Buying into The Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, there lived a homeschooling family who had it all together. Everyday was beautifully wonderful. The mother woke up to a clean house, easily jumped out of bed to the sounds of birds chirping, the sun rising and her children giggling in lilting tones of joy. They quickly dressed themselves in stylish clothing appropriate to the weather outside after folding their pajamas and placing them in their drawers. The oldest two offer to help as she makes breakfast from scratch and the younger two sit quietly at the table, engaged in polite conversations. Her hair has been blow dried and curled, make up perfectly applied and outfit trendy yet comfortable and fitting her perfectly in all the right places.

Over breakfast they have deep and meaningful conversations about classic literature, scientific theory, and philosophy which everyone enjoys. The children happily put away their dirty dishes, wipe down the table and begin begging for rigorous and complex school work.

They brainstorm quickly before deciding on a painting project, science experiment and research paper for her 7 year old, and a sculpture, reading through a chapter in Alice and Wonderland, and a paragraph of copy work from the same book for her 5 year old. While the younger two quietly listen to the discussion. Everyone is excited and they rush to work happily.

The preschooler and toddler quietly play with blocks, creating cityscapes together with absolute cooperation on all sides.

She is able to sit quietly on the couch with a cup of hot, freshly brewed coffee, a wrinkled copy of Hobbes “Leviathan” and a note pad. Each person eagerly digging into their lesson, independently and joyfully. Each living and learning happily ever after.

Wait, no. That’s not how the story goes. I have NEVER had a day or even a morning like that! NEVER!

It looks more like this:

The Tale of the Cursed Unschoolers

The children wake up before her. They are like dwarves (a la Tolkien), angry, hairy, and loud. They eat as often as Hobbits, requiring second breakfast and second lunch regularly. They can be joyful and happy but it is often wrought with disagreements and quarrels.

Most days they awaken as their father is leaving for work. He has been careful not to wake the sleeping Dragon as he readies himself for his day.

She is not a morning person. She dislikes, greatly, waking before the sun. She often doesn’t fall asleep until the witching hour, usually lost in world building or wordplay. Her inspiration and creativity are strongest under the light of the moon.

The party, however, enters the dragons lair boisterously. They climb up the precipice daringly. Leap with no regards. They holler and shout in anticipation of the task at hand. Demanding vitals.

The Dragon is less Smaug and more Puff. Not feared at all, but loved greatly although sometimes ignored. The dwarves are now vicious Cornish Pixies, searching for an opening with which to play their pranks. As the dragon arises the pixies hang on and swing. She sends them on a quest, allowing part of her treasure to be plundered by the adorable cherubs. They raid the icy cave in search for yogurt, apples and hard boiled eggs.

They eat on the run, their adventures are only now beginning and no room will be left undiscovered. Every toy will be scattered, every item of clothing spread out. Invisible thieves will be blamed for the loss of a precious relic (and not the mess that must be cleaned). Learning is an ongoing occurrence that happens without warning.

Calls for books will be sometimes be headed, but only if the adventurers are also scholars today. Some days the urge to build great towers will be necessary to capture the ancient evils high above a moat. Other days the bards tales are too interesting to forget and must be written and stored for future generations. Some days the call of the stars is too great and plans must be made to visit them.

The mighty dragon is wise but the heroes prefer moving stories and outdoor explorations. The dragon may offer twenty different learning opportunities within a fortnight, only to have two or three chosen as real possibilities.

Occasionally, the dragon is transformed into a nagging hag. Unable to shower before noon, achingly trying to catch up on laundry and dishes. The sink has been cursed by a powerful evil, if cleaned, no less than 3 dirty dishes appear. The laundry basket too has been cursed, it is never empty, no matter how many loads are washed in a week. It may even be said that the whole house has been visited by an ancient evil. Toys appear where little ones claim to have cleaned up. Books disappear only to be found under bed cloths.

The curse has effected everyone, making everything unstable and unpredictable. The adventurers may appear as curious children in one moment and angry trolls in others. The Dragon can easily switch between the nagging hag and the Beautiful Queen, who kindly welcomes inquiry and exploration.

The curse, is not a curse at all. It is something far worse.

Reality.

Reality dashes my expectations and forces me to deal with the real situations at hand. Her harshness allows for growth and learning in ways that are highly unpredictable. I have learned to embrace her wholly… Although in my dreams I imagine an alternate universe, a land of perfection, curiosity, and beauty. I create these fantasies in my head and then wonder why reality seems so bad.

Perhaps this reality is another’s dimensions fairy tale.

Perhaps, I am living the dream. Am I living in someone else’s dream?

Perhaps, this IS happily every after, but I complain too much to notice.

Perhaps, I am not cursed at all…or rather I am cursed but I don’t realize that I have cursed myself because I’m only looking at the negative.

Perhaps… It’s how I view my world that is flawed…gasp! Perish the thought. How could I, the beautiful queen, be the one whose wrong? There is no way that I, the wise Dragon, could be the one who is flawed?

No…Never…that’s ridiculous. I must still be dreaming.

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Mommy Needs a Time Out

Last year before Christmas we decided to go to the outlet mall on a Thursday night. Naively I thought it wouldn’t be too bad, busy but not unbearable.

I was totally and completely wrong!

