Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pussycat Parenting

Oh my god, people....enough Tiger Talk already!  The blogosphere simply cannot handle ONE MORE POST about the Tiger Mom (after this one). *I have no idea how long this is going to be....but I do promise to answer some questions posed to me after my last homeschooling hang on to the end - you can do it!*

First of all - sitting over here in my seat, I have a very hard time criticizing a woman for doing things that are seen as "different from the norm."  Because HELLO!!  Look at me.  Yeah.  That's right.  Ain't nothing normal going on over here.  So, the initial holy crapness that has erupted over this family's lifestyle irks me a little...because it is the same knee jerk reaction that I am often victim to....the exact same freaking one....even though Tiger Mom and I are Complete Polar Opposites in Parenting. 

Lots of different parenting styles work and one thing that is often ignored in evaluating them, is cultural influence.  Cultural Influence is Everything in this conversation.  It really is.  

We know a few Tiger Families because Ellie is one of the best young classical pianists in Texas.  Most of the others are Asian, they really are, and it is because it is a cultural thing for the children to be taught how to play an instrument, usually at a very young age.  With enough practice, most people can become good at just about anything (up to a certain point) and so, these kids practice a lot.  Therefore, they become pretty dang good.  Some of them grow to love their instrument, but I imagine that a lot of them don't.  Does that mean they're not happy playing it?  For some, probably.  But for others, their cultural influence dictates that happiness comes from mastering and excelling, and so yeah....they get their cultural version of happiness from the fact that they are able to work very hard to become very, very good at (enter musical instrument of your choice here....and they are branching out into things like electric guitar, too....some of today's best riff shredders are 7-year-old Asian boys studying Slash).  Does it mean they're not happy with their straight A's and their merit scholarships? Who knows?

The kids we know from Tiger Families seem pretty happy.  And intensely loved.  And amazingly loving.  They've been raised....differently....with varying values being placed on "different" things than in our family and many other American families.  But happy?  Well, I haven't seen the suicide rate studies (I'm sure someone is frantically working on that at this very minute)....but I'd bet they're at least as happy as the Average non-Asian American kid who is being enthusiastically cheered into the realm of mediocrity amidst the deafening chanting of "Good Job!!" while being rewarded for basic bodily functions (sticker charts for pooping...dang....i'd like to see a sticker chart for NOT pooping....seems like it would actually require more skill), and receiving trophies for um....showing up. 

If Amy Chua is a tiger....I am more of a Pussycat.  On a good day, anyway.  I don't want to imply that I can't do a pretty good Linda Blair of The Exorcist impersonation, 'cause I can and have, but it's usually unintentional (but seriously - very few people INTEND to be possessed by demons - it's just something that happens to us when we've had very little sleep or too many teenagers or a combination thereof).  Not always steering with an even keel over here, no sirree.  But my "intentional" parenting is more along the lines of Pussycat.

If you want to go with the American cultural quirk of applying labels, I tend to lean towards the Unconditional Parenting model - phrase coined by Alphie Kohn.  But there were many who came before him, saying the same things, and I was doing it (as were other people in my circle) before I'd ever heard of Alphie.  But I like Alphie.  He's a nice Jewish boy and we agree on a good many things. Basically - we don't adhere to excessive rewards or punishments.  Really - we don't believe in punishment AT ALL.  We don't have many rules in our house.  And no, this doesn't mean that people just run around crazy and naked and insane and hysterically writing on the walls with magic markers (not since Joel's last party, anyway). 

How do you get by with no rules?  That is what people want to know.  Well, No Rules doesn't mean Anything Goes.  If a toddler walks out with a bottle of nail polish with the intention of decorating the couch cushions, I would take it away with a "Sorry but no."  Same goes for a LOT of things toddlers and little kids do/did.  Teens?  We don't have curfews.  We don't have rules.  We talk like normal people about when it would be prudent to be home from such and such event (depends on where it is, when it ends, who they're with, and what else is going on in our lives). But there are no hard fast "I have to be home by 11" rules.  Because why would you have to be home by 11 from a concert or party that ends at midnight?  And why would you be home by 11 from a dinner that ended at 8?  It just all depends on the circumstances.  And what we've found is that we know way more about what our kids are doing and with whom because these decisions are made on a case by case basis, rather than with general (and random and arbitrary) rules. 

We don't even have the "you can't do this until you've done that" rule.  It doesn't mean that we don't say to the kids, "Seriously?  You're going to do that now? How do you think that's going to work for you?"  And when Joel says, "I think it's going to work brilliantly,"  we say, "Really?  How did it work for you last time?"  And then he will give a big old grin and make a good or a bad decision.  If this decision is one that we don't agree with and we have made a financial or otherwise investment in its outcome....(like say, paying $150 for an online course with a very specific deadline) then we might say something like, "My life experience tells me that you are going to miss your deadline.  This is fine, your choice and the will owe me $150 when you're done messing up."  That's a natural consequence and we tell him up front, when we register for a class, that if he fails to actually complete it, he's gonna have to pay.  So again - we handle situations like normal people, on a case by case basis, using common sense.  Sometimes the kid pulls off whatever it is he's trying to get away with and then you know, good for him.  Sometimes he doesn't.

Hard and Fast Rules cut down on communication in families.  What's the point in asking if you know the answer is going to be no?  Better to quietly think about ways to get around it, consult friends and enlist the help of side-kicks.....this is a quick path to the "If my mom calls tell her I'm spending the night but I'm in the bathroom...." destination.  Or the "crawling out the window" destination.  Or the "aw heck, I've broken so many rules ('casue there are so may of them) why not a few more?" mentality.  No rules leads you to the, "Hey Mom - can I go here on Saturday?" discussion that involves sharing a lot of information - and I'd really rather have that.  We really don't say no all that often here.  And it means that when we do, they're more likely to accept it.  Even when they're frustrated beyond belief by our over-protective stupidity, they can still understand it when we say, "I know this seems unreasonable to you, and maybe it is.  Maybe I'm being completely unreasonable and if that's the case, man I'm sorry.  But this scares me....or worries me....or sits wrong with me...." etc.  They might think we're stupid, but in the end, they don't want to cause us grief and here's the kicker....since we don't say no very often - they give it to us when we do.  Because we're just silly and stupid after all - the teens cut us some slack.

