Well, this is more like a belated blog-iversary post, but as you know it’s been a busy year for us.
I can’t believe that it has been two years since I started this blog!
So what does “never outgrow your car” mean to me now? Obviously, it isn’t really possible to be a family of five and literally not outgrow your car. It’s more the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law.
As we were in the middle of our move this summer, I remember thinking to myself I WISH we could all fit into one car a drive away. I wondered how can someone could be a minimalist yet still keep things that are important to you. As we packed, I looked through everything we had, resisting the urge to get rid of it all, knowing that I would regret it later. I looked at husband’s nutcracker collection that we get out once a year for one month. It takes up four storage bins in the attic. While it might be tempting to get rid of something like Christmas decorations, his mother has given him these nutcrackers, one each year since he was a boy. Is being a minimalist more important than those memories? No.
What does minimalism mean anyway? It means different things to different people. Some people take it to literally mean to have as little as possible. To me it means not keeping our lives too full (of stuff, of activities, of noise) so that we can see, hear and appreciate what is already there. It means keeping all areas of life as simplified as they can be so that there is space…. space to appreciate what is there, to savor things and to not feel rushed through them just so we can be on to the next thing. The time to notice what is right in front of us or to explore and discover new things.
Maybe “never outgrow your car” is a mantra to help remind me of what I already know, but too easily forget.
Less is more.
The less I have on my schedule, the more I can enjoy what’s already on it.
The less house I have to clean, the more time I can spend doing other things.
The less debt I have, the more resources I have to do the things I truly love.
The less stuff I have, the more special the things I have seem.
I wonder what ‘never outgrow your car’ will mean to me a year from now? We’ll see.
”Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler”
In 40 days I will be 40 years old. In many ways this seems incomprehensible. As my oldest friend who recently turned 40 said, “I just don’t relate to that number.”
My childhood memories of people in my life turning 40 are of over-the-hill parties and endless jokes about being old. I was 20 when my mother turned 40. I was born just before my own grandmother turned 40.
However my 40 is not the 40 of my parents’ or grandparents’ generation. Even though I’ve lived a lot of life up until now, I still feel young. I posted a couple years ago about listening to my 80-year-old self. I can imagine being my 80-year-old self, and I know that at 80 I will look back at 60 as young. So why waste time now at 40 thinking that I’m old?
I don’t get asked how old I am that often, but I’m sure the first few times it happens I will stumble on my words as I start off with a “thir…” and quickly move to “four…” I’ve had the habit for the last 10 years of starting my age with 30 something so I’m sure it take some getting used to.
My 30’s were…. transformative. Both the most wonderful and difficult time of my life. I changed from being just a woman into being a mother. I became more of myself, though in many ways I lost myself too. What I mean by that is, with maturity and experience I became more aware of my true self. But the responsibilities of motherhood left me with little time for anything aside from caring for the boys and our home. I became less Anne and more Mom. Now that the boys are 6, 8 & 9 things are starting to become a little more balanced.
I’m not typically one for big birthday celebrations, but for whatever reason, I want to do more than just let the days pass until I turn 40 on April 20th. I want to celebrate these days, not to say goodbye to something I’ll miss, but to welcome what is sure to be the best decade yet.
These 40 days aren’t going to be about being showered with gifts, though I’m sure there will be a few here and there. My husband and I haven’t exchanged gifts in years, so it’s more like a reprieve on the gift/flowers/chocolate ban during these 40 days and allowing some luxuries for myself that I don’t normally like to spend money on. I’m also going to do 40 acts of kindness in these 40 days and I have my list of ideas ready to go. Then the cherry on top of these 40 days of celebration will be a trip to the beach with my YaYa’s. I can’t think of a better way to ring in 40 than by being at the beach.
While homeschooling is no longer considered fringe, we are certainly a minority in the world of education. I get asked a lot of questions about our homeschooling choices and thought I’d share some things about it here.