We were inside for about 20 minutes. The kids were ready to leave but they were still functioning. I was not. I couldn’t stand the people, the noises, all the christmas smells… It was hard to breathe. I couldn’t even hold my children’s hands as we walked out to the car. My husband shepherded them in the right direction as I moved on ahead, silently and visibly shaking. I had to take off my jacket…it was freezing but I needed to be free from the constraints. My visible breath was staggered and hyperventilating.

The children questioned, “Mommy, whats wrong?”

“I just need to go home”, I responded curtly.

Daddy reassured them, “Mommy just needs some quiet time. There are too many people in there. Can we be quiet for just a little bit?”

I had read articles about Over Excitabilitites. I had figured out which ones fit which child and had these huge “A-ha!” moments with each realization. Not once in any of that had I realized that I had them too.

But then I noticed…

When it’s below zero outside and I can’t bring myself to wear layers because of the way they feel. So heavy. So hot. Unable to move my arms. I’m told this is normal when wearing tailored jackets with heavy layers, but I feel trapped. I would rather be cold.

When I start staring at the tiles in the restaurant and no longer see tiles because faces started forming out of all the shadows and lines. Then each face needed a story… why did the old man have a scar? I could sit there building worlds in the back of my mind at a restaurant while also discussing politics, religion or daily drama.

My dreams don’t end at night. They don’t move quickly in unintelligible fashions. I am not an innocent bystander. I direct my own dreams. I create stories with intricate characters and story lines. The stories do not end when I wake up. I fixate on them and continue to form them in my mind, creating pictures while making Farina and answering children’s questions.

I binge learn. Choosing a new topic every few weeks or months, researching every aspect until I can explain and teach the subject to anyone who asks. When I read I disappear into the subject. I have no bladder, I have no stomach, I have no body that I tether too. I become a part of the work (fictional or not), a disembodied mind, moving through the wordage.

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I am just like the little ones.

So what happens when mommy has meltdowns too?

It’s not just in large crowds. When we are with other children in public places I can easily get overwhelmed. Maybe it’s maternal instinct, but I can handle my own children being all over me…I cannot handle the random child in the playground who keeps crying and touching my leg.

I try my best recognize my triggers and control my emotions, but sometimes I just need to be alone. I don’t want to have an emotional outburst aimed at my children when they have done nothing wrong. I don’t want to have to tell them to stop touching Mommy, because that volunteer hour I spent with preschoolers at church has me at my touching limit.  I don’t want to discourage their pretend play but sometimes I just cannot add another story to my head…I usually have three or four running simultaneously.

There are times when my own OE’s are going bananas and I just need a time out.

I need to get away.

I need to not be touched.

I need to release the stories so that I have room for new ones.

I need to learn something new.

I need a time out.

For a very long time I didn’t recognize this as a need. I saw it as a want. An “oooh, wouldn’t that be nice” kind of thought that I would fantasize about. Then I would have a meltdown because there was just too much going on. I wasn’t listening to myself. I wasn’t honest with me about who I am. I tried to hide from myself.

Now, I know better. I need that time out. It is a necessity. I need to be comfortable with my own voice.

Sometimes…

I need to hide in the pantry eating chocolate frosting that isn’t organic or fat free for fifteen minutes.

I need to tag out of being mom for a few hours and find a comfortable chair at a coffee shop and disappear into my notebooks.

I need an evening of sketch pads and manga, geek filled joy or a smart thriller that  I can try to solve before the TV show ends.

I need to let the children play without my guidance and get into a book, really into a book.

I need to have these breaks to keep me sane.

I also need to schedule in time to follow all my interests.

Unlike my son, who is hyper focused on science, I am interested in everything.

I want to learn everything! I want to study Anthropology, education, sociology, art history, classics, political theory, East Asian studies, Classics (again and deeper), business, physics and astronomy. I want to learn how to use photoshop, Evernote and how to code. I want to understand science and math in ways school never taught me.

I want to do everything. I want to sculpt, draw, paint, do photography, cook from scratch, can, do homeopathic stuff, garden, crochet, knit (I don’t even know how to cast on but I want too), sew my own clothes (I own 2 sewing machines but never learned hoe to use them), and decorate beautifully. I want to write curriculums, short stories, poetry, sic-fi and fantasy novels as well as Hispanic Historical Fiction.

I want to do it all. I feel compelled to do it all.

But,

I can’t learn it all,

I can’t do it all.

It’s all laid before me, like Sylvia Plath and her Fig Tree, tangible yet out of reach.

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I need to make the time to actually try.

The less time I set aside for me to learn and do, the more easily I fall prey to my meltdowns.

I stress out and over analyze everything.

I get paralyzed by choice…

not because I’m indecisive, but because I can analyze all of the possible outcomes and see the good and bad in each. I then feel compelled to analyze each possibility to find the best logical solution.

Sounds like good logic right?

No, not when the same thought process happens for every decision, big or small.

Choosing Ice Cream…takes forever, and then I analyze my choice and why I chose it.

I just need a Time out.

I am a gifted adult…

I belong in the rainforest…

my children get me, and I get them.

I don’t need a time out from them.

I don’t need a time out from the world.

I just need time.

Time to be me.

Time to chase my random thoughts down dark alleys and beat them into submission.

Time to organize my analysis into actual decisions and plans.

Time to address my own excitabilities, and put them in their place.

Time to learn and grow.

I need this because it is a part of me.

Taking a time out makes me a better mommy.

Taking a time out makes me a better Wife.

Taking a time out makes me a better friend.

