Moving: “Oh? Upsizing?” Nope!

During the process of selling our house and buying a new one, I read a lot about downsizing. Apparently, it’s not just for retirees anymore. There is a real trend happening where young families are trading in large homes for smaller ones or choosing to buy smaller homes from the start, many times located in the heart of the city.

I was finally able to put a name to this thing we were doing! Admittedly, it felt a little foolish to sell our roomy (although aged) home and exchange it for something  smaller in square footage with a bare patch of earth on the side of the house. Quite a change from high ceilings, a family room, living room, formal dining room and a large yard complete with fruit trees and berry bushes.

When we took a look at the first house we bought, there was so much to love about it! I found myself daydreaming about gardening with my kids. But in the almost four years that we’d lived there, we outgrew the space.

Not physically, but psychologically and emotionally.

The Yard

Maintaining a yard is a pain. In money or time. Neither DH, nor myself, want to spend multiple weekends weeding or using extra money to pay for upkeep. And the gardening? It wasn’t happening. Not because I was juggling a new baby and toddler at the time, and I just hadn’t got to it. It wasn’t happening because it is not my thing. I like spending time with my kids, my partner, reading, going out to places, and especially writing. Writing. And really, what makes me think gardening with my sons would involve anything other than seeds and dirt being thrown everywhere? I strongly suspect it’s not their thing either.

And there’s living in the Pacific Northwest, where 8-9 months out of the year, it’s wet or damp out. Sure, hiking on one of Oregon’s many beautiful trails in a misty drizzle is cool. Sitting in my backyard in a misty drizzle is not. I’ll just go in the house and brew some coffee, thanks.

Wasted space

Do you know what we did with the “formal” dining room? Turned it into a playroom and used the smaller eat-in near the kitchen for meals. My DH intuited before I did that a dining table in there is not a very good use of space for us.

And the living room. No one hardly ever went in there. It’s furnished, but the most use it gets is when we change things around a bit to accommodate a sleeping space for my visiting mom. And upstairs, a fourth bedroom was not being used (again, except for when my brother was here visiting) because my youngest still co-sleeps with DH and I. My sons are also quite close. When my littlest guy finally exits the big bed, they will probably want to share a room.

In retrospect, I realize how way too open and impersonal our first house was. Now granted, a interior design genius could have done wonders. I’m okay decorating, but not that good. But I think our new home fits our lifestyle much better. It’s smaller, but it’s perfectly cozy for our tastes.

Homeschooling: ENTP/ENFP learning style

I’ve started researching learning styles. Our #1 son is doing great with school, but I think there is always room to improve the process.

Most children in the early elementary school years love being active and have a hard time sitting still. This isn’t necessarily along biological gender lines, but boys tend to be more prone to the wiggles. This is my experience with our #1 son. And I don’t think him being a boy has much to do with it, but rather, his personality type. People have different opinions on the reliability of Myers-Briggs Personality Type, but the research behind it is solid. And if understood correctly, it’s a tool; a guide for explaining behavior, not so much predicting it. Also, each letter of a type is on a continuum. That means two people who have the same type, will still be very different from one another.

From what we can tell, we think that our #1 son is either a ENTP or an ENFP.

From the Myers and Briggs Foundation, ENFP adults are described as:

Warmly enthusiastic and imaginative. See life as full of possibilities. Make connections between events and information very quickly, and confidently proceed based on the patterns they see. Want a lot of affirmation from others, and readily give appreciation and support. Spontaneous and flexible, often rely on their ability to improvise and their verbal fluency.

ENTP adults are described as:

Quick, ingenious, stimulating, alert, and outspoken. Resourceful in solving new and challenging problems. Adept at generating conceptual possibilities and then analyzing them strategically. Good at reading other people. Bored by routine, will seldom do the same thing the same way, apt to turn to one new interest after another.

