Category Archives: kid-safe

Published in the kid-safe blog

Dropping off the van adventure

My friend said her son wanted to know why she was laughing and she couldn’t tell him because she was reading one of my adult-only posts. That made me think, “I really should try for more kid-friendly writing. I’ve been being lazy.”

Today I dropped the van off to have a tow hitch installed. Since I have a camp trailer put together on my driveway I should probably have some way of moving it around other than me picking it up and pulling it by hand. I am thrilled to once again be using the nice mechanic right on the other side of the railroad tracks. Kris is really nice and competent. We’ve been working with him for years and haven’t had a complaint. For me that is just about a miracle. I can find something to complain about with just about anyone.

As I was getting ready to leave the shop to walk home Kris offered to give me a ride home. I told him I was looking forward to the walk and I brought a brand new book to start. He asked how I could read while I walk. I laughed and told him that I’ve been doing it for decades. I told him I wouldn’t be able to read 50-200 books a year if I didn’t know how to multi-task reading and other tasks. He looked shocked and said he doesn’t read one book a year. He said, “That must be why you are a reader–because you are a writer.”

I said, “Actually you have it backwards. You can’t be a writer without being a reader. You have to have the fluency with words and it only comes from exposure to other peoples writing.” He looked kind of