Saturday, December 29, 2012


We left the day after Christmas headed toward Louisiana to check on the boys' grandaddy who is in the hospital for a while after a bad fall. It was a bittersweet visit, and on the drive back today, Daddy Honey was full of thoughtful silence and concentrated looks.


Friday, December 21, 2012

The Yule of the Bitten-Through Bottom Lip

That title's a spoiler, huh? Well, no hiding it. Our Solstice celebration ended with a puncture wound, from which the afflicted boy, number 1, is currently recovering on the couch watching Phineas and Ferb. Boy number 2 slept through it. And Daddy Honey left to calm his nerves with some noise rock.

But leading up to that was quite special, and also fun, and maybe meaningful for more family members than just me.

This afternoon, the boys and I made a sacred cave for the divine mother and child to dwell in on this the longest night of the year. Northwest Arkansas has the most perfect rocks in the world for this kind of project, and after some happy excavating and careful-for-the-toes (bare, always) placements, we had a pretty iconic cave, if I do say so myself. Then, we chose from our animal figures, some of which go back to my own childhood, attendants to the newly birthed pair. Oddly enough, Woody and I both had dreams about bears last night, so we included her, first, and the little fawn was a likely choice. But then things got crazy fun. Snails. Chameleons. Ears of corn. Fox added a couple of knights in full armor, but Woody discreetly removed them later, telling me, "I don't think Fox knows this is a no-war zone."

It was great. By the time we added Woody's warrior fairy from last year and the candle to the inside, I was fully smitten with this creche scene and vowed to repeat it until the day I die.

Next came swimming. That was unexpected, but our neighbor Gavin across the street invited us, and I knew the boys would have a blast. We picked up Daddy Honey from work and headed to the indoor pool with suits and towels and we swam until we were all pruny. Even Fox. 

We started the bonfire when we got home and added the Yule log from last year, to which we had tied our wishes for the year to come. We lit the candle in the little cave and watched quietly as everything burned bright and warm.

Then, Woody and Daddy Honey started playing night sniper in the dark, Woody tripped and fell into the wheelbarrow, and he bit down through his bottom lip. He flipped out. Daddy Honey flipped out. We called Amy Leigh, my sister who is a nurse, to confirm for anxious Daddy Honey that the injury did not call for a hospital visit. (Yep. Were he alone, he would have packed that poor kid in the car and started driving for a slit the size of a baby tooth.)

A few capfuls of peroxide in water for a swish and Woody's fine, though the spell of the night was broken. Or maybe not. I know what waits for our tiny mother and child, and it's this--addled dad and injured child and doubt that any of this was a good idea. It's a cave full of dirty dishes, wet towels, dog-hair speckled toys, and new shoes that are going to have to wait until January. A little heartache. A little blood and spit. You know this story, too.

Mothers of young children take their magic in small doses--warm feet around a pretty fire, giggle-worthy malapropisms from healthy 3 year olds, somebody saving for her (or more likely, forgetting about) the last blackberry Greek yogurt. Then it's back to action--dabbing with damp washcloths, a mad dash to the post office, scooping poop from the backyard, running alongside a wobbly bike, helping a partner to find his calm again. That's good enough. In fact, that's good. And when everybody's asleep and the house is quiet and the light in the tiny cave still glows, they'll--I'll--remember that it's exactly what I was hoping this life would be like, and even if all the little wishes I wrote to send out into the Universe on the smoke of the Solstice bonfire come true, it would just make things better than best.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Play and play and play

Good gods, these boys can play. And play, and play, and play.

Granddaddy sent Woody $10 for his birthday, and at the toy store he picked out this:

Notice that cannon and morning star ? He fairly ran to the register once he had this in his hands!

The boys had been in a Playmobil groove for days already (incorporating lots of other toys into the play, too), but this re-energized the knight scenario particularly, and we are on something like 15 waking hours of the last 48 playing with the clever German-made toys.

I know the value of children's unstructured play has gotten some press lately in contrast to the great lengths and expense that some parents go to in order to get their children into certain preschools. In my family, this special kind of play, the whole-house, rambling, collaborative, imaginative, incorporative play has been one of the best things in my life. I can see the connections, both intellectual and interpersonal, being made in each moment. Mornings of play often lead to afternoons of questions and quiet reflection and investigations using books, documentaries, trips around town, and the like. It's flexible and adaptable to many circumstances and personalities. It's fun. And on days when I feel unsure about our homeschooling, I think to myself, "Well, if nothing else, we sure do know how to play." And if I let myself relax into the whole world that play opens up, I realize that's not only enough, but that it touches on everything.

Monday, December 17, 2012

the Hanging of the Greens

Razorback pomander, by Woody.

