Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Rubbed us the Wrong Way

Yesterday afternoon, we drove over the hills and through the woods to Grandmother's house, 500 miles away.  It was a long day.  About 10:30, somewhere north of where we started and far too south of where we were headed, it was time to gas up the van.  

Of course, stopping the van meant various individuals stirred and needed trips to the bathroom.   When it was finally my turn to rush through the freezing whether in my thin, Southern clothes, the three-year-old also needed to go. I scooped her up and we hustled into the gas station.  She was all sweet and sleepy and disoriented.  

She and I finished our business and approached the sink area.  There were about five basins and I paused when I didn't see soap anywhere.  At last, I spied dispensers on the walls at boths ends of the counter.  As I reached toward the closest wall, I noticed two dispensers.  One was closer to the outside of the counter and bigger.  I decided it was obviously installed later as some sort of greater convenience for the customer.

I pushed the lever and got a palmful of soap.  Cote held her hand up as I swiped some of the soap onto her hand.  She knows the drill.  We do this all the time.  I rubbed my hands together and then stopped.  

I looked down at my hands, finally registering the gray color and the bizarrely gritty feel.  In my hesitation, I glimpsed Cote's tiny, innocent face looking, for all the world, like Cindy Lou Who catching the Grinch stuffing the Christmas tree up the chimney.  She tentatively slid her palms together, jaw clenched against the confusing, abrasive sensory input. Her head tilted ever so slightly as she pulled them back apart and gazed at the liquid concrete I had put in her hands.  In silence, she pondered what must have become of this once familiar ritual of hand-washing.  

I slowly tore my view from the messy-haired preschooler and back to the soap dispenser which read, "Super Cherry heavy duty hand cleanser."  I looked back at her and commented matter-of-factly, "Oh, I don't think our hands were quite dirty enough for this kind of soap."

I rinsed my hands for a seemingly ridiculous amount of time to remove the sludge and dried them with paper towels while Cote just dutifully waited, hands slightly apart elevated above her waist.  I scraped the paste from her hands under the never-hot water.  She dried and placed the paper towel in the bin.  Like so many other times, she turned and placed her tiny hand in mine and we walked out of the bathroom in a travel weary, pumice-assaulted daze.

The spell broke when we entered the gas station store.  Her little, freckled pixie face tilted to look up at me. "Mommy," she said, "that was weird." 

I agreed.  

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Welcoming Committee

I left Theo and the three bigger children for a week to visit a friend in another state.  First time ever.   It was a much needed momcation.  I relaxed and recharged and got motivated about coming home to spend more time doing things that matter with my family.  It was a chance to breathe and gain perspective, to be inspired by another family's evening worship time, to cook with renewed creativity, to tincture all the herbs.  

So it was with a stirred spirit I deplaned and walked through the terminal with my fellow passengers.  I caught a glimpse of my family standing together.  My heart swelled.  My smile widened.  My six-foot-tall teenager was holding a bouquet of flowers and my little girls were holding homemade signs.  I sighed happily and walked a little faster.

Then, I noticed their faces were decidedly apathetic.  They looked bored, almost.  At first I thought I must be too far away for them to recognize me.  My husband made eye contact and encouraged me with a thin, weary smile.  The children's faces remained stony.  

No one broke free and ran toward me.  No one shouted a gleeful, "Mommy!"  They stared me down like I was an unwelcome invader, while they held flowers and signs.  I considered turning around and hopping the next plane out of there.

Flowers were thrust in my direction.  They deigned to hug me.  I raised my eyebrows at Theo in question and mentioned my thoughts of fleeing the country.

He said he understood as we took the escalator to baggage claim, my preschooler's tiny hand matter-of-factly holding mine as if it were her assigned chore.  John began telling me loud stories while standing too close.  Hannah ran around in manic circles.  Cote repeatedly pulled on the baby carrier, trying to get Zane's attention.   

