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Tag: unschool

Bird Watching

Ideas coming into focus. I search for a place to sit and quietly watch them settle, hoping I can make note of them, capture them before they…

Be careful! Don’t startle them. Any sudden movement or noise may scare them into flight and who knows when they’ll be back again. Ideas, like birds, are flighty things.

An old woman sits on a park bench and watches the birds. She simply watches, content and satisfied with her view. They alight, coo, and walk around pecking the ground at her feet.  

A young mother comes by, pushing her new baby in a stroller. It’s one of those big heavy contraptions that a car seat fits into. From her park bench, she sees the mother arrive in the parking lot. Stepping from the sedan, she walks to the back of the vehicle as the trunk pops open. She reaches inside, and with both hands heaves the stroller base out onto the pavement, snapping it open as she lowers it to the ground.

“I remember being that strong,” the old woman thinks. The young mother maneuvers the stroller to the side of the car, opens the back seat door, pulls the baby car seat out of its base, turns on one foot and sets it atop the stroller, locking it into place with a snap.

“Does that baby even know where he is?” She chuckles to herself. “I sound like an old woman, even in my head. Back in my day…” She smiles as she watches the mom start her brisk walk around the park. She’s here for the exercise and baby is the resistance weight. “Two for one deal,” she thinks, “Mom gets a good walk and baby get some fresh air. He’s probably napping the whole time anyway.”

She goes back to her birds as they settle once again at her feet, instinctively pecking the ground. There are so many different varieties of the same kind of bird. Pigeons are not known for their beauty, but they are fascinating. Interspersed between them are several sparrows that flit in and out of the group, dwarfed by the lumbering pigeons.

A war cry is sounded to her right and the pounding of small feet, “Josh, honey, no! Don’t chase them off!” Mom comes walking breathlessly after her toddler son just as the birds scatter to the sky and trees. “I’m so sorry. He gets so excited about the birds.” She bends down and scoops him up into her arms. “That’s ok. They’ll be back. I love watching them return just as much.” Mom smiles. “How old is he?” “24 months and always running.”

Twenty-four months. Why not just say 2½? It’s strange the way we do that with a babies age until they’re three years old. Maybe after that it gets too cumbersome. Fifty-four months would be a lot to calculate, I guess.

“Sit down, honey. Let him chase around the bench for a moment and catch your breath.”

“You don’t mind?”

“Not at all. He reminds me of my own sons when they were that age. Always chasing after something. I’m just sitting here taking in the sights and right now, you’re it!”

“Thank you. Young boys aren’t always welcome. All that energy. They have to run it off somewhere!”

As she takes a seat, she leans forward to set her son down. The moment his feet hit the ground, he wobbles and takes off again, toddling to the back of the bench. He babbles about the rocks and sticks he finds back there as the two women smile and listen. While he’s distracted and out of view, a few birds return to the ground in front of the bench.

He makes his way around to the side of the bench, quietly, almost stalking his prey. He’s showing a lot of restraint for a two-year-old. He wants to see the birds so badly. As another bird lands he bolts out among them, “Birds!” They scatter and he laughs ecstatically. Mom and the old woman shake their heads. “You’ll never catch them that way,” mom playfully scolds.

“I don’t think he wants to. He sure gets a lot of joy from the power he exerts over them. See that smile as they scatter? He has won his battle.”

“Birds!” the boy yells again.

“Yep. Birds. Birds everywhere.”

He smiles and grabs mom’s hand, pulling her in the direction of the playground. “I guess we’re leaving. It was nice talking to you.”

“Nice meeting both of you. Have a good time out there!”

She settles back into her spot on the bench and sighs. The quiet of the park starts to move back in and surround her. The birds have returned, along with a small squirrel. They don’t seem to mind the small stranger and she watches as the birds move out of the way when he darts in among them. They all know this is where people will leave snacks for them. They scour the ground around the bench for bits of popcorn, sunflower seeds, and cracker bits. So much energy put into scratching around for scraps.

It’s warm out today, but the soft breeze brings comfort. It smells of fresh cut grass and wet pavement. She takes a deep breath and tastes the scent. It brings back memories of her childhood in this same park. Climbing the jungle gym and standing atop that slide thinking it was the longest drop she had ever seen. Looking toward the playground, she can see young girls on the swings. Their bare feet pointed to the sky, hands reaching to the side to try and touch as they pass back and forth.

She hears their mom call to them from a picnic table nearby. “Come eat your lunch, girls! We have a little work to do, but I think it will be fun.” The girls jump from the top of the arch of their swing and land gracefully in the sand, plop, plop. One stumbles over from her dismount, not so graceful but full of energy, rights herself and comes running behind her sister. “Nice one, dork.” “Stop. Please don’t start, you two.”

The girls fall to the table and begin munching on sandwiches and chips, as their mom picks up a book and starts to read to them. The cover is so bright and bold, the old woman can see it from her park bench. “Drawing with  Children” is says. They must be homeschoolers, she thinks.

“Girls, after you eat, let’s try to draw things we find in the park. What do you think?”

“I’d rather swing!” the older one states. “Me too!” her little sister chimes in.

And then surprisingly, “So would I!” says Mom. She closes the book and heads toward the swings, both girls running ahead to get there first. The swinging commences with gusto, Mom reaching the highest point first due to her expertise. The girls struggle to keep up.

“Ok, that’s enough for me!” Mom stops pumping her feet and slows the swing to hop off.

“I’m beat. I think I’ll draw birds instead!” She goes back to the table, picks up a sketch pad, and sits in the grass. Within a few minutes, both girls are by her side. They want to see what Mom is drawing. “You guys, I can’t get anything on paper with you pushing your face in to see what I’m doing. Get your own sketch pad and draw something yourself. We can share ideas in a bit.”

Running to the table and back, they plop down in the grass beside her and begin to draw with intention.

The old woman smiles as she watches the swings sway and slow and finally stop. Her birds begin to return, and her attention is pulled toward them once again. There are more now. A few of her favorites have arrived. They are clearly pigeons of the same build and make, but these are snow white and without a blemish. How does that happen? They look like obese doves, ones that escaped from someone’s wedding cake and have been gorging on bits of cracker and popcorn instead of their usual kept bird diet of clean birdseed.

Stroller mom walks by, earbuds in. She isn’t loud or sudden, so the birds just move out of the way as she goes by, returning to their pecking the moment she passes. It’s a small neighborhood park, so she passes by every couple of minutes as she does her loop. The fourth time, she slows and stops to sit and rest.

“Do you mind sharing the bench for a moment?” she asks the old woman, slightly out of breath.

“I’d love to. I was hoping you’d stop so I can get a glimpse of the new human.”

Stroller mom chuckles. “He is pretty cute, if I do say so myself.”

“I’ll be the judge of that.” She smiles and Stroller Mom lifts the canopy of the car seat to reveal her prize. Her new son, all chubby and swaddled, sleeps his afternoon away, completely unaware that he’s being rocketed around the park.

“Don’t you wish you could sleep like that?” she asks.

“I wish he’d sleep like that at night!”

“That’s the way, isn’t it? As soon as it’s quiet, the noise in your head gets louder and you can’t get a moments rest. I’ve always had trouble sleeping at night. It’s when all my ideas start to come through. My husband used to complain that I’d be up all night writing out ideas, only to sleep all day while the tv blared and the traffic snarled outside our window.

