Saturday, July 30, 2011

Homeschooling, Working and Routine

OK, this is my game plan, still in the testing stages. It is born of eight months of experience, many moments of worry and many happy hours of planning. Many mothers have a lot more years of doing this than I do, but each family is an individual unit made up of unique individuals. I am looking for a method that will work for us. 

First things first; consistency and rhythm. My first two children were brought up on a strict schedule. I only had two, and they were close in age, it was easy. By the time baby no. 3 arrived, they were in preschool, which meant drop-offs during morning nap time and pick-ups during afternoon nap time. This sweet girl would sleep in her car seat, or on the floor even (the proof that one has more than 2 kids), so things were still pretty easy. After that, I kept to a fairly regular routine, despite two more children, my husband working changing shifts for three years and new activities at new times. 

As the baby has become a four-year-old and largely immune to the need for naps, as the older children have reclaimed a later bedtime, and since I've begun working,  schedules have fluctuated and become less rigid, less predictable. This has not been without consequences. Behavior troubles have sky-rocketed and sibling rivalry has reached an all-time bad level. How do I know it's about rhythm?

This is what I've heard from them: "why are you messing up our schedule to go do something else??" (i.e. an unscheduled visit to someone in a nursing home.) Or yet again, "we never have any time at home." These are children who are homeschooled, who only go out for park day, kung-fu or theatre, guitar class, church, girl scouts, museum visits, twice (at least) weekly library trips, "play dates", (I hate that word), occasional errands to the grocery or thrift store, walks in the woods or family outings. No wonder they are socially handicapped, poor things. True, some of these outings have been increasingly moved to the am when we normally stay home and take care of chores and school, both because of my work schedule and because of evening activities. That does create a sense of chaos for some of my children. They are the ones who need me to create order for them in their world. I will honor that for the sake of their sanity and mine. 

I am renewing my commitment to stability and a regular rhythm. This, for us, means to bed on time, up and ready at a certain time, breakfast over, chores done, computer turned off and ready for a walk. The two weeks they spent at theatre camp were so refreshing this summer because those were the rules and they understood why they needed them; otherwise they could not stay awake, much less function in a 7-hr. a day intensive program. We were all ready and productive at 8:30 am. I loved it. Not to say that this cannot happen when we stay home, but the pressure is not there. For many, this is one of the great advantages to homeschooling. In my opinion, that is their right and privilege; having the option to run your house and your timetable the way you choose. This is freedom, this is why we love our lifestyle.

Next, a plan not unlike that of the past; walk, morning greeting (reciting together our poem of the week for the older ones, circle time for the two youngest), first hour, first assignment, this is when I will have a lesson with my first-grader, occupy my preschooler. Second 90 minutes second assignment, with each of the older three taking a turn with a younger one to read for 15-30 minutes while I give individual lessons or help to one of the others. Last 30 minutes; read aloud with Mama, all together. Then lunch; we always eat lunch and supper together, individual quiet time for an hour, and resume any other work left unfinished. Then it will be time for kung-fu or the library, unless there is a scheduled chiro, doctor or dental visit.

It sounds simple, but so many variables can easily get in the way of keeping to this schedule; doctors who need to be seen at 10am, friends who need a babysitter, an unfinished project from the day before, and work. The very nature of my work as an interpreter is to be available as much as possible. This can get tricky when a call comes for surgery at 5:30 am the next day or an emergency room right now. I hope by firmly re-establishing our rhythm, it will be easier for the children to carry on in my absence. Is it harder without me? Sure. Are they learning important life skills by coping on their own and getting along together without an adult? Definitely. As often as possible, their father will be working from home while I go to work, but they will still need to stick to the schedule in order to accomplish their work and to keep it all nice and peaceful. I will restrict my hours to no more than 2 days a week. I really do love being home with them. I believe that being a homemaker is a full-time, true occupation. I believe in being there, creating and maintaining this harmonious place. I love my work too, and like millions of women past and present, I am hoping to combine the two successfully. If you find yourself doing the same, your thoughts are most welcome. Good luck to you!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Tuxy the Ten-Inch Teddy Bear

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We have a new member of the family. He is black and curly and weighs 2.8lbs or 1.4kilos. He is a love and a joy and a challenge all at once.