One of the things that's great about being part of a faith community is that people regularly get together to do cool stuff, and they want you to come, too. Now, I'm not going to wax nostalgic about the particulars of that, because every church, temple, synagogue, mosque, or other sacred space is different, and any one of them can feel different from one week to the next, depending on who's in the building. But on a good day, a day when everybody seems to be looking at the mission together, and looking into their hearts to find responses, and looking in the mirror asking their best selves to show up, then it's a thing of beauty. All the better if my kids actually want to participate in whatever's going on.

The Hanging of the Greens this Sunday evening was like that. We all went. The boys, at first, were sold by the promise of decorating sugar cookies with copious amounts of icing and sprinkles. They did that, took two bites, and then went to enjoy everything else.

The youth group kids helped them to make lemon pomanders, twisted-paper stars, and highlighter drawings that glowed under black lights. There was face painting and a shell game played with overturned clay saucers and Mardi Gras beads. Fox laughed so hard at each of his wins at this game that his face turned red and he stopped making sound, and people got worried, until all his joy erupted in great shrieks of happiness.

If you know my grumpy little boy, you know this is a Big Win. He seldom gets past scowls in public, sharing any positive impressions from the safety of his carseat on the drive home. And at the twisted-paper stars station, they twisted their paper into mustaches, tied them to their faces with string, and had the most fun a bunch of kids can have in places filled with love, support, and resources.

See the star there, in red and yellow? And the mustache--far more popular--in light green.

There were as many adults as children, and the adults were paying lots of attention to the kids, a main ingredient in a happy mixed-age experience. And Daddy Honey was there, doing his Daddy Honey thing, which in our family is like having the big, sturdy ship to sail on.

It's not always like this, and that's a tough truth since, as the paid person in the religious education position, I am often partly responsible--or at least seen as partly responsible--for the times we fall short of creating this kind of wonderful. But last night, it was there, and as the parent of two deliriously happy little boys, I was thankful for it.

Friday, December 14, 2012

the 5th night of Hannukah

Last night was our neighbor Gabrielle's weekly movie night, but it was also the 5th night of Hannukah. She and I joke about being dormant Jews, since her mother and maybe my maternal great-great-grandmother were Jewish. How one or others define or claim Jewishness has varied over the centuries and locations, and relates to genealogy, culture, and religion. But one of the more well-known notions is that one born to a Jewish mother is Jewish.

But really, that's just playing. Last night, we did Hannukah for real. At the movie night were Yaniv and Daniel, Yaniv who is Israeli and Daniel who was raised Jewish but hasn't practiced for a long time. Daniel made sweet potato latkes and salmon. There was a  little silver menorah, which they lit while reciting the prayer in Hebrew. Then Yaniv, who is a terrific jazz keyboardist, played and sang several Hannukah and pouplar Israeli songs in Hebrew.

The boys ate and listened quietly during the prayer, but their attention waved, as one might expect, when Yaniv was telling about the history of Hannukah, how it's celebrated in Israel, and some of the fundamental pieces of Judaism. It was fascinating for me, but over their heads for sure. Fox got wiggly and kept asking to go home. I got embarrassed about that, so was feeling a little stressed out after a certain point. During the music, I offered to take them back over to our house, and they were glad to go. I had Daddy Honey make our excuses so we could leave without distracting much from the goings-on.

We went to bed soon afterward, and lie in bed talking for a long time, each from our single bed in the second bedroom. The night felt good, special but not pressured. It was something new that fit seamlessly into something wonderful that we've loved for a long time--gathering with friends at a potluck to talk and laugh and be.

Yaniv said that the essence of Judaisim is merging the material with the spiritual, knowing that this life on earth is everything and enough, that to eat and share and make babies and do work is to be a divine being. I don't know if the boys heard or understood that, but for me that rang true and right about our life together.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The theater

My boys are fascinated with nutcrackers. I think it's because they're terrifying, what with their giant teeth and bulging eyes (especially the way Maurice Sendak does them, above). Plus, they are usually dressed as soldiers, which always attracts the Honey boys' attention. So, when Woody found "Nutcracker: the Motion Picture" (a 1986 production by the Pacific Northwest Ballet) on Netflix, he asked if we could watch it. We did, and surprise! They loved it! I would have thought that a live-action stage ballet had little chance of keeping their attention for an hour and a half, and to be sure the fight scene and fiercest-looking dancers were the favorites, but they watched it twice in two days, told their dad the whole story, and have been playing pretend mouse king versus nutcracker with great feeling.

And I had no idea months ago when I joined the homeschooler collective to pre-buy tickets for the Walton Arts Center children's matinee performances that this would turn out to be a theater kind of week. But today, we went to see the Mermaid Theater of Nova Scotia's puppet show, "Guess How Much I Love You & I Love My Little Storybook." The boys were enthralled! It was a bit odd, sitting in the theater with hundreds of young school kids and a few handful of scolding teachers, but once the show started, there was no denying the holding power of that magic. Afterward, too, the puppeteers answered questions about how the puppets were made and how the show was put together. The boys liked the fact that the rabbit puppets' heads were attached with bungee cords. I immediately came home and wrote a fan and thank-you letter, because that is just something I like to do.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A fat Yes! to start your day with:

"Bring on the Learning Revolution!" A twenty-minute TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson that you won't be sorry to watch:

"Education dislocates people from their natural talents."