 

But what is life like for these personality types as children? According to the latest research, some letters show up fairly quickly and are easy to spot (such as Extroversion and Introversion) by the time your child is toddler age. For the other letters, it can take years. The above types as children are referred to ENP’s. Kidzmet has an excellent description of the ENP child and it very much describes my #1 son well. Here is another place that describes the learning style of an ENP. That really hit home; I recognized some of the challenges we have during school. He needs an incredible amount of stimulation and gets bored easy, any little thing will distract him and our nickname for him is The Negotiator. Our #1 will not take a simple no for an answer, and your explanation has to make sense to him. And when our final answer is “no” on something, we’ve found that we have to very clear about it. As the page with learning styles states, “there can be no room for alternative interpretation.”

Since we homeschool, I think’s very important to create the best environment in which he (and his younger brother eventually) can learn and I can facilitate that learning well. I’m an ISFP and knowing what his type probably is explains so much. Especially the exhaustion! But part of living life well on this planet, is learning to get along with people that are different from you.

Adult privilege

Remember those memes that were going around (and still probably are) of all these rules dad had for dating his daughter? It rubbed me the wrong way because it clearly expressed archaic, unhealthy ways on how to respond when your daughter inevitably starts dating. I recently saw another one that showed a wonderful alternative, here.

Not only do both parents and partners have no say on what a woman does with her body, but this is the case for all young people, including men. There is definitely plenty of sexism in the idea that dad has some kind of co-CEO role in deciding who is good enough to date his daughter, but what is also missing is the larger role adult privilege has in this mindset as well.

People are so quick to tell other people to check their privilege regarding race, sex, or sexual orientation, but rarely will you see someone check their own adult privilege or encourage someone to do the same. I doubt most people even believe this exists. The idea that your dad has a say in who you date or marry is very demeaning to women. But it’s also equally demeaning to young people in general. No one should have to jump through your arbitrary, subjective hoops to be worthy to date your child. And there should be enough trust in your child that they can choose someone who will respect them on their own terms, not yours.

Ok, no easy feat, I know. But it’s certainly a great parenting goal to aspire to. My kids are not teens yet, so check on how stressed my DH and I will be in 10 years!

Letting children go to church with strangers

Ask an Atheist is a local (Pacific Northwest) radio show out of Lakewood, Wa. I listened to one of their most recent episodes in which the topic was parenting and atheism. They brought up the issue of allowing, as an atheist parent, your child to attend religious services.

My take is the same as one of the hosts (who is currently raising a child): I do not mind my child attending a church service with a trusted family member or friend, provided my child wanted to go. But sending my child off to church with people I do not know is unacceptable. Yet, I was reminded by the conversation during the show, that this is pretty common place.

The same host described this situation that happened to her: her son plays with a neighbor girl in their apartment complex regularly. One Saturday, the girl’s mother, whom she had never formally met, asks to take her son to an event “tomorrow morning”. She had to drag it out of her that this event was church.

The host said she had two issues: 1) not being up front about where she was asking to take her son, and 2) considering that they were barely acquainted, leaving her out of the invitation and only inviting her son.

A caller recounted a similar situation with her daughter, but it was much worse. Every Sunday, a van would come to the caller’s complex to pick kids up and take them to a local church. When asked by a neighbor why she didn’t allow her daughter to go, she said, “I don’t know anyone at this church or where they are going.”  The neighbor is shocked and says, “But it’s a church!” As if bad things don’t happen to children at church.

The church where I grew up used to bus kids (in a van) from a nearby housing project to attend Vacation Bible School during the summers. While some parents might have had friends or relatives that were familiar with our church (or perhaps even attended a service themselves), I know there were some that knew nothing much about us. And they, I believe now in retrospect, carelessly let their kids go to a strange place with adults they never met.

It is striking, the assumptions we make culturally, when any event is associated with a religious organization. This can be very dangerous, especially when it comes to children’s safety.

 

Homeschooling: Two weeks into Kindergarten

It’s going pretty well!

