31 May 2011

Of Pilot Lights and Washing Machines

The pilot light in my oven is out. This is a first. I'm used to the front right stovetop burner going out on me, and am familiar with how to re-light it. We keep matches in the drawer next to that burner just for such occasions.

But the oven? I haven't a clue. So I have a giant glass pyrex dish full of 18 chicken legs all dressed up with no place to go. It's very sad. Those ladies look positively forlorn.

My son, however, suggested a solution: "Maybe I should sit on it!"

There is precedence. Last week, my washing machine futzed out right after filling with water, and it stayed that way long enough for the soaking wet contents to start to smell. I was this close to inviting a repairman into the deep, dark hole that is my garage, something I was loathe to do given the high embarrassment factor. Four days went by, and the stench was rising. The only reason I made it that long is that the last load to make it successfully through was chock full of underwear (both genders!) and socks. Then, right before I gave in and made that call, I mentioned for the trazillionth time that I was very bummed about the machine being broken.

Son #2 decided it was time for this little gem: "I sat on the washing machine yesterday and it started up!"

Apparently, he was looking to see if his jeans had fallen behind the dryer. I dashed out to the garage and started looking around for heavy stuff. After several iterations, I hit upon a combo of heavy stuff that worked and WAHOO! the washing machine went on. I didn't need a repairman after all! All I needed was two thick books, two landscaping rocks, and an anvil. Simple. It seems the latch needs a little extra encouragement to do its job.

So the answer to this morning's quiz is, in fact, C. Thanks to everyone who submitted answers! Oh wait...no one submitted an answer. No one. Not one single solitary person.

Sigh. Sniff.

* * *

Just to see if any of you are actually awake, I'm giving you another quiz: Should I take my son's suggestion and try to fix the oven pilot light while he is sitting on top of the stove?

(a) YES
(b) NO
(c) I'M CALLING CPS RIGHT NOW
(d) IF THAT'S WHAT HE WANTS TO DO, WHO ARE YOU TO STAND IN HIS WAY?
To make things more interesting, tonight's quiz includes two essay questions. These can be in short or long answer format.

1.) How long will Monica be moving two books, an anvil, and two landscaping stones on and off of her washing machine every time she does a load of laundry? Please discuss her interior motivations, as well as any external contributing factors. Extra credit will be given if you say nice things about her.

2.) How long will Monica be using her neighbor's oven to cook dinner? (Thanks Emmett for saving the Chicken Leg Ladies tonight!) If you are her husband, for your answer, please take into account the amount of time you will need to find the oven manual, how many nights this week you will be meeting with clients and/or on a soccer field, and how many small children you will be stepping over and around while doing the job. If you are not her husband, for your answer, just go ahead and make her a dinner and drop it off at her house.

Cast your votes and submit your answers! Even if you're calling CPS, at least I'll know you're out there and reading.

* * *

A Quiz. Not the New Yorker One I Always Bomb.


Take a look at these photographs.


Now answer the following question. What do these five items -- two landscaping rocks, one anvil, a plant book, and an art book -- have in common. Are they:
(a) the gifts I received for Mother's Day?
(b) part of the most interesting homeschooling project we've done all year?
(c) just the right weight, when stacked together, to make my washing machine with its broken latch run?
(d) the only items that did not sell in our recent garage sale?
Imagine now that you are listening to the little Jeopardy Ditty. Enter your guess in the comments. I'll post the answer tonight!

(I got a 50% on the most recent New Yorker News Quiz. In my defense, I did not get the American Idol question right, which I think should actually increase my score by at least 30%. Don't I get credit for shunning network television?)

* * *

28 May 2011

Mockingbird

I am reading To Kill A Mockingbird to my older kids. Originally, I gave it to my oldest to read on his own, but he asked me if I would read it with him, aloud. We started off just the two of us, but have been joined by the next oldest two, who can't stand anyone doing something that does not involve them.

However, my second oldest is clearly not engaged. His two comments during tonight's reading:

1. "Boo is a stupid name."

and

2. "Mom! This big speck of dust is attracted to my shirt!"