It does not make me selfish, less interested or negligent.

Mommy needs a Time Out because it makes me a better person.

I pray that my children can see me setting apart this time and realize that it is a good practice to be comfortable with themselves.

I pray that they can learn from my struggle, and be proud of who they are, without outside opinions clouding their judgement.

I pray that they have the balls to put themselves into time out,

until then

Mommy Needs A Time Out.

blog hop october 2014

This is a part of the Gifted Homeschoolers Blog Hop on Gifted Adults.

Lost in Translation: An Immigrant Story

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The following is a tale as old as America. It is a true story.

The people in this story would like to keep some sense of Internet anonymity and so I will use pronouns and titles instead of names as I weave my tale.

Grab a cup of tea or coffee, sit before a fire and imagine that you too are on this journey.

The Tale of 3 Brothers

Over 40 years ago in a small Mountain town in the Caribbean country of La Republica Dominicana; during the reconstruction of the great country after the assassination of the Dictator, Rafael Trujillo, there lived two very different families.

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The first family was led by a small farmer who was full of integrity, hard working and quiet in nature. His wife was the pillar of the family, God fearing and the epitome of love. Together they raised 8 children. Their oldest son was quick as a whip, full of charisma and the life of any gathering with his daredevil antics.

The other family was led by woman who was graced with abundant strength, a quick tongue and an imposing personality. Her husband was a hardworking man and dedicated father with a penchant for unfaithfulness. Together they birthed 12 children. Their third child and oldest son befriended the oldest son of the other family, forever uniting the two lines when he introduced the charismatic boy to his younger sister.

The boy and girl fell in love almost immediately, barely in their tweens. The two boys were mischievous at best, playing hard and always trying to one up the others daredevil drive. The younger sister was always near by to be the voice of reason. The small village was the setting for their adventures until the night the older brother tried to stop a fight only to be stabbed by an ice pick in the process. The families mourned and the boy and younger sister decided that they wanted more than life in that small town, surrounded by memories of their best friend. After the girl’s 18th birthday, much to her mother’s dismay, the two lovers moved from the tiny village to the country’s capital. Both armed with an elementary education and her a talent as a seamstress.bonaubridge.jpg

After a few years of getting settled they started their family and the 3 Brothers were born within three years. Their love for each other was great but the temptations of the city enticed the boy more every day and his eyes wandered in every direction. He chased skirts, school and excitement. His charisma and wit opening any door that dared to stand in his way. After completing a bachelors degree in Refrigeration and diligently working in a plastic factory while she worked as a seamstress for a wealthier business owner, they decided to build a home for their three young boys. Together they saved enough money to buy a small plot of land. It took two years for them to build their house by hand, with their three small children helping as well.

The oldest of the brothers, almost 30 years later, remembers clearly the process of construction. The dirt. The rocks. The cement blocks being stacked, one by one. He remembers the celebration of moving in and the pride his father held as a man. The pride of providing for a family, of building a home on land that is yours, is one that has lasted a lifetime. It is also why, even after losing his family to another country he still held on to the house. It is now a place that is theirs, whenever they want it. Roots that have been firmly planted so that the 3 brothers can always return and have a home that is theirs.drhouse.jpg

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When the 3 Brothers left their island home the oldest was 10. Before that occurred the foundation of their integrity and determination was built through the vastly different experiences of growing up on their island paradise.

From kindergarten (4) to fourth grade (10) the oldest brother (and his siblings once old enough) attended a private school several miles away. They walked everyday to school and excelled academically but struggled with the structure. They were not the best producers, regardless of what they may have known. All three boys were mischievous, active, and quick witted. By 6 the oldest had learned almost all of his multiplication tables. By 5 the youngest did too. The middle brother was a late bloomer, according to their father, he learned them at almost 8. The methods may have been archaic (if you take too long expect a pinch), but the boys flourished academically under their fathers watchful eye. The teachers often reported that the talking, lying (storytelling) and playful nature kept them from receiving the best marks but they were otherwise good students, eager to learn.
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Besides their seamstress, factory, and referigeration work, their family also owned a small colmado (neighborhood grocery store) that was attached to the house (their father now uses it to sell lottery tickets). All three boys worked as shop keepers, handling money and goods, starting at 6, 5, 3.75 respectively. Whenever their father had a refrigeration job to do the oldest and youngest would help. Igniting a love of electronics, building and tinkering in both boys. The middle brother was different. He did not enjoy the math and science that surrounded him. He preferred the arts, books, and history that were introduced at school. He wrote stories and poetry to pass the time when not playing or watching cartoons with his brothers. The oldest memorized every joke he ever heard and was often the entertainment for adults, there was no such thing as censoring explicit information and the neighbors found the scrawny joke teller to be the best of entertainers. The middle brother had the integrity of a monk, never allowing an indiscretion to pass him by unreported. The youngest was often the instigator of such indiscretions, often able to convince his eldest brother to join in tom foolery.

