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.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Home and Around

Earlier today, Woody was reading his Piratology book, on the front of which is a compass. He thought he found north, but wanted to know how he could be sure. I remembered learning about the magnetized needle compass, oddly enough, from a pretty bad Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin movie called The Edge. There's a good explanation and tutorial here, from NOAA.

I can hear Daddy Honey and  Woody playing Scrabble in the next room. They are talking about the rules and exceptions regarding the letter Q. Silent K's just came up, too. The word was knife, and it was Woody's play. He was happy about that. Fox fell asleep leaning against his dad's shoulder about an hour ago. I didn't get to brush his teeth before he nodded off. The campfire that we made in the late afternoon has been put out, but the smell of the smoke still lingers in our clothes and hair. We pitched the tent in the backyard and thought we might sleep out there tonight, but we never really got around to the pallet of blankets. It's cold, and I'll be glad to be in my own bed.

Before this, we worked some in the garden. I thinned the lettuce yesterday, and they seem to be rebounding just fine. The chard sprouts look a little precarious to me still for the threat of freeze just around the bend. You deal with the bugs if you start early, but you get the warm-temperature growth boost. Later, the bugs are mostly gone, but you have the freezes and slow growth of cold. Some day I'll go with the Farmer's Almanac or lunar planting dates, but usually, I go with gut and circumstance, the yay or nay feeling I get when my eyes fall upon the packages of seeds sitting in the back room. 

And some time in between today, we played at our neighbor Gabrielle's house. She brought out big pieces of chart paper for Fox to draw on. We had Daddy Honey-made hummus to share, and she had orange seltzer. We all played hide and seek in her house. Twice I was the last one found. Finally, the boys ended up back in our front yard. Woody had gotten a hold of the mortar and pestle and was grinding up dried maple leaves for "tea." The powder smelled like exactly the green that it was, sharp and sour, but pale. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Tripping Along

Woody woke up with the recycling trucks beeping and crunching along the street this morning before the sun had any serious thoughts of rising. He immediately began talking at a volume that suggested (erroneously) that we had moments before been in excited conversation, which bespoke a delightful eagerness to start the day but that nonetheless was a little incongruent, arriving suddenly as I did from a deep sleep. He was telling me of his terrible dream where there was a war in our city, I was bleeding to death and he needed to leave to get me medicine, but first he had to dig a deep hole and put toys in the bottom for Fox so that he would be safe from the enemy tanks until Woody got back.

It reminded me of a movie about kids and war that I saw before Woody was born called Turtles Can Fly. And when I was a kid, I had dreams of my younger sister being in danger and me being in impossible situations but trying to save her. Isn't that a funny thing? That clan coding is pretty deep. When he was done telling me about his dream, he hopped off his bed and went in to chat with Daddy Honey as he got ready for work.

Nouns Woody has needed for the first few levels of a new favorite video game. He thinks of them, I write them out for him, he types them in the game, and they appear on screen. Pretty cool.

And because we woke up so gosh-darn early, we got to all kind of things before even 10 o'clock. We played Scribblenauts (a new favorite game); watched Scooby-Do and the Mr. Men Show; read a new library book, Plagues, Pox, and Pestilence; added to our large collection of castle and battle drawings; talked about the evolutionary leap from reptiles to mammals; checked on the garden (no water needed today); played a little bit of chess; ate breakfast; got dressed; and are presently going to pick up the milk. I've checked email, emptied the dishwasher, put in 20 minutes of paid work, and returned a phone call from a friend.

I know better than to claim I'm about to start cultivating a habit of waking up early, but today, it has been good. And all this week, this is what I've wanted to be doing with the boys--tripping along with everyday stuff, feeling happy and settled together. You know that Zen aphorism, "Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water, clean floor. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water, clearn floor"? I think that's how I find balance again after a big high or, like last week, a big low.

"Before understanding, play games, draw pictures, prepare food. After understanding, play games, draw pictures, prepare food."

Wednesday's chance encounter.

Thursday's drawing.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Unwelcome Information

I want to tell you about something that happened to Daddy Honey on Friday, but I want to do it in a way that doesn't draw weird Google-search attention to this blog. I'm not trying to be coy or ungrammatical, just careful.

While Daddy Honey was in the bathroom on campus on Friday midday, another man flagrantly exposed himself and propositioned him from beneath an adjacent stall. It was upsetting for him, and he reported the incident to the police.

