Monday, August 15, 2016

A Tough Decision

Some of you might have caught wind of the rumor that some of my kids are about to start school. I'm sure that's confusing, or disappointing, or exciting, or something, for you to hear. Most of the people who know me these days seem to think of me as a homeschooling, full-time student mom with some kind of mystical unicorn abilities that keep me from exploding. Let me address that rumor: I will still be homeschooling, just fewer of my kids for now. Also, I'm pretty sure I do have some kind of mystical unicorn powers and if I exploded, there'd be glitter everywhere.

Today, I'm going to the local elementary school to finish the paperwork that will allow two of my daughters to attend school. This has been an incredibly difficult decision. I'm not sure if it's the right decision, so I won't bother trying to defend it. But let me explain it.

I've been pretty overwhelmed lately. C still has persistent potty problems, and my multi-tasking is not strong enough to give her enough attention while also trying to teach S math, and M reading, and chase a three-year-old who constantly wants me to play "ring the gack" with him (thanks, Dr. Seuss). In part it is my college education getting in the way. But, also, I'm hoping that a formal school environment will help encourage M to read and S to learn math because they are falling behind in those areas at home.

So, S and M are about to be off to public school. I cried about it. I've lost a lot of sleep. I've wanted to give up and just keep them home because of how frustrating the enrollment process has been... because, let's be honest, no one is excited to go through a long, difficult negotiation just to achieve something they're not even sure they want. It's nearly impossible to stay motivated.

Reminding myself why I started homeschooling seems to help.

When I was first faced with the decision of schooling, all of the girls were clearly struggling to cope with our shared past. We were getting settled in to a new life and I wasn't comfortable sending them straight off to school. They were fragile and, to varying degrees, broken. I lost my job and I was going through a nasty divorce, being verbally torn down as I tried to rebuild out daughters. But now they're vibrant, confident, and difficult... just as little ladies should be.

The other reason I kept them home was that C had potty problems. I didn't think it would be fair to send a girl who was still having frequent accidents to public school. Stigma aside, I needed her home so we could attend a variety of medical appointments and procedures, and so we could work together on the problem. And this is an on-going problem, which we seem to have to find new solutions for all the time. I think she needs more of my time and attention and less of her siblings' distractions.

I didn't follow this path because I thought I could do a better job, or because I thought it was my calling, or anything like that. I chose this life for what I still believe to be good reasons. And, for those same reasons, I think it's time to make a change.

We will certainly still supplement their education at home. And we're already looking at wait-listing them at better schools. I just think it's time to start letting go.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Out On a Limb Together

Saturday is a good day to celebrate. When one of the kids has a birthday on a weekday, we usually celebrate on the following Saturday. We also chose to celebrate our anniversary on the first Saturday in August, instead of tying it to a numerical date. It was the first Saturday in August when we decided to make our relationship official, and Saturdays are great for celebrating.

This Saturday will be our fifth anniversary. I have now been enjoying Papa's company for longer than I spent married to my ex, including the two years I spent divorcing him. He has been around for about half of the twins' lives and 5/6 of M's.

For me, the last five years have been a long road of recovery. It seems that every time I think I have overcome the damage imparted by my life before I met Papa, I stumble upon another dusty corner that needs repair... another lingering weakness I'm only beginning to see the origins of.

Papa recently asked me if he should apply for this job he heard about in Denmark. The thought of such a huge change and unique opportunity made me smile, but I immediately began considering the consequences: Would I be able to continue my studies? Would homeschooling still be a reasonable option, and how would it work? What is the cost of living compared to here?

It wasn't until later that I realized there were a lot of questions I didn't even begin to consider, because I knew Papa was already thinking about them. And some of the questions that did run through my mind were things I knew he would have considered as well. In fact, once I was able to take a step back from my initial reaction, I realized that I felt no pressure at all, because I knew he would think responsibly about things instead of leaving that burden entirely on me.

