Me: "Who has the best seat in the house, me or daddy?"

Adam: "Well, Daddy's is nice, but yours is best. Your's is squishier."

Friday, September 26, 2014

Let me take you on a little tangent

Last night we had donuts for dinner.

My kids told our neighbor all about it when they took a bowl full of donut holes over to say thanks for the cup of milk we had borrowed to make them.  When Doug told his wife, Betty, of our sumptuous supper, she refused to believe it.  It just didn't sound like something I would do.  Well, I do now!

If you know me well, you know that I have the skill of tangents.  No, not the math ones, but the start-and-stop story-telling that is a bit like my mother's "Refrigerator Soup", a little of this, a little of that, all somehow coming together to make a nice, if not somewhat perplexing, final product.  Some folks hate it.  "Get to the POINT!"  they scream in their heads.  What can I say?  It's the way my brain works.

So buckle up.  Here comes one.

The homeschool model we follow (Thomas Jefferson Leadership Education or TJ Ed), is sometimes confusing if not down right frightening to a lot of folks.  There are a few simple concepts.  Kids are hardwired to learn.  It is what has kept us all from still being in diapers and sucking our thumbs as adults (well, most of us).  If we get out of the way and stop being academic bullies, kids will gravitate towards things that they want to learn, and in the process they will learn a bunch of other cool stuff.  If you push 'em, they push back (I think that's a science concept, isn't it?  For every lame parental action, there is an equal and opposite resistant kid reaction...), if you force, they stop learning the groovy thing you are trying to teach them and start learning how to hate learning.  Also, like that whole "If you build it, they will come" notion from Field of Dreams, if you inspire them, they will want to learn. 

In traditional schools, topics are separated.  Though there might be some amazing math concepts in the building of the pyramids, we are told to stick with the history on that one.  Math is for another hour.  With TJ Ed, we are encouraged to allow kids to go with the learning flow, to open up an idea and see where it takes us.  Tangential learning.  This is very hard from the conveyor-belt educational standpoint in which most of us were raised.  What happens if we never get back to the first topic we started with?  What happens if we jump around too much?  We can't just go all willy-nilly, exploring history and literature and other such compartmentalized topics without a map!  What if we get lost and DON'T LEARN ANYTHING?!?!?

Yah, that's gonna happen. 

So I have begun to embrace the tangent.  It started out small.  Tessa saw the word "albatross" in a book and asked what it was.  We looked up a picture, and compared wing spans with other birds. Then I remembered my amazing 7th grade English teacher, Mr. Clerkin, from Scotland, who had us stand each day and recite stanzas from "The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner".  I still have them memorized. So I found a reading of it on YouTube set to old illustrations, and we listened to it, all 27 minutes of it! Then we listened to certain parts over again.  The girls were blown away by the dead crew becoming reanimated by a legion of angels as they piloted the ship back to land.  "Zombies!"  they laughed.  It was full of hard words and thrilling twists, and a moral that was not missed by the girls.

A few days later I mentioned on facebook my "Albatross Painting" that is long, long overdue and needs to get done so I can be relieved of the burden of it.  Ethan asked about why I had called it that, and Ellie told him about the story of the Ancient Mariner who killed the albatross and was forced to wear it around his neck as a reminder of his folly.  It was pretty darn cool to have her tell him what my reference had meant.

Then last week I was wanting to teach the kids about French Impressionism.  I began with the early influences of Japanese prints and, well, before I knew what was happening, the kids were all wearing kimonos and we were watching ancient Kabuki theater revival and practicing Kabuki Mie poses,  and coloring the traditional face paint of the villans (blue), good guys (red) and spirits (brown) on prints of 200 year old images.  We spent 3 hours watching dance battles, and even Jonah didn't seem to notice that, um, we don't speak Japanese.  We never got back to impressionism, which bothered me at first, but as the kids chattered away at Guy at the end of the day about our amazing school time, I was able to let it go.  Who cares what I thought they should learn?  They LEARNED!

Then yesterday I really GOT IT.  I didn't resist; I jumped into the River Tangent and let it carry us. We were reading a great book called Little Britches by Ralph Moody.  We read it a few years ago, but a classic can be a source of learning over and over as our lives change and we take on new challenges.  In the book, the boy talks about being picked up by a pack of cowboys and ridden home amongst their thundering horses, their revolvers flashing in their holsters, and how he was sure that was what it must have felt like in "The Charge of the Light Brigade", a poem his mother often quoted from memory.

You know what came next.

We read the poem, watched a little dramatization of it, and saw pictures of the few survivors of that fateful band of brave young men.  I never knew anything about that battle until that moment.  I guess I missed that one back in school.

Then,  back in our book, a neighbor feeds the boy homemade donuts.  Do you see where I'm going with this?

We measured, doubling fractions and then reducing them.  We did chemistry as we mixed milk and vinegar and watched the fats curdle.  We experimented with the heat of the oil and learned at what temperature the baking soda released the maximum amount of gas for the fluffiest donuts.

