Welcome to the Foxhole

This New York magazine article by Jennifer Senior was making the rounds on Facebook this week.

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If you can’t bring yourself to read all seven pages, which you should, just know that there is interesting stuff about how stressful the teen years can be for parents. Like, how our perception of the difficulties of our children’s adolescence may have more–a lot more–to do with our own stress than it does with whatever they’re going through. And apparently–surprise!–it’s worse for mothers, and really worse for mothers of daughters. I guess mothers and teen daughters fight a lot.

It’s good food for thought for any parent of teens, though especially trenchant for those of us homeschooling high school. Everything seems to matter so much now: this allegedly radical life choice we’ve made, doubted, defended, and doggedly (deludedly?) stuck with is about to stand trial. Did we really ruin our kids’ chance of getting into college? Did we ruin them, period?

I know lots of parents ask themselves these questions, but there’s an extra sense that you’re facing a moment of truth when you’ve made a non-mainstream choice, whatever it might be. That kind of pressure makes it hard to take that necessary step back and let go. (And if you don’t face that kind of self-doubt as a parent, please, keep it to yourself. Or no, maybe bottle it somehow and make millions.)

When my kids were little, I had a particular piece of parenting wisdom I liked to share with stressed out newbies. I got to use it again last weekend when a friend pointed me to a mom who was new to our local gifted group and who needed a sympathetic ear. It didn’t take long for our conversation to cover the “and then the teacher said . . .” and “who ever thought I’d be telling him not to . . .” and “people think I’m pushing but really I’m just trying to keep up” and all the other touchstones.

It would get boring hearing people recount them, they are so familiar, but then you look over and see that a mom or dad you just met has eyes shining with tears and hands reaching for yours while they say “You get it!”

After that moment of connection, I hate to disappoint, but I think I invariably do. I used to share information about this curriculum, that school, this psychologist, that support group, but my heart isn’t in it anymore. Much of the time that stuff, just like 1-2-3 Magic, and time outs, and chore charts, is busywork for parents. Yet it is necessary busywork for many of us. Which is why my best parenting advice has boiled down to this:

Do whatever feels right to you, because, generally speaking, child-rearing methods and philosophies are things that keep parents busy and preoccupied while kids figure things out on their own.

It was true for potty training, it’s been true for homeschooling, and it sure seems to be the key to keeping it together during the teen years. Find a way of parenting you feel good about, for yourself, and let that carry you along and keep you out of the kid’s way. Just like the sugar pill that cures your headache after a few hours of rest, miraculously, much of the time your brilliant parenting will bear fruit right about the time your kid grows out of whatever she’s going through.

Quoting researcher Laurence Steinberg, the New York mag article put it somewhat more pointedly:

“[A]dolescence is especially rough on parents who don’t have an outside interest, whether it’s a job they love or a hobby, to absorb their attention. It’s as if the child, by leaving center stage, redirects the spotlight onto the parent’s own life, exposing what’s fulfilling about it and what is not.”

Ouch! But yes, that too.

My friend (and brilliant advocate for gifted kids and parents) Stacia Taylor said it even more succinctly–and more convivially–when my oldest turned 13 and I was fearing the teen years:

“Welcome to the foxhole. We have wine and chocolate.”

As we navigate my oldest’s last few years of homeschooling–and anticipate my youngest’s arrival as an adolescent–that’s where you’ll find me. Whatever imaginary moments of truth lay out there can pass unnoticed. I’ll keep my head ducked, dodging bullets, keeping busy, covering my eyes when it gets too scary, passing out the libations, in good company. With any luck, whether or not we emerge victorious, we may come out to find young people who were worth not fighting for.

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A Fresh Start

We “started school” this week, which was supposed to mean that we went back to a routine, but as it turned out I had planned a concert, an art museum tour, 2 dentist appointments, and a haircut for this week, in addition to piano lessons, physics one-on-one, the start of play rehearsals for Violet, a teen leadership event, book club, a sleepover, trying to put together the co-op schedule that keeps falling apart, and everyone’s schedule being messed up because the entire state shut down for two days for cold weather.

It might also have helped if I had done some basic things like dug my day planner out of the bag I haven’t opened for 2 weeks and located the next set of math books we were supposed to start. Or, you know, had any sort of plan.

We’ve had a reasonably pleasant week, nevertheless, but it was not the return to routine I was hoping for.

Still, the concert was even better than usual, and the tour was a terrific reintroduction to a modern art museum that may have traumatized Violet as a younger child. (Victoria said, as we drove away, “I think I may need to wait until I’m older to go to that museum again,” but we’ll just forget that part for now. You would never have known it from the way she interacted with the tour guide, in her little-adult way.)

We turned our attention to cleaning for the sleepover while the teen child was at rehearsal. I guess I hadn’t looked in her bedroom for a few days, because this is what I found.

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Irrespective of what photos of my own room might look like were I not expecting a photo session, this set me off on a barrage of angry thoughts, imagining what I would say when she got home, fuming over how I would have to make her clean up in addition to the other tasks she had left until after five hours of rehearsal, aggravated by her inattention to simple things like putting clothes in the laundry basket instead of 3 feet away from the laundry basket, on the floor.

