Monday, September 30, 2013

Productivity and... Wait, It's Almost October?!?

I discovered today (quite by accident, I assure you) that tomorrow is the first day of October.  I knew it was coming, because Oz and I spent the weekend watching helplessly as our hands and feet carried us around the house and yard putting up Halloween decorations, but I somehow still expected September to last another week or three.

My mantel.  Most of it, anyway.  You can't see the black roses in this shot.
I may have a serious Dept. 56 problem. 
I didn't even notice the candle had fallen until just now.
Wow, I'm observant.
Suck it, Pinterest.  My son's closet offers
better choices than your store-bought ones any day.
Still, we got a lot done this weekend.  In addition to all my decorating, Oz changed out the rocks in our front garden.  I say 'garden' - that's not entirely an accurate description unless you consider a rock garden a garden, which I guess I don't.  This unplantable space is good only when it rains, because it floods like the Flavian Amphitheatre during sea battles, which keeps the porch from flooding, and I like that, because a waterlogged porch isn't on my list of things that make me happy.  Formerly it held a bunch of red-brown lava rock and several very large pieces of sandstone.  Both Oz and I thought those didn't match the character of the house, and I can also tell you from experience that walking on lava rocks with your bare feet is a bad, bad idea.  The new rocks are much nicer on the soles.  Lava rocks also are not a very effective barrier for plants because they're lightweight and somehow maintain a lot of space in between the stones.  I had to spray for weeds, which I hate doing, about every month or so, and even then the weeds were multiplying.  Oz put down a new double layer of landscaping fabric under the new rocks, which makes me love him even more.  We'll see how this holds up.

New rocks.  Way better. 
I also hauled myself into the kitchen and made cake doughnuts and triple-chocolate cookies.  The doughnuts were for me, more or less, and I realized how dependent I've become on my cast iron pans for frying things when I decided, for some unknown reason, not to use cast iron to fry the doughnuts and the kids came down during the middle of a very frustrating fry session and hollered, "FISH STICKS!!!!"  Suffice to say the doughnuts were getting a bit burnt.  I couldn't get the oil temperature to stabilize to save my life.  Stupid electric cooktops and non-cast-iron pans... I will say this, though.  Toss burned doughnuts in cinnamon and sugar, and all is forgiven.

Please ignore the state of my sink.
We're focusing our negative energy on the pan.
Not forgotten, though.  Stupid pan.

Mmmmm taste the char.  A food blogger I am not.
The cookies were payment to Oz for all the effort he's put in around the house lately.  He's been working overtime to keep me fat 'n' happy, and he's succeeding admirably.  He's been dying for cookies for a long while, so I finally hunted down the recipe I'd saved on Pinterest and made him a gigantic batch (seriously... the recipe made 95 cookies.  NINETY-FIVE.  That number hasn't seemed so significant to me since I was in catechism class as a 6th grader and had to learn about Luther's Ninety-Five Theses in great detail).  I prized a dozen out of his clutches and took them to a friend's house because she was driving us to dinner at a restaurant downtown where we met up with two other women and scored free lemon drops courtesy of the anonymous gentleman who left before the drinks were served so we couldn't even thank him and tell him that for some of us **hackhackMEhackhack** that was the first drink they'd ever had that was sent over and purchased by someone else.  Delicious.

Triple-chocolate cookies make the Oz Cookie Monster happy.
So, anyway, tomorrow is the first day of October.  My son will turn 11 in a week and a half.  I'm really not okay with this, but apparently it's not up to me and time will march on whether I like it or not, and if you try to tell the boy that he isn't allowed to turn 11, he will laugh at you.  Don't ask how I know.  He lost his sixth (seventh?) tooth of the year yesterday, and he's got yet another tooth that's actually being absorbed (GROSS) because there's nothing to push it out and he refuses to let me pull it even though it has no root.  Soon his mouth will be full of adult teeth and adult thoughts emerging as adult words.  With teenage attitude, of course, but the seeds are planted for eventual maturity... I hope.

I simply cannot believe how quickly this year is going by.  I really do think it's time to hibernate now.  Anyone wanna join me? 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Homemade History, Week 10

No pictures today; they simply didn't happen this week.  Not that we did a lot of things that were photogenic.  This will also be short.  My back is spasming, and sitting hurts.

Week 10 Topic:  Crete - Minoans and Mycenaeans

Monday:  Reading, notes, timeline.  Our timeline died the ugly death this week after the whiteboard jumped off the wall and attempted to maul Doodlebug, so I broke down and simply ordered a book of completed timelines from Amazon rather than trying to redo our own.  So from now on, we'll simply be finding the people we're studying on the timeline vs. creating our own.  I'm okay with that.  Reading options were:  Story of the World Ch. 18 and the first half of Ch. 19, Usborne World History Encyclopedia pp. 126-127, Kingfisher Book of the Ancient World pp. 64-67, and Kingfisher History Encyclopedia pp. 16-17.

