Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Clean Your Room

I have a new insight into this parental struggle. What if we're just wrong about a child's ability to clean a space? I know some children are quite capable of cleaning a space from quite a young age, but I think most of us do not live with such children. And probably most of us were not those sort either.

I have cleaned my children's rooms with them since they were able to crawl, and prior to that, they each rode in a carrier while I cleaned our space. I will admit to my occasional temper tantrums in the face of a recalcitrant child, but mostly, I have modeled just the behavior I wish them to learn. We work as a team, I assigned tasks very specifically according to age and ability, I have made a valiant effort to keep their things to a manageable amount, I have tried to provide a structure that they can use to help them clean, I've played music and games and we've had stories while we tidied. And still, not a one of them can clean a room.

I think even my 10-year-old is unable to apply some internal structure to his space. He does not see the paper on the floor or the heap of stuff on his desk or the sheet wadded up under the blanket on his bed. He will very willingly pick up his laundry or legos; he can arrange books on his shelf. But he still needs a guiding hand to do all the steps to tidy his room, and he just doesn't understand the necessity of dusting (that could be genetic).

My tidiest child thinks that if everything is on a shelf or if the things on the floor are not hers, it is tidy. She does not understand why I want to sweep her floor even when her socks are covered with dirt and wood debris from walking across her floor.

And the littlest is just not sure why I would disturb her play to tidy a space that she can only barely pass through.

I can see they are all learning, but I know I was expected to clean my room by the time I was as old as my littlest. I know many mothers wonder when their children will be able to achieve this task. And I know some will just disagree, but maybe "Clean your room" is not an age appropriate sentence before some time after the age of ten.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Our Rocks

The rocks around us are granite, lots of granite. And throughout Vermont, people struggle with this pushing up into their fields each spring when the frost action heaves new rocks up to the surface.

On our property, we have a unique situation. We have sand- lots and lots of sand. We can dig a twelve post holes and plant twenty trees and only hit a handful of rocks, all smaller than a fist. To put that in perspective- we have friends in many different households who feel lucky to hit only one rock any time they dig any hole.

So, I feel gratitude for our soil. It has it's problems; it dries out fast in the summer (although that's a boon the rest of the year), it is not terribly fertile, it lacks much in the way of humus, it's pretty acidic. Many people with a world more experience than I have say these problems are minor compared to the complications of clay soil that is prevalent in Vermont.

I look around and try to figure out why there is all this sand right in this spot. Our property is sort of a shoulder of a hill. There's a fairly steep drop down to it and then another fairly steep drop away from it. Erosion is a steady concern. But what erodes from above is sand. And the trail that runs down below is sand. I figure Old Dame Nature put the sand on this somewhat flat spot, but I do not quite understand why our hill is sand in the land of clay soils. Maybe that hill was already ground up at some other point and deposited there by moving water?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

For Advent

I am going to try to type a post for every day of Advent. They will get posted oddly, because of my internet situation, but I think it will not matter too much. Forgive me if you get bored, or check back later when Advent is over. Not all theposts will be Advent- related.

I may have mentioned before that I did not mark Advent until I was well into my parenting journey. And when I started setting it aside as something special, I found it very uncomfortable. For starters, I’m not particularly Christian (and I’m not willing to argue over that in this forum). I enjoy Christmas and have always enjoyed Christmas, because my mother made such a big deal of it. Yes, of course, I enjoyed getting presents, but I remember most vividly all the anticipation- for the relatives and the Christmas party and the caroling and the baking and the extra time with my family and the school vacation and the school party and the dreams of snow and the late nights with my siblings and the card games and the trips and the wrapping and the secrets and the mystery and the special meals and, of course, the presents.

So the notion of this time of year being exceptional was an easy enough concept, but I did not know much about Advent, nor did I have a grasp on how to bring it meaningfully into our family. I entered Advent by way of Waldorf, and I feel happy to have found it.

For those of you who do not know, Advent is the time beginning four Sundays before Christmas Eve. I will mention again that I am not completely versed in the traditions of Advent, so you might want to get particulars yourself. What you’ll find here is my understanding and my interpretations and practices based on that understanding.

Advent, for us, is a time for turning inward. Outer light is waning, and we have the shortest days of the year. As the light outside of us decreases, we have more time to acknowledge the light carried inside each of us. I like this idea of honoring our inner light, but I also like to mark the weeks of Advent the way I learned of them through Waldorf.