And then we had them for dinner.

When I was a kids my mother would make donuts about once a year and then let us have them for dinner.  

But that's another tangent.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

We've Been Here Before

Last week's beach trip was the same beach we went to on our last trip to the coast.

And of course we visited Joyce. 
 She took us to IHOP, our usual place.

While we visited with her back at her house, she pointed out that Natalie was playing with the coaster set on the table.  It is the same coaster set that, beginning with Ethan, each of my babies has gleefully played with on our Aunty-Joyce-visits.  She said she has often thought about the fact that she never uses them, but can't bring herself to get rid of them.  Too many memories of too many little hands.

And, also, while we were there, Natalie got her hands on Jonah's toothbrush.  
One of the kids rescued it from her pudgy little mitts, and she began to cry.

and cry.

and cry.

and not breathe.

and turn blue.

and have a seizure.

We've been here before.  If you have been reading here for a while you will know about Jonah's hypoxic seizures.  They started just before his first birthday and mostly stopped a year later, though he had a cluster of them last year for a couple of months.

Natalie's first seizure was only half a minute or so, whereas Jonah's had been a minute and a half.  There was no ambulance ride this time, no tests, second hospital, monitors or doctors.
We know what to do.

I held her, gently whispering, "It's okay baby, it's okay," till she came back,
till her eyes stopped rolling up in her head, till she went limp in my arms and dozed for a few seconds.

When she woke a moment later, an offended look came across her face.  She sobbed a little and I held her, rocking her, answering Joyce's earnest concern now with my own calm, "She'll be okay."

And I know she will.  We've been here before.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Circles in the Sand

There is a new clock ticking inside of me, not the one that used to say "Hurry up lady! Make a baby already!  Your eggs are lookin' like raisins in here!"  No, the cuckoo in that clock don't sing no mo'. This is a different clock that strikes a heavy, resounding gong with each of the kids' passing birthdays. It says "We are turning into grow-ups right before your eyes. Times...running...out..."

I wanna smash that clock with a hammer. 

I am starting to recognize that, as one day runs like a drippy nose into the other, the thing that keeps the days from blurring together is variety. While we have loved our big trips, Guy and I are thinking that day trips will be the key to having experiences more often that will create memories that don't seem to wash away with the monotony of days. 

So we jumped into September with two sandy feet. As we rounded up sunblock and sand toys, a certain teenaged somebody parked his tukus in a chair and dug in his heals. Sadly, a day trip with little kids and sand aren't what his adolescent heart considers to be fun. We left him behind. I was sad. 

Our day at the beach was not unique from that spent by a thousand other families up and down the California coast on this day. Sand in the chip bag, on the blanket, and between pudgy fingers. The day may never have stood out in my mind until Adam started his creation. 

It began slowly. He was sliding his feet in the sand leaving a circular trail. Soon it was a spiral 15 feet wide. Spirals are just magical to me, and he soon had my full attention as he left this one and began a new one nearby. I don't remember even getting up, but soon I was making one, and in a few minutes I looked across the way to see Guy had joined us as well. 

We quietly worked, sliding our feet as the sand mounded and furrowed in our wake. At times we passed very near each other as spirals expanded to each other's edges. Other times we were a hundred feet away from each other, and once, our three different circles closed in on each other as we found ourselves near enough to touch, almost crashing, and then leading us out and away again. 

There was such a pleasantness working away on this sand art with each other. The little ones admired, but didn't want to attempt it. It felt important and they were being careful not to step into it. 

The nature of this continuous merging and looping made it hard to stop, and maybe it's because we are all a little OCD that it actually took a rouge band of seagulls stealing all of our chips to break the spell. 

The final image was enormous and so, so beautiful. And the process made me think about parenting, and how that changes over time. How our involvement with older children takes on new patterns as they move in and out of our circle of influence.  How we hope that through their trials and difficulties, they will keep coming back around to the core truths we have tried to instill in them, and though they will leave our immediate sphere, we will always want them to come back around to their first nest.

It grew late and soon it was time to leave. We left our amazing creation behind of course, though I would have liked to roll it up like a Persian rug and bring it home with me.  

And I can. In my head, and in the feeling in the souls of my feet, and Adam's funny, busy smile etched in my mind. 

You know, spirals are a symbol of life, constant, ever growing and expanding, but never carving the same path as before.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The One that Didn't Get Away

Look back at your life.  Somewhere there is a person you knew when you were young that you adored, that made you a better person, that was larger than life, magical.  You meant to stay in touch, tried even, but life took you down two different paths and somehow they got away.

That didn't happen with Jackie.

It could have, easily.  She lives in Idaho.  College was a long time ago.  Life is busy.  But it is not so busy that Jackie and I have not managed to keep that tender spot in our hearts open for each other.  She is the one that didn't get away.  After our time enjoyed with Guy's sister, Kathi, we tootled on up the road a mere 30 minutes and were with Jackie and John and their girls and sundry animals for the last few days of our big trip.