Tuesday:  Map Trek map of early Greece (the kids recently finished reading various versions of the Iliad and were delighted to learn where Troy was, and I pointed out Ithaca for good measure since they'll be reading simplified versions of the Odyssey soon) and they picked topics for their next history papers.  Doodlebug chose Cretan crafting and architecture; Boo chose Japanese mythology.

Wednesday:  I let the kids make a book of the ancient Greek gods.  It was one of the projects in the Ancient Greece book that I have an e-copy of.  They enjoyed that.  We also watched some videos, specifically this one on Knossos and this one on the Mycenaeans.  We also watched several bull jumping videos; their favorite was this one.

Thursday:  Definitions (from History Pockets - agora, chiton, column, and myth) and critical thinking questions - 1) Would you have preferred to live with the Minoans or the Mycenaeans?  Why?  2) Would you have wanted to be a bull jumper?

Friday:  For their project, I asked them to make a labyrinth.  I gave them the choice of using Legos and other 'real' materials or just drawing a maze, and they both opted to just use graph paper and draw their mazes.  It was a good challenge for both of them, and they enjoyed it.  I was surprised how much they got out of it; the amount of time they spent on it gave them an appreciation for how long it would have taken for Daedalus (or whoever) to design a labyrinth, let alone construct one.

Next week:  Bronze Age Europe - henges, palisades, farming methods

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Jekyll and Hyde

Doodlebug. It's a dang good thing I love that boy, because he is either spectacularly calm and lucid or bewilderingly unstable and illogical this week. There is no middle ground. Boo hasn't been easy, but she's at least been herself. My Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde son... I don't even think he knows who or what he is these days. He swaps back and forth too quickly to settle into a single persona.

Warning: This post is long and fairly rant-filled. I suppose that isn't entirely new, but I felt a warning was in order.

On Monday, Doodlebug decided (decided? Maybe that isn't the right word. Maybe he was simply uninspired. I've no idea) not to do his schoolwork. Because he'd been generally horrid on Sunday evening and again on Monday morning, screaming at me, his father, his sister, and anything that happened to tick him off, which included pretty much everything, I ordered invited him to spend the morning doing his school work in his room where he couldn't be interrupted, distracted, or otherwise disrespectful to anyone or anything. I always print out the week's lesson plans in advance, so he knew what he had to get done; at lunchtime, he had one subject ready to be checked. One. Along with this he felt, with all the know-it-all-ness of an almost-11-year-old boy, that this was not a problem, because surely Mom would be perfectly willing to cater to his every whim and do school on his schedule, not hers/when it needed to happen.


At 2:30, when he finally managed to get that first subject corrected but hadn't accomplished anything else except the eating of the food and the going to the bathroom and the multiple getting of the drinks, I calmly informed him that the rules of the Sunnyview School Education Plan are thus:

1. All work listed for a single school week must be completed no later than Friday evening at 5 p.m. This gives the teacher (me) time to grade and him time to correct any mistakes before dinner that evening. Because, ya know, the teacher is also the cook and he likes to eat, right?

2. Swim team is a privilege. If he wishes to attend swim team practice, all of Monday's work must be completed prior to Tuesday's practice time, and all work from Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday must be completed prior to Thursday's practice time.

3. Teaching and explanation of assignments happens between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays. I will not explain/help with anything outside of those hours... because I can't do it. I can't be 'on' all the time. And nobody likes Mama when she hasn't gotten her 'off' time.

He listened sullenly, as preteen/teen boys are apparently wont to do, and then uttered his current catchphrase. "OK." Actually, I lie. It wasn't even that much. It was, "'K."

By 5 p.m., he'd completed four of his assignments. Ordinarily he's done with that much by about 11 a.m. and through with all this Monday work by about 1:30... 2 at the latest if he's struggled or lollygagged. He did know, however, that going to swim wasn't going to happen if he didn't get his rear in gear, and so he went back upstairs and worked after dinner to get more done before bed. Dr. Jekyll had returned.

On Tuesday he actually applied himself to his work, but his brain was scattered. Dr. Jekyll was still in residence, but Mr. Hyde's residual effects hadn't entirely worn off and threatened to return at any moment. This was made plainly evident when we got to swim. We were running late due to the fact that Boo had lost her glasses and had spent a frantic 20 minutes trying to find them (no luck), so I told Doodlebug he would have to change quickly and not spend his normal 15 minutes playing snap-towel or whatever it is that he does in the locker room that takes him so long. Boo and I sat down in the observation room, and I watched for him to emerge. No boy. Practice started... still no boy. About the time I was about to march around the corner and use my back to open the door a smidge and start yelling, he walked into the observation room... still fully clothed.

"What's up?" I asked, having a fairly good idea what the answer would be.

"I... um... can I have the keys? I need to go out to the car and look for something."

I handed over the keys, and out he wandered, showing no urgency or distress whatsoever because apparently it's in the pre-teen code that to be seen hurrying and/or distressed would result in utter disgrace and humiliation. He meandered back a minute later, empty-handed. I reached for the keys, eyeing him, "Well?"

