Friday, May 31, 2013

Kid Space at the Art Musuem

We started this morning at AutoZone getting a bad battery replaced. I thought that was going to be a lot worse than it was, but the boys pretty well entertained themselves playing pirates with the long funnels and talking to the technicians about our car. And with a job like that out of the way by 10 a.m., it felt like the day was our oyster!

So we went to Crystal Bridges. Woody kvetched a little bit. He wanted to know why we would go again if we just went. (We last went in November, and before that, June, but we have probably been there six times in 18 months, a frequency which, to a kid, may earn the distinction of "all the time.") We talked a little bit about the changing nature of exhibits, how different an experience of a museum can be from one time to the next, and how this particular art museum is one of the really cool things about Northwest Arkansas that I want us to take advantage of while we're here. Plus, a friend had just talked up a Norman Rockwell exhibit that I was excited to see.

Unfortunately, we missed Rockwell by three days, but since that was the only want-to on my personal agenda, that meant that our visit was wide open for whatever fun we could find. Boy, howdy, did we! We did two things: the art walk trail through the sculpture garden and to Compton Gardens, then the Art Studio, which is Crystal Bridges' educational/child-focused space. And we spent four fantastic hours:

Starting at the trail head, the navigator gets oriented. See what I mean about not being a little boy anymore? Increasingly, incidents and pictures of big kid things happening around here.


A thousand thanks to the Great Spirit that these two started their journey together.

Fearless forager beneath his totem tree, a mulberry.

Fox and the bears at Compton Gardens. This is his favorite of all the sculptures.

A new acquisition! A Keith Haring sculpture, "Two-Headed Figure," made in 1986.

The puppeteers at work. They attempted to rope two other families into their play, but were only marginally successful with one little 5-year-old boy.

Potholder weaving as spiritual practice. Just wait and see if I don't try this out at church...

Unexpected, but immediately appealing: the light table.

My mom bought gears like this for my sister and I when we were little. The set was one of many cool Discovery Toys that she strew about our house. She remains an expert on "cool toys." She thinks I am not serious when I say I'm excited for her to retire and move in with my family. She is reading this and being reminded that I am serious, and whenever she's ready, we'll pitch a little Airstream in  the backyard just for her, with a side-car for her fabric collection.

An audio file with accompanying text talked the listener through a set of descriptive statements about a work of art in the museum's permanent collection. The listener sits with paper and pencil and quickly attempts to draw the scene they are hearing about. Woody was pleased with how well he approximated the items and their placement.

This wall was for visitors to display the art they made in the Art Studio. The chalice is my contribution--what can I say? They make good iconographs! In the tradition of evangelicals, I like leaving them places I've been. I imagine them being viewed by others with an openness of heart and a happy curiosity, which is, in its own way, a blessing of a mindset to carry into one's next encounters and experiences...

Alexander Calder. This one's just called "Mobile," like so many others of his, but I think of them as blackbirds.

The Art Studio had a small but high-quality library on nice, low shelving. One of the books we enjoyed a great deal was called Imagine, and this picture of the witch was my favorite. 

On the way home, I got a little panicky and upset about gas. I forgot we were almost out, and I forgot to fill up before getting on the highway, then we pulled off at one exit with one gas station charging .45 more per gallon that the going price, then we pulled off at the next exit which was one of those sprawling upscale retail hells with dozens of big box stores and gussied-up strip malls and chain restaurants but NOTHING else around. No gas stations. Woody picked up on my angst and started parroting it, decrying price gouging and asinine (or complete lack of) urban planning. That woke me up. I dialed it back, tried to reframe our experience, found a gas station, bought a pack of M&M's, and initiated fun car games for our 15 miles drive home in standstill traffic. We made up a game together called Categories that I'll tell about another time. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Playing is learning is playing

Categorizing cookie cutters

Celebrating a win and the last game of the season

Watching newly hatched praying mantises travel from their hidden ootheca up the side of the porch to places beyond

The view from my kitchen window after lunch.

Writing for Real Purposes

It's well known in education of all stripes that children (all people) write best--most compellingly, most fluidly, most originally, and most efficiently--when they are writing for a genuine purpose, something they care about and want to affect. 

This is the reality Fox wanted to affect a few days ago, some time to be angry at me alone in his room. We sat down together first at the table and worked on the formation of the letters, then he got a piece of tape, stuck the sign to the door, and closed it behind him.