When I met Papa, he was working for the public school system, doing tech support stuff. He had job security, decent pay, insurance, and a great retirement plan. He just wasn't happy. More than a year ago, he decided he wanted to find a new job, so he started applying for software developing positions. When he started really talking about accepting a position and quitting his secure job, I panicked. Would he get paid enough to make up for the benefits he would be losing? What if he got fired, or the company collapsed? What if he just hated working there and wanted to quit within months of leaving the job that had everything... except job satisfaction?

Talking with him about it helped me realize that I was projecting my working-poor, small-town, plains-state up-bringing on him. *Where I come from* you don't quit the job you hate at the manufacturing plant just because you hate it. You have insurance and a retirement plan and they're never going to fire you, so you suck it up. Because there aren't a lot of other options in a small town anyway and you've got people to feed.

I also *come from* a marriage to someone who didn't seem to be at all concerned about the consequences of his actions most of the time. We had no savings or emergency fund and he made decisions about his career and our lives seemingly on a whim without thinking about the future.

But I am not *where I come from* for a reason.

Papa took the new job after he reassured me with the safety net of making sure he could go back to this job with the school district if it didn't work out. But it did. And, since then, he has negotiated a raise and continued considering other jobs where he might be even more excited about his work, and I'm learning to be okay with that.

Papa and I have spent five years going out on a limb together. He is not dragging me along behind him while he takes unreasonable risks. We are walking, hand-in-hand into new frontiers, having packed our bags and planned for the unknown together. He is not going to blame me if things fall apart, and I won't blame him, because we are in this together and if things do fall apart, we'll be too busy picking up the pieces and building something new.

  • Five years of healing
  • Five years of ever improving happiness
  • Five years of crazy adventures
  • Five years of balancing caution with excitement
  • Five years of working together
  • And no sign of slowing down

Friday, July 29, 2016

Unrealistic Expectations

I just finished that three-week intensive course on field methods which involved poison ivy exposure and several days of sweating without showers. The girls all went to their great-grandparents' house in Colorado Springs for a week while I camped at the field site. Cub stayed home with Papa, who worked from home for the first time so I could go be a sweaty (but kick-ass) mess. I couldn't do what I do without help from all of the incredible people in my life.

Even so, I have a very hard time getting things done. In fact, lots of things don't get done. I gave my final presentation yesterday. I was home at about noon. Since then, I have been trying to catch up on laundry, vacuuming, yard maintenance, general tidying and cleaning, and sleep. But there's a fallen limb in our back yard which has been sitting in the same place for months because Papa and I can't seem to find the simultaneous time and energy to hack it up with a hatchet.

During a regular semester, I fill my "off" days with laundry, cleaning, and appointments. Homeschooling get sprinkled in between switching loads or while we sit in the waiting room or while I'm technically doing my own homework, or as we share a meal. I need to get the kids to the dentist, but I keep forgetting to call the office, and when I do think about it, the thought of trying to wedge one more thing into the calendar is a little upsetting.

Saturdays are our leisure days. We go to the park or the zoo or the museum. Sometimes we stay home and play video games together. Sundays are filled with grocery shopping. We spend so much time grocery shopping.

And, next semester, it looks like I might be taking a 9am class on Tuesday and Thursday and an 8am class on Monday and Wednesday. Plus, I have an online class and I'm trying to get involved with an undergraduate research project.

People are always telling me they don't know how I do it. The truth is, I don't know either. It seems like I'm constantly having to cut corners and make sacrifices. And, once a season or so, I have a minor melt-down and cry a little bit about how much pressure I deal with and the sisyphean struggles of being a mom and a woman.

Despite the fact that we, as a society, are beginning to accept that not every man marries a woman and that not every woman becomes a mother or a homemaker, we are still judging ourselves and other women based on ridiculous "happy homemaker" metrics from the 50's like:

  • The relative order or chaos of her home
  • The deliciousness, creativity, and from-scratchness of her food
  • The stylishness of her hair
  • Her makeup skills and commitment to doing her makeup every day
  • Her fashion sense
  • Her kids (by any standard you can imagine)
I know because I do it, even though I know better. I know because I see other people doing it even though, if I asked them about it, I'm sure most would say it's wrong. And I know because I judge myself by these standards, in part because I assume others will. 

