Wednesday, August 22, 2007

One lap, shared.

My 4yo stole a rare moment on my empty lap this evening. He has gotten so tall and lanky he barely resembles the chubby baby that used to ride around in a sling all day long. Now his little brother is the one most often on my hip, but he never seems to resent it. Grouper is more likely to smother Baby Fish with too tight a hug than do anything that expresses jealousy.

No, tonight it was the baby's turn to be jealous.

It took me a minute to realize what he was upset about. UberDad recognized it first. "He doesn't want Grouper sitting on your lap!" my husband laughed, watching the baby scoot over to the sofa from his playmat, dismay in his voice and on his face.

I smiled at him as he came closer, but hugged my middle son tighter, not ready to give up our cuddle. "Your brother is my baby, too!" I said. "But you can come up and join us!"

I pulled him up on the couch, and set him on his brother's lap. We were nestled one on top of another like his stackable wooden boxes, though I wasn't sure that it would be enough. It was -- he was happy to be a part of the cuddle for a moment. Then he slid off to crawl along the sofa and giddily bounce against the cushions.

How lucky am I? He could just as easily have reached out to grab Grouper's face like he does the cat's tail, in an attempt to wrestle his place back. But he didn't.

At some point every mother worries about jealousy between her children. "If I have another baby, will my first child forgive me?" "How will I give them both enough attention and love?" And sometimes we do exactly what we hope we wouldn't -- we choose one over the other, expecting the older children to understand when we put the baby's needs first -- all day long. Or putting the baby off too long because the older child needed our attention. And sometimes it's just a matter of not having enough hands to do everything we're needed for at once.

Maybe it's luck. An undeserved blessing. Maybe I'm figuring some things out and not making those mistakes as often. In any case, I am grateful for having sons who know the value of a brother, and truly love each other.

Toy recalls

I'm a little slow on the news, so forgive me if this is old and you've all heard it already. But just in case, check this list and make sure you don't have any of
these Mattel toys (it includes lots of Polly Pocket playsets).

Monday, August 20, 2007

Freedom to celebrate difference -- shouldn't homeschoolers have it, too?

I'm not sure what woke me and the baby up at 5:30 this morning. (Probably his tummy wanting more milk.) But I do know that the noisy motors of buses filled with children headed back to school kept us from getting back to sleep. Our house is in walking distance of three elementary schools and a high school, and the buses use our wide residential street as a thoroughfare.

My neighbor, a fellow homeschooling mom, stopped by in her robe around 8 to see if we were planning to go to the library this morning, like we often do on Mondays. "Happy Not Back to School Day!" she said. "Aren't you glad you're not sending your kids off to prison?"

"Be careful," warned my mother from her spot on my couch when I expressed the same sentiment 20 minutes later. She was waiting for the boys to put their shoes on so we could go out to breakfast and celebrate her birthday.

My mom doesn't like me getting too excited about the fact that we're not sending our kids to school. At least not around people who do send their kids to school, like she did. I understand her concern for offending people, especially people I know and love. My friends are not all making the same choice as I am, and I respect their reasons and their decision as their own.

But it is nice to be around those who share my perspective and aren't afraid to celebrate our choice to buck the mainstream. We are happy about keeping our kids home with us. Why can't we celebrate that and joke a little? Why does it seem like homeschoolers are the ones who have to protect the feelings of schooling moms, when we're the minority surrounded by a culture that doubts our validity?

I don't normally experience that doubt directly. Somehow I've avoided the kind of conversation my neighbor has with people in line at the grocery store on a weekday morning, her three children in tow. I'm just not as friendly and talkative.

So I hadn't thought much about the conspicuousness of taking two school-age children into a restaurant at 9 a.m. on Back to School Monday. (Instead I'd been remembering how my parents always took my sisters and me out to breakfast on the first day of school, giving us new wristwatches when we each started kindergarten to commemorate the moment.)

Otherwise, I might not have been as caught off guard by all the questioning stares as we entered a cafe full of adults, many of whom had undoubtedly dropped their own kids off at school at hour earlier. Fortunately we didn't get any rude comments. Although it might have been a nice opportunity to educate people, as my neighbor so often does.

If it hadn't been my mother's birthday, we might have been at a Not Back to School Party with our fellow homeschoolers -- eating pancakes and ice cream sundaes, swimming, and celebrating our freedom to do so any day we like.

There's nothing wrong with that.

I know there are moms who miss their kindergarteners terribly after sending them away for the first time. I know this because I know homeschool moms who began as schooling moms, and hated it. But most moms get used to it, even breathing a sigh of relief when summer vacation ends and they have a few hours a day to themselves again.