Apparently he was not so much listening to and enthralled by the story as he was playing with floating dust motes and watching them land on his shirt.

I am a reasonable woman. But if he fails to appreciate and adore To Kill a Mockingbird, I may have to put a bag over my head and walk the earth in the depths of failure and despair.

* * *

I am beginning to think that I need to give my children a list, a list of things and people they must love if they do not want to be disowned by me. Right now, I know that The Beatles and To Kill a Mockingbird are on the list. Dewars peanut butter chews are too. Mother Theresa. Someday, Guinness will be. I'm sure there are at least a few other thing that belong there too.

So do I make it an all or nothing list? Or can they reach a certain percentage and safely remain Good Standing Offspring? I'm considering.

* * *

On the other hand, another member of my audience is so enthralled by the story that he cannot sleep; we just finished the chapter where Jem goes back to the Radley place to retrieve his pants, and finds them folded and sewn up, waiting for him. My son was riveted, petrified, listening to that chapter. Now, at 12:23am, he can't sleep, as every shadow crossing his wall, every wind-stirred branch from the lemon tree at his window, is Boo Radley come to get him.

Now that's the way to read a story!

* * *

26 May 2011

The Top Ten List of Shame

This post is for you, Viv, because a comment you left today put me in shock. Here's what you said, in response to this post, in which I revealed that my homeschooling life has had some colossal-ly bad moments:

I was feeling all left out, the way you have seemingly mastered life since you started homeschooling. It seems like everyone (bloggy pals) pulled their sh*t together all at once, and I still personify calamity and disaster...effectively becoming the odd man out. It is nice to know that you still have days where calamity and disaster prevail...because really, change a few initials and I could have written that, though I would have thrown in a few extra pucks. I feel decidedly less alone, and like maybe there is still hope for me one day after all. ;)

Reading that response made me realize that I have strayed from a tried-and-true theme of this blog: giving people just enough of a glimpse into the wonderful whackness of AIRY5 to make them really, really grateful that they do not have my life.

Does it appear that I have mastered life? Pulled my sh*t together? Eschewed calamity and disaster? Grab a sippy cup full of wine, my dear -- oh, wait, you might be feeding your seventh little blessing, who is all of what, 7 days old by now? -- or whatever beverage is handy, even if it's a juice pouch (but if it is, don't grab it before taking a long drag on that little straw or you know what will happen), and let me fly my freak flag* for you.

Here is a glimpse into my real life, my very own Top Ten list. Here, I give you The Top Ten Reasons It's Clear That I Do Not Have My Sh*t Together.

10. I never close my bedroom door. I wish I could say that this is because I am wholly committed to being available to my children, that I'm so willing to listen to what they have to say that I have an Open Door policy with them. Actually, it's because I tried it once, and felt so ashamed of and rebuked by the dust bunnies, infant socks, paper clips, and children's art projects that are behind it that I vowed never to shut it again. Keep in mind, I have not had an infant for 3+ years.

9. Once or twice (or possible many more), in a mad dash home from the grocery store at 5:45, still needing to make dinner, I have tossed a bag of pre-washed sugar snap peas at the occupants of my car, and called that the green vegetable for dinner. Or for the day.

8. My washing machine needs to be repaired. But I can't call the repairman, because he's a family friend, and I'm too embarrassed by the condition of the garage to get him over here to take a look at it. I mean, I'm fine with twisting myself sideways through various boxes and piles, in order to make it to the washer and dryer, but to let someone else in? I've seen this guy's garage. No thank you. These are the things that make me clean: the threat of abject humiliation. Even still, there's no telling how long it will take me.

7. I found my dining room table today, after over a month of being unsure if it was still, in fact, in the dining room. We had our monthly meeting with our Charter School teacher today, so there you go: the motivation I needed for that particular cleaning job. I still haven't found my kitchen table surface, my bedroom desk surface, my dresser surface, or, apparently, the surface of my self-respect.

