Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas is In The Bag (Again)

Christmas was in the house.  It was also in the bag (again).  That's right.  I won't tell you what my favorite gift was, but I will totally tell you about my favorite gift bag, provided once again, by my sister.
I have to be honest.  It was a little bit of a letdown.  It was not as revealing impressive as last year's bag.  But really, the waistband had nowhere to go but up after last year.  Lower was not an option.  I don't actually get anything from the Abercrombie store, my sister just goes in and requests a bag.  It takes so little to make me happy nowadays.

Moving along to more wholesome holiday fare....Ellie spent the day before Christmas doing this:

Making hats.  The hat-making resulted in this photo taken on Christmas Eve:

Jasper is holding a stuffed animal.  I can't tell which one it is.  Also?  I took six pictures and Jasper looked the most normal in this one.  Anyway - the stuffed animal is either Tiger-y or Little Green Bear.  His newest stuffed animal is called Snakey.  Joel commented on his lack of imagination in the naming department....Joel...the former owner of a gerbil named Blackie and a gerbil named Whitey.  Anyway, we have two Little Green Bears in our home - one is Jules's - and Jasper (also known as Jules's shadow) named his teddy Little Green Bear, too.  Even though he isn't green.  Anyway, Ellie made Little Green Bear an awesome yellow Jamaican hat - and Jasper  rejected it because it wasn't a beret', which was apparently what Little Green Bear had his heart set on.  So I was a little concerned that Jasper (who as you can see, is also not wearing a beret') might likewise reject his Christmas present from his sister - but he didn't.  Joel has convinced him that the pom poms (which Joel insists on calling balls) can be used as weapons if the need arises.  He briefly lost a ball while doing some kind of martial arts demonstration with his knitted cap - and I will leave the visual imagery of that thrilling display up to your imagination.

Christmas Eve found Jeff serving up our usual South Texas holiday fare of tamales, chili, Mexican rice, and guacamole.  I was feeling a bit under the weather (thanks for the cold, Jules!) and appreciated the fact that I have a cooking husband.  After all that cooking and eating, the Boy and His Dog took a little ho ho ho laydown during the cleanup. Right there on the floor.
The kids were all set to rip into the gifts - but there was a bit of important business to take care of first.  I believe I mentioned before that I got a new tattoo on my birthday (this is a result of a very persistent mid-life crisis that I have also mentioned before).  My dad had refused to look at it, saying that he needed fortification first (alcohol).  Seeing as how sooner or later I was going to be forced into a short sleeved shirt in his presence, I decided the time had come, and he was thus properly fortified.  Then he looked at my arm through squinted eyes, commented on the SIZE OF THE THING (the tattoo, that is, not my arm, which is actually fairly proportional to the rest of me), and said, "Wear it in good health."  Even though it is now official that I cannot be buried in an Orthodox Jewish Cemetery.  Well, actually, that was official after the first tattoo.  But now it is for sure - I couldn't sneak this one past a rabbi.  But seeing as how this entire scene of the Revelation of the Tattoo took place in front of a Hanukkah Bush known in some circles as a Freaking Christmas Tree - is this really an issue?  Anyway, now that the Old Man has officially seen it, I can share it.  So here it is.....
That is my professional tattoo artist, Rick, sticking his tongue out behind me.  It was really, really late.  He spent a lot of time designing the thing - which was lovely because yeah, I wanted him to.  So much time, in fact, that Ellie had time to wander off and do this:
She got her ear pierced.  Because really, it is terribly boring to watch someone get a tattoo.  I mean, I guess if they're carrying on and getting all hysterical it would be entertaining, but I'm not one to do that.  Because I'm Awesome.  Rick the Tattoo Artist is Kari's friend from Jr. High - so she went with us.  This picture was taken before she became massively bored.  Unlike Ellie, Kari's boredom did not result in a piercing.  She just got on Facebook.