"What we need is not evolution, but a revolution in education. This needs to be transformed into something else."

"The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we should save our country." -- Abraham Lincoln to Congress, 1862

"There are things we're enthralled to in of them is the idea of linearity, that it starts here, and you go through a track, and if you do everything right, you will end up set for the rest of your life...Life is not linear; it's organic. We create our lives symbiotically as we explore our talents in relation to the circumstances they help to create for us. We have become obsessed with this linear narrative...Human communities depend upon on a diversity of talent, not a singular conception of ability. At the heart of the challenge is to reconstitute our sense of ability and talent. This linearity is a problem."

"We have to go from what is essentially an industrial model of education--a manufacturing model--which is based on linearity and conformity and batching people. We have to move to a model that is based more on agriculture. We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process, it's an organic process. You cannot predict the outcome of human development, all you can do--like a farmer--is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish."


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A visit

We had a visit. A nice visit. For a good, long week. Nana and cousin Aila came from Florida, and we went downtown to see the lights, to the pizza place whose name Aila can't help but giggle when she says out loud (Damgoode Pies), to Hobbs State Park visitors center, Terra Studios, Little Bread Company, and the castle park. We baked a delicious cake and celebrated a big birthday for all three kids, whose birthdays span mid-fall to mid-winter. We did origami. We made window stars. We decorated the tree. We painted wishbones and hung them as ornaments. We shared knitting, bird watching, wrestling, play-pretend, hot cocoa, Scribblenauts, and taco night. And we practiced getting along when our little house felt much littler than it really is.

And today was back to a more typical rhythm which, in the wake of happy family visits, is a little quieter, a little softer, and for a few days at least, a little sad.

Friday, November 30, 2012


See the one in the middle, staring at the dust motes in the sun beam and fondling a toy grenade? Today is his first full day being seven.

He says it feels the same, since he's the same height and all. Maybe if he'd grown a foot overnight or something, it would feel different, but not as it is.

Yesterday, Daddy Honey woke up with him at dawn, and after admiring the pink and gold clouds, they played Wii well into the morning. We dropped Daddy Honey off at work, then went to see a movie, "Rise of the Guardians." He wanted popcorn. From the theater. He'd never gotten that before and wanted to try some. We dropped as much as we ate, but it was good, and they loved the movie. He still didn't believe in Santa or the Sandman or anything, he said, but the movie did help him to not be so afraid of the dark.

Back home in the afternoon, we made a vanilla cake with strawberries on top. I missed my mom's collection of cake pans. As a kid, I always chose heart-shaped. Some day, I want to make the boys a two-layer round. And he had asked Daddy Honey to make his sauteed bok choi for dinner. We ate the greens, sang the song, ate the cake, and played with presents--two toy grenades, two packs of cap-gun rounds, and a science lab set.

There was a surprise explosion! Vinegar, lemon juice, and baking soda under pressure in a capped flask then shaken up. "Lucky I was wearing my goggles," he said, "but I do taste kind of gross lemon juice."

This morning, he popped out of bed when it was still dark outside, woke Daddy Honey, and got back to the lab still in pajamas and before birthday cake breakfast. I asked that all the finished formulas be dumped in the tub, since they're mostly combinations of vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, salt, and water. I had visions of going in there to give a good scrub, congratulating myself on not wasting the materials. But I have a feeling that some other ingredients got added at some point--maybe cumin, mustard seeds, and olive oil, because my bath tub is looking less like green cleaning recipes and more like hummus.

So far, seven is pretty great.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Losing Teeth

So, losing teeth.

I considered this a milestone, a very big deal, physical evidence of the transition from young, small, dependent child to less young, bigger, and ever-more independent child. It also happens around age 7, which, for many kids, is kind of a big one existentially. The little one loses the tooth, the mama keeps the tooth, and the next day makes for goofy, silly smiles, lisps, and maybe some sighs of my-baby's-growing-up.

But alas, Woody feels differently.

He lost his first tooth at the LSU-Arkansas game on Saturday with Daddy Honey, Uncle John, Beth, and cousin Caleb. He doesn't really know what happened to it. Maybe something about a hot dog. Popcorn, perhaps? He just noticed there was a hole there, he said. He said nothing of it until I noticed it hours later. I assured him that the tooth fairy came even though there was no tooth. Daddy Honey confirmed this before bed, to lay any worry to rest. Woody waved us off and said, "I don't really care about the money that much."

I was at a loss. Then, I shrugged acceptance. Our kids are their own little people, huh?

This morning, we woke to find that the other bottom tooth had come out. Luckily (for me, who had the special little container for lost teeth picked out when Woody was born!), Daddy Honey found the 2nd lost tooth in the sheets.

