homeschooling, homemaking, homesteading...home.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Let it Be

After my recent burst of self-imposed tension/worry/stress over how much I personally was "doing" with instruction and how much quantitative academic progress my son was (not) demonstrating, I listened to the advice of some wise friends, took a deep breath, and let go.

I can't say that I even consciously decided to return to an unschooling frame of mind so much as I just committed to not micromanaging or worrying or, well, doing. He needed a break. I needed a break. So, I stopped. I stopped guiding and observing and recording and instructing and just hung out with my kids for a while. And without them for a while.

Hanging out with them, without expectation, gave us a chance to reconnect in a no-pressure, easy, organic way. We did a lot of nothing and a lot of little somethings and easily enjoyed each other's company instead of "functioning" our way through our roles and daily routines. It's the kind of "vacation" that any companions need from time to time, and it continues to be very healing.

Hanging out without them, without guilt, is giving me a chance to forgive myself for not being and doing it all (...or more). It has allowed me to, in small intervals, refill my cup...making me a more calm and patient person. And once I slowed down to smell those roses, I noticed the kind of trends that a less plan-driven home educator is naturally tuned-in to. Just what do the children gravitate toward when left largely to their own devices?

For the first few days, they seemed to only want to veg in front of the Avatar (the Last Airbender TV series, not the blue cat-people feature film) DVDs we'd borrowed from the library. While part of me echoed a little mental "yeah!" when my husband would grouse that they should break away and do something...I was watching, too. Sometimes we viewed the episodes together, sometimes individually. It was a well-written and entertaining series (with some awesome positive messages about values and redemption) and we all needed a little down-time, so we took it.

T, "waterbending" at the fountain in Mellon Plaza, downtown Pittsburgh.
One of our outings was for one last lunch with Daddy before he switched jobs.
New position (out of the city) tomorrow! Good luck Dad! ♥
Then I started sewing, and put down my long-term knitting project and worked on a few instant-gratification small projects to recharge my enthusiasm for the craft. When I finally took a look around me to see how they'd been amusing themselves in the meantime, I noticed a trend. (There's the "unschooling" moment: Let the kids drive, see where they go, and then scramble to define it for the portfolio, LOL.) Turns out that they recharged by...doing arts and crafts.

Gee, wonder where they get that?

A gallery of some of their recent work:

Sokka and Katara discovering Aang in the ice.
A pair of Towhee parents in the trees, guarding their nest in the weeds.
Yes, a scene from our back yard. They were awesome.
Drawings from Avatar, Star Wars, etc.
Several of a series of color block pieces.
T has been returning to this theme a lot over the past few months...interesting.
One of C's culinary creations. You can't see past the enthusiastic application of ReddiWip,
but it's a hollowed-out cantaloupe half filled with melon & berries. Yum!
Honey cake. With honey glaze.
And yes, a homemade cocktail toothpick with a rubber spider. Don't question the artist.
Deep breath, Mom. Messes can be cleaned up,
and the craft cabinet exists exactly for this reason. ;)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Mo' Better Pink

It's baaaaaaaack! The maternity shirt that wouldn't die!
Oh yeah. That one.
I couldn't let it beat me! I'm proud to say that after an afternoon of tweaking, it's much improved. Rather than recut it from scratch, I decided to maximize what I had and just alter the existing garment. This involved slitting the side seams (I had plenty of ease, so instead of picking out the stitches I went full-out lazy and cut the seam allowance right off. That's how I roll, baby!) and removing the sleeves. I left the shoulder seams intact because I'd done some fancy schmancy topstitching to finish/reinforce there. I then re-cut the body panels using as a guide the pattern I'd drafted for a better-fitting top.

This one. Which looks much more flattering with a better-fitting bra.
You'll have to take my word on that; it's too damn hot to model for a fresh picture today.

I also recut the sleeve caps to fit the new armscyes and got to sewing. It improvement.

"Because I know you all love crappy dirty mirror pics as much as I do..."
Unfortunately, the sleeves were still a disaster. With the new reduced ease in the bust, the sleeves hung nicely as long as my arms were down at my sides, but when I tried to move...

Gah. Back to the cutting table. I ripped those suckers back off again. For a few moments I considered re-REdrafting the sleeves. After all, I have plenty more of this fabric. But then I also considered the fact that summer is barely getting started and I am already my own circle of hell as far as the body thermostat goes. Who needs sleeves? I'm pregnant and HOT! Screw the sleeves!

Oh, now this is SO much better. I have ventilation and no uncomfortable restriction of movement in a shirt that is NOT a box. Hooray!

It's not quite perfect. Witness:

Shut up, it's Sunday. I don't have to clean my room.
First, I decided not to adjust the hems because I'd finished them pretty well originally and didn't want to have to fuss with fixing that. So yes, the front is WAY longer than the back. I'm okay with that. I took a deep breath and channeled a little Elizabeth Zimmerman and am calling it a design element. So there.

