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Friday, May 15, 2015

When life gives you pond water...

This is story about what a hack I am as a teacher.  

Someday soon I think I will hear a knock on my door and the authorities will be there saying, "Ma'am, it is time you turn your child back over to the public educational system.   No more of these homeschool shenanigans."

My sister-in-love, Kristi, is a very devoted and talented teacher (who also has a mind a bit like a genius).  She casually mentioned to me that she was going to raise tadpoles with her class and that maybe it would be fun to do that with Ella.

YES!  Real-life, hands on learning!  If our homeschool were organized enough to have a philosophy it would be that!  

So Ella and I start researching. I really, really don't want to kill a tank of innocent tadpoles, especially not before the trustful eyes of a 10-year-old.   We get our act together and realize we have much of what we need at home. 

It was a Monday in late April and the girls were both with me at a hair appointment and they start telling our hairdresser, Suzi, that we are going to raise tadpoles.  Suzi gives us some advice as to where there are some ponds, gives us some tupperware, Ziplocs and a laddle she has laying around to support our educational endeavor.  We stop at the Dollar Store and pick up a couple of buckets and trudge in the rain with our inappropriate footwear to scout some ponds. 

No tadpoles eggs.

I google "when do frogs lay eggs in Maine" and can't decipher and answer.  I call Kristi.  She says it is too early because the spring peepers haven't started peeping.  They apparently peep as a mating call and the result of their nocturnal flings with the bullfrogs are the eggs we seek.  

Of course.  I didn't know that.  

We wait a week.  It warms up.  Trish and Brock tell us they have a frog pond on their property so that Sunday we go on a tadpole hunt while my mom is visiting.  We fail to dress the kids appropriately for all the bramble and they scratch their legs to pieces.  

On the way, Ella and I become alarmed at the possible presence of poison ivy.  Ella doesn't have a good track record with this plant (the last time she got it she rubbed her face with her infected hands and she looked like she had a balloon under her skull for a week).  Brock says he is pretty sure they are strawberry plants.  

I google it to be sure.  (Have I mentioned I have to google things all day long as a teacher? How did homeschoolers survive before google?)  Brock, of course, is right.  It is the innocent strawberry plant.

Hallelujah!  We find some tadpole eggs!  We scoop up pond water and greens to sustain our new charges and trudge back home.

 Tadpole eggs are rather a cool piece of nature, slimy and gelatinous in a way that could make you shiver but instead wows you a bit.
I have to admit, as we boil lettuce for the creatures-to-be, rig the aquarium light and aerator and position rocks so when the tadpoles lose their gills they won't drown, I keep thinking this would be a miracle if it worked...

Nothing for a few days.  Then some very tiny creatures begin to flit around.  Tadpoles!  Ella says, "No, those don't look like tadpoles, Mom."  

Ah, ye of little faith.  Watch and wait....

But as I proudly watch them grow larger, I have to admit they don't look a LOT like tadpoles.  They look more like centipedes with a whispy notched tail.    I call Kristi.

Mosquitoes.  We are cultivating mosquito larvae.  Just what the world needs.  This is what happens when you are not a "real" teacher:  you grow mosquitos, not tadpoles, I tell myself. 

I was going to give my kids learning on a plate, or at least in an aquarium.  The kind of learning that is fun and effortless and gives life to wonder and amazement.  

And instead we raised mosquitos.  

I see where you are going to head with this.  I know, I know.  There is still value in the learning of what didn't happen, of the unintended happening, of the process and the intention behind the project.  Isn't the trajectory of science itself?  And I wholeheartedly agree.  But there is something so profoundly hilarious to me about the whole thing.  

I thought we were raising tadpoles (Said good morning to them!  Fed them boiled lettuce!) and they were MOSQUITOS!  The bane of our summer existence in the state of Maine!

A few days later, after thinning the tank of our growing herd of mosquitos, I see some other creatures that could only be described as the curly-Q of a piece of cooked quionoa.  They are shrimp-like, with little flicking tails that propel them through the water.  Tadpoles!!!

"No," Ella says, once again.  "Those aren't tadpoles.  I'm telling you, Mom."