“Babies probably feel the same way. Once all the stimulation is gone, they start to think and process, and then cry about it. I know I did!”

“That’s funny. I do the same thing. Growing and creative minds must be so similar.”

Stroller Mom closes the canopy. “Breath caught. Three more laps and I’m off to the showers. Thanks for the insight. You come here often? Maybe I’ll see you again?”

“Every afternoon I can, that is, until it gets too hot.”

Stroller Mom smiles and gets on her way.

The birds are quick to return to the ground around her bench once again. She is quiet and doesn’t move much and besides, she has seed they can’t resist.

“It’s fascinating to me how easily they startle and how quickly they forget what scared them and return. Do they forget, or is the lure of food too much for them to ignore? Or maybe they know how fast they are? Whatever the reason, they’ve gotten this far with the strategy. Look how many there are!”

As she sits and ponders the evolution of park birds, she notices a woman walk in from the parking lot with a lawn chair and a sketch pad. Clad in a flowing skirt and a tank top, she seemingly glides across the park like a dryad.

She seems to know exactly where she’s going, a small shaded spot under a flowering tree directly across from the old woman. She sets her lawn chair down and situates it so she is facing the old woman and her birds, expertly flipping open her sketch book. She attempts to pull a charcoal pencil from behind her ear, but it gets tangled in her flowing gray hair.

“Ugg.” The old woman hears her grumble to herself as she sets the sketchbook down and tries to extricate the pencil. The birds are frightened into flight once again by the angry flop of the sketch book.

“Dammit.” She looks up at the old woman and eyes her apology.

“It’s ok, sweetheart. They’ll be back soon.”

The artist smiles at the old woman, too shy and embarrassed to approach and speak. She’s there to draw after all, not have a conversation. The old woman has been her subject for weeks now. The looks are all the conversation either of them needs. She gathers her pencil and paper, settles back in her chair and waits quietly, filling in from memory where she left off the week before.

The old woman knows what the artist is up to and subconsciously tries to look her best. She sits up a tad straighter, fixes the fallen hair from her bun, and sucks in her sagging belly as best she can. With the return of the birds, the distraction of an adorable squabble between a chipmunk and a pigeon, she relaxes again into her natural state, and the artist attempts to capture the charm with her pencil.

One of the swinging girls has taken an interest in the old woman feeding the birds and comes to investigate. She’s been creeping up slowly and shyly from the side for several minutes. The old woman noticed her minutes ago but hadn’t said anything yet. She hoped to allow the girl to prove her bravery and approach. After several slightly stressful minutes, she decided to help and speak first.

“Is there something you need, dear?”

The girl glances back at her mother for encouragement, returns her gaze and shakes her head no.

“There’s plenty of room for two here, if you’d like to sit.”

Again, the girl glances back at her mom. Mom smiles, “It’s ok. Most people warn you with behavior if they bite.”

The old woman chuckles. “Oh, I don’t bite anymore, but I used to. Do you want to hear the story?”

The girl looks down and smiles from under her blonde bangs. “Yes.” She says, and giggling walks up and plops herself on the bench beside her.

“Well, I fibbed a bit there. I never was a biter, even when I was little. More of a hugger.”

The girl smiles up at her. “A hugger?”

“Yes. I’ve always loved hugs from anyone I meet. You can tell a lot about a person when you try to hug them. Some move away when you try to put an arm around them. Some don’t but stiffen up when you hug them, like they’d rather you didn’t but can’t say no. And then some…oh these are very special; they simply melt into your arms like it’s all they ever needed in the world but never had.”

The old woman is tossing the last of the seeds in her bag to the birds as she talks. She stops and looks at the youngster beside her. “What kind of a hugger are you?”

“Me? I don’t know.”

“Would you like to find out? I’ve always found that asking a person if they’d like a hug before you hug them is a good idea. Some people just don’t appreciate a touch from someone they don’t know and springing it on them makes it much worse. Would you like a hug?”

The girl looks to her mother. She’s always been told to keep her distance from strangers, not because they’re dangerous, but out of respect for their space. The mother is walking over with the picnic basket in one hand, a backpack over her shoulder, and holding her little sister’s hand. “That one has always been a hugger. We’ve been working on consent since she was tiny.”

The old woman smiles at the thought. She never could understand why anyone would want to refuse a hug, but to each his own. We have to respect each other’s feelings if we’re going to want people to respect ours.

The little girl stood up from the park bench and turned to the old woman and as she leaned in for a hug, her little sister came barreling in from the side. “Let me in!” she squealed and all three melted together in a comforting embrace like old friends.

“You smell like a grandma!” the little girl chimes. The old woman chuckles, “That’s because I am a grandma, several times!” The older girl laughs, “I knew it. Only grandma’s give hugs like that!”

“Come on girls. Let’s give her a break from your ruckus. We have baseball practice in an hour.” Shifting her attention to the old woman. “I hope we weren’t bothering you. We see you here every week and kind of feel like we know you.”

“Never a bother, dear. I love hearing the way you talk to them. I feel like you respect their person and they sure seem to love you.”

“Thank you so much for saying that. Really. When we took them out of school and decided to ‘unschool’ I was terrified about what it would look like to people. Most people just laugh and shake their heads. Some are outright angry and have told me in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t get control over them, show them who’s the boss now, I’d lose them when they are teenagers. I just don’t see children that way, something to be controlled and molded into what we want.”

“Neither do I. That’s how we were raised, and I always feared my parents. They thought they had control over my brother and I, but we just lied to them and hid our real lives away until we were old enough not to need their approval. But wouldn’t it have been nicer to be able to talk about things together? Ask questions and get their advice?”

She sat thinking about the last time she saw her mother. “No dear, you’re doing right. Things change and so can we. These days we need to communicate openly, use less force, and allow children to do things their way as long as they aren’t hurting anyone else.”

Sighing in relief, “You have no idea how much that means to hear someone say that.” Gathering up her things, “Listen, we need to run, but you’ll be here next week? Maybe we can talk more?”

“Of course! I’ll bring some cookies.”

“Like a regular play date for grown ups.”

They both laugh. “Bye, then! See you next week!” She calls as they race to their car.

The afternoon rolls on and the shade of the tree starts to move off her favorite bench. It’s almost time to head home. Most of the birds have given up on getting any more food, but there are a few persistent beggars pecking around under her feet. “There’s no more, I tell you. Why do have to try and ruin a beautiful day?” She chuckles at them.

A scream of indignity calls her attention to the parking lot. The toddler doesn’t seem to want to leave yet and mom insists with her most stern voice that it is, indeed, time to leave. She argues with the boy but finally gives up, reaches for him and scoops him up, plopping into his car seat. That’s when the real howls begin.

She looks up apologetically at the old woman on her bench and the old woman, in turn, gives her the sympathetic universal look of, “We’ve all been there.”

The artist/dryad seems to be giving up on the moment as well. She’s packing up her pencils and folding her chair. Will she come to talk to the old woman this time? Her focused attitude as she packs and heads toward the bus stop says, probably not.

“I would have liked to know her story.” She thinks as she gathers her things as well, slings her bag over her shoulder and dusts her hands of any bird seed crumbs. Two quick beeps of a car horn alert her to the presence of her ride home.

Her daughter pushes the passenger side door open from inside, “Hi, Mom. Do you need help with your things?”