We’ve had great days and bad days and everything in between, but I think the secret to not only our survival, but to our success, has been three things:
1. Minimalism – We don’t have empty rooms or bare walls by any means, but in almost all areas of our life we have just enough. The boys each have a couple pairs of shoes and enough of all their clothes to get them through a week, but not much more than that. They don’t have an excessive amount of toys. We have things on our calendar, but not so much that things feel hectic. We have food in the fridge and pantry, but not so much that we can’t see what’s there. We have plenty of homeschool curricula but not so much that we can’t get to it all or that it’s falling all over the place.
2. Organization – This might seem obvious. Those of you that know me know that I am extremely organized and I often get teased about it as though my organization skills mean that I am uptight or inflexible. In fact, the opposite is true. I often say that it is my organization that allows me to be so flexible and laid back. And the minimalism helps with the organization. It is much easier to be organized when there is much less to organize — whether it be stuff, a schedule or homeschooling curricula for three kids.
3. Flexibility – I think the minimalism and the organization both feed into this as well. It is much easier to be flexible when you are not overwhelmed by what’s going on in other areas of your life. If I am sick or have a terrible night’s sleep, we can skip school that day or just do a few subjects. Because I’m organized and know that we have already put in plenty of days this school year, I don’t worry about it. It will be better for us all if we just lay low. I get to rest and the kids are excited for an unexpected day off. The organization (and simplicity) allows us to change plans when an unexpected opportunity arises. Being flexible means changing curriculum if something isn’t working for the boys or for me, or it might mean ending the day early because for some reason things just aren’t going well.
But homeschooling is not fun and giggles all the time. There are times when it’s a real struggle to just finish the day. Sometimes there are bad attitudes, and things don’t always go as smoothly as I’d like. But there are way more good days than bad.
One of the great things about homeschooling has been removing “school” from our family dynamic. No more hustling the kids out of bed to eat, get dressed, brush teeth and catch the bus. No more checking multiple backpacks for homework, permission slips, notices and papers. No more hurrying them into bed so they can get enough sleep and be able to get up the next day and do it again. It feels like we have moved to a more intuitive way of living. We do what feels right. We have a general routine, but we are flexible. My husband gets home an hour later than he used to. With homeschooling we don’t have to miss out on an hour a day with him; we just put the kids to bed an hour later now. We take time off in the middle of the day for appointments or to go to a pool party or for errands. Or we take days off when we have company or just feel like going to the beach for the day.
My older two boys (Primo, 9-1/2 , 4th grade and Segundo, 8, 2nd grade) study the following subjects:
- Language Arts
Initially I had music and art in there, but I’ve found that it is just too much for us. The boys get exposed to music and art in other ways, so for now we will not worry about those subjects. Maybe once they’ve mastered typing (who knows how long that will take) we can bring those subjects back. But for now, I prefer to keep working on these core subjects.
When we decided to homeschool I assumed that the boys would be doing all the learning. I knew I would get a refresher of all the stuff I’d forgotten from my elementary school education, but I had no idea that I would be learning so much more than that.
The first few days of homeschool were the honeymoon period, but sure enough, the honeymoon ended. When it did, we figured out what wasn’t working, made some adjustments and then kept adjusting until it was working again. And as I’ve learned over the last year, this is a never-ending process.
I went into homeschooling with my eyes wide open. I did months of research and talked to dozens of homeschooling moms before we began. I knew it wasn’t going to be sunshine and rainbows all day long every day, but I felt like I knew what to expect.
- -I expected it to be a lot of work
- -I expected it to be overwhelming at times
- -I expected that I would be able to manage the planning with no problem
- -I expected that there would be times where the boys would say they didn’t like homeschool anymore
- -I expected to enjoy it most of the time
- -I expected to love the flexibility
All these expectations have been met. But what I didn’t expect was that becoming their teacher might actually make me a better mom.
What began as my paying attention to how the boys were responding to the different curricula and to whether or not our routine was working turned into me paying attention — to everything.