This is the first week, and we honor the light of the stones- “stones that live in seashells, in crystals, and in bones.” Earth is quite special, as we all know, but life is built on these rocks. They are ground by wind and water into the soil that feeds us and into the minerals that make up life.

I have trouble explaining this week’s focus to the children every year, but I feel awe when I walk in a stream bed and see what the water is making for us (and I do not mean only humans, but all life forms). Even volcanoes, as destructive as they are, bring rock to the surface of the earth in an enriching way.

Tis the Season?

I heard on the radio yesterday that electronics, particularly large, flat screen televisions, were selling very well at a certain mall in Los Angeles. It was part of some story regarding “Black Friday” and the economy.

And now I tread into uncomfortable territory. I offer at the outset that I am far from pure as I sit typing away on a laptop, listening to one of the family IPods on one of the family docs.

I just thought that perhaps we’re being driven to increasingly pacifying our inner selves so that we can toil away in this questionable economy/society/culture. We’re really quite certain that what we have now is so much better than anywhere else in the world, and mostly better than anything we’ve had before. Yet, we sit very still for most of every day, either in our cars or in front of our computers or in front of our televisions. We get fatter and fatter and we cannot quite figure out what’s wrong. We take more and more medications and hope for some even better ones. We buy one thing and another thinking that THIS one will be just the thing, and then we go out again to buy another. And we cling so desperately to this life, thinking that if we cure, prevent, or predict all these diseases that we then won’t be so plagued by worry.

However, if you look, we’re still plagued by worry, maybe moreso. We’re still getting fatter. We’re paying for new medications and new technology and new sport shoes and new cars- never quite satisfied. Our plan just isn’t working out that well for us. It also isn’t working that well for the rest for the world.

We’ve exported our insatiability, and we chafe at other countries taking resources we are used to having all for ourselves. Instead of reflecting, and maybe finding that we can be satisfied, we fight over those resources. This dear earth cannot support everyone in the style middle class Americans are used to.

Then, we do not even consider where all those old cell phones and laptops and televisions and shoes go when we’re done with them. Just take a minute and imagine that only half the people in your town or city got a new phone, television, pair of crocs, computer, or Ipod this year. I'd guess we sent the rest to the dump. Or maybe better, the old ones were sent to be parted up into new ones or at least taken to haz mat to be “properly” disposed of (and what does THAT mean?). I will just point out that I haven’t seen many of these things labeled that they were made exclusively of old components; I do not think that would sell well when shelved by the brand new, everything improved versions.

So, if you’re reading this, you probably have a share in the crime we are committing against our world, and maybe if we can at least admit our guilt, we can all try to upgrade less frequently- or even do without occasionally.

Monday, November 8, 2010

What I'm Not Supposed to Say About Homeschooling

The other day during tap class, I was reading a nice, fat book, and Sylvie was introducing herself to other younger siblings enduring an older child's class. A mother sitting near us began to chat with Sylvie, and asked if Sylvie was in school. Sylvie quickly chimed, "We homeschool!"

The mother looked at me and had a very common reaction. She said, "I wish we could do that." My pat answer is that it's not for everybody, because I do not actually want to convert people. I'm pretty certain most people do not even care why or how we go about the business of school. Heck, she was probably just being friendly, but I wanted to get back to my book, as tap class is one of my few guilt-free opportunities to sit and read for a long stretch of time.

The mother then said, "I just get tired of all the drama," with a gesture to her daughter. "She has such a hard time with some of the girls."

I said, "Oh, we have drama at home. I worry that my daughters might kill me." Then I turned back to my book, choking quietly on my foot.

Here's the thing- homeschool isn't perfect, and we all know each other too well to fall back on simple politeness when one of us is in a foul temper. This post is not about how wonderful homeschool is. You can go to myriad places to hear about the glories of homeschool- including some of my other blog posts.

This post is about how I "never" get a break. Pretty much from 6:00 am to 8:00 pm, I am at-the-ready to solve problems. (I know this can also be true for mothers of children who go to school, but I'm just talking about me right now.) I get really tired of reassuring Phaedra every thirty seconds that she is doing her math right. I get tired of reminding Ezra that we have things to do besides read fantasy novels and discuss the magic of numbers. I cook the meals and wash the dishes with steady interruptions. Even when I've sent my darlings outside, they check in every three to five minutes for a drink, a snack, a discovery, an argument, a question, etc. For our school time, I'm in a very steady giving mode, trying to be completely open to all requests. The children sometimes need to resist me and this can make school a drag.