But you know what?

I can maintain my makeup and my fashion sense and cook from-scratch meals every day if I'm also on a tight schedule teaching my kids to be little angels and maintaining my cutting edge hair style and cleaning and organizing my house... AND going to school. Someday I'll have a career and I definitely won't be able to do it all then. We can't ask women (or anyone for that matter) to juggle this many obligations. 

If I were the president, or the first lady for that matter, I doubt I'd have to cook all my own meals and clean my house and somehow also be the main source of child care and the leader of the free world all while looking amazing. But the peanut gallery is always going to be there to judge me for not spending enough time with my kids, not keeping my house clean enough or my yard pretty enough if I have a career... and then judge me for being lazy and complacent and perpetuating gender stereotypes if I choose to be a stay-at-home mom.

So I think I need to take a step back and realize that I'm asking too much of myself. Maybe that's because society seems to ask too much of all women, but regardless, I can refuse to get caught up in it. The trouble is, I'm not sure I'm ever going to be okay with lowering my standards, even if I stop caring what other people think. But it's a start. 

In conclusion: Screw you, societal standards. My standards are already an impossible challenge for me to meet and I can't be bothered to care about yours too.  

Monday, July 25, 2016

Be Imperfect

My school is attempting to reintroduce a "Field Methods in Plant Ecology" course. It's a three-week intensive course that I am taking right now, and we all agree that there is far too much information to cram into just three weeks. I've learned a lot and had a lot of fun, but I've consistently felt like I couldn't keep up. It's an important class for anyone who wants to work in the field with their biology degree, so I suck it up and stick to it.

Last week, we spent Monday through Friday at a state park, running transects, laying quadrats, taking voucher specimens and soil samples, and recording data from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm with highs in the 90s. Because I live 45 minutes away from the field site, I chose to reserve a camp site and pitch a tent with a few of my (now much closer) friends who were also braving the heat for credits.

By day, my sun glasses were sliding down my nose in slicks of sweat. My awesome science nerd hat (with the brim that goes all... the way... around) was saving me from squinting and sun burn, but contributing to a pretty gross hair style by collecting sweat at the band. I waded in the river in my field clothes, which provided a chance to relax and a short period of relief via evaporative cooling. I accidentally came in contact with poison ivy while in the woods and had to use river mud for friction to hopefully wash away the oils and prevent urushiol-induced contact dermatitis (read: river mud exfoliating facials). After that, I started covering myself even more to prevent further exposure.

I got a bit of sun burn on my nose because I forgot to reapply sun screen. My forehead broke out where my hat pressed against it all day. On the last day, I chose which shirt to wear based on strength of stench.

By night, I filled out my field notebook by the light of a camp lantern, took hobo showers, and slept in a backpacking tent.

Come the end of the week, I felt pretty gross. But I learned something.

Obviously, I learned some awesome methods for sampling vegetation for study. I also learned that you really should do this stuff at the crack of dawn and then disappear into the air conditioning somewhere once the sun starts to beat down on your science-nerd hat. But I also learned something unexpected: being gross is important to me.

When I came home, I swore I was smelly. I hadn't shaved in a week. My hair had been rinsed but not washed for four days. Still, Papa thought I was amazing and insists I never smell bad, "Seriously. You're like magic." Coming home to him, seeing that he didn't mind the sweaty mess I had become, was reassuring, but more importantly, I had given myself permission to be that sweaty mess and it was okay.

You can't be perfectly preened all the time... or, if you can, you're not being nearly adventurous enough. So, if that's not an option, you're going to have to come to terms with giving zero shits what other people think about you.

This is not my first "fewer if any showers" adventure. I've been gross for good reasons many times before. In fact, I've taken two other classes of this type. I guess I like to earn credits for sweating. I'm familiar with this form of (what I would call) therapy. I just never thought of it as therapeutic before this. Maybe we all need river mud facials once in a while.    