“Oh, no, I’ve got it. I’ll just put these at my feet.”

“Have a nice time?”

“Always do. And today I met a new person.”

“Got a hot date, Mom?”

“Oh, no. Too young even for me! Would you mind stopping for coffee on the way home?”

“That sounds nice. Let’s go in and get a muffin too!”

Why Do I Get Up in the Morning – Episode Three

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This week’s “Why I get up” crept up on me a little at a time until…POUNCE…I was bowled over.

Last week I got three invitations to answer questions about how to homeschool. Three. I think I got three last year and here I am with three in one week. One email, one phone call, and one meet up. The meet up was the pounce!

I know…you didn’t ask me about homeschooling and I’m not going to tell you how you can or why you should or shouldn’t, don’t worry. Mentioning homeschooling in most circles has much the same response as a “Jesus Juke.” Yes, Jesus may have changed your life, but it doesn’t always apply to everyone in the same personal way.

When you feel something strongly, when you discover something life-changing and fantastic, it’s hard not to share it with the world…loudly. I did that for a long time.

These days I’ve matured (in some ways, shut up), calmed down a bit, and found that, like spiritual matters, parenting and education decisions have to come from inside a person. It’s personal. If someone asks where my kids went to school, I answer honestly. If they are curious and ask questions, I answer them. If they want to know how we did it, I’m happy to discuss it. It’s been a long lesson to learn, but I learned not to bring it up myself. Again, like religious experiences, seekers will find their answers.

The “Why I Get Up” though, that’s the thing I want to tell you and it’s related to those people that reached out to me about homeschooling.

This past week I got three chances to share the joy and love I have for homeschooling, specifically the private “radical unschooling” that we did with our children. There are few things in the world more wonderful than getting to share with others things that have changed your life, hoping that in some small way you are able to pay the universe back for bringing that change into your life.

How did they find me? Because on my blog there is a small page about it and I’m listed as a contact on some small homeschool sites. Finding my name or something I wrote is like finding a penny. It’s not hidden. It’s not all that rare. And it’s value is relative. If you found it and you want it for whatever reason, then it must have been something you were looking for.

I got to spend some of my time this week explaining the rules and encouraging a few people and I’m excited that I may get to do it again. I was also reminded that I should probably put some love into my homeschool page, especially right now with a lot of schools not opening back up in the Fall and a lot of parents looking into alternatives.

Here’s the thing: I’ve always been a positive feedback kind of person. I feel that I need to know that someone out there appreciates what I’m doing to feel good about continuing the work. I found out this week that I should learn to stop that practice if I’m going to have more of an impact in this world.

I should write and post because I have something to say, not because I want applause and kudos. I do enjoy putting my thoughts in order. It’s definitely good for me. I’d much rather talk out my process than write about it, but that’s not always feasible. So here I am tapping away. Lucky for you! I may not get “likes” or “follows.” My website may not reflect all of my actual readers. But my happiness with my work should not depend on that. It should depend only on my own satisfaction.

I love the thought that someone might read this and feel something. I’m thrilled at the thought that, maybe not today, but some time in the future, someone could read what I wrote and use the information or be encouraged to try something new. But that, my sweet, sweet reader, is an awesome side effect if it happens, not the reason why I write.

Writing is a reason I get up in the morning. And the hope that someone will read it, somewhere, someday, that’s just icing on the cake!

Why Do I Get Up in The Morning – Episode 2

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I’m writing my new “Why I Get Up” weekly post a day late. Why? Because I was busy doing the thing that makes me want to get up in the morning and now, I get to tell you about it!

My husband and I went on a scouting mission for new, more local camp sites a couple weeks ago. It’s hard to pull a trailer and look for good places to camp and we don’t have any vacation time to waste right now. We plan to drive to a few locations half a day’s drive (translation: less than 6 hours) away and then spend the weekend there exploring campgrounds and hiking areas.

The result of our first mission was a lot of great future tent camping places, which we haven’t done in years, and we were able to get in a couple beautiful hikes as well. I texted back locations to our sons at home so they could look them up and maybe do some camping/backpacking on their own. We never did spend much time in the Sierra’s, amazingly enough. We always went on weeks long RV trips into other states instead of exploring the wonderland in our own backyard. Maybe we were unconsciously saving it for a time when we couldn’t make the long hauls, who knows!

Back to why I get up in the morning: my awesome sons. Over dinner last weekend, my youngest (18) expressed an interest in doing some camping, but he didn’t really want to go alone. He was thinking maybe he could find a friend that would want to go on his days off from work. I asked if he would mind taking me camping, just the two of us and he lit up. We began to make our plans immediately. I use the word “plans” very lightly. We’re kind of “fly by the seat of our pants” kind of people, so “plans” mean general direction and days.

Early Monday morning, we threw a tent, sleeping bags, water, firewood, the coffee pot, and some food in the truck and headed to the mountains. I had an idea of where I wanted to go but was afraid the best-looking first-come, first-served places would be full, since all the places that took reservations were booked until the end of summer.

I was delightfully surprised! My first choice of campground was available, and my son picked THE best spot right by the creek. We got out of the truck, paid the fees ($25 for primitive camping…wow), filled our water bottles and headed up the first trail we found.

We hiked for five hours, came back to camp, ate, and went for another hour-long walk down the road. The night was wonderfully cold. We got up just as the sky started to lighten, made a fire, boiled some coffee, ate, packed our backpacks for a long day and headed up the other side of the canyon for five more hours of hiking.

We could only stay one night since he had to work the next day, but I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful twenty-four hours. We had amazing conversations, laughed hard, and met some nice people and their dogs. My son is very athletic and I … well, I’m getting old and I’ve never been much hard worker, but he never lost patience with me. These hikes were hard. We started at 9000 feet and got up to 11,000 in about three miles. It was like a staircase up to the lakes, but I got there. He could have run up them but always stopped and rested with me.

We took pictures of each other, made up stories about weird looking plants and trees, and made fun of other campers and hikers. “Burning daylight!” was heard many times. We were tired, dirty, and mosquito bitten. We were hungry. We didn’t sleep well because the ground was so hard. Climbing the second day, I honestly didn’t think I’d make it, but he just kept me going with his gentle positive attitude. He encouraged and empowered me with every climb and every rest in the shade. I felt like a warrior!

Last year, I thought my days of having adventures with my sons was coming to a close. My older son had moved to the east coast and was determined to do things on his own. And my younger son was making plans to spend time in Europe like his brother and go to University in the city when he came back. I was on my own and it seemed so sudden to me. I found myself wondering, “Weren’t they just asking me to take them to Disneyland? Didn’t I have to be there to sign waivers for motocross last week? What just happened?”

And here we are. Circumstances change all the time. I’m not happy their plans had to change and everyone is back in the same house. That kind of sucks for all of us. But I am happy that I was reminded that any moment can be the last time, any adventure could be the last, or not. You just don’t know.

We took a “selfie” at the top of the pass, 11,000 feet above sea level, the highest I have ever been with my feet on the ground. I said, “You never know if this is the last time we camp and hike together like this. We need a good picture of our feat of strength!”

“Every trip we take is the best one, Mom. It doesn’t matter if we ever do it again.”

We taught them that. Always live today, right now, like it’s your last day. Don’t waste a moment.

Bonus level: We came up with a great story starter as we walked, and I made a few notes when we got back to camp. Now I have another short story to work on and this one is Twilight Zone style!