"Apparently... I forgot my jammers."

I'm about 99% sure my eyes bugged out of my head at that point, because I had point-blank asked the child before we left the house, "DO YOU HAVE ALL YOUR SWIM STUFF." And yes, I do use that tone of voice when I ask that question. It used to be effective at making him actually think about things. Apparently that is no longer true. Score one for selective hearing abilities.

We left swim. We went back home, Boo dismantled her room in the search for glasses (I came up when she reemerged downstairs in tears, claiming they were gone forever, and promptly picked them up from between her nightstand and her bed, which was, of course, the first place I told her to look), and the boy finished his Tuesday school work, squawking incessantly.

On Wednesday morning, I couldn't move. I couldn't get out of bed. I was pretty sure my body was holding me there, unable to function, until my stress level was somewhere below critical. I was actually scared of what I would face. I finally forced myself out of bed sometime around 9 when my bladder gave me an ultimatum.

It wasn't pretty, but we did make it through the day, the worst and best part being when the whiteboard jumped off the wall and tried to attack my son, because if even inanimate objects feel like mauling him now and then, I think I'm off the hook for having similar emotions.

Today has been quiet other than the anger that surfaced when I told him to go outside and enjoy this gorgeous fall day before it starts raining this weekend. How dare I suggest he get fresh air? He went out and sulked for a while before he decided he'd had enough of this whole sunshine thing and came back to cocoon himself in his bedroom with the last book in the Eragon series (never mind that I suggested he read it outside... outside doesn't have beanbags and does have things like clouds which are horribly distracting). I'm about to go fix food to feed the beast. If only I knew which beast would arrive at the dinner table...

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Homemade History, Week 9

History was sort of History Lite this week because of the other projects we had going, but the kids requested and therefore we still did a sort of history study.  I'll put in all the stuff that could be used in case you want to do a full week, but we didn't do it all.  No way, Jose.

Week 9 Topic:  Indus Valley Civilizations, Hindu

Monday:  Reading, summary, timeline - Story of the World (Chs. 9 and 30), Life in the Ancient Indus River Valley (pp. 1-15), Kingfisher Book of the Ancient World (pp. 52-57), Kingfisher History Encyclopedia (pp. 14-15, 33), and Usborne World History Encyclopedia (pp. 118-119, 174) were all given options.  The kids poked through some of the choices, and I requested a book from the library on Hinduism for each of them.

Tuesday:  Map Trek map of ancient India and discussion of Hindu gods.  We didn't get around to the discussion, but we did the map.  Score one for geography.

Wednesday:  Definitions (plateau, plain, citadel, caste) and critical thinking questions:  What do you think happened to the people who lived in Mohenjo-Daro?  What do you think of a caste system?  Can you think of anything that's good about it?  Anything bad?  (Doodlebug couldn't think of a single good thing about it unless you were in the upper castes.  He was quite indignant.  We just answered these orally this week.)

Thursday:  We didn't do anything on Thursday since we were out of the house for most of the day, but the plan had been to watch some videos on the ancient Indus Valley peoples like this one on an ancient Aryan settlement or a Crash Course video on the Indus Valley civilizations (note: no mention of scoodily-pooping in this one).  Or maybe let them poke around on the BBC site about Hinduism or a similar BBC Kids site on the Indus Valley.

Friday:  I had planned to let the kids make rangoli again - giant rangoli on giant pieces of concrete in the driveway and/or on giant pieces of paper that we could save and hang up for Diwali, but the weather didn't cooperate.  Hard to make sand art on wet concrete.  The kids, however, decided that they weren't to be denied, so they chose to make candles.  They initially wanted to make their own little terra-cotta pinch pots and fill those, but when Boo started poking around in her craft supplies, she realized she had a soy candle-making kit and they decided that would probably be safer and easier.  I agreed.

They want to place these out on Diwali (November 3) and maybe make some rangoli between now and then as an art project.  I'm not about to argue.

Next week (well, OK, this week... I'm behind, I know):  Crete - Minoans, Mycenaeans.  

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Interest-Led Week No. 1

We completed our first interest-led week ever of the year yesterday.  The kids rocked it.  I told them they could study any topic of their choosing as long as they had something to show for it by Friday - a report, a poster, a meal, a project, absolutely anything.  

Doodlebug chose DNA for his topic; Boo chose jellyfish.  On Monday we went to the library and picked up some books I'd requested for each kid on his/her chosen topic, and we hung around for a while so the kids could read, take notes, use the library computers for further research, etc.  That was the only day I gave them any guidance.  After that, they were on their own.

Both of them loved their topics.  Both of them learned a ton.  

Doodlebug was initially frustrated because he didn't understand how DNA, RNA, and amino acids worked, but once I insisted he read his library books before he continued, he got the picture.  He put together the K'Nex DNA replication/transcription set and pored through the booklet of information that accompanied it.

