I Meant Well, and Other Camping Lessons

A while ago, a good friend offered to lend our family her camping trailer.  I don’t know what I was thinking, but I enthusiastically accepted the offer, and reserved a spot in Carpinteria.

As the date loomed closer, I realized that I had made a fairly significant mistake.  Thinking of all the supplies I was going to need to bring, and the hours spent in a small trailer with four young kids, made my already horrible anxiety, well, more horrible.

I know that, at best, my kids can last two hours playing on the beach.  The rest of the time was going to be spent in a trailer.  What. Was. I. Thinking?

My husband rarely takes time off of work.  I  mean, it’s impossible to get him to commit to taking more than two days.  So when I thought of what I had to do (ladies, do you hear me?) to get Brian to agree to THREE days, it seemed unfair that I was setting myself up for a hot, dirty non-vacation that would entail much whining and arguing and no mints on my pillow.

I don’t see camping as being one of those, “Try it, you’ll like it” things – more like, “To thine own self, be true.”  And the truth is, I like electrical outlets. If we’re going to go somewhere for three whole days, I’m going to need some room service.  I can enjoy the outdoors, but there is a reason God made me a 21st century human, and not a vole or something.

So, as was probably always in the cards, I canceled the trailer reservation, and booked a few nights at a beachfront hotel.  I am not even going to apologize for how extravagant that is.

This is not my first aborted camping “adventure.”  When I was 13 or 14, a friend invited me, and a third girlfriend, to her church’s beach campout.  Protestants do that kind of thing.  I had never been camping, it was just for one night, and the beach was local.  I excitedly packed a suitcase, dug out my sleeping bag, and went.  I think we drove there in the church van.

As soon as we got to the beach, anxiety set in.  We didn’t know anyone, and a lot of the “youth group” was older than we were. Some of the “leaders” had brought guitars, and we knew what was coming – homemade, teenaged worship songs, sung dramatically and off-key.  At some point, we realized we were actually going to have to sleep in tents on the beach.  The sun was setting.  Jesus was not going to save us.

Maybe we should have given it a chance, and stuck it out.  Maybe we should have introduced ourselves and tried to make friends.  But instead, we hatched a plan to slink away to the restroom area and make a hurried collect call to someone who could come get us.  We thought, for a bit, about who we could call.  Surely, my friend’s parents would have encouraged us to stay – so they were out.  My other friend’s parents would have been irritated. My mom was busy with all my younger siblings, and had probably already told me, in an attempt to get me not to go, that if I insisted on attending, I was stuck there until morning.  There was only one person that we knew, for sure, would be willing to drive the getaway car, no questions asked – and that person was my dad.  We placed the collect call, and when I told my dad that there were boys in the group, he said he’d be there as fast as he could.  He didn’t ask to speak to an adult.  He didn’t demand an explanation.  He just said, “Okay.”

We crept back to the camp, and quietly sat and waited for my dad’s cherry red Thunderbird to roll up.  He must have sped the whole way, because it wasn’t too long before he arrived, honked, and we ran to the car.  The group leaders were confused, and asked what was going on (our intent to flee was on a need-to-know basis, and, apparently, we did not believe that the adults in charge of us needed to know.)  As we ran off, we yelled, “We’re going home! Gotta go! Bye!”  We jumped in the car, and we were free.  We felt so safe, even though we had never been in more danger than we were flying down Hueneme Road, windows down, Fine Young Canidbals blaring.  We had been saved.  I felt high.

When we got home, my friends’ parents had already called my mom.  The camp leader had called, and informed them that all three of us had left with a strange older man in a fast car, and left most of our camping stuff behind.  I’m sure they were all pissed, except for my dad, who was the savior of the evening, and relished the fact that he had delivered us from almost certain male predation AND bad worship music.  Despite our shenanigans, my friends’ parents let them stay the night at my house.  We ordered pizza.  We hung out with my neighbors (boys.)  We had fun.  So much more fun than if we had stayed on the beach.  To this day, I am sure of it.FullSizeRender-4

IMG_3240

And knowing that my dad would bail me out, no questions asked? I’ve never forgotten it.