Of course, she is right yet again.  I still don't know what those little things were but as they grew, they were evidently NOT tadpoles.   Clearly she learned something from all that research. 

Yesterday, after observing 2 actual mosquitos flying in the house I ousted the tank outdoors.  

I'm teaching 2 divisor long division to Ella and I keep getting the wrong answers.  I thought I had a good handle on grammar but it turns out there is a murky gray area in the world of prepositions that I don't fully understand.  I didn't know tadpole eggs could exist in a pond and not be fertilized.  My daughter officially knows more than I do about the technology in our house. 

Frankly, there is so much I don't know that it can leave me breathless and paralyzed.  

But I do have a very good understanding of how standing water breeds mosquitos.  And, if we are keeping score (which thank goodness we are not), we did SUCCESSFULLY raise 2 mosquitos.  

You're welcome world.  

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

April, come she will

I remember when I first became a runner.  As a former non-runner, when I began stringing miles together consistently about seven years ago, I said to Sandi, "When I become a real runner, I think I will need to invest in some actual running clothes."

She replied, "If you run, you are a real runner."


I think the same might be the same about writing.   If you write, than you are a writer.

I've also heard it said that you know you are a writer if you NEED to write.  Or if when you don't write you miss writing.

WOW, do I ever miss writing.

I guess that makes me a writer too.  And, to follow that line of reasoning, I am also a chef of sorts because as much as I begrudge making dinner most of the time and no matter how many times I find myself swearing to go on strike and make my family cook for themselves, I inevitably find myself called back to the kitchen, my hands comforted by measuring, spooning, mixing and creating.

Oh, curse it.  How is one to find time in life to be all the things one is meant to be?

I have words tumbling out of me right now, so many I can't contain them or organize them or properly choose them.  Please forgive me because this likely won't be pretty or perhaps even coherent.

This has been the longest winter of my life, both in actuality and metaphorically.  As the first warm rays of spring sun hit the soil, melting its hardness and coaxing the grass from its place of hiding, I am struck more than usual with the sense of renewal spring offers.

This has been a winter without my thyroid, a gland I have spent nearly every day missing.  The months of getting my replacement hormone dose to a therapeutic level has been a daily struggle to get out of bed, to try to stay warm during the most frigid winter I have ever experienced, by perpetually walking around with a heated rice pack up my shirt to stay warm, living on potentially unsafe volumes of coffee due to a near-narcoleptic state of being and trying not to weep when the laundry doesn't fold itself and we are out of yogurt again.

When I finally started to feel better, Maya said to me, "Oh yay.  Happy Momma is back!"  Kind of breaks my heart a little.

The past six months have also proven to be the hardest months of motherhood to date.  They have been a hodgepodge of perpetual worry, giving until I've run dry and then giving some more, success, celebration, tiny miracles, breakdowns, pep talks and constantly redefining the measures of success.  Homeschooling, in every way, is a daily practice of owning my strengths and weaknesses and figuring out how to not be paralyzed by all that I do wrong.   We are working on the 3 steps forward, 1 step back model and I have to say that doesn't exactly mesh with my personality inventory.

In March we lost Sandi's grandmother, one of the most incredible human beings I have had the privilege of knowing.  She passed away a year almost to the exact day of her husband's passing.  I was honored to be there in that sacred place when the space between life and death opens and elongates and some of the secrets of the universe whisper to you.  What is left at the end?  What truly matters?  What are you most devastated to lose?  How well did you live?  Did you say what you wanted to say and do what you wanted to do? How well did you love?  

Heartbreak and loss have a way of redefining what is important in day to day living.

And yet life continues on.  Here is some general randomness since I haven't posted in so long.

For Christmas my mom gave my sister's family and our family tickets to see a Disney-themed symphony concert.  Right before we had to leave, Maya decided she was too embarrassed to go with the dark bruise on her chin she acquired from a playground injury.  Kathryn came up with the idea that we all wear a bruise on our face and Maya was game.  She helped us all apply make-up to our chins for our very own playground facial bruises.  That brilliant sister of mine. 
A playground injury makes a nice addition to wacky hair day.  