Every summer the boys returned to the mountain town to spend their days helping on their paternal grandparents farm. Abuela and Abuelo were far from modernized. They woke with the crow of roosters every dawn, fed the animals and tended to chores with Abuelo while Abuela started the fire in the outdoor kitchen and cooked over cast iron Calderos. After washing dishes via a series of buckets, the men loaded the horses and rode up the mountain to tend to the farm while Abuela took the laundry to the nearest river. There using the massive rocks, she beat the stains out of the families dirty clothes with a bar of Jabon. The boys rode on horseback with their Abuelo to pick the harvests that could fetch a good price at the Mercado from his silver mist coated mountain acreage. They learned to distinguish different roots, harvest tobacco, coffee, cacao, paprika, mangos, platanos and guandules. They cared for the chickens and the pigs near the house, ate four meals a day, and spent the evening playing dominoes and cards with the family. After supper, at around 9:30 pm, they would fill a 5 gallon bucket with water and bathe. Using a plastic cup as a shower head. Before bed their Abuela would read them Bible stories, pray and send them to bed with love until her death.bonaocollage.jpg

That same year their mother took a once in a lifetime opportunity and emigrated to the United States with her sister at the insistence of Mama, the matriarch of her family, leaving her three babies with their father as she prepared the way for her family to follow suit. Mama was brought to the United States by her second oldest daughter, who had come with her husband. After going through the initial residency time frame Mama filled out the paperwork that would allow her children to all join her in the land of new beginnings. However, being the shrewd woman that she was and considering her great disliking of her sons in law, Mama only requested for the legal emigration of her children, leaving every daughter’s marital status as unwed. The choice was either to join their mother in the U.S. or stay behind with their husbands. Only two daughters chose to stay behind.

For two years the mother worked to save enough money to not only be able to afford the residency applications but also the air fare and living expenses that would be necessary to bring her three boys to her. By this time infidelity on both sides had crushed any chance of the lovers reuniting once again. The pain and distance had been enough to tear their family apart.

In September the 3 Brothers tearfully left their father behind and boarded their very first airplane. Alone they flew from Santo Domingo to San Juan, Puerto Rico, their point of entry. Alone they went through customs. Alone the three walked through the Airport to their next flight, heading for JFK where their mother anxiously awaited their arrival. Together they made their way to their new home in Connecticut. For hours the three brothers watched the New England Autumn Scene race past their windows. Their island weather had not prepared them for a New England Fall and all three were trying to get accustomed to their new Jackets. The oldest fondly recalls the smooth material and vivid green of the Jets jacket he wore and his first snowfall less than a month later.

 The boys were enrolled in the local public school, still speaking only spanish. The oldest transferred into the next grade (5th) without a problem, the middle also into his own grade (4th). The youngest was so far ahead of his peers that he skipped two grades and was placed into the same 4th grade class as his older brother and their older cousin who was 2 years behind because of the language problem. The boys were placed into the ESL program so that they could learn English. The course work was still too easy for all three boys compared to the individualized attention they had received at their private school. They found it easy to play instead of focus. This was especially true of the youngest. It was decided by the school that the boy was too emotionally immature to handle the rigors of fourth grade and so he was returned not to the next grade below, but to the grade of his aged peers, 2nd grade. The boys who had already mastered multiplication and division and were eagerly learning algebra with their father were deemed unable to learn because of the language difference, in a school with a majority of hispanic immigrant or 2nd generation immigrant children and almost entirely bilingual teachers.

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The 3 brothers stayed in the ESL program until High School. The oldest only attending a handful of courses entirely in English upon his graduation. There was no real need for anyone in the family to learn English. The area in which they lived was entirely populated by Latinos and Hispanics. It was hard enough to acclimate to the culture and technology, let alone add in a new language.

For example:

About a year into living in the United States the family was able to afford a small apartment without needing to share. In order to accommodate the boys in their new latch key environment, their mother saved and bought a brand new microwave. The boys read the directions to their mother and became accustomed to heating things up for the first time without a stove. By this time all three boys could cook a full dinner for their family on the stove, but this was a safer option. They knew what chores needed to be completed and they readily obeyed their mothers rules about being outside. Together they walked home from school with the oldest as the caretaker for the younger two, if in name only. Their mother worked two jobs and only had enough time between the two to make sure that homework had been finished and to hear about their day. Aunts and Uncles lived in the same apartment complex and were available if the boys needed anything.

Like all brothers, while close emotionally, these three fought often. They were sarcastic little buggers who loved to watch television and often fought over the remote. One afternoon the oldest had procured the remote and refused to relinquish his rights, regardless of the state of his bladder. While in the bathroom, rushing to get away from the prying hands of his brothers, the oldest dropped the remote into the clean toilet. The boys were terrified! Their mother would kill them if he broke the remote. They all knew that electronics malfunctioned when wet, they were especially worried when the channels on the cable box started changing without aid. The oldest brother decided that if they could rid the remote of its water they could save the remote. He then made the executive decision to use heat to get rid of the moisture. The fastest way to heat something in the apartment was the microwave. While the younger two were otherwise occupied the oldest put the remote into the microwave and turned it on for one minute. Almost immediately sparks started flying and all three brothers started freaking out. They did what all boys afraid of trouble do. They hid the evidence and swore not to tell. The boy scout of the three could not handle the lie and when asked fessed up, much to the chagrin of the other two. Their mother laughed at them and called the cable company for a new remote.

Many other cultural and technological comedies occurred as they grew more and more accustomed to American Life. However, even after 5 years the boys knew only conversational English. They lived in the Latino Ghetto of the inner city, because that is where they could afford to live and where their mother could find work.  She worked hard so that her boys could have a better life. She involved them in every free inner city program she could find that would emphasize education and get them out of the city. The youngest found it easiest to learn the new language, but all three struggled. Academically school was still easy for them so they did the bare minimum, enough to keep their grades high enough to please their mother but not really trying either.