6. My 4 year old has made it to preschool on time fewer than 10 times since school started last August. Once or twice, she didn't make it at all, just because we couldn't locate the wherewithal to get her there. I'd tell you how close we live to the preschool, but that would just be embarrassing. Unlike the rest of this list.

5. In one of the most fiercely waged wars of my life, my laundry is currently (and usually) winning. Piles are advancing like disciplined troops intent on wrecking havoc and destruction. More than one clean basket has now been folded, ransacked, re-folded, and re-ransacked more times that I can count. Dirty baskets lie in wait, mocking me on soccer game days with the possibility that the jersey I so desperately need to find is balled up in a damp corner growing new forms of penicillin.

4. When people tell me how great my kids are, I fight the urge to make sure they aren't confusing us with some other family of seven. Really? These fighting, screaming, rude, messy, clueless, lazy, selfish, defiant, weepy whiners? If they're so flippin' great, why do I mostly want to hide in the closet and play single player scrabble on my iPhone? And if they really are that great, then isn't it just the pinnacle of unfairness that my husband and I are the only people they do not share their greatness with?

3. Every time I need to print something from my computer, I have to move three or four piles of crap just to reach the printer cable and attach it to my laptop. Then I have to move a bunch of other stuff to make room to sit down on the edge of a chair covered in laundry, so I can be there to catch the pages as they come out, since the tray got broken by the fierce tiny grip of a child testing the laws of physics. Then I have to wait a kajillion years for it to work, because apparently it's a very Marin, EST-type of printer, and it's all about the process, and letting the process take the time it needs, and giving the process room to unfold in an organic and holistic fashion, and making me want to hurl it out my second story front window. So basically, printing stuff brings out my rage.

2. Every night, I plan to get the kids up by 7 or 8am the next morning, so that we can have a decent breakfast, do all of the morning chores, address our school activities, and have free time in the afternoon. Every morning, I get up early, sneak downstairs to make coffee, and then crouch over my computer reading news, blogs, and facebook, sipping coffee and praying they sleep until 10. My heart sinks when I hear feet on the stairway. Then I stall for as long as possible. Drink more coffee. Throw some toast out there. Adjust expectations downward.

And the #1 reason I know I don't have a damn thing together: Due to the sorry state of laundry in my home, someone in my family recently had to wear underwear intended for a gender not his or her own, because no clean ones in his or her own gender category were available. And no, I'm not saying who.

* * *

*And the Freak Flag reference comes from the lovely Anna Quindlen, in this piece from momfilter. She said this:
I think having bright lines and boundaries really worked for us, that it made our kids strong and secure because they were clear on expectations and responsibilities. But I wish I had been better able to combine that with letting things go a little bit. Nobody really needs a bath every night. Nobody really needs a balanced meal for every meal. I should have let the freak flag fly a bit more. It’s hard to be a Type A mom. I wish I could have been a bit more B plus, for my sake and their own.
I hear you, Anna. But then, I think my own freak flag could probably stand a little vacation from my door post. And I'm not so much a Type A mom, as a Type A-Z mom who can't find clean underwear...for someone.

Bright lines and boundaries? I'm sure they're here somewhere. Maybe I'll find them in the garage on the same day I get the repair guy over here.

* * *

20 May 2011

Power

It's been crazy around here.

We thought that after the garden tour, things would slow down. We were mistaken. So we've been trying to teach the children well, manage our small business, keep up with clients, orchestrate summer plans for the kids, and control/coordinate the process of setting up a new soccer team that Rick will be coaching.

Oh, the drama of coaching! Take 15-30 girls -- and their parents -- throw in one passionate coach, stir in the whole Tryouts process, shake with changing parameters daily, and WOW! You get a roller-coaster of a soccer team ride.

It's all good though. The beautiful game will win out over the demands and whackiness; it always does.

* * *

But we've been running like mad. So yesterday, with the littlest at preschool and the oldest at his guitar lesson, I finally had the chance to slow down with the middle three. (Another bonus of having a kid ride the bus? A 45 minute guitar lesson becomes a 2-4 hour adventure away from the house. Independence for him and fewer people to corral for me: win-win!)

