Friday, September 30, 2011

I'm struggling, this week, with how to engage in conversation with people who are making sweeping generalizations with which I disagree. Specifically, sweeping generalizations that claim that everyone is going about things the wrong way (where "everyone" has at different times been used to mean all parents, all Americans, all Progressives, or all members of a club I belong to) when, in fact, there are many people (myself included) who are *not* doing things the way the speaker assumes "everyone" does. (Sometimes I also disagree with the assertion that the mainstream way is necessarily *wrong* -- I agree that it's not right for everyone, and it's important to recognize that and have other options available, but there are also plenty of people for whom the mainstream approach genuinely works just fine.)

Yeah, it's partly my ego raging against being lumped in with goobers. But it's also partly about being able to take part in the conversation authentically, allowing myself to acknowledge that my experience (with school, with academia, with the decision to stay home with my daughter, with particular group dynamics, or whathaveyou) is different from the experience of the other people in the discussion but is equally valid.

I don't know how to present my viewpoint without squelching other people's enthusiasm for whatever new idea or approach it is that's gotten them all revved up, or without coming across as a special snowflake.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Goal-free week -- sort of

This week Sarah and I are experimenting with a Goal-free week, as described at Perhaps later I'll head over there and find the specific article.

We're currently without a car, so we're walking everywhere. To the store, to the laundromat, to the park, home from the mechanic...

We also give ourselves the week off from our routines, during our occasional Goal-free weeks.

It's refreshing, invigorating, gives us the opportunity for deep rest, and sends us back to our routines with renewed enthusiasm and some exciting new ideas.

(It also teaches me a lot about the extent to which I can never be truly goal-free, as long as I'm raising Sarah -- everytime something new comes up in conversation, I find myself scurrying for my homeschool notebook and books of homeschool resources, to add it to our list, to make sure I don't forget it's something we want to pursue.)

So what do we do with our time when there's nothing we "have to" do?

Play with dolls, make mulled cider, cuddle, watch cartoons, watch Rick Steve's Europe, decorate tshirts, do yoga, do dishes, make soup... That's early on the first day (technically the second, but the first goal-free day was spent out with friends at the zoo, and then doing laundry at the laundromat, so it was no different from what that sort of a day would look like on a regular week).

Late on Tuesday I realize I'm getting stressed, feeling as if I'm puttering and wasting my time. Feel pulled to really retreat into the week, sinking deep into mindfulness and being present. Watch a romantic comedy (Imagine Me and You -- fun but forgettable, with Giles doing an awesome job as the beaten-down dad of the bride) while Joe and Sarah are out at Pokemon. Clean mindfully. Contemplate what a four-day pre-equinox retreat might look like. Consider whether that would count as a goal, even if I felt called to it spontaneously. Consider whether I can set an intention of being present and relaxed, without considering it a goal. Do a short ritual preparing to welcome the Fall.

Wednesday I had plans in Montclair in the evening, to talk with a new friend who's thinking of homeschooling her 3 year old daughter. Since we've been missing our friends from our volunteer gig, we set out to walk into Montclair (a daunting prospect for Sarah, even when we broke the journey down into several parts -- I promised her we won't do it again any time soon, but suggested that if we make it a habit to walk into Bloomfield, soon Montclair won't be a big deal at all), and spend the day. We hung out at the library, took out a few books (including a children's book on The Socialist Party and Eugene Debs, and the next books in two series Sarah's into right now: Inkheart, and Percy Jackson). Then we helped out at our volunteer gig for a few hours (everyone there is awesome, but one new staff member is particularly great with Sarah, offering her simple and doable opportunities to help).

So far today we're reading companionably on the futon. I also took a nap for a bit. I'm sitting with the experience of having multiple, conflicting desires for how to spend my time, without immediately turning it into a Daily Plan (usually I'd notice the desire to do 7 different things, and immediately make a list, planning out how to give half an hour to each of my goals). I'd also like to clean the house, play music, exercise, meditate, cook, read some articles online. With only a handful of days "off", it's hard to let myself just sink into whatever I feel like doing, and trust that I'll get around to all of it in time. I suspect it would be easier if we had a whole week (in theory we do, but because of prior commitments that we've decided we want to keep, today and tomorrow are our only two entire days to devote to this delightful experiment).