I admit the possibility occasionally appeals to me, too. Think of all the blogging I could get done!

But then I think about how that would change our family life. How much I would miss them. The struggles and boredom they might face in school unnecessarily. The moments we would miss out on because we simply weren't together to experience them.

And I celebrate our choice to do so. I know I'm lucky to have a husband who feels the same way I do -- even as he headed back to school himself.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Who's Afraid of Harry Potter?

I love this article so much, I wish I'd written it. The author, a fellow unschooling mom, didn't have a current link, but gave me permission to post it here. Thanks, Amy!

Who's Afraid of Harry Potter?

By Amy Hollingsworth

(Published on

I, for one, am not.

“Always use the proper name for things,” once mused a wise headmaster, gazing over his half-moon spectacles. “Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.” The proper name I’m thinking of in this case is Harry Potter, the kid with the lightning scar who’s become a lightning rod for censors.

By now, everyone has at least heard of Harry Potter. All three books about Harry Potter’s adventures as an ill-treated orphan suddenly transported into a world of wizardry have magically hovered atop the New York Times Best Seller list for months now.

Author J.K. Rowling’s freshman effort has been compared to The Chronicles of Narnia; her imaginative style likened to that of Roald Dahl. Not everyone is celebrating the arrival of her British hero, though. Parents in California, Michigan, Minnesota, New York and South Carolina have taken steps to have the books removed from school libraries. They would be happier if the books, well, vanished into thin air.

So, who’s afraid of Harry Potter? I, for one, am not. Sure, I think Professor Snape is a little creepy and well, Voldemort, he’s so bad no one even refers to him by name. But I’m not afraid of Harry Potter.

Not afraid of him, not afraid of his friends, not afraid of how he’s being educated. I see Harry Potter as a sort of Everyman, or more accurately, Every Kid. He’s not the smartest or the strongest or the richest or the best looking. Maybe he’s a little different because he wears long robes to school, plays sports on a broomstick and has a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead, but he is brave and he has a good heart. What’s not to like?

I’m not saying I didn’t have any concerns about my children making Harry’s acquaintance. Like every responsible parent, I’m careful about the company my children keep. Would meeting Harry stir up a desire to delve into the dark side of fantasy? Should my kids be cavorting with wizards, learning to concoct potions, seeing how far evil can triumph?

It’s a legitimate question. For that reason, my children have never even participated in Halloween, except to celebrate a Harvest Party with friends. But I didn’t know enough to make an informed decision.

I asked around, picking the brains of those who had already dared to climb aboard Hogwarts Express. There were mixed reviews, although mostly positive. In the end, I decided the only way to know for sure was to meet Harry myself. Since my library’s 33 copies were all in use, I headed to the bookstore and purchased the first in the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It was worth every cent, or Knut, depending on where you bank.

My initial plan was to read the book myself and then if all went well, to read it to my 8-year-old son. (I’m not in the habit - metaphorically speaking - of chewing up my children’s food for them like some mama bird who doesn’t want her babies to choke, but I do like to know what they’re eating.)

My son knew about this conditional status and would sneak into my bedroom to riffle through the pages like they were contraband. Talk about building interest. After I read each chapter, he would ask for a detailed summary. Midway through the book, I stopped giving summaries and we began reading the book together.

These are the reasons why I’m glad I did.

1. The books highlight experiences kids can relate to. Instead of arguing over who’s got the best bike or the coolest video game, Harry’s friends ooh and aah over the Nimbus Two Thousand, the latest and most coveted broomstick model. They collect wizard trading cards. There’s even a bully (aptly named Draco Malfoy) who makes Harry’s life miserable.

J.K. Rowling doesn’t hesitate to point out the unfortunate fact that people are sometimes divided into social classes, with labels like Muggles (nonwizarding types, like you and me), Squibs (nonwizarding types from wizarding families), and Mudbloods (a pejorative for someone with magically-challenged parents). The books provide a safe place for kids to identify with peer pressure, bullies and injustices in a setting that’s pure fantasy.

2. The books allow you to become a part of history. Reading the Harry Potter series, I feel a kinship with those Britons who paged through Bentley’s Miscellany in 1837 eager to read the monthly installments chronicling the adventures of another famous orphan, one by the name of Oliver Twist. I’m not trying to be dramatic here. How often do you and your children get to follow a tale as it’s unfolding, knowing all the while that it’s destined to become a classic? I see the Harry Potter books this way. I don’t have to wait for any historian to tell me these books will be considered among the very best of children’s literature.

3. The books encourage naming the thing you fear. It was Albus Dumbledore, the wise and noble headmaster of Hogwarts School, who spoke the words I quoted earlier. He cautioned Harry to always use the proper name for things because “fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.” I think those parents who want to censor Harry Potter, or those who simply refuse to read the books at all, are more fearful of “names” or words than anything else—magic, potions, wizards, witches, spells. But these things are not the central focus of the stories.