We’re Still Learning by Living

This was written six months ago. Life changes a lot and very quickly.

sweet bug

This sweet bug! I found him strolling across the porch this morning, just as I was coming out to water my plants. I ran inside to get a jar and picked him up, running around the house showing it to my son as he was on his lunch break from work, and my husband, even though he was not on a break. My younger son was still sleeping so I decided to make a video to show him later. Never. Ever. Wake up a teenager to see a bug.

He was only about an inch and a half long, so put him down on the ground and plopped my camera alongside him so that I could get a good shot of all those legs moving along the sand. He looked like a monster from a Godzilla movie until my cat walked into the frame and sniffed it!

I knew he was a millipede and not one those nasty centipedes I have found in the yard before. I wasn’t sure if he would bite, so I Googled him and found that he didn’t. I posted my video of him to Facebook so my friends could share in my discovery.

When my younger son got up, I showed him the video and we decided he looked like a long pill bug! If my kids were younger, they would have wanted to keep him a while. They’d have gone out to the laundry room and dug out the terrarium they had saved, put some yard sand in it and a few twigs and leaves, and deposited Mr. Millipede so that they could watch him over the next few days.

They’d look up what they eat and how they get water. Would it need shelter? A rock to hide under or a few leaves to eat? They’d take pictures of him, talk to him, draw cartoons of him growing into a monster and taking over a city, and then get bored of him and set him free in the yard again.

I would have written down “natural science, bug collection and species classification” in the log I kept for education. That’s how we homeschooled their whole lives. Everything is interesting. Every day an adventure. Sadly, those days are gone. They’re grown! (insert mom sniffle here)


We homeschooled the boys through the private school option out here in California. At first, I tried to imitate the public school model that I grew up in. I had paid $500 for a pre-packaged curriculum for the year and a lesson plan all set up.

I quickly fell behind the planned schedule with a preschooler and a kindergartener. I just couldn’t see taking time out to learn about something from the prescribed book when we were already spending the day at the zoo or the science museum. I couldn’t figure out how to get them to sit and write letters on paper when they were busy climbing at the park or digging holes in the back yard. So many more interesting things were happening every day, that I couldn’t bring myself to follow the curriculum. I gave up using them after the first month of our first year of homeschooling. They were learning so much already.

At the same time I was stressing myself out over how we were going to afford curriculum for both the boys and stick to it, I went to a local homeschool conference and learned about unschooling. What they described was what we had been doing since they were born, what had worked to get them to the level they were at already, and what we were trying to throw aside to make room for a pre-packaged state-approved curriculum. My worldview changed drastically that day. I was not alone.

From then on, I kept a log of what we did every day. We focused on experiences and following their interests. There were no tests. There were no grades. I spent the week finding fun things to do around our area. We went to parks, museums, libraries, and zoos. We watched tv shows. We read books. We drew pictures and played. We ate when we were hungry, and we napped when we were tired. Somewhere among all that they grew up and started looking outside of what I could give them and eventually started doing things for themselves.

It’s been fascinating the last few years, watching them move out into the world, start college, get jobs, and make friends. They come home each day and have so much to share with me, so much to teach me about the world as it is now instead of how I remember it.

I’m starting to see less and less of them every day and that’s ok. There were days when they were little that I would have sworn that the needs would never end, that they would never make a sandwich on their own or ever be able to help with housework, but here we are.

My sons are rapidly becoming self-sufficient and it brings me a lot of pride to see my life’s work take off before my eyes. Soon, they’ll be completely on their own and I’ll see them and eventually their own families on holidays and birthdays.

And the amazing part? Never at any point did I need to force them to learn anything. There was no lesson plan for our life. No sitting down to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic. No chores and consequences for not doing them. No making them eat things they didn’t like or going places they didn’t want to. We just lived together as peacefully as growing people can.

5 Ways to Make Your Homeschool Day Easier

annie-spratt-kZO9xqmO_TA-unsplash

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

“There is no consistent pattern for number of days of school per year, length of school breaks, or even length of an average school day among top-performing education systems. This suggests that when it comes to student performance, more important than the amount of time students spend in class is how that time is spent.” From a graphic on NCEE

How can we spend time with our kids and create a quality education at home? When we first start homeschooling it’s easy to recreate traditional school at home. It’s what we know best. And if a school can do what it does in six hours a day, 180 days a year, imagine how much we could teach having our kids 24/7, 365 days a year?!

But the truth of it is, many people start that way and quickly realize it doesn’t work. Homeschooling doesn’t need to look like traditional schooling at all and, in my opinion, it shouldn’t. We should always be Mom and Dad and never “teacher” to our children. That doesn’t mean we aren’t helping them learn, it just means the role we take in their education looks very different. Educating our own children, in our own homes, can and should take on a much more organic feel that looks nothing like a classroom and much more like a creative workshop.

We homeschooled both our boys from birth. I didn’t plan to and the evolution of our homeschool path was a rocky one. We were both traditionally educated, so when we decided to homeschool we automatically took the “school at home” approach. It’s what we knew and what we believed was a tried and true approach. But over time, through watching our kids, reading and studying education styles, talking with parents of grown homeschooled children, our homeschool quickly evolved into a radical unschooling approach that worked very well for all of us. Even if you aren’t using the unschool method, these five tips can help relax your homeschool and support your learning lifestyle.

My sons are now 17 and 19 years old. They both hold jobs and are moving toward independence at their own pace. One is living at home and enjoying the academic life of college. The other has spent a year in Europe on his own and is pursuing a vocational path. Both are competent young adults that people enjoy being around and trust. That’s not bragging, it’s my qualification to speak on the subject. I’m not an expert on homeschooling or on education in general. I’m a mom with experience, sharing what I found to work for us.

#1 Start a Morning Routine for Yourself

You know how on airplanes they say, “Put your own oxygen mask on first and then help your children.” We’ve seen it go around as a meme for years, quoted in self-help books, and laughed about by comedians. It has become cliché, but so totally true, especially for homeschooling.

If you’re homeschooling your kids this year, you’ve just expanded your duties beyond parent and into the realm of educator. Not only are you responsible for keeping them clean, fed, and loved; you now have the added responsibility of facilitating their education. Take care of yourself first, so that you’re ready and able to take care of others.

I’ve found a morning self-care routine is the best way to do that. Getting up before the kids, or having Grandma come over and watch the monkeys for an hour in the morning (one of the perks of a live-in Grandma), was one of the best things I did for their education. The routine evolved over the years from a few minutes in my favorite book with a cup of coffee, to journaling, to day planning, to meditation. The key is to create one that feeds your own soul and makes you a more relaxed person in general.

Search the internet for “morning routine” and you’ll find all kinds of inspiring ideas to get you started!

#2 Ditch the Pre-Packaged Curriculum

A standardized curriculum was created to get a large group of people through a designated amount a material in an organized manner. It’s useful for schools so they keep everyone on track and moving in the same direction. But we don’t need it.

“But won’t there be gaps in their education?”

“How will I know they are learning all the material?”

First of all, there are gaps in everyone’s education: public, private, homeschooled, or tutored. Use one curriculum and you’ll know one list of information. Use another and you’ll know a different list of information. There is no way to put into one human all that they will need to know in a few years of any style of schooling. The point of education shouldn’t be gathering a list of information. It should be learning how to find the information you need.

