Category Archives: raising girls

Ziggy the Pinhead

Somehow at dinner tonight the kids got me talking about teachers that didn’t like me and the trouble I got into in school. We had a lot of tangents, but the best was this:

Me: and I had a binder with Ziggy on it . . .
14yo: you had a Ziggy the Pinhead binder?!
Me: no, that’s Zippy the Pinhead. I had Ziggy . . .
10yo: you had a Ziggy Stardust binder?!
Me: no, but I wish I did

I really don’t like it when parents foist their hipster signifiers on their kids, but it still made me smile to think I have a family where these

are more obvious cultural references than this:

No offense to Ziggy. Anyone who can go 40 years without wearing pants is alright with me. And lest I come off like a GenX foister, let me confess that my 10yo spent much of the afternoon having a marathon session with this:

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under raising girls, Unschoolish

In the Wayback: Muriel’s Wedding

There’s circuitous route to how I got the the main subject of this post, but it’ll just take a minute. For reasons I won’t get into I’ve had to pay a little more attention to my teen’s online life. One thing I’ve learned: she will reblog nearly any pro-woman, pro-gay, pro-transgender, pro-feminism, pro-choice, anti-rape post that crosses her path on tumblr, and she will call out female friends who say they are not feminists. I’ve started compiling a list of “feminist films for teens,” so we can watch some together and with any luck even talk about them a bit. (I’ll post it later, but feel free to share any thoughts.) As I’ve been building up my Netflix queue and reading through lists, I’ve also come across lots of movies that I loved as a young woman, to watch again.

Muriel’s Wedding holds up well, largely because of its two lead actresses, Rachel Griffiths and Toni Collette. Both have proven in later films and television (“Six Feet Under” and “United States of Tara,” for example) that they can really act. So although Entertainment Weekly was right in saying that the movie is flawed because we never really see who Muriel is, underneath, because she’s Toni Collette we instinctively feel there must be something of depth and value there.

There’s far less dancing in the movie than I remembered. I watched it thinking I would see several scenes of lip synching to Abba. There’s one, and it’s fabulous, but apparently I merged my own joyful apartment-bound Saturday nights with my memory of the movie. I would have sworn the girls performed Fernando together, but I guess that was me and my roommate instead.

I don’t know what happens to Muriel at about 1:10, but that’s where her transformation starts. Somehow at 1:33 she’s already a different person, even if she needs the rest of the movie to really feel it.

As so often happens when I watch movies from my past, I can’t help noticing my sympathy shift from daughters to mothers. When Rachel Griffiths, as Rhonda, tells her mom “I love you but you drive me nuts” as she leaves home, I think of my own teen daughter at least as much as I think of my mom, a line of strong, slightly(!) demanding women who love each other like crazy but need their space. If I raise my daughters well, there will only be room for one XX human in this house someday. And Muriel’s mom — well, I’m not sure what I think of that plot twist, but the small, cowed life she lives must be one big reason why Muriel runs like hell in the other direction, however stupidly.

I would watch this one with Violet, if she wanted, but I don’t know if the ABBA obsession would be enough to carry her through, and the idea that a wedding is life’s great prize might not be so much wrongheaded to her as utterly foreign.

Is it “feminist”? I have to put that word in quotes because I don’t know what that means as an adjective describing a movie. It passes the Bechdel test, women in the movie can be sexual without being slutty, Muriel is overweight without it being the focus of her character or the movie: in other words, women can talk and have bodies on their own terms.

But I loved the last scene in particular, where the girls ride away from their hometown of Porpoise Spit in a taxi, first shouting “goodbye” out the window to the mall, the beach, the plaza, and then just smiling at each other. It reminded me–somewhat randomly–of the end of “Valley Girl,” when Nick Cage and what’s-her-name look at each other and smile as they ride away from the chaos they caused at the Valley High prom. It’s a “yeah, we just did that” look and a little bit of a “you and me against the world look.” For Muriel and Rhonda especially it’s an “I love you, too” look, because the prize for Muriel at the end of “Muriel’s Wedding” is not a husband or a boyfriend, it’s a friend who thinks she’s awesome for no particular reason at all. So much so that she can believe it too, even without a wedding.

Wayback rating: Worth the trip

Leave a comment

Filed under grown up life, homeschooling high school, Movies, raising girls

World Nutella Day, and some projects

Oh my gosh, has it really been more than 2 weeks since my last post? Too many things happening.

Want proof?

