Saturday, January 30, 2010

Lily Surprises Herself

My Lily, thirteen years old, is stubborn and sure of what she wants to do, and just as certain of what she cannot do. She began piano lessons with a dear friend this year as her teacher. She requested piano lessons, this was not my idea. The grumbling that ensued, as she struggled to learn, was as bad as if it had been all my fault.

We have to be so careful about what we say around children. Even when they appear not to be listening, their ears are more active than we realize. One day a friend told me her mother had played the piano for years, but still played as poorly as ever, no talent at all. The next day, Lily began to say she was going to quit because she had no penchant for music, she was just hopeless and was not made for it. I was furious but felt powerless, what can one say to a teen who has made up their mind? I encouraged her to pursue this very new accomplishment and reserve her judgment for later.

A couple of weeks ago, her teacher announced a recital and gave her the choice of level two or level three music. Alienor was to be working on a level one piece, so Lily chose level three. It is a point of necessity with her that she play better than her much younger sister, though they started at the same time. She took those two pieces and panicked, at first. After we looked them over and went through a couple of scary parts, she ran with it. She has been practicing and practicing and when it was lesson time last Friday, she did a brilliant job of playing. Her teacher, bless her, was impressed, and even Lily, herself, felt a sense of having made major strides. She realized, I hope, that she can do this music thing, it is inside of her and working its way out. It may be a question of patience, of confidence, of talent or all three, but it is coming together for her and I am happy for her.

Friday, January 22, 2010

When Bad Things Happen: Haiti

The talk at our table lately has been focused on the terrible earthquake in Haiti one week ago. Tonight Pierre and I had more stories to tell; Pierre heard of a two-week-old baby found alive today, hurrah! and I heard from someone who was in Haiti as a missionary and how barely tolerable life was there for 95% of the population. This was before mass destruction hit.

It is hard to communicate to children what we can scarcely understand ourselves: living conditions of such extreme poverty that no hardship they have known has been even a faint echo of life there. Add to that a natural disaster that has utterly destroyed all that they called home and left so many dead and the survivors starving, injured and alone. For the youngest, I would not want to describe this reality too graphically, for the older ones, words fail me.

Lily, thirteen, was stricken. She wants to help. Her first question was: "how old do I have to be to go and help?" When told that was not possible now for anyone but military personnel, her next instinct would have been to empty her bank account and send all she has to help.

I just heard of a way that a young, talented knitter and seamstress might be able to make a difference, Crafthope; from their website: "All proceeds of the Craft Hope Etsy shop will benefit Doctors Without Borders in Haiti. All items have been generously donated by the crafting community. If you'd like to donate an item please visit the Craft Hope website (" I found out about the site from another blog;, a beautiful blog on Waldorf homeschooling.

I think we have a project for Friday morning, won't you join us?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Morning in January

It's 1:30 pm. The three boys are racing around like small maniacs on miniature cars throughout the downstairs. One car came crashing down the basement steps after me as I went to take care of the laundry, sheesh, I really should be getting hazard pay.

We worked on math in fun ways this morning. There were some really beautiful drawings made. Alienor's gnome king castle was besieged while she was drawing the watch gnome calling out the hours was on the tower. It ended up being a scene of the bad gnomes storming the castle of the good gnomes; archers shooting, crocodiles in the moat, dead flowers that had been trampled. I think she is working some things out through her drawing...but I'm better off if I don't try to think what. Arthur drew a beautiful bunny from the Velveteen Rabbit, surrounded by trees and flowers, all in a sunny sky. Then he drew another, holding a machine gun and looking for trouble.

We had a walk in the new world of freshly fallen snow on all of the tree boughs and on the paths around the creek, finished up math and the history lessons the older two are working on, then made lunch. Our meals are a funny mix of "normal" and "special" these days. The kids had leftover black bean salad, quesadillas, salad and shrimp. Of those, only the shrimp and salad fit into my dietary restrictions, but who's complaining when shrimp is on the menu? [I am on an elimination diet, so it looks like water, lamb, vegetables, pears, nuts and shrimp is it for me for now. They are good, nutritious choices, and I am trying really hard not to think about pizza, wine and chocolate cake.]