When my sons were elementary school age, I printed out the World Book Encyclopedia’s Typical Course of Study for their age and kept it as a reference. We’d go to the library once a week and, along with any book they chose to pick up, I picked a book that covered one topic in each subject and left them on our coffee table to thumb through at quiet moments, or look at while we ate lunch. If they found a topic interesting, we’d explore it more.

We also found great recommended reading lists, like the one at TJEd.org. I read those books aloud to the boys before bed, during meals, as audio books during drives, and in line for rides at amusement parks (a great use for a smart phone). There were loads of questions, discussions, and looking up word meanings, but never book reports, diagraming sentences, or tearing apart of character and plot. We just enjoyed the stories. Sometimes we’d find a movie based on one of those books and watch it, which led to more discussion and sometimes controversy.

Another alternative to curriculum and lesson plans is to go to a park day and play with other kids every week, get an annual pass to a museum, science center, or zoo, join scouts or another club, or spend time at historical sites and events all around your area.

The key is to not push the “learning” aspect, but to create an atmosphere of learning all the time. That goes for you too! Go to movies, see the sites, find out what’s going on in your area. Talk with your kids, ask them questions, be curious, and always answer their questions. Show them through your actions that curiosity never dies, that learning never ends and isn’t a chore to be gotten through.

#3 Don’t Over-schedule Your Week

It’s tempting to fill your week with organized field trips and classes but don’t fall for it! There’s a lot to be said for time at home doing nothing in particular. A week could look like this:

Monday Park Day
Tuesday Home
Wednesday Library
Thursday Home
Friday Adventure/Class/Etc.
Saturday Family Time Adventure
Sunday Home

The key point here is flexibility and leaving time to process and relax. There should be time in your day to get the housework done, the groceries in, and to make meals. Invite the kids to help you and learn from the process, or ask them to play outside while you get things ready for them. We shouldn’t be running from one thing to the next and have no time to stop and enjoy the scenery. And your plans should be flexible enough to be able to take advantage of a show or event you just found out about or to take into account the needs of a sick, tired, or just plain grumpy kid (or parent for that matter). You should also have time to visit friends and family when you want to!

It may sound like taking time off to spend the day at the movies or at the zoo, but to a real homeschooler, it’s part of their education. Even something as mundane as the grocery store is part of the process. And when one of us gets sick, call it Health Science and find out what a cold really is, how the body works to fix it, and how best to manage symptoms. This, by the way, is one of the glories of the information age. You have a smart phone, start using it!

#4 Plan Meals and Rest Not Learning or Subjects

Our family’s day revolved around eating and sleeping when my kids were under 12 years old. Breakfast was generally at the same time (and when I read from the books I wanted to get from the library), lunch was at the same time, naps (or really just rest and quiet play), and then dinner when Dad got home from work, which went right into the evening routine of a tv show with Dad or a game, bathing, and reading stories (one for each and the “classic” I wanted them to hear).

Between those times is when the magic happened. Making lunch became science, world culture, and life skills. They’d reenact the stories we were reading in the backyard while I did the laundry. Building forts became physical science. The mailman would come, the street sweeper, the neighbor kids, the park, all lent itself to our education.

How did I keep track of it as a school? I kept a journal, both online as a blog and in a notebook. I took a lot of pictures, too. There were pictures of the kids doing things, places we went, signs we saw, and people we talked to. Part of the evening routine was sitting in the rocking chair in the their room while they went to sleep. I used it as an evening meditation for myself. I’d sit there with my journal, write down what we did, and then read my own book, usually one about homeschooling or some other self-help book. Most nights I ended the day in prayer and thanksgiving. And many nights I ended it in prayer and tears. Parenting is not for the faint of heart!

#5 Start an Evening Routine That Involves Reading What Your Kids Want to Read

We never had a bedtime per se, but we did have an evening routine. After dinner we usually watched a tv show, then we’d head upstairs for clean up, baths, teeth brushing, and pajamas. Then we’d read. Each of the kids would pick a book for me to read to them. It was usually one we’d read a million times. At times, they might choose to read aloud to the rest of us, which is so much fun when they are tiny and just making it up and pointing to words in the book to mimic you (also part of learning to read).

I would end the evening by reading a few chapters from a book from my list, usually a book that would be too hard for them to read on their own. There was a lot of discussion at this time. Lots of questions, looking up words, and talking about the story. Then they’d settle into bed and I would start with my evening routine.

It wasn’t always pretty, my journals are filled with Mom angst and tears for just one peaceful bedtime,  but there was consistency and the kids loved it. We must have read over one hundred classics by the time they got out of elementary school and the proof that it meant a lot to their education is that they still have most of those books and there are still jokes and references to them on a daily basis. And, I simply must add, they both tested right into college English without taking a single English class.


 

For the uninitiated, homeschooling this way feels like not going to school at all, especially during the elementary years, but if you keep a detailed journal listing only the books you read, the places you visited, and the play projects you did together, you’ll start to see the “school hours” rack up. Learning should be play for children and homeschooling this way relieves both parents and kids of some of the stress of modern living.

Our homeschooling lives don’t need to be complicated or expensive. If you’re spending time with them reading, exploring, relaxing and playing, they will learn. Answer their questions, make their lives regular, comfortable and safe. They’ll learn in amazing ways right along side of you and you’ll all be better for the journey!

It’s Friday! Oh…wait…

And…it’s Saturday morning that I’m finally making myself take a moment to sit down and at least do my Friday post. I’ve been feeling a bit like a teenager, hormonally pulled and exhaustedly lazy at the same time. I think I’m ready for a vacation. Luckily for me, that is exactly what’s coming up for us!

So, let’s get to this!

Thing I learned: I thought that I was over being affected by other people’s opinions of me, but then found myself trying to behave in ways someone else believed is the best way to behave instead of being myself and accepting that some people will not like it and those people are just not my people. Wow. That’s a damn long sentence! Self, you are you, and you need to be ok with the fact that you are not everyone’s cup of tea! That doesn’t mean they are bad people, just not YOUR people. Keep being you in all your crazy, talkative, open and honest ways, and the people that like that will be attracted to your orbit. It’s going to take time. Some of those bodies are way out in the galaxy!

Thing I’m reading: This is dumb but I’m kind of a book snob. I tend to reject books that everyone else is reading just because everyone else is reading them. Not cool, I know. What does it take to get me to read a popular book? A cute boy told me to. That’s what I was talking about earlier, teenage behavior. I’m about three hours into the first Game of Thrones book and I’m really liking it. It’s enjoyable, easy to read, so it goes fast, and it has a lot of feeling. I have hopes that it will prove a bit of depth as I read it, but it’s ok if it doesn’t. There’s nothing wrong with an exciting adventure that you don’t necessarily want to experience again!

Thing I heard: My oldest son came home from his vacation in Germany this week and we’ve been catching up. We spend a lot of time talking, that boy and I. He’s very intelligent and I love his take on the world around him. We homeschooled and we live rurally. We’ve been home-centered, I’d say. This past year, since just before his seventeenth birthday, he has been out in the world gathering experiences on his own in big ways. Funny thing; he’s always been one to jump into things with both feet. He goes from knowing nothing of it to moving comfortably in it, no matter what he tries. It’s been the same for him leaving the nest. It’s like talking to a worldly man, a young, optimistic, and proud man.