Since last posting about Project Based Homeschooling I took some time to make some space for creative activity around the house. I confess, I did not do as much as I’d hoped. I moved some furniture around in the breakfast nook to make the shelves more accessible, and I labeled all the cups holding the pens and pencils and sorted them by type.

These are two of my favorite projects that have appeared since then:

Project Based Learning 2

I came into the kitchen to find Victoria, my youngest, painstakingly painting old seashells with paints she found in the shelves somewhere. To be honest, I don’t know how she found either of them or what made her think of putting the two together, but there it is.

Project Based Learning 2

This is Violet, my older, preparing to sew. She loves the webcomic Homestuck, because she is 1) an aspiring comic artist and 2) a teen. She found the hat-making tutorial, made a list of what she needed, and then dove in. She even made the horns (see below) twice, because she didn’t like the first set. And she did it cheerfully. And all I did was drive to the fabric store because I still don’t really know how to run the sewing machine. I’d venture to say this is the first time she’s used the sewing machine in 2 years, and that was for a pillowcase.

Project Based Learning 2

Every time I say to myself “why is she unmotivated?” I need to look at this picture. (And every time the kids give me crap about taking their pictures, I’m going to say that Lori Pickert said I should — though they won’t believe it because I’ve always taken too many pictures.)

Project Based Learning 2

I’ve also cleared the decks to do Journey North with Victoria, which we’ve never done before. I’m being sensible and letting someone experienced show me the way, following along with Melissa Wiley. This is the kind of project-y stuff that always screams “homeschooling” to me — working together, combining disciplines, posting up cool graphs on the fridge. I have no real educational aim in doing it except increasing my joy in homeschooling by participating rather than directing.

Project Based Learning 2

With joy as our goal, how could we resist World Nutella Day, which is apparently a real thing. (There is Nutella inside those whipped-cream covered crepes.) Appropriately, a friend sent me a message today with this quotation attached:

Life is meant to be a celebration! It shouldn’t be necessary to set aside special times to remind us of this fact. Wise is the person who finds a reason to make every day a special one.

So we make crepes, or hats, or painted shells, and I try to get comfortable with nudging that towards the center of our day instead making it stay on the margins. I’m still adjusting, leaving more of my own work until late at night now, which means it doesn’t get done or it gets done very slowly. Still, I make myself sleep in and whenever possible try not to push us very quickly in there mornings. There are only so many days to take fuzzy good-morning pictures like this:

Project Based Learning 2

4 Comments

Filed under art, Homeschooling, homeschooling high school, raising girls, Unschoolish

New Year’s Learning Notes

And we are back to school, whatever that means right now. (Longer post required)

For Victoria, who is 9, she likes the reliability of subjects that we do regularly. Math, history, and French. But she also likes to make, and do, and sing. I am in love with the Klutz paper dresses kit she got for Christmas — she cracked that thing open and started making the most adorable little outfits you ever saw. After the first one was a little crooked, she had the concept down and there was no stopping her.

Totes Adorbs

Totes Adorbs

It’s so funny, because she also recently started participating in a little engineering club (BEST — Bridging Engineers Science and Teaching — ps can we agree no word-person was consulted in the formation of that acronym?) and she is so intimidated. How can a child who figured out, after about 2 minutes of advice from a Sewing Idiot (i.e., me), how to draw and cut out her own sewing patterns on paper by measuring a doll form and calculating seam allowances, cut out the fabric pieces, and sew them together feel intimidated by a few wheels and a battery-operated motor? And for that matter, why is attaching a motor to some wheels “engineering” while navigating the complexities of constructed clothing is “crafty girl stuff”? (Longer post required)

will sell for 2 dollars (observe the giant Tardis that has come to Hogwarts)

will sell for 2 dollars (observe the giant Tardis that has come to Hogwarts)

Violet, 13, is just drawing and drawing, lots of sketches for a webcomic she is plotting. She has memos on her phone and text files on the computer–the planning, I think, is the best part. Apart from the drawing.

Drawn on the computer/tablet

Drawn on the computer/tablet


She continues to study Chinese and linguistics in a pretty-much self-guided way. She’s staying with her chemistry course and keeps saying she wants take AP Physics next year. (Apparently physics will be “easy” because studying chemistry is so incredibly painful and physics is fun.)