Maya wrote this sign for me on our chalkboard and I love it. 
Maya has a hard time sitting still for meals.  She kept telling me, "You need to duct tape me to the chair."  She begged me to.  Finally, I complied. Have you ever seen a kid so happy to be taped to a chair?  (That is, until she wanted to get up.)

 This long winter hasn't gotten these two down.

 There are so many things that are shifting and changing underfoot in my parenting orbit.  I have come to the point of realization that I need to do less for my kids and that they need to do more for themselves.  I think I should have started earlier because it is truly painful to change some of these habits in them.  But just because I can pack a bag, pick up clothes and clean the living room in 1/8 of the time that they can doesn't mean that I should.  I am teaching them to be more self-sufficient and independent and it is CHALLENGING.  I literally have to sit on my hands sometimes to not take over.  It also means that there are checklists and chore charts posted all over the house to increase success and independence and reduce nagging.

Perhaps the best thing I can report is that the girls are doing really well.  I always thought 6 and 3 were the best ages but the changes we have made in the past months has brought such a profound shift to our girls' sibling relationship that I am enjoying them now more than I think I ever have.  Namely, they (mostly) get along and we don't spend all our time playing referee and bracing ourselves against the next blow-up.  They also can play outside with the neighborhood kids for hours with general supervision instead of eyeball-on-them-at-all-times method and it a lovely new freedom for everyone.

I guess 10 and 7 are the new 6 and 3.

Their more mature, creative little minds make life fun and exciting and we can do so many more enjoyable things with them.  Skiing has saved us all this winter and is the first outside active endeavor we can all enjoy together.

Thrilled to finally have poles!
The girls took an hour long lesson and Sandi and I ran for the tougher slopes! 
Well, we all enjoy it most of the time....

Ella has overcome HUGE fears and anxiety to partake in her favorite hobby of all time: gymnastics.   I am not the parent who cares about how high her score is or where she places.  I am just so overcome with pride that she is DOING it and finding her confidence.  Every girl deserves some confidence and this one was especially overdue for some. 

Sometimes I really do have stand back and look at the big picture of progress.  

 Sandi and I finally got to use a very generous wedding present from her colleagues:  a gift certificate to the Samoset resort.  What can I say: ocean, room service (first time ever), naps, reading, uninterrupted conversation, amazing does a soul good.
 Also, this happened.  What can I say?  We couldn't finish it and I didn't want to leave it.  It made me feel a little like a lush, but not so much that I couldn't do it.
 The Rockland Breakwater (a mile long with a charming lighthouse at the end) has always been one of my favorite places.  When I lived in the area years ago, I spent countless hours of my adolescence out on the slabs of granite contemplating my life.  It is always such a unique feeling to return to a place that is the same when you are so very different.

My beautiful dinner date. 

I so eagerly anticipate this spring.  The world around me looks like it needs a new coat of paint.  I am ready for new beginnings, vitamin D that doesn't come from a bottle and to have my kids smell like fresh air when I hug them.

I continue to say no to almost anything that takes my energy since I am funneling so much of myself into my family.  I continue to care for myself like it is my job, since it is.  I sometimes wonder if I will ever strike the delicate balance of work and play, of holding on and letting go, of striving and of accepting, of doing what needs doing but not placing too much importance on the details of life.

Probably I won't, but I certainly won't stop trying.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

NEVI Fest: the most inspiring week of my life

 Our family had the amazing experience of spending our recent vacation volunteering at NEVI Fest, the New England Blind and Visually Impaired Ski Festival at Sugarloaf Mountain.  In Ella's words, all we could say was, "WOW."

(Hello, Sugarloaf.  Yes, we want to sell our house, relocate and spend all our days skiing.)

Our cousin, Noah, (technically a cousin but more like a nephew) is eleven-years-old and was born blind.  He is an exceptional human being, wise beyond his years and with more talent in his left pinkie than I will ever have in my life.  He has two incredible parents who have devoted their lives to providing Noah with a depth of experiences to take in life fully, perhaps one could argue even more fully than a sighted person, through his remaining four senses.  He is an intelligent, witty, New York Times- reading boy with a sweet and beautiful heart and a mind of such advanced intelligence that I think they may already have his job waiting at Apple.  

Seriously, if you want to feel inspired, just spend a day with Noah.  That kid has more of a pulse on how to live than most adults I know. 