As we sat at the table, sharing a cup of coffee and a bit of toast and cheese (Euro Breakfast), he told me something profound. “Mom,” he says, “someone told me a few years ago that if I had gone to school, I probably would have been diagnosed with Asperger’s of some kind. I did not agree at all, but the more I talk to people and work with people, I’m starting to see that I really do think differently. It isn’t that other people are dumb or that they don’t know how to do things the ‘right way’, it’s that I just see things in a different way. And that’s ok. They do it their way. I do it mine. We can help each other.” I’m paraphrasing here, of course. It was a long conversation. All our conversations are long. We love to philosophize over breakfast. I just about cried. This was exactly why we wanted to homeschool the way we did. I wanted my kids to grow up naturally. I wanted them to grow up secure in who they were as individuals, doing things the way they felt was best for them specifically, within a family that loves them. The theory works. He is not sheltered and afraid of the world. He does not hide away. He does not go with the crowd unless he wants to. He’s a wonderful young man and ready to take on the world.

Thing I want to do: Do less. I need to take some time to make a list of essentials. We’ve all heard the saying, “Time is money.” Here’s the thing. We can waste money if we like because we can make more, but we can’t make more time. I only have so much time in each day. I cannot waste it on unessential things. We cannot do everything. We cannot be everything. It’s time to take stock again and pare down. This time it might be painful. I’ve done it before and thought I had it down to the bare minimum, but I don’t. Since we’re going on vacation, just the two of us, my husband and I, in a couple weeks, I think I’ll use some of that time on the road to do that work. Without the regular distractions, I can focus on what I want to accomplish. I’ll treat it as if we’re going on one of those fancy retreats! We’ll “go dark”! Yes!

And the photo of the week is…

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A baby bird! We saved him! My husband saw him flopping on the porch so I picked him up. He couldn’t even stand in my hand, so tired. He sat in my hand for a minute, I put some water in my hand to see if he’d drink it, he closed his eyes a bit, and suddenly looked more alert. He flapped and flew up to a creosote branch. I looked him up on the internet and found he was a Bushtit and most likely a fledgling from nearby with his mom waiting to feed him.

Have a good week everyone! Don’t worry! I’ll get this writer’s life more under control pretty soon!

Run For Your Lives! Teens!

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I can’t really say that I feel qualified to write with authority about young adults just yet, but I can write with confidence about my current observations and how we are coping with the transition from teen to adult in this house.

Recently, something strange happens when I talk to people about my kids. When I talk about what they are doing, their new girlfriends, their jobs, etc., people get weird. I can’t put the right word on it. They act “worried” for me or them. They act as though we are all standing on a precipice and at any moment the wind could blow and knock one of us off. As if right now is the most dangerous part of our lives. Anything can happen! Our lives could be ruined with one poor choice. It takes all the fun out of relating all the cool things my kids are doing, how they are changing, and how I’M changing to my friends and family.

I say “kids” but what I’m talking about are my young adults, full grown people that live in my house more like roommates than children these days. They have jobs, cars, and girlfriends. They go to college, pay taxes, and go on adventures without us. My youngest is under 18 and races motocross, so we still take him in our truck, since he doesn’t have one, and sign documents he isn’t legally allowed to sign but other than that, they pretty much take care of themselves.

And I don’t mean they always do it well or completely on their own. They mess up, as we all do all our lives. That’s how we learn. I try to help where I can. I offer advice when they ask, and sometimes when they don’t. They also make choices I would not make and that make me nervous. I do my best to stay out of it but sometimes my mom heart feels compelled to jump in and ask what in the world they are thinking. My belief is that they will be better at living with their own families if they can live this way with us. It isn’t easy and sometimes I wonder if I’m doing the right thing.

Some day I think maybe I should be more “strict” like people say and tell them how it is around here. If they want to do things their way they need to move out and not involve me. But that breaks my heart. I want them to be able to bounce ideas off their Dad and I and know that we aren’t going to make them do anything or ridicule their choices. They should know that they can take our advice or leave it and we’ll still be there to love them.

And I want them to know they will always have a stable base to fall back to if their plans go awry.  We may not be able to buy them new cars or pay for college, but we can offer them a place to stay and food to eat. That’s a lot though, if you think about it. It won’t be luxury but at least they won’t be homeless. That doesn’t mean they have free reign to run off and be reckless. I’ve always wanted them to feel free to give things a try, to not be afraid of failing. Trying something and failing is different than doing something really stupid and paying for it. Our lifestyle of radical unschooling was supposed to show them the difference and so far, it’s been working.

Honestly, I think most people see their children begin to be adults and think, “This is where my life went downhill.” That’s when they begin to try and stop them from making the “wrong choices” they themselves made. As if there is a certain age that people get to and begin making rational “good” decisions instead of learning by living through the age and getting to the other side.

I see my young adult children differently. I think, “This is where the fun began, the adventure!” I smile in anticipation of all the glories they are about to discover. And I’m proud that we’re able to support them as they grow and be a part of their lives, even if it is from the sidelines.

Old Posts Make Me Smile

They really do. When we started our homeschool journey someone told me that a great way to keep a private school record was to keep a personal blog. I started writing in 2006, the year my oldest turned six and had to be enrolled in school. I started our own home-based private school that year and this year was our last private school filing. I stopped writing on my first blog, Liberty Academy, in 2014. I had started using Facebook more and printing it as a book at the end of the year, so I felt keeping up with both was too much.

Comparing Facebook and a Blog, there are definite perks to both. I wish I could combine them! With my blog, I tend to write more commentary. I use fewer pictures in each post, using only the ones that highlight the day. I also write more about what went on that day and what I thought about, along with things they said or did that made me smile or pull my hair out.

With Facebook posts, I tend to post more pictures and only caption them. The positive, and what keeps me coming back, is the feedback I get on Facebook versus the blog. Facebook gets “likes” which tell me that my friends and family are seeing what I’m posting. My blog, well, it was more like an online scrapbook that I drug out when family was over to see baby pictures and vacation photos.

Looking back, I wish I had continued my blog along with Facebook for a more complete memory. Posts like the one I’m sharing today bring back vivid memories of my parenting journey and I hope my sons enjoy them as they get older. I’ve printed blog books and My Social Books for each year and love thumbing through them on quiet days.

The post I’m sharing today was from one of our many Disneyland visits. When we lived near it, we spent about one day a week there, sometimes more, but once we moved to the desert, we slowed down to about one day a month until the cost of an annual pass exceeded our interest in going. I love this post because it shows my interest in them and our relationship along with details about the cost of Disneyland! I did not edit this other than to correct some typos.

November 15, 2012
Yes, Disneyland Again!

When we decided to get Disneyland annual passes, we looked at the cost of the pass and budgeted for gas and at least one trip per month. That actually gave us a couple trips in some months because of black out days for our passes. So, we’re starting to wind down. We got the passes for Christmas last year and our first trip was in January, so we only have a couple more trips ahead. Tom is a little sad. It’s not going to be fun the last time we go and will probably end up being a VERY long day. Jake is easier going. He enjoys going and loves all the fun but is perfectly fine with doing something else and looking forward to the next time he may or may not get to go. Polar opposites those two are, on just about everything.