And — knock me over with a feather — she said to me yesterday, “I think I need to start doing some math. I feel lazy not doing any math.” She has not formally “done math” in quite a while. Last year she was taking both physics and chemistry, and that seemed like enough math for any 12yo who doesn’t really love math. This year she was perfunctorily working through some geometry but we abandoned that — the level of perfunct seemed to guarantee that next to nothing was going to be retained anyway. One thing we are learning is that there is a degree of presence required, not only from her, but from me, to make things happen. Oddly, trying to be more unschooly seems to require more presence — of a certain sort — from me rather than less. (Longer post required)

We haven’t yet figured out what “doing math” will be. She wants to review before starting the Thinkwell Precalculus we bought, and maybe in the end we’ll put that aside for something else anyway. In any case the next two months, for her, will be all about Julius Caesar, her first performance in a Shakespeare play, unless you count the staging of parts of Midsummer Night’s Dream we did during her 9th birthday party. And all about drawing.

Experimenting with the new markers

Experimenting with the new markers

Throw in some fencing for Victoria and piano for both girls and lots of reading and trying to get some outdoor time in the winter and we are full-on back to something is that not quite vacation, even if it isn’t really school.

Leave a comment

Filed under art, gifted education, Homeschooling, homeschooling high school, raising girls, Unschoolish

Make-Up Does Not Get You Pregnant

Last weekend we were shopping for Halloween gear, and I picked up some extra mascara for Violet, the 13yo – for Halloween, that is. She has minimal interest in wearing make-up daily.

Victoria, the 9yo, is quite another story. She has been sneaking into make-up and trying to get away with wearing it out of the house for years.

“Do you think I can wear mascara when I’m 13?” she asked as we walked to the Target checkout. This being the 9yo, it was a lengthy conversation full of hypotheticals, so it lasted long enough for everyone in line, and the cashier, to listen in.

As I concluded “13 is a long time from now, it’s hard to predict what we’ll be OK then, so I can’t make any promises” (a key stall tactic), there were some smiles in our general direction, including from what looked like a teen mom with a little baby all covered in fleece in the shopping cart.

Since we made eye contact, and she was looking admiringly at Victoria, I asked her, “What do you think is a good age to start wearing mascara?”

She hemmed and hawed, seeming even younger than I had thought, clearly wanting to say the right thing to an impressionable child—and possibly wanting not to piss off the child’s mom. She decided 14 was about the right age just as the cashier finished ringing her up. That’s when I noticed the teen dad, who was paying. He turned around with a friendly smile, nodded at the fleece bundle, and said wryly:

“Don’t wear any make-up or you’ll end up with a baby.”

It came out funny, and I hope this went down OK with teen mom, because they seemed like nice kids doing the best they could and they sure don’t need trouble. But I wouldn’t blame her if she gave him a little talking to in the car.

I turned on the radio as we started for home and this super annoying song that we all dislike came on (One More Night, Maroon 5)

Try to tell you “no” but my body keeps on telling you “yes”.
Try to tell you to “stop”, but your lipstick got me so out of breath.
I’ll be waking up in the morning, probably hating myself.
And I’ll be waking up, feeling satisfied but guilty as hell.

“What is he saying?” Victoria asked. “He wants her to stop wearing lipstick?”

Maternal lecture launch codes, activated.

Me: You hear in a lot of songs about people who say they can’t control themselves, because the other person is so beautiful or awesome.

I was saying this slowly, editing myself as I went to make it as gender-neutral as possible – yes, men are usually the ones portrayed as uncontrollable beasts, but we didn’t have to go there . . . today.

Her: If anyone ever said that to me, I would just say, “Listen, you are responsible for your own behavior. You have to control yourself.”

Mother panic neutralized. . . . for today.

2 Comments

Filed under raising girls

Not-Back-to-School, Year 7; or, 7 Things We’re Getting Right

After five years of homeschooling, on my old homeschooling blog Red Sea School, I had to admit that I had made mistakes. You know those mistakes that veteran homeschoolers tell you about but you brush them off because, whatever, you’ll figure it out? Yeah, we made them. We made them good.

I made a list, one for newbies to ignore and wizened old experts to laugh at. (Of course laughing openly means you have to own being wizened and old, so laugh at your own peril.) It’s actually a pretty good list — check it out.

I meant to get around to listing 5 good things too, but life happened. As we kick off a seventh year of not going back to school in the fall, though, it seems like a good time to list 7 things I think we’ve done OK with, in no particular order.

1. Staying Close
When we started homeschooling, people who asked why we did it were in for an earful. Luckily someone in our first year modeled for us the brilliantly simple answer, “Because we like it.” And we do. We like being together, especially if being together means bumping into each other between reading books, listening to music, taking an online class, or playing at the park.

I realize now that in another five years Violet will likely be off to college — maybe even sooner. Before that she could be spending a year abroad. Yes, time with your babies is precious. Time with teens may make you question your decision to ever become a parent, but it is equally amazing and irreplaceable. Yes, you can spend time with teens without homeschooling, but doing it this way is still pretty damn cool.