We read from Beyond the Western Sea for awhile, until the blue sky's beckoning became impossible to ignore. We loaded up the car with snacks, skateboards, helmets, a viking hat, and a new kite, and off we went to the park.

So it was that I found myself on a beautiful Spring day, sitting in the sun with my six year old on my lap, my eight year old pressed against my side, and my ten year old just beyond, gazing up into the sky, watching a blue and green kite with a dark red tail dance and swirl on a cloudless stage.

We ate grapes and let the kite mesmerize us. We sat, and chatted a little, and stopped the frenzied motion of our lives for a few minutes.

After awhile the girls popped up and ran to swing and play in the sand. My son and I sat together, contemplating the kite, and marveling at how high it was and how strong the pull of the wind.

"It's sort of a little scary," he said thoughtfully.

"You mean that powerful pull?" I said.

"Yeah." He was curious about why this force had a little bit of fear in it.

"Yeah, that's weird, isn't? I think it's because it's so powerful. Power can be scary sometimes."

Holding onto that string did make one aware of the subtle current of fear running through one's hands while holding onto the powerful force of the wind. It made me think about other kinds of power that can be scary, and reminded me of the book we'd been reading that morning, in which the Irish characters are at the mercy of the English people who wield power and control over them, usually abusively. There is some kind of connection there, I'm sure.

I refrained from pointing this out to my son, pretty sure it would just annoy him with its obvious homeschooly-ness, but I started thinking about how to bring it back around at some later date. I contented myself with being grateful that he recognized that power and described it to me.

* * *

From the far side of the park, a thin man in dirty brown pants and a dirty white t-shirt came, pushing a bicycle over the grass, his handlebars wearing a sign proclaiming Free Leonard.

"Where'd you get that kite? I'm gonna get me one of those and put FREE LEONARD on it! You gotta tell me where you got that kite!"

I smiled and shrugged at him, because I really didn't know where we got it. I am forever finding things in my house with no idea how they got there. I found the kite that morning, having never laid eyes on it before.

"What? You don't want to tell me? I want to get one and put FREE LEONARD on it! Man, you gotta tell me so we can FREE LEONARD!"

I smiled again: "I don't know where I got it." My son said, "Yeah, we just found it."

"You found it? That's cool. I gotta find me one, so I can put FREE LEONARD on it! Yeah, that's what I'm gonna do!"

And off he went, slightly nutty, but certainly enthusiastic about his cause. My son turned to me, raised his eyebrows and said: "He really wants to free Leonard."

"Yes, he really does," I said.

The kite dipped and sailed, high in the sky, looking like a small green patch of light.

"Can you take the kite, mom?" And off he went to join his sisters. I stayed in the grass, alternately watching the kite and turning to watch my children pulling themselves up play structures, pumping their legs hard to swing high, and chasing each other through the sand.

I held onto the kite string and decided it was really time to do a little research into Leonard Peltier's story, since we see those signs everywhere and the kids have been asking about them for years. I'm guessing that particular lesson might have something to do with power as well.

* * *

Something else is powerful too: taking a break from life's mayhem and madness, sitting in the park with strong and curious children, and watching the world go by.

* * *


17 May 2011

On the Flip Side

Lest anyone think I am pollyanna about homeschooling, I just thought I'd post an actual text I sent to my husband a few minutes ago:

"T just pooed and peed on the floor in her room while she was in a time out for scratching deep ruts in her sister's chest. While I'm trying to help E with her math, V wants me to help him with something he is building, L wants me to read aloud some more, and S is probably eating cake."

I then texted him a four letter word that was not Puck.

OK, off to read the next chapters of Beyond The Western Sea.

Never a dull moment. I really wish there were.

* * *

14 May 2011

Reflections on Taking the Plunge

Recently, I was asked to write an article for a local parents newsletter about my experience homeschooling. Since I seem otherwise incapable of posting to this blog of late, I decided to do the old cut and paste job, and share the same article here. A chunk of it appeared in a slightly different format in an earlier post of mine, so it may sound familiar to a few of you.

