Monday, August 22, 2011

Mama in the Mornings

I'm not exactly a morning person.  If I lived alone it is likely that I would stay up late each night and sleep in each morning.  This is my natural tendency, one that showed itself even when I was a child.  Sleep has never come easily, I sleep lightly, and I need a gentle transition to the new day. J-Baby is much like me, whereas T-Guy falls asleep easily, sleeps soundly, and is an early riser. Not a wide-awake-at-dawn early riser (for which I am thankful), but a chipper child who is fully awake by 7 AM, eager to meet each day.

I am experienced enough in parenting, and in Waldorf parenting in particular, to understand the importance of my role in the home.  I say this not as an anti-feminist (because I am a feminist) or because I espouse traditional values (valuing children is traditional but I believe it can be done in many ways and not all of them involve a stay-at-home-mother), but because I have experienced it in my life and know it to be true.  If I am sad, my children are sad.  If I am grieving, they grieve. They are anxious when anxiety rules my behavior, and cranky when I allow myself to be cranky. My children are mirrors of my emotions and of my self, both at its best and worst.

I set the tone in my home.  It is as simple as that.  I choose whether we are stressed or calm, irritable or happy.  Not 100% of course; my boys and Papa have emotions and moods of their own that express themselves, but I am the one who has the power to tame those emotions and moods or let them take over our home.  When I hear discord I can ignore it, allow it to escalate, and then attempt to diffuse it with my own frustration, or I can monitor it (different than ignoring), determine if my assistance is needed, and step in before we are all frustrated.

Accepting this role in my home means that I have to be present.  There is no other option; I must listen, observe, weigh options, and intervene.  I must set the example.  I can't let my own little frustrations escalate.  I can't allow anger to fall from my lips.  I must calm myself when stress threatens to take over.  I must show gratitude.  I must get up in the morning ...

Oh, that is the hardest one!  I can't be present if I am asleep.  I can't start the day ten steps behind, either, because when I do I am frustrated, irritated, stressed, and certainly not setting the example I want to set.

Fact #1: I'm not really a morning person.  I have forced myself to function as one in the past but it is not my natural inclination.

Fact #2: My children need me to be awake in the morning, awake not only with them but before them, ready to guide them into each day.

Fact #3: Wishing something was different doesn't make it so.  I'm not talking about my not being a morning person, because that is something that can be altered.  My children needing me simply can't be changed.

For 21 mornings I have been been awake and out of bed by 7:15 AM at the latest, and that was only two mornings.  I am averaging 6:30, which might not sound very early to the larks out there but for me it is, especially as when I started this I was still not falling asleep before 2 AM.  Some days I am up at 6 AM.  Getting up earlier hasn't guaranteed that I will fall asleep earlier than the wee hours of the morning that I seem to be hardwired for, but most nights now I do fall asleep before midnight.  Not before 11 PM, but before midnight, and that is progress.

I'm tired.  There is no sugar coating it.  I do my best at staying present and chipper during the day and sometimes I fall apart when Papa comes home and I can't be nice any longer and I take it out on him. That's the reality.  I'm not going to lie and pretend that I set my mind to this (which I did) and that it all came up roses (it hasn't).  It's getting easier, but I am still incredibly tired and emotionally thin in spots and I can hardly wait until my boys are in bed.

I have walked down this path before, but I have never been this successful.  A few months ago I started realizing that for me, getting up at 6:30 AM is easier than getting up at 7:30 AM.  It sounds counterintuitive, but I believe that somewhere in me is another diurnal pattern.  I also noticed that I was consistently exhausted around 8 PM.  I suspect that my natural wake time may be more like 5:30 AM and my sleep time around 9 - 9:30 PM.  My life doesn't allow for that right now, but I do intend to give it a try.  I think I am more successful this time around because I am trying to get up even earlier than before.  It sounds counter-intuitive, but it is working.