We often hear about rebellious teens from our friends.  I've only got 3 teens, and one of them is new at it (13), but I haven't witnessed any outright rebellion.  Seriously, as Joel would probably say, "What's there to rebel against?"  It is almost noon and 2 of the 3 teens are asleep.  When they wake up, they can basically do whatever they want.  We will have the Don't you think you should do such and such discussion.  And they will probably do a little bit of said such and such. Such and such is based on what THEY at one time or other, said they thought they should do.  Not that they haven't lived to regret some of it, believe me, they have. 

We do a lot of steering.  A LOT of steering.  And I think that is one of the things people don't get about Unschooling or Unconditional Parenting (these two things don't always go together, btw).  I'm not sitting here, with 2 boys still asleep, planning on ignoring them once they finally get up.  In fact, in a moment I'm going to go in there and attempt to drag them out.  Then we'll talk about what they should do today....Joel is way behind in his geography course we paid for.  I will remind him of that.  When he sits down to get on Facebook I will remind him again.  When he gets out his electric guitar, I will remind him again.  There is a lot of that.  But ultimately?  He's able to say, "Wow, Mom.  Thanks for reminding me about that," and unleashing a wicked grin before cranking up his amp. 

Will he do that?  Maybe.  But maybe not.  He actually does want to finish the course, and he's learning time management through trial and error. 

In the end, I guess Unconditional Parenting is just a passive-aggressive way of mostly getting what you want out of your kids.  Because there is, as I said, a LOT of steering, and a lot of discussion that often doesn't end until someone is doing what I want them to do.  I recognize this.  I won't begin to pretend that my kids are actually able to do WHATEVER they want WHENEVER they want.  But I still pick this way over the Strict Rules way.  In the end, it is more work and more exhausting (even though critics will tell you it is the lazy way to raise kids).  But in the end, it is giving me the relationship I want with my children, and it is giving them the confidence and abilities they'll need to be productive adults.

AND!!  We somehow ended up with a Tiger Cub in our litter ANYWAY!!  How awesome is that?  Here's a video of Ellie unleashing her inner Asian at the piano. (This isn't the same one I posted a month or so ago, btw.  So you can't get out of it by saying you've already seen it).

Scherzo in B-Flat Minor, Op. 31, No. 2 Chopin / Ellen Pavliska from Ellen Pavliska on Vimeo.

OK - now onto the questions posed after my last post.

Heidi asked:
What have you done to create a learning environment in your home?

Answer:  We DO have a ton of books because we read.  But I don't know that we've intentionally done anything.  I'm a curious girl, my husband is a curious guy, and we are always snooping and learning and getting all interested in various things.  I think that's what creates a learning environment.  We also argue a lot - about varying things....and we get all worked up over stuff we read or hear and vent....and that is all GOOD for the learning environment, I think.  At least I'm sticking to that story, anyway.  Now then - do I express interest in and pursue activities in things I'm not actually interested in for the benefit of the kids?  Yeah, I do.  Until I simply can't anymore.  And then I don't.

Heidi also asked:
Are there things that you limit - such as TV or video game time?

Answer:  Ahhh....what a timely question.  We are currently experiencing household stress over this very question (and by "we" I mean "me").  Not television, so much.  But the gaming?  Is making me insane.  We started out as an anti-gaming family - and that was easy when the kids were little.  But then Jules grew a brain tumor that required lots and lots of waiting and sitting and traveling and geeze, let's face it, if you grow a brain tumor you should be rewarded with a Gameboy and so he was.  As was his brother because, well, who wanted to listen to the whining?  See how things go over here?  And the Gameboys really weren't all that bad.  They didn't consume them.  But now that they're older teens?  Lots of gaming going on in the house.  Just my two big boys - Ellie doesn't do it - and the little ones don't, either.  I'd be lying if I said it doesn't bother me, because it does.  But here's the deal:  I get fixated on things and obsessed with things.  I spend way too much time doing stupid things that are meaningless to every other member of my household.  And nobody is exerting their will over my own in regards to this.  And sometimes it means that dinner doesn't get fixed, so I can't even say it doesn't affect anybody but myself.  So even though I whine about it, I'm reluctant to tell them they CAN'T do it.  Especially when, at the end of the day/week/month....they have also done a lot of other things and accomplished all sorts of goals...which always seems to be the case.  Again - there is a lot of discussion - I don't quietly ponder or worry about things - so they know how I feel and they give in to the gentle and not-so-gentle guiding when necessary.  I don't want to say NO, but I'd like to see a little more moderation in our house where gaming is concerned.  Whether or not I'm entitled to it just because I want it is something that I haven't quite figured out yet.

I will say this about completely limiting video games and computer time - I believe this really is the world our kids live in and the one they'll be entering as adults.  This is their generation, it is what they do for entertainment.  Halo is what Joel reads about (there is a big story and book series) and he loves to talk about it and actually incorporates it into normal and relevant topics of conversation whether political, religious, philosophical, etc. Because fiction just mirrors what is going on in our world, and the game of Halo is both a literal and visual work of fiction.  It is also how he is what his friends do and what they talk is what they often do when they're together (play the game) and who's to say or judge that it is worse than what my friends and I spent our time on as teens?  Or what my friends and I spend our time on now?

Heidi also asked:
How do you inspire your children to learn or do you feel it is not your role?

I absolutely feel it is my role to try and inspire my children to want to know things.  I think the only way to avoid it would be to a) ignore the kids and b) never be interested in learning anything, myself.  I can't do either of these things even if I wanted to.  Do I try to force interests on them?  Uhhh....yeah.  Sometimes it works and sometimes they're like, "Wow, Mom. We're thrilled you're so interested in Czech leave us alone."  Other times, we get into this or that and it's a lot of fun. 