The other issue, though, is a mite higher. Um, you can totally see side-boob. Okay, side-bra. But I'm going to roll with that, too. Between my bust size (big "girls" don't get skinny little 1- or 2-hook bands) and my overall torso expansion (that band rides really high these days because the belly does too!), it's going to be pretty much unavoidable unless I cut a sleeveless shirt so high in the underarm that it cuts into me. No fun. I have yet to decide whether I'm going to brave wearing this to work with a flesh-colored bra and just pretend I don't care...or save this for more casual outings, where I actually won't care. ;)

So there it is! Rescued from an early grave (another failed maternity shirt was not so was beyond help). I'm feeling pretty good about things at the moment.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Morning Cuppa

I don't drink coffee, but I'm definitely a coffee person. That is, I do not--cannot--seem to function gracefully without a peaceful, quiet, reflective period in which my brain slowly warms up to speed and I can ease into my day. Maybe I knit a little, or read a chapter of a book, or check my email. Sometimes I blog. Often, I take a deep breath, assess the disaster around me, and make a targeted "to do" list so I can feel like I have a goal and a small amount of control over deciding how to get my day under control.

Unfortunately, I am not always granted that elusive luxury.

Doubly unfortunately, although it's easy to dismiss such moments of personal re-centering as a luxury, they can be a quite important necessity.

I forget who coined the phrase, but it's caught on enough to have become part of our stress-management lexicon: refilling your cup. The metaphor is to a vessel of liquid from which other vessels are filled. If Momma is a cup full of helpful energy and the children/chores/relationships/emergencies are "thirsty"/demanding--Momma's energy/love/time gets poured into the children. That's how Mommas work. But sometimes, there's nothing left in the pitcher...and the frequency and intensity of the incoming demands do not let up to give Momma a moment to go refill it.

It's easy to chirp advice about refilling that cup. To advise a mother of a newborn to "sleep when the baby sleeps" or a SAHM to "take time for yourself". Um...while that baby is sleeping, Momma might also do something crazy like have her first shower in three days...or run the dishwasher so she can get closer to remembering the color of her deeply-buried counters. And "time for yourself" DOES NOT EXIST for SAHMs...especially those with preschool or non-schooled children. I cannot remember the last time I took a shower or, criminy, sat on the toilet without fielding questions from the other side of the door.

Side note: Want a bedtime story for Moms? Check out Five Minutes Peace by Jill Murphy. It's funny because it's true. Sigh.

I find that it can be a struggle to keep my cool/grace on days which start with me hitting the ground running. I want to set a good example for my children about handling stress and overwhelming feelings, but then I have a day when I slam the refrigerator door because of The Last Straw, and all I can do is weep (at least I'm learning to do that "on the inside" instead of openly...that helps with the "I'm screwing my kids up by setting a bad example" guilt). I don't have time to complete a thought, or take a refreshing walk, or sit down with my list, or even utter a desperate prayer of supplication, because I'm being bombarded by several new (and often conflicting) demands simultaneously. And my cup is empty. And NO, damn it, sometimes I cannot fill it without tangible HELP.

A friend of mine is a homeschooler and blogger and I love her dearly...and she's honest about her own moments of feeling overwhelmed by the chaos. But all the same, she posts these lovely snapshots with her knitting in the foreground and her children playing happily in the background and I want to know how the hell she pulls that off. Why aren't HER children climbing her? Why aren't they, like mine, demanding her exclusive attention? Is it an illusion? Or has she discovered how to put that space in her gain their cooperation in giving Mommy those few moments to refill her cup? I've tried begging and reasoning with them. I get a lot of blank stares. And sometimes laughter. Mommy is so silly...

On the other hand, my best friend has a newborn. She is not the type to complain, so when she does express frustration I realize it must be pretty serious. And we live about 500 miles apart. I'm not able to come hold the baby so she can shower/nap/go for a walk/pace in the backyard and scream for a little while. All I can do is offer her these useless "refill your cup" platitudes that mean nothing without the support to do so. I feel impotent to help her...and a little humbled and nervous when I realize that in less than three months, I'm going to have my own chaos compounded by a newborn. When they empty your cup, it can be quite literal...but I hesitate to say more without this turning into a full-blown discussion of the breastfeeding relationship. Let's just say it's going to get even more difficult to recharge, and more important for me to be able to pull myself up by my bootstraps and keep on keeping on anyway.