Back to Christmas.  I woke up with a fever and a sore throat and the kids woke up to find their stockings (each one made lovingly by their Great Aunt Flo) full of goodies.  It was chocolate for breakfast, and four trays of cheese and spinach enchiladas for lunch.  I had a lovely day, even though I didn't feel good, just watching everyone play with their new things and enjoy being together.  The Christmas music was blaring, the dog was running from the remote control truck Santa brought Jasper, the boys were shooting aliens, Camille was playing with her doll....there were pieces of wrapping paper, puzzles, and matchbox racing cars all over the floor.  People brought me Earl Gray tea in a pretty mug and said they hoped I'd feel better soon.  I fell asleep listening to Bing Crosby hanging in there, but still being overpowered by Jeff singing to David Bowie while the family played Rock Band.  All in all, it couldn't have been any better.  I think having a cold and feeling slow gave me the opportunity to sit back and absorb and appreciate the scene, rather than running around and missing so much. Not that I'd want to be sick again next year.  Just saying, it wasn't all bad. 

I love Christmas.  I love the lights, the preparations, the food, and the family.  We don't keep Christ in Christmas the way some people do, and maybe that bothers the said some people.  I don't know how to feel about that, exactly.  I mean, I get their point - it is a religious holiday.  So I can see how if you're a devout Christian, you would want to make the holiday about Jesus and you would remind yourself to Keep Christ in Christmas.  But as to what other people, those of us who are not religious, want to do in our own homes with our own families to celebrate our childhood/hearth/home traditions.....which for my family includes a tree, gifts, music and food....why would you care?  Why would you get angry?  Would you like to come sneaking in like the Grinch (a popular Christmas story that has no mention of keeping Christ in Christmas when it extols the virtues and meaning of the spirit of Christmas) and take away my Christmas tree?  What does a Christmas tree have to do with Jesus anyway?  For that matter, what do lights, gifts, tamales, and overspending at Target have to do with Jesus?  Keep Christ in Christmas!! the bumper stickers parked outside of Wal-Mart say.  Now I'm assuming that Christians already do this.  So the bumper stickers must be directed at the Rest of Us.  Those of us who might just be trying to use the holiday (since it is a time that schools/colleges/universities and all government offices and most retail establishments and all banks and office buildings are closed) as an opportunity to spend time with our families cooking and eating, dancing and singing, giving and receiving....sitting around a very lit-up tree that never appeared in Bethlehem...listening to music about a walking/talking snowman...and yes about Jesus, too....passing around babies from young arms to old....and passing down stories...

To those who are upset that we dare to do this - what else would you have us do?  And if we tell you Happy Holidays because we might not know you well enough to know what holiday it is you're celebrating this time of year (maybe you're Jewish) - do you choose to be outraged that we didn't say Merry Christmas?  I am often confused by the anger that seeps out over things such as this....during the time of year when people are meant to celebrate the hope of an everlasting and joyful peace.

Would you believe that when I set out to blog - I had no intention of mentioning any of this?  But I have.  So I'll leave off with a few more pictures of us enjoying a holiday that we call Christmas.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the Sardine Family (which apparently includes at least one current Buddhist) to Yours!! 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Endless Shock and Awe

I'd like to start out by saying that the holidays have snuck up on me....but I'm pretty sure I said that last year.  It is amazing how many times in a row I can be amazed by the same things.  Don't we all do that and isn't it pretty stupid?  Or is it ingenious?  Maybe it's ingenious.  It is God's or the Universe's or the Spaghetti Monster's way of keeping us amused.  Otherwise we'd be endlessly bored.  So...every summer we proclaim that we can't believe it's this hot....then the first cool front blows in and we all run outside like idiots..."wow! nobody expected this!".....then someone has a birthday and we say, "I can't believe another year has gone by!"  We are continually amazed that our kids get bigger, we get older, the weather gets hotter or colder, and December rolls around and Oh My God Christmas Came With It.  Who saw it coming?  Seriously, how could you predict something like that?

So yes, here I am (again) with a week before Christmas and presents still to buy, and if I need to mail you something you can totally forget it.  You're getting it late.  And even though I do it that way every single year, it will still surprise you because apparently, we are just wired for continual shock and awe. 