We’re focusing on many of the same subjects that I outlined for my oldest son’s last year of pre-K: science, math, reading/phonics, art, social studies, cooking and handwriting. We do two subjects a day, one in the morning and one mid-afternoon, after little brother’s nap. Structured lessons are for an hour each, max. Many times, we’re at 45 minutes. DH does handwriting in the evenings, and those are only 15 minute sessions. We are also part of a group of other secular homeschoolers and we plan on meeting twice a week for group activities in the areas of science, language, cooking and anatomy. We had out first “class” Monday, for science, and the kids had a ball with a color changing milk experiment.

At home, the materials we’re using are:

1. Primary Mathematics

I really like this curriculum. For those unfamiliar, this is Singapore Math, which teaches kids to do mental math. We’re using 1A level. It is very organized and and includes a textbook and workbook for the kids and an instructor booklet. Very easy to implement. Right now, we’re working on number bonds and it was the first week where #1 son didn’t quite get it all the way; about 30 percent. The beauty of homeschooling, of course, is that you take as long as you want until your kid gets it. No timetable. The second lesson on number bonds, I did a review and we did a game using a 3-compartment plate, numeral cards and goldfish crackers. This isn’t original, I got it off the interwebs (just google it). He seemed to get it a lot more: that 5 is the same as 3+2, 0+5, and 4+1.

2. Science is Simple

Haven’t done much in this yet. One lesson so far: we borrowed Suddenly! from the library and read that together. It’s a book they suggest to help kids make guesses about what will happen next in a story. Basically, practicing the scientific method.  This can be done with any story. This is one of the first lessons, but it has tons of fun ideas for actual science experiments.

3. Beginning Geography (social studies)

Also have done just a few pages so far. Learning maps, direction (up, down, right, left, N, S, E, W), land masses, bodies of water, etc. Came with two huge colorful posters we hung up in the playroom. #1 son likes the activities and coloring the pages.

4. Explode the Code (phonics)

While the main focus of ETC is phonics, it is very writing intensive. After a couple of weeks, we’re now skipping the last page in each lesson because it’s JUST MORE WRITING. We already have a separate curriculum for handwriting so it’s feel redundant. I appreciate some writing practice, but in my opinion it’s a bit much. Other than that, the lessons are good and I am still happy using it (although we might supplement with Hooked on Phonics at some point).

5. Draw Write Now (art)

Right now, #1 son is taking a 5-week art class at Masterpiece Art Studio (which he loves), but when that is over we’ll be doing some different things for art and this book is one. It gives you step by step instructions on how to draw different animals and it’s great handwriting practice, too. My son likes following steps for things if it’s something he likes, like art. We’ll also be using project ideas from The Artful Parent.

6. Pretend Soup (cooking)

My DH found this book and I like it a lot. The recipes are made to allow the kids to do as much prep and cooking as possible independently (with adult supervision of course). There are also two versions of directions: one with words for parents and one with pictures and a word or two for the kids. We’ve made one recipe so far, “Green Spaghetti”, which is basically pasta and homemade pesto. The kids enjoyed making it. My younger son tasted some and liked it, and my older son (who is VERY picky) just ate plain pasta with butter, salt and pepper. It was actually really good and I added extra garlic!

7. Now I’m Reading (books for early reader practice)

So far, very happy with these. The illustrations are engaging and there is an actual story with a beginning, middle and end. We start each book with just looking at the pictures, then I read it a few times, then he reads it alone when he is ready to. If he can read it by himself with no help, he can put a sticker inside the book.

8. Universal Publishing Handwriting Series

Had a hard time finding handwriting curriculums. Weren’t sure what style to go with. At first, we thought maybe italics were the way to go and not even getting into cursive. There are so many choices. But we finally realized readability is most important, so regular old printing is best (and easier to learn), with cursive instruction starting in a few years.

Finally, at some point I will buying a children’s Bible to help introduce the kids to Bible stories. I think this subject can be called religious literacy or maybe mythology? The Christian stories and traditions are very much a part of American culture, down to the idioms or sayings people speak (read here). The great part from our perspective is that DH and I don’t have to convince our kids that these stories are true. They are free to think whatever they want to think about them. And we’re not focusing on just Christianity; we will delve into other religious traditions as they get older.