2. Staying Loose
You just don’t know how the day is going to go until you get there. You don’t know if the math curriculum you bought is going to be terrible, or the schedule unworkable, or the book irresistible. I do like making a plan, but I like it because I feel it frees me up. When I see all the little blocks of activity that need to be accomplished, all mapped out, its so much easier for me to move them around in my head or even delete them when needed.

Just this morning I got up early to shepherd the girls through a more structured day of “doing school stuff.” When I came down the stairs ready to start, an eerie sound greeted me, and we spent the next half hour doing this instead:

3. Staying Young
Not me, sadly. But my kids. When my homeschooled niece, now a PhD student, was about the age of Victoria, I remember thinking that she was oddly mature and immature at the same time. Except by immature what I really meant was unsophisticated, in a good way.

As Violet begins the teen years, it makes me happy to see that she’s as good at making up pretend games and playing them as she ever was. Of course sometimes she is too cool for school, and of course she rolls her eyes at my pathetic ignorance about popular culture now and then. But by and large she finds most of pop culture “gross,” she is genuinely puzzled by the clothes sold to her age group, and she has little interest in a “boyfriend,” something kids start in 4th-5th grade around here.

No doubt this puts us in danger of wearing the socially stunted homeschooler label, but as I look at young adults like my niece and nephew, now grown up, witty, and surrounded with friends, I don’t worry.

4.Sticking Our Necks Out
Just making the choice to homeschool sometimes feels like you’ve started waving a big red flag at the Running of the Bulls. Suddenly, everyone has an opinion, and it’s hard to know just how much to share about your own views without alienating people you care about, let alone nosy strangers. Too often people think your enthusiasm for what you’re learning or doing is somehow an implicit critique. We started homeschooling after realizing that our older daughter would need to skip several grades to make traditional school palatable, or even tolerable, for her and that was something she didn’t want to do.

We needed the support of others in the same situation, but there was no way of finding those people if we stayed in our comfort zone. We don’t have to answer nearly as many questions these days, and I’ve learned when to stick to my knitting, but I’ve also tried not to be too shy about our interest homeschooling specifically as an option for profoundly gifted kids. It’s helped me meet a lot of great people and find very cool opportunities, and it’s given me the satisfaction of helping other parents and kids many times over.

5. Sticking With It
“Yes, we’re still homeschooling” is the e-mail user name of someone on a local homeschool list. There are days when I hear that question — “Still homeschooling?” — like someone else might hear, “still married?” Why wouldn’t we be? And there are days when I want to set my children on the curb for the next passing yellow bus. Sticking with it is hard. But it’s the only way to get it done. And though I have blown it and threatened the end of homeschooling a time or two, by and large I think our six-year-and-still-going commitment has made the girls feel more confident about being homeschoolers, too.

6. Playing Hooky
We are really, really good at this. I am a master of “just 15 more minutes” when there’s a juicy conversation happening at the park, assuming “master” means able to stretch 15 minutes into another 60. I love a good play at the Children’s Theatre, or a week’s vacation in the early fall, or a midday concert, or a stay-in-your-pajamas-and-make-cookies day. Homeschooling can be intense, in the way that everything in our house can be intense. Some days you need to show that schedule, and yourself, who’s really in charge.

7. Taking It One Day at a Time
Much as we love homeschooling, we never say never. There’s an arts high school in our area for just 11th and 12th grade — could that be an option for Violet? My girls are so different from each other, and from who they were last year, and last week. Beyond that, education is so different from what it was last year: who knew everyone would be talking Coursera and Udacity just 12 months ago? Where was Khan Academy when we started? We deal with what works now and trust that we can handle tomorrow when it comes.

One day at a time also means that when one day goes bad, homeschooling isn’t a failure. I admit, I could do better. But so far bad days — really, usually a bad couple of hours at most — haven’t scared us totally off. Days will try to run together, but starting fresh when the sun comes up is pretty much a requirement. Today is when we officially celebrated our “first day” of homeschool for the year, which means trying to get up a little earlier and getting some stuff done before meeting friends for an ice cream social/not-back-to-school party. But really, it’s just another day of learning and hanging out with friends — just stickier.

I also found that blogging was thing we did right in the early days, and as I said the other day, I’m hoping it will be a help again. So what surprising serendipity to see the first homeschool high school blog carnival today. It was especially fun to see some familiar names on the roster, from the years when I was so much more active in the homeschool blogging world. I’m hoping for some more good conversations to launch on the next six (or more or fewer) years.