Speaking of shock and awe, I just had a birthday.  I know!  Amazing!  It was a great day doing basically pretty much what we do every year....and I'll blog about it like it has Never Happened Before!  Eventually you people are going to stop reading.  Wait a minute, no you won't.  We've already established that this is how it works....continual surprise and amazement.

Every year I force the kids to get a Santa picture on my birthday.  I won't tell you how we see the same Santa every year and how he cracks up at us or how he creeps Ellie out or any of that - because I'm pretty dang sure I said it last year. Here's this year's photo.
Joel asked for a Barbie and I think it would be awesome if he got one.  Jasper just said, "Bring me a surprise." Ellie refused to talk to Santa, Camille gave him her letter like she does every year, and I'm not sure what was going on with Jules but I did crack up when Santa's assistant pried his hands out of his pockets and forced him to place them in his lap.  It reminded me of that one year that he played basketball when he was six.  His coach eventually duct-taped his pockets shut....she was tired of watching the basketballs bounce off of his forehead as he stood with his hands in his pockets.  I don't really produce jocks over here.  Anyway - I have veered off topic.  Joel wore his Christmas uniform of a Guns'n Roses t-shirt and backwards baseball cap, Ellie put on a festive scarf even though it was 70 outside, Camille just looked freaking cute like she always does (our little fashion plate who enjoys an endless supply of hand-me-downs from a couple of girly families), and Jasper (who is doing his "Here's Johnny" Jack Nicholson face) and Jules are both sporting shirts buttoned All The Way To The Top.  Jules wears his shirts that way because it seems to be one of those Unofficial Asperger's Traits.  Jasper does it because

a) Jules does it
b) He's just quirky as hell

When I suggested he might want a little breathing room at the collar, he unbuttoned all of his buttons, pulled the neckline down as low as possible, and shrieked, "You want me to look like this?  Is this what you want?  You want me to show my CHEST??"

Of course, Jasper reacts strongly to suggestions, in general.  I recently offered him a meatball in an Indian buffet line - it was an innocent slip - I had briefly forgotten that Jules had watched Food Inc and gloriously shared all the details with Jasper, thereby turning him into an overnight committed vegetarian.  So I'm holding out the meatball on a serving spoon and Jasper yells, "Are you trying to kill me?" 

"," I said.  "Just offering a meatball...."

He and Camille went and got their hair cut for the Santa picture.  Jasper is a cutter.  Seriously.  We don't know where he keeps his scissors, but he's constantly cutting on his hair.  It's a problem.  Anyway - we needed to even things up a bit so he reluctantly climbed in the chair and said to the stylist, "Do a better job this time.  Last time the hair cut only lasted two hours."  Two hours.  Before he was "forced" to take matters into his own hands and cut his bangs. 

He looks good in the Santa pic.  Like a little angel. 

I told Ellie that if she ends up at a Texas university, she can come home next year on my birthday for the Santa picture.  And she said, "I signed an 18-year contract with you people.  I'm done."  Hmph.

After the Santa photo, we headed over to Mi Tiera where I enjoyed some delicious enchiladas verdes.  Last year Jeff made them for me, but this year I had plans for the evening that involved a birthday trip to a tattoo parlor, where I met up again with my friend, Rick.  Maybe I'll post a pic, later.  My dad hasn't seen the tattoo yet and I'd hate for him to see it first on the blog that he says he doesn't read.

Ellie gave me a beautiful teapot, Jeff got me another Haruki Murakami book (he is my All Time Favorite Author), Camille made me a necklace, Jasper made me a snowflake ornament out of popsicle sticks that is also the Red Hot Chili Peppers emblem, and the Joels-Boys (Joel and Jules) got me a Frusciante CD that I may or may not like (haven't listened to it, yet) because even though I am a loyal fan - sometimes Frusciante does Weird Artistically Expressive Sh*t that I, with my suffocatingly small mind, fail to fully appreciate.  I also got Chili Peppers Live From Slane Castle...because nothing says, "Happy Birthday Mom!" like a parental advisory for explicit content. 