Boo set up shop in the school room and started work on a papier-mache jellyfish.  I had to blow up the balloon to exact specifications in order to make her happy.  I had no idea why at the time.  I learned later that she was making a life-size replica of a sea nettle.  Those things have LONG tentacles!!

On Wednesday Doodlebug pulled out the Zometools Biochemistry set and started making base pairs and sugars.  He was fascinated by the process, and I, in turn, learned why people say we're carbon-based life forms.  I never knew before!  He requested permission to use my camera and took pictures of each protein along with the card that held its name.

Boo started making fact sheets on red pieces of paper and added a second layer to her papier-mache jellyfish.

By Friday, I had done very little to guide them.  They had asked me if they needed something - Doodlebug asked me to take his base protein images and turn them into a slide show and Boo had asked me to print off images of four specific species of jellyfish - but other than that, they'd been working independently, and they were ready to show off their work.

Doodlebug went first and explained base pairs, DNA, RNA, the replication process,

and how they all work/fit together.  He loved being able to use technology to bring his presentation to life.

He was understandably proud of himself.

Boo enjoyed showing off her work, too.

Girl got her lecture on almost as well as her brother, which is saying something since he's been lecturing people semi-professionally since he was 5.

She even walked around the room to make sure everyone participated.

Between them, I think their presentations ran an average of 10 minutes, and I couldn't be more proud of them.  They did amazing work, and they can't wait till our next interest-led week, which should be sometime around Christmas!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Lowering the Boom

A couple weeks ago I was lamenting the fact that I had very little to do compared to when the kids were little and was starting to feel superfluous in their lives.

I shouldn't have worried.

Doodlebug still requires all the parenting skills (and then some) that I employed when he was 3 - direct and constant supervision, redirection, discipline... and now, because he's older, consequences.

Between last Tuesday and today, I've had to deal with him:

-- Sneaking into his sister's room after lights-out time... twice... in a single night

-- Stealing his sister's iPod Touch and using it to watch Minecraft videos... after lights-out... while hiding in the game room closet... less than 5 hours after he returned from spending a weekend at my mom's

-- Trying to, yet again, reverse his days and nights by sleeping in the middle of the afternoon (this one is a constant problem and requires constant vigilance [CONSTANT VIGILANCE!] and redirection while ignoring the myriad squawks and tears and hooting and boneless flopping that go along with it)

-- Getting out of bed at 8:20 when he knows that school has to start at 8:30 if he wants to go to swim and still have free time at the end of the day

-- Stealing candy from the candy jar in the middle of the night and/or whenever Mom's back is turned

-- Making every other day-to-day interaction more difficult due to age, hormones, and/or mental issues.

I am exhausted.

I am done.

It just reminds me of the 2009 study about the stress level in moms whose kids have autism spectrum disorders.  Combat soldier?  That's about right.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Weekend Recap, Writing, and Interest-Led Learning

Doodlebug spent the weekend with my mom.  He had a good time, though he now understands why I used to come home exhausted whenever I'd visit my grandmother before she moved - he spent a fair bit of time in the kitchen cooking, doing laundry (she took him thrift store shopping and he bought some clothes for next summer), etc.

Boo spend the weekend recovering from her bike wreck.  She enjoyed not having anywhere to go, though she was - and is - still devastated that I had to reschedule a sleepover that was originally planned for Friday night.  She's not looking forward to answering all the questions everyone will inevitably ask all week.

I got my hair done and made applesauce and apple butter (note to others who have never made it - use the crock pot! The recipe in my Ball Blue Book didn't mention it takes 8-9 hours to simmer a batch down to the right consistency.  That would have been handy to know before I started cooking it at 3:30 p.m.).


The kids asked today if I had posted their reports.  I said I hadn't, and they wanted to know if I would.  So, without further fuss, here they are.  I'll post Doodlebug's first, then Boo's.  Age order.  Next time it'll be ladies first.

     Imagine that you are a carver in Olmec times. When you get up you have breakfast of maize tortillas and catfish. Then you go to the temple decorated with beautiful pottery to make a giant stone head in honor of a late ruler or ballplayer.
     Think back to breakfast. Those maize tortillas that you had were made from maize that was roasted and then ground into a paste and cooked.The catfish was caught in the local river. You might have clams or turtles for lunch. If you are very lucky you might be able to afford some crocodile for dinner, but that is mostly for the rich. The rich also drink an expensive drink called cacao, which is a bitter drink made from the cacao plant.
      Do you remember the pottery? If you looked closely, you would see that the pieces have holes in the back. You are not a potter so you don’t know much about making clay pots, but you know that the hole in the back means that the piece is hollow and the potter did not want the piece exploding during firing. Most of the pottery is human-shaped. Another common figure is a were-jaguar.
      Now you reach the head you are carving. It is called a Colossal Head, and it is made from the porous stone basalt imported to your city. It stands for a late ruler or ballplayer. You don’t know which; you’re just carving the stone head that the priests told you to build. Little do you know that about 2000 years later archaeologists will have found the stone head you carved, along with 16 others.
      Finally, you go to bed to do the same thing tomorrow until the head is finished. Soon you will have another project.