Advertisements

The Imperial March, 8,000 Times

I’m a huge slacker mom.  For example, right now, my kids are not playing sports.  We used to be one of those over-booked families with activities four or five nights a week, and, at some point, we will probably be one of them again.  For now, we are “keeping it real” by spending most of our evenings at home, hanging out as a family, playing with cousins, and counting down the minutes until it’s 6:00 PM, and I can have a beer or hide in my closet.  I am not even kidding – I cleaned out half of my tiny closet, so that I could place inside a huge beanbag and a poster that sums up, precisely, how I feel about mothering.

IMG_3159I don’t have my kids in Spanish lessons, art classes, or Lego camp (we unLego.)  They don’t do CCD, they aren’t in 4H, or swim lessons.  Bridget does take a once-weekly one-on-one sewing class, but Jack has never been enrolled in anything aside from preschool.

I know, this is not how you’re supposed to homeschool.  When people ask what we’re doing about “socialization” I simply respond that we’re allowing them to turn into miniature Howard Hugheses, or the family from “Flowers in the Attic.”  Whichever comes first.

I say all of this up front, because I am acutely aware of the smug nature of the rest of this post.  I do not brag about my kids on social media (although I have, I don’t anymore), because I think it’s crass, and kind of mean.  On just the day I share my child’s good grades, I know that a friend is crying over her child’s learning disability and yet another frustrating IEP meeting.  When I highlight my kids’ sports accomplishments (their hypothetical ones, because they don’t have any), another mother is silently hoping that someday, her child will walk.  When I post videos of my child playing the cello, another mother feels sick to her stomach that she can’t afford to give her kids lessons.  I post my amazing vacation (ha!), and another parent counts up the years since he’s been able to take his family anywhere.  I know.  I have been both situations – the one bragging, and the one feeling badly.  Such is the downside of social media, where we often share our highlights, but conceal our lows.  Why add to people’s feelings of dissatisfaction, frustration, worry, or despair?  I know what my kids have done, and they know I’m proud.

Having said that, this is my homeschool blog, and I want to talk about music from the perspective of it being a part of my children’s curriculum in the same way that math, reading, and science are.  In our family, music is not an extra-curricular, it is a part of a well-rounded education.  My children practice and study it in the same way that they practice and study most other subjects: begrudgingly.  But, it is required.  No, they cannot quit.

People often ask me lots of questions about children and music – where to take lessons, how I get the kids to practice without whining (lol), and what to do when their kids beg to quit. I don’t purport that these are the only right answers, but they are my opinions, formed from years of involvement with classical training.

We take lessons from very highly-accomplished, professional musicians with extensive backgrounds in music instruction.  Lessons are not “fun.” They are work.  They are expensive.  There is no playing around.  The children are being classically trained, which includes music history and theory.  Their instructors have high expectations.  We like that, even though they scare us, sometimes.

The kids practice seven days a week, unless they are sick, or we are out of town and don’t have access to an instrument.

I have listened to the Imperial March about 8,000 times, so far.  If you become a Music Mom, be prepared to listen to some seriously bad music – over and over and over. (This is why many parents shy away from violin and viola – the only thing worse than listening to a beginner on violin is listening to a beginner on a 1/4 size violin.)

I argue with Bridget about music almost every single day.  Lane is a lot better, but still needs the occasional nag.  He does like to speed through his work, so I am constantly reminding him to slow down.

Do they like it?  Not yet.  They will, of course, but they aren’t good enough to derive much enjoyment from it, now.  They do not take the type of lessons that promise to teach kids to bang out the chords to a Disney song in six weeks or less. They do not play pop music.  Being classically trained takes time.  Lots of it.

Can a kid try music lessons before her parents invest in an instrument?  I would not recommend this.  If you are going to “see if your child likes it” before buying an instrument (or renting – sometimes that makes sense, too), then I would not bother.  Your child is not going to like the amount of practice it will take to get good.  You will have to nag and argue with the typical child, unless he is a musical prodigy. This does not mean music is “not his thing,” and that he should quit, any more than not liking math, spelling, or reading means he should quit.  The older and more mature your child gets, the easier it may be for you, but if you are not fully invested as the parent, it’s probably not going to work.  Making your children do arpeggios, scales, the like for hours and hours is not going to be fun.  Crack open a beer and let the metronome take you away!