They grew into Americans, exploring their interests and building new dreams.

The oldest discovered a love of computers and began tinkering with an old DOS initiated IBM that had been gifted to the family. He quickly learned his way around it and played floppy disked games late into the night. Early in High school he found that because of his ESL status, his grades were not even considered for the Honor Roll or Valedictorian honors and so he stopped trying. In math class he would sleep or read through class, never turned in homework and maintained a high c average with 90-100 percent on every test. In science he quickly befriended the teachers and challenged them with his curiosity, but never did the homework and aced every test. At 17, unable to afford college and desperate to get out of the gang infested projects where they lived, the oldest began talking to military recruiters. His mother was convinced after being promised that her son would have a desk job and so she signed the paperwork allowing her minor son to join upon graduation. She was told that because it was a peaceful time, her son would be safe and well taken cared of. After a few summer courses at the community college he entered the Marine Corps, where he quickly excelled. Within months his conversational English abilities became fluency. His career flourished with his role as an administrator which gave him an outlet for his perfectionism and his eye for details. His incredible memory allowed him to memorize most orders with ease, allowing him to often correct higher ranking officials on their misuse of SOP. Within two years he returned home and bought his mother a house in a nicer area of town, so that she would no longer live in the projects. The house also allowed her to stop working two jobs because she could rent out some of the floors to help cover expenses. He regularly sent her part of his paycheck so that his youngest brother could have more than he did. He was the first in his family to apply for citizenship and is now proudly an American. He dreams of completing a degree in education and going back to that inner city as a teacher, to inspire others as his teachers and principals did for him.

The middle son worked diligently. He didn’t slack off like his older brother but struggled with his higher course load taught in English. His love for poetry and literature was ignited again with an introduction to Shakespeare and his creative talents bloomed unnoticed. He was quiet by nature and often kept to himself in order to keep out of the drama of inner city life but poured his soul into his favorite past time, the swim and diving team at school. He worked a part time job and dreamed of life outside of the city and upon graduation, he too joined the Marine Corps. His creativity and artistry combined with his sense of justice have served him well as a cook and drill instructor. He gained his citizenship the year after his brother and is also proud to be a naturalized citizen. He was the first to buy his own home, his career is blooming and he hopes to one day open his own restaurant so that he can share his love of food and art with the world.

The youngest, having lived equal parts of his life in both worlds found it easiest to learn the language and acclimate to the culture. He was also an active member of the swim and dive team and excelled in his mathematics. He might’ve had a scholarship due to his high grades and quick mind but like his older brother he often preferred to focus on other pursuits. He had also planned on joining the Marine Corps, just like his older brothers, but both of them were vehemently against the idea unless he joined as an officer. At their urging he began community college classes where he excelled in mathematics and business. Shortly thereafter his girlfriend became pregnant and his son was born. Changing his focus and life forever. It took longer than he wanted. Life tends to throw curve balls but eventually he finished an accounting degree and began working for a paycheck firm.  He has physical custody of his son and devotes most of his energies into cultivating that active and creative mind with the help of his new bride.

This is where the story ends, for now. It is not really over, each is beginning a new chapter in their life and taking each day a step at a time. Not even fully into their 30’s collectively there is a lot of life to live.

I did not mention their names as I spun their tale because not one of these 3 Brothers will tell you that they are gifted.

They scoffed at the idea when I presented it to them.

I know them well and honestly thought they would refuse my request.

Why bring attention to them?

None of them even thought that their story was worth telling but I did.

Maybe because I love history, but mostly I just love a good underdog story.

Call it imposter syndrome or whatever you want, but they do not believe they are even smart. Years of mediocre grades and an ESL system that belittled their intelligence drove that out of them. Giftedness only became a topic when they began researching Giftedness for their children. Even with all the evidence they question the reality of the concept. Most unidentified adults do.

Through them, and others in their family who also have inspiring stories, I learned that not all gifted adults have degrees. I learned that giftedness can truly be found anywhere, in anyone. I also learned that our educational system doesn’t even look for giftedness in the ESL classes, at least not back then. The Magnet schools in that area are amazing, even 15 years ago they were fantastic, but it doesn’t mean that they catch everyone who walks through their halls. Maybe it was a great thing that they weren’t caught, maybe its good thing that they don’t consider themselves gifted. It doesn’t matter to them at this point because they are already successful, in their minds, and in every way that matters, they have risen above. They may not be millionaires or have Ph.Ds but they still struggle with the everyday realities of Gifted adults.

5 Party Free Birthday Traditions

This is not in any way a treatise against birthday parties. We are not against them. They just do not work for our family and if you are looking for ways to simplify your birthday celebrations than keep on going!

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I am a sucker for Pinterest. I LOVE beautiful things. Anyone, who has spent any amount of time on Pinterest knows that there are some people out there that create the most AMAZING birthday parities. I am not one of those moms. I tried to be once, but I realized I was pouring so much of myself into that birthday party that I was too tired and stressed out to enjoy time celebrating the life the party was all about.

I was so tired of expending all of my energy on the party. A party that stresses me as mom out! A party almost no one would ever actually come to. A party that stressed my kids out and caused meltdowns.

Now we do simple instead.

Not simple, diy party options. Nope, no party at all.