I am also, for the first time in my life, allowing myself to be tired.  If you know how an exhausted toddler will fight being tired then you know how I have lived my life.  I simply stopped letting myself even think I was tired, and so I believed it.  Being tired was being weak, and not being tired was part of who I was. So now I am acknowledging my exhaustion ~ out loud even.  I am letting myself feel it and I am telling myself that I feel it and I am going to sleep based on that (except when I am exhausted at 8 PM because that just doesn't work).  It doesn't always work; I can admit that I am tired, turn off the lights, and lie there not sleeping even though I am tired.  But I'm trying not to stress about it.  Only once in the past three weeks have I been awake until 2 AM (and later, but I didn't look).  Six weeks ago falling asleep around 2 AM was my normal ~ I'm making progress.

Anyway, this is long, but it is part of my being accountable to myself and also sharing the journey with those who my struggle with mornings as I have.  I'm tired, but I am going to keep trying.

Update 9/8/2011: Getting up earlier has gotten easier, but we've also gotten a little lax with it.  I'm awake before 7:30 every morning whether I set the alarm or not.  I'm mostly waking by 7 but not leaving the bed until 7:30.  My evening sleep time has been creeping forward which is something I need to work on.  But overall it is so much better; I'm not nearly so exhausted any longer.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Busy Busy Busy

I had thought that I would start posting daily in anticipation of the upcoming homeschool year.  Instead I have been getting estimates, budgeting, coordinating tradespeople (I don't know why I bother to be gender neutral ~ they have all been men), picking colors, supervising work, choosing light fixtures, prepping for extermination, and managing dogs as people are in and out of the front door and gate.

In the meantime I am stuck on our learning space as I haven't been able to move out the old dining room table and start changing things up.  I know what I see in my mind and want to make that happen, but imagination isn't reality and I need to actually get in there and set things up.  Looking at the walls I don't think I'll have space to hang a blackboard or even to have one on a rolling stand, so we will probably have to stick with our current blackboard and place it on an easel.  That can have its advantages, as I often like to do chalkboard drawings with the board on the floor or in my lap.  I am committed to doing more drawing this year!

I'm also spending some time looking through the Making Math Meaningful middle grades curriculum; part of me knows that we don't need more math and part of me wants to have another resource to well, make it more meaningful.

I'm working on our fall rhythm as well.  While the afternoon tea and late dinner is working well for the boys and I, Papa comes home each evening ravenous and ready for dinner.  I could move the snack a little earlier (making it less formal) and serve dinner earlier as well, but with an early dinner the boys always want a snack before bed.  Plus baseball is starting and it is hard to have an early dinner when T-Guy is still at practice.  Oh, what to do?  Let it sit and see what happens, I suppose.

I actually do have some time to write, knit, or read, but I am so very tired (that will be my next post) that I have little motivation or energy to do anything.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I Am So Very Honored ...

... to have a post on mothering shared on Carrie's blog, The Parenting Passageway.  Carrie's blog has been such an inspiration to me and my mothering; I have been reading it from the beginning and I am still inspired regularly.  It is the first blog I think of when recommending a gentle parenting or Waldorf blog.  Go check it out, and be gentle if you read my piece and want to leave feedback.  I should have spent some time editing, lol.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Protecting the Blank Spaces

I think I've mentioned that I like planning.  I mean, really like planning.  I make calendars and schedules and meal plans and gift lists and well, you get the idea.  It's just the kind of brain I have.

During the summer I plan our upcoming homeschool year.  In general, we aim for lessons in the morning and leave the afternoons free for quiet time, activities, and outings.  But I hate to see a really full calendar or schedule; we need breathing room.

Now that we outsource PE that is something we have to go to each week; it is worth it because the boys are learning team sports and because they thrive in the class.  In general I think you can teach just about anything yourself, but team sports are hard because you need other children to be on a team.  Two children cannot a soccer match make, or something like that.

We also have a weekly park day, a time to get together with our local homeschool community.  We do this on Friday afternoons and it works out so well ~ everyone is ready to relax and let the week slip into the past.

This year we may or may not have our first outside of the home weekly class.  A friend is planning to teach a science class based on Harry Potter and I am going to tutor her daughter in reading in trade for having my boys attend the class.  The plans are slightly up in the air now, but if it works out that is yet another afternoon away from home (or partial afternoon, but out is out).

Those three afternoons leave us only two free, and one of the free afternoons was our weekly library outing.  Eeeks!  I'll have to switch that to another day that we are already out if I want to make sure we have two full at home days each week.