Today, over a very pleasant breakfast, Phaedra said, "I sometimes wish you were not my mother." She seems to choose the most idyllic moments to share these tidbits with me. Then she said, "You probably wish I wasn't your daughter sometimes, too."

"No," I answered firmly, "that's not how it works. You'll probably think how different I could be for your whole life, but I'll always want you just like you are. It's the joy of motherhood."

This conversation is a shadow to every school day. Our school time is sometimes just a very clear sign of all I'm doing wrong. And even I get tired of messing up that often.

There are also all the things I'd like to do for them that I never get around to. Like clipping fingernails and accompanying their fiddles with a guitar, reading hours and hours to Sylvie, finishing Oliver Twist with Ezra and Book of Fairy Princes with Phaedra, and painting two or three days a week and all that. There are my own projects I cannot get to in the face of homeschooling, like leaf raking and trim painting and hole filling and dog training.

Most of the time, it's all okay. I can see what I'm gaining by giving up on a few things, but sometimes, I can feel that list of things I can't quite get to hurtling behind me like a freight train. Then, homeschooling doesn't feel peaceful or beatific or glamorous. Then, it's my job to put one foot in front of the other and press on.

Now, back to our regular home school booster club.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Why Worry

The leaves need raking.

I need leaves for the garden.

I need leaves for the compost.

Violet needs a corner wall in the barn.

The green house needs end walls. And plastic. And probably other things I’m not thinking of.

The chickens still are not laying.

The chickens would lay better with some artificial light.

The chickens are not in a place where we can easily/safely give them light.

There are places that need shingles.

Is the plywood beginning to warp beneath Ezra’s new window?

Nico has dug ten holes in the empty gardens.

The wire to protect the trees is lying in the field, not wrapped around the trees.

Six trees need wire.

The hole in the garden created by the drip from the rain gutter is still a hole.

There is a lot of construction debris around our shabby house making it look shabbier.

Some of the wood is still getting rained on.

Wet wood doesn’t heat that well.

Who can we get log lengths from?

Elmer needs to be brushed.

Sylvie’s nails need trimming. Ezra needs a science lesson. Phaedra needs me to listen to her report on Understood Betsy. Is Jason getting enough time?

And still, I’m glad to be here when I remember to notice where I am.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Cow Worship

Our cow is no nicer than she was. She still gives us terrible trouble when the mood strikes. The other morning, for example, she cavorted about, kicking up her heels, brandishing her horns, charging toward us in a scary way. Our best guess is that it was too dark for her to see well, and she did not want to leave the safety of the barn. We altered our schedule slightly, and that behavior has not resurfaced.

So, maybe you’re wondering why I would talk of cow worship. Well, every morning, I humble myself to her. I serve her by carefully wiping the crap from a variety of her surfaces. Even in this challenging, relatively foul task, I speak calm words of praise to her beauty and admire her coat and express respect for her size and horns. I make offerings of affection, like a good rub behind the horns, that she might deign to accept as worthy of her greatness.

Then comes the part that really feels like sacrifice.

I kneel close beside her. I am under and behind the wideness of her belly. I am right beside the power of her feet, pretty much beneath the bulk of her. I am completely in the splatter zone of any of her elimination. It’s hard to remember to breath evenly as I reach under and work my hands along her teats. I feel very aware of how she could step on my bent knee or move quickly enough to knock me over. I press my forehead or cheek to the greatness of her side when she is not sullied. I feel the stiffness of my back and hands as I resist the amount I have to surrender to my task.

And finally, when I surrender, on the majority of mornings when she stands peacefully as I work, I know why people worshipped cows.

I have also been thinking on my years as a vegetarian and vegan. While taking more and more responsibility for my current choices to eat meat and milk and all things animal, I see the logic behind choosing not to. My cow is enslaved. We try to make it pleasant, and I am comfortable with our choices, but we require a hundred little sacrifices from her. She is parted from her calf for many hours of the day. We decide whether she’ll have shelter for a day or not. She is a herd animal isolated in a group two. We wake her most mornings so we can take milk she makes for her calf. (I know she makes an abundance of milk due to breeding, but I assure you she would rather the calf nurse than me milk her.) We chain her. We limit her diet and her ability to roam. And so on.

When I think of these things, as I meditate solemnly beside her, I think she might be due a little worship as well.