I'm feeling very blessed this Christmas (Yes!  I said "Blessed" even though I don't usually use that term..).  My family is together.  Ellie is still with us - even if she comes home for Christmas every year after - it won't be the same as her being "with us" as in still at this stage of her life where this is her with all of us.  My dad is doing amazingly well after being So Basically Crippled and Decrepit last year at this time...where he sat in his wheelchair holding his tequila shot glass up and saying, "God Bless Us, Every One!!"  There is no little crutch without an owner hanging by the door - the old guy is up and running around - doesn't use the cane even because, quite frankly, one of my kids always accidentally kicks it out from under him and we decided it was a hindrance. 

Nobody in our family is ill.  Jeff has a job.  We have a roof over our heads.  We are all under it - a snapshot in time - this last year of our intact little family before these kids start taking off to live their lives outside of the sardine can.  So it feels especially warm and sweet, this surprise Christmas that snuck up on me. 

In case the Chili Peppers video above wasn't quite your cup of tea....I'll leave you with this kid....rocking the piano.  I have to admit, my heart actually hurts when I watch it.  I am continually amazed by this aching heart...the endless love I feel for my kids...catches me off guard and steals my breath at the darnedest times...

Merry Christmas to you - and may you continue to be endlessly amazed by the sweet repetition of your own life's little surprises.

Etude in C Minor, Op. 39, No. 1 - Rachmaninoff /  on Vimeo.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Because It Wouldn't Be Christmas Without the Ghost of Bob Marley

We've ushered in the Christmas season with a little Scrooge.  I love to read A Christmas Carol out loud and the children suffer through it quite nicely.  The little ones like it the best.  Anyway, we rented the movie, the one where Scrooge is played by George C. Scott (my favorite Scrooge). Jasper was a little nervous, worried he'd be scared by the ghost business and lose face in front of the big brothers.  So when the first chain rattling apparition appeared, Jasper peeked out from behind a sofa cushion and proclaimed, "That's the ghost of Bob Marley!" Everyone laughed, of course, and Jasper really hates it when that happens. But I made them all stop and said, "No, mon. That be the ghost of Jacob Marley." But he was close.

Sometimes Jasper isn't close with his proclamations. Sometimes he is Right On.  Are you sensing another Christmas tale coming up?  Because you'd be right.  Let's see...

Once Upon a Time - as in just a couple of days ago, the Sardines accompanied the Daddy Sardine to Corpus Christi, where he would be working for a few days.  They do this fairly regularly, and always stay in the same place  - a place with an indoor pool that is Very Important to the Little Fishies- and a free happy hour that is Very Important to Sardine Mama.

Now, one morning Sardine Mama was walking to the indoor pool when she was accosted by a lovely woman. "Excuse me," said the lovely woman.  "Is that your family in there?" she asked, while pointing at the pool area on the other side of the glass partition.

Sardine Mama glanced nervously behind the lovely woman.  It was quite noisy in the pool.  A long-haired boy was dunking a much smaller boy under the water - and the smaller boy wasn't going under without a good fight. There was a lot of splashing and shouting and hair pulling....and some of what might be considered "minor" cursing. There was also a bald man swimming with two smaller children clinging to his back, both wearing goggles, one with a snorkel, and both screaming hysterically - one because he was slightly terrified of getting splashed and the other because she is just made that way.  It sounded as if there were at least 100 people in the pool.

After a moment of hesitation, Sardine Mama went ahead and claimed her family.  Somebody had to, after all, and she swallowed in nervous anticipation of what was to come next.  Would it be a complaint about language? Volume? Long hair? Would it be the ever so tiresome Why Aren't They In School question?

It was none of those things.  The lovely woman started with, "Don't be alarmed..." 

Now when Sardine Mama hears this, she generally becomes alarmed.  Was there a herd of sardine-eating piranhas in the pool?  Had the woman accidentally spilled a vat of acid?  Let loose a great white shark?

"Don't be alarmed," she repeated. "But my husband is in the pool's bathroom putting on a Santa suit."