Our girls just happen to adore Noah.  

NEVI Fest is an event organized by the incredibly generous Bruce and Ann Marie Albiston and made possible by the multitude of volunteers from Maine Adapative Sports and Recreation.  The countless volunteer hours these folks put in to make this event possible is truly extraordinary.  Maine Adaptive has guides that help all sorts of skiers who need adaptation and assistance to ski down the mountain, from folks who are blind or hearing impaired, to physically handicapped skiers or people with mental health issues, these volunteer guides are trained to make all sorts of accommodations to help these skiers.  At NEVI, all the participants are either blind or visually impaired but there are some that require more assistance such as tethering (a guide assisting from behind with the use of tethers and anchors) or sit skiing for those who cannot ski standing up.  

I'm telling you: INSPIRING.  

Different blind skiers have different preferences on how they wish to be guided.  Noah likes to have his primary guide right behind him giving him verbal cues through the two-way head set (called a Scala rider- it is what motorcyclists use to communicate).  Then he has another guide, called a blocker, whose job it is to run interference for any sighted skiers who might not be paying attention and might pose a threat to a blind skier.   This guide is the skiing equivalent of a bouncer and is a job I think I might relish. 

Here is Noah skiing in the foreground.  I'm not sure why there is a third person in there but normally there would just be the two.  The fluorescent vests make these teams very visible on the mountain.  

It was such a wonderful experience to be a part of, both for us and our children to help out and get some perspective about their lives as sighted people and to celebrate Noah and all that he can do!  We did not do any ski guiding but instead helped participants get where they needed to be, helped get food and drinks and assisted them in non-skiing events such as the group snow tubing.  I saw my children begin to make the connections between all that they took for granted and watched them dig a bit deeper when they were tackling a tough slope or took a scary fall. 

The first night of NEVI at the pizza party meet and greet I had the singular pleasure of meeting a blind teenager (and close friend of Noah's) who asked me if I had ever skied blindfolded.  How about riding my bike blindfolded?  I was ashamed to admit I had not.  He asked me, "Oh, are you someone who takes your sight for granted?" to which I could only stumble out the words, "Well, yes. I guess I am."  Then he schooled us at Foosball. 

Have you ever been beaten at Foosball by a blind person?  I highly suggest it.  

I went to sleep that night in the dark unable to stop thinking about how entirely lucky I was to be able to see.  All week as I helped people with activities that I do all day unthinkingly (getting a cup of coffee, finding my own gloves, getting breakfast, walking down the hall),  I could not get over the amount of independence I am afforded each day because of my sight.  These folks, so much less independent in an unfamiliar environment, would often simply sit in the crowded, noisy ski lodge, unable to move about and socialize.  It is an entire element of living that I take for granted and so I made sure to go out of my way to chat with them and reach out.  

I also made a ton of dumb mistakes.  Oh my, I can be so numb sometimes.  I would step outside in the morning and exclaim to Noah, "Oh the mountain is stunning this morning!" I would stay stupid thinks like, "See what I mean?"  or being at the top of the mountain and saying, "The view up here is breathtaking!"  I was helping one blind skier find her hat in her canvas bag under a table crowded with other's belongings.  She said, "My hat is in my canvas bag" to which I nearly replied, "Is it the blue one with white strips?"  Luckily I caught myself, held out the bag for her to feel and said instead, "Is this your bag?"

Then there was the time I was helping Noah get on the chairlift (just to get from the condo to the base lodge, not to ski down the mountain) and helped him get in position only to forget to tell him that the chairlift was coming.  He genially said, "Hey, Aunt Suz, next time could you count down for me '3, 2, 1' when the chair is coming?"  

I ate a lot of humble pie that week.  I think I apologized to Noah no less than a dozen times -"Noah, I am terrible at this.  Please forgive me." - to which he would say, "Oh, you're fine!" or "Ha! No I don't see what you mean!  Remember, I'm blind!" and then laugh his head off. 