Now - to be funny, Ami posed some old and tired homeschooling questions - I'll answer those, too.

What kind of nut homeschools?
Mixed nuts.  The hippie nuts are like the cashews - really yummy but not too many.  The religious nuts are more like the peanuts - mostly what you get.  Then there are a few others sprinkled throughout the can. The one thing we all have in common is that yes, we are nuts.

What about the Prom?
We are lucky in that there is a fantastic Christian Co-op that hosts a simply fantastic homeschool prom for ALL HOMESCHOOLERS, regardless of their religion.  I find this is quite Christ-like of them and I appreciate the heck out of it.  Ellie has gone twice but is not planning on going this year....with piano, the girl spends more than the average amount of time in formal gowns. But here are her prom pics...first time she went with her buddy John and she was 14 (and yes, her hair was blue-ish).  The next pic is last year's prom at the age of 17,with her boyfriend, Cody, who stars regularly on the Shaggy Boys blog :).

What about drugs?  Don't you want your kids to learn how to say no to drugs?
Ha ha!  Often when friends are over visiting and talking about old times, insane stories will come out like, "Hey remember that night we did....." laugh laugh laugh....and then someone inevitably glances at the children and says, "Don't do drugs."  Also?  Someone will usually add, "Wear a condom."  Just because it seems like the thing to say. 

On a more serious note, I will say that I believe most kids try drugs to fulfill a need....a need for a thrill, a need for rebellion, a need for happiness or acceptance.  I can't see my kids needing or wanting to try drugs for these reasons.  I won't dare to say my kids are not curious, or that they will not make mistakes.  But I don't think they're going to fall into drugs as a means to an end or a way to fulfill themselves.  Maybe I'm stupid in my lack of worry in this area...only time will tell.

Okay -well - I think this has all been quite enough for one day, don't you? 

Friday, January 21, 2011

How We Manage Homeschooling in the Can

A friend of mine has asked me to answer some questions about homeschooling - she might share the answers with some attachment-parenting friends. 

First of all, let me just say that when I was considering homeschooling, listening to other parents answer homeschooling questions usually only served to increase my misgivings about the whole thing.  There were very few people out there doing the homeschooling lecture circuit who I could identify with AT ALL.  In fact, a good many of them scared the crap out of me. 

For the most part, they set up what were, for me, very unrealistic expectations.  I don't run my household like a well-oiled machine. We float along in what might be called an incredibly leaky ship. It was unlikely I would be able to set up a "school room" and a "school schedule" and initiate any kind of "discipline"....self or otherwise.  I wasn't going to sew uniforms (long skirts for the girls, tailored shirts for the boys) or bake my own bread.  Well, you probably get my point. 

I also wasn't homeschooling to protect my children from secular society, nor did I hold a very limited worldview that I wished to impose.  I wasn't on a mission for Christ nor did I feel that homeschooling would serve to increase the odds that my family would all be in one place should the Rapture occur. While my reasons for homeschooling have evolved (and continue to evolve) over the years, initially, it was simply a reaction to an unacceptable situation.  My learning disabled son was having a wretched time in school.  I needed to get him out, and so I did.  It had reached the point where it didn't matter what I did, his situation could only improve.

It turned out to be a perfect fit for our family - and we have continued to homeschool all 5 of our children. 

Some people want to know about homeschooling gifted children, or children with special needs, or multiple children at once, or teenagers......and so I guess I am the One Stop Shopping Site. Although I don't presume for one minute that my experiences will necessarily be relevant or meaningful or helpful in any way to anyone - one thing about matter how you begin the journey, it ends up being a very personalized trip in the end.  No two families do it the same way - at least not for the long haul, anyway.  You can force yourself to do anything for a year or two, and that is what a lot of people do in regards to homeschooling.  But if you're going to stick it out, it becomes a lifestyle that is as natural as getting dressed in the morning (if, in fact, you do get dressed in the morning and I've learned that not everyone does). 

So, I have homeschooled what might be described as an incredibly gifted child.  I am homeschooling what would be described as a learning disabled child.  I also have an Asperger's child, a pretty Run of the Mill Child (because I deserved one), and a Quirky As Hell Child whose multiple issues are still in the percolating process.....very exciting.  And homeschooling works for all of them, but it is homeschooling done Our Way, which might not be Your Way. Your Way might be a perfect fit between your own natural leanings and the way your kids operate, or it might not be.  The fact is, no matter what people tell you, it doesn't work for everyone because some people are just not comfortable with it.  You won't really know if you're one of those people until you try it.

I am currently homeschooling an 18-year-old who will be starting college in the fall.  So YES I have experience educating and preparing a child for college.  I'm also homeschooling a 1st-grader.  And there are the three in between....and they are all very different from each other, as are their educational journeys.

Now for the Questions:

1. How do you change hats as Mom/Teacher and how does this work with your kids (if that is clear at all.)?

Ummm...well, I try not to wear hats around my kids.  I just am what I am.  I have heard of a family where the mom "becomes Teacher" and the children are required to treat her as they would a school teacher when it is School Time.  That kind of creeps me out a bit, to tell you the truth.  But I guarantee you that if I were to get to know this family - that would probably be the least of the creepout factors.  Anyone who is going to don a school marm outfit and have her children call her Teacher is also sure to break out the baby whip on occasion.  Just sayin'.

We don't have School Time or Time for Learning any more than we have a Time to Be Human or a Time to Love or a Breathing Time.  Learning is a natural human condition, you can't avoid it, and you can probably see where this is headed as we tend to lean towards Unschooling.  The older kids do structured learning because they want or need to, and it doesn't involve me putting on a hat or them treating me any differently.  The younger kids do very little structured learning, so they are unaware of my role as teacher, for the most part.  And I'm not talking about babies - Jasper is technically a 1st-grader and has recently expressed an interest in reading - so we're working on that when it suits us.  Camille is a 3rd-grader, and she is doing math and she reads a lot.  She doesn't HAVE to do the math, but I think she senses that it makes me happy when she does, so for a few minutes a couple of times a week, we get out her book and do some problems.  She's currently learning to tell time and she's actually pretty thrilled about that.  But I don't switch hats to do math with her, anymore than I switch hats when I'm making lunch or doing clothes or driving the is just another thing we do.