Monday, May 27, 2013


Some day, this won't be our lives anymore.

Daddy Honey won't come in from a business trip to find Keva Plank Naval wars. 

We won't have late night dance parties that work around one member of the family's desire to work a design until it's perfected in his mind. (You can't hear the music below or see the interpretive dance, but trust me when I tell you that New Order never looked so good.)

We won't wake to medieval castles or World War II pill boxes or the remnants of fallen dominoes, or a project abandoned midway so that everyone could play hide-and-seek.

This is our life now. It's a one-shot deal, done over and over again in each moment, new with every truth learned, tooth lost, inch grown, and memory made together. It's both complete just as it is, and building toward something else--adulthood for the boys, and being people who raised children for Daddy Honey and I.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Nature Boys

This is Woody standing way out in Steel Creek, a beautiful tributary of the Buffalo National River, our first time swimming in these special waters. He's no little kid anymore. He had no fear swimming out on his own, and would wave and converse with passing paddlers about swimming, boating, and the state of the water.

This confidence and contentment came in very handy while I was utterly preoccupied with Fox on the bank, helping him to take an unexpected poop in our poop sack. (Yep. A poop sack. Not just for hardcore campers, also handy for lightly outdoorsy parents of young children. Though, to be honest, I just open up and compress the medium-sized nylon bag I used to use for their dirty diapers, scoot it under his bum as he squats, close it up, and then shake the waste into a toilet when I get back to one. Similar idea, though.)

We wandered around a bit until we found what has to be the favorite swimming spot in this campground. The white coming in from the left side of the photo is actually the end of a small set of rapids from where the creek comes around a shallow, smooth-rocked corner. The current was surprisingly strong, which Woody and I discovered when we tried to swim out to those rocks just the other side, and it was best to stay near the edge where he is so as not to freak out floaters (canoe and kayak people--in Florida we called them paddlers--an interesting regional difference) when they came fast out of the bend and had less control over their boats. Again, I was amazed at his ease and skill in the water. I split my time between being out there with him and being up in the shade with Fox, stacking and throwing rocks, and poking around with sticks in the coals left from campers' fires. 

It was time to go when Fox had to poop again. (Nobody wants to re-open a poop sack on a warm day. Trust me on that.) We left the creek and stopped just down the highway at the Ponca Elk Education Center, where we used the facilities and also got to dress up like hunters, feel furs of two dozen different regional animals, listen to elk calls, and hear, see, touch, and play with a bunch of other cool nature stuff as well.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Field Day

Yesterday we hosted a Field Day for our homeschooling group. Each family came prepared to put on an activity--sack races, egg-on-a-spoon race, face-painting, shoe-kicking contest, a silly game with shaving cream-topped shower caps and flying cheese puffs, three-legged races, and a "pie" (whipped cream on a plate) eating contest.

Even though we played it totally loose, there was a lot going on. So, there were a few little meltdowns and freakouts, including one from my own oldest son when he lost a game. But there were many, many more silly and fun and easy and happy moments, plus a delicious potluck spread--heavy on the early summer fruit--and some pretty great mom time, too, once the prepared activities were over and the kids ran off to play on the playground. 

Another homeschooling mom posted recently on her blog about how participants in her group brings an activity or two to each park day, for kids to play or not, as suits the group and individuals. I liked that. I volunteered to be the regular park-day host for the fall, and I think having something simple but special for each week is something the kids would look forward to. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Fried Eggs over Volume

Our breakfast was made today as part of a pretend kids' cooking show. Fried eggs, over medium, beginning with turning on the burner and ending with cleaned plates.

A past love of the '90s Canadian TV series "Popular Science for Kids" left them pretty familiar with the science-education program format, so when they asked for the "lesson part" of the show, I threw together something about volume measurement. In my best Julia Child voice, I walked them through a comparison of some common measurements. Quickly, they caught on to my pattern and wanted to take over the pouring, discovering that I had rigged the jars to be ordered in a 2:1 ratio. Woody wanted to add teaspoons and tablespoons, and learned for himself that they equal out at 3:1.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Figs and Teeth

This is our new rabbit. Fox named her Figs. He put on a puppet show for her this afternoon so she wouldn't be bored in her cage. He wanted to involve her in the drama when we gave her some out-of-cage time, but since the act was about knights and guards and police chases, we suggested maybe he just tell her the story instead.  He declined, but said that keep a bit more distance during the chasing parts and would not actually touch her with the K'Nex crossbow. 