So why do I like Disneyland so much? I really couldn’t say. I grumble and complain and say I wouldn’t go if they boys didn’t want to, but then I’m there and it’s fun and there are the memories, and I’m teared up at the fireworks show. It’s strange. The down side parts are the cost (we could spend that money on doing things we’ve never done before), the crowds (not just the amount of people but the quality, blach!), and the sheer overwhelming-ness of it all. The drive down, the drive back, the bustling about all day, and then there is the recovery day after. But then there is the up-side parts! Spending the day with my boys. The drive there and back is filled with singing, talking, and laughing. Riding rides I remember as a kid, getting churros, telling stories about going there when I was little and when I worked there. The conversations we have in line are probably pretty bizarre to those around us, they pretty much cover just about everything; the physics of the ride, the capacity, when it was created, what used to be there, the theme, crowd control, funny stories of when we worked there, books we’re reading, movies we’ve watch, people in line, plans for the rest of the day, etc. I wish I could record them all! All the while I’m thinking how many people get to run wild through Disneyland so many times with their 10 and 12-year-old boys? I’m not dragging them and they’re not dragging me. We are having a blast together and there is nowhere else we’d rather be. The only thing that would make it better is if Dad could come with us. Poor guy has to work! But we always try to bring him home some candy and tell him all the stories.

I guess I’ve gone on long enough about this, so here are the pictures from our day!

On the tram again! My sons cannot just look at the camera and smile. Really, it’s physically impossible for them.

1 Jake on the tram         2 Tom on the tram

Ahh the traditional picture in front of the big Disneyland Christmas tree! They were blind from the sun. It was 85 degrees out! So much for the Christmas feeling.

3 boys at the christmas tree

4 stupid fake tree

Hey! Wait just a cotton-pickin’ minute! This tree is FAKE! What happened!? This prompted a half hour “In my day…” diatribe, which again made me feel old. I can’t wait to do this to my Grandchildren!

5 waiting for matterhorn

This is Tom trying to figure out what the crests mean on the Matterhorn while stuffing a pretzel in his face. I’m proud of this picture because it’s natural. This is what Tom looks like pretty much all the time. There is not a moment that goes by that he isn’t trying to figure something out. On a side note, the figuring things out gets crazier in the evenings just before bed. It’s as if he has to finish every thought through before going to sleep. Poor Jake has to hear them all even though he is trying to go to sleep. While we were waiting, Tom noticed a couple things on the cars that he didn’t know about. He asked me about it, but I didn’t know either. I’ve never worked on that ride. I thought he forgot about it, but as we got into the car he stopped the ride operator and quizzed him about it for the few seconds before the ride started. He got his stinkin’ answers! :))

6 splash mountain

Splash Mountain. The plan was to go on this and then the Haunted Mansion, Pirates, etc., but it was broken when we got there so we went on Haunted Mansion first. Waiting for that, I got quizzed about why “splash was down” and what could have gone wrong, how long would it take, who would they call, and if it would be closed for the rest of the day. You could tell Tom was worried that the plan would be altered. I understand though, at least this time. This is his favorite ride. So we waited around for a minute or two to see if is reopened. He wanted to ask the ride operator about it, but I told him he wouldn’t give him any more information besides “Soon.” or “Later.” and “Technical difficulties that will be resolved shortly” I know this drill. Thank the maker, it opened up and they went running off. This is a ride that I do not go on. I hate getting splashed wet and then walking around cold for hours afterward. The pretty of the ride is not worth the misery, in my opinion. So, I wait for them at the exit.

Notice the white sky? The boys did too. This is something that always bugged me in the OC. They sky is such a pale blue that it almost always comes out white in pictures. Must be something to do with the moisture in the air? Don’t know. But it makes for some ugly pictures.

We stopped for some dinner at the Mexican place, per Jake’s request. My boys LOVE Mexican food. The bummer is that they’ve never been partial to kids’ meals (seriously, kids meals should be smaller versions of what is actually served at that restaurant, but don’t get me started) and they’ve outgrown sharing an adult meal. The cost of feeding these buggers has gone up tremendously!

And then it was evening and the lights came on! That’s my favorite. I love Christmas at Disneyland at night! I swear that just seeing Main Street, the Castle, and Small World is worth the price of admission at Christmas time. Luckily, Tom and Jake still like the kids rides so we went straight to Small World when the lights came on.

Here are the highlights…

8 small world christmas

15 small world christmas

And the GRAND FINALE! The family behind us in line at Space Mountain laughed when I told the boys we had to see the fireworks from in front of the castle or I was going to cry and not be consoled. They would have to drive home because I would be crying so hard, I would not be able to drive. As if I were exaggerating! Every time I try to see the fireworks close up, it’s way too crowded. I cannot sit there holding my spot for three hours. I just refuse. But the park attendance was so light, I just knew we’d get a good spot this time and we did. Here’s my view…and I’m not zooming.

16 christmas castle

I didn’t bother taking pictures of the fireworks since they never look good that way, but it was impressive even if I have seen it a million times from my spot light. It’s pretty much the same show we did back then, but with more on the castle, no tink, and Christmas music. But, I’ll admit, I loved it. The best part was watching Tom and Jake look back at me with the “Did you see that?!” face. Totally worth being sardined.

I planned on leaving at 8pm, but the fireworks were at 7:45 and then the park closed, so we were stuck in the mass exodus. Kinda fun swimming through that. And we got a cinnamon pretzel for the road because my friend was working at the Wetzel Pretzel stand. Then we got to listen to people fight, push, and scream at each other getting on the tram.

It was another great day at Disneyland. I’m going to miss it. Passes went up $100 per person this year, so it’s not going to happen for a long time. But there are other adventures to be had!

Learn What You Love

Learn what you love, study what interests you! That’s what I’ve always said. Radically unschooling our children has taught us that it works.

I found this quote in a newsletter from Gretchen Rubin this morning.

“I only study the things I like; I apply my mind only to matters that interest me. They’ll be useful—or useless—to me or to others in due course, I’ll be given—or not given—the opportunity of benefiting from what I’ve learned. In any case, I’ll have enjoyed the inestimable advantage of doing things I like doing and following my own inclinations.”

Nicolas de Chamfort

I’ve personally always found it easier and more beneficial to study things I like or find a use for. Just because there is a list somewhere that says we should know about X, Y, and Z, doesn’t mean they are necessarily my cup of tea or going be needed in my life. I take them as suggestions and move on to what I believe I need.

I’ve raised my sons the same way and so far, it has served them well. We’ve come to learn that the best way to know yourself, your limits, your own personal best way of living, is to follow your instincts, be aware of what you are doing, feeling, and of the results. That starts with not following someone else’s rules unless they make sense to you.

Window Into Our World

I’ll be re-sharing some of my favorite posts from my old blog from time to time. This one is from a couple of years ago, but I felt it really captured my feelings still.

I have to record the most awesome motocross weekend ever, from the Mom’s point of view anyway!

This series the boys have upped the ante so to speak and moved to the “expert” track. This alone was a feat of strength. They’ve been riding motocross for about a year now and weren’t really winning all that much on the “amateur” track but they figured, why waste time mastering the smaller track when they could be losing and gaining experience on the same track the pro’s use. The reaction from their friends was enough to spur them on. They were all excited and amazed that they would even try it. So there we were lined up for our first moto on the big track. That’s when I got nervous. What if they shouldn’t be there? What if they embarrassed themselves? What if they crashed? The gate dropped and those “novice” riders came roaring down the track with my boys in the back. My stomach dropped. We were way out of our league. The second gate dropped and the next race started and they began to catch up to my boys. Watching Jake ride was inspiring though. He looked like he was having the time of his life. Every jump was loose and every turn and slide was controlled. He wasn’t THAT far behind. But Tom looked like he was in fear of his very life. Stiff and rigid as he made every turn and each jump he just rolled it. He never made the last lap before they ended the race. I had to hold back tears the whole time.