Why do I try so hard to have empty spaces on my calendar?  Why not fill up every available time slot as so many of our friends do?  Because we do it differently.  We need free time and days that we don't leave home and I notice the difference when we don't get it.  The boys are cranky, I'm cranky, and our lives are less pleasant.  I don't have a more-is-better philosophy when it comes to activities for children.  I have a more time at home is better philosophy.  A more family time, more quiet time, more free time philosophy.

In truth, the Harry Potter class may not work out for us.  It may be that leaving home only two days per week will work best.  It creates less stress for me, and less for the boys as well even though they would say how much they love going places.  And that is the problem; they do love going out but sometimes it is too much and it is my job to figure out where the balance lies.

Fun things can be stressful.  Important, fantastic things can be stressful, which is why getting married or having a baby are considered major life stressors.  Anticipation and excitement cause cortisol to run through our bodies just as fear and frustration do.  When my boys are waiting for something like leaving for a birthday party or waiting for cousins to arrive they are impatient and antsy.  They pace, they look out the window repeatedly, the fret over the clock.  It's stressful.

But they are kids, and they can't figure this out on their own.  That's my job, and that is why I protect the blank spaces.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

On Following Our Own Course

Over the years we've tried a couple of different times to start our homeschool year; by far my favorite has been starting with the fall equinox.  It gives us a natural celebration to begin the homeschool year with and the seasonal change helps us feel like it is time to shift gears.

The transition between seasons here is subtle; we don't have a sudden cold snap or leaves bursting out in bright colors.  Some years we even begin fall with a heat wave.  But we feel the change; the cool of evening doesn't envelop us gently as it does in summer, no, it is sudden and sharp.  The light is different. The produce we find at the farmer's market changes.

Two years ago I decided that we would follow the schedule set by the charter school that most of our friends use, beginning in August and finishing in May.  That spring the boys had been a little unhappy at the thought of doing lessons when their friends were already on summer break; we'd had an easy grade 3 year anyway so we ended when they did.

When I started my homeschool planning earlier this summer I considered going with a September 23rd start because it feels right, but then when I thought about June lessons I changed it to an August start and I did all my block planning based on that.  It is true that we are all ready for a break by the time late spring rolls around.

But a question on the Homespun Waldorf message boards asked how people mark the first day of homeschool and I felt a longing for the way we did it before, the way that had meaning for us.  I also considered how rushed I would feel to be starting in a little over a week.  It didn't feel right, and so I went through my planning block by block and moved us back to the September start. Then I let out a big sigh of relief.

I want to enjoy the last month of summer without having filled it with lessons.  I want us to find our rhythm, something that we have struggled with this summer.  I really don't want to jump from our summer-that-felt-like-it-wasn't into a homeschool year that feels like we-have-to-but-we-don't-really-want-to.  Besides, we're still waiting for it to get really hot; summer has plenty of life in her yet.

We don't have to do what everyone else is doing.  Following the charter schedule doesn't give us any more credibility.  It doesn't matter what strangers thing when they ask us if we've started school and we say no.  Choosing to start when it makes sense for us and when we can infuse it with meaning is the right thing for us.  Ending after our friends do just takes a little more discipline, but we can also look forward to our final festival of the homeschool year, the summer solstice.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Our Festival Year

Festivals play a large role in the Waldorf school year and we try to infuse that into our little Waldorf-inspired homeschool.  However, grafting many of the Waldorf festivals into our lives simply didn't work for me, so I considered the special days that we do celebrate and built our festival year around those.  As home learners we don't have to skip the really big holidays because we already celebrate those together as a family.

September:  The Autumnal Equinox.  While we may not have the flashy fall that some climates do, the arrival of autumn is just as heralded in our home.  It brings with it the breaking of the heat and some of our best outdoor months.  As we come into the time of balance between day and night we also seek balance and give up some of the hedonistic pleasures of summer for the discipline of lessons.

October:  October brings us Freethought Day as well as Halloween.  Halloween is one of our favorite holidays, not because it is a candy fest but because it is a time for us to be with our homeschool community.  We gather together for a potluck meal, take the children out, and then return home to share the rest of the evening.  The children look forward to Halloween more than any other festival, planning costumes months in advance and admiring what everyone has done.