       Living in ancient Egypt was not very easy, but people tried to make their lives beautiful. They did did that by decorating their homes and wearing pretty clothes.
       Egyptian homes were not very complex. One family wrote a list of the furniture that was in their house. There were two beds, a tool chest, and a foot stool. Most homes had three rooms. They were the living room, the bedroom, and the work room. One home decoration was cups and jars. They were colored with bright patterns. All ancient Egyptian houses were built from mud bricks, even the pharaoh’s palaces.  The only building that wasn’t built from mud bricks were the pyramids.
       The royal ancient Egyptians wore transparent linen.  The Egyptian slaves were almost naked.  Women wore long tunics that came down to their knees. Men wore skirts as pants with belts. Young children often wore nothing.
       Egyptians liked pretty things. They really did make pretty pottery,  and they really did use limestone for jewelry.


Today we started our interest-led week.  We went to the library and picked up a crapton of books I'd requested for the kids on their specified subjects - Boo is studying jellyfish and Doodlebug is studying DNA/RNA/amino acids/chromosomes/genetics (he'll have to narrow that down, but for now he's just garnering information).  Then I let the kids read and take any notes they wanted to make and they searched on the Internet at the library for even more info because hello multiple computers so nobody has to wait for a turn before we came back home.  Boo is extremely excited about her project and can't wait to get started; Doodlebug was frustrated because he hadn't realized exactly how difficult and complex his topic was, but I think I got him to relax and enjoy himself when I pulled out the Zometools Biochemistry set and let him start building some of the proteins he'd been reading about.  He was really, really happy to build phosphate and SEE how the universe's elements work together in a chemical setting as part of biology.  It all started to click.  I'm curious to see what he'll do the rest of the week.

Hope you all had a good weekend!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Homemade History, Week 8

The kids turned in their papers this week.  I thought they did well, and I may post those separately.  Or not.  I haven't decided yet.  For week 9, even though it's primarily an interest-led week, the kids will still be doing history and math and a couple other electives.  So I'll be back next weekend with yet another installment.

Week 8 Topic: Phoenicians and Sea Peoples

Monday:  Reading and timeline.  Reading options came from Story of the World (Ch. 15), Kingfisher History Encyclopedia (pp. 28-29), Kingfisher Book of the Ancient World (pp. 88-91), and/or the Usborne World History Encyclopedia (pp. 144-145).  Boo was fascinated with the idea of city-states and alliances between the cities.

Tuesday:  We filled in the Phoenicia's Trading Empire map from Map Trek and they started typing up their papers.

Wednesday:  Videos!  We watched a bunch:  One on glassblowing (we also searched for Phoenician glass images so they could see some of the stuff the Phoenicians actually produced), one on the Phoenician Ship Expedition, and one on extracting dye.  There's another video out there, called Quest for the Phoenicians, that is available in parts on Youtube or for legitimate sale in the National Geographic Store, that we caught the preview for.  I may check it out another time, because both kids really, really like the Phoenician peoples.

Thursday:  Definitions (city-state, colony, obelisk, alphabet) and Doodlebug's critical thinking questions (What were some advantages and disadvantages of having cooperating city-states vs. a unified country?  Which of the Phoenician's inventions [alphabet, dye methods, glassblowing, shipbuilding, colonization, etc.] is the most significant to us today?  Why do you think that?)

Friday:  I was going to suggest that the kids help me make pita bread, but they had other (and better!) ideas.  Doodlebug decided he wanted me to find him a map of Mediterranean currents and winds so that he could work out different sailing routes that the Phoenicians would have used to get to their colonies.

Boo decided she wanted to see if she could build her own boat.

Both kids ran into different problems with their projects - Boo had originally wanted to make a curved boat and Doodlebug wanted to figure out one route that would work for all seasons - but they both overcame their frustrations and were happy with their final results... even if the boat didn't float for more than a few seconds before sinking catastrophically.

Next week:  The Indus Valley, Mohenjo-Daro, Hindu beliefs

Friday, September 13, 2013

And the Week Ends With... Stitches

And this is what my life has been like this week.  My poor girl bore the brunt of the catastrophic failure of my parenting skills.  (Not that I did this to her.  It was a bike accident in which her chin met a bricked mailbox and I wasn't there to see/hear it.  I am incredibly, unimaginably grateful to the neighbors who took her in, cleaned her up, called me, and then schlepped her, me, and the boy to the nearest ER.)  Now Oz is stuck in traffic after delivering Doodlebug to my mom for the weekend.

Le sigh.  Let's hope the weekend is better.  And next week, of course, is the kids' first interest-led week!  