Writing this was a nice exercise, a good way to begin thinking about the past year. As with any adventure, much of this school year has not gone as I imagined it would. Much of the year has been characterized by my thinking something like, "Well, I'd like to do that a little differently next time..." And yes, there will be a next time, as we will definitely continue on our current path. It's been quite a year. And now, with summer fast upon us, here are some thoughts as I approach the end of my first year as a homeschooling mama.

* * *

Sometimes, I look around my house, strewn as it is with paper, pens, books, DVD’s, video games no one is supposed to be playing, and a remarkable amount of shoes, and I can’t believe this is my life. This place, my living room, is where I attempt to fill my children’s young minds with knowledge. OK, it’s where I yell at them a lot for making insane messes. But it passes for our classroom as well. No one was a more reluctant homeschooler than I was -- I resisted the idea for years before taking the plunge. Today, I can say that deciding to leave “regular” school and give homeschooling a try is the best decision my husband and I have made for our family.

We made this decision for a variety of reasons: no viable public school option; prohibitive cost of private schooling (where we spent 6 years); dissatisfaction with the limits of a traditional classroom; and two kids who are proverbial square pegs unable to squish into round holes. For all of this and more, we took the plunge.

So how are we doing? Are we teaching them well? Are they learning what they need to? I don’t know. The answer is probably yes and no. We do some things well (we read lotsa books) and other things poorly (do we really need math?). There are so many things I wish we were doing more of, and there is still plenty of complaining around here, plenty of resistance. Many days, I feel like I am falling far short of my goals and I struggle with not knowing how to make it better. But there are a few things that help me remember that this is the best thing I’ve ever done.

First. Opportunities: my kids have ‘em. Because we are enrolled in a Charter School, we have access to funds that have allowed my kids to take all kinds of interesting classes, from Carpentry and Clay to Outdoor Education and individual math tutoring. They’ve also been able to visit places like the California Academy of Sciences and Safari West in Sonoma County, places that are pretty pricey under normal circumstances but which make it possible for homeschoolers to come for free or greatly reduced prices. And then there are the activities, like guitar lessons, youth musicals, and Shakespeare productions that the kids are able to do simply because we have more flexibility in our schedules, no homework to labor over each night, and fewer extraneous demands on our time.

Second. One of my kids, unlike some of his siblings, is not a demonstrative sort. He used to answer our “I love you,” with “OK.” He didn’t tell us much of what was going on between his ears, nor did he ask us many questions. It was clear, however, that he hated school, homework, and learning stuff. Once we changed our schooling and suddenly had less stress and anxiety in our lives, our son became more relaxed and open. He hugs us all the time now, tells us he loves us, and asks tons of questions about life, questions we now have the time and space to answer because we are not racing through dinner and homework and sports practices, or racing out the door to school and other activities. All of my kids have benefitted from our stepping off of the treadmill, but his dramatic transformation in particular makes me certain we did the right thing.

Third. We get to learn “by accident.” On 9/11/10, we were away from home, at my folks’ house. The kids had tons of questions about the anniversary. I told them the story as best I could, fielding questions about what the boys were doing that day, why daddy called from work to tell me to turn on the TV, and why anyone would fly a plane into a building. We talked about the Muslim faith. About Osama Bin Laden. About the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. About the people who suffered and died that day. About why we went to war in the first place. Was George Bush a good president? Why do Saudi Arabians hate us? My daughter asked “What are the names of the people who died?”

Later in the day, I found my dad’s collection of newspapers from important dates, and pulled out the ones from September 12 2001. We looked at the pictures and talked about them. There were the towers, on fire but not yet collapsed. There were the people running through Manhattan, covered in ash. There was the field in Pennsylvania. My oldest found YouTube videos of the day, and watched those as well. On the way home, we listened to NPR anniversary coverage and talked even more about that terrible day and the complicated mess of events that have followed.

It was quite a History Lesson, and we stumbled into it. I had different curriculum plans for the day, but those plans didn’t go well. It was difficult to get the kids to listen to me and to do the few things they were “assigned.” But the day still ended up being one of the best school days we’ve ever had.