Friday, July 15, 2016

I Want to Talk About Privilege

Privilege is defined as a right or advantage gained by birth, social position, effort, or concession. We call it a privilege when we let our kids pick what we have for dinner because they did well on their homework or when an older sibling is allowed to explore the neighborhood alone while a younger sibling is not. 

Privilege isn't always fair. Sometimes the sixteen-year-old gets to drive the car even though she is far less responsible than her thirteen-year-old sister, because driving is a privilege given to sixteen-year-olds with a certain amount of disregard for practicality, under the guise that "it's normal".

For that reason, and other reasons, privilege doesn't always make people happy. My three-year-old is pretty chafed about not being allowed in our back yard by himself. In his case, he just doesn't understand why the unequal distribution of privilege is reasonable. He keeps harassing the chickens, heedlessly wandering out the gate, and otherwise making questionable decisions when no one is looking. But what if I took privileges away from my children because another child lied about something my child did? What if I took privileges away because of a presupposition about children in general without ever giving my children a chance to prove themselves? 

Actually, I think all parents are guilty of that last one. We have to be. We put babies in cribs because, although our child hasn't yet become mobile, we know that children generally do.  We keep putting our toddler down for a nap because we're pretty sure kids need naps, even if we haven't tested that theory on this particular toddler. We limit screen time because studies show that less is best, even though "studies show" just means "generally, for most kids". 

This is important. we apply privilege to our kids based on generalized ideas because it is much easier than testing every theory individually on each child. In fact, I don't think we could do that if we tried. Generalizations are important for allocation of privilege in parenting. 

Problems arise when we start using those generalizations to judge the way other parents choose to allocate privilege for their children. As long as what they're doing isn't illegal, I think we need to consider that maybe the parent knows best. For example: My niece gets more screen time than my kids. None of my kids have ever shown a particular inclination to learn from electronic devices or shows. My niece, on the other hand, is three years old and trying to teach herself to spell and read with an app on a tablet. 

So far, you're with me because this doesn't make you uncomfortable. 

So let's talk about racial privilege. Remember, a privilege is a right or advantage gained by birth, social position, effort, or concession. Up to now, we've been talking about privileges bestowed upon our children by concession (on our part) or effort (on theirs). Racial privilege is decided at birth. 

If you needed to shop for an educational children's book, would you have trouble finding one with a central character who shares your ethnicity? "Once Upon A Potty", probably the most popular potty training book aimed at toddlers, is available in two variations: White boy and white girl.

If you had neighbors of a different race and there was a dispute, how concerned would you be that they might just call authorities? My kids used to play with our neighbor's young relatives every time they would visit. Then, we had an incident that involved a young boy kissing one of our daughters and we told his parents. Now, the neighbors hardly talk to us. We are white and our neighbors are black. I worry that we unknowingly and unintentionally threatened them.

Do you ever worry that if you make a choice that goes against the grain or results in a mistake, it will be chalked up to your ethnicity? I have this problem with gender privilege. I am frequently concerned that if I appear soft, disorganized, too mean, too nice, or too caring it will be brushed off as part of my femininity and not attributed to me as a person.

With recent events... shootings and revolts... I think this is an incredibly important topic, even if it makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Privilege doesn't affect all people of a given race equally, and not all people are guilty of perpetuating it. But the fact remains, it is easier to grow up white in America because there is always a place for you. There is always a doll that looks like you, a hair product that works for you, a book that relates to you, a teacher who gets you. And it's easier to be a white adult in America because people don't make nearly as many negative assumptions about you. If you want to go to that "ethnic hair products" place because you like their dye selection, you might feel a little out of place, but they will still help you find what you're looking for without tailing you to make sure you don't steal anything. This is what people mean when they talk about white privilege.  

Some people are uncomfortable talking about this with their children. Some would say we should avoid talking about it with our children because we don't want to pass this social problem down to the next generation. I say that's all the more reason to tell them. 