Perhaps we'll start giving ourselves a goal-free day a week. I can imagine that, for much of the fall and winter, Fridays could be goal-free. Maybe we can persuade Joe to take a few off and join us -- we've tried, from time to time, to make a few Sundays a month a true Sabbath, a day of rest focused on family and joy, but it's hard and we don't manage as often as we like.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Not Back to School

We celebrated Not Back To School week with:

* Country Day, the Indonesian edition! Sarah gave a presentation on tree kangaroos, I made bubur manado (similar to congee, a rice porridge) with a spicy broth, and topped with stirfried cabbage, stringbeans, and spinach. We both had a wonderful time reconnecting with all our Country Day friends. I love every single kid (and adult) involved in that group -- they're all compassionate, enthusiastic, interesting, and generally delightful.

* A laidback Wednesday -- garlic bread for breakfast along with a couple episodes of Rick Steve's Europe, a trip to the library, drinks with a couple of our GSE friends at a cafe in Montclair, and a viewing of Anastasia in prep for studying Russia this month.

* A busy Thursday -- playing school in the morning (reading about the Cherokee, the Dakota, Carthage, flying reptiles and the first birds, and a couple native American sacred stories), lunch at the library, a couple hours at GSE helping them unpack from their move to new offices, and a little food shopping.

* A wonderful Friday -- watching a couple episodes of Globe Trekker (learning about Mexican and Moroccan food), having lunch with Joe in Hoboken, reading about the death of the dinosaurs and the rise of mammals and learning a little about Russia in preparation for next month's Country Day, and then Joe and Sarah went to a street fair while I went out with friends.

I am full of awesome, Sarah is full of awesome, and our lives are brimming over with awesomeness.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Today was the first Country Day of the school year, focused on Indonesia. After a busy Labor Day weekend (long days out with friend all three days), Sarah spent last night doing her research and putting together a presentation on tree kangaroos. She did a great job on her presentation.

I tried to make seitan satay for the potluck, to no avail. Instead I made a rice porridge with a spicy broth (vegetable broth, garlic, ginger, turmeric, cumin, curry powder, chili, and a little soy sauce), sauteed string beans, cabbage, and spinach. Turned out really nicely.

A year ago, at the first Country Day, Sarah was taken aback by how many kids were there (she'd been assuming it would be more like Lego League, with just a handful of kids, most of whom she already knew). After the first meeting, she didn't want to go back -- the thought of standing up and talking in front of such a large group was daunting, and she didn't want to be the only kid coming to Country Day and *not* doing a presentation.

We went home and talked about it, brainstormed different ways she could work around her concerns, and she decided to give it one more try. Joe showed her how to put together a presentation using OpenOffice's version of Powerpoint, and she spent days collecting pictures, doing research, breaking her presentation down into bite-sized pieces, then recording a separate voice-over for each slide. When Country Day came around the next month, all she had to do was set up the laptop at the front of the room and hit the space bar to keep advancing to the next slide.

Each month she grew more and more comfortable standing up in front of the group. Before long she decided that, for the amount of work that went into her powerpoint presentations, it would be easier to just bite the bullet, glue a few pictures to some posterboard, and do the presentation live. I don't know which one of us was prouder, Sarah or me, the first time she stood up there and read the presentation outloud in front of the whole group.

One of the many, many blessings of homeschooling is how easy it makes a process like this. We were able to meet Sarah exactly where she was. Sarah would have been more than welcome to come every month even if she didn't want to give a presentation. When she came up with an approach that worked for her, it was a totally trivial thing to implement -- we didn't need special permission or paperwork, and there was no stigma attached. Everyone, moms as well as kids, were so totally supportive and compassionate, no one ever made a big deal out of it, and I think the other moms were nearly as excited and proud as I was when Sarah made the transition to speaking in front of the group and answering questions comfortably.

(I also love the fact that at the age of 10 she knows more about time management and her own learning style than I did when I started college. She and I check in with each other about everything, about how the day went, how a particular approach to a project went, and how we could make sure it goes better next time. It only took her a couple Country Day meetings before she started gently suggesting that we might be less likely to wind up running late, both of us grumpy and stressed, if her presentation was finished by the night before. I know I hadn't learned that lesson by high school (as evidenced by all the homework I did on the train on the way in to school in the morning. No idea how my teachers could read a single thing I handed in.). Hadn't entirely learned it by college (as Joe can attest, after spending many nights watching me finish reading a book at 3 in the morning so I could write the paper due 6 hours later).)