For us celebrating a birthday is a really big deal. It has always been a really big deal but parties were hundreds of dollars, after you factor in food, decorations, goody bags and venue. Every time we tried to save money it cost me in time instead. Sure they were fun, but there are less expensive ways of having fun and celebrating life. Instead of having a shindig focused on streamers, themes and stuff we choose to spend our energy and money on building relationships and memories. This is what we do to make birthdays extra special around here.

#1 Take the Day Off

My husband rarely gets to take a day off for birthdays. He does however, wake up early and pour extra attention on the birthday child before work, calls us during the day to say happy birthday again and clears his evening schedule so that its all about the birthday child. As for us at home… we take the day off from school. Each kiddos birthday is a school holiday for us…or at least it was until we switched over to a more unschooly way of life. The point is to make it as special as we can so it becomes a day filled with Birthday kid loving.

#2 Birthday Breakfast

Sometimes we go out to eat for breakfast but most days we make a big birthday breakfast filled with all the favorites at home. Waffles or Chocolate chip pancakes in funny shapes with whipped cream, fruit and sprinkles tends to be the most requested. If I decorate the table, it is just the table and only using craft supplies I already own. Nothing too over the top, just little tags or a small streamer saying happy birthday…maybe one or two balloons if we have them on hand.

#3 Have a special day out.

This is a free or minimal expense day out on the town. I ask the kiddo what they want to do most for their birthday and then we do it…within reason. It may be going to a favorite playground or park, using a year round membership we already have, a local museum or a combination of favorite places. If daddy can’t go with us on the day of the big birthday then we do something more normal and go to the super special place together as a family on the next Saturday ( For our last birthday, we went to the Aquarium with our year membership on the day of and then to the zoo with daddy the Saturday after). On occasion, our children have even chosen an out of state adventure and as long as it is within our budget we allow it (for example, visiting their cousins 5 hours away in Connecticut…who’s going to say no to a family visit?).

#4 Dinner as a family.

 Birthday kiddo gets to choose what we eat with no complaints from the rest of the peanut gallery. If they choose a restaurant they get to choose their birthday meal and a birthday dessert. That last part is the kicker for my kids, we rarely order dessert in restaurants so having that as an option is a huge treat for them. However, there are times when they want a special home cooked meal instead. In which case I make a whatever they have chosen as a meal and a homemade cake of their choosing. I don’t go crazy with the cake decorations. I know how to and used to (Ive made a Snow White themed 3 tiered cake with frosting and a Rocket ship…it took hours!) but now I don’t. Instead of doing fancy decorations I focus on the flavor and cover it with fruit or sprinkles. The funny thing is that the kids prefer it this way! They also get to help, which is a big treat for them too.

#5 The Birthday Present

Each child gets a single present for their birthday. They get it on their birthday and they use cash to buy it themselves. After dinner they choose a store to go to, $20 and then they can choose anything they want within that amount. So far none of them have wanted to just save the money for something bigger and all being 7 and under their gift choices have been easy. We also don’t stick to traditional toy stores with tons of options. One child almost exclusively chooses the lego store, the older two LOVE Bass Pro Shops and the youngest is good with Target. Armed with their cash and free will it is usually the highlight of their day!

Our focus is on spending time with each other. It’s all about having the best day ever.

It is all about having a Happy Birthday!

A Beautiful Sound

The rain is pouring around us. The fog that envelopes us makes driving difficult. We are already late.

As we pull into the driveway Little Man and Little Miss begin fighting. Neither wants to carry the books required for piano lessons and their teacher is cheerfully waving as they tumble out of the van. Curly Q is attempting an interpretative dance at the edge of the van door, informing us of natures call.

I turn in my chair to retrieve the books that neither child grabbed as they rushed out. As I pick up the books I notice naked piggies, wiggling before my eyes. Trash, sweaters, nature study treasures, and books litter the floor. Her rain boots and socks mixed into the mess.

The piano books get passed to the nearest child with a quick “quit fighting” issued to both. Curly Q is realized as she now slowly walks, examining every crack in the sidewalk as she moves towards the house. The urgency of her dance now forgotten.

In the quiet that follows I try my best to tidy up what I can reach, turn on the radio, give itty bitty her socks and a book before I check Facebook. It is blissfully quite for about two minutes.

Curly Q returns to the van, running. We buckle up and start driving towards the grocery store. The rain is still pouring down. The fog is still heavy. As I pull out onto the main road little bitty starts whining for another book. I nicely respond, “no, it’s raining and I’m driving. You can have a book when we get to the grocery store.”

She does not accept that response. The whining turns into screaming. The screaming turns into howling. She continues this for the full five minutes before we pull in to the parking lot.

I am not amused. I am more than slightly annoyed. It’s still only 9 am. I turn up the volume on the music in an attempt to drown out the banshee shrieks assaulting me from behind.

“Amazing grace how sweet you sound. It’s a beautiful sound. It’s a beautiful, beautiful sound. Beautiful, beautiful sound.”

It is not a beautiful sound. I do not enjoy this sound right now. But I did, at least once.

When a baby is born it is the sound of screaming that we welcome so lovingly. It is a sound mothers across the world wait nine months to hear. The sound of Life.

Not all get to hear it.

Some women lose their precious babes before they ever hear that sound. Some women ache for it. Desperately wanting to be blessed with a child, but unable to for whatever reason.

Some miss it dearly.

Some know the horror of loosing a child, a pain I couldn’t imagine. Some women ache for it. Wishing, longing and desperately needing to hear that cry just one more time.