I noticed not just whether each boy liked a particular curriculum, but I noticed which subjects each of them is most interested in. I noticed that Primo likes to stand up when he works, but that he continues to stay focused. I noticed that he is fascinated with music and art and does it voluntarily even after school is finished. I notice how easily math seems to come to Segundo and how he has a remarkably good accent in French.
When they were in public school I only noticed things like whether or not we were running on schedule, if they were moving fast enough or if their homework was done. Our time each day was driven by the school and its schedule. Each morning we focused on getting them up in time to eat, dress and catch the bus. When they got home there was homework, dinner, showers and making sure they got to bed in time to get a good night’s sleep. With homeschooling, we are on our own schedule and so our time together is much more relaxed. We have the time to just Be.
I feel like homeschooling has allowed me to know my boys on a deeper level. When they were in public school I went through their backpacks each night and looked at their completed worksheets so I knew what they were working on in a superficial way. But now, I get to really see how their minds work. I hear the questions they ask. I see how quickly they get some things and how they struggle to get others. I guess it’s the difference between reading something and experiencing something for yourself.
Do not train children to learning by force and harshness,
but direct them to it by what amuses their minds,
so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.
We’ve survived a whole year of home schooling! Actually, I should probably say we’ve thrived through our first year of homeschooling.
I’ve tried dozens of times to write this post, but by the time I find the time to write, I’ve convinced myself that no one would be interested in what I have to say. But now I realize two things. One, homeschoolers are always looking to other homeschoolers for ideas, help and resources. And two, writing about my homeschooling experience not only documents our experience, but also help me keep some perspective on things. Just a couple of days ago, I was feeling frustrated by what was going on in math with my 4th grader, Primo. And now just a few days later, things have smoothed out. He seems to understand it, and we’re moving through it just fine. I think these posts will help me keep some perspective when I’m feeling frustrated or discouraged. And if I can help another homeschooling mom (or dad) feel less alone, because they see that there is someone else out there dealing with the same struggles they are, then that is a good thing.
Overall I’d say our homeschooling experience this past year has been fantastic. We started in February of 2012 because my husband was in the middle of a job search and I had a gut feeling that we would be moving out of the state before the end of the school year. I thought it would be best for us to have adjusted to homeschooling before the move. My instinct proved right and about 2-1/2 months after beginning homeschool we packed up the house and moved 1000 miles away. I don’t know if the boys felt this way, but I thought that homeschooling was a source of stability for us through the move. Homeschooling was the one thing that didn’t change when everything else was in flux.
I wasn’t crazy enough to try to homeschool in hotel rooms throughout the transition. We took about 2 weeks off. We spent one last week in Kansas with friends and family, saying goodbye. We had about a week of transit time stopping to see friends along the way, and then we took a few days to explore our new city after we moved into our sublet. Then we started right back up again with school. In some ways, it was nice to have that familiarity with us as we were in a new house without most of our own things. For someone who doesn’t value “stuff” very much, I was surprised by how much I missed my own things.
We’ve decided to homeschool year round. The state requires that the boys are taught the same number of days per school year as they would be in public school. I keep track of our days to make sure we get at least our required 180, but homeschooling year round gives us great flexibility. We take time off whenever it works best for our family. We’ve traveled a great deal more than we would have without home schooling, though part of that is attributable to moving to the East Coast. There is so much more to travel TO out here. I’ve loved that homeschooling allows us to put our family’s needs at the top of our priority list as opposed to having our entire lives revolve around the school and its schedule.
I think the one thing that has been consistent with our homeschooling experience is change — if that makes any sense. I researched everything, came up with a plan and a schedule (no surprise to those who know me) and off we went. And then we had to change the parts that weren’t working — and we’ve continued to make changes as we go along. One thing I’ve realized is that we get bored easily. After a few weeks of doing the same thing, we all feel a little blah. So I’ve started changing things up several times a week. And while we might do math every day, some days they just do a few problems and other days they do 2 or 3 worksheets. Some days we do science and history and others typing and French. This has helped A LOT.