Later, Theo told me that Hannah had made the signs and the girls had bickered about them and other things all day.  Hannah had held all four signs and the flowers at one point and they decided that she should spread the wealth.  Theo explained that I wouldn't even be able to read the signs all piled up in her hands.  He doled the flowers to John and asked the girls to divide the signs.  Since the three-year-old had gotten distracted with other things, all four signs had been made by the seven-year-old.   She chose to keep the two she made with popsicle stick poles.  

Hannah was mad she had to share.  Cote was mad she didn't have sticks.  John was upset he was holding the flowers because he felt like he looked like he was waiting for his "Long-lost Hunny Bunny."  Theo was exhausted.  

Yep.  Reality.  It didn't land quite as easily as that American Airlines regional jet.  We scraped the belly all the way in and got sprayed with fire-retardant foam.  The ice finally cracked and we enjoyed a nice dinner and evening together.  We didn't crash.  We just came in a little hard.  

And I think despite the trauma, we were all relieved to be safe and back together again.  I only regret that I didn't whip out the camera and take a picture of my welcoming committee.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Exploring mediocrity and thinking aloud.

I think maybe my sentiment didn't quite get through on my last post...  ;).    What I was saying is that my perfectionism is sometimes a little crippling and gets in the way of even doing things I love, like writing.  I enjoy blogging, but when I get good responses, I feel pressure to make the next entry awesomer and awesomer.  I've got a real hang up with performance.  

I tend to think if I can't do something all the way, I shouldn't do it at all.  Mediocre isn't meant to be self-deprecating but freedom from comparing myself, freedom from performance anxiety, freedom from perfectionism.  To experience the extraordinary, one must be familiar with the ordinary.  Practice is mundane.  To be better and have a chance at some epic posts, I need more time producing work, period.  

Learning the violin is fabulous for me.  I treasure the fact I've started as a mom of four in my late thirties.  Why?  Because the chances of my becoming a virtuoso is pretty much non-existent.  I can play and enjoy it and share my progress with others without ever feeling the pressure to have it become more than a joy for me.  

There was so much "I can't wait to read your first book" early in my life that the pressure took the wind out of my desire to write.     Even my successes were evidence I had only gotten older and had not yet written my first book.  

With Mary's comment today, I realized my writing could be like playing my violin.  It doesn't have to be virtuosic.  If a book gets written, woohoo, retirement money!  If not, I won't be a failure, and I will have had the joy of the process.  

I can use my writing to extend myself and share in a dialogue and connection with others.   I think believing I can be extraordinary while giving myself permission to be mediocre, means I can focus more on the task at hand, than on some extrinsic trophy.   I can hone my craft, rather than serve my critics.

I know the word mediocre is a challenge for many.  It was intended to be provocative.  It means it's ok to say I had a day that wasn't good or bad.  Nothing remarkable happened except that I am still alive, which is, in fact, as remarkable as the sun rising each morning.  I love and have been loved.  It is well with my soul.  

Guess what, I'm Mediocre.

I am having a great time visiting a very dear friend.  We help each other see ourselves for what we are sometimes and it's a beautiful thing, this friendship.  The more we get to know each other, the more we find we have in common and the more we find we have differences.

It's what I love about relationships.  Each one is a connection that changes and challenges and reaffirms me.  I'm here on this planet with billions of people, I must be meant to know some of them, right?  Out of all of the people alive right now, I only really know a few, which means those friends are even more special than one-in-a-million.  

But that's all beside the point.  This is about what my friend said to me this morning.  It was an aside in the middle of a wandering, meandering conversation.  

"By the way, you need to blog more." 

 I grimaced. I know.  I want to.  And then I confessed I haven't found a way to integrate blogging into my life, to successfully manage with my other activities and priorities.  When I get a bee in my bonnet, I'm not terribly patient with the kids and I get too focused for too long on trying to make a post.

Very pointedly she said, "Not every blog has to be epic."

Crap.  Bullseye.  

Then relief.  No pressure.  Like Facebook, I can just live, share, be real.  I can be mediocre, which is a relief.  And sometimes, I can be epic, which is exciting.  