November:  Thanksgiving is our harvest festival.  We cook nearly every year and open our home to friends and family; if we miss a year it simply feels wrong.

December:  We celebrate Christmas as our big December holiday, spending the month in preparation by crafting, baking, and cooking.  Each year I create an Advent calendar for us that is filled with activities large and small.  But we also create meaning and ritual around the Winter Solstice.  I feel a deep connection with all of humanity, past and present, as we observe the natural phenomenon of the solstice and share the jubilation at the return of the sun.  As the year comes to a close we celebrate its end together as a family.

January:  We begin by celebrating the arrival of the New Year.  Then, one of us completes a trip around the sun.  Growing up nothing was more important than my own sun day and I honor the excitement my children have by creating a festival just for each of them.

February:  February is a month of quiet celebration for us; I do think that it makes what can be a wet and dreary month more tolerable.  We have Imbolc or St. Brigid's Day, Darwin Day, and Valentine's Day (another celebration with our homeschool community).  We also celebrate Pancake Day either this month or next, which is one of the only festivals I pulled from a Waldorf book that took root in my family.

March:  March brings us the Spring Equinox, another time of balance.

April:  Two of us complete our annual trips around the sun this month.  One is celebrated with great fanfare, the other a little more quietly.  We also celebrate Earth Day, and Easter if it occurs this month.

May:  We have a tradition of surprising friends with little anonymous treats on May Day, something I remember from my own youth.  We also celebrate the National Day of Reason.

June:  Another trip around the sun for a special someone, and then we celebrate the Summer Solstice in all its glory.

I wanted to post this because I think that Waldorf homeschoolers sometimes feel that they are simply too busy with blocks and home life to bring in all the Waldorf festivals.  To me, the point of the festivals isn't to add in things which make more work for you, but to find the things that add sparkle to your year and allow those times to build, peak, and ebb away.  It has served as a way for my boys to feel the fullness of the year, and to understand the difference between commonplace and special.  All-you-can-eat candy for one evening of the year (Halloween) is very special, but if we were to have candy daily or even weekly it would become ordinary and our festival would have less meaning.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Bright and Shiny Grade 6 Plan

I love planning!  Planning trips, planning a party, and especially planning our homeschooling.  I've learned that it's a map I'm making, but that I might not necessarily follow the planned route exactly, and that's okay. I work with real children who have ideas and ambitions of their own and I can't force my plan on them; they have to come along willingly.  And that is enough metaphor for one paragraph.

I have the year mapped out with blocks and secondary lessons and breaks.  It is a fairly traditional Waldorf grade 6 year with some of our not-so-traditional resources thrown in.  We aren't giving up Life of Fred and you can't make us!  Here is the block rotation:

Ancient Greek History I
Coastal Ecology (class trip)
Ancient Greek History II
Nature, Number, and Geometry
Ancient Roman History I
Introduction to Physics
Ancient Roman History II
The Middle Ages

Our secondary lessons are mostly connected to our main lessons.  In some cases we simply do art and music from the historical period we are studying in our main lesson (Fine Arts).  We have a couple of cooking secondary lessons planned; one ties in with Ancient Greek history and the other with Physics (cooking is Vocational Education which I am required to offer beginning in jr. high) .  December is always our month for holiday crafting (Applied Arts).  We have two Health lessons planned: one on nutrition to tie in with Mineralogy and one on public and personal sanitation to tie in with Ancient Rome.  (Aren't I clever ~ take that state of California and your required subjects, because I can make health tie in with Waldorf no problem.)  We'll also have a sewing block, which doesn't really tie into Astronomy but what can I do?  The boys want to learn to sew on machines this year.

Papa is going to expand on our Physics and Astronomy blocks by working with the boys all year using two books: Galileo: His Life and Ideas (25 Activities For Kids) and Isaac Newton and Physic For Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities.

I outsource Physical Education; we have a great company that comes into town and offers PE classes to home-schooled children once a week.  My boys love it.