The books are not about conjuring up occult powers. The tools of the wizarding trade are merely props, the backdrop for the real drama. And the real drama is the age-old battle between good and evil. The evil, as embodied in Lord Voldemort, is not fictional. The existence of that kind of wickedness in the world is what is to be feared, not Harry’s broomstick. When I read the chilling account of Harry’s encounter with Lord Voldemort to my son (and I must admit here that I did a little editing, just a little), I explained to him that this was evil personified, (im)pure and simple.

Evil is real. It exploits those who give their lives to it and then leaves them for dead (which is what happened to poor Professor Quirrell). That’s what Voldemort represents. What conquers that kind of evil is not a magic wand, but the goodness and bravery Harry is best known for. I’m not really sure why Harry Potter has been singled out. I have a hard time believing that the masses cried foul when C.S. Lewis wrote about a White Witch exploiting a young boy in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe or when the Queen of the Night took center stage in Mozart’s The Magic Flute or when L. Frank Baum unveiled the Wizard of Oz. Maybe they did. But if I had to answer the question, “Who’s afraid of Harry Potter?,” my guess would be: Mostly those who haven’t bothered to get to know him yet.

Copyright, 2000 Amy Hollingsworth

Writer, Interrupted

I don't mention it here very often, but my friends know that before I was a mom I was a professional writer for a few years. Not long enough to get good at it, but long enough to be published and to identify myself as a writer. Actually, I identified as a writer long before that.

So, it surprised even me when I dropped that identity quickly after becoming a mother. I did attempt to freelance for a few months after my first son was born. But since he knew from the earliest age that when Mommy gets on the phone it's time to really need her, the freelancing didn't last long. And even though we could have used the money, it didn't seem worth it. I'd wanted to become a mom for a long time, and I didn't want anything to prevent me from focusing on my child.

Eventually I discovered blogging, and that helped fill the void. But while blogging kept me from completely giving up the craft, it also let me be lazy. Every once in a while I'd put some effort into it, but most of the time I just spewed my thoughts into a post as I would a journal, not planning or editing much.

Some part of me believed that because I was planning to homeschool, focusing seriously on my writing wouldn't be possible. The kids would need me just as much as when they were babies.

As it turns out, if I could draw myself away from other scattered interests and just make writing a priority, I could do it. My kids will not suffer. They are happy. I can meet their needs AND write in between. There are inspiring moms doing just that everywhere I look -- online and in publications.

I could make this post ridiculously long attempting to explain why this is important to me, but Amy Hollingsworth has already done it in her article here.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Can postpartum exhaustion still be my excuse?

Last night I did my first postpartum workout, a mommy & baby yoga/pilates DVD I picked up at the thrift store a month ago.

Does it still count as postpartum if the baby's already 14 months old? Is it still "mommy & baby yoga" if the baby would rather pull all the videos out of the drawer in the media cabinet than help me work my abs by playing airplane?

It felt so good to stretch and use my stiff muscles; I don't know why it took me so long to finally get out the yoga mat again! I was pretty good about getting regular exercise for most of my pregnancy, and it made a huge difference in how I felt. I'm not sure whether I got it into my head that exercise is a "should," which takes the fun out of it, or a "luxury," which makes it feel too indulgent. Either way, for a year my neuroses have convinced me to sit on the couch and knit instead.

Knitting can be meditative, and therefore good for the mind, but it makes for a soggy body if it's your only hobby. And as it turns out, exercise is good for the mind, too, sending blood flow and endorphins to the brain, and reducing stress and depression. We all know this, right? So why do I sit on the couch every time I get a moment to myself?

Beats me. But I'm going to start lying down on the floor instead.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

It's that time of year again...

The air is still be stifling hot outside, but there's no denying the season is changing. It just has nothing to do with the weather.

Back-to-School marketing has been interrupting the kids' favorite shows for weeks already, trying to convince us to get excited about heading to the nearest mega-mart to stock up on writing utensils, binders and backpacks. According to Walmart, KMart and Staples, going back to school has less to do with the routine of bus schedules and homework than with the need to buy new stuff. And it has almost nothing to do with fall, since most schools around the country start the new semester in mid-August while it's still 90-something degrees outside.

Unfortunately, I'm totally falling prey to the propaganda. What is it about new things that make them so appealing? Why is it so easy to believe that getting something new will make us feel better about our lives? Why is buying a cute new pair of shoes so darn exciting?