I wrote about it hours afterward on an unschooling forum that I visit frequently. Here's what I posted there:

"All this happened while my two sons and I were waiting in the parking lot to
pick him up for lunch. Through texts, I had an idea of what had happened, and I
thought it best to continue to wait so that my husband could get a chance to
leave campus and get some emotional support. When Woody, my almost-7 year old,
asked what was keeping his dad, I told him that a man had pushed his p enis
toward daddy in the bathroom, and that that's not what people do, that people
don't show each other their private parts in the bathroom and certainly don't
ask or try to force anyone else to touch them. I said it was against the law
because people needed to know they were safe and could have some privacy while
going to the bathroom.

It was the best I could come up with at the time, though I worried maybe that
the take-away message would be more about p enises being dangerous than about the
boundary-crossing. Woody listened wide-eyed while I told the story, but didn't
say anything. He's a very socially aware and sensitive kid.

When my husband got into the car, he was still processing what had happened, but
in a way that was cognizant of our two boys being in the back seat. Still, I
think the mood in the car was probably obviously jangled, upset, shaken up, etc.
But, we went and got our lunch together, and ate it happily with only a few side
comments and conversations here and there as my husband initiated them with me.

I wanted to revisit the information with Woody, briefly, to make sure he knew
the door was open for questions or worries or checking understanding. But I
thought maybe he would want to know he could talk to his dad about it, too, so I
asked my husband if he'd be willing to do the check-in. He did, but Woody wasn't
interested in talking. In fact, he walked away and pretended not to hear my
husband ask.

My instinct is to drop it, to trust that he has some information to work with,
that he's seeing his dad process the trauma in healthy ways--talking to me,
telling stories about having talked to co-workers and the police, etc. (Just to
be clear, this talking is happening in the background, not in ways that involve
Woody.) I'm thinking that it will either percolate up later when he does have
questions or feel comfortable talking about it, or something in the future will
make an obvious connection to this incident and it will come up naturally. Or,
maybe not at all.

But, I'm not clear on what he understood from the event, and I'm worried he may
be sitting with some big, difficult ideas."

Most of the responses to the post said that I had shared too much information with Woody, that it wasn't the right thing to do to burden him with knowledge of a behavior that was scary, probably unlikely to ever happen again, and beyond his understanding at 7. But, I got one response  and couple of private emails afterward from parents saying they would have wanted to be open and honest with their 7-year-olds, too, under similar circumstances. The three friends I called all said the latter, as well.

I'm torn, still. It was a call I made under stress and with good intentions. In retrospect, I can see the wisdom of each choice, though I wonder about the rare part. I don't know what the statistics are or how they are gathered, but Daddy Honey has witnessed or been the target of exposure or inappropriate propositions FOUR times, in four different cities, all in well-used, very public places that he had every reason to consider safe. I didn't have many philosophical or deliberative thoughts in the moments before explaining to Woody what had just happened to his dad, but I wouldn't doubt that the frequency of this danger in our lives played a part in my decision to inform him to the degree that I did.

As a kid, I remember these kinds of conversations being awkward and painful. I could tell my mom was uncomfortable talking about physical development, sexuality, sexual abuse, and sexualization. More than uncomfortable. Distressed. The talk got too serious, intent, still, quiet so as not to be overheard. So, I never, ever wanted to talk about these subjects, I could hardly listen when someone else talked about them, and my head filled with all manner of wrong ideas when I was left to my own worries.

This I know must have played into my decision to be forthright with my son; it's something I've thought a lot about since having children, one of those rare mothering parts that I consciously decided to do differently than was done with me (rare because really, I had it pretty darn great, and I know it). The tone of my telling him was serious, but matter-of-fact, and, I think, open and supportive.

Then again, I'm sure my mom thought the same thing...


There's no right answer, I know, despite the surety of those who responded to my story from both angles. How can there be? How can one handle such an unwelcome brush with the underside of humanity well? How can we know how to package such wretched information about broken people for young ones whose interior lives are largely mysterious to us?

I think we do the best we can with what we have. We are as true to ourselves as we can be. We approach the situation with love and respect for our children and their needs first. We do what we think is right. And on dark and doubt-filled nights, we cry into our pillows after the kids go to bed, because we will make mistakes, and our children will consciously--woundedly--decide to parent differently than we parented them, and we will some day be sending our most beloved beings out into a world that can be terrible sometimes.