The story of where he came from and how he got here is one of so much emotion that I had to give the events a good long while to dissipate in my guilty conscience before I tried to set them down. Jasper, our adorable cockapoo, was a fearful, damaged dog. His life path had been strewn with  too much trouble to allow us to bring him to a complete recovery . He was with us for 8 months, and in that time made great amounts of progress, but his dangerous, spontaneous biting habit was one he never conquered. He would get anxious when the kids were running around and bite one as he chased and perhaps herded them into safer play. That was the predictable reaction. The other sort was, as  happened one time too often, to suddenly snarl and chomp. The last time he did this was to a small neighbor girl and it was frightening for all involved. It was time to find him another home.

That was definitely the worst week of the summer. We all loved him so and we were all upset, but none so much as the children. Pierre and I could reason in adult terms; this dog was hurting our children and endangering our family's stability with the constant threat of a liability suit. For the children, Jasper had become a part of our family and we are not the kind of family who abandons one of their number simply because they are a hopeless cause. It was out of a desire to protect the children that we came to our conclusion; try explaining that to them!

A month or so went by and the thought of another dog was present, but I did not intend to do anything about it before a little more time and thought had gone into it, as well perhaps a vacation as a family, sans dog. However, one day I was with Aragorn at the pet/garden store, picking up a jalepeno plant, when our dog trainer spotted us and strode over to greet us. "How are you? I'm so sorry about Jasper, how is everyone doing?" My tough, 13-year old was in tears in 2 minutes. "Come on," says Ben, I have someone you have to meet. I have just the right dog for you, you need to start fresh with a new puppy." "I don't think we're quite ready for that yet..." I began, as I followed him through the store. It's a small, family-owned business and the pups are kept in big cages with cage buddies, not in little boxes in a window. You can ask to see a puppy and hold and play with them. We visited often with the puppies there, as well as the birds and kittens and bunnies..., but there is something special about a puppy. A week and a half earlier, Alienor, 9, and I had lost our hearts to a sweet, black little ball of fur, but knew better than to bring home an unplanned puppy. We played with him for half an hour or so and were so impressed with his sweet-natured self and liveliness.

Here today, Ben, the best dog-trainer in all the world, was holding up a darling little black face that was already familiar to me, urging; "just look at that face. Isn't he cute? How could you not take him home with you?" (Of course he was cute, he was the cutest puppy in the whole world, hadn't we already become besotted of him?) "Nuh-uh, not in the plans for today, leaving this weekend." "I have been training his brother and sister for a week now, they are so smart, they are really great dogs. I think he would be perfect for your family." And Ben does know our family, as he has been visiting us at home for the past 8 months, working with dog no.1.

I countered with, "wouldn't it be dangerous for him in our house with all of the feet? He's so little. How big will he get? 8lbs?! That is really small, good purse dog, if that is what you're after. I was not, or was I? Wasn't our vehicle already full when we went on road trips with five children? Did we really need to add the bulk of a giant dog as well? Is there ever a perfect time to adopt a new dog? (My husband would say; "yes, never." I say life sends us signs sometimes that we would do well to heed. We missed our dog, this one needed a home, we were receiving expert advice, without even seeking it.

So, after bringing the other children to meet him, and being begged from the very bottoms of each one's heart to bring him home, then leading Pierre to the pet store after a pleasant meal on our date night, we adopted our little Tuxy into our home. I am presenting him to you in all his puppiness and not-so-camera-easy, blackness!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Planning Lessons and Bilingual Families

I wonder if every parent of bilingual children comes to this point one day or another: to compel or not to compel a reluctant or just not so enthusiastic child to speak, read and write in his second language as well as in the first. 