I admit that as a kid I did NOT like shopping for school shoes. I wore size 11 by fifth grade. Very few shoemakers make shoes for girls in size 11. I remember one summer driving two hours to Los Angeles, then searching three different malls to find a pair of shoes that looked cute on a five-foot-eleven-inch 12-year-old. Maybe that's why it's so exciting to find a pair I like in my size even now.

In any case, since we're unschooling, I obviously don't have a list on the fridge of all the supplies I'd be required to purchase if my sons were heading back to the local elementary school in 10 days. We can buy drawing paper when we want some, when we realize we've run out. I can pick up a notebook for journaling when I've filled my last one, or new crayons when I realize they're all broken again.

But there's still something tempting about all that stuff filling the seasonal section in the back of Target right now. It triggers very old memories; that feeling of excitement that comes when you're preparing for a change, for some new not-wholly-familiar adventure.

I actually liked school as a kid. Maybe not as much as summer freedom, but by the end of each break, I was looking forward to getting back in the routine, seeing friends who didn't live in our neighborhood -- deciding which color backpack and binders to get for the new school year.

Now that I'm a homeschooling mom married to a teacher, the approach of fall has less to do with preparing the kids for school, and more to do with how we're going to survive losing UberDad to the workday again.

Even when he teaches summer school, we have a lot more time together over the summer months. This summer we had almost every day. The boys got used to having a parent available whenever they needed one -- to read a WoW quest, pour another glass of chocolate soy milk, play their favorite card game, kiss an owie, take them out for ice cream cones. If one of us was busy, the other could take care of it.

With UberDad back at school, I'm going to have to meet all those needs by myself during the day -- again. I have to remind myself that this isn't the first time. Last fall I had a newborn to care for! This year should be a cinch!

Part of my problem is that I want to raise the bar for myself. With Baby Fish getting a little more independent, I'll have more time to play with all three boys than I did last year. Because part of the point of being home with my kids, and keeping them home, is to do stuff together. Not just so we can sit at the table and play school. They're not interested in that kind of thing very often. Not just to fill the week with playdates. We'll have plenty, but it's nice to be at home with just each other, too. And not so I can do my own thing while they entertain themselves, even if they do so happily most of the time.

So, sitting at the dinner table tonight, I asked the boys what they'd like to do when Daddy goes back to work. I thought maybe they'd like to do more science projects or help me plant a new vegetable garden. I wondered if there was anything they'd hoped to do that I hadn't gotten around to yet.

Their first answers: "Play World of Warcraft ALL day long!" "Drink lots of chocolate soy milk." "Play BUZZ!" "Eat ice cream."

Hmm, sounds a lot like summer. Maybe I can do this after all. And maybe I'll get started on that vegetable garden and see if they eventually join me.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Dreams, unfinished.

Crazy Hip Blog Mamas has a collaboration about childhood dreams going on today. I just happened upon it, but since I've been thinking about this lately anyway, I thought I'd join in.

I was a serious daydreamer as a child. While other kids were out on their bikes exploring the neighborhood, I was usually lounging on my bed envisioning the future, writing down name ideas for my future children, designing the interiors of my dream home, or chatting with my friend Andie about all the details of our imaginary adult lives.

I knew wanted to get married and have children from the very beginning. Oh, sure, I also dreamed of being a rock star, of living on my own in New York or Paris for awhile, of being a magazine publisher or successful novelist, of being filthy rich and terribly famous. But mostly I just wanted a house with a garden, four to six kids, and a husband who could pay for a housekeeper so I'd have time to write.

When I was 12, I would spend hours in my room looking through home magazines for facades I liked, then coming up with interior layouts that would fit my imaginary family's lifestyle. Seven bedrooms minimum. A library for all my books, a music room for my baby grand piano, a master suite with my desk by a window overlooking the rose garden. The children would be able to wander into the woods behind the house, creating their own dreams -- since for some reason I don't remember envisioning many toys in the house, or even a swingset in the backyard for all those kids.

Isn't it funny? I now have a house (though it doesn't have a libary, music room or seven bedrooms!). I have three out of four to six kids. I have a huge backyard that still needs a ton of work -- but the potential is there. And, as of two months ago, I even have someone come to clean my house every two weeks -- plus a husband who thinks I deserve it!

I guess it's time to start writing. Or... have another baby? Except that my nerves aren't quite as stable in the face of child-created chaos and noise as I'd imagined. Three seems to be enough for now.

Oh, and the husband says another baby completely out of the question. I guess his vote should count.

Somehow the work of carving out the time and energy to write is a lot harder in real life. I have a million excuses. One of them has been pleading with me to GET OFF the computer and log him onto Webkinz for the last 10 minutes. I guess it's time to post. Forgive me for not proofreading.
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