We teach our children about all kinds of things we never want to happen to or around them. We tell them about the dangers of drugs and alcohol and the consequences of irresponsible sex and other behaviors. If we didn't tell them about these boogeymen, they wouldn't just go away. The same is true with racial privilege. I'm going to tell my kids about privilege so I can arm them against contributing to, or even simply ignoring the problem. I hope they see a time when racial privilege doesn't exist, but if that never happens, I hope they are at least aware that they have it, so they can use it to fight the good fight. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Can I Still Do This?

My birthday was yesterday, and a birthday seems like a good time to really consider what you're doing with your life. I'm two years into school. I've got 52 credits and a GPA of 3.47, but I'm looking at having to slow down because Cub is demanding a lot of my attention and classes are getting harder. The classes are getting objectively more difficult, but doing almost anything has gotten more difficult for me. Writing blogs, for instance, has become almost impossible. 

I decided to dial back the intensity of my college grind because I felt like I was making unacceptable sacrifices. Although our homeschool has always been very free-range, which makes for a lot of useful flexibility, last semester still stretched my time thin. My Women in World History class demanded a lot of attention and Botany required substantial time spent studying, which made me feel like I wasn't able to encourage the kids to learn as much as I normally would. 

To put it simply: I got a B in my botany class, and I would give myself a C in homeschooling last semester. I made sacrifices in both areas just so we could all get through the term. We all passed. We all learned. Despite my copious pile of distractions, the kids still all worked on reading, math, art, social skills, biology, and computer skills. Still, I know we would have made more progress if I had more time to spare. 

I know we could have done better because, now that I'm home for the summer, we are doing better. Cub finally decided he wanted to learn his ABCs (so he can learn to read, so he can play Munchkin), so I taught him. The twins have been working on irregular spelling words, parts of speech, place value and multi-digit math. M has been focused on consonant blends and improving her reading skills. 

I still think homeschooling is the only right answer for us right now. C still has potty problems, which I don't feel like any doctor has given us a good explanation for. S still has a little bit of a tongue thrust speech irregularity. But the biggest factor is that we can't afford the types of schools we would consider sending them to regardless of those issues, and even if we could, we'd have to move. 

I don't always love homeschooling. My kids don't always love it either. One of my friends (also a mom and one of my professors) pointed out that, "Kids act completely different to other adults than their parents." I think that is my biggest struggle. Additionally, they all want to take separate classes because they have a really hard time focusing when they're around their siblings. It's the dinner-table dilemma. Four siblings around the dinner table can not be talked into quieting down and eating. Four siblings working on homeschool work seem to take four times longer to finish one task.

What we are doing is difficult, but because I still feel like it is the best option, I will cut back my hours at school and try a little harder at home.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A 400 lb Mistake

I'm posting this here because I can feel a "too-long-for-facebook" thing coming on.

Say what you want about the actual situation involving the little boy and the gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo. Everyone is all worked up about whether the gorilla should have been shot and what the parents were up to and how in the world a zoo even has a gorilla enclosure a little boy could get into. But what I've learned from this episode is, in fact, that it's not okay to make a mistake on the internet and then try to correct yourself.

I reposted that picture that's going around. The one about Harambe, "doing a better job" watching the kid than his parents. But I posted it in an attempt to get attention for my question: Why couldn't they have just sedated him? I didn't think of the picture as a comment about the parents, but as a comment about how surprisingly docile and loving the gorilla seemed to be in the videos I saw.

To clarify: I was never trying to suggest that the mom was at fault. I have a three-year-old boy. We go to the zoo. He has tried to climb in a pit-style cape buffalo enclosure, but has never made it past sticking his head over the wall and lifting one foot. My three-year-old sometimes scares the hell out of me with how quickly he goes from being right by my side to being in the middle of the street (I might not even want to take him outside if we didn't live on a quiet street) or halfway down the escalator at the mall. I can imagine how a kid his age gets into trouble like this, even with vigilant parents. And I said as much in the first comments on my post.

Before I made that post, I looked at four different articles (accompanied by videos) about the incident and came to the conclusion, based on the text and the video combined, that he was protecting the kid and being incredibly nice. It was obvious that the videos were edited, but it has only since come to my attention that what was cut was the scary part. Interestingly, the news outlets were choosing to take the edited video and write about the incident as though nothing dramatic happened.