Friday passed, and Saturday and Sunday. Today was lovely with soccer and drawing and The Secret of Kells and the botanical garden and tiny pumpkins. Things have moved on, as they do for whole, loved people, and I've tried to keep my thoughts on this few and gentle.

Edited to add:

God, I love this kid.

Last night, after I wrote this, as we laid in our beds, both staring up in the dark, I told Woody that I was sorry if I had shared too much about what happened to daddy in the bathroom last week, that I could understand if he had felt uncomfortable or scared by what I said. I told him I was going to be more careful with his feelings about that, and that he could always tell me, too, if what I was saying was weird to hear or just too much. 

He said he thought that would probably never happen, that he felt fine, and that he knows that parents are learning, too. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Bowling and a Leap

This morning started slowly. We walked out to look at the sky around 9:00 and Woody wanted to know why it seemed like nighttime. The clouds were dark, but high and amorphous. The air wasn't quite balmy, but was moist, without being cool. It was hard to get a fix on the currents of the day.

So, maybe bowling, Woody thought.

This was our first time doing it. We'd tried once before with friends when the boys were 2 and 5, but nobody was really into it and we ended up leaving after playing a few arcade games. This time, though, was great. Both boys knocked down many pins, and were happy with that. I bowled two strikes and two spares, and the rest gutter balls. Seemed about right.

We went to the park afterward and played in the sprawling sand pit that is the volley ball court. I collected horse apples to set out on the front porch railing. That green is just too fantastic not to look at every day. I remember living in Pensacola as a little kid, people would have baskets of the big pine cones set out by their front doors or next to their fireplaces. The horse apples are a little like that to me. They remind me where I am and give me something nice to see and smell.

And Woody had a most curious learning moment at the park. It started to drizzle, so we scooted over to the pavilion to wait out the water. Woody hopped up on one of the tables and asked me if I thought he could jump across to another one. Sure, I said. Would I help him, he wanted to know. But I couldn't quite see how I would; it was definitely the kind of thing the would benefit from a running start, and I thought I'd only be in the way for that. But, I could stand poised at the gap and promise him I'd break his fall. He made four attempts only to stop suddenly at the edge of the table. It was daunting. Each time, he smiled, encouraged himself, and tried again. Finally, he went for it, a huge leap over! He was giddy, beaming, so proud of himself. He told me that two weeks ago, he'd seen a kid do that, and thought it was really cool, but he didn't know if he'd be able to. Now, he did. A few more jumps and he was satisfied, and since the rain had stopped, we all went over to the playground.

Sometimes, often, I am in awe that these amazing boys are mine, made of my family's blood and Daddy Honey's. I would not have jumped as a child. At seven, I was cautious, closed-up, doubtful of my body's abilities and potential. I would have seen this as something the brave boys did, and I would have let that put me in my place. I don't know what that means, but I know I can choose to heal some part of it here, watching this, cheering the attempts and the contact.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Abortion, and our Sunday trip

On our way out to Pea Ridge National Military Park for our Sunday trip, we passed two different First Baptist groups who were roadside holding signs about abortion. Woody asked what abortion was. I told him an abortion was when a woman who was pregnant decided she didn't want to be pregnant anymore, and a doctor helped her to end the pregnancy. He asked why people were holding signs about it. I told him that some people believe that it's wrong for a woman to do that. But he still didn't understand why people would be holding signs about that. So I told him that some people who believe that very strongly want other people to know how important it is to them and to think the same thing that they do. So, they hold signs saying that abortion is wrong, that women who choose abortions are bad people, and that the God they believe in doesn't like it.

I don't know, maybe that was too much. It felt pretty straight-forward at the time, but looking at it now, maybe I could have just left it at them wanting other people to believe what they believe.  That would have been more even-handed. We even have an example of that one with baby Woody in early 2006:

Pea Ridge was great. Stories, running around in long sleeves, canons.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Jane Goodall!

See, I was just gushing about living in a college town, and Daddy Honey came home today to tell me that JANE GOODALL was speaking for free and that he'd keep the boys if I wanted to go.

I did want to go!