2. How do you homeschool your older kids with babies/toddlers underfoot?

My older kids are pretty much in charge of their own educations.  But still, there were always times (and still are) when they needed my assistance or help or attention and the little kids were just being Major Inconveniences.  You just juggle it like you juggle anything else.  Women are good at multi-tasking and prioritizing, for the most part.   

I think that the more structure you are trying to impose, the more difficult and frustrating your task in regards to babies and little ones.  If you go with the flow, and are able to take a more relaxed approach, trusting that the world will not come to an end if a youngster doesn't do A, B, or C on a certain day or within a specific time frame...your time will be easier.  Seriously, if you take 6 weeks to just be All Schoolish....and you set aside 6 weeks for your alternate selves in the alternate universe to basically just sleep in....I hate to tell you that you're going to end up in about the same place, educationally speaking.  OK - sure, maybe at the end of six weeks one kid will know how to say the word "photosynthesis" and their alternate self won't have a clue as to how to say "photosynthesis." But 10 years down the road?  They're both going to get into college. And one of them will be significantly less traumatized than the other :).

3. What books did you read to help prepare you?

I read a bunch of books I shouldn't have.  Books that tell you what to do and how to do it are to be avoided, I think.  Books that talk about the way human beings learn, the history of compulsory attendance, the workings of the public school system, how people used to learn versus how we learn today.....books about successful people who were self-educated....those are the sorts of topics that are relevant to your decision.  There are lots of books out there about what's wrong with schools (I have my own opinions about this)...eventually you just have to decide to try and do what's right for your own family.  Seriously, I'm not a big believer in Expert Opinions so....

4. Do you combine any subjects for kids of different ages? If so, how well does this work?

Basically, if you're going to follow a curriculum, it is the same dang thing year after year after year and quite easy to combine it all...not a big deal.  Or you could skip it entirely and just go to the park or the library or a museum.  Also - when you're worried about who is getting left out of what, it helps to remember that no college (if that is your destination) gives a rat's ass about what you did in 3rd grade.  And in Texas, there is no Homeschool Police giving a rat's ass, either.  So basically, you don't need to do anything in order to check something off of a need to learn about things that interest you, when they interest you, and in ways that give you joy.  Teaching a 2nd grader American history is fun to do if they want to do is miserable and pointless if they don't.

5. Curriculum: My questions are what did you consider? What one(s) do you select and why? What one(s) did you rejected and why?

I don't believe in purchasing boxed curriculum or bundles because it is everything you hate about school conveniently packed in a box and nothing more.  That said, we use a few things that work for us.

I like Critical Thinking Math when the kids are little, and I like Teaching Textbooks beginning in 5th grade. BTW - my kids have all been able to skip 6th grade math entirely - it is just more fifth grade math or early 7th grade math - why pay for it?  Go straight to 7th.  Ellie has done Teaching Textbooks all the way through Pre-Calculus. 

For Reading, we tried Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons but really, I'd rather have my fingernails ripped out with a pair of rusty pliers.  I much prefer Phonics Pathways if you're going to use something like will teach them to decode words.  What teaches actual reading, however, is being read to.  At least that is how it worked for us.

For American History I like the series, A Story of Us by Joy Hakim.  Ellie began taking college US History in 9th grade through community college, and she was cracking up because it was A Story of Us only more boring :).  World History....I love A Story of the World (Bauer).  I used this series with older kids in a co-op - and they got WAY more out of it than when I've done it with younger kids, even though it is definitely written for the younger kids....they really don't get it in the same way....but that doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile to share it if they're interested.

I also like Easy Grammar and The Great Books Foundation.  There.  That's about it.  Oh! And we rent and purchase series from The Teaching Company...and yes, we actually listed these courses on Ellie's high school transcript, as do many homeschoolers.  Astronomy, History of Tudors and Stuarts, Greek Mythology.....just to name a few.

6. How do you schedule your day for those of you with a curriculum? What about all the other things that come up during the's appointments, grocery shopping, etc? Do you plan one day a week for these or do them as you have time?

I have made schedule after schedule after schedule....and they all get shot to hell within a couple of days by unexpected events or Life In General and that is just how it is.  Somehow, my kids seem to know all the things they need to know when they need to know them.  And then some.

7. How many days a week do you participate in homeschool co-ops and/or homeschool park days? Do you find these very beneficial?

These were very important to me in the beginning.  After awhile, as the kids got older, their activities took over and my youngest have not have much participation in co-ops or homeschool groups the way their older siblings did.  They have grown up at Odyssey of the Mind meetings, Readers' Theater rehearsals, piano recitals, and Tae Kwon Do tournaments.  And they don't seem to have suffered for the lack of organized art activities.  I think those things were mainly for me, you know?  Not that that makes them unimportant.  As the kids get older, you find you simply can't fit it all in, and park day gets replaced by team meetings and lessons....when things become unbalanced, you generally know it and then it's a matter of deciding what to cut back on.
8. How many extracurricular activities does your children do per week? (Scouts, karate, gymnastics, dance, etc)

This totally depends on the kid.  I have one NON-JOINER...God Love Him.....but the rest have at least one activity each.  I don't consider them to be extracurricular activities anymore than my own interests and activities are considered extracurricular. These are just parts of their lives that offer unique educational experiences.  I think the number of activities depends on the child and the family.  Some of my kids have craved lots of activities and social interactions, and a couple haven't.  When life becomes stressed, you know it.  When a kid becomes stressed, you know it. 