So, it turns out I was wrong. The gorilla did do some dangerous and scary stuff with the little boy. Watching the full video made me uncomfortable. But my question still stood. Why couldn't he have been sedated?

Harambe was a healthy and impressive representative of an endangered species. In my original post, I said, "I understand that the gorilla needed to be subdued in order to extract the kid." but it's sad to lose an individual like that. Why couldn't he have been sedated?

Since my post, Cincinnati Zoo director, Thane Maynard, "has said that tranquilizers may not have taken effect in time to save the boy while the dart might have agitated the animal, worsening the situation. Animal expert Jeff Corwin agreed that tranquilizers may have taken too long."

Okay. The picture was probably insensitive to begin with. I guess I didn't realize how it would be interpreted. I guess I thought of it as more of a joke than an accusation. Then, I was corrected as regards the gorilla's seemingly docile behavior from the first several videos I watched. Then, I got the information I wanted. Both of these things happened within hours of each other. I took the post down.

But I'm still dealing with it.

First, I didn't think anyone really cared what I said. Hardly anyone reads this and as far as I can tell, basically no one pays attention to my facebook. But one of my real-life friends attempted to gently correct me (and others) by posting an article focusing on a bystander who feels that the incident was not the fault of the parents.

I felt I needed to explain my position. I didn't mean to suggest that it was the parents' fault. I was simply pointing out that the gorilla seemed oddly calm and maybe didn't have to die. I just wanted to know why he wasn't tranquilized (this was before I learned why).

The responses to my explanation have been... aggressive. One person points out that I obviously didn't look into it because the video shows the gorilla being violent and tells me, "So congratulations, you called the parents worse than psychotic abusive assholes." But I did look into it. I read four different articles and all of them chose to use edited videos and present the information as though nothing concerning happened while the boy was in the enclosure. I think this is a serious problem we should all take note of. Why were/are so many sources choosing not to tell the whole story? When many different news outlets are misrepresenting the story in the same way, it's hard to know that you didn't do your research well enough.

After I explained the circumstances that lead to my post, this same person goes on to ask me how I would feel if I "had a hand in causing this mother to commit suicide because of all of the hate directed at her."

By this point, I had already taken the post down because the zoo had made a statement, providing the information I was looking for, and I saw the full video, showing the dangerous behavior.

I admitted I was wrong. I took the offensive post down. I made a mistake. It's cool though, deliberately giving me shit on the internet because I made a mistake anyone could have made that almost no one even saw is different from me accidentally giving another mom shit on the internet because she made a mistake anyone could have made that everyone saw.

Seriously, it is different. Because basically no one could even see my mistake, and it was redacted, it's over. I admit I made a mistake. I was insensitive and I apologize. I didn't realize I was wrong or being insensitive, because of the circumstances. In contrast, everyone is seeing this story and they think they know what's going on. News coverage has been leaving out details and people are angry that Harambe had to be shot. They're blaming this woman and the internet is awash with misinformed, unforgiving pointed fingers. I'm just dealing with one of those fingers.

I try to teach my kids that it's important to make mistakes. If you haven't made a mistake or failed at something today, you haven't tried hard enough at anything difficult or new, you haven't put yourself at risk. Putting yourself at risk is important because that is how you learn and grow and where you will find satisfaction and success. But when we make mistakes that affect others, we might need to correct them and apologize.

I corrected my mistake and I am sorry for being insensitive and wrong. I'm glad someone pointed out that by posting that picture, I was lumping myself in with a hurtful crowd.

There are things to be learned from this:

  • There are larger problems with news media than I even realized
  • It's surprisingly easy to be a jerk on accident
  • It's hard to take it back
  • Even nice people are jerks on accident sometimes and it's probably important for the accidental jerk and the victim to both remember that
  • People who don't know you will judge you and you can't take them seriously. They also make mistakes
  • And we should probably never design a gorilla exhibit like that ever again