Not much that we did merits a blow by blow account here, though staying up til dawn talking, and looking out upon the moonlit fields in every direction while visiting, perched on a pile of palates with six farm kitties vying for our attention were most definitely highlights (and for those of you who know that I don't like cats, you must understand that I don't like spoiled, city cats that live pampered lives and eat food from a can, begging to be pet, only to sink their teeth into your hand 5 seconds later when they feel "done".  No, my friends.  But country cats - thin, sleek and mouse fed, independent but grateful for the occasional pat on the head - are an entirely different story!).  

But there was one evening I will want to record, just to make super-sure it doesn't dim in my memory.  John invited us to go 4-wheeling.  It was summer-evening time, and the sun was low.  We drove out to the hills and took turns on the beasts.  When it was our turn, Jackie and I took the Ellie and Tessa on the backs of our quads and headed for a place Jackie called "the bone yard".  It was up a dirt road a good ways, and the setting sun cast a moody, pink light all around.  We turned off the main road to a side trail, and there on the ground we passed dozens of skeletons.  Bones of cows, sheep, deer, even horses, lay all around.  Some were poised as though they had just lain down to die right on the spot.  Others were pulled in half by coyotes.  Then there were the strewn bones that had been trampled, maybe by off-roaders like us, and lay like blanched confetti all around.  One cow, newer than the rest, still had they hide stretched over its frame, though it was sun dried and tightly pulled across the ribs.  It had a rope still tied to its hind legs by which it had been dragged. 

 It was a strange and other worldly-place, clearly created by humans, though we were the only souls around.  We got off our quads and walked carefully around the bone yard.  There was a sad reverence there, and a feeling in me of mystery and mischief all at the same time.  The girls were smitten by the wildness of the whole thing, and seemed a little awestruck that the mamas were the ones spearheading this venture into the unknown.  We explored, curiosity taking the driver's seat, looking closer at the remains, imagining the reasons they had gotten here.  We felt bold and brave, and left feeling changed.

We were met by slightly cranky husband-faces when we got back to the cars.  We hadn't realized how long we had been out.  The sun had set and it was getting dark.  I felt sheepish, a mischievous child caught in the act, and guilty that we were gone so long that we had swallowed up the remaining time.  Guy didn't even get to ride.  But honestly, walking around the bone yard with my girls felt so adventurous.
It may be my favorite memory from this trip, and that is saying a mouthful, because it was a trip full of amazing moments.  

The shirt says it all... crazy!


Bone Yard finds.

Road Warriors

Ellie and Gracie

Emma and Tessa

When it was time to say goodbye to Jackie, I tucked our precious time spent together into a pocket in my heart.  I cried, but Jackie was stoic.  I cried some more as we drove across the Idaho hills and into the Nevada dessert.  I hate saying goodbye to her.  Though she is one of the precious few friends I have held fast to, that doesn't make leaving her any easier.

For 200 miles she sent me text messages with reasons I should turn around and come back.  
All numbered.  They were most convincing.

I spent the next 200 miles making a list of reasons she should come visit us.  
My list was equally compelling.  I think it is her turn.

A few grey hairs between us.  
Ok, mostly me.

(shhh.  don't tell on me.  I took a picture of the boy. 
 I thought he looked very handsome)

Potty break...

in a potty with very confusing mosaics on the walls!

Yes, they were unforgettable.  

"...we're on a road to nowhere..."

Somewhere in the middle of "nowhere".

A monument made by a Native American chief in the dessert that was begun in the 1960's, and made ENTIRELY of junk he found in the dessert.

Don't ask me.  I have no idea.

We thought we would stop in Reno and go to an inexpensive buffet.  Ha, that is a very funny joke.  After choking our way through the casino to get to the restaurant (why on EARTH are people allowed to smoke in public buildings?!?!?), we took one look at the prices and walked right back out.  $15 for a kid's meal?  I think not.

As we left the building, a woman admiring the kids said, "They're beautiful".  I thanked her and said I thought so, too.  Then as we were walking away, she called out, "Keep them close to you."  Her look was intense and kind, and though I usually feel irked when strangers try to give me parenting advice, this time I could see clear to her heart.  She sensed these children's importance (like that of all children), and her words were less of a warning, and more of a wish.  Keep them close.  Not just to guard against the world and it's ways, the smoke filled casinos and the dangers, but close.  Close enough to be the one they turn to in times of need.  Close enough to make memories out of time spent together.

We left the casino-buffet and went to Johnny Rockets.
It was quiet.
We had fries.
And milkshakes.
And there wasn't much talking.
Everyone was spent...
all tuckered out.

Just like you, after reading about this trip.  
Thanks for hanging in there with me.  

Oh. my. cute. ness.

The world through Jonah's eyes.

Home sweet home.