 

Homeschooling: Curriculum Evolution

I would say my education philosophy hovers somewhere between straight unschooling and eclectic homeschooling. So while I never gave myself ulcers trying to keep up on every jot of the curriculum I outlined for us last Fall, it was still too structured and not very exciting for #1 son.

DH and I put our brains to work and tried to figure out a way to not only make “lessons” more fun for #1 son, but also make it easier for me to implement.

It’s interesting because last year, the curriculum I found worked fairly well. This year, with the few tweaks added, not so much. I accept that sometimes, you have switch things up.

We do school three days a week, dedicating about an hour to each subject, one in the morning and one in the afternoon: math, science, reading, social studies, art and handwriting. That hour will usually include some worksheets and an activity/project.

Schedule

Photo by CB

 

The materials we’re trying out are:

School Sparks

Photo by CB

 

Worksheets for math, science, reading, writing, spelling

Worksheets for math, science, reading, writing, spelling
Photo by CB

 

Tangram game for math

Tangram game for math
Photo by CB

 

About 50 books with lessons/activities

About 50 books with lessons/activities
Photo by CB

 

Leap Frog Human Body

 

For a lot of activities, I just browse the web for stuff I think #1 son will like. My DH and I also tag team: we each take three subjects to plan for. And, because we are both perceivers, we only plan about a month out.

This past Wednesday was the first day using this approach and it worked well (really well, considering DH was home sick and the night before, #2 son was sick and up for a few early morning hours).

I measure success by #1 son’s acceptance or rejection. If it ever seems like things are forced or he is getting bored, we will certainly change things up again.

Parenting choices and religion

Several months ago, I was interviewed by The Voluntary Life, a podcast hosted by Jake (who lives in the UK). The topic was about raising your children without religion, when you yourself was raised in a religious home.

It was a great interview and I meant to blog about it, but it was a busy time for me then (it was hairy finding time to even do the interview). So it fell off the radar.

Although we now identify as atheists, at the time of the interview, both DH and I were still evolving when it came to our religious/spiritual beliefs. But we were firm at not raising our children with the brainwashing of religion. And of course, now, we feel the same, even more strongly. I want to give my children all the facts as I know them and when they are adults, they can be armed to choose for themselves how they want to live their lives and what they want to believe (or not believe).

So why am I thinking about it now? My MIL, who was unaware of our changed beliefs, found the interview somehow and sent it to my mother. In fact, she sent it to her with no explanation of what my interview was about, just the link and that’s it.

Fortunately, my mother is already aware of my atheism. She doesn’t agree, but she isn’t ringing her hands about it at all. My mom has always been a very accepting person, and would be that way no matter what her religious persuasion.

MIL, on the other hand, is bothered by the interview. Her motives for finding it to begin with and then sending it to my mom (with no preface or explanation, remember) are indeed questionable.

Because the logical alternative would be to, say, talk to us directly about her concerns.

Instead of, you know, involving a third party.

*narrows eyes*

I actually understand where she is coming from, though. Partially, anyway. It’s disturbing for many people to see their adult children making different parenting decisions. They may feel threatened; that the choices they made as parents were wrong.

Well, guess what? Some of them were wrong. Just like some of the choices I’ve made, and will make, will turn out to be wrong. We’re human and flawed.

So. My mom simply shrugged at her and said she knew my different views. The End. If MIL thought she was dropping some kind of bomb on her, she was sorely mistaken.

I imagine many formerly religious people, especially those raised in religious homes, deal with stuff like this. If you have, drop a note here and share your story!

 

Supporting your child’s interests

I read a post today on a blog called Project-based Homeschoooling (go there please, it’s awesome) about basically the advantages of not just encouraging, but actively supporting your child’s interests.

The second comment on the post touched a chord in me. As a teen, the person was essentially manipulated by a school counselor into going to a college not of their choosing.