"Great!" said Woody. "Now I can go back to chewing on both sides of my mouth because I don't have to worry about a wiggly tooth!"

I'll sigh my sighs to myself, confident that the evidence of growing up is all around me and truly, requires no biological memento as proof.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Citizen Scientists

Woody popped out of bed this morning and ran to the window, scaring off a big mystery bird--maybe a blue jay? I only caught a bluish, white-striped glimpse. But the next half hour at the window proved just as exciting! We added to our two-day count an American Robin, a female Red-bellied Woodpecker, and a male House Finch. The last two Woody ID'ed himself with the help of the Common Feeder Birds poster we got with our Project FeederWatch kit, and I could corroborate with still more pictures from the  guide to use as comparisons.

We submitted our first round of data this morning. This Citizen Scientist thing is pretty cool.

Monday, November 19, 2012

In a moment at the window

A former acquaintance of our family, the father of a young friend a year older than Woody, was killed early Saturday morning when he stopped his car to try and intervene in a fight. He was run over with his own truck, twice, and died in the street. The suspect was caught. He has a serious criminal history, at 23 years old.

I learned this a moment after a Carolina Wren came to the window, our first visitor at the new feeder. I was surprised at how light his stout little body was as he hopped around the tray. His feathers were smooth, russet above, soft buff below. His long, downward-curving bill made him look a little angry, but a dashing white eyeline and cheerfully uplifted tail diminished that some.

At my computer, beside the window still, I went through the wrens to make an identification and discover the bird's name. And then, something else: an email about Chris Breeze, a reminder that we are animals, too, animals who break each other and spread suffering to strangers and children.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

"Three... a magic number."

Magic, too, is Daddy's corduroy lap, Fox belly-chuckles, and Woody's smiling eyes.

Guess what we finished today!!! The tray bird feeder!!!

Red oak is a very, very hard wood. I knew this, and thought it would add to the feeder's longevity, and it may, but it also made nailing very, very difficult. Woody and I bent a dozen nails each trying to put it together. The staple gun, too, was defeated. Daddy Honey was a sport and only grumbled a little bit when we needed his help and he smashed his thumb. My first woodworking project, Woody's third. Learning as we go along. Pine next time.

Our Project Feederwatch materials should arrive any day, so we'll hope for plentiful bird visits to record.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Thoughts on reading

I was out of town for the weekend, from early Friday morning to late Sunday afternoon, for a job training. I had never been away from the boys for longer than 12 or so hours before. My training session was very full and very busy, and I met dozens of people, and by the time I got back to my room, at 10 o'clock at night, I was exhausted and fell right to sleep. So I had little time to pine.

But when I got back, I realized how much I  had missed them. So all day yesterday, we played. And I got to remembering how amazing them are, how beautiful, how kind and spunky and funny and full of energy and good ideas.

Today, as we settle back into our regular rhythms, it's as if I am watching with new eyes. I am astounded at how much these little boys are learning about the world.

Fox pulled the Great States Jr. game off the shelf. I was making soup for lunch, so asked them to get started without me while I cooked. They did. Woody read some of the instructions, and he intuited some of the instructions (matching colored cards to colored spaces and such). Starting the game, I was surprised to hear him read every single card. "Find the state that processes the most gold." And then he found and announced the answers. Nevada. "Find five states that start with M." Michigan. Minnesota. Maryland. Missouri. Montana. "Find the state where the first log cabin was built." Delaware. And on it went.

All by himself, and with plenty of support, he learned this. He learned how to read. We read together when he wanted to, when he requested or when I offered and he said yes. I answered questions when he asked them. I payed attention when he wanted me to notice something about his learning, a discovery of a word part or an unexpected rhyme or a word that was spelled in a funny way. (Arkansas. He still thinks it's odd that people say Arkansaw.) And here he is.

I had a realization about this.

All the time he spent learning to read, he was doing things that were fun for him and that helped him do what he wanted to do. He was playing games, learning in books about knights and vikings and pirates, sharing amusing information on billboards and signs.

Not one of those minutes was wasted, or tainted with resentment or frustration.

How much time would he have spent learning how to read if he were in school? How many hours of his fourth, fifth, and sixth years on earth? How would he have felt about his time being  used in that way? What would he have rather been doing? What would the instruction from the teachers be telling him implicitly about the ways people learn, about who the experts are, and about his own abilities to master skills? What would he have thought about getting a gold star or an A+ or a smile of approval for gaining that skill?

What, in his one wild and precious life, would he have missed?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Bird Watching

This was Woody's favorite page from a pretty snazzy kids' activity book about birds that we picked up at the feed store.

We are in the thoes of a new pastime at the Honey House, and if you know the Honeys, you know that looks like. Full-tilt.

It started with a mystery bird's sweet, clear little song, sang each dawn and at points throughout the day. The song was so distinct, and yet not familiar to us. Who was that bird, we wondered? In searching it out, I came across the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and their 26-year-old Project FeederWatch. I told Woody about it and asked if he'd like to participate this year, and he was excited about it.