And the good news is that I’m not screwing it up. At least based on the state assessments they took last month. North Carolina requires they take an annual assessment. I don’t have to turn in the results, but just keep the results on file should the state ever want to see them. The boys are doing great — just as great, if not better than their scores from the previous year. So that’s good. Not screwing it up is good.
You can teach a student a lesson for a day;
but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity,
he will continue the learning process as long as he lives.
Clay P. Bedford
Our trip to Paris in May 2010 made me realize that I wanted to live somewhere else besides Kanas. Initially we’d hoped to move to Europe, but when that didn’t work out we decided to move anyway. We did a lot of research, picked a place and went to check it out. It took my husband ten months to find a new job and five weeks later we left. We actually drove away from Kanas City two years to the day from when we left for Paris. I love the symmetry.
They say you eat an elephant one bite at a time. This is what always pops into my head when I think of the last two years and what was involved in moving our family of five 1100 miles from De Soto, Kansas to Durham, North Carolina. Over those two years there were hundreds of conversations, hours and hours of research and planning and dozens of other little things that added up to this huge move. In the middle of it, nothing seemed that big of a task. It’s easy to do research. Plan a trip. Look for a job. Packing up the house was a little bit more of an ordeal, but people do it all the time. But looking back now on this move I feel like I ate an elephant.
During the process of making it happen, it all seemed pretty easy. Now that it’s done, I’m in a bit of shock, I think. I keep finding myself wanting to say, “Look what we did! That was no small thing, but we did it! Isn’t that cool?!”
In a way it makes me feel very…powerful. Like I can do anything.
“May your adventures bring you closer together, even as they take you far away from home.”
– Trenton Lee Stewart, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey
In early 2011 we began exploring the idea of moving overseas. During this process we realized that even if we never got the chance to move to Paris, we were ready to move somewhere.
We decided we wanted to live:
- - in a bigger city that offered more culturally
- - somewhere more diverse
- - somewhere more liberal
- - somewhere with a warmer winter
After consulting google and doing a great deal of research both on-line and off, we decided on Durham, North Carolina. Ironically, we had the exact same plan in 1997 when we were living in Chicago. We had no plans to move back to my hometown, but wanted to leave Chicago. We researched and decided the research triangle area of North Carolina sounded nice and were planning to visit later that year to check it out. Before we ever got a chance to visit I got a little too homesick and we decided to move to back to Kansas.
This year marks thirteen years since we moved back to Kansas City. Part of my homesickness stemmed from the fact that the only contact I had with friends and family outside of my visits every few months, were letters and phone calls and that wasn’t enough to keep me feeling connected. Thirteen years later we have email, Facebook and Skype. I’ve had friends move away and seen that I am still very much connected to them. Moving away from family and friends isn’t scary anymore.
Almost nine years ago I became a mother and since then, my idea of the best place to raise a family has changed dramatically. At first, the most important thing was to live in the best school district. What I didn’t realize then was that later I would see that living there meant I was exposing my children to the idea that, by comparison, the poor people lived in $200,000 houses. We were showing them that ‘normal’ was white, wealthy, straight and Christian. I have nothing against any of those things, but I want my children to see that those are just some of the many ways to be in this world. That these things do not define normal, but just that they are common. I want them to also have friends who are black, not wealthy, gay and Jewish or Atheist or Muslim or Hindu. I want them to see more than just one way of being.
Now that my husband has found a new job, we just need to sell our house here in Kansas, and then we’ll be moving. The bittersweet feelings remind me of leaving for college. I couldn’t be more excited. I know it is going to be amazing! And I’m also a little scared. I’m sad to leave my family and friends. But even though I’m a little scared and sad, I know it is going to be a great adventure and I can’t wait for it to begin.