I thought about the ton of conversations DH and I have had about things we’d do differently with our education/careers if not for the interference (sometimes well-meaning and sometimes not) of the adults in our lives.

For me, I’ve always loved writing and reading fiction. My mom took us to the library very regularly. But once it was time to pick colleges, I was steered toward not only staying where I lived to go to school, but going to the city’s community college.

Now, not to slam community colleges. They are great options for many people. But considering my interests (writing/journalism) it would have been better for me to go to a school that had a good reputation for that and was affordable for me.

Luckily I lived in a city that had one: Temple University. And guess what? I ended up finishing my BA there. Why didn’t I go there to begin with? I have no damn idea, other than a vague memory of being talked into doing something else.

DH had a similar experience. He was actually home schooled and once it was time for college, he really wanted to explore attending college in California or possibly Seattle (he lived about an hour or so from the Emerald City).

What happened? He got talked into going to a two-year art school in the small town he lived in. Again, not that this school wasn’t a good option. But he says he would have chosen differently if he had been given both the freedom and support to choose himself.

It’s all well and good to expose your children to many things and be generally positive about what they are into. But once you see they are truly passionate about something, actively support it. And when they get older, and begin to carve their own paths, don’t make them feel like you have a stake in whatever choices they make.

Not long ago, I saw the documentary Being Elmo. It is a biography about Kevin Clash, the puppeteer behind Sesame Street character Elmo. What impressed me most about Kevin’s career was the relentless support he received from his parents early on. Not once did they ever make him feel ashamed for “being into” puppets and helped him seek out mentors for his interest. And look at him today.

 

Labels

I follow a blogger who unschools her children and can best be described as a liberal Christian. I mostly like a lot of her pieces on spanking and children, as she advocates not using corporal punishment.

In one of her latest FB statuses, she says she read another post from a blogger that referred to her as an “AP blogger”. “AP” as in “Attachment Parenting”. She said this didn’t sit well with her because she doesn’t like labels and it causes people to pigeon-hole you.

Fair enough, I mostly agree. But only to an extent, because labels can be useful. For both children and adults, it helps to label things in order to make sense of your world. But with maturity and experience, you learn that people are complex beings and rarely fall neatly into categories. Unless they’re pod people.

I suppose the problem is that many adults never evolve to this line of thinking. So when one runs into these types, you have to give up control and not care what they think of you.

Also, some people are so in love with being different or thinking on another wavelength, that they become obnoxious.

“Don’t label me because I am sooooo singular and think out of the box!!”

I think this dweebishness happens when you, again, keep caring what people think of you. There is nothing wrong with being concerned about being clear on a given position to promote understanding. But after while, some people are going to think what they want to think about you. And that is their choice and responsibility.

Yup, still nursing

It’s World Breastfeeding Week. With the exception of five months, I’ve been lactating for the past four years. I nursed my #1 son, who is now 4-years-old, until he was 2.5 and I currently nurse my #2 son (he is 15 months).

Without knowing much about breastfeeding, I dived into it with my first son. I ignored the dumb remarks such as one from my nurse, who told me, “Don’t let him use you as a pacifier!” Even being as ignorant as I was about nursing, that comment did not sit well with me and I put her on ignore.

I did what felt natural to me: I nursed him whenever he made a peep and always nursed him to sleep for naps and at night (and yes, he sleeps quite well on his own now, thanks). Yes, I was mildly confused as to why he wanted to nurse again after just an hour or why it’s been two hours and I’m still sitting here with a baby attached to my boob. I just went with the flow and read a book and dinner would be whatever the heck can be rustled up. No one will die.

I am thankful I was lucky enough to stay home with my babies and not worry about going back to work, having to pump. I bow down to women that do that because it’s hard as hell.

I have and still enjoy nursing. It’s relaxing for everyone involved. It forces you to slows things down. This is normal and always was. Now, yes, things are different, industrialized and faster paced. But we humans have the power to create a world where everything that I mentioned above about breastfeeding is all normal within our modernized lifestyles. We just have to do the work to achieve it.