It took us a couple of days to get the birdseed, and we still don't have a feeder. (The cheap ones are flimsy and the sturdy ones are expensive. We may make our own.) But we're all set to begin recording the numbers and species that visit our (forthcoming) feeder in December and throughout the rest of the winter and early spring. That data will be sent in March to Ithaca to be added to their yearly report.

So all week, we've been heading out to the back and side yards, as well as all around town, with our binoculars, playing around and seeking out birds. Woody and I will doubtless get different things out of this project. Two days ago, when he had spotted a bird I happened to know, I whispered to him, "That's a Carolina Chickadee." And he turned and replied, "Mom, I'm not watching to see which ones they are. I'm just watching."

Point taken, as it more and more often is these days--Give me space! (Gosh, I wasn't ready for that at 7!) So I am prepared to pursue this my own way, and to assist Woody in a different way. But, we will overlap at the birds. Maybe the woodwork involved in building a feeder, if we go that route. The citizen scientist bit is pretty cool, too.Definitely the binoculars.

OK, I admit it, it is my new obsession and I may find nearly every single bit of it fascinating until I get saturated, like I usually do, and calm down about it. Meanwhile, even if Woody bows out now, he has learned so much from our exploration this week. He adjusts the binoculars' focus, beginning to see how focal points and lenses work. He sits quietly outside on the edge of the bushes, observing, describing, and comparing birds he sees. He knows a few parts of the bird--the crown, eyeline, breast. He compared various types and prices of feeders with me at the feed store. We talked about placement in our yard, taking into consideration several factors including the birds' safety, our ability to watch them from inside the house, and keeping the feeder out of the typical play-zone. He's read some about birds, and listened to some bird songs at the site, and watched birding videos with me. And it's been a nice, big helping of that outside time that, this year especially, lends itself to deep breathing, wonder, movement, and happy imaginative play.

Up at work one day, we stopped by the memorial garden on the property. There weren't any birds to look at, but there was plenty else.

The songbird turned out to be a White-throated Sparrow. If you click on the "Song" tab behind the pop-up, you can hear the song that we've been hearing outside the bedroom window for the last seven days. I'm very, very grateful for what this little whistle ushered into our lives.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Voting Day!

Isn't voting day so exciting? Daddy Honey is working from home this morning, so he took Woody in bright and early to vote with him. Five people told Daddy Honey they thought it was so great that he brought his daughter in to vote with him. Daddy Honey tried to respond in a way that communicated Woody's gender, "He's my son, Woody. He's excited to be here, too." But he said no one seemed to hear that part, and Woody said he didn't care anyway. (Apparently he's noticed that it happens from time to time.)

I had insomnia last night, waking at 2:30 a.m. and not being able to fall back asleep. Woody had been stuck on the end-of-level castle in World 2 of Super Mario Brothers on the Wii, so I passed it for him. He was super excited to be in a new world this morning.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A little too much talking, and Papier-mâché

Our Florida friend Alison sent us a Halloween card, and in it she included these little cardboard Civil War soldiers. Woody and I put them together, with a bit of glue for longevity, while Fox napped, and we set up a battle later in the day.

This weekend a stomach bug ripped through our family. First Fox, then I, then Woody fell ill with it. Daddy Honey escaped it. (I think that's because he cleaned up the least puke. Usually, it is my iron-clad constitution that eludes the viruses and bacteria.) So our weekend was spent quietly at home, with at least one person asleep at almost any given period during those 48 hours.

Today, I put in a few hours of work that I missed at the church while the boys played with Play-Doh, drew pictures, played with the train set in the nursery, and read books from the library. Two hours is the most they like to spend doing that, so I aim for an hour and a half to keep everyone in good moods.

On the way home, Woody asked me (out of the blue) why people open businesses. So we talked about money, and making a living, and doing things you like and are good at. When I said the part about things you are good at, I said good with numbers, and he asked why one would have to be good with numbers to open a business. We talked more about sales and salaries, taxes, mark-ups, and overhead.

But I had to keep it cool. Last night, he asked what the legislature did, and Daddy Honey and I totally geeked out on him about it. He listened, patiently, as he does, and then said in all honesty, "Wow. That went on a lot longer than I expected."

It's just that his questions are getting so gosh-darn interesting to talk about! But, I will practice restraint and only give what I think he wants, plus a tiny bit of what he might find really cool. 

The papier-mâché castle is complete! Just the right size for Playmobils. Turns out papier-mâché has a cool history all its own, complete with several turns on the battlefield, across cultures and centuries!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Halloween candy and a paper castle

The boys have been on-and-off grumpy the past two days. I know a lot of folks would blame that on the large quantities of Halloween candy they've been eating, and that's partly true. They also have been going to bed late and waking up early, having recently decided they like seeing Daddy Honey off to work. And, the days after a big holiday are always a bit of a let-down, and young kids sometimes have a hard time sorting out feelings when there's a general mood of ennui.