Dark and silent late last night
I think I might have heard the highway calling
Geese in flight and dogs that bite
Signs that might be omens say I’m going, going
I’m goin’ to Carolina in my mind
There are two kinds of bored. The good kind, where you don’t have anything to do and you haven’t figured out what you are going to do next. And the bad kind, where you are doing something, but you wish you weren’t.
My boys tell me regularly that they are bored. They don’t realize it, but they are talking about the good kind. When I hear this, I think to myself, “I can’t remember the last time I was good bored.” The bad kind, on the other hand, is something I feel almost daily.
While I love my family deeply, I find being a stay-at-home mom to be mind-numbingly boring. There, I said it.
I’ve looked for a part-time flexible job, but the reality is that these jobs are very few and far between. And with three young children and a husband who travels regularly, I would probably not be the most reliable employee. In the last month alone I had two days with different kids home sick. Taking a job outside the home might allow me to use my brain more and socialize with adults, but it would create a lot of other stresses for me and the family in general. So for now, I feel like my job is to be on-call for the family. When someone needs picked up sick from school, needs to stay home sick, or needs to go to the doctor or dentist, I can take them — free from guilt about missing work. I’m okay with that. I like taking care of my family when they need to be cared for. I want to be able to take care of them free from any guilt. They are my priority. But what percentage of the time do they actually need to be cared for in this way? 5%? And the rest of the time I’m just on-call. Meal planning. Making grocery lists. Running errands. Looking at the dust accumulate because I just can’t manage to care enough to dust (unless company is coming). Filling my time with this and that until it’s time to meet the bus or make dinner. I almost fell asleep just writing about it.
My boys aren’t babies anymore so they aren’t literally attached to me the way they once were. They are starting to play at friends’ houses and run around the neighborhood for hours at a time. I am home for them, but not really with them.
Since I choose not to work outside the home, but am bored being home, without realizing it, I gave myself the unpaid job of researcher. I don’t remember when my research obsession began, but I’m guessing it started around the same time that I stopped working. Something would catch my attention and I’d starting putting books on hold on the library and surfing around trying to learn whatever I could. Some recent self-evaluation brought me to the conclusion that I might always be finding these new research projects in order to keep my brain stimulated. I overwhelm myself with a dozen or more books on a certain subject and once I’ve made my way through them, gotten my notes in order and my opinions formed, it doesn’t seem like much time passes before I find myself diving into another subject. And while I find great pleasure and satisfaction in acquiring this new knowledge and keeping my brain active, I wonder what would happen if I let myself get good bored. Would it be like an extended period of meditation where if I let my mind stay empty long enough some pretty profound stuff comes through? Would I use the time to exercise because I don’t have a pile of books as an excuse not to? Would I hear an inner voice whispering direction? Would I go crazy? Would I start liking housework because I have nothing better to do? (Maybe the crazy started with that last one.
I’d like to find out what will happen so I’ve committed to not taking on any new research projects for a while. I’ve committed to not putting any more non-fiction books on hold at the library. I’ve committed to trying to let myself get good and bored. Getting quiet. Listening.
Earlier this year I read the book The Gift of Fear after I heard someone on a talk show say that every woman in America should read it. How could I resist!?
The book was fascinating and empowering. It gave a lot of information on what to do when you are in a threatening situation and how to interpret the actions of an offender. As the title suggests, fear is a gift that we have that helps us to determine when we are in danger. Reading this book really got me thinking a lot about following our instincts and how in many ways we are conditioned to ignore them and how far reaching the negative effects of this can be.
We don’t believe in happy plates at our house, but we encourage the boys to listen to their bodies to see if they are still hungry.
We talk about taking a reasonable portion and how you can always get more if your body tells you that you are still hungry. There have been times where I’ve tried to get one of the boys to eat more of something and they will fuss back at me that their body is telling them that they are full. Good for them, I’m doing something right. Today they are fussing at me for trying to make them do something that their body is telling them not to do (shame on me), and tomorrow they will be standing up for themselves in some other way. And of course they don’t get to say they are full and then go have cookies.