One day I will miss this sound.

They will grow up. Every child grows up. Eventually they will move away. I will see them as regularly as their schedules allow. My youngest is only two and I already miss the sound of a Newborns cry. It won’t be long before I miss this stage as well.

If I’m lucky I’ll get to hear these sounds from their children, I’m told its even better then.

The sounds of tears, whining, fighting and screaming are beautiful sounds that I am blessed to hear daily. I don’t always see them as blessings. I’ve been told often to “cherish every moment” but it’s hard to cherish the child in meltdown mode. It’s hard to enjoy the sass that flows so regularly from Little Miss’ mouth. It’s hard to remember that being in the middle of the drudgery of everyday  IS a blessing.

I cannot take them for granted. They may annoy me and anger me at times but they are still blessings nonetheless. Songs like the one on the radio, positive utterances by strangers about how they miss these years, news casts of tragic events all remind me. I need to be more purposeful in my perspective. I need to remind myself.

 I need to know…

It is a beautiful sound.

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“Go Outside and Get into Nature”

Have you ever watched an episode of PBS’ Dinosaur Train?

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Its a favorite around here. We all love it and watch it fairly regularly. The title even came from the Scott Sampson, the Paleontologist who ends every episode. Much like Mr. Roger on Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood used to say “Won’t you be my neighbor” with every single episode , Scott Sampson ends every episode with a challenging children to get to know nature. I love this so very much and after watching the show a few hundred times I realized that maybe the reason that I loved the whole thing so much was because Mr. & Mrs. Pteranadon are unschoolers and they practice regular Nature Studies!

How cool is that! With the exception of an adopted T-Rex…and that whole being dinosaurs thing, they are just like us. Ok maybe not, although they certainly reinforce our educational philosophies in fun ways.

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As a part of our weekly schedule we make sure to add in at least some time actively being in Nature as a way to implement an understanding of the natural world in a way that books and movies just can not do. Like the Pteranadon family we believe in thinking like scientists, exploring our world and building relationships. We do this through actively and inactively studying the world we live in.

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1) Think like scientists.

We teach our children to question everything around them. Not just look at the changing leaves of autumn and say “oh they are so pretty” but to question why are they changing? What is causing the changes. What does that mean for the wildlife that lives in these trees? Everything is a question and each child is taught to make a hypothesis to go along with their questions. We want them to know that they can find answers too, that they can create theories, collect data and answer questions…or create new questions. I do not give my children answers…I do not ask them leading questions. I ask real questions and help them find real answers through observing the natural world around them, regularly.

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2) Explore our World

I do not assign or create activities for my children during Nature Study. I bought a Nature Study Handbook once and never used it. We have Nature journals where they can catalogue what they see but I do not restrict what goes into it. We ALWAYS have a pocket microscope available so that we can take a closer look at anything we find. I sit (or stroll) around a central location and let my children roam free. They know to keep me in sights at all times and have basic safety rules to comply with (two feet from water unless mommy is with you) while they are off exploring. We don’t limit ourselves in exploration abilities. Some weeks we explore the parking lot at the Library, others a wildlife refuge (to include hiking trails), while other times it’s a day at a Zoo or Aquarium. The point is to go often, observe constantly and have fun.

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3) Building Relationships

We build relationships everywhere we go. We sit under a tree at the lake with books and art supplies talking to each other and reading stories aloud. At the Wildlife Refuge we have lengthy chats with the volunteers and Park Rangers about the wildlife and local sights. We build relationships with the plants we see and the wild animals we encounter. We are actively fostering a love of the environment and all who live within it. IT’s not just about the people to people relationships that we build but also the people to Earth relationships. We learn the names of the trees, birds and reptiles that we pass by on our walks. We practice healthy habits for a healthy environment, like recycling and reusing as well as reducing our footprint. We learn about natural cycles that affect every inhabitant on the planet.

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We don’t use curriculums or lesson plans, we just live outside as much as possible. We don’t have a backyard, we aren’t able to go out very often but we make the outdoors interesting. We stay up late to watch the stars. We pull over on the side of the road to see the deer crossing. We sit on our balcony and watch the squirrels hoard their nuts. We lay on the grass and try to name the birds singing or soaring above. In the winter we watch the squirrels. We test to see how fast water turns into ice. We watch the world from behind warm windows. We still look at the stars.

The goal is to get into nature. To make it an irresistible wonderland waiting to be explored.

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To build memories and instill a love of the World that needs our love.

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A Week in the Life

Not long ago I posted what our schedule looked like. I loved it and we got out of the house everyday, giving us purpose and direction. Well that lasted about a month. So here is an updated look into how we roll.

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My favorite thing about homeschooling has got to be, hands down, the flexibility.

We had a schedule that was working well for us because it allowed us to meet the needs of our whole family. We were still getting used to Apartment living and still needed to get out of the apartment every single day in order to keep from going crazy. It was pretty expensive in terms of gas but it was doable because we had two cars. That did not last long. Our second car is now an unmovable hunk of metal in the Apartment parking lot…ok thats an exaggeration. It can move but not in reverse unless your pushing it and not for a long period of time without having to restart it. We are still paying off the car so getting another is just not possible right now (it was a rookie car buying mistake and we are kicking ourselves thoroughly for it). So, for the foreseeable future we are a one car family and that meant changes needed to happen.

