One down, three to go

I can hardly believe it, but he graduated.

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Of course, I believe it, but…

Wasn’t he just a baby?

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I expected to be really emotional about it all, but there was so much going I didn’t have time.  Nor do I have anything deep to say about it other than I am so, so grateful for the opportunity to spend 18 years with this amazing person that is my son.

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Happy Mother’s Day

I ordered Sam a gift for Father’s Day. I know he’s not my dad, but my kids stink at doing anything for Father’s Day or Mother’s Day, so I thought I’d pick up the slack for them just this once. Anyway, when it came, my daughter was convinced the box contained something for her and she talked him into opening it before I got home. So he found his gift already. Happy Father’s Day.

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I know many moms want to spend Mother’s Day spending wonderful family time together, but my M-O has always been to spend Mother’s Day doing something away from my family. For years, I would leave them immediately after church and disappear for hours until dinner. Sometimes I’d go to a coffee shop to write. A few times I took a hike. Whatever I chose, it was always by myself: a smidge of the precious alone-time that fills my tank. Now that my tank has a little more in it than it did when I had littles, I like to spend Mother’s Day working on Labor and Delivery. It’s a chance to pay forward all the coaching and cheerleading I have received over my many years of being a mom.

One of my favorite parts of my work is helping new parents transition from life-as-adults into life-as-parents. It’s a very different task, and one that requires not just education, but a cheerleader. When I was a new mom in 2000, I was still using a camera with film (anyone else remember what that was?), and all the photos of my oldest child are either with him as a tiny speck far away, or really close up and really blurry. When I transitioned into part-time work in 2003 to spend more time at home, I discovered parenting blogs on the internet. There I found a community of parents who were struggling and were honest about it. Uploading photos to the internet was still a pain, so the pictures of messy houses and chaos were painted in words. Those stories of how hard parenting could be held me up through the next few really busy years as we moved to Colorado, had baby #3 and began to home school. Soon after that, I joined the ranks of (mostly) moms sharing stories of the good, the bad and the ugly online.

What I see now online lately is a new beast, one with perfectly curated photos and “influencers” who make everything look like it’s going to beautiful and easy if you only listen to this podcast or buy this pressure cooker or monthly subscription box they are advertising. What used to be a lifeline for me has turned into yet another place I can go to feel bad about yelling at my kids and having a messy house and weak abs.

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So Happy Mother’s Day to you. May you find a safe place to cry if that’s what you need. May you have enough quiet to hear the truth that you can do this. It’s not going to be perfect, or even beautiful most of the time. But you are enough. You have what it takes, even if the neighbors might hear you yelling at your kids now that it’s warm enough to have the windows open, and your kids are more resilient than you know. I believe in you.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Seven Quick Takes: College Application Edition

One: This is NOT the SQT where I will reveal where my oldest is going to go to college for the simple reason that he doesn’t know yet. So there. However, this IS the SQT where I will diss bitterly on all the ridiculousness that this process has entailed. You’re welcome.

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Two: Remember back in October when we visited my alma mater and a whole bunch of book stores? Well, that school and a whole bunch of the others filled more than 50% of their spots in “Early Decision” (aka in November). Consequently, there are very few spots open for everyone else later.

Three: There are three options for applying, and the process is different from back when I applied. Here’s my primer on applying to college.

One recruiter (I think she was from Duke) described Early Action as dating. You can date more than one person and you can apply early action at multiple schools, except when the schools specifically say they are serial monogamists and they don’t like you to do early action applications at more than one school. (Or, in case you’re my son, who took that analogy to heart and said, “I would never date more than one person at a time, so why would I do Early Action?”)

As a side note, I just read an article in the Wall Street Journal which says the DOJ is looking into whether Early Action violates anti-trust laws.

Four: Then there is Early Decision, which is like getting engaged. You only ask one school to marry you, and if they say Yes, you’re done in December as long as you can afford the school that you chose. If you can’t afford it, then you have to break that engagement and move back into the regular dating pool with everybody else.

Five: The rest of America’s 17 year-olds apply with Regular Decision in January and February. With great relief, they hit send on that last application and think they’re done until May 1, when they’ll have to make a decision. But they’re not actually done, because there are Intentional Learning Communities (I’m not making this up) and scholarships and dorms and research fellowships with their own applications and essays and deadlines that just keep coming. The students aren’t really done… and now they’re mad. They’re like the Bachelor who’s back on the show after an earlier stint as one of the many candidates hoping for a rose and then came back as the Bachelor but broke his last engagement and knows America hates him but is really sure he’s going to find love this time around.

Six: I think the nail in the coffin of this process for my son was a prestigious private school that invited him to apply for one of their Intentional Learning Communities that came with a scholarship. He wrote three extra essays and then, after about 6 weeks, received a letter addressed to someone else, “Dear Lauren B., we’re sorry that we have to inform you we can’t give you the scholarship…” He emailed back to say, “Hey, I’m not Lauren B.. Can you check on my application?” To which he received an email reply, “Okay, we looked and you didn’t get it either.”

So that school is off the list. (The more schools that behave badly, the easier it is to choose!)

Six: We’re currently down to two schools, one of which we will visit for the first time this weekend. He is an alternate for an Intentional Learning Community (see, this actually is a thing at multiple schools – I’m not making it up) but will only get that spot and scholarship if the first choice cis- white male (CWM) with a smidge of Mexican backs out and goes somewhere else.

Seven: So, with 10 days left before the deadline to choose, our current decision algorithm looks like this:

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Really, this is just like the Bachelor. With lower ratings. Stay tuned.

For more Quick Takes, go check out Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum!

Shaking it up: Poetry

Last week I took the girls out to a new coffee shop near us for tea and poetry.