Thursday, June 13, 2013

High as a Kite

I've been getting excited about our new foray into learning without limits.  Sometimes, the kids just piddle around the house doing their own things and watching videos, but sometimes they come to me with a question.  And this is where my life has changed.  I've decided, for the most part, my job is to say yes.  Sure, there are times I need to say no and I do.  Funny thing is that since I've said yes more frequently, they take no for an answer more easily.  The relationships have improved.  

I wait.  I have more time to do my own things.  I have more time to clean (more messes are made though), more time to read and do puzzles but what I have to remind myself is that I have decided my work is interruptible because I really want to make myself available as a facilitator.  Before, I think I had a hard time stopping my activities because my moments of peace were so rare.  

Today, I got really into the idea of making a savings chart for Hannah.  It was my project totally, but it was about her.  So I found myself slightly annoyed when she walked up and asked if I knew how to make a kite.  I told her, "Not really..."

There is where it would have ended before.  I didn't have the energy after working toward my own agenda (even if for her best interests) to help her with hers.  I'm not proud of it.  It is just what it is.  It certainly wasn't in line with how I dreamed of being as a mother.

Today, I heard a switch flip in my brain as I started to issue a maybe later, so I continued, "...but we could see what we can find on the Internet.  Maybe YouTube."   She pulled up a chair and we watched a lovely video about making a kite with a plastic shopping bag.  I was enthralled.  (In fact, I might make one myself.) She was interested but it didn't quite hit home.  She was encouraged to continue the search, "Let's search 'homemade *paper* kites."  

We did and I suddenly have time to blog.  She comes in every once in a while to show me her progress.  I am not feigning excitement for what she's creating,  it is very exciting.    She already did some amazing things before she put one marker to paper, including working on clarifying her criteria in order to solve a problem.  

Plastic Bag Kite

Simple paper kite

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Putting a band-aid on the Problem

I've been struggling today.  I have a summer cold.  I've been grumpy.  The baby is clingy.  Hannah is a little agitated.  Maybe they are all struggling with what I'm struggling with.  Who knows.  

I was feeling overwhelmed but I realized there was a lot of great work around here today:  

Hannah practiced a little violin but stopped when she decided she just wasn't up to it.

I realized the kids were grumpy and, instead of yelling, took measures to calm myself and decided to feed them, hoping full bellies might help.  I talked to Hannah about both of our moods and asked for her suggestions.  She agreed maybe she was hungry.  

Hannah worked for a really long time with the new cricut cartridge.

I did a load of laundry and *blogged*!  

Cote painted.  She played in the bath with a tea set.  She made a water park on the back porch.  

And after they ate, suddenly moods were better and I got some time to myself, making me feel a little better.  Apparently during that time, they were under the kitchen table creating what you see in the picture.  There were many, many giggles and about 45 minutes of cooperative, intense work to make the bandaid mask.  

No one but me even stopped to think about turning on the TV this afternoon.  I have a headache and watery eyes but it seems like not such a bad day after all.  Band-aids really do make you feel better!  

Thursday, May 30, 2013

What I Want to be When I Grow Up

I have wanted to be many things and I've succeeded in many of them.   I always wanted a whole slew of children: nineteen, if I recall.  I have four so far.  Being a mother was my life's ambition.  I also wanted to be a writer.  I wanted to be a life guard.  I wanted to be a speaker.  I wanted to be a teacher and I want to become a lactation consultant.  

Heck, at the age of 37, I'd like to be a grown-up.  Grown-ups see something they want to do or have and find ways to make that happen.  Children can do that too, but they aren't usually given that power. I am good at seeing my goal but I want to just miraculously end up living that goal.  I think I must be a grown-up now because I'm finally admitting if I want to achieve goals, I need to do something about them. I need to make my dreams and my reality meet up a little better.

I dreamed about homeschooling before I even had my first child.  I envisioned a delighted child exploring interests with me by his side, delving deeply into topics and creating amazing projects, learning like a sponge.  

But I was worried.  My biggest fault, even officially articulated on my Individualized Education Progam (IEP) for giftedness, was that I needed to develop follow-through.  I now know that the truth is that most educators just don't know what to do with gifted students and since they require IEPs (in my state), they must therefore identify goals, which I interpreted as deficits.