Enter the new schedule!

We spend much more time at home than ever before and that requires a whole lot more of a focus on life skills. I’ll be honest 4/5 weekdays inside means a very messy house. Very, messy. This new schedule needed to incorporate time for independence, time for cleaning and cooking as well as time for active learning but I am not a big schedule person so I also ended something that could change easily.

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Mellow Mondays are our weekend recovery days. We all clean little by little, together, all week long but the weekends are fun and free of stress and I demand to be let in on that freedom so monday morning usually leaves us with a huge mess. Its actually not that huge but in a small space a small mess looks gigantic. We clean together, organize, open up the windows (not always sometimes the weather sucks!), turn up the music (I completely consider this music appreciation time because we read off the names of the composers and jump through a multitude of genres) and dance while cleaning. Sometimes, sometimes I clean and yell at children, over the music, who are playing when they are supposed to be cleaning. Either way the house gets put back in order. We make lunch together and then it is a technology free for all. Everybody grabs a spot with a device (iPads, PSP, PS Vita, Nintendo DS, Playstation or Netflix) and the kids have free reign until nap time (this is when I work on my blog posts). Nap time is really a mandatory down time that is electronic free (about an hour from 2-3), we don’t always nap but we all have independent time with our thoughts, books, building materials or notebooks (I work on my novel). Afterwards its teatime (close to 4) with a very light snack and a poem or two (Shel Silverstien is a favorite) before I make dinner and the children again get free electronics time.

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I need a mellow monday. It is part of me working towards a healthy balance of me & family. For this introvert weekends are draining. We use saturdays to run errands as a family or go on field trips and Sunday morning is church (where I teach Sunday school to a class of 2-3 year olds) and both days are filled with people, noises and touching. I need more than just an afternoon at home (which works well for my extroverted husband). I need a full day of being lost in thought. A full day of creativity, world building and writing. The only way I get that is if my children are allowed to have free reign of the electronics. The funny thing is that even though they get almost a whole day of unrestricted electronic usage, they only choose to use half of it. I find them drawing and pretending more than playing or watching! Also we don’t restrict the other days of the week…we just make other activities look way more interesting.

Teaching Tuesdays sound like a day where the kids all sit at a table and I give them lectures. That couldn’t be further from reality. It is however our day for focusing on the 3 R’s. We start after breakfast, around 9 am usually because momma is a night owl and doesn’t function well before that (although they eat yogurt, granola or fruit when they first wake up), with story time. Story time is basically literature, if you were to put it into subject break ups, and right now we are reading through The Neverending Story. They all lay on the floor with pillows and blankets and get comfy while I read aloud.

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We have a stack of puzzle books, logic books, crosswords, word finds, workbooks (from stores that they children have chosen to work through) and journals that the children pull out to work on. I don’t assign these. I just ask them what they are going to work on, pull out my own journal, turn on the music and then start working. They know that I expect them to do some sort of work and every activity needs to be based on Reading, Writing or Arithmetic. The younger two break out the lincoln logs, blocks, Mancala, dominoes and puzzles and quietly play with them nearby. The music is the volume control, everyone should be able to hear it and if you can’t then you are too loud. The electronics equipment is all out of sight and so I am not even asked if they can use them (occasionally they have tried and I have offered other options instead…not really saying no but making it clear that I would prefer another choice). After we have worked on everything together, they proudly show off their work and we have a sort of show and tell period.

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We then make lunch and watch a documentary or cartoon that relates to something that was brought up in discussions (usually in relation to the days journal entry or copy work). That is followed by Nap time and then tea, where we read a poem (the classics like Stevenson) and a short story (usually from a fairy book/folktale or myth). We end our day with free play (pretending, painting, legos, etc) before the nights activities.

World Wednesdays are almost exactly like Teaching Tuesdays except the focus is on the whole world. We read stories about people from different places, we work on filling in maps, we watch documentaries and we build replicas. We practice our Bible verses, talk about theology and spend almost all day in pj’s talking to each other about how the world works. Did I mention we watch documentaries? Wednesdays are not so schoolish, it loos a lot like a family watching tv. It looks a lot like pretend. It looks like cartoons and international food! It is entirely based on relationships and learning together. It is one of my favorite days of the week.

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Exploration Thursday is our one day out and about. We wake up with daddy, grab a to go breakfast as we are leaving the house and don’t come home until after we pick daddy up from work. We mix it up each Thursday, one week we may go to three libraries, the next two nature preserves or the farm and the fourth thumbing through used bookstores. We get groceries for the week, get in our PE and Music (piano lessons) and make art along the way. We have picnic lunches and read on the grass while watching clouds and birds. My next post will be entirely based on how we do Nature Study but its safe to say that Thursdays are their favorite day… it’s a tie with Wednesday for me!

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Free Friday is exactly that: a free for all. We paint, do science experiments, build, pretend, watch cartoons, practice needle craft, search for new youtube videos or watch favorites. We read books galore, bake together (I measure/they watch, they dump & we take turns mixing), work on puzzles and play battleship. It is an anything goes kinds of day and we enjoy each others company.

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We are still trying to figure out how to keep things reasonably clean around these parts and we are trying to get more outside time in but for now I am loving the concentrated blocks of time! I don’t have to worry about being grumpy because we all work on our schedule and we are saving money in the process. Less eating out means healthier options and over all it has been a great change for us. Who knows how long it will last but for now we have a new groove.