But I wanted to share some about the candy, specifically.

Some people disavow the link between large quantities of sugar and moodiness. I don't. I see and feel it plain as day in myself, and I suspect it might be at play in my kids, too. But, I think it's a bad idea to base a family's food culture on that link. In fact, I think it's counterproductive to make much of that link at all.

Controlling food or coercing kids into making the food choices that you'd like them to make has the effect of 1) creating an artificial premium on the forbidden foods, 2) deteriorating kids' trust that their adults will help them fulfill requests to experience the world, 3) setting up a situation where they cannot help but judge others who consume the foods you've labelled as bad (or judge you, if you slip up and eat a "bad" food, or if they come to disagree with your assessments), and 4) depriving them of the opportunity to learn to listen to their bodies, something they can only do by trying new and different things (including stuff that may make them feel ill, jumpy, jittery, or grumpy).

I don't want it to be like that between my kids and me, or between my kids and their food.

So, I notice what they eat without judgment, comment, or look; I share with them happily; and continue to offer a variety of foods that they like, ask for, or may have never tried before. This morning's breakfast was a good example: mint tea, sliced oranges, cranberries, Greek yogurt with honey, small sausage patties, and Whoppers. (Fox reached in the candy bowl, pulled out a few packs of Whoppers, and set one next to each of our plates; their willingness--eagerness, even!--to share their Halloween candy this year has astonished me. I was NOT like that as a kid.) I skipped the Whoppers, myself. Woody went light on the sausage and ate only two of the three Whoppers in the package. Fox didn't touch the yogurt or cranberries, but ate the rest.

Yesterday I cleaned up more opened-but-uneaten or partially eaten candy than actual emptied candy wrappers. (But don't misunderstand me--there was a bunch of both!) For lunch today, we played restaurant with a real meal of rice and beans and dried papaya dessert, and nobody cared that the candy bowl was empty.

We found Woody's piggy bank this afternoon after months of it being lost, and in it was $22 worth of coins. He's been asking for a pair of hand cuffs, so we went to Wal-Mart to buy them. While we were there, I offered to buy a package of candy to refill our bowl. Woody said, "Nah, I'm good on candy." And Fox said, "No, but I do want a lollipop." He sucked on it for five minutes on the way home, then handed it to me and told me he was going to take a rest, and promptly fell asleep. I put him down when we got home, and Woody and I together read this article from Mark Bittman, Daddy Honey's favorite chef, entitled "101 Simple Salads." We chose the mushroom/onion/parsley salad to make together, and we split it.

That was our experience with Halloween candy this year. A hot flash of novelty and chocolate, then a refusal of more, two days later. For adults who didn't grow up with food issues, maybe this looks like not a big deal. But it's a big deal to me, that my kids can recognize the feeling of satiation and turn down a sweet.

Earlier, I started a project that I'd been thinking about a long time:

I envisioned this as a collaborative endeavor, a co-created paper mache castle made from saved cardboard boxes, cardboard tubes, and egg cartons. But, they boys weren't really that interested. Woody wanted to give me ideas for the design. Fox wanted to draw "guys" to go in the castle when it was finished. But neither wanted an actual hand in the mess, and their total involvement was probably less than 10 minutes.

Fair enough. I finished it up solo while they played Wii, built with Duplo Legos, drew with markers, and played knights outside. 

There's value in doing things alone, too, which may be a post for another day...

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Uptown Trick-or-treating

Our neighborhood, we learned, doesn't really do Halloween. Some friends two houses down told us that the kids who live here go elsewhere, namely, to the very moneyed historic neighborhood nearby. We're south, and downhill, they are north, and uphill, technically the same street but separated by the big old courthouse smack dab in the middle of it that prevents an actual thoroughfare. 

We've never left our neighborhood to trick-or-treat, even though we've always lived in lower-income neighborhoods similar in location and demographic to this one. At the first suggestion of it, Woody didn't want to go. But, only four houses in the two blocks around us had candy for children. So, we followed the throngs uptown. 

That felt odd for Daddy Honey and I, but not for the boys. They had a good time, we left when their legs were tired, and the outstanding candy haul sits in our biggest bowl on the buffet table. Woody's costume was a hit; it was made this afternoon when Woody changed his mind at the last from a zombie to a white-sheet-ghost with holes for eyes, like on Charlie Brown. Fox had a terrific skeleton costume handed down from Woody, but he felt self-conscious wearing it, so he put on his gorilla t-shirt that Daddy Honey brought him back from the San Diego zoo. He went to a few houses, but none of the ones with scary decorations, and fell asleep six houses from the end of the loop leading back to our car. 