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

More Girl Trouble

So the other day I posted about Boo having growing pains with friends.  That, however, is not the only struggle that I'm facing with her right now.  I've vented to my friends, but since Boo is... creative... with some of her self-inflicted problems, and since parenting is largely a crapshoot to begin with, nobody in my limited range of acquaintances has dealt with the same issues that she's inventing.  I doubt anyone else will have answers, either, but I'm sure you've all noticed that I use this blog as a sounding board as well as a place to share school plans and the happy/funny things that my kids do, so... away we go.

Boo - my sweet Boo - is bored.  Bored out of her gourd.  Bored senseless.  B-O-R-E-D.  During school hours, she's fine, but once she gets done, she wants to do things.  And that's all well and good, except she wants to do things with people.  Doodlebug, because he's older and his work is more complex, is typically not finished with his schoolwork at the same time she is.  So then she wants to do things with me... which is also all well and good, except I'm usually supervising the boy or doing stuff around the house.  Sometimes she'll invent a project to do or go to her room and play independently, but not often.  Mostly she lolls around on the floor of the school room or putters around, talking incessantly while her brother tries to focus on his work.  When he is done with school, she hovers around him like a bee, desperately wanting to do anything as long as he's involved.  He is independent.  He'll go to his room and read, play video games, go get his sister when he feels sociable and invite her to play games - in other words, he's self-driven.  When he reads, she tries to read, too, but it doesn't last long.  When he plays video games, she wants to sit and watch.  And when he actually wants to do things with her, she's so delighted she goes along with almost any stupid scheme just to be with a person.  It often does not end well.

I have not the first clue how to help the girl learn how to entertain herself.  At this point, she's so desperately bored in the afternoons that she's contemplating going back to public school next year just so she'll be around other people more consistently, even if it does mean longer school hours and homework.  I wish I could figure out how to help her.  I don't mind if she's an extroverted introvert, but she's going to be on her own more and more as she gets older, and I don't want her following people blindly.  I want her to find her own path.  Anything that's helped your kids be more independent?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Girl Trouble

I don't even know where to begin this blog post.  I've typed the first sentence about 15 times and have finally resorted just to writing this in an effort to have some sort of introduction into this topic.  There's no pretty way to write it, I guess.

Doodlebug suffers from sudden-onset preteen ennui and sullenness, but I think I expected that.  Several parents have warned me that there was a chance that he'll no longer speak to me after a certain age, and I can certainly see where that may be true.  He just stares at me, either blankly or with much malice depending on his mood and what I've dared to say.  Obviously these generalizations aren't a guarantee, but so far it's been fairly accurate - he flip-flops back and forth between grumpy preteen and snuggly boychild quite often, and while I don't know that I'm going to like 11 very much, I have confidence that I'll muddle through somehow.  I guess 11 years of not totally failing as a parent have given me that much.

Then there's Boo. 

People had warned me about girl drama, too, and I've kept a careful eye open for it, wondering how on earth it was going to manifest in my particular female specimen.  Here's how it has evolved for me: it started young.  Two- and 3-year-old girls are sassy creatures, constantly asserting their dominance and mothering instincts over the entire household, stuffed animals and pets included, and parents wonder how on earth their daughters can get any worse.  (I was guilty of that as well, when Boo was that age.)  Then they turn 6, give or take, and everything ramps up a notch.  The sass becomes more direct, more personal, and it's generally targeted at one particular person like Mom, Dad, or a sibling.  Then they turn 8, 9, whatever age happens to be a year or two before the onset of true adolescence/puberty (I think...), and suddenly the drama doesn't stop at the door of the house.  Other people get dragged in.  Cliques form in schools right around this age, and the girls start to flock together like small wakes of vultures, actively preying on one another on occasion.  Friendships that were formed in kindergarten fall apart because differences - even subtle ones - suddenly matter.

Boo is a sweet girl (I've been told this by other parents, so it's not just a proud mama saying that).  I've worked on acceptance with both kids, remembering how my opinionated stances and assertive bossy attitude alienated me from a lot of people when I was growing up, and Boo really tries to give people the benefit of the doubt.  However, since she's getting a little older and a little more discerning, she no longer wants to hang out with people just because they're of a similar age.  I get that.  I like that she's starting to think about who she wants to be friends with, who she can bond and share secrets with as she gets older.  Knowing who to trust and who to keep at arm's length is important.

She's come to me (me!) several times lately with questions about how to handle situations that have come up between herself and another girl, and I can tell she's really struggling with whether she wants to be friends with this girl or not, and if not, how to let this girl down gently so that there aren't any dramatic aftereffects.  I'm encouraging her to be kind but honest and firm and to remember that I am aware that there's no way she can be friends with every girl that comes along and she shouldn't expect to be, either... but I know she still idealizes friendship.  She still wants everything to be all sunshine and unicorns and rainbows, and she fears what will happen if she decides she really doesn't like someone.