The ability to swerve into a topic and talk about it in depth, to read more about it in newspapers, to watch video of events unfolding, to listen to NPR discussions: none of this would have been possible last year, when my time with my kids consisted of rushing them to practice, and then rushing them through homework, dinner, baths, showers, teeth-brushing and bedtime. When my responses to their questions were 90% frazzled and 10% thoughtful. When I never would have had the chance to happen upon those newspapers in my mom and dad’s storage closet. When keeping up with our life was getting in the way of living it.

Because we stepped off the treadmill, that amazing history lesson was possible. That was the model of homeschooling that I had hoped for. I can’t plan for days like that, but I will happily welcome them whenever they arrive. I’m glad we are doing this. I have no idea what I’m doing most of the time...and yet I know we are where we are supposed to be.

* * *

08 May 2011

Mud and Worms on Mother's Day

Still pajama-clad, picking my way through the early morning fog, trowel in hand, I began Mother's Day 2011 trudging through the garden with my 10 year old. We found the most likely vegetable bed and started digging.

This is what you do if you forget to buy crickets – again – and you've got some fire-bellied toads in need of a meal. This is what you do if you're a mom. You extricate yourself from warm blankets and comfy pillows. You shove your hands in damp earth before you've even had a cup of coffee. You ring in Mother's Day with mud and worms, so that a worried son can tend to his pets.

I did try to "worm" my way out of this task. When my son came upstairs early this morning, bed-headed and wearing his worried face, I sent him out to the garden on his own, with the commandment Get Thee Some Worms. I told him the most likely places to look. I told him no, we could not jump in the car and drive to the pet store to buy crickets, that that errand was not on my How To Spend Mothers Day list, and that driving there and back would take longer than digging around in our own back yard.

He came back in empty-handed. I sent him back out there on his own.

Twenty worm-less minutes later, he was starting to get panicky. He is a great pet-owner, and had reminded me many times that we were low on crickets, then out of crickets, and then still out of crickets. My bad, as they say. Anyway, he was getting pretty worked up about his hungry little ones and his worm-finding failure. So I got up and helped.

I enjoyed some strange gratification when I found worms rather quickly and got an awestruck "How'd you do that?" from my son. And I enjoyed some peaceful gratification when I saw how relieved and happy he was to have four fat worms to feed his flock.

I was cold, muddy, and notably, not sleeping in as I hoped to be on Mother's Day. But the crisp morning air smelled wonderful and the vegetable beds were lovely to look upon. And I made a child's worry dissipate, before I even had a cup of coffee.

You've done it too, if you're a mom. That's what we do. And I can't think of any better use of my time and talents.

And just in case I ever forget to buy crickets again, my son and I now know that the tomato bed is a veritable worm paradise.

* * *

Happy Mother's Day to all, with particular apologies to the Mommy Worms whose offspring got eaten by our frogs early this morning.

* * *


06 May 2011

I Bombed This Quiz...Again

Today's score: 58%!

You'd think I wouldn't enjoy repeated mediocrity. But each week, I take that damn New Yorker news quiz and only once have I scored above a 60%. And really, 60% doesn't even rise to the level of mediocrity. How embarrassing.

The funny thing is, I listen to NPR all the time. I would have thought that illustrious news source would prepare me nicely for a weekly news quiz. I do, after all, have slightly more success with Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, even if I can't get them to pick me to be on their show. I guess all that bickering in the background while I'm trying to listen to the radio is taking its toll on how much I retain of what I hear.

Oh well, I will keep trying. Join me! Take the quiz! Come back and leave a comment and tell me how you do! Brag if you can, join me at the Dunce Table if not.


* * *





02 May 2011

Reflection, Not Rejoicing

Osama Bin Laden is dead.

The single response that makes any sense to me comes from the Vatican. Please click through and read the link below. It doesn't matter if you are Catholic, Christian, animal, vegetable or mineral. Death is always devastating for someone.


How do we explain fist-pumping celebrations to our children?

* * *