We are all a little bit smitten with her unbelievable cuteness, silly movements, and twitchy-nosed curiosity. Woody and I sat on the floor and watched her wash her face with her front paws, spook herself and jump into the air, stand up on her hind legs, and oh-my-god--yawn! with her bright pink mouth and fierce little teeth!

Speaking of teeth, Woody lost both front teeth the past two days. He has resumed the wrestling with whether or not fantastical characters--this time, the tooth fairy--exist, a dilemma left off at Christmas this year and begun Easter the year he was 5. He wants to be a kid that believes, but he keeps talking himself out of it. Luckily, this quibbling has no effect whatsoever on his appreciation of everyday magic like having money appear mysteriously under his pillow.

Friday, May 17, 2013

First Swim of the Season

Living as we do now where winters (and sometimes springs!) can be bone cold, snowy, and icy for days on end, I have come to see the first swim of the warm season as something of a rite of passage, a self-blessing and expression of gratitude to be coming into one's green world and living body for another turn 'round the wheel. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

the Helpers

We were out yesterday when Woody caught a bit of a news segment about the three kidnapped women in Ohio. He asked us about it. I told them both that a very sick and disturbed man had kidnapped three girls and kept them hidden in his house for ten years. I said that about a week ago, one of the women started screaming and a neighbor heard her. The neighbor came and broke down the door while the kidnapper wasn't home and freed the women, and they called the police to bring the kidnapper to jail.

They didn't say much more about it at the time. But later that night, Woody brought it up in passing, and Fox wanted to retell the whole thing to both Daddy Honey and I. It was clear that to Fox, the focus of the story was on the heroism. Daddy Honey remarked that he was sure in Fox's mind, the rescuer was wearing knight's armor.

But judging by the two little "good guys" I spend most of my days with, I think it might have been cammo.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Three pictures of outside in May

 Woody: "I want to learn all the old skills. I want to learn how to make a fire."

Fox, with Woody at the plate: "Go, Woody! You're an awesome kid!"

New-to-him shoes and favorite socks.

Politics and the End of the Theater Season

"The Herd," on display at the Walton Arts Center as part of the Northwest Arkansas Artosphere project, a synthesis of art and sustainability.

Ten or so years ago, I sported an anti-Wal-Mart bumper sticker among eight or nine others proclaiming my allegiance to progressive, hippie, liberal, one-love, and diversity concepts. It was such an obvious choice to me then, to shout-down the gigantic corporation responsible for so much environmental destruction, destruction of small-town economies, and unjust labor and pricing practices. Most of those things are still true about Wal-Mart, though like many of the biggies, they've started singing about the good they're doing, too in the hopes of improving their big ugly images.

Solar-powered Sun Boxes, instruments that individually project tones in the B flat chord, filling the space with a gentle but provocative-sounding almost-song that changes as you move around inside the piece. On the plaza outside the Walton Arts Center in downtown Fayetteville. I walked through them and my heart burst open.

Here's an uncomfortable rub: my boys and I have, all this year, directly and profoundly benefited from what the heirs of the Wal-Mart fortune chose to do with their money. For $5 a ticket, we enjoyed seven world-class performances--dance, puppetry, theater, music, acrobatics--from all over the globe through the Walton Arts Center's Colgate Classroom Series, a year of short matinee performances aimed at exposing kids to fascinating and wonderful art on stage. It worked. We were enchanted.

I don't love the round of applause solicited for Wal-Mart (and Colgate-Palmolive, and Edy's Ice Cream) from eight thousand elementary-aged children before each and every performance. And yet, I am grateful that my son had a conversation with an Australian puppeteer last week, that they both have deep connections to the children's books they've seen adapted for the stage (including Grug, The Velveteen Rabbit, The Little Prince, Guess How Much I Love You, I Love My Little Storybook, and We're Going on a Bear Hunt), and that they have grown to approach all kinds of performances with an open and eager mind, since their experiences have been overwhelmingly positive and fun.

The fact of the matter is, some very, very rich people--whose parents made money partly by exploiting and mistreating others--gave a lot of that money to the community they live in, which my family happens to share. I don't know really what to do with that narrative except to sit with it, to keep living my life in a way that feels right, to help my kids to find their own truth using compassion as a guide, and to express gratitude for that for which I am grateful: My children love the theater.