Sardine Mama wasn't anticipating that.  Not at all.  She didn't know whether or not she should be alarmed, and she didn't know what to say.

"The children are welcome to say hello, of course," the lovely woman said.  "But please, they mustn't sit on his lap."

Sardine Mama was quite certain that there was no way in hell that the little sardines would be sitting on the Bathroom Santa's lap. 

"Because they're wet, you see," said the woman. "We wouldn't want them staining Santa's lap. We're late for a party."

Sardine Mama assured her there would be no wet lap sitting and the woman seemed relieved to hear it.  Then she looked down, noticed Sardine Mama's bare feet and said, "Oh my!  What a beautiful tattoo!"  Because it is, that's why.  And then she proceeded to talk about all of her tattoos, because apparently, beneath the Reindeer sweatshirt, Mrs. Claus was quite inked up.  Eventually she stopped the tattoo talk and yelled, "Oh! Here he comes! Here comes Santa!"

Sardine Mama turned to see a very rumpled and sweaty Santa emerge from the pool's tiny (and steamy) bathroom. Silence descended upon the pool area.  The formerly noisy little girl sardine blew water out of her snorkel and lifted up her mask, completely speechless. 

"Ho ho ho!" said the Bathroom Santa, waving to the Swimming Sardines. 

None of them waved back.  It was so quiet, you could hear the water dripping off of the long-haired boy's...long hair. Finally, the six-year-old sardine - the one who goes by the name of Jasper - said, "Wow.  This is weird."  And then they all stared as the Bathroom Santa unceremoniously dodged puddles on his way out the door.

The End.

See what I mean? Jasper was right on the money with that one.  It was weird.

Would you like to hear another little hotel tale?  You would?  Well, you're in luck because I have one.

At the Entirely Free Happy Hour, we are in the habit of downing massive quantities of popcorn and goldfish while drinking sodas, Shirley Temples, and the occasional glass of merlot or even a tequila sunrise.  And I had just ordered Camille's second round of Shirley Temples (with extra cherries), when the bartender accidentally spilled the bottle of cherry syrup stuff and it literally shot out towards me like we were meant for each other.  It hit my hair, dribbled down my glasses rather pathetically, and then did a slow-mo splash and splatter down my Brand New Favorite Chocolate Brown Blouse.  Everyone at the bar was stunned and speechless in the exact same way you would be stunned and speechless if you were innocently entertaining yourself with a dip in the pool and a gigantic Real Life Santa were to emerge from the bathroom. 

"Oops!" said the bartender.  Oops?  Are you kidding me?  But you know what?  I am a really, really nice person.  I assured her it was okay.  I understood it was an accident.  I delivered the Shirley Temple to Camille - who took one look at me and went back to her popcorn like so what?  you want to stun me you've got to find a santa suit...seriously... And then I went and changed and thew my blouse in a sink of cold water.  The boys, being boys, didn't notice that I a) had arrived at the table with bright red syrup dripping down my face and hair, or that b) I had returned to the table a few moments later with wet hair and different clothes.  They didn't know what happened until they heard me telling their dad about it after we picked him up to take him to dinner.

"When did that happen?" they wanted to know.  Whatever.  They listened to the story as I recounted it and when I got to the "oops" part....Joel said, "Well, if that had been me spilling something like that I wouldn't have just said oops.  I would have done the honorable thing..."

Oh boy, I it comes...

"I would have pulled out my samurai sword and stabbed myself in the scro...wait a minute..."

"Sternum!" yelled Jeff. 

"Yeah," Joel laughed.  "I didn't think scrotum sounded right..."

