn't want to use the word "no" with Margaret, so I used "cease" instead. I thought that if we used "cease" when she became a defiant two- or three- year old, it would break up tension to hear a kid say, "Cease, Mommy!" And we did that for a long time. But now we do use the word "no" when we need to. I probably need to cut back on our usage of "no."

And once again, I can't limit my blog posts and it's gotten wordy. Sorry about that! I'm sure I parent differently, but I think I'll need a little more time to really see more differences. Life is just different in California and with two kids.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

This Week in Homeschooling

This week we went to the zoo. Highlights: Baby giraffe, chimpanzees, elephants, frogs, alligator, otters, millipedes. And the slide:

For Earth Day, Pixar screened the new Disney documentary, Chimpanzee. Trailer here. Margaret and Isaac loved it, though there were some scary parts and they took turns sitting in both our laps in the theater.

Afterwards, Margaret decided she was a chimpanzee:

Because of Margaret's interest in chimpanzees, I thought we could get some books about chimps at the library. "Library skills" is another state standard for elementary school students, so I thought it would be good for Margaret to learn that librarians are there to help you find what you're looking for. So Margaret asked the librarian if there were any chimpanzee books and the librarian helped us find 3: a general chimpanzee book, Jane Goodall's The Chimpanzee Family Book, and Me... Jane.

Also, at the library, I check out books that we don't own but are classics. This week I got Alexander and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, Anatole, Amelia Bedelia, The Courage of Sarah Noble, and a book of poems: And the Green Grass Grew All Around. I'll do some reviews in Goodreads if you're interested. The children picked out ABC Pop!, The big Adventures of Majoko, Vol 5, The Perfect Pinata La Pinata Perfecta, and There's a Bird on Your Head. I also checked out The Well-Trained Mind because some friends use it, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to return it right back next week. I flipped through it and I just kept thinking, "Education doesn't need to be this involved!"

Margaret came to me asking to write the other day, but we've done this before: she asks to write and then after 2 seconds gives up because she doesn't want to do anything other than M and H. So this time I used a cookie sheet of salt and she got to draw on it. She did "write" some letters on it, but also did a lot of drawing. This is a good quiet time activity.

The day after the salt pan, she drew in a notebook and wrote the letters "A" and "I" along with M and H. So, progress!

We had some illness this week. I had food poisoning last Saturday night. Margaret came down with hand, foot, and mouth and Isaac looks like he's in the early stages of that as well. It's highly contagious, but is pretty mild, so we've been able to keep up most of our regular activities like park days.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

"Guided" Unschooling

I really like the principles of unschooling and letting children follow their passions and go as deep or not deep into a subject as they like when they want to.

But I also know that children aren't going to be interested in things they aren't exposed to.

During my homeschooling existential crisis, I went through and read all the California standards for kindergarten. This took longer than you might think since the standards are published by subject, not by grade level. I had to go through all the various subjects and pick out the kindergarten stuff. Let's just say it took me a while.

I made a little list of the things Margaret has not had experience with yet, eg. California state symbols. I found this "standard" amusing because I remember being a kindergartener in Dallas, TX and coloring the state flag, mockingbird, and blue bonnet. Looking back, I wasn't sure if this exposure to state symbols was a general standard for all states or if Texas was particularly enthusiastic about themselves. But it seems California students learn the state symbols in kindergarten as well.

So now I have a little list of things that I will try to expose Margaret to in the next few months or so. When I was at the library last week, I happened upon a book, Our California, which takes you through a rhyme about various cities and areas in California and then at the back has the pictures of the state flag and other symbols. I checked it out for Margaret and we read it this past week.

She wasn't very interested in the book, so it was returned this week, but that's how unschooling goes. I know that at the least, I exposed her to the material, and maybe in the future she'll be more interested in it. Maybe we'll do a California birthday party on September 9.

So that's how I'm doing "guided" unschooling. My kids might not be interested in American Indians during their "third grade" year or multiplication in their "second grade" year- maybe it'll happen earlier or later. But I'll try to at least bring in books and movies and field trips to see if it interests them at some point.

So we're not using the standards strictly: if something comes up, we'll follow that instead. I consider them more of a guideline than a rule. And if we get in a rut, it can give me an idea of where to go next.

