Monday, November 23, 2009

The Dark Side of Me

So, I put that post up yesterday, about reward and punishment, because it's something I really need to work on. With all the stress of moving, unpacking, moving to a new town, and feeling quite isolated (something is happening with my planets right now, my new astrologist told me, that is associated with "incarceration."* I had to really laugh about that one!) . . . [what just happened to my sentence?] . . . I've had a short temper some days (aahh. . . and my astrologist also told me it's time to get back into kickboxing!!) . . . and my first response, when I'm tense, is to immediately look for some sort of threat or punishment - not the typical things like "time-out," spanking, or taking away priviledges, but things like, "If you don't stop fighting over that, I'm going to take it away," or when I'm really out to lunch I say really crazy things, like I did this morning, such as, "If you're going to argue with each other, I might as well send you to school - that's why people send their kids to school - because they argue with each other and the parents don't want them around!"

Uhhh. . . yes, I really said that. And it didn't faze them because they've heard it before. Luckily they don't believe me that I'll do it. (And don't you love how I set school up as a punishment? So healthy.) Of course, there are many, many people who send their kids to school for that exact reason (many of them are my friends, and they have told me as much). But I am not proud of these moments. *Sigh*

Unschooling IS dreamy. Oh yes, it is! But parenting isn't always. And two boys fighting over which side of the window is going to be opened, so that they can jump four feet down onto the couch - all while I'm trying to email on that couch? No. Not dreamy at all.

Funny I just made a rule for myself last week: No more computer use between the hours of 8:30 A.M. and 5:00 P.M. And here I am at 10:40 A.M. blogging about the trouble I had while emailing 20 minutes ago. Hmmmm. . .

And yet, why would I want to make rules for myself anyway, when they diminish responsibility?

*For the record, he would probably not have told me this if I hadn't begged him to tell me about what an amateur astrologer friend had told me, which was that I was going into a period of "isolation." My new astrologer had instead said something like "a period of contemplation" or something like that. And as you can see, this is already true. What a contemplative post!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

"Reward and Punishment"

Here is a little section of The Parent's Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents - A New Interpretation by William Martin. Lovely to contemplate. . . maybe with a cup of tea.


Be careful of rules for your children.
Rules diminish responsibility.
Be careful of rewards for your children.
Rewards diminish self-esteem.
Be careful of punishments for your children.
Punishments diminish trust.

Let lessons be imposed
by the nature of things,
not by your own agendas
or your own needs.
Integrity will replace rules.
Contentment will replace striving.
Spirituality will replace religion.
Songs will replace arguments.
Dances will replace battles.

Don't tell me this is overly simple.
Perhaps the most courageous act
of any parent's life
will be that moment
when, even though it breaks your heart,
you stand aside
and let your children
take the natural consequences
of their actions.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

An Awesome Idea for Thanksgiving - Get to Work!

Last year I started what is to become a yearly ritual for me: doing the "Egyptian Writing Ritual" out of Sarah Susanka's book, The Not So Big Life. I am still energized by the four days of writing I put in before New Year's last year.

Now my friend in L.A. has just sent me a blog post from one of her yoga teachers, where she outlines a counter-intuitive Thanksgiving activity dreamed up by the Dalai Lama, and included in his newest book. I am totally taken with this idea, and plan to do something about it. It's called "Count Your Sufferings," and it is designed to help you realize that suffering is mostly in the mind - that is, it feels like suffering because of your reactions. What is suffering to one person might be considered a "challenge" to another. In some cases it might even be considered a blessing by someone else. Think about it!

Enjoy! And I hope I remember to post about it after the holiday, to let you know how it went for us.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Quote Break Again

"I've come to believe that genius is an exceedingly common human quality, probably natural to most of us... I began to wonder, reluctantly, whether it was possible that being in school itself was what was dumbing them down. Was it possible I had been hired not to enlarge children's power, but to diminish it? That seemed crazy on the face of it, but slowly I began to realize that the bells and the confinement, the crazy sequences, the age-segregation, the lack of privacy, the constant surveillance, and all the rest of national curriculum of schooling were designed exactly as if someone had set out to *prevent* children from learning how to think and act, to coax them into addiction and dependent behavior."

– John Taylor Gatto

Monday, November 16, 2009

Counting Money

I have to admit we use a lot of plastic in front of our kids - "money" is something they find lying on the floor in the form of coins, to stuff into the slots in the coffee table.