I don't know why, but I've adopted that somewhat appropriate and timely goal to define myself ever since:  I am Holly.  I lack follow-through, which must mean I am lazy. 

 What if I don't lack follow-through? I gave birth three times, adopted a child through foster care, earned a college degree and have been married nearly eighteen years.  I think I might have a little bit of what I've been telling myself I've been missing.

Perhaps, there are other reasons I don't always complete projects or attain goals.  Perhaps, my child has outgrown the pants I began crocheting and the goal is no-longer relevant.  Perhaps, I've lost interest in the goal.  Perhaps, I've needed to reprioritize.  I realized this evening, one reason is that I sometimes don't know how to proceed.   

Maybe my failure is not a character flaw, a lack of perseverance.  Maybe it's simply an indication some problem solving is necessary.  I was a member of a creative problem solving team (geek alert) in high school.  One of the required steps was to identify potential problems and select one underlying problem.  I think the key to achieving my goals may be in identifying what is holding me back.  

So now, I'll apply this to my homeschooling.  I've been trying to record keep or devise some system that works for me and my children for years out of a fear that I wouldn't have the follow-through to be competent.  While my heart has desired unschooling, my brain has said I am too lacking in sticktoitiveness to pull it off.  I've put restrictions on myself and purchased curricula and told myself I'd teach the core academics more traditionally and let joy lead the learning in all other areas.  I hedged my bets.  I robbed my energy with the opposite of my true goal.  I had no desire to help them experiment in the kitchen or play in the woods or find out the answer to some random question. I shot my dream in the foot.  

This summer, I'm planning to make my days more like my dreams.  I plan to listen to my children for questions and help them navigate to their answers even though it's a lot more convenient to have them answer my questions.  I want to facilitate.  I want to inspire.  I want my children to learn to solve their problems without convincing themselves they aren't up to the task.  I don't want to lose my energy meeting some self-imposed requirement before I allow my children to do what my heart believes is really learning.  

My plan as of now:

Pray more.  Read the Word.  Be inspired and encouraged.

Read inspiring unschooling stories, blogs, articles.

Persue more of my own goals instead of distracting myself with meaningless tasks.  That means the meaningful ones will need to be more organized.

Listen and respond to my children.  Stop the unnessesary "maybe laters".   Be present with my whole self.  

Drop the half-hearted attempt to get in the core academics.

Share more of our story here.  This will help me to become more aware and evaluate whether I'm progressing or listening to a lie that is holding me back.

Make more fairy crowns and roll down some hills.


Monday, May 13, 2013

Remember I'm your kid?

Cote is having a wonderful time in her imagination, as she frequently does.  A few minutes ago she asked to borrow a real pan for her play kitchen and made me some soup.  She took my order, served me and offered a blanket to keep my baby warm.  She also complimented me on how cute he was and asked his name, smiling sweetly as I told her, with the socially appropriate, "Aw.  That's a nice name."

After a while, she spied the bean bag and a wrap and suggested we go to sleep.  She covered herself and told me to rest well.  Then she paused as she did the last time I was invited into her world, "You remember I'm your kid?"

"Yes, I remember," I giggled

That was enough, apparently.  A little touching base with reality?  

She tucked herself in and pretended to snooze.  She roared, told me there was a ghost and announced she would have to go fight as she was a power ranger (wanjaire) and she had a sword.  

In her purple, fluffy Easter dress she danced toward the front door, looked at me with a wink and said, "But first I hafta pick my wedgie."

Cue epic one-person battle on my front porch.  

Later she came in telling me something in an affected English accent about a tea party.  She also told me how she died out there and I should cry.  But she only died one day, not two days.  Then she wondered aloud, also with an accent, if I had any raisins and if she could get them by herself since she was a big "sisser".  I agreed, thinking we'd bridged back to reality for a moment but apparently not, because she put her stuffed bunny in the stroller and is going for a walk.

Yep, I definitely remember this little mighty ball of awesomeness is my kid.