I'm really amazed at how much Margaret picks up in general. One of the kindergarten standards is to recognize national symbols like the Statue of Liberty or Mount Rushmore. Last week when the National Park Foundation solicited a membership from us, they gave us a map of all the National Parks. Some of the parks had little pictures beside them: the Grand Canyon, the St. Louis Arch, etc. One caught Margaret's eye and she let me know, "That's the Golden Gate Bridge!" Recognizes national symbols? Check! We may do an "America" unit come Independence Day. Or we may not. Depends on how proactive I feel at that point.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Existential Crises

I think I mentioned that I've had a minor meltdown about schooling choices. That minor meltdown, was actually part 1 of a month-long existential crisis for me. In the decision of Margaret's education, many things came to a head for me. And it was painful. This post is my ramblings about that. Go ahead and skip over it.

Let me start off that I don't actually like kids. Well, I do. Sort of. I was never the teenager who loved taking babysitting jobs. I never wanted to hold new babies and even when Margaret was born and we were still in the birth tub, I bumbled over myself trying to figure out how to hold her without causing harm. As soon as my younger sister was able to babysit, I started turning down babysitting jobs saying, "I can't that night, but my sister can!" I started working at 15 and worked all through high school and used work as a way to not babysit (although my first job was in a nursery at a women's gym, making $5.35/hr with up to 13 kids in there by myself- maybe I have some extra dislike of babysitting because of that).

Now, I do like my kids. And I've found babies to be pretty easy, but as they get older, my patience wanes quickly. I had some extra troubles when Margaret hit 3 and a half- it's a hard age. McKay is not a stranger to me phoning him in the afternoons (or even sooner) panicked and crying that I can't handle the kids anymore that day. And as kids get even older, they start developing annoying things like repeating everything over and over and over and "I know you are but what am I" and stop that clicking with your mouth! I don't look forward to having a 7 year old. But on the other hand, a 7 year old can go to a friend's house and be away all afternoon. As long as the other parent doesn't expect me to return the favor and have the kids at my house. This is why I don't do babying sitting coops. But then, of course, I'm stuck with them by myself all the time. Catch-22.

Let's leave that at that and get back to it later in the post.

So when we decided to have kids... well, I don't think "we" decided that. I never felt like it was "time" to start trying. I prayed and prayed about it and never got a "yes" feeling. McKay did, but I didn't. I went with it since that's "what you did." And it has been nice. A lot has come from that decision: I got to go on my unassisted birth journey and meet awesome people like Laura Shanley. I've been able to meet amazing people like Alisa and Shannon and Xaka and other great moms I've learned a lot from. Even reading mommy blogs had taught me a lot. I'm grateful for those experiences, but I do wonder if my lack of enthusiastic, "YES!" to having kids means I should have waited a little longer.

But if we had waited, what would I have done? No idea. I graduated with my BS when I was 10 weeks pregnant and so morning sick I thought I was going to throw up when they called my name to get my diploma. I had no plans after graduation. I liked math, but not really enough to pursue further degrees in math. And BYU closed the master's program I was interested in and did not have programs for my other interests. McKay needed to finish his bachelor's, so I couldn't really go anywhere else. I was stuck in Utah.

Because I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life, having kids was a good filler. I'd have kids and figure it out eventually. And that was fine. Until "eventually" came and I didn't know what I wanted to do. And enter some more background:

Since July, I've been our ward's nursery leader. This is not an easy calling for me. There was one Sunday morning in January when Margaret said the word "nursery" in our family prayer and I just went to tears. Babysitting is not my forte. The bishop was sure I'd love it; after all, his wife loved being in nursery with their kids! But I am not his wife. It got to the point where going to church was a major chore. It has improved since McKay has joined me in nursery- he's a calming influence and makes those 2 hours a little more manageable, but I'd be lying if I said I'm gung-ho about going to church right now. My calling is a major stressor.

So for months I was running on empty. Church normally filled my cup, but instead it was draining it more. I tried filling my cup at things like book groups and the like, but hearing other women talk about, "Oh this book reminded me of this movie..." made me want to scream: HOW DO YOU HAVE TIME TO GO TO ALL THESE MOVIES?! They don't have small kids at home, that's how.

Then Margaret turned 4 in March. And if we want her to go to kindergarten in a year and a half, we'd have to start touring schools this fall and winter- even if we went with public school because Oakland is an "options" district. Because my cup was so empty, the thought of sending my kids away all day was very attractive (of course, Isaac would still be around for a couple of years). But the schools aren't that great and I wanted to homeschool, but I also wanted a life of my own.

I ran into the issue of "what would a life on my own even look like?" The kids are gone all day... and then what? "Eventually" was staring me in the face and I couldn't put off "what I'm going to be when I grow up" longer. I looked into graduate programs and certifications and jobs. But I felt the same way I felt 5 years ago: I don't actually want to do the things I'm qualified for. I could go back to school and give myself more time to figure it out, but I wanted to be sure about whatever graduate program I wanted to pursue before I started throwing money at a university. I didn't want to find out that 2 years later with a MS degree, I was right where I was with my BS: no idea what to do with my life.