So much about parenting has asked me to pay attention to the nuance, to get off my soap box to watch and listen, to hold open doors for possibilities, to really try and tease out why I think and behave the way I do, and if those patterns are serving me and my children. I didn't know parenting would be like that. I thought that being so entrenched in my compassion-and-justice-driven politics and so sure of my own research and well-reasoned conclusions were great advantages to raising up new human beings. I felt glad to have waited a bit to have children so that I really got a chance to figure out what was the right way to be in the world. In some ways, this was true. Being compassionate and justice-driven are good things. Being curious and studious and thoughtful are good things. But being entrenched isn't often a good thing. Sometimes, being sure isn't.

More and more, I'm wanting to puzzle through, to admit conflicted feelings and impulses, to lean into my mistakes and faults to better recognize and learn from them, and also, to accept my own--and others'--hypocrisies as part of that which makes us human beings engaged in the interdependant struggle of living together as best we can.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Figs, pictures, enough toys, and traveling

A post last week about enjoying animals from a distance, and then, this:

This is Figs, so named by Fox. She's a 4-week-old English Angora rabbit who will be coming home with us in early July. (Until then, she's staying with her mama, siblings, and my young homeschooled friend Zoe who has a nascent rabbitry business.) I've been putting off getting started in rabbits for quite a while; it never seemed to be the right time to take on that much responsibility or investment of cash! But, I am forging ahead regardless. The boys are excited.

Collaborating on drawings is a new favorite pastime of mine and Fox. This one is of a sea monster attacking an island. He breathed fire on the house there, and has already swallowed all of the inhabitants. I mostly begin by bringing paper and the Prismacolor pencils over to wherever he's sitting, then I start drawing and he jumps in. 

This one was about something bad happening in Bikini Bottom:

Those are our refrigerator shape magnets again, arranged to make a frame for our picture.

Sometimes, the idea of kids having too much stuff comes up on the unschooling lists. I can sympathize. Our house is feeling the short end of its 900 square feet these days. But something interesting happened at our house last week: We were playing Snapcube soldiers last week and I asked Woody if he thought it was time to get another set; we're down to maybe 50 of our original 100. He scoffed! He said we had plenty to do what he and Fox liked to do with them, which is to build these soldiers and tanks and airplanes, using about 20 at a time. 

I was shocked. And in the last couple months, he's asked for one toy--an Army transport truck that he played with at a friend's house. Even though I knew unschooling families reported this kind of decision-making abilities in their kids, I didn't believe it would happen for us. Maybe I secretly believed my kids could never be truly content with a life I set up for them. But they are. 

A day last week started off extra-tough. I hadn't been sleeping well, and it showed in my patience, creativity, and tolerance of others. I got us out of the house early, not really having much of a plan except to not have a freak-out on the kids, and we drove until we stopped at the battlefield state park. It was good, what we needed--space to run, places to explore, nice weather, and open time. We spent the morning mostly at the old buildings and the playground. The day remained a little rocky in terms of human relationships, but much better than it would have been if we all stayed home stewing.

Thursday, we traveled to Louisiana. It was part visiting trip, part perfunctory trip. Daddy Honey and his brother took care of some details pertaining to their father's passing. Naturally, there was fishing:

Friday morning, when Daddy Honey and Uncle John took Woody out on the boat, Fox and I stayed back. "I'm still scared of boats, of falling in," he said. So, we sat on the edge of the dock and watched the birds. A Great Blue Heron came flying by, low, just ahead of us. We watched the turtles on the log. We threw Sweet Gum balls into the water pretending they were bombs in the duckweed. We measured how deep the water was with the broom handle. We tidied up the dock.

Fox is a happy contributor kid. He likes picking things up and setting things out and straightening and sweeping and restoring order. Funny Capricorn. My work training last weekend  was on a Montessori-based model of religious education, and I had my boy so much in my mind as we learned about the role of orderliness and regularity. 

On our way back to Arkansas (just the boys and I--Daddy Honey rejoins us Sunday), we stopped in Pine Bluff on a whim at the Delta Rivers Nature Center, one of seven in the state run by the Arkansas Fish and Game Commission. It was FANTASTIC. What a surprise! There was an open lab for them to poke around in, first-class animal exhibits, a small local fish aquarium, a simulator ride-along with a ranger, a similator biplane tour of the state conservation areas, AND, a private archery lesson with the center's director!