Maturity-wise,  girls can usually start music lessons by the age of five; boys a bit older.  It also depends on the instrument you want your child to play – very small children can start on piano, but something like guitar requires a dexterity and finger strength that many five-year-olds don’t have.  Serious musicians play more than one instrument, and they all need to be able to play the piano.  If your instructor won’t take your child until age seven or eight, because the instrument you’ve chosen isn’t appropriate for young kids, start with the piano.  He will need to learn it, anyway.

Most importantly – stay the course!  You will have many, many frustrating moments (weeks, months, years…) while your child/ren are being classically trained, but as every adult who can’t play an instrument (me) will confirm – it will, someday, be SO worth it (if your kids don’t become hygiene-obsessed, megalomaniacal recluses first.)

Week in Review

We started off with a few changes.  Namely, I transitioned Bridget over to an online math class, and discontinued using Singapore Math for her.  Why?  Because, frankly – I can’t teach 4th grade math.  So, I’m letting someone else do it.  She’s happier, I’m happier.  Yay, numbers.

I also moved away from an intense reading guide she was doing for the book “Wonder.”  Now, she reads about 40 pages a day, and we have a discussion about what she read.  What she doesn’t realize is that the questions I ask about the book, the characters, the symbolism, etc. are directly from the reading guide!  This kind of thing is only practical because I have one fourth-grader in my “class.”  But, it’s cool, and it has led to some interesting discussions.  “Wonder” is about a boy with a severe form of Treacher Collins Syndrome.  I am absolutely adamant about raising my children to embrace the physical, emotional, and intellectual differences that people bring to the table – and this book has been the jumping-off point of a lot of good conversations about that.

A few weeks ago, I purchased a family membership to the LA County Museum of Natural History, and I took all four kids yesterday.  It was awesome!  I could have stayed all day, but the membership allows us to do it piecemeal, which is better for the kids.  Yesterday was the last “member preview” day for their temporary mummy exhibit.  I LOVE MUMMIES.  I was particularly impressed that the museum did not permit any photography of mummies with exposed faces/skulls or other body parts.  My problem with the “Bodies” exhibits has always been the crassness of displaying deceased human beings for entertainment, and I felt it was totally appropriate to ask museum guests to show respect for the mummies whose actual body parts were exposed.  I was in awe, but the kids thought they were  kind of creepy.  Especially the mummified children.

IMG_2994

IMG_2998

The kids asked me, “Mom, why do you like dead things?”  I thought for a moment, and then answered, “I don’t particularly like dead things, but I like old things.  I like things that tell a story.  I like imagining the lives that these mummified bodies once lived – the day they were born, their childhoods, their jobs, their deaths.  What their cities were like, how they worshiped, their governments.  I like to imagine the person who took the time to preserve their bodies like this, paint their coffins so intricately, and bury them in tombs with icons and offerings.  I love connections to the past – I love that these individuals are the ancestors of actual people who live on the Earth today.”

The kids were anxious to see the dinosaur exhibit, and while I tried to impress upon them what “100 million years ago” means – I had a hard time.  I’m not sure anyone can fully grasp it.

IMG_3013

They were actually most impressed with the gem and mineral pavilion, which is pretty extensive.  Thousands and thousands of specimens.

IMG_3033

The best part was, that because we went on a Thursday in September – there was almost no one else at the museum.  Crowds make me itch and sweat, and get very irrational.  I avoid crowds at all costs.  I’m pretty sure there is a diagnosis in there, somewhere.  Going places during the week, when other kids are in school, is definitely my jam.

But, if you think my week sounds perfect – let me tell you about this morning.  I was upstairs in my room (where my computer is), looking up possible art projects that I could do without glitter, glue, scissors, markers, paint, clay, chalk, or making a purchase.  No sooner had I found the perfect project (have you ever heard of a coloring book?), than Bridget started screaming that Fefe was PLAYING WITH RAW MEAT.  He had gone into the garage, opened the fridge, removed a CHUCK ROAST, taken it out, opened it, and was happily massaging the slick, greasy exterior.  In my world, handing raw meat includes latex gloves and a half gallon of bleach, so this was particularly upsetting.  After I bathed him and cleaned up his roast disaster, I heard a loud bang – he had somehow completely dismantled my vacuum cleaner, breaking it in several places.  This was after he insisted on “self-serve” brownies at 7:00 AM, and dumped out a large container of peppercorns all over the kitchen floor.  He’s so cute, and so sweet – I’m not even mad.