Noah is so good at asking for what he needs.  He will ask for help to identify a Keurig cup when he is making hot chocolate for everyone but be totally determined to do the rest himself, feeling his way along to success.  He loves the girls and is so good to them but will lean in and whisper, "I would prefer for you to guide me instead if that is okay" and I love that he can advocate for what he needs.  
The four of us with Aunt Suzie, Uncle Buck and Noah.  Aunt Suzie and Uncle Buck have become Maine Adaptive guides so while Noah is skiing with his guides, they are helping other skiers defy all logic and ski down the mountain.  It is a family affair and we were very lucky to be a part of it for a few days. 
Perhaps one of the more enlightening parts of my week was when Aunt Suzie was telling me the reason they invest so much in skiing.  She said that for a blind person to understand, for instance, an onion he must experience an onion.  You can speak until your blue in the face about onions, but in order to really get an onion, he would need to feel it, to peel it, to smell it, to taste it.  So much of what they work to provide for Noah is this level of living through experience.  It made me think endlessly about all that I take in about my world through my eyes and just how critical it would be to replace all that visual input through other sensory channels.  Skiing is Noah's physical experience of the world, it is his winter sport (because he cannot participate in, say, basketball), it is his way to connect with others in way that is challenging among his sited peers and it is an entire level of independence that is shaping his present and his future.  

Noah is, not surprisingly, a very skilled skier who, despite the fact of not being able to see the ski slope can ski the double black diamonds of Sugarloaf.  We were lucky enough to ski with him a little bit each day and he took us all over the mountain, showing us all the fun side trails, how this one connected to that one and the off-beat, little-known trails.  He has the mountain mapped out on the neurons of his brain and, while I can't say I know how he "pictures" it, he can tell you the level of difficulty of every trail, how many steep pitches it has, if it is at or above our skill level and what lifts to take in what order to get where he wants to go.  

Yes, we had our very own Sugarloaf guide who happened to be blind. 
Atop Sugarloaf.  From the left: Aunt Suzie, Me, Ella, Maya, Sandi, Noah and  his wonderful guide Emma.

 The kids got to go to the top of the mountain one night in the Snow Cat!

 Not only was NEVI Fest amazing in every way, our family had the best time on the ski slopes of Sugarloaf.  After learning and cutting their teeth on the small mountain near our house, it was so fun for them to experience Sugarloaf for the first time.  (It had been years since I had been and my last trip down a Sugarloaf slope had been in a medic sled so I was grateful for a new experience.)  There is so much to love about this magical place.
 Quick Maya story: Maya isn't so much a controlled skier as she is a snowplower who prefers to go straight down any slope and adjust her speed to her given thrill level.  Needless to say, she makes her mothers nervous.  One of the guides gave us the idea to play this game where we one of us is the fish and she is the shark trying to eat us.  We ski back and forth on the slope and she follows along diligently behind us making frightening noises.  It prevents her from her straight-down-the-mountain approach while still being fun.

Sandi had been mostly playing this with her and I had been staying back with the more cautious and controlled Ella.  Then we switched and Maya was trailing me like a shark hot my fishy heels.  We went along for a while and then she very sweetly and innocently said to me in her adorable little voice, " about now it is my turn to be the fish and you be the shark?"  I said, "Okay, that seems fair..." and before I could even finish the sentence she took off like a fish fired out of a cannon down the mountain. I was skiing practically full speed trying to catch her, having been slightly delayed by my pure shock.

I blasted down the mountain calling her name, then shouting it, but to no avail.  She couldn't hear me at all without her hearing aids and through layers of fleece around her ears.  I'm sure I disturbed the tranquil skiing of the people I sped past as well as any roosting birds or hibernating animals.  I finally caught her on a flat (where her 43 pound frame can't help but slow down) and she looked genuinely surprised to see me arrive in such state of panic and breathlessness.

When Ella and I went back and watched the Go Pro video Sandi had taken of this event it was quite humorous to hear her talking aloud: "What is Momma doing?  Is she letting Maya go ahead?  Oh, Suzanne.  Don't do it.  Oh NO.  She has let her go!"

I had been duped by a seven-year-old.

One of my favorite moments of the week was being up at the very top of the mountain and watching my family ski in front of me.  The strides we have all made as skiers this year simply amazes me, especially since the three of them have only been skiing for 2 months.  The top of any mountain is always a sacred place for me and this moment right here was just perfection. 