1 Comment

Filed under education, Homeschooling, raising girls

Tales of a Fourth-Grade Compulsive List Maker, Parts One and Two

I used to be a planner.

An only child with a genius complex and a flair for solitude, I spent the time normal children used for things like fun and play filling notebooks with schemes for clubs, small businesses, and theatrical presentations that were fully realized only in my mind. One of my most detailed plans was a step-by-step DIY manual for becoming popular in 8th grade. Only now is the irony of feverishly writing in notebooks as a springboard to the homecoming court clear to me.

Of course the joke was on those fun-havers when my incredible devotion to organizing the future led to academic awards, PhDs, and any number of leadership posts for groups and institutions who seemed to share the secret motto: “Blah Blah Blah, is it time for donuts yet?”

No matter—efficiency and a smug sense of superiority are their own rewards.

Doing it all with my trusty Franklin Planner, 2 coffee mugs, a diet coke, and lots of post-it notes.

I dare say I was at the height of my powers when we decided to homeschool. Leading a large urban parish through a strategic planning process, managing the publication of several reference volumes each year, coordinating multiple subcontractors, and planning fundraisers were all tasks easily managed with a toddler on my knee and a 1st grader off to school. My trusty Franklin Planner and I could do it all.

The year was 2006 when that started to change. “How do you do it all?” people asked. “I don’t,” I would say. “I am dropping balls left and right.” Slowly I extricated myself from my many posts and activities. The homeschool world, naturally, gave me plenty of volunteer and leadership roles to substitute for my former life, but over the years I let those go as well.

This has caused me great consternation over the last several years. “When will I get it together? Where did that planner-toting powerhouse go and when will she come back?” I can only hope, at this point, that she’s gone on to a better place.

The truth is, she wouldn’t help us much now. My girls are 13 and 9, and after almost 7 years of homeschooling I can verify: you can plan your curriculum, but you can’t plan learning, and you really can’t plan life. When children are 7 and 3, every outing to the beach is a grand adventure and every sprinkle of the glitter jar is an expression of creativity. My 13 year old, however, has been doing high school work for almost 4 years now. The fairies she’s been drawing over the last 10 years have evolved: sometimes they are busty creatures with embarrassingly short skirts, other times they look like they’ve just stepped out of a bar brawl.

Just a few years ago I would have been allowed to share a fairy drawing here.

This was not my plan, and increasingly it’s not my life. I can’t organize her into a notebook any more than I could scribble my way to a prom date.

If I hadn’t learned this lesson, our attempts to “start school” this fall really drove it through my head. Violet is on track to take 2 AP exams and possibly a SAT subject test this spring—because she’s done high school work so young I feel we need some external credentials— so we needed to get started early so she’d be ready in May. Victoria has been eagerly anticipating starting an Online G3 class since last spring. But there were the houseguests to play with. And a trip to the state fair. And a lot of Doctor Who to catch up on before the season premiere. And suddenly now there is a Japanese class online. Oh, and someone, maybe several someones, turned out to have whooping cough. By the time we got to that last wrinkle, I was starting to feel a lot less irresponsible for not having the year planned. Having dinner planned was victory enough for one day.

When Homeschooling Was Adorable

As a writer I’ve never planned. When outlines were assigned I did them after the paper was finished, and no teacher was the wiser. (Actually, that was a great learning process for me and I still recommend it.) I think I’ll be approaching the second half of our homeschooling years the same way. We’ll do it, and then I’ll write it down. I’ve been inspired by semi-recent discussion of the dearth of homeschooling-high-school blogs to get back to blogging—it was a great way to connect with kindred spirits in the beginning, and though so much as has changed it may still be a good way to encourage each other to the finish line, whatever that may be.

Because so much has changed, I’m in the process of changing blogs. Which is probably a terrible mistake, but being a “successful” blogger has never been a big goal of mine. Red Sea School was so much about starting the adventure of homeschooling, finding our feet in the PG world, and raising two little girls. I don’t feel I can wrestle it into where we are now. I named the new blog “What Real World?” because it’s a question that has come up regularly in our lives: “What use is art/music/literature in the real world?” “When will you go back to work and join the real world?” “Why do you prefer a god-in-the-clouds to the real world?” and of course “How will your homeschooled children ever adjust to living in the real world?”

The Inescapable Reality of the Now

To that last question: I honestly don’t know. But I’ll try to write bits of it down as we find out.

1 Comment

Filed under education, grown up life, Homeschooling, raising girls