My life, at the moment, is completely overwhelming.  I have two kids who are very intensely involved in time-consuming activities, and combined with the other two who manage to exercise a bit of moderation in their goings on, but who have things going on, nonetheless, it is a lot for one mom. But the first one will be moving out in a matter of months and I see the light at the end of the tunnel.  And it devastates me.  So yeah. Keep on keepin' on.  Also - as long as Jasper remains devoted to anti-socialism (and I'm not talking Tea Party - I'm talking total anti-social behavior), there is hope that I will not get completely overloaded to the point that I just used up my last minute in my last day. The minute he becomes interested in something, however, I'm done for. 

9. Where do you find "me" time for yourself or get other adult interaction?

Ha!  My idea of Me Time, much like my idea of homeschooling, has significantly evolved over the years.  For one thing, I don't crave it as much as I used to.  Probably because the co-sleeping has mostly ended and the breastfeeding definitely has, and the kids themselves, now that they're older, are actually pretty dang good company.  I do, however, get the occasional wild hair and you can read the previous blog post to see how well that works out for me :).

OK - off to jump back into the fray....

Sunday, January 16, 2011

You Can Run But You Can't Hide

In the middle of all of the birthday partying...

Camille's Sleepover was on a Friday Night:

And then, because I am insane, Jules' Halo Sleepover was the Next Night...(this is right before all the boys surprised him by breaking into "I Sent a Bottle of Sparkling Apple Juice to Your House" from the Worst SNL Skit Ever...instead of the traditional "Happy Birthday." Jasper, of course, is center stage, and yes, he sang the stupid song, too.  There is a line in the song that goes, "Did you get it?" and that was Jasper's role. The look on Jules' face (he's in the monster t-shirt) says he is suspicious that something is up. 

It is a tradition on our house that the birthday presents (from family) be unwrapped in what used to be the Family Bed but is now blissfully not the Family Bed at whatever ungodly hour Jeff's schedule dictates.  On Jules' birthday, Jeff had to be out of the house around 7:00 is Jules with his Ipod.

And here is what Joel looked like at that time of the morning :).

We have also been anniversary-ing.TWENTY-FIVE YEARS!! The Big One.  Camille took this picture on our anniversary (wearing the hats Ellie made us, of course) and at the last minute, Jasper stuck a nerf gun barrell under Jeff's nose, and oddly it was me that winced.  Because it is apparently illegal for anyone to take a decent picture of me, that's why.

Jeff spent our anniversary working, and I spent it parenting and then taking Camille to ballet.  After ballet, we met at our favorite Thai restaurant (with Camille) for dinner.  I didn't boo-hoo about it because we had a little getaway planned.  Not a Big Getaway, mind you.  We were invited on a Big Getaway with some dear friends who were celebrating their 20th anniversary - a cruise. 

But we:
a) Are afraid to get too far away
b) Don't have enough time to get too far away
c) Don't have the money to get too far away....too much going on and too many travel expenses associated with Ellie's string of auditions coming up soon.

No Problem.  That's what being married and making a family is all about right? 

I agonized online for weeks over where we would go for a quick getaway.  Where we live, we are less than two hours away from the Texas Hill Country, a lovely and peaceful place that plays host to a ridiculous number of cottages, bed and breakfast inns, etc.  We had our choice of river fronts, lake fronts, tip tops of hills, name it.  When I say I agonized, I mean I really agonized.  Did we want to go romantic and frilly nestled in the heart of a little hilltop village?  Or did we want to go for cozy and private in the middle of the woods?

In the end we went for cozy and private. I don't know. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that we seem to live in Grand Central Station.  Also, we've had a couple of awkward bed and breakfast stays that I won't bore you with here.

So.  We picked a cedar cottage in the woods.  We were charmed from the moment we opened the door.  The owners had built it themselves and left a little scrapbook documenting the entire process, which we found very interesting. We really appreciated all of the details and craftsmanship of the cabin after looking at the scrapbook. Also? There was a hot tub on the covered porch.

There were two other cabins on the property and they both had hot tubs but neither of them were covered.  It rained the entire time we were there and I kept thinking about how jealous the other cabin guests must have been over my ability to think ahead and go with the covered porch with the hot tub.  Yay for me! This was the morning view from my hot tub.

It was foggy and drizzling that first night in the hot tub.  We were surrounded by woods and hills.  The fog rolled in like waves on a beach, swirling around the trees and crawling up our deck. The rain pattered on the tin roof.  The fog and mist were literally glowing, emanating a mother-of-pearl sheen illuminated by the light of the thought I was going to say moon, didn't you?  That would have been lovely.  But it wasn't a moon.  It was the most gigantic lit-up cross I have ever seen in my life.  A hilltop church set that thing alight every evening, and let me tell you, you couldn't avoid staring at it.  It was really something.  I wondered if it was placed there for any sinning that might be taking place in any hot tubs in the general vicinity...

There was a cozy fireplace and it was fireplace weather...ours was blazing the entire time we were in the cabin, which unfortunately, wasn't as often as we would have liked, but I'll get to that in a minute...

The other neat-o thing about the cabin was the shower.  It wasn't an outdoor shower, you got to it by going through the adorable little bathroom, but it FELT like an outdoor shower.  It was shaped like a round, wooden cistern, and indeed, you could see it from the outside...the little scrapbook said creative carpentry had attached it....and the roof was glass.  When you looked up, sky, trees, rain, and on the morning I took this picture, ice!  I got to watch it melt as the steamy shower warmed the glass.

The website described the cabin as "Blissfully Isolated!"  But it was not quite isolated enough.  While our cell phones didn't work well enough from the cabin for us to actually have phone conversations with anyone...they did work well eough to ring.  And ring they did (and really - a big shout-out thank you to all of you who called). The only way any actual communication could take place was with a short climb up a hill.  In the rain.  Which we did. Repeatedly.