Luckily, though, I couldn’t say any of those things because she wasn’t there. And sure enough, after the adrenaline surge of frustration passed, I felt a lot of sympathy for her. She had several responsibilities to fulfill this week, not much time at home, and it wasn’t about to get better for the next few days. I have been trying a new thing, when feeling like my teen is about to make me insane and say something I regret — I just go over and hug her without saying anything. This works surprisingly well.

So I tried doing the equivalent in her room. It took me about 15 minutes.

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This violates my parenting superego, which tells me that she will never learn to do things for herself if I help her when things are hard. But when I imagine what I would do if I walked into any room — any situation — and found that someone had taken it out of its chaotic state for me specifically so that I wouldn’t have to, I think I would have to sit down and weep with gratitude. I think knowing someone cared enough to notice that I was overwhelmed would change everything, at least for that day.

Maybe it’s not quite the same when you’re 14. But maybe it’s not all that different either.

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(Un)Frozen

If you are on social media at all, you know that the upper midwest is pretty much frozen solid. So, too, is my blogging. Not my writing, thank goodness. A lot of writing has been happening. But I miss blogging.

What finally convicted me (a nice, fancy, moralistic way of saying I checked myself) was a great post by about returning to my roots as a homeschooler. I just spent about 45 minutes trying to find it, so I can’t give proper credit, though I am sure it was either Bravewriter or Project Based Homeschooling.

When I think back on my happiest times as a homeschooler, they are intertwined with blogging. That’s in part because back in the aughts blogging was new and fun and felt a lot looser and a lot less contrived than it does now. It was fun to meet a lot of new people online, many of whom I still connect with via Facebook. It was exciting to be part of new things — homeschooling, social media, even parenting was relatively new then, for me.

But I don’t think that’s all of it. I think blogging helped me bring a level of intention to homeschooling — and to all the good personal and family stuff that sometimes goes along with homeschooling — that made it more immediately meaningful and rewarding.

I hope the blog will be a bit of a daybook, a chance to share more about homeschooling a high schooler, and (she said modestly) a place to pass on some of what we have learned as we head into our 9th year of homeschooling.

And because life is a little different now than it was 8 years ago, I hope it will be a place to talk more about reading and the writing life, and a place where what’s little and hidden, what’s imaginary, what’s pointless or beneath notice in “the real world” will be valued nonetheless.

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Not Too Busy

One of my favorite life mentors, someone I worked with at my first church, told me years ago that she had struck the word “busy” from her vocabulary. She told me, too many people – many of them moms – seemed to be in a misguided competition in which a state of near collapse was a sign of winning.

She was going to abstain, helping to make a space where other women could be OK without proving their worth by the lack of unclaimed territory on the calendar. You can see why I would think of her as a mentor.

What she said really struck me, because I was, at the time, always busy. Always telling people I was busy, tired, “crazy,” and often too busy for whatever fun activity they were proposing. I’d never met a volunteer position I couldn’t fill or a freelance client I couldn’t add to the roster.

I tried to take what she said to heart. I really did. But instead I pretty much rode the roller coaster of energy bursts, depression, burn out, guilt, hyperproductivity, resentment, and “yes, sure, I’ll do it.” The only difference was I tried not to talk about it. This did not help.

Sadly that mentor floated out of my life. She took a new job, I moved and went to a new parish, and life closed over that particular connection. But her words come back to me from time to time. Times when I’m saying “no” to everything that matters to me and “yes” to stuff that no longer fits.

It’s not even that the “yes” stuff is bad. Sometimes I’m slow to let go because for a while it was a source of joy or satisfaction. Sometimes it’s because I feel like I must, because it’s expected, whether by people who will be disappointed in me, or by myself, me with the impossibly high standards for what is enough. It turns out, for some of us, enough is never enough.

But it hasn’t been for nothing. I’ve learned a few tricks along the way, and I’m getting better at pruning to make new and healthy growth possible. My best one, I think, is overschedule the good stuff.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and if you came and looked at my living room you’d know that I do too. Creating space in the calendar is wonderful, but let’s be realistic. If it were so easy for you—you, meaning you who are like me—to keep that space open you wouldn’t be pondering the tyranny of busyness again and again.

Find some new “yeses” to hold that space open. Make them easy, and involve other people, who will hold you to it even if they don’t know they are part of your secret plot to be less crazy. Dessert, wine, coffee, a walk, a tea party, a Wii party. Making apple pie with your kids.

Say you’ll go to a movie even if there’s no time to go. Go for a walk in the woods before you get your work done. You’re hyperresponsible: there’s no way you’re going to miss that deadline, but there’s a good chance you’ll miss a lot of other stuff.

I found my old mentor on Facebook today and refriended her. I don’t know if we’ll reconnect, and it’s OK if we don’t. But if we do, I won’t make lame excuses about being busy.