It occurred to me the other day that maybe Ezra didn't know the denominations of coins (which he would, if we ever used them - he goes everywhere with us). He did not know the value of a nickel or a dime. I think I told him how much they were, but I'm sure he forgot because he wasn't interested - it was my question, not his.

But then the boy across the street told him he'd gotten a $3 cap gun at Walmart (oh joy!) and it occurred to Ezra that maybe all those pennies and random, valueless coins might add up to $3.

It was sad for me to be witnessing his exuberance for learning about money with the twin shadows of weaponry and Wal-Mart hanging over us. But whatever, right? He stacked up all his quarters and declared that he actually had SIX dollars. I pointed out that he actually had more (how I wish I hadn't felt compelled to do this!). So he asked me how much dimes and nickels are, and then we made stacks of those. He did all the addition in his own head, and figured out he had $7.95, plus eight extra pennies. After a while he figured out how to add the pennies in, too, and triumphantly shouted, "I have eight dollars and three cents!"

That was pretty exciting, and I didn't do anything but answer his questions. I did offer to get a pen and paper for him to add, but he didn't want it. I don't know where he learned how to add in his head anyway - but somehow he figures it out when he really wants to know the answer.

What could be more inspirational than knowing that you could actually almost buy THREE cap guns??

Mr. Claus and my Mainstream Christmas Magic

Since I've already gotten requests for "ideas for what to get the kids this year," and the neighbors have already busted out their plastic nativity scenes, I decided it's high time for me to dig up this old email I wrote to a group list I was on a few years ago when the question of how to handle Santa came up. Here it is, (now slightly edited for clarity) circa 2005, I think. . .


The idea of Santa as a "deception" was a new one to me when I first came across it on an internet website a few years ago. That way of looking at it didn't "resonate" with me but I spent time thinking and talking about it, and Ezra was a baby at the time, so I figured I had a while.

I always loved having Santa as a child and I was probably the last child to give up all hope. I was still clinging to the 1% chance that he could be real when my third grade teacher prefaced a lecture by saying, "You guys are all too old to believe in Santa, right?" and everyone laughed. (Except me!) but I wasn't the least bit angry with my parents - I was just sad that the world was not as magical as I had wanted it to be.

In any case, I was wondering why my sisters and I never felt "deceived," and then a friend of mine lent me a book called Joyful Parenting which had a chapter about Christmas. That chapter explained exactly how I remember Santa being handled in my family - like a *game*. I think that is why I have no issues about it. . . Nobody ever outright lied to me about anything. My dad, especially, would say things like, "Geez, those must be Santa's ashy footprints there on the carpet by the fireplace!" etc. - it was all very playful.

Also my parents never told me that those Santas at shopping malls, etc. were real, like many parents do. They would tell me they were just people pretending to be Santa or something like, "Those must just be Santa's helpers."

As it happens, my husband is Jewish, and the first year we were married he demanded that we have no tree and he even refused to let me listen to Christmas music while he was around. He has gradually softened, and this year Ezra was three and a half, and my husband suddenly did a 180 and became obsessed with all things Christmas. He decided he really wanted to have Santa for his son because he only got to have Santa as a child for *one* year, after he begged his mother to allow it. (Note: he grew up in Minneapolis where Jews are scarce, so he was one of the only kids who didn't get visited by Santa). And the next year his mom told him there was no Santa, and he was devastated. To this day he still harasses her for "ruining Santa for him" - he really wanted a magical childhood, too.

(Speaking of magical, I also feel good about doing Santa because of my ties to the Waldorf community and also because of reading Magical Child, by Joseph Chilton Pearce.)

Also, at our house Santa has always used plain colored tissue paper, and we are trying to do simple gifts that are wooden or look handmade (so no "Made in China" stickers on the bottom!) My friend Mary also told me that with her kids, they wrap glitter up in all the presents from Santa, and it falls out like "fairy dust" as the gifts are opened. I love that idea!

(I am, however, totally against the "You only get presents if you're good" threat. (A.K.A. "you'd better watch out, you'd better not cry.")). (Where do the periods go in that sentence?)

I should also add that the "game" of Santa in my family never stopped. We did it all through my teens and 20s and we got gifts for my dad, too, and we'd always say things like "Hey, how did Santa's elves get a framed photo of me at graduation?" or "Hmmm. . . I guess Santa was shopping in Norway this year, too - just like YOU, Dad!" Maybe we're just dorks, but it's fun.