 There was a good deal of sisterly bonding which always does a pair of mother hearts good.

Ella has been DYING for poles and Noah gave her his old pair.  Every time I turned around she was in a full ski tuck with her poles behind her going down the most meager of pitches.  She even helped her sister along the flat parts of the slope back to the condo. 

 On the last night of NEVI there was a banquet where participants received medals for the ski race.  They had categories for people who skied only with voice commands, those that skied in tandem with a guide (like a tether or arm hold) and sit skiers.  It was incredible to watch their pride at their accomplishment and to hear them talk about what NEVI means to them.

But the best part of the banquet was the keynote speaker, Erik Weihenmayer, who is a blind adventurer, mountaineer and motivational speaker.  He lost his eye site at age 13 from a rare, degenerative eye condition and has gone on to inspire countless people, blind and otherwise, to embrace the mentality of "no barriers".  What this man does defies all logic.  He has climbed each of the seven highest peaks on every continent.  He recently completed a white water kayak trip down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, kayaking solo with the aid of a two-way radio to receive commands from his guide.  He showed us video footage of his journey, including repeatedly capsizing in one particularly difficult current and having the sheer grit and determination to do it again until he mastered it.

Ella and I are reading his book as part of homeschool.  I highly recommend it for anyone, blind or sighted.

We just had so much fun together all week.  
 The group that made up NEVI.  We are sort of smack in the middle on the bottom of this photo.  I consider it such a privilege to be a part of this extraordinary group of people, from the organizers, to the guides to the fearless skiers.  Hats off to all of you.

Here is our own view from the top of the world.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

homeschool update

Here you have it: my homeschool update.

I haven't written about this yet for three reasons: first, I haven't really known what to say yet.  Second, I haven't had the time!  And third, I wrote a long, extensive post once already and somehow lost it which was incredibly frustrating given how little time I have to write these days.

We have been homeschooling for nearly 3 months.  It is wonderful, frustrating, inspiring, profound, patience-testing, all-consuming, exhausting and totally, absolutely worth it.

It is hard to describe the changes that I am seeing day to day, week to week.   My daughter is happier, more content, more creative, notably more compassionate, more outside herself and significantly less stressed.   Remarkably different is the relationship between our girls.  No longer is Ella so spent that all she feels is aggravated with Maya.  She is so happy to see Maya at the end of each day and they actually spend time playing together now, creating elaborate imaginative games and creating structures in the living room.

This was a sign that awaited Maya when she came home from school.

Ella made this cool butterfly snack idea for a very proud Maya (which also produced some very jealous first graders in Maya's class).

Right now they are working out of corner of the living room they call their "studio" using a video camera and conducting interviews on very important topics like which is the best Elephant and Piggy book by Mo Willems and P.S.As about the importance of wearing a helmet when you ski (complete with doll reenactment).

There are also just so many beautiful things happening if you are willing to find them in the ups and downs.  We are able to do so much more as a family because Ella isn't so tapped out all the time.  She is on the gymnastics team.  We are able to all ski one evening a week and one or both of the weekend days.  This simply wouldn't be possible if she were still in conventional school.

Ella says stuff that surprises me all the time now:  "Can I help you with that?"  "Thank you so much, Momma, for doing that.  It must have been difficult." "I'm sorry I said/did that.  I don't know why I did it." There are so many connections being made: compassion, empathy, insight and appreciation.

I am certain, 100% certain, that this is the right thing to be doing for her.

And it is one of the most difficult things I've done in my life.

Starting the process of homeschooling reminds me of what I call the "newborn tunnel."  Having a newborn can be such an all encompassing, life-turned-on-its-head kind of experience that one can forget what real life is like for a bit.  You calibrate your being so entirely to this new, fragile life in a way that takes mental priority over everything else.  Regular details of life become mountains that must be climbed.

That is kind of how I feel.  I am funneling all of my emotional and mental energy toward the success of our child.  I have to know what to study, when to study it, how Ella will best learn it, how to be two steps ahead all the time and then how to rework all of it when my idea totally fails.  I need to do all this and still do all the grocery shopping, laundry, cooking and cleaning, appointments, phone calls, bill paying and, oh yeah, find time to work.  My cabinet is wall-papered in sticky notes so I can keep all these plates spinning.  Recently added to the fray: plan the PTO Valentine's Dance and get all of our financial records ready for our tax appointment.