There is some back story here. Three weeks ago we had a friend come and give them some tips and they rode the main track at another place. They were flying and very happy, ready for the “big time”. One week later, we went for another practice, this time on the main track we were going to race at next. They didn’t do so well here. I think they were intimidated by the fast riders on a Wednesday morning and lost faith in themselves. During the last round, Tom crashed, not a bad one by motocross standards but a good one for him. It was over a jump and he left the bike and came flying down the jump without it, landing on his back, rolling hard. He strained his back and fractured his wrist. We decided to baby that wrist to give it time to heal before the next race. Maybe that wasn’t a good idea because he didn’t ride those two weeks, he only did some strength training. We knew going there this weekend that he wouldn’t do well in the race for several reasons. The combination of the new track and level, and the fact that he was still healing from his injury and hadn’t ridden in awhile was pretty much cutting out all hopes of racing well. Jake on the other hand was ready. He’d been practicing and working out and was mentally ready for this race. And he did amazingly well. I’ve never seen him more confident. I feel bad that the focus leaned toward Tom and his problems when Jake had put in just as much work. But as always, the squeaky wheel, right? We kept praising Jake as much as we could without making Tom feel too bad. It felt strange because for the last year, it has been the other way around!

Back to this weekend’s race. Friday evening Tom comes down with a sore throat and a stuffy nose. He felt pretty crappy on Saturday morning as we finished loading up and headed for the track. What else can go wrong?

Saturday was a decent day of practice. The weather was perfect. The track wasn’t too crowded. But Tom wasn’t feeling it. In hindsight, you could feel his tension building but I thought it was just his cold keeping him low key. We registered for the next day’s race after practice and were encouraged by the TWMX staff about moving to the big track. Our usual after Race Day Eve rituals commenced.

Sunday morning we woke up to rain, as was expected. We waited for them to cancel the race, but they didn’t. It wasn’t a heavy rain so the track wasn’t flooded, just muddy, and it was supposed to start letting up at 8am just as practice was starting. By the time the races started it was looking nice. We got the schedule…the last race of the day! And the waiting began.

Both the boys took turns riding over to the track and watching, seeing where they were in the line of races. Tom always takes so much longer to come back because he stops and talks to people. The combination of his friendly and outgoing nature and his cool vintage pit bike leads him to conversations with people all along the track and pits. It’s fun to watch him. He introduces his brother and drags him along to talk with people sometimes, but Jake is much more comfortable at his camp or riding. The high point of his socializing is to joke and tell the rider next to him at the gate to slow down a bit and not make him look so bad! His sense of humor catches you off guard because he’s usually so quiet.

So there we were, the first moto in the books and it didn’t look good at all for Tom. Jake was happily sipping his cool sports drink and eating a hot dog while Tom was silently freaking out. It’s hard when your kids are going through something like this. I wanted so much to help but really didn’t know how. Talking about it, going over what happened, seemed to be making it worse. I felt like talking it out would be helpful (for me) but then I thought maybe just putting it behind him would be better, look to the next one. He was going on about the mud and not feeling well. Maybe he had the suspension set wrong. What was he doing wrong? But we could tell it was fear. He didn’t see it. He wasn’t jumping and speeding because he was afraid of crashing again. He needed to put THAT behind him. What do you do? I went to congratulate Jake on his performance and then looked at Facebook to occupy myself and give him space.

We had about an hour before the next moto, so Jake went to see how things were going at the track and I suggested to Tom that he meditate, clear his mind of anxiety. He agreed and settled into deep breathing. And then we headed back for the next round.

We got there a bit early this time so we had about a half an hour to stand around and watch. Jake was chomping at the bit to get out there. He just loves being out on the track! He said that the running and climbing as cross training is really working because the moto’s aren’t wiping him out anymore. He could have done that for hours. And it was so awesome to see him so proud of the work he put into it. Tom needed more time alone. I held his bike while he stood at that fence and watched the other races take off. A Dad of a friend of his came up and talked to him for a bit and I watched him relax. He needs to know people think he can do this. That little bit of fame pushes him on. That man was a gift from God.

When we got to the gate, he swept, packed down the dirt, got ready. He said he was going to just ride to finish and not fall, focus on not falling. His breathing was short. He already looked stiff. In a moment of inspiration I told him to not focus on that. No, is what I said. Remember the breathing, roll your shoulders back, open up the chest, shake out your arms, legs, and head. Focus on your confidence. You CAN do this. You have landed this a thousand times. You’re all alone, look out ahead, and have fun. He shook his head yes and the starter took his place. I ran off to the side with Dan. I highly doubted it would help. He was pretty scared. The gate dropped and both the boys were out there in the middle of the pack. Jake was a bit behind. They rounded corners and made the jumps just like that first practice. It was amazing. I couldn’t help but yell out, “That’s my boy! That’s what they LOVE!” You could see it in their riding. You could feel it as they passed by. My heart soared with them.

Now…before you go thinking that they had magically went faster and moved up in the ranks of riders, they were still in last place. They did significantly faster laps, but so did everyone else. The track was more dried out and most usually do better on their second moto. It was the attitude that was different. They were matched in their joy and excitement of making the laps. Now they just have to work on speed. That will come with practice.

After the race, they always get back to camp first. They are on bikes and we’re walking. But as we walked up, the attitude at camp was WAY better than the last time. Jake was already packing up bikes and tools. He used to have to take a good long rest before he even started to move after a race. Tom was all thumbs up, running over to us. He was almost crying. He hugged me and told me it worked and I’m the best mom for helping him. And then I almost cried! Dan was so proud of us. It was a pretty awesome moment. We all talked about how great it was and loaded up, got dressed, put away all that muddy gear, and headed for home!

I’m amazed at my children. They are brave, confident, brilliant, and talented. As much as I dislike motocross, I cannot imagine life without their craziness. Since this is the race weekend from my perspective, I’ll tell you what I learned most, the admiration of two boys that push themselves to the limit of their abilities by sheer will power. I don’t like this sport. I’d love it if they decided that it was enough now and move on to something cheaper and safer. But I see it through their eyes and I’m just as excited as they are. I’m seeing where they could go and what they can do with the skills they are learning. I’m making plans in my mind about races across the country, two brothers and a box truck! I’m seeing factory teams, personal tracks, and watching them on TV and in sports magazines. But I’ll be happy seeing them play at it all their lives, find work that keeps them fed, and wives that support their crazy dreams. I can see them getting bikes for their kids and doing it all over again. Deep sighs for this momma.

Right now, the day after, I’m in awe. I’m relieved that we are home safe, no one came home injured. I’m happy we left the track on a high note for both my babies. I’m thankful that my amazing husband supports this craziness even though I’m sure he’d rather be doing a thousand other things with his time and money. I’m looking forward and planning the next practice day. And I’m terrified of the next race in two weeks. It will never stop scaring the crap out of me every time they head out there, but how can I let my fear get in the way of their joy? I think I’ll make cookies in their honor and just bask in their glory today.

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