The first round of calling had to do with details involving the whereabouts of the two youngest kids and how to get them from point A to point B as there had been some confusion and Ellie had been left with Jasper who had refused to go to point A and now Ellie was trying to leave the house to get to her Point A and obviously couldn't leave him alone and the two middle boys were at a separate Point A and....yeah....several hikes up the hill later, it was resolved and she drove him to his Point A where he should have gone in the first place and then headed towards her Point A.

Jeff and I then headed out to a very late lunch or early dinner, depending on how you looked at it, and while we were enjoying said late lunch or early dinner, Jeff's phone rang. 

"It's Ellie," he said.

Ellie really only ever calls Jeff if she's trying to avoid speaking to me.  And the only reason she ever tries to avoid speaking to me is if she has something to say that she thinks might make me go a little nutters.  So when I heard Jeff say, "Are you hurt?"  I WENT A LITTLE NUTTERS.

She had come upon a freeway accident as it was happening, during rush hour, in the rain, and in her attempt to avoid smashing into the screeching car in front of her, she had smashed into the divider.  And pretty good, too, because the car didn't drive.  I mentioned it was raining, right?  And that it was rush hour?  And that she was on a crowded freeway?  Just sitting there waiting for someone else to smash into her?  Holy cow.  I was a mess.

We got into our car and began what would normally be an hour-long journey to get to her.  In the rain and during rush hour, it was more than an hour.  AND I WAS NUTTERS THE ENTIRE TIME. She kept us updated on the phone...the police are here but they're up in the main accident...okay, now they're here...they won't let me call a tow truck because they need one of their contracted towers to clear the scene...traffic is backed up....there are firetrucks, ambulances, flares....BIG MESS.

Me:  Do you even have a jacket?  (She never has a jacket.)

Ellie:  I'm fine.  (That means, "No, I don't have a jacket but I'll never admit it.")

We arrived at the scene, which WAS quite alarming as it was a pretty horrific wreck, but the police officer had told Ellie that miraculously, he didn't think anyone up ahead had been critically injured.  We had to pass the whole thing going in the opposite direction, exit, and then hit her side of the freeway.  Let me tell you, driving past a big accident, knowing that your kid is in it, even if you're talking to her on the phone at the time and know she's a traumatic experience.  We pulled in just as they were letting traffic begin to go by, and just as Ellie's car was hoisted up on a tow truck.  We have AAA, but the police officer wouldn't let Ellie call them.  He told her they needed to clear the scene pronto - and a contracted tow truck came and got her for a negotiated contract highway robbery rate of $120.  We followed. He drove her and her banged up car to a negotiated contract body shop which turned out to be closed and locked up....and dumped her and her banged up car ON THE STREET. Sheesh.  AAA came shortly after and towed the car to our house, another hour away....where everyone was surprised to see us and was all like, "Hey! What are you guys doing back from your vacation?" 

The car, which is my sister's car, by the way, and NOT Ellie's, is one that Ellie was borrowing with the intention to buy.  It is totalled. Also?  Only carried liability insurance.  So?  We now have to pay to fix the car.  But I'm going to tell Ellie not to pay whatever my sister is asking because the freaking car has been in an accident and has depreciated greatly in value...I'll let you know how that goes.

Several hours later, because we aren't quitters, that's why, we drove back to our cabin in the woods and soaked in the hot tub beneath the neon cross. The two little people were safely tucked in bed at my agitated sister's.  Ellie was home with her two brothers, with friends and family checking in.

The next morning, we slept in.  Traumatic events like vacations can zap all your energy, you know.  When we woke up, Jeff fixed me coffee and a bagel with lox and cream cheese.  Then he started the hot tub for me (he's not a big hot tub fan, himself) and even wired up a sound system so that I could listen to some relaxing John Frusciante on the deck while I soaked.  He wandered off to play his guitar and I sat in the mist and listened to John croon over the rain....I almost let myself relax and that was a huge mistake.

After a few minutes Jeff walked out wearing The Look.

"What is it?" I said.

"Well, I just took a little hike up the hill..."

"Who called?" I asked.

"Your sister," he said.

This could only be bad.  She was still a little pissy over Ellie totalling her car so she wasn't calling to wish us a happy anniversary, of that I was pretty dang sure.

"Well,"  he said.  "She said she's headed to the house to pick up Joel and take him to the emergency room."

That's right, folks.  This was a completely separate emergency from the previous night's catastrophe involving, unbelievably enough, a completely different teenager in an unrelated incident. 

Turns out, after Jeff called Ellie for the details, we learned it wasn't Joel but Jules.  My sister believed it was Joel right up until the moment Jules actually got in her car.  Believe me, if I could go back in time and give them different names, I would.  This isn't the first time we have thought the wrong brother was involved in some emergency because when you're hysterical, "Joel's been hurt!" and "Jules' been hurt!" sound pretty much the same.

The entire story is still dribbling out in spurts, but basically, according to The Joels, it is something like this.

It was 3:00 A.M. and the boys were still awake because the parents were gone and the little people were at Auntie's and Ellie was in the garage apartment recovering from the wreck trauma that had taken place merely hours before.  Joel threw a dirty sock at Jules' face.  Jules responded by "doing a Matrix move" on Joel.  Joel responded to the Matrix Move by saying that was the lamest Matrix move he had ever seen in his entire life.  He retrieved his long, black Morpheus coat that he had, by luck, purchased earlier that day at a Goodwill Store, in order to demonstrate a much more impressive Matrix move.  He demonstrated the much more impressive Matrix move.  Everyone in the room (Joel and Jules and possibly Ranger the dog) agreed that this was a much more impressive Matrix move or series of Matrix moves.  In fact, Jules said, "Dude, I think I broke my finger when I hit the wall."  Then they went to bed.
The End.