The first week of school after the holidays this all happened: a sewer overflow in the basement, a frozen pipe which meant the washer wouldn't work, about 3 hours on and off on the phone with the cable company, the receipt of an electrical bill so exorbitant I had to make umpteen more phone calls to research why we were being charged triple the standard rate by our supplier.  I made 5 phone calls to try to get our elliptical machine fixed.  Every phone call I made to resolve some household issue produced 3 more before I could check it off my list.  I had clients canceling last minute and upsetting my carefully contracted childcare plans.  Unloading a ton of wood pellets when it was something ridiculous below zero.  All while trying to teach school and be emotionally available for my other child.  And my wife.

When the bread dough failed to rise I almost cried.

This momma is taxed.  I want to hole up in a hotel room for a full two days (preferably with Sandi) and have my only responsibility be to decide if I go for a run before or after I take a nap.

I want to be doing all this.  Some days I just wonder if there is enough of me to go around.

Welcome to motherhood, right?

Here are some of the significant challenges of getting into the grove of homeschool: never having time alone, having to return to lining up childcare to go to work,  and listening to Demi Lovato and Bridgit Mendler on repeat in the car.  It is so mentally tiring to always be the one who has to figure out what we work on next.  I find the amount of time we lose in transitions (from non-work time to work time, from one project to the next, one worksheet to the next, from meal-time to work time) to be entirely frustrating.  I am such a quick mover and motherhood has made me very efficient with time and multitasking that I find I have to exercise great volumes of patience for the slower pace Ella has.

But perhaps most significant is that homeschool is a very difficult bugger to measure.  I find myself asking every day, "Did we do enough of that?" with an ever changing that.   Some of our biggest reasons to homeschool was to reduce stress and allow for more natural, creative, Ella-paced learning.  Yet I find myself asking everyday if I should be pushing more or pushing less.  It is nearly impossible for me to identify how much is enough in any given day.  It is very difficult to know when some tough love is needed in the form of, "I need you to work harder than you are," or "Would you talk to your teacher that way?" or "I know you don't want to do that but I need you to do it anyway."

If we do a lot of practical learning (long division, sentence structure, parts of speech and living versus non-living organisms) I am like: Phew! We accomplished something. But usually we did so at the cost of more creative time.  Yet if we have a lot of creative time and follow one of Ella's whims to an end (like melting crayons on canvas with a blow dryer), we lose the book learning time and at the end of the day I am nagged with a feeling that we are "getting behind."

It would be easy to say, "Just do what feels right" but that is such a nebulous concept here.  After all, it is our daughter's education.  I don't want to half-ass it.

I'm sure that veteran homeschoolers know how to go down rabbit holes and make them educationally applicable, how to coerce learning out of pedestrian moments, how to make nearly everything fun and engaging.

Let's just say I'm not quite there.  I am more pre-K homeschooler than veteran.  I have a 4 page, double-sided checklist from our district of the fourth grade curriculum.  Some days I use at as guide to what we need to accomplish and other days like a whipping stick to measure my slackery (I don't think that is a word) as a homeschooler.  There are so many things to be taught in 4th grade!!!

(Side note: I have such a newfound and profound respect for teachers.  I can hardly mobilize one fourth grader.  How, oh how, do they do it when there are 18 or 20 of them?)

People often ask me, "How are you doing this?" or "What is your plan with that?' to which I answer, "I'm not actually sure.  I am going day by day and trying to find a groove."  When I'm at my best, that is my homeschool zen: to try to take it as it comes and not worry about the hitting every benchmark.  So what if she falls behind if what she gains is the ability to trust herself and like her life more?  Perhaps today success can be measured in  a spontaneous hug, an unexpected laugh, a spark of interest.

I tell you there are ton of life lessons to be found in homeschool.

A friend of mine told me that I would get to know my daughter really well through homeschooling.  That is for sure.  I would add to that that I am also getting to know myself better.  I see my flaws on display for myself every day: how my ambitious personality is a blessing and a curse, how impatient I still can be, how much I want to be on top of everything.