Her talk was good. But my favorite part was how she so fully credited her mum for "the making of a young scientist." She said her mom always took her many questions seriously, supported her (then) unusual interests in animals and Africa, and encouraged her to pursue her dream--even going so far as to being her companion on her very first trip to Tanganyika to observe the chimpanzees when the authorities wouldn't let the 23-year-old woman go out in the bush alone. Jane Goodall described just how very rustic their camp was, how they slept in an old WWII canvas tent with no mosquito netting, so the snakes and spiders would just crawl right on in. They stayed out there together for four months. She said, "It was all fine for me. This was my dream! But my mother, she hated spiders! And I left before dark each morning to go up the hillside, leaving her alone at our little camp with only our Tanganyikan cook." She went on to say that she'd come home so discouraged some days, especially the early ones when the chimps would all run away from her. She felt as if she was blowing her one chance, that she wasn't observing anything worth reporting, certainly nothing groundbreaking enough that anyone would continue to fund her. But her mother would listen, and encourage her, and remind her of everything she *had* observed and learned in their time together. Finally, one day, Jane saw one chimp--David Silverbeard--using a blade of grass to catch ants out of an anthill. That was the first time anyone had seen another animal use a tool, something that had previously been a defining characteristic of human beings, what made them different from all other animals. And Jane got her funding to continue her work.

And something else wonderful that you may have already seen, but that I'm going to keep here anyway so that I can find it again when I want to watch it:

Friday, October 5, 2012

"Bring the world to your children..."

I love living in a university town. I love the energy of it, the plentiful book stores, the bike trails, and the hippie clothes. Daddy Honey loves the music scenes, the good coffee and good beer, and the employment opportunities for historians! But maybe the best thing about it is that there are plentiful lectures, seminars, expos, festivals, concerts, art shows, open lab events, and other pretty cool goings-on that are offered regularly as part of university and college towns' outreach missions.

One of the best sentences I read early on about how unschooling works well was here, and it said "Bring the world to your children and your children to the world." Something about that sentence set off a chain of firecrackers in my brain. I was instantly filled ideas and possibilities, each leading to the next, all starting with, "Wouldn't it be cool if..." followed by "And then we could..."

And while I know that unschooling can work well in any number of circumstances, I have found it particularly wonderful to be unschooling in a college town where there are a lot of people who are thinking about sending learners out into the world and bringing the world to the learners.

On one special day of the year here in Fayetteville, that looks like this:

It was the 13th Annual Insect Festival hosted by the University of Arkansas' Department of Entomology. The above is Madagascar Hissing Cockroach race. Woody held one afterward.

We arrived five minutes before they opened at nine o'clock, but so did about five elementary schools worth of kids. By the time we left, we couldn't get to many of the tables because lines of kids in all red, then all green, then all blue shirts stood shoulder to shoulder, inching past displays and never breaking rank. I was frustrated about this, but tried not to show it, because Woody gamely searched out the tables around the arena that were, for the moment, open to individuals. Then we had some good conversations with the entomologists about bees, rhinoceros beetles, lubbers, millipedes, walking sticks, wolf spiders, ant lions, amber, and roaches. 

My own heart fluttered most at the display of silk moths (not the above, which i found online here, but a table full of cases of them that I did not photograph). I never toyed with the idea of studying entomology, but as a lay naturalist, I am fascinated by these beauties. 

Fox had a favorite toy in his hand the whole time (you could probably guess by now that it was a Playmobil knight), and looked quietly at the insects, played with his toy some, and looked some more while Woody chatted and directed us and asked questions.

The young man who helped Woody to hold the huge roach was a big guy with a big beard, happy eyes, and a funny blue bandanna tied around his head. Something about him made me wonder about the boys' future selves. On the way home, I pictured them as adults in an ever-changing wardrobe of career-costumes, wondering what jobs and pastimes would bring them joy and feelings of satisfaction, hoping I was helping them to figure out enough about themselves and the world that they'd find plenty of both.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A sweater for Woody, and raw soul

This is on its way to being Woody's new sweater, knit to camouflage him well in the evergreen foliage of Northwest Arkansas. He's excited for it to be done. I woke up at 5 o'clock this morning and couldn't get back to sleep, so I sat in the quiet gray of before-dawn and knit and knit and knit.

Today, the food co-op where Daddy Honey sits on the board of directors is having a 41st birthday celebration. There was free organic steak and vegan chocolate cake at lunchtime. I dropped Daddy Honey and Woody off while sleeping Fox and I ran an errand.