IMG_3046

IMG_3054

Did I mention that Jack started preschool last week?  He told me it is, “Basically a massive waste of time” (imagine that with all the s sounds pronounced like th.)  Oh, Jack.  Sweet, easy Jack.  He thinks any time he is not on an iPad is a waste.

IMG_2990

Lucky for Jack, I completely forgot to take him to school this morning.

What it’s Like, Sometimes

Right now, I am listening to my children playing with plasma cars on damp pavement.  It’s one of those rare moments when no one is crying, fighting, or tattling.  It’s cool outside for the first time in a week.  We have no plans for the day, other than school work.

This is what is really, really good about homeschooling.  We didn’t rush out the door this morning, I didn’t have to pack lunches, or remember homework.  I won’t pick up grumpy kids at 3:00 and bring them home, only to do more schoolwork.

I’ve always been very territorial about my home – and things that threaten the quality of time I spend here with my family really, really bug me.  Homework often fell into that category, and I rarely considered it a worthwhile use of the few evening hours my family spent together  I have read and heard all the arguments in favor of routine homework – but I simply don’t agree with any of them.

IMG_2955

Bridget is doing her logic/problem-solving work.

After my children spent seven hours at school, I deeply resented the extra hour (or more) of time my children spent with their worksheets and pencils and silly dioramas.  I do think that reading, and reading a lot, is the single most important academic thing that children can do – but I loathed the tedious “reading logs” that required my children to read for credit instead of read for enjoyment and enrichment.  And yes, I have heard the arguments.  “Not every parent would make their child spend time reading quietly if we didn’t insist on the reading log, Mrs. Hefelfinger.”

I know.

IMG_3308

Lane is currently reading, “Sarah, Plain and Tall.”

I’m not one of those parents that thinks childhood should be a magical fantasyland of unobstructed playtime.  I am not really raising children – I am raising adults.  And I want them to be adults who have options, which means working hard NOW so that they have the achievements, skills, resiliency, and character to have the maximum number of options LATER.  But I also think that kids can and should be taught to work efficiently, and intelligently, and reap the rewards of doing such.  Why should a child who has earned a 100% on every spelling test since Kindergarten be required to come home and write the words five times each?  Why should a child who easily gets ten math problems correct during class be forced to do 30 of them after school?  Why do we ever need to build a diorama?  Those are the types of time-wasters that I always felt were disrespectful of our home life.  Teacher is in charge during the school day, but I wanted control over how we spent our time at home.

And although things are not perfect here, they are good.  Bridget and Lane spent last night with their cousins, embroiled in a “Minecraftathon” until 9:00 PM.  It’s noon, now, and Bridget and Lane are wrapping up the last of their schoolwork for the day.  We have a small science experiment planned.  Tonight, some parents from St. Mary’s are getting together for a fundraiser to benefit my sister’s family.  They are such good, generous people.  They, truly, are what I miss about school.

Make Learning Fun, and Other Bad Advice

Welp.

Week two was so-so.  As a non-teacher, and as a person who is not all about “getting right in there on the ground and playing with the kids!” – I think I kind of blew it.

Last year, when the kids were in real school, Lane would get up early every morning to practice his cello.  Just to get it done.  He came home from school, and ripped through his homework.  Sure, sometimes the quality left a bit to be desired, but the point is – Lane is an industrious kid.  He sees the value in buckling down and getting shit done.  This week, he finished all his work on Thursday, so he had all day yesterday to mess around.

IMG_2858

Bridget, my sweet nearly-ten-year-old, was not blessed with that same sense of industry.  She has a really tough time seeing that, while being a sloth might seem to pay off now – not getting her things done in a timely manner means that she has less time to play, visit her cousin, etc., later.  I mean, she’s smart.  She understands the concept of “work before play.” She agrees with me when I point out the peace that comes with accomplishing all of one’s goals before the deadline.  She just refuses to implement any strategies to achieve it.  To be blunt, she’s lazy.

IMG_2552

On Tuesday afternoon, when I did a progress check on the kids’ work, I was pleased to note that Lane had finished about half of his weekly target.  Bridget, on the other hand, had somehow frittered away so much time as to only have completed three of the simplest tasks assigned to her.  Of course, they were the subjects that come easiest: spelling, logic, and religion.  Predictably, I was furious.