So there you have it.  Just another blog post about Bob Marley's ghost, bathroom Santas, spewing syrup, and scrotum stabbings.  More holiday stories to come! We're just getting started over here...oh! And my birthday is on Wednesday.  I bought myself a present.  It's finally out and just in time for the holidays!  The new Red Hot Chili Peppers book! Woot!  Because what would the holidays be without a coffee table book with naked Flea pictures? Life is good.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

We'd Like That With a Side of Geography and a Textbook Garnish, Please

Education.  It has been on my mind, lately.  I won't lie, going through the college application process has been tiresome and difficult - although I can see how so much of it will be easier for me the next time around - now that I have templates for transcripts worked out, and I know what goes into an academic portfolio, etc.  It will also be easier the next time around because I probably won't have another kid applying to music school, which has meant double the work (although Ellie and her piano teacher took care of the music resumes, etc....but we also had to send in copies of publicity pieces, recital and festival programs, etc, not to mention the pre-screening cd's).

So what does it mean to be educated?  It seems that it means you get a little piece of paper claiming that you're educated, despite the fact that it is well known that schools are spitting out illiterate kids at alarming rates.  They are also graduating completely literate kids, too, so don't think I'm totally trashing schools - I'm just pointing out that graduating from an accredited high school, in and of itself, isn't necessarily a huge academic accomplishment for most of us. 

One of the highly esteemed music schools where Ellie has applied, only asks for a high school transcript - not even an SAT score - for consideration.  Of course, there are also auditions and music resumes etc...but basically - if you graduated from an accredited high school that is all they need as academic proof that you're good to go, so to speak, for college life.'re homeschooled.  Now I don't agree with this, but I kind of get it, because, you know, I put her transcript together, and I'm her mommy, so technically I could have lied about all of it because well....hmmm....still thinking about why I would want to say she could read and write if she couldn't...but anyway. 

If you're homeschooled, in addition to the highly suspicious homeschool transcript, this music school requires you to take an SAT test.  Even though the other kids don't have to take one.  And that's okay, too.  Really.  Taking the SAT is no big deal and most schools require that or the ACT for admittance.  So - homeschoolers have to take the it....did it....scored well.  But then?  They also have to take two SAT II Subject tests.  Just the homeschoolers.  Nobody else even had to take the SAT.  So...did it...smoked it, in fact, with a nearly perfect score on Literature and super-dee-duperty high on the US History. But that wasn't enough, either.  Even though scoring really high should have proven that she could read and write at least as well as the schooled kids.  ACADEMIC PORTFOLIO, folks.  Torturesome, burdensome piece of business, unless you have been compiling one all along - something organized people do, I'm told - it is a big old pain in the rear.  Every course in every subject, complete with textbook titles, authors, publishers, and editions, DESCRIPTIONS of the course, what was covered, when, where, and by whom.  Four years of this.  And let's face it, with the exception of her community college courses she's been taking since the 8th grade - everything was done rather unconventionally - but had to be fit within conventional parameters in order to be considered credible or legitimate.

Ellie is mostly self, community, and family educated, in that order.  When you throw it all together, she ends up with more than enough credits, and way more "courses" than the average high school graduate.  But how do you say a kid "took" British Literature from this date to this date (and please keep it within one year or semester) when she has devoured British literature since 6th grade?  If you didn't actually say, "Today we're starting British literature, and we will finish British literature in 9 months," then did you actually take British literature?  And what about the textbook?  What if you didn't use a textbook?  Well, you could say that you didn't use a textbook - and up the suspicious nature of your portfolio by a bazillion percent...or you can order an Honors British Literature Textbook for a Lot of Money and you can give it to your kid and she can flip through it casually and say, "I've read most of these in their entirety, is it necessary for me to read the excerpts out of this book?"  That's right.  Small excerpts. 

The amount of actual literature in the literature book is minuscule in comparison to the amount of Total Bullshit in the literature book.  "Before You Read..." blabbedy blab..."Pre-Reading Ideas..." blabbedy blab... "Integrating Language Skills...including word analysis, spelling strategy, and a grammar lesson...let's talk about compound predicates here..and Style" blabbedy blag..."Writing Application, Extension Activities, Listening and Speaking..." AND "Analysis of a Literary Theme." NO WONDER KIDS HATE TO READ.