As he was getting out of the car, Woody said, "Bye, mom!" And he was so earnest. And I love him so much. And I am maybe just a little over-emotional right now, but his voice and his knotty hair and shiny cheeks and favorite tie-dye shirt broke me to pieces. He ran over to Daddy Honey and with the same tone of voice said, "I'm ready!" These two statements side by side were too much for me today, too open. I'm not ready!, I cried in my head. Then, I cried for real as I drove off. I cried all the way to pick up the week's goat milk. And I thought about dying.

I came across the Sparkling Adventures blog a couple of weeks ago, and I stayed up late one night reading about a fellow unschooling mama and the loss of her five-month-old baby. She had her sister come with her when she went to identify the body of her son. She said goodbye to him for an hour and a half. She posted pictures of the last time she held him.

I think about her family--now her and her four girls--and I let my mind dance on the edge of what-if--what if that happened in my family? What if I were the mother who lost a son? But only for a moment. I know when my soul is raw, and I look away again. I close my eyes and send her and too many other mothers peace of heart and go sit with my boys and breathe them in.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

4 unrelated pieces of yesterday and today

See that little boy jumping from his bed onto a bed-high pile of pillows and blankets? He is having a hard time not being a nursling anymore. I am having a hard time with the ways he's expressing his confusion, frustration, and grief. It has been nine months since he nursed. At the time, our ending seemed mutual, but I can admit that I wasn't very open to starting back up again later when he changed his mind. We are working on it together, but it's really hard.

Ad the boy on the left continues to grow, grow, grow. Here's one of him jumping:

I finally--finally!--found a pair of jeans that fit him. It took me months. This elegant, capable, beautiful 6 year old wears a size 10H. The H is for husky. I did not know that clothes were actually described this way, but Daddy Honey told me  he was shaped the same way at the same age, and that's what he wore. Husky clothes. We found Husky clothes exactly nowhere at the mall, or at any of the half-dozen thrift stores that I regularly shop at, but Wal-Mart had a good selection.

I took this picture last night to text to my sister, who renewed my confidence that I could cook a decent meal based on spaghetti squash (the yellow orbish thing in the upper left). But it also occurred to me, as I filled the cart well beyond this, even, that my shopping trip was an example of scarcity and abundance in my own life. Last month was tight for us, what with traveling from Florida to Georgia and Georgia back home. The last week's worth of groceries were pretty thin. But having gotten paid at the end of the month, I set aside an evening to do the shopping. I felt wonderful, so glad to be filling my cart with good food for my family. I probably over-bought some, which I don't often do, but I really think it was in response to last week's worry of not-enough.

Daddy Honey had brought home yesterday's newspaper and left it out on the dining room table this morning. Woody saw it when he woke up and stared at the picture for a long time. Finally, he said, "Look at how hurt those three people are." I told him it was a suicide bombing, and we talked a tiny bit about what that was.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Fort Smith National Historic Site

Fort Smith is a Western border town, site of a favorite Jeff Bridges movie, True Grit. There are stories aplenty there, and we traveled south this afternoon to the Fort Smith National Historic Site to explore some of them. 

Whoops. Made a wrong turn downtown and ended up in Oklahoma. Turning around again, back in Arkansas...

The boys made a fine--if giggly--pair of jailers! Behind them is the building that was, at various times, and sometimes simultaneously, military barracks, a federal jail, and a federal courthouse. 

There was a very realistic sounding audio loop that frightened Fox; he thought there were people hiding in the nooks and crannies. We employed the tag-team approach that we used in Atlanta at the Center for Puppetry Arts and our visit hardly skipped a beat.

The gallows. There was a sign that said, "Please keep off the gallows. Respect it as an instrument of justice." That sat kind of funny with me (the rationale, not the request that people not climb on them).

The Trails of Tears information was very well done. Woody, Fox and I spent a lot of time at this exhibit, learning about Indian tribes of the Southeast and talking about what their journeys were like.

This looks like fun, huh? Rolling down the hill was, too, for the boys. Only we all came home with seed tick bites! But who knows, they may have come from our yard. Or the park. The boys and Daddy Honey pretty much romp around wherever there is grass. Daddy Honey's project for the day has been researching how to get rid of them.