And, predictably, I yelled at her and threatened to send her back to school.  She informed me that homeschooling was “no fun,” because I did not provide interesting presentations of the material.  I did not plan activities.  I didn’t “make learning fun.”  Secretly, I cursed the person who coined the phrase “make learning fun.”  Learning IS fun – it doesn’t have to be MADE fun. 90% of what I know has been gleaned from independent reading, and watching TV.  No one had to disguise a math lesson as a magic show.  I remember embalming Cornish game hens in the 6th grade.  A project that, while fun, messy, gross, and hilarious, taught me absolutely zero about ancient Egypt and the processes by which the people of ancient Egypt prepared their dead.  I could have learned more from Wikipedia.  In my experience, teacher’s attempts at “making learning fun” don’t actually impart any knowledge on the subject at hand.  Making a baking soda and vinegar volcano might be a nice distraction from actual learning, but it doesn’t teach kids much about the science behind volcanic activity.

Not Sorry, I guess I’m just not that FUN.

One thing I will cop to is not being able to teach Bridget the concepts behind her math curriculum.  I mean, if I really sat down for a few hours and studied the materials, I could – but I have four kids, a house that needs to be managed, a body that needs to be bathed, meals that need to be cooked, mice that need to be killed, Buzzfeeds that need to be read, and Amazoning that must be accomplished.  So, I am going to switch Bridget over to an online math course that has interactive (FUN???) lessons.

I am also going to change the approach for presenting Bridget’s weekly work to her.  I’m going to start giving it to her as daily goals, versus weekly ones.  The weekly (i.e. packet) approach works really well for Lane, because he’s super motivated.  I think Bridget will do better with smaller chunks of material – material that must be turned in at the end of every day.  That’s one awesome thing about homeschooling – you can do what works best for each child.

And to be honest with you, Bridget is a lot like me.  I have a hard time “buckling down” and am easily distracted, as well.  You should see how many half-written blog posts I have in queue.  By current guidelines, I probably could have been diagnosed with ADD as a child.  Bridget’s pediatrician has broached the subject with me before, but because Bridget is intelligent, she has, thus far, been able to maintain excellent grades with absolutely shameful amounts of effort.  I know that won’t hold up forever.  At some point, it caught up to me, and it was a complete nightmare.

When I was in high school, either a sophomore or a junior – I can’t recall – I had an uncredentialed, first-year math teacher named Mr. Kreider.  He had a massive attitude, and everyone thought he was a huge prick.  Even other teachers at the school had a hard time containing their disdain for this new hire. Mr. Kreider’s methodology for teaching math was to assign daily homework (large assignments), but not collect any of it until the END OF THE QUARTER.  As an undisciplined student who hated math, and whose parents never checked up on my homework – this led to a nightmare scenario each quarter.  I had, of course, not done any of the homework.  I would spend a few terrifying days bullshitting what I could, hoping he wouldn’t notice that I had practically no understanding of the material, and had done 2.5 months worth of assignments in a few days.  Not that he cared at all – he had nothing invested in the students doing well.  In fact, I think he thought it was funny when they failed.  He frequently talked about making, “the big bucks” – for example, he’d say, “Listen, you do this like I tell you to do it.  That’s why they pay me the big bucks.”  He was probably making $25,000 dollars a year.  We retaliated on Mr. Kreider by papering the school with cringeworthy flyers that we found at Java Joe’s coffee shop, where, much to our glee, we learned that he sang really bad music under a stage name.  Wearing a sparkly shirt.  Which, in 1998, to a bunch of 16-year-olds, may as well have been a miniskirt.  As you can tell, I am still pissed at him.

Anyway, I can see how having a teacher like Mr. Kreider might not be a disaster for a kid like Lane, who can be organized and make himself do things he’d rather not be doing.  For Bridget, and for me – no way.  And I think every teacher needs to balance out teaching kids “a lesson” and teaching kids in a way that actually works.  No, things aren’t always going to be fun, or tailored to a child’s particular skill set and personality – but teachers, even moms, need to be flexible in the way they approach learning.  After all, the point is for the kids to acquire knowledge.

I don’t plan on putting on a dog and pony show when Bridget finds a subject particularly dull, but I will be tweaking the system, if for nothing else, so that I don’t throw in the towel before October.

IMG_2892

Side note: This is what you feed your kids when you realize that your oldest child has accomplished almost nothing in two days. The canned beans are organic, I swear.