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More Mapping Books, Plus Cookies

And we’re back. To schoolishness. I like to bring things back into a little order in the fall, though every fall it seems like we are a little too far gone to really achieve anything like order.Besides, when September hit there was a barrage of need-tos: new glasses, yearly check-ups, chimney repair, gov’t homeschool paperwork, allergy doctors, etc. Regular schedule? Ha!

In any case, the geography activities from Mapping the World With Art seem to be a hit so far. Violet — now 14! — is really happy that we are doing something all together again, the readings are interesting, the map-drawing instructions are clear, and Victoria (10) is happy with activities that include baking faux clay tablet maps that are really chocolate cookies.

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Funny thing about the cookies: initially we all thought they tasted kinda blah, but by 9:30 pm they became pretty tasty. I do not think it was the cookies that changed.

Oh, and we usually watch a John Green Crash Course along with the lesson. Violet loves them because John Green is an Internet hero, and Victoria enjoys them, not least because they are probably age-inappropriate for her. Oh well. They race along at breakneck speed, so I’m not sure what they’ll remember other than John Green, but with any luck it reinforces things they already knew.

I’ve also been piling up books to strew around the house to add to our geography reading. Mapping the World really hits on a lot of fascinating topics but the readings are — happily — short. I got these to allow for following up on anything interesting:

Charting the World: Geography and Maps from Cave Paintings to GPS with 21 Activities. Richard Panchyk.

This is a book from Chicago Review Press, which I find to be a fairly reliable source for worthwhile materials. Not all of the activities are going to be worthwhile for every audience, but often the text is strong enough that kids in a variety of ages and interest levels can take something away.

The Kingfisher Atlas of Exploration and Empires. Simon Adams

What you would expect from Kingfisher visually. It’s really focused on the Renaissance era of New World exploration.

The Picture History of Great Explorers. Gillian Clements.

Honestly, not a great book, and a little young. What it’s lacking in text and great illustrations is somewhat counterbalanced by the very broad definition of explorers. If you are looking for women who were explorers, you can find them in here.

The World Made New: Why the Age of Exploration Happened and How it Changed the World. Marc Aronson.

Amazon lists this as ages 10 and up, but as with many good books written for children, as an introduction to the topic it works for older readers and adults too. Nicely done, though focused on the American history angle.

The Starry Messenger: A Book Depicting the Life of a Famous Scientist, Mathematician, Astronomer, Philosopher, Physicist, Galileo Galilei. Peter Sís.

OK, this is not really about mapping, per say, but you know, people navigate by the stars. I am not familiar with Peter Sís (though a quick scan on Amazon suggests that we should look for more), but I just could not resist a beautiful picture book suitable for older children. (They are out there, but it takes a discerning reader, librarian, or bookseller to help you find them.) It is not a biography of Galileo, in the tradition of the wonderful Diane Stanley books, but it is a gorgeous visual representation of the way the world looked to Europeans during the Renaissance. This is really an all-ages book.

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Filed under Books, education, Homeschooling, homeschooling high school

Reading Lists

This is it! High School! When It Counts!

No, I don’t expect big changes in how we do things around here. I am hoping for a few changes in how I do things, however. Namely, documenting what’s going on in a way someone else might understand.

I really want to write a post, with photos, about the amazing and full-to-bursting August we just had (Family, Friends, County Fair, State Fair, Michigan, Chicago) but I’m going to kick off my record keeping instead.

Here are a few reading lists we have created already for this fall for the 9th grader, to be tweaked, pruned, and increased — ideally with a little additional help from friends. Steal if you like, and add if you can!

CLASSIC MANGA from the 1980s
Phoenix (1967-88)
Lone Wolf and Cub (1970-)
Swan (1976-81)
Akira (1980-)
Vampire Hunter D (1983-)
Dragon Ball (1984-)
Robotech (1984-)
Appleseed (1985-)
Oh My Goddess! (1988-)
Ranma ½ (1987-)
Ghost in the Shell (1989-)
CLAMP (1989- )
Sailor Moon (1991-)
Tatsumi Yoshihiro

CLASSIC SCIENCE FICTION
H. G. Wells (The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine)
Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)
Robert Heinlein (The Rolling Stones, Stranger in a Strange Land)
Ursula K Le Guin (The Left Hand of Darkness, A Wizard of Earthsea)
Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash)
Isaac Asmiov (I Robot, Foundation)
Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451, Martian Chronicles)
Frank Herbert (Dune)
Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse Five, Cat’s Cradle)
William Gibson (Neuromancer)
Alfred Bester (The Stars My Destination)

MAPPING/CARTOGRAPHY
These are meant to accompany Mapping the World with Art this year. I doubt we will get to them all, or read the entirety of each book.
Maphead, Ken Jennings
Longitude, Dava Sobel
How to Lie with Maps, Mark Monmonier
Ptolemy’s Geography
On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks, Simon Garfield
The World Through Maps, John Short
Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer, Peter Turchi
You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination, Katherine Harmon
A Little History of the World, Ernst Gombrich
Crash Course/World History, John Green (Web series)

CLASSIC NOVELS BY WOMEN
This one is still very under construction — a good project for the next week will be discussion what this classification could possibly mean.

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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:

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