Nap time, wouldn't it be nice if I had a chance to knit and finish "Shakespeare in Love" while they were having quiet time today?
Posted by A Homeschool Story at 11:37 AM

Friday, January 15, 2010

Resistance, or When to Push Back, When to Let Go

The title says it all, that is my question for you today and the topic for my meanderings.

As an unschooling mother who respects her children as individuals with the intelligence and human right to make their own decisions, giving them as much self-direction as possible in life is normal.

My Waldorf background and my (sometimes dubious) status as an adult with a few more years of life experience, leads me to steer them in my direction at times.

How to harmoniously reconcile these two on a day-to-day basis and throughout childhood and adolescence? Good question, huh?

I love the freedom homeschooling gives us all to live outside of the restrictions of a "normal" school day or office day. If a child is deeply engrossed in a project, they may keep at it for hours or even weeks on end. No bells will ring, no principals demand that we "keep on task." If we start out on a path that is not working for anyone, we are free to change direction. Hate the first half of that book? Take it back to the library and get another, there will not be a quiz on it later.

On the other hand, I like the idea that we all have all lived through one or more previous existences that made us who we are today. In that line of thinking, each of us chose to come to this particular family and place for a reason. I learn from my kids every day. I learn to laugh at the little stuff, to have patience when they are doing their best to destroy both my home and each other. I daily meditate on what my role is in my family's life and how to improve my way of carrying it out. Bake another loaf of chocolate bread or cut out the sugar? Stay home and work or go sledding instead? I also let the children know that since they have chosen me as a mother, there may be things they are supposed to learn from me as well. One of those things might just be persistence.

It is a hard line to draw. If the toddler wearing no diaper says "no" for a few hours on end to needing a potty break, you can either change the wet pants later or gently lead him to stop playing and do what needs to be done before that point. Likewise, if my eight-year-old breaks down during a math lesson. Do I respect the fact that she has had enough already and wait until tomorrow or do I look deeper and see that what she is really looking for is encouragement and a little more of my time and patience? When my thirteen-year-old, who previously requested my assistance in mapping out her history reading, decides that she hates the Renaissance and is bored silly with everything but Egyptians, do I drop the Renaissance like a hot crepe dripping with burning chocolate sauce on a no-carbs day, or do I find new ways to interest her in the topic? Some days it really is hard to tell the difference. It is equally easy to let it go and let them find their own way as it is to pull rank and insist it be done "now!" Some space in between the two is called for. How do you find that fine balance with your children?

This is where daily prayer/meditation is so important. With five children, all with different temperaments and different needs, it is a wonderful way to attune myself to where each one is on this path and how I might adjust to make it work for this child. I can look inside and discover reasons for my own insistence upon or resistance to an idea. A good source for those wishing to learn more about meditation and motherhood is a program that started up a few months ago, called "Be a Beacon." Click on this link: to learn more about working on life's smaller and larger questions through inner work.

There are many wonderful resources for both sides of the question. One favorite influence that comes to mind is David Albert, homeschooling author of; Homeschooling and the Voyage of Self-Discovery and And the Skylark Sings with Me - Adventures in Homeschooling and Community-Based Education who makes the case for permitting a child to drop an instrument they no longer want to practice/play immediately. He talks about it from the perspective of an adult; when we try something and really don't care for it, we are free to change our minds and pursue another interest. Played floor hockey for a season and it was a bunk? You might quit and join a chess club. He also stresses that learning does not happen in a nice, neat, sequenced sort of way. His famous advice for math; "if they're not getting sixth grade math, give them seventh-grade math!" He is the father of two very talented daughters, both homeschooled and both in college today.