Pierre and I have decided to pursue a formal level of grammar and composition in French for the children this year (the ones who are 9-14). We have come to the conclusion that since being truly bilingual means the written as well as the spoken language, it is high time the older children knew how to construct a proper sentence in French; spelling, conjugated verbs and all. This is contrary to the way I have watched these same children evolve in English. They are constant readers who are always either reading or listening to a book. Apart from a brief foray into the incredibly uninteresting world of "First Grammar Lessons," in the early years, we have never done any formal language lessons. Yet their writing is fine, rich and varied in vocabulary and expressions. True, there is a need for editing for spelling and some punctuation, but no more than an average child of their age would require.

It's just not the same in French. After years of reading to them in French, some reading on their own and the occasional letter to the relatives over there, we have simply not spent the same amount of time on the written language. They can speak fluently and they think that is pretty cool now, but learning to spell is not quite as fun or cool. 

Yet, it is what must happen. There are opportunities that will only be open to them at certain ages and only if they can read and write French at a high school level. As the adults, we know that these are a privilege. To let them pass by the chance to go to college for free, for example, would simply be negligence, and I think they would resent me later for not being stricter while they were in my care. 

Some part of me though, is wondering if my reasoning is any different than parents who keep their children at baseball or cello practice long after they are bored with it and tired out, under guise of "opportunity". I would argue that language is a natural part of being human and our family's identity is  tied into these two languages that compose our world. My unschooling, trust-your-children mind wants all learning to stem from a true desire to do so, from a place of pure joy and auto-inspiration. I think all the schools in the world would ideally be libraries, the knowledge and people of knowledge there for the seeking, never forced, never a chore.

Ah, but some things in life do not come easily. This will be a year of gentle encouragement and lively teaching as we tackle French grammar, among other things, together. Du gateau?

Dubious Impetus

I bet that anyone who bothered to read about what I had for breakfast last week, maybe the week before,  is wondering; "what?" or "who cares?"

Well, there was a reason behind the folly and menu. I heard a man's voice on the radio saying something idiotic like: "Statistics state that a woman over 40 has to work out for one hour every day just to maintain her current weight. One hour a day at the gym, to not even lose weight? That's crazy! That's why I want to offer you the opportunity to try my super-weight-loss-smoothie. For just $5 a day, you can eat and lose weight too...blah, blah, blah."

With all of my love and respect for people who sell nutritional shakes that truly help people recover health and well-being (and a comfortable weight), I just don't see the point if you know how to eat a balanced diet, or make your own smoothie from fresh ingredients. When one goes from eating hot dogs, soda and chips 3 times a day to a nutritionally balanced shake full of vitamins and good things, it is an improvement. An expensive improvement, but nonetheless better than the aforementioned diet.

So that was my response to the trend of paying someone else to mix up a blend of vitamins and stuff for you: DYI is really not just something you can do, but something it is easy and healthier to do.

This is true in many areas that are taken for granted today as having one way of being done; diapering and cleaning baby bottoms; no wipes? Try running water over the area in a pinch or when the mess is big, (don't forget to take off the socks). Keep a small baggie with a couple of cloth wipes moistened in lavender water for your purse.  Add a little tea tree oil to keep fresher longer. Think outside the box and our current time frame for anything disposable; paper towels, how about a rag drawer or bag? People did clean 100 years ago, and their environmental footprint remained microscopic compared to today. In France, homemakers and janitors still keep "la serpiere", a big, all-purpose, thick rag that can be pushed on the end of a mop to wipe up spills. Rinse, ring and wipe again.

When in doubt, just ask yourself; "What would Ma have done in her little house in the big woods?"

I have many friends who inspire me with their "from scratch" and "make it yourself" lifestyles. I know people who make everything from bread to clothing to pizza ovens. What sorts of things do you do yourself?

Here is another smoothie recipes for you, should you be so inclined to try one:

Collard greens, ripped up; fill the blender
1T frozen orange juice
a handful of frozen berries
1 scoop of protein powder
2 canned pear or peach halves
milk of choice