In addition to main and secondary lessons we will continue to work with (as I said before) Life of Fred: Decimals and Percents (kind of sort of business math, don't you think?), Daily Grammar (simple, easy to use, and they like it), and Spelling City (they love it and seem to be learning some spelling).  Oh, assigning novels last year worked so well that we are going to do it this year as well.  I'm looking at Newberry Award winners and Honor Books again.

The only thing that is really up in the air is foreign language.  I am required to offer foreign language, but my students aren't required to take it and so far they aren't interested.  We bring in Spanish in a fairly organic manner but at some point they need to choose a language.  Maybe we'll try Mango Languages this year since it is free.  I keep telling them that they had better pick up some Dutch as I am thinking about sending them to their uncle in Belgium as "foreign exchange students" in a couple of years.

There is is, pretty as a new copper penny!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Learning Journal ~ Postal Museum

Homeschool isn't officially in session yet, but this year we are going to document our more organic learning experiences here on the blog.  Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera with me today and didn't even think about the fact that my phone has a camera.

Today we:

Explored the postal museum and noted that the clerks had more protection/separation from the public in the past, but that it made it harder to handle packages.  We also saw the postmaster's desk, talked about old phones, and looked at how the mail carrier caps have changed over the years.  The boys gently touched the antique scale and old hand-cranked cancellation machine and we talked about what stamp cancellation is.  It would be great to set up a tour at a modern facility. (History)

Went to the public library and chose new books.  (Reading)

Boiled potatoes for shepherd's pie and discussed the boiling point of water, what boiling looks like, why water boils, and how starch in water changes boiling.  (Science)

Played Risk.  (Geography, Math, social skills)

Monday, August 1, 2011

On Sugar

I know that sugar isn't particularly healthy, but I don't know that I believe that it is the devil.  Eating a lower sugar diet makes sense, but I also know that it is the latest health demon.  Remember when fat was determined to be the cause of all heart disease and obesity and the shelves were full of low-fat and nonfat offerings? When cholesterol numbers were obsessed over with the goal being as low a number as possible?

I'm not saying that I think people should eat sugar morning, noon, and night.  I think moderation is good in all things ~ I seek balance.  And overall I think that our health and weight issues are mostly related to activity.  We don't get the kind of activity that we used to get before the information revolution and two-car households becoming the norm, and the kind of activity that many of us try to get to make up for that (three times a week spinning, stepping, running, etc.) just isn't enough.  it isn't that our bodies can't tolerate sugar (did you know that breast milk is mostly sugar?).  Unhealthy bodies have difficulties with all sorts of macro and micro nutrients, not just sugar.

I use sugar in my cooking and baking at home and I don't worry that my kids are getting too much sugar.  They aren't drinking soda or punch and they aren't eating candy, not on a regular basis anyway.  I don't buy packaged cookies or snack cakes.  Their meals consist mostly of legumes, fruits and vegetables, and potatoes or a cooked grain.  There isn't any sneaky HFCS or other sugars snuck in there because I don't cook from packages.

When they were younger it was easier to give them very little (or even zero) sugar but it isn't so easy now.  They want sodas, slushies, popsicles and ice cream just as much as any other child.  I understand it because I did too when I was a child (and it wasn't restricted in my childhood home).  We could fight about it, but I think it works better to give them alternatives that taste great and eliminate the worst food offenders such as HFCS, artificial flavors and colors, and preservatives.

Instead of soda we drink sparkling water (we have a SodaStream) mixed with a small amount of juice.  Slushies from pureed fruit and juice can be made in the ice cream maker or they can be made in a blender.  Popsicles are a snap with an ice pop mold and some pureed fruit.  Ice creams and sorbets are easy at home as well with an ice cream maker. I make all sorts of sorbets with fresh, frozen, or canned fruit depending on the season.

When I bake I am less likely to make a traditional cake or cookies and instead I make muffins or "lunchbox" cakes with fruits and/or vegetables.  Using pureed pears or bananas means I can lower the added sugar content without sacrificing flavor.  I save cookies, brownies, and frosted cakes for special occasions.

My boys drink water (and J-Baby occasionally drinks almond milk) for most meals, with lemonade or an agua fresca being a special treat.  The eat a green salad or other raw vegetables daily.  We choose home-popped popcorn instead of chips.