As a homeschooling mom, I find myself in an equally precarious position.  If this was a public school setting, I likely wouldn't know the other girl well at all, let alone be acquainted with her parents.  I would have distance and, with distance, perspective.  The way things are, however, I do know the girl and her mother (and have met her father once) and find myself pondering the what-ifs.  It's an odd dynamic, and I hope I don't find myself in the position of defending my daughter, because this Mama Bear doesn't usually express herself well when confronted.  I don't want to cause drama any more than my daughter does, but I will speak the truth, and I won't make my daughter go outside her comfort zone just to appease others.  I don't see how that would help her in the long run, especially if she's already gone out of her way to be polite, honest, and non-confrontational as long as possible.

It's just one of those situations that is inevitable but still regrettable, and I wish I had a magic ball that told me all the 'right' things to say.  In the meantime, I've told Boo to remember that she still has plenty of friends that she does enjoy and is close to and not to worry too much about this other girl.  These things often have a way of sorting themselves out.  Any advice?

Saturday, September 7, 2013

In Which I Stop Lamenting the Past, or, The Death of Nostalgia

A neighbor child is in my home right now.  She's 4.  She's a cute kid, decently well-behaved, and I don't mind having her over for short stints.  She does, however, remind me that I was never cut out to be a caregiver of young/preschool-age children for any longer than mine were in that age group.

They are exhausting.

I remember this every time preschool-aged children visit.  When my nephews stayed a couple of days while their parents were out of town, I was totally done by the time they left.  I remember being completely wrung out after a single day of substitute teaching the preK class at Boo's old school (teachers who work with that age day in and day out have my ultimate respect, because I would go absolutely insane after a single week).  There is a reason that I sent my two to preschool and kindergarten - that age group and I simply do not mesh well.  The drama, the constant need for supervision, the constant need for redirection, the need to help them get, eat, and clean up after even the simplest of snacks (and let's not even talk meals), the desire to have someone cater to their every whim at every hour of the day... watching and listening to the neighbor girl even for an hour or so this afternoon has reminded me that while I may occasionally whine about the fact that my kids are getting older, there are so many benefits that it's hard to enumerate them all.

I no longer have sippy cups anywhere in my house.  Stepstools?  A thing of the past.  I don't have to worry about messes, because my kids can clean up after themselves (whether they will or not is a different story, but the capability is there).  They know our schedule and don't clamor for a second snack 45 minutes after they've just eaten one... and even if they did, and I said no, I wouldn't get tears and an attempted guilt trip about it.  I haven't wiped anyone else's bottom in years.  There are no car seats in Sylvia, and I don't have to open a door for anyone to get in or out.

I do know, when I think about it, that I've always been better suited to kids Boo's age and older.  Even as a teen, I was fairly uncomfortable with anyone over the age of 2 and under the age of 7 or 8.  That still holds.  I like having intelligible, intelligent conversations.  I like the hard questions.  I like delving into tougher topics and watching the kids learn more independently.  And you simply can't have that with littler kids.  They aren't ready.  I get it.  Nothing wrong with that... it's just not my cuppa.  And there's nothing wrong with that, either.

(I've noticed that Doodlebug was holed up in front of the TV and has since skulked to his room while the neighbor girl has been here, and I sincerely doubt he'll surface until she's gone.  His idea of handling younger kids is to sit very still and hope they don't notice him... and if they do, he'll avoid eye contact and utter monosyllabic answers to their questions until they walk away... and usually when they walk away, they want to know, "Why won't he talk?"  It's really funny.  It's even funnier to watch Doodlebug in the same room with a newborn.  His discomfort level goes straight through the roof, and if you ask him if he wants to see/touch/hold the infant, it's like trapping a wild animal.  He freezes, then looks frantically around for someone to reassure him that it's okay to say no.  Newborns have squicked him out since he was 5 1/2 and his cousin was born.  I try to take it easy on him, since, as I've said, I'm not particularly comfortable around kids between the ages of 2 and 6 myself, unless I have to be.)

It's nice not to have to raise any more preschoolers.  I can watch others' kids for a while and then hand them back when I'm all done, but they are not a permanent fixture.  Consider my nostalgia problem fixed, and remind me of this post next time I lament my children's age/size/hormone problems.  Because even if they're mouthier and more independent, I'll take 8 and 10 over 3 and 5 any day.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Blog List Update

Just wanted to take a quick moment to point out that I've added a lot more blogs to the list on the right (keep scrolling... keep scrolling... it's there).  It only shows the 10 that have been updated most recently, but feel free to check out these other sites.  Most are homeschoolers, some aren't.  Most are about moms/kids/parenting, but a few aren't.

And if you have a blog and want to share, or if you have a suggestion for one I might like to read, let me know!  I'm kind of on a new-blog binge right now.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Silence Like a Cancer Grows

I'm sitting on the couch downstairs.  The only sounds I hear are the water falling from the filter in the fish tank and the slight growl of the dishwasher running through yet another cycle because dishes, like laundry, are a never-ending task.  Oh, wait, there's the air conditioner popping on.

The children are home.  They're just upstairs.