I wanted to homeschool, but I didn't want to spend all my days with my kids. I wanted an outlet and homeschooling was this point of no return for my personhood. But choosing a school for her meant I had to choose a direction myself. I could send my kids to school, but without direction for myself, I'd still be just as frustrated and lost as I would be if they were home.

Enter existential crisis. With crying. And crying. And googling classes and schools (for both me and Margaret) and trying to figure out what the hell I'm doing. There was some guilt, too. McKay has a great job and I don't need to work. In fact, I could do whatever I want and fail and still be ok financially. I felt a little bad about that: I can start up a business making guitar picks from grass and fail and we wouldn't be any less off. But I guess, if I've got the privilege, I might as well use it. It's no good to wallow in privilege-guilt.

Fortunately (oh so fortunately!) I found a career that actually makes me excited. I ran into it on the Internet. Hooray for the Internet! There is a demand for it, I can choose how much work I take on, and it's something that combines many of my talents and loves and will be fun. It was created for me. If I hadn't run into this, I'd still be in full-on existential crisis mode this moment.

And this happened 2 Saturdays ago. I cannot tell you how much of a relief it was. Weight lifted. Suddenly I could say "yes" to homeschooling. Homeschooling wasn't going to sap my soul. I can educate my children AND fill my cup. Have my cake and eat it too! I get to homeschool in the mornings and then work in the afternoons and evenings. I can even get a mother's helper and employ a local teenage homeschooling person to help me out in the afternoons when I need to work. My friends, I am about to live the dream. Starting this summer.

So for the next few months, I'm going to look up all that is involved with starting my own business. I'm going to finish up some big knitting projects so that I can start my new career with a clean slate without other projects glaring at me, "You got a new job and now you have abandoned me to the UFO (unfinished objects) bin." I am also going to test the waters in this career to make sure it's something I actually like by doing some work for trade. If I love it as much as I anticipate loving it, then off to get an EIN, I will be!

So thanks for reading all that. It probably wasn't all that interesting, but thanks for being my sounding board. I'm very excited that I have a direction again. So very excited.

I know I said I wouldn't turn this into a homeschooling blog, and I won't, but I'll probably blog about homeschooling one more time this week- about how I incorporate "parent-led schooling" in with our unschooling. Stay tuned!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Inquisition Monday: Schooling

I said I'd blog about the schooling issue. And then Betttina asked me about it for Inquisition Monday. So here it is.

Inq Mon: What made you choose unschooling? Will you ever do formal school? 

It's a choice I go around and around on. Most recently, I realized I was an unschooling mom when I was looking up the new Montessori charter school in our area. Reading their webpage I realized, "Oh wow. This is way too structured for me." It was one of those "You know you're an unschooler if..." moments.

Many of my reasons to unschool are the same as my reasons to homeschool: flexible schedule, more interaction with people of diverse ages, no stress on test performance, and more outside time and sunlight. I like that if we want to stop and deeply study something we can. I like that if someone gets sick, there's no time lost. I like that I won't have to ask permission to see my own child during the day and I can schedule dental and doctor appointments at anytime. 

As far as unschooling over other forms of homeschooling, for me, unschooling seems the most realistic for us. I know parents who have paid lots of money for curriculums to find out they only used only a small part of what they paid for, if any. And then they try to resell their unused stuff. And I've seen that happen so many times that I've decided I don't want to be in that situation. With library cards and youtube and the Internet filled with art projects, book report ideas, and the whole nine yards. We have a community of homeschoolers with many talents and knowledge they can share. Having something set that we have to go through regularly would really irk me to the point of abandoning it. Just as I like not knowing what's next on my to do list, I like the open-endedness of unschooling.

Right now we go to an unschooling group. I started attending last summer when some of Margaret's friends started going to preschools and there was no one for her to play with. I wanted a homeschool group that wouldn't bombard me with philosophies and curriculums: I wanted a place where my kids could just hang out. They have a regular park day as well as other activities ranging from LARPing to math afternoons to hikes. The group also sends out reminders for other general interest activities in the Bay Area: homeschool fairs, charity activities, homeschool prom, the Maker Faire, field trips, museum days, etc. I don't go to many of the non-park day activities because my kids are small. We tried a hike in January and we were definitely the last ones in the pack. When they get bigger, it'll be different.

I also recently tried a general homeschooling park group and I might keep going to their park days. They are on a day that I generally have free and some of the parks they go to are very local to me. I might skip the ones that are further. There is another homeschool group that I have heard a lot about and I might check that one out in the future as well.