Sometimes I get impatient or a little snippy and I think I suck at this.  She needs a real teacher with a real set of patience.  Or I feel stressed by all that is undone around me and I say something I regret and wish I had an emotional vacuum to suck back in all my shortcomings.

Imagine how an item like that would fly off the shelves.

A lot of people have said to me that they don't think they could do it.  I want to reply, "I don't know if I can either do it but I'm doing it anyway."  Homeschooling doesn't come from any internal calling to teach my child.  It is born out of a need to exhaust all avenues to give her what she needs.  I am very aware that no matter my sacrifice, what I can give might still not be enough.

As part of the sea turtle unit we did, Ella wrote a story called "Tessa the Turtle" which we decided was really a book. The hours of writing and then typing her story, editing and revising and editing some more, finding just the right pictures and formatting it into the 23 page volume it became was just so was such a huge learning process for her.

She wrapped it up and gave it to Maya for Christmas with the dedication: "To Maya, who gives my life just the right amount of crazy- except when it is too much." It is funny and suspenseful and even informative!

Homeschool projects: hand knitting with Tia and wreath making with me.
My friend Heather took Ella for a morning so I could work and she made these super cool Borax snowflakes.  They are so cool and easy to make that we made a bunch more for Christmas.  
Heather sent me a text last week saying, "Let me take Ella for you for a few hours so you can have some time to yourself."  Again, she came up with a project (which they have both kept secret from me) so I was off the teacher hook for a couple of hours.  I cannot even tell you what an unexpected gift it was.  To work on taxes uninterrupted whilst sipping coffee?  I may never have had it so good.

Another friend, Kristen who is a former science teacher, offered to do some science lessons.  I am so relieved to be off the hook for teaching atmosphere, weather and the water cycle!!!

As part of increasing her independence and empowering her, I've been teaching Ella how to do lots of things on her own, especially making her own lunch.  She was asking about me making her some of the granola Emilie had given us for Christmas.  I was getting ready to make it and then said, "You know what?  This can be part of school.  YOU can make it."  And then I sat on my hands so I wouldn't do it for her.

She is so proud of this granola and eats it with fruit and yogurt nearly everyday now.

Ella asked me if she could do something nice for Tia who has also been spending a lot of time with her and helping her with her work.  Ella found a recipe on Pinterest for strawberry granola bars and she made them with just the smallest amount of stove help from me.  I was so proud of the thoughtfulness she was showing in the gesture itself but also in selecting something healthy for her super healthy Tia.
Learning to use a knife, a daunting skill that she can now do independently.

Our homeschool motto which is posted where we work.  After thinking this quote was a trick until she fully understood it, Ella then asked me to print another copy to put in her bedroom. 

I told Ella the other day that I would like to go to yoga class.  She didn't want to.  Despite my level of need for some SERENITY NOW! I decided not to push it.  What could be less serenity producing than taking a reluctant child to yoga class with you?  So I said, "It is okay if we don't go today but I need to be going to yoga.  At least every other week but preferably every week."  

Two days later when she woke up I said, "We are going to yoga at 9.  Wear something comfortable."   

"Okay,"  was the reply.

Then when the girls were brushing their teeth, Ella casually and without malice asked me something about yoga class.  Maya spun around and said, "She gets to go to YOGA with you?! I want to GO to YOGA with YOU!"

Now I felt like crying.  This was reminiscent of when the girls were both under 4 years old and I felt that they both wanted to own me, as though they would pull me limb from limb and fight over each fragmented piece.  

I'm also fairly certain that if Maya had heard that Ella was accompanying me to the dump she might have said, "WHAT?? She gets to go to the DUMP?? I want to GO to the DUMP!"

Maya is feeling the injustice of all of Ella's solo time with Momma.  Let's just say that it occurs to me that in a family it is hard for everyone's needs to be met at the same moment in time. 

It occurs to me that we only have about 8 years left with our daughter at home.  And truly we might only have 2-3 years of influence.  I want with every part of me to make sure that our relationship is solid going into the trials of adolescence.  Homeschooling is forming a bond of trust and partnership between us that might just be irreplaceable.  

Now, if I can just not lose my mind we will be all set.