At the time I threw the textbook at Ellie, she was reading four books for pleasure. One was a George Eliot book, "George Eliot is SO FREAKING AMAZING, Mom!!" and a Kurt Vonnegut book, "Oh my god, mom, he is such a fabulous writer!" Anthony of the Oxford Classics...and a tattered and worn copy of Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer - she has read it countless times. On her nightstand rests Oscar Wilde and Sylvia Plath.  But, she didn't do any of the "work" mentioned in the textbook.  The only work she did was to absorb, enjoy, love, and assimilate the words into her soul.  But still, we chose a specific year, put it on a transcript and gave her a grade, as if British and American Literature were items on a to-do list instead of part of a rich and colorful life. 

She did memorize a bunch of terms, such as alliteration and personification, to spit out on her SAT Subject Test, and it took minimal time and effort but time and effort all the same, and she resented it.  It was time she could have been using to read a good book. 

Civics?  When did she take civics, they wanted to know.  Well, in 8th grade she formed her first humanitarian organization, appearing on television, organizing demonstrations, giving interviews to newspapers, and raising money to buy solar stoves and send medical aid to refugee camps in Chad. 

Later, she merged the organization into the first homeschooled STAND chapter in the US.  She marched in Washington, assisted in the Tents of Hope demonstration at the National Mall, lobbied legislators, and more.  She recently voted for the first time, and she volunteered for Obama's Campaign.  But when did she take Civics?  That is what they want to know.  And what textbook did she use and what were her scores?  Luckily, she has taken US Government and US History at the community college.  Luckily, we just so happen to have a Civics textbook on our coffee table, called Activists and Rebels.

I guess the frustrating thing is that the bigger part of my kids' educations, their lives and their interests, will always be just a mention here and there on the back burner of institutionalized education.  The very small percentage of their educations that involve textbooks and chapter summaries, will always have to be in the forefront, even though they are the least effective tools to administer and measure what constitutes an education, at least as it pertains to attaining a secondary education, and Ellie intends to earn a doctorate.

This brings me to Joel and his geography class. He might want to attend college in a couple of years, so we're trying to conventionalize his education. He's taking a distance learning geography class.  Geography should come easy to him.  He's an incredibly curious kid, and he loves reading non-fiction, particularly in relation to cultures and history.  He likes the textbook, and was quite happy to take it to his room and read it on his own the very day it came in. But then the Actual School Work started.  As in, read this, answer these questions (most of which are not answered in the reading assignment) and most importantly...draw and color pictures.  That's right.  He's 16, a head taller than me, and he's being required to draw and color pictures of things like boots, hats, and raincoats (what would you wear in a climate where it rains? draw and color a picture!).  There is lots of copying out of the book, lots of tracing pictures out of the book, and well, you get the idea.  Finding answers in the book is sometimes confusing because his teacher will often come close, but not quite hit the mark, to asking things in the same language as they're described in the book.  For example, she will often use words interchangeably, that are not really meant to be interchangeable.  Like, maybe they both start with the same letter or something, or they sound similar, but they're not the same. 

"Draw pictures of the Earth's Systems found on Page 141."  When you go to page 141, it says, "The Earths Structures." Structures? Systems? Are they the same?  Are we to assume they are the same?  And Joel's answer to everything is, "Why can't I just google it?"  Because Joel is a modern kid and when he wants to know something quickly, he googles it.  It makes sense.  That is the world he lives in.  Flipping through textbook pages to look up ambivalent words seems time-consuming and silly.  Of course, there are always those who argue that you need to be able to look things up!  But mostly?  People use the Internet to do it.  Why on earth wouldn't they? "Looking up things" is no longer a life skill.  Finding information IS a life skill, and today's kids know how to do it better than my generation did.  Hell, there's an app for that, right?

Luckily for Joel, he is extremely artistic and nothing makes him happier than drawing and coloring, even though drawing and coloring were Alarming Areas of Deficit according to his pre-school and kindergarten teachers.  Alarming!  In fact, I'm quite certain I should still be hysterical about it.  I have to keep an eye on him, (no - Joel - please don't say that desert attire consists of a speedo in your back pocket in case you happen upon an oasis - she wants you to draw a picture of a hat and you know it.) I have to explain directions and instructions to him because he has severe language processing issues (how many questions did she ask here, Joel?  Two?  How many did you answer?  One?  Do you see a problem with that? No? The other answer is obvious and you say you shouldn't have to write it down?  But you do.  Because you're not really learning geography, dude, you're learning how to follow instructions....).