Besides the park days, our homeschooling looks like this: I read to the kids half an hour each day. I'm considering increasing this to an hour since half an hour is actually really short. We go to the library weekly, various play groups and park days 2-3 days every week. We decorate the house with art projects and we garden. Isaac loves to cook with me. I recently found some maps and put them on the wall. Margaret tells me that she wants to visit Africa, provided, of course, that there are people in Africa- she wanted to make sure she'd get to meet new people if we ever travelled. Mostly, we live. Margaret especially likes it when we go help people breastfeed, which is something I do from time to time. In fact, the other day she was playing by herself and I heard this remark between she and her imaginary playmate: 

"Hi! How are you? You need help breastfeeding? Ok!"


Sometimes I attempt more structured learning and it goes one of two ways:

Recently my "pressure to conform" sense had been telling me that Margaret needed to learn handwriting, but Margaret's desire to not do handwriting had been beating me out. She told me, "I write 'H' and 'M' and that's it." Ok, then.

Last week that same sense told me Margaret needed to learn to spell her name. Kids her age at church can spell theirs! Conform! 'Margaret' is a long name, so I made up a song and on the way home from the library we sang it together and now she can spell "Margaret." Moral of the story: sometimes she'll let me direct her learning and sometimes she won't.

This summer we're planning on starting Margaret on an instrument. She loves music and makes up songs all the time. When she was 2, she would line up her blocks and pretend they were a keyboard. Our rice pot was a "pot guitar" for a long time. She likes to use my knitting needles as a violin and bow.  I think it's safe to say we should find a musical outlet for her.

I don't know what we'll be doing in 2 years (I hope it's Girl Scouts and 4H!), but what we're doing now is working for now. When it no longer works, then we'll change it up. Nothing needs to be decided right now. 

Betttina- I'll get around to your second question for next week.

Also, I've recently been thinking about how I want to share some of our homeschooling adventures, but I don't necessarily want to turn this into a homeschooling blog. I think I'll do a weekly homeschooling feature in order to balance that. Every Saturday, perhaps?

The pictures in this post are from an activity a fellow homeschooler invited us to. We ended up climbing down some rocks and throwing stones into the Bay.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday Fill-ins

1. Speed demon.
2. Quiet time is what I've been looking forward to!
3. One of the things I like most about traveling is the "road trip" feeling.
4. A lot of paperwork makes me think I need an administrative assistant. 
5. A road trip to Sacramento soon!
6. Leftover mineral broth is what I had for dinner last night.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to a chocolate tasting event, tomorrow my plans include knitting and Sunday, I want to knit! Knitterz gonna knit. 

 Things that have been happening: Schooling decisions gave me a minor meltdown a couple of weeks ago. I started writing about it here and decided it needed its own post. Later.

 In trying to figure out why I haven't been posting here, I've come to a couple of conclusions. First, I'm spread a little thin. What with keeping up with Margaret and knitting and blogging at the Exponent and other volunteer stuff I do, plus I'm working on a non-disclosure agreement project. This blog doesn't get a lot of love.

 Second, now that Isaac is no longer a baby, I have to keep up with 2 small children. And when I was 20-21 months postpartum with Margaret, I was pregnant with Isaac. That means I was able to blog about pregnancy and such. I don't have that this time.

 We've been gardening. Cucumbers are sprouting. The eggplant sprouts are doing well, as are the tomatoes. The pepper sprouts came up a little late, but I think it'll work out.

 Happy Easter to the Eastern Orthodox world! You lucky ducks get Easter candy on sale!

Friday, April 06, 2012

Sharing the Breastfeeding Love

When I walk into our local library, the entranceway is filled with fliers and magazines and announcements of various local events and resources. Breastfeeding being constantly on my mind, I looked around to see if there was any breastfeeding information available.


So I asked the librarian if I could put some breastfeeding materials out in that common area. She said as long as it was free, go ahead, and also asked if I had posters or something so they could hang them up in the children's section of the library. And she wanted to know how to share such information/posters/etc with the other libraries in Oakland. has booklets on breastfeeding that are free to whomever wants them. I ordered a bunch last fall when I was going to give a talk on breastfeeding, and I have a lot of extras. I brought them in and placed them on the shelves. When the World Breastfeeding Week action folders are available, I'm going to see if they have posters like they did last year, since the librarian specifically asked for posters. I'm also going to make sure my librarian has links to these so she can share them with the other library branches and they can share the breastfeeding love, too.

Just wanted to share a little bit of easy lactivism. Your library might want to do this, too. Also on my list: get in touch with our local breastfeeding coalition and start going to meetings, if I can.