I am very lucky in that I have a supportive partner. He knows. When he walks through the door and sees that look on my face, he reaches inside his own depleted stores of energy and whisks the kids outside to engage them in a yard project or ball-toss or anything. Sometimes it helps. Sometimes I'm still angry because all it does it remove one demand. I'm usually cooking dinner and tidying up at that time, so it's not like I get to sit down...but at least I get to handle some of the stress in relative silence, and that's a step. Other times, I just go on strike. Like this very moment. My kids have been cleaned and fed, but I am now engaged in consciously ignoring them. Part of me is full of disappointment and regret and guilt. Part of me realizes that the simple act of me trying to articulate just why I'm frustrated actually helps to dissipate some of that frustration. Maybe it's only a few drops, but that's way better than a totally empty cup.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Journal Entry/Homeschool Snapshot, 5/20/2011

The Homeschool Mother's Journal

I haven't posted in a while, and a structured format seems as good a way as any to catch up...

In my life this week...

(or more. More like a month...)

I loaned out my beloved netbook. Yes, we have an iPad, a PC, and I have access to a computer at my part-time job, but it seems that the missing link of my ever-handy and portable netbook has seriously diminished my likelihood of blogging. I should have it back in a few weeks (I gave it to a traveling friend so she can video-chat with her children, who I'm sure she misses immensely). So, yeah. Content slump. I'm still crafting like crazy, we finally got the garden planted, and my hormones are doing that lovely dance of pregnancy; where I'll have a day of high energy and good intentions, followed by several days of irritability and extreme sleepiness. Eh, like the netbook, it's also only temporary. We'll survive.

In our homeschool this week...

We have not been having a good time of it lately. Sigh. I've already been through it in great detail with a small group of friends, and I'm not sure I'm ready to reopen that wound here on-site. Which, I know, goes against the spirit of journaling and the point of this meme. Basically:
  • My drive and motivation seem to be sketchy lately. Sometimes I am "in the moment"; mostly I am not. I'm scatterbrained, tired, irritable, distracted, and overwhelmed.
  • T is digging in his heels. He does not enjoy being "taught to", and once our sessions start to feel less like a game and more like a lesson, he can be very difficult. My own short fuse is not helping us get through these times gracefully.

I beat my head against the "how it should/could be" wall pretty hard for a while , and finally...grudgingly...decided to declare a "break" from any formal or intentional "educating". Including my own neurotically conscious "gotta justify that unschooling can work" observing of their self-directed adventures. I need a deep breath and some real, peaceful living in the moment. I'm sure they will benefit from it as well. I'm just not sure how long we'll need this to last.

Places we're going and people we're seeing...
Um...refer back to my emotional slump. That plus some relentlessly rainy weather adds up to a whole bunch of not much other than errands. I keep promising trips to the park which don't materialize, etc. We did manage to make it to the nature preserve and saw two new baby bison. I regret that I didn't have my camera along; they were so cute...small and light reddish brown, they looked more like Boxers (the dog) than soon-to-be-giant ruminants.

My favorite things this week were...
    • The kids played "sticker store" for days. I think the game is still officially in progress. They've produced some interesting artwork and it's charming to see them setting up their storefront and displaying their wares and dealing with their customers (myself and Daddy).
    • And just for me...a shipment of yarn. There's a great sale going on at WEBS until the 31st...if you craft, go grab some bargains!

    What's working/not working for us...

    See above. We had some limited success with more structured lessons, and then it all came crashing down around our ears. Right now the best I can spin is that perhaps a little "no pressure" time is working to heal us and prepare us for the next onslaught.

    Homeschool questions/thoughts I have...

    Heh. to feel less out of control when the notion of structure panics you as well? I "get" the advice about schedules and whatnot, but although I may find them appealing in theory, in practice I rarely last more than a few days before I give up. I really think it may be easier for me to work on being at peace with NOT being in control. Easier said than done, eh?

    A photo, video, link, or quote to share...

    I came home from work one night to find this, from C (5). ♥

    Thursday, May 19, 2011

    It was one of those moments...

    ...when I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. To scold or hug.

    I took a deep breath. Sometimes I am actually blessed enough to remember what it's like to be a child, and how their thought processes work differently from those of adults. No, they do not naturally consider consequences. That's a product of maturation and experience and, frankly, social training. When I saw this, although a part of my psyche was setting off the "How many times have I told them NOT to put STICKERS on the FURNITURE!?" alarms, a more gentle voice said, "They made beautiful things because they love you, and they wanted to give you a surprise."

    The stickers (custom illustrations, every one) have been carefully removed and placed into my journal. The children have been acknowledged and hugged and given a gentle reminder about the proper surfaces for artistic expression.

    And we all lived happily ever after.

    As a mom who (especially have NO idea) has a tendency toward feeling overwhelmed and tense and out of control, having a reaction like this is pretty freaking awesome. My constant goal is to nurture more like it. I know I have a lot more work to do on "me", and little glimpses of potential are very, very encouraging.