Book - Zen Ties by Jon J Muth

Jon Muth’s Zen Ties is one of our favorite children’s books (a lovely, gentle story, beautiful paintings, and humor: what’s not to love?!) , and it happens that Stillwater’s young cousin, Koo, speaks in poetry. “Hi, Koo!” I brought it with us, and we read it over tea and croissants.

We spent half an hour writing our own haiku. First we each wrote one about the coffee shop. Then each of us wrote two words for the others which they had to use in their poems. (I got “candy” and “east” on the first round, and “San Pelligrino,” “Danger” and “Monkey” in the second. Hazards of being in a coffee shop, I guess.)

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I’m counting this for poetry, syllables (early grammar), and Lit.

Are you shaking things up during these last two months of school? If you’re not changing things around a little, do you need to?

Growth v. Confidence

This has been a challenging year for us as a family, and as homeschoolers. I can’t share much of that here, but I want to reflect for a minute about one particular pitfall of homeschooling, and how I’m trying to work around it.

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My school experience as a kid was one of boredom. I spent years finishing my work before the rest of the class and having to sit quietly at my desk while other kids finished. When they “pioneered” a gifted-and-talented program at my school, it meant that after I finished the regular work, they would pull me out and give me more work. It didn’t seem to occur to anyone that maybe a few of us should have different work, or be able to work at our own pace.

That experience led me to design our homeschool to be a place where my kids could work at their own pace(s). When they master a concept, they move on to the next thing. The idea was not to “waste” any time sitting around being bored by repeating the same old information they’ve already mastered. On the other hand, if they need more time on a topic, we can spend as much time as they need before moving on.

We’ve been doing that for twirteen years now, and for the most part it has worked well. Most of our time is spent at the growing edge, or at the place where we’re all being stretched.  I have noticed one problem, though, and it’s this: living at the growing edge can be pretty uncomfortable. And tiring. Working at the growing edge doesn’t ever let you rest in a place of mastery, which builds confidence.

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There are several sources of confidence. One is internal, where the experience of repeated success causes us to trust our skills and our mastery of a subject or skill. The other is external, where we are able to see our mastery in comparison to others, or hear from others that we have mastered a subject. (Think: exams, teachers, certificates, races, performances, etc.)

While I hated the boredom of my own education, it was pretty great seeing that I was ahead of everyone else academically. That built my internal confidence. I had many teachers who gave me a lot of messages that built my confidence externally.

In our homeschool, my kids have very little opportunity to compare themselves academically to their peers. Instead, they compare themselves to one another, which leaves my younger children feeling lost as they compare themselves to a much-older, academically very gifted sibling. Our homeschool has effectively erased a major source of external confidence. On top of that, I have eliminated the sense of mastery that comes from lots of repetition by engineering a learning space in which we spend most of our time with new material.

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Where do I go from here?

We are trying to spend more time resting in mastery. As much as the repetition grates on me, I need my kids to see how much they know. This means different things for different kids- one needs more opportunities to perform. One needs opportunities to do things without an older sibling making suggestions over her shoulder. Another needs to spend more time reviewing material we’ve already done. They all need opportunities to compare their work to their own peers (instead of to their older siblings.)

What does the balance between growth and confidence look like for you? I’m looking for ideas here, friends, so please don’t be shy sharing in the comments.

Garden update: April 2018

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As I write this, a heavy spring storm is moving in over the mountains. Once again, I’m left worrying for my peach tree’s blossoms (will they all be frozen, and we’ll have no fruit come fall?) and all the tender young things coming alive.

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I am lucky enough to have a small yard, and I’ve been enjoying the sight of all the perennials waking up in the front yard. I’m like Mary Lennox, crying in delight over everything showing how “wick” it is. Our tulips are going to bloom soon, and even last year’s Mother’s Day forsythia is throwing out a first few brave flowers.

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This is the peony I added to the bare patch last fall. We’ll see if it survives. So far, so good.

One of our neighbors (I think it was a kid) made some delicious-looking sushi or spring rolls with the leaves from my tulips. So far everyone has denied being the mystery chef.

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I’m conflicted: I love the creativity, but I think I’d rather keep the tulips in the garden.

I finally planted the spinach, broccoli, lettuce and peas in my garden. We have two square foot gardens in which I plant just my favorites.

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We are so lucky to be members of a CSA farm, which provides the vast majority of our produce. A CSA is like your own private farmer’s market, which provides fresh, local produce to its members on a weekly basis. If you’re curious, I’ve written about CSAs here and here. Perhaps a CSA near you might have an opening in its membership for you to try out. Here are two links to help you find a CSA near you: Local Harvest and the USDA directory of CSAs. Joining a CSA truly transformed how we eat- both in terms of quality and variety- and I think has been a huge part of my journey toward health. Plus, buying food that is locally produced has a major impact on the environment.

Okay, back to my garden. These are 4’x4′ boxes filled originally with a 1:1:1 mixture of peat moss, vermiculite and compost as specified by the Square Foot Garden method by Mel Bartholomew. Then every spring I add an additional layer of compost. In our first SFGs, I made wood grids, but we have since changed to twine and string (it’s easier to cut the compostable strings than to disentangle large squash and cucumber vines from the wood).

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It was so good to have my hands in the dirt. It smelled wonderful, and something in my own heart came alive again with a day spent planting in hope of sweet June shelling peas eaten raw and crisp salads of baby spinach. (Are you hungry yet?) I started basil, zinnias, and cherry and Roma tomatoes (for canning) inside. The farm gives us lots of big, juicy heirloom tomatoes, but there’s nothing like pulling a warm cherry tomato off the vine on an August afternoon and popping it in your mouth.

Have you started your garden yet? What’s your favorite thing to plant?