When we bought this house just over a year ago, I was thrilled that it had a game room.  The game room is upstairs with the kids' bedrooms and their bathroom, and I had visions of the kids playing happily upstairs where I could hear them but not have to feel like I needed to monitor their every movement like I did when we only had one living area and we were always, always in the same room together.  I loved the idea of breathing space.

I got my wish.  And it's bittersweet.  I love that the kids can go upstairs and disappear.  Right now Boo is in her room reading some library books, and Doodlebug is parked in front of the Wii getting his daily electronics fix.  They're content.  They're doing what they want to do.  Mostly, though, they're quiet.

The quiet is interesting.  It reminds me that the kids aren't little any more and that I don't have to worry about what they're up to every second of the day (remember when silence was evil?  It's still not entirely innocent, but it's more innocent now than when they were younger).  It reminds me that in a few years, there will be jobs and/or volunteer positions and more independent school work and that my place in their lives will diminish considerably, especially if and when there are driver's licenses and cars involved.

I feel like I'm smack-dab in the middle of an in-between phase, just like my son, who is hovering in between childhood and adolescence.  On the one hand, I'm needed.  They need me to remind them what chores to do and when and tell them when it's time for dinner and drive them to events. They want me to "Come see this!" and "Help me?" do that.  On the other hand, they don't need me as much any more.  They can figure out their likes and dislikes (though this is a major problem for Boo, and that'll need its own post soon) and what they do and don't want to do each day without any help from me.  They can clean their own rooms (heck, they can clean the whole house if necessary) and fix breakfasts and lunches and make sure they have all their gear for swim/violin/yoga before we leave.

They aren't old enough to be left home alone for any length of time - sometime in the next year, I'll probably start running short errands, but I want to make sure they're both old enough and mature enough for that before I take off - but at the same time, I don't often see them unless they either want food or have a project they need help with or are arguing and want my intercession.

And so I sit.  I wait until I'm wanted or needed.  I don't like that.  Raising my kids 'right' is an admirable goal, but I wish I had another purpose.  There's only so much sitting around reading library books one mom can do before she loses her mind.  Same goes for baking.  I can't do that all day, every day.  I need to be accessible, but I want to be busy to some purpose.  It's an interesting dichotomy, and I'm not sure how to fill both my needs and the needs of my kids at the same time.

When we're doing school, it's not so bad.  I think this week off is affecting me.  Still, there will be plenty more weeks off in the days to come, and we still have the afternoons to consider.  Thoughts?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

My Gorgeous New Baby

No, it's nothing alive.  The only new live critter that I intend to introduce to this house anytime in the next few months is a bearded dragon that Oz and I have promised to get for Doodlebug's 11th birthday in October.  He's wanted one since he was... oh, 5 or 6.  I think he's finally ready for the responsibility.

Anyway, over the weekend I got a new baby.  Want to meet her?

This is Silvia.  Isn't she pretty?  She's a Ford Explorer.

I'm still familiarizing myself with how she works.  It's bizarre to get into a vehicle without rummaging through my purse for the keys.  She has push-button start.  She also has a million other bells and whistles, including voice controls so I no longer have to lift a finger to change the temperature or make a phone call (because, of course, my phone's Bluetooth hooks right into the system as well) or change the radio station.  Oz is in techie heaven and spent the first 24 hours or so making sure that everything was updated and set up properly.  I'm a bit more ambivalent about all the features, because as long as the gas pedal, the brake pedal, the horn, and the radio work, I can live with just about anything else.

Still, she's gorgeous and I'm totally in love.  And if she can help me parallel park like the manual says she can, then she's my new best friend because I can't parallel park to save my life.  When I was 16 and taking the driving test for the second time and the proctor told me to parallel park, I told him, "You know what?  I don't do that.  And if I ever get in a situation where that's what I have to do, then I'll find somewhere else to park."  He made me try, and it took me forever, and he had to help me with some of it, which I don't think he was supposed to do.  I still passed.  And to this day, I haven't had to parallel park... at least, not in a situation between two cars.  Pulling up behind another car or backing in where there are extra spaces, yes, but actually parallel parking between two cars that are one space apart?  No.

Moving on...

This is the view looking back from the driver's seat.  That's a moonroof at the top of the image.  There's a sunroof over the front seats.  Sunroof, moonroof... whatever.  More car love.  Those are bucket seats in the middle, which is mighty handy when you have two kids who can't sit together on bench seats without erecting an imaginary wall which can cause WWIII in the blink of an eye if its position shifts even marginally or if it's crossed a fraction of an inch.  There's also the third row, which can fold down or stow as necessary, so if WWIII threatens to happen regardless of the lack of wall, I can banish someone to the back and theoretically thwart the impending battle.  Oh, and Oz can fit in the second row, too.  That's crucial when I consider the fact that Doodlebug may well be of a similar size one day.

Because, gods willing, I'm not getting rid of Silvia until the kids move out.  She rocks.