We were all raised to do what we were told by our parents at home and by our teachers at school and by our coaches and doctors and of course there is a need for this some of the time. But when were we taught the importance of listening to our own inner voice? To our own bodies? When our body feels tired , we need to rest. When our bodies tell us that we are full, we should stop eating. When our bodies tell us (through reactions to stress) that we need to slow down and relax, we need to do it. Ignoring our inner voice and messages from our bodies is going to get us fat, tired and stressed or worse. Just as ignoring our fear of a situation could mean finding ourselves in danger. Is it any surprise when we become adults that are so un-used to listening to our inner wisdom that we then look for any pundit, nutritional expert or self-help guru to tell us what to do, what to eat and how to think. Are they telling us anything that we wouldn’t already know if we were listening to our inner wisdom?
In trying to nurture the boys own instincts I find myself having to question my own motives a lot to make sure I am serving their needs and not my own ego.
Instead of making one of my boys play with the neighbor boy who is often not very nice, I talk to them about how everyone can have bad days but that it’s also ok to choose not to play with someone when they aren’t being nice. I tell him that it’s his decision to make.
I talk to the boys about not being afraid of strangers who say hello to them, but that they need to listen to the voice inside them that tells them if they are safe or not.
I don’t want to suddenly give them control of their own lives at 18, nor do I want to struggle to keep more of the control than I need to have. I want them to feel like I listened to them, that I heard them and that I encouraged them to listen to their own inner whisper. I’m not saying that they have complete control of their lives right now, but I want them to feel competent to make as many decisions for themselves as they can that are appropriate for their age.
I hope that by encouraging the boys to listen to their instincts and their inner voice that they will become confident adults who make decisions that not only keep them safe, but that also lead them towards their passion.
About three months ago, I started paying attention. I started paying attention to the frequency with which I found myself reading about issues with the U.S. public education system. I started paying attention to comments my kids’ teachers were making and, more importantly, to the things my boys were saying about their schooling. I started paying attention to the little voice inside that said, “this is not the education you want for your kids. Dig deeper. Find out what is going on. Look for another way.”
Three months ago, I started talking to my husband about the education we wanted for our boys. We started reading and researching together and engaging in lengthy discussions on the topic. Eventually, we looked to see what the options were for giving our boys the kind of education that we valued. I read a lot about homeschooling in my research and decided to learn more about it. I never in a million years thought I would or could homeschool, but that’s like saying you could never run into a burning building. Under the right circumstances, you can and you will do it if it means helping your child. After doing weeks of research, I knew I could do it and I knew I could do it well.
During this time we had many many conversations with the boys about homeschooling and what they would think of the idea. We had a neighborhood friend who homeschooled so it wasn’t a foreign idea to them. They actually seemed excited about it. We talked to them over the next few weeks about how they thought they would feel about not going to school anymore. We asked them what they thought they would like about home school and what they thought they wouldn’t like about it. We asked them what they didn’t like about public school. We asked them about what they thought they might like to learn about in homeschool that they weren’t learning about in public school.
A few weeks ago, I kept the older boys home and did a trial homeschool run for two days. I thought for sure they would sleep in like they do on weekends, but surprisingly they were out of bed before the time I typically have to drag them out to catch the bus. We did math, spelling, French, typing, history, science, writing, reading and computer skills. Eventually, we’ll add a couple more subjects, but these were just practice days. I just wanted them to have an understanding of what homeschool would really be like. We all loved it. I’m not saying it was easy and fun from start to finish, but we all loved it. At the end of the second day we talked about when they might want to be done with public school and picked a date three weeks out — Valentine’s Day. They wanted to go out with a bang and have their last day be the day of a school party.
So here we are. Our first official day of homeschooling. The one that isn’t just for practice. The one that really counts.
I’ll teach you to jump on the wind’s back, and then away we go. — Peter Pan