Tomorrow is November 1. We never celebrated All Souls Day as kids, despite growing up Catholic, but it has always felt like a significant date to me. Like the real beginning of the end of something, when fall turns from frisky to hushed, a season getting serious about itself. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Parmesan mountain and blunderbuss

Fox is asleep, the mid-day, deep nap of a body working to fight off a cold. It's not much of a cold, but it's been a long time since he was sick with anything--maybe since last spring? Winter, maybe?

Today at lunch I turned around to see a funny sight (above): he had gone to the refrigerator, pulled out the container of Parmesan cheese, and poured the whole thing over his spaghetti. He was eating spoonfuls of it, then digging through it to pull up some spaghetti, saying something to himself about snakes in the snow, then gobbling some more.

He was positively giddy about it. I asked him why he hadn't asked me to help him with it, but he said "I did it sneaky, by myself." His independence still surprises me. In all the kids in my extended family, I can't recall another like him.

At the library last week we got a Scholastic Storybook Treasures DVD. I like them so much. The boys immediately found a favorite in Tomi Ungerer's The Three Robbers. It's a fantastic book that tells the story of three vicious robbers whose hearts are turned by a little orphan girl named Tiffany.

Prominent mention is made of the robbers' three weapons--a pepper blower; a huge, red ax; and a blunderbuss. After the fifth or sixth watching, Woody said out loud that the blunderbuss was probably a made-up weapon.

Was it? We looked it up.

In fact, no! The blunderbuss is a wonderfully charismatic old firearm, an early shotgun with a flared barrel and other lovely curves. It was used mainly in the late 18th century. It seems to have spread throughout Europe and into America. It's alternate name was the dragon, and its easy use by soldiers on cavalry (being a short-nosed weapon with decent accuracy at close aim), led to the naming of the mounted soldiers, dragoons.

Woody was most satisfied at that, but I wanted to know more about Tomi Ungerer, and spent a little while looking into his works and biography. (Woo-ee, is his a doozy! A good, short piece is here, in the NY Times from '08.) Turns out there is a pretty fantastic museum in Strasbourg, France, dedicated to his art. I definitely want to go someday.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A schedule (!), vikings, and stuck up a tree

Maybe the farthest-traveling postcard we've received yet--from Svalbard in the Arctic!

I had a brainstorm today.

We've been having regular difficulty leaving the house these last several weeks, and the expression of dissatisfaction seemed to be escalating...and spreading. At first, Woody would protest and kvetch a little bit. Then, a lot. Then, he would protest, kvetch, and tell us he hated us. Then hurl insults. Not cool.

The stopgaps that we'd employed until now were failing--building in special side-trips to the running of an errand, having special car snacks, giving lots of notice--or sometimes no notice--of the occasion to get into the car and go. All were met with shrieking and rage, seemingly way out of proportion to the offense of leaving the house. And now Fox was starting to complain at the first hint of transportation, too.

I've been extra patient with Woody lately because he's going through a lot. He's growing ridiculously fast, and he's had a series of pretty significant social hurts and disappointments . I could see how appealing it would be to just stay home where it's comfortable, familiar, nurturing, and if I do say so myself, pretty darn fun.

But, there are some things I need to do during daylight hours, and there is Fox to consider, and Fox does like to get out and about.

So today, we made up a calendar. We designated "Stay-Home Days," a "Library/Park Day," a "Farmer's Market/Errand Day," and "Homeschoolers' Play Day at the Park." I wrote out each day on the wall calendar for the next three weeks. Knowing that there were two Stay-Home Days, and that they were written down, seemed pretty significant to Woody. I don't know if the willingness to divide the week thusly will stick, but it did allow us to get out of the house today without duress.

And the favorite topic right now, inspired by a conversation Daddy Honey brought home about an article he'd read about the archaeological evidence of northern European camps around Baffin Bay, as well as Aunt Annie's Fullbright stay in Norway, is vikings.

I showed Woody how I did the catalog search for the viking books, and he took the scrap of paper with the call number and found the shelf we were seeking. Then both boys got so excited about what we found there that they didn't make it back to the reading area before diving in. 

Since we had already designated the day an out-and-about day, we went to the park. I spotted a pretty maple with fairly low, smooth, large branches, and I asked Woody if he wanted to climb it. I could give him a boost up, I said.

He got stuck.

The branches he's on above are about 7 feet up. There's another branch on the other side about 5 feet up, but he was scared to move to it. I, maybe mistakenly, told him I didn't want to try and catch him from a straight jump--he's 85 lbs., and I am very newly recovered from months with a sore back. I offered some other strategies, foot placements, weight distribution, etc. But he didn't like any of them. So, the only solution he could see was for him to wait in the tree 2 1/2 hours until Daddy Honey got off work and could help him down. He asked me to set the timer on my phone so he'd know when that was. 

But luckily, Daddy Honey was willing and able to walk the 15 minutes from campus to the park to help Woody down, and truth be told, was rather delighted to be wanted and needed in such a way by his fast-growing oldest boy.