As far as Christmas being too mainstream, I just do what I can to make it how I like it, and I concentrate on rebelling against society in ways that don't have to do with anybody's joy.


Thank God I was able to unearth that. . . I'm much too lazy to write about it all over again now!

I suppose I could add, though, that now that Ezra is 6-1/2, we do a lot more of saying things like, "Hmmm. . . I don't know. What do you think?"

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Quote Break

Time out for a quote. I just love quotes! Here's John Holt again:

“True learning – learning that is permanent and useful, that leads to intelligent action and further learning — can arise only out of the experience, interest, and concerns of the learner.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

J-A-P-A-N Spells Relief!

Aaahhhhhhhhhh. . . . a little bit of respite from all the weaponry talk! Because of his interest in ninjas, Ezra has told me he wants to learn to "write Japanese." Online I found the Hiragana alphabet, which he insisted I handwrite out for him, and he's been spending the afternoon making lawn signs that say things like "Halt!" and "Sign Your Name Here." It has something to do with ninjas. He's using the alphabet phonetically (as much as is possible), which I think is a great way to learn it!

John Taylor Gatto Always Gives Me the Chills!

I just got this Michael Mendizza/John Taylor Gatto interview in my inbox. A great read, especially for those who have not yet taken the opportunity to read Gatto's revolutionary books such as Dumbing Us Down, A Different Kind of Teacher, and The Underground History of American Education.

Unfortunately the interview is *horribly* edited (note that he even spelled Gatto's last name wrong!!). Grrrrr.

Anyway, here's my favorite Gatto quote from it, which comes right after he is explaining how he won New York State Teacher of the Year, something he says only happened because they never asked him how his students achieved such amazing things (since then, they always ask), because, for example, he was allowing kids to not attend class. Which totally cracks me up.

The [school] system imposes certain boundaries, certain restrictions, by simply demanding attendance twelve or more years. Imagine all the 'real life' experiences young people might have during that time. And the money - imagine if all the money that went into salaries, buildings, and books were given to families to invest in these experiences. When you really see what is taking place - you become a saboteur.

Okay, I take it back - that is not my favorite quote from it - there are too many to count. Read it! Let's discuss! I'm so excited!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Schooling: The Hidden Agenda

I think I forgot to mention that another one of our first inspirations to unschool came after I read the novel Ishmael and became a Daniel Quinn fan back when Ezra was a baby. We read his awesome essay entitled "Schooling: The Hidden Agenda," and it sealed the deal!

It's a real winner, even with husbands who won't read, and often even with public school teachers!

I hope you will read it and let me know what you think.

Ottar broke the camera

Shockingly, Ottar broke the only digital camera we had, which was a cheap one my husband was bringing to work almost every day anyway. Now there really is no hope for this blog!! What to do?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Family Volunteering? Hmmm.

I have a friend who is thinking about volunteering abroad for a year, because her husband is jobless, she hates her job, and they can't afford their rent. She thought, "might as well do something crazy."

I got really excited for her and started researching options for her. Then I realized *I* want to do it. Chances are pretty good we'll be in the same situation next year! Not to be negative - but hey, this could be my chance to live in Latin America with my kids - though I'd been thinking of doing it about 10 years from now.

I'm still researching options, but for now I found this interesting article about preparing for the possibility.

Don't ask me who would let me volunteer with a four-year-old! But you never know.

If anyone out there knows of any foreign volunteer organizations that are totally awesome and ethical, *and* allow you to bring your kids, let me know!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Freakin Out

Ah, now I see. I was just told that *everyone* has a nervous breakdown when they move to this town. I feel so much better now. And how nice of everyone here to ignore me during my time of pain, so that I could get the full effects of feeling isolated, confused, and in despair!

Now, of course, the question is, what am I going to do now? I do not know, so I've turned as usual to some good friends, some inspiration from nature, and some author pals. Today I shall quote Mr. Eckhart Tolle, master of the Present Moment, who I have been reading this morning.

Before [Banzan] became a great Zen master, he spent many years in the pursuit of enlightenment, but it eluded him. Then one day, as he was walking in the marketplace, he overheard a conversation between a butcher and his customer. "Give me the best piece of meat you have," said the customer. And the butcher replied, "Every piece of meat I have is the best. There is no piece of meat here that is not the best." Upon hearing this, Banzan became enlightened.

So, that's my strategy for the week - to think of every second of my present situation as if it were one of those pieces of meat. Wish me luck.