From the other end of the perspective, Rhythms of Learning : What Waldorf Education Offers Children, Parents & Teachers (Vista Series, V. 4)
is an in-depth view of Waldorf Education at each age and stage of the life of a child from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Rudolph Steiner's own words and Roberto Trostli's expansion of the lectures, give a great guide to the whys and hows of bringing certain material to children of a certain age. Steiner's philosophy is that each age can relate to certain times in history because the epochs in history correspond to a time in a child's development.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Out of town!

One of my favorite things to do is to stay home, really. I could knit, read and play with the kids all day long for months on end. My other absolute favorite thing to do is to travel. I am excited to announce that we have planned a really big trip, coming up in the spring.

We are going to France for three months; exactly ninety days. We will be in the same town as our French family, but traveling to see friends around the country here and there. It has been four years since I last saw France and I did not realize how much I have missed being there.

Last time someone very kindly loaned us a car we could all fit into. I crashed it. This time the same person is loaning us our very own apartment. I promise not to crash or trash it. We will also get around on bicycles or by train, much safer. People have been so very generous that I am pretty sure we will arrive to a perfectly clean, fully furnished, down to a tv and nice dishes, home for three months.

We will be in a tiny town with a real main street. There are merchants of every sort lining the streets; bakeries, butchers, green grocers, a daily market under the halls, not to mention bookstores, a yarn shop, perfumeries, creameries, banks, a post office. There is even a library and a couple of indoor pools that do not require membership to use.

The main object of our visit is to spend time with the family. The second "agenda" is for the children to bask in their French culture and recover their fluency in the language. The third; get some writing done while the kiddies play with grama and grandpa. We have visions of the two of us with our laptops sitting outdoors at a cafe, working away in the sunshine, watching the people go by, or home in our little apartment without children for five minutes...ah, la belle France!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Extreme weather sports

My world just got bigger and better. My husband brought home a pair of Yaktrax Pro Traction Cleats for Snow and Ice as an early birthday present. I had been hoping for a pair of my own since seeing them at a friend's house the other day. Her husband came home from a walk and I asked if things had not been too slippery. He showed me these little contraptions that slip over the bottom of your shoes. They had steel springs that dig into the snow or ice to let you walk without trouble over winter sidewalks and streets, whether or not you can see the path at all. The past couple of days, with temperatures of below zero, I avoided trying them out, but this morning Pierre pushed me out the door, despite 1 degree temperature and the 19 below wind chill factor.

I made my way down the street, cautiously at first, testing out the theory that even on ice I would not fall, going faster and faster, little by little. I only stopped to remove my glasses when they fogged up and froze, or adjust my scarf so that my face wouldn't fall off in the bitter cold. Soon I was up to normal walking speed, crunch-crunching confidently across snow, across ice, across icy snow, unshoveled walks and driveways, bumpy lumps left by the snow plow, you name it. I jogged along the bike path for a time, though I did not feel dressed for jogging with my bulky coat, pants and other gear. It was exhilarating, it was liberating, I was out and it didn't matter if no one had shoveled or if the city never cleaned the streets, I could walk, fast.

My husband has taken up extreme biking. Since we chose to become a one-car family, he needed to upgrade his equipment in order to make it to work in all sorts of weather. He added studded tires, some serious lights, a ski mask, snow goggles and an extra layer under his flannel-lined jeans. His Southern-French self is greatly enjoying being one of about three people around here to bike daily year-round.

So, before I hit "publish", I have to tell you that my son saw the title and beginning of the post and let me know, in that bubble-bursting way our children have, that walking was in no way an "extreme sport." I told him to re-read the title, it is "extreme weather" sports, not "extreme sports." He argued that no one would ever consider walking a sport. I beg to differ. It gets one's heart pumping, body moving and keeps one fit. And if you are out in twenty below temps, just breathing is a sport. Besides, it's not like I said I was ouii walking, for goodness' sake.