No, not the end.  The next afternoon, Ellie dragged the boys out of bed because well, it was afternoon and such as she was, she was the adult on the scene.  She saw Jules' finger and it looked incredibly broken.  Both boys, being male and sharing the irritating male quality of downplaying Basically Everything, agreed the finger was merely dislocated.  Ellie, however, was unconvinced due to the "extreme angle, swelling, and discoloration" of the appendage.  She googled "dislocated fingers."  She called her boyfriend who is a soccer player and is always dislocating something or other.  She came to the general conclusion that the finger was not dislocated and was indeed broken and phoned her aunt who says Ellie then told her that Joel (not Jules) had broken his finger.  Then my sister (not wanting to call me because we've already established the fact that I am pretty much the last person anyone wants to talk to in an emergency) called Jeff, who hiked up the hill, and then back down and over to the hot tub wearing The Look.

Over the next several hours, we hiked the hill a few more times to talk about where insurance cards could be found, to talk to the hospital admitting office about what our address is (that's right - he didn't know - and he's 13...note to self....) and social security numbers and birth dates, etc.

Then there were calls where my sister complained about how long she was spending in the ER with my one kid the very day after my other kid totalled her car.  She's sensitive. 

Then there were calls about the results of the X-Ray and the fact that the finger is very impressively broken beneath the growth plate and will need surgery and pins, etc.

The only thing left that could possibly have made the time anymore romantic than it already had been, was the ensuing discussion over what the hell our insurance would cover (90% after the we're out $2,000 right off the bat and did I mention the wreck from the night before??) and then the next morning we got up and drove home because the getaway was freaking finally over.  Now?  I need a vacation.  Also?  We could have taken a very lovely cruise (or two) for what this getaway will end up "costing" us in the long run.

You know, when the kids were little it was very hard for us to "get away" and we rarely accomplished it.  The fact that we believed in extended breastfeeding and co-sleeping and that we had five kids (I have spent almost 10 years of my life breastfeeding) meant that it wasn't practical for us to get away for more than an afternoon or so for a very, very long time.  Now that our youngest is six years old, and our oldest is eighteen years old, and thank god nobody is breastfeeding (for several years now, in case you're wondering) you would think it would be easier.  But it isn't.  The teenagers are wonderfully independent and definitely less needy.  But they manage Bigger Trouble.  They don't mean to.  There have been lots of sincere apologies and they genuinely feel badly about the way our getaway turned out.  But still.  They're not breastfeeding - but can they really be left alone?  I'm still thinking about it...right now, I'm thinking NO.

I used to hear people say they wouldn't find peace until the grave (hey, we're Jewish and perky that way).  And I would think, "Well, that is a dang depressing thing to say....I will never grow old and say that."  Well, on December 15 I grew old. And then today, as we drove home from our getaway, I found myself thinking that the only time I'll ever catch a break is when I'm dead. 

I know how awful this sounds, but after a getaway like I've just had?  It gives me something to look forward to.

Okay - Dudes - don't take me too seriously - I don't and that, my friends, is the only reason I'm not currently residing in a psyche ward.  We don't need any suicide hotline intervention here.  A Real Vacation, however, would be lovely. See if you can arrange that. In the meantime, here's a little Frusciante to relax you.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Go Ahead...Try and Make Some Sense of This

I realize I was supposed to have wrapped up 2010 before 2011 but I pretty much fail to roll that way.  I'm going to do a little Wrap-Up and Best Of and Worst Of 2010 right now - on the first day of 2011 because really, I'm not one to sweat the details.  I am One Who Sweats The Big Picture....and I do so regularly.  We all have our little roles to play...

So, in no particular order and with more than a little mayhem, I shall attempt to wrap up 2010 - all neat and tidy like. Although you and I both know right here and now that it will be neither neat nor tidy-like.  So go ahead, try and make some sense of it.  Ready, set, go!!

**Best Google Search of 2010 That Landed a Poor Confused Soul on my Blog**
College of Santa Claus and Sardines Dancers 

If you are reading this and you are the person who googled the above search....oh my god....please contact me.  I don't know why, really.  I guess I just want to know what is going on in your life that would cause you to have the need to consult the googles about sardine dancers and santa clause colleges.

Most people, by the way, land on this blog looking for information about whether or not they can feed sardines to their babies.  Seriously.  Most People.  That is what Most People want to know and then they end up here.

My MOST Visited Posts found via the googles are:
Sardine Mama: The Illustrated Edition
According to my Big Ass Utensil Drawer
Stream of Consciousness...Hair...Roosters...Etc
Peace, Rocks, and Tequila

Now these aren't my best posts, but for some reason, people end up on them the most.  It all seems rather random to me.  And I'm pretty sure that the words "Big" and "Ass" on one of them are what is creating the draw...somewhat disturbing.

People also occasionally end up on my blog when consulting the googles about the Red Hot Chili Peppers and that tickles me no end.  I could basically answer ANY QUESTIONS you might have about the Red Hot Chili Peppers...but so far...nobody has asked.  Feel free.  I will amaze you with my endless and entirely useless Red Hot Chili Peppers trivia.  Seriously.  Prepare for Amazement.  Anyway, RHCP fans who end up here seem to be looking for this picture in the google image searches:

This picture appeared on my post The Kiss That Started The Whole Catastrophe. The post has nothing to do with the picture, by the way, which is Anthony Kiedis (RHCP) kissing Eddie Veder (Pearl Jam).  I can just see all the confused little faces going, "Huh?" when they end up on my mommy blog or whatever the heck kind of a blog this is while looking for this particular photo.

Oh! And if you were to click on the above post, you would also see that I was given the One Lovely Blogger Award by Ami. I briefly acknowledged it but never displayed it in all its loveliness...
Nor did I do what I was supposed to do and pass this award on to 15 newly discovered bloggers.  I haven't had the time to go about discovering new bloggers, lately, although I do really love it when I happen upon a blog I've never visited, before.  So here's where YOU come in.  Let me know of a blogger you love (who is not already on my blog roll) and why you love them.  I'll pick 15 (if you guys don't cough up 15 I'll go out and find some myself SO THERE) and then I'll feature them here.  Maybe in my next post....or maybe in the Wrap-Up for 2011.  Who knows?  See?  It's exciting.