The recovery from this was instantaneous. We played more at the park, and now he is at our neighbor Atticus' house playing Nerf battle. The rest of the day was easy and sweet.

This is so needed, these small steps back toward confident, OK, and content. I know we all dance around that balance, but it's hard to watch one's kids veer off to one side of it or the other, even just for a moment or a morning. It's good to see them back in the flow of being themselves and being glad about it. 

The back of the postcard from Annie, from Norway. ILYTB is an acronym that all the 23 grandkids in Daddy Honey's family picked up from their grandmother, whom they called "Mimi." It stands for "I love you the best," and despite the exclusivity that seems built into it, it is applied to all family members for any or no occasion at all. They all love and are loved the best. 

Tent Sleeping

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

I did not realize, until last night, how many dogs in our neighborhood live outdoors, or maybe ask to be let outdoors simultaneously at odd hours of the night.

We were in the tent--Woody, the spotted dog, and I. And at 11:30, the first round of howling began. Our spotted dog is a good little camper, and though she knew better than to join the chorus, she did chime in with that little huffing pre-bark. I shush'ed her, the other dogs quieted eventually, and we all went back to bed. Again, though, the neighborhood alarm was sent 'round at 3. I had to get up to pee anyway, so asked Woody if he wouldn't mind if we just took our pillows back inside to sleep until morning. He didn't. He was getting a little cold anyway, he said.

But he thought our first try at backyard camping was still great for two reasons. Number one, he'd gotten to see and feel the wind right before he fell asleep. And number two, because sky was clear and dark when we got out of our tent to go in, we could see a lot of stars.

I was telling my mom about this on the phone this morning, and she said she remembered having the same thought about the wind as a kid. She only went camping a handful of times, but it was something special that stayed with her.

I recently subscribed to Pam Laricchia's "Explore Unschooling" email series. In one of the sections, she talks about how to say Yes more. Saying yes more is not as indiscriminate or self-sacrificing as many folks first think, she says, and she uses the example of a parent trying to make dinner just as the kids invite him or her to play Monopoly to show how many varieties of yes can be offered.

I thought of this when I woke up in my own bed this morning. I was glad that I was there on the heels of the yes to backyard camping.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Fall Play

I waited a while after the Director of Religious Education position came available at my church before I applied. I had to be sure I could do the work without compromising what I knew to be right and true about children's learning, and I had to feel good about adding those hours to my life. One way I thought that could happen was by scheduling interesting things to do with other families just for the fun of it, and the first activity I planned was a hike.

So Saturday mid-day was spent out in the woods of the Southern Ozarks, in the most perfect weather imaginable, as the trees were in flux--some still green, some beginning to turn, some losing their leaves on the fingers of the wind in trickles of red, orange, and yellow. There were twelve of us total, and my only sadness was that I lost a favorite necklace on the trail.

That evening, a librarian colleague and friend of Daddy Honey who lives in our neighborhood, Kathleen, was hosting a pumpkin-carving party. (This is amazing to me, how much more wonderful life is with neighbors we know and love.) Ours were the only kids there, and I didn't know anyone besides Kathleen, but the other folks were interesting, funny, and kind. They were all librarians, and it was funny to hear them talk shop. Librarian shop-talk is about book bindings and processing new acquisitions and writing out procedures and wading through backlogs.

It made me wonder about my shop-talk. I do parenting shop-talk. I do homeschooling shop-talk. Unitarian shop-talk. La Leche League shop-talk. Soon, maybe, I'll do DRE shop-talk, but I'm new still, and I think that it wouldn't feel natural yet. It's a funny way we make connections with each other, using our specialty languages to communicate with folks who are in similar circumstances and have similar goals.

The boys ate A LOT of candy and Kathleen's homemade Halloween cookies, and took a rain check on the marshmallow roasting that we'd talked about doing earlier.

A couple of days ago, we found a playground with original old 70's equipment. I was so excited about this! Today was the day to check it out. I showed Woody how to twist up two swings side by side, and we climbed in and around the jungle gym together. Gosh, I've lost a lot of flexibility over the years...

And of course playing on all that equipment got me thinking about an old Sesame Street skit that I remembered and loved, and I queued it up for the boys. The video had a lot more old-school playground stuff, so I told him about how hot those metal slides would get and how scary it was if somebody bounced you really high on the see-saws. I didn't tell them about all the fat lips and goose eggs that resulted from falls on this kind of equipment; I don't know if that still happens, on the big plastic playground sets that you see now, but of course it happens when you play out in the woods or on the rocks.

It's weird to be old enough, here on the edge of 35, to share how things used to be, knowing that it seems so quaint or odd or amusing to those growing up now. Woody didn't know what to make of the rust at the joints of the jungle gym bars. That weird metal smell they leave on your hands was new to him. He thought the swings looked "a little rickety" and wondered if they were stable.

We watched about a dozen of my favorite old Sesame Street segments, and laughed together a lot at Grover and Madeline Kahn.