Mostly?  This work is way beneath him.  It's way beneath what he normally does on his own regarding finding information about things that interest him.  He is finding it silly, for the most part.  And we're paying big bucks in order for him to do it, so that I can someday put it in a stinking academic opposed to admitting he's learned geography from his humanitarian work with his sister, his own reading (Joel never reads history or other works of non-fiction without looking at a globe - he just naturally wants to know where places are), and quite frankly, watching television.  You want to know about the earth's structures in relation to coal and diamonds?  Joel is a freaking expert and it is because he was completely enamoured with the Americus Diamond infomercial when he was 7.  The kid knows his diamonds, how they were formed, and how they're rated.  He has soaked up a lot of other mindless, yet interesting, information from similar sources.  He's learned very little from textbooks, and his current actual use of a textbook has done nothing to change that.

Now last week, I had become very stressed out from the college application process (UT Austin said they didn't get our transcript and we had to overnight one to them and overnight other things to other schools), and the boys were sleeping until noon and playing video games until 2:00 a.m....I was feeling as if I had failed my children.  I wasn't providing the education that they needed to jump through the college hoops - and here they were sleeping until noon and refusing to do the very few academic tasks I had suddenly asked of them.  I lost it.  I yelled.  And I threatened them with SCHOOL.  Camille started crying, Joel ignored me because I've done this before, Jules pulled the big Backfire Plug by saying he'd always wanted to ride in a school bus, and Jasper screamed, "What?  You want to send me to school?  But I'm not EDUCATED!!"  That was my point, but he was missing it. 

I calmed down.  Honestly, what were the odds I was even going to be awake when that school bus came by?  The mere thought of getting them ready for school was enough to put everything in perspective.  We'll jump through the hoops.  We'll look up words in the book, even though we could find them faster, and with better explanations and possibly videos, on the Internet.  I'll try to fit in interests on a transcript within a specific semester, and label them as courses.  The boys are getting up earlier, we've made a schedule, they're currently sticking close to it...and you know why?  Not because they think it is enhancing their educations, but because they think it is making my life easier and relieving some of my anxiety.  Because they're sweet boys, that's why.

The two little ones are doing whatever they want - I refuse to make them do otherwise because, so far, no college has asked for a first grade transcript. 

At this moment, I have a 16-year-old who is building an impressive pirate/whaling ship out of Popsicle sticks.  This is for Odyssey of the Mind, and their skit is based on Moby Dick, so he's read Moby Dick and watched an old movie from Netflix.  He can now say dick without laughing, but he still can't keep a straight face.  He's probably on hour four with the ship building.  I have a 12-year-old making a seagull...started with a dirty sock and some plastic grocery bags and I didn't think it was going to amount to anything but guess what?  I think once he gets the feathers on, it is going to be a rocking awesome seagull...something else to do with Odyssey.  I have an 8-year-old who just made a patchwork coat using scraps of fabric, and then she and her little brother finished working on a log cabin they began making several months ago.  Ellie, as she so often is these days, is out and about doing her own thing. In between all of this, there is guitar playing, menu-making (Camille is into playing restaurant), clothes folding, Dickens reading (we're reading A Christmas Carol out loud because I freaking love to do that), recipe searches (Joel's making vegetarian lasagna while I'm at ballet tonight with Camille), script-writing (more Odyssey), video watching, and yes, alien-shooting via the XBox.  There have been religious discussions this morning, and philosophical discussions, as well.  There has been a lot of joking and at the moment, someone is singing while someone else laughs hysterically.  And I just heard a bad word. 

All in all?  It's education.  That's what we're serving up over here.  And the textbooks?  Not even a side dish.  More like a useless garnish to make us look better. Because making us look better is what it's all about, folks.