Let's move on, shall we?

I guess, when I sat down to write this post, I intended to state what my happiest or most thrilling moments were of 2010...what my most miserable were...but I can see, now that I'm sitting here, that this isn't possible.  2010 was so full of both that I wouldn't know where to begin.  I took Ellie's and Joel's Odyssey team to the World Tournament in Michigan.  This was both thrilling and miserable.  Ellie won the Wysong Joplin Piano Competition.  This was thrilling.  But really, no more so than any other of a million things.  Any mom knows that watching a kid win something big....and watching a kid quietly overcome something that is both somehow minuscule and insurmountable (like watching your Asperger's kid crack a joke...or pick up on sarcasm without taking it personally....or be especially kind and understanding to a younger sibling) are both thrilling - and there is no scale of 1 - 10 by which you can measure.  That is where the word "immeasurable" comes in, I guess.  So much of what makes me laugh or cry is immeasurable in its strength or importance.  Life as a parent is a string of immeasurably thrilling, happy, funny, painful, and miserable moments.  And the moments, of course, add up to days, and weeks, and months, and years....and then we like to tidy them all up and stick them in a book of photos, or a computer file, or on a blog...and say, "There you go.  2010 all wrapped up."  And then you face the next moment.

2011 will see The Can losing its first sardine.  We're not sure where she'll be swimming off to...but swimming off she will definitely be doing.  This will change who I am in some way.  I've been the Mother of Young Children, the Mother of Teenagers, and the Mother of Both Simultaneously (seriously making me the Mother of all Mothers because you haven't lived until you've had a 16-year-old and a 4-year-old under the same roof).  But I've never been the Mother of a College Student...the mother of a Young Woman.  And if I'm the Mother of a Young Woman...I have definitely crossed out of Young Womanhood, myself.  Maybe its time for me to read Traveling With Pomegranates again? 

I'm really happy to be facing 2011.  It sure beats the alternative, as they say.  I'm hoping to not only finish the revisions on my novel, but to also have a path to publication established.  I'm hoping to finish the first draft of the second manuscript I've started, and maybe even start a third.  2011 is my shot at fiction....2012 might be my return to non-fiction.  We'll see.  Whatever it holds, as my kids get older I have more time to write, that's for sure. Also?  Depending on when they finish the album they're working on, I see a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert in 2011....possibly 2012, though.

OK - Moving onto The More Concrete:

Best Book I read in 2010:  Ugh.  This should be easy and most years it would be.  But I spent the year reading Contemporary Romance and more YA than usual...because that is what my current projects are.  And even though I enjoyed the Contemporary Romance (I like Susan Elizabeth Philips)....I wouldn't give any of it a literary prize.  I guess that leaves YA - where there is some truly good writing going on...and I'd have to give it to Suzanne Collins for The Hunger Games

I just finished reading Diana Gabaldon's Dragonfly in Amber and Voyager, which was no small feat given that the latter was over 1,000 pages and I am a busy girl.  These are favorites of my friend over at 9 Texans (in fact, they are her copies).  I loved them fiercely when I wasn't being insanely irritated.  Editing people?  How many times can one say a sentence was uttered "dryly" on one page?  Also - the dirty sex occasionally got to me.  I don't mean nasty sex...I'm talking you've been riding on a horse through the Scottish Highlands for weeks through rain/sleet/snow while half-starved/frozen and covered in body lice (yes - BODY LICE) and blood and the occasional bout of vomit with what I'm assuming is also poor dental hygiene and then yeah....anyone in the mood for a roll in the burs with a gigantic red-headed Viking?  Well, yes, actually - and quite a bit of it, too.  And let's not forget the indelicate mention of body odor while we're at it....also body hair.  So lovely, awesome, amazing books with just a tad too much information thrown in for good measure.

On my nightstand for 2011, I'm drooling to get started on Clown Girl by Monica Drake (given to me by a dear friend who has a knack for giving me perfect books) and The Elephant Vanishes, a collection of Haruki Murakami's short stories (given to me by Jeff). 

Worst Book I Couldn't Finish in 2010:
Flirt by Laurel K. Hamilton.  I made it as far as page 43.  Ummm...Ms. Hamilton?  Guys don't wear muscle shirts and running shorts anymore.  At least they shouldn't.  Even shapeshifters.  This book was the Official End of Sardine Mama's Vampire Porn Phase.  Thank you very much.

Most Disappointing TV of 2010:

Most Disappointing Announcement of 2010:
John Frusciante left the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  Actually he did it in 2009 but I didn't find out about it until 2010.  I'm over it, now.  It wasn't like nobody saw it coming.  And aren't I lucky that this was the most disappointing announcement I suffered?  Seriously.  Think about it.  And yes, Frusciante's leaving RHCP ranked as more disappointing than Rick Perry winning the governor's race because....yeah...there was no race and I'm So Used To It By Now. Better to focus on musical funk than political funk.

Best Movie of 2010:
I saw a lot of movies.  And I'm sure one of them was better than the others....but honestly...nothing is jumping out at me.  You might want to help me out on this one.

Here's a good one....The Best Holiday Card Received by the Sardines in 2010:
This card came from my college dorm buddy, Sharon.  She and her husband, Adam, are trapped in the snow globe and those are their children gleefully enjoying the scene.  Adam is a photographer / artist and you can see more of his work here.

So 2011 has not let me even take the slightest little breather.  I've got not one BUT TWO sleepovers going down at my house next weekend as Jules turns 13 with a HALO party and Camille turns 9 with an Everyday Normal Girly Sleepover.  And of course, we're celebrating 25 years of marriage on Tuesday.  And by celebrating, I mean that Jeff will be at work and I will be at Camille's ballet studio for several hours.  But we do have a little getaway planned for later.  And by getaway, I'm talking wine, hot tub, and a stack of books....Jeff being there is a Total Bonus of course!!

OK - so don't forget to send me your One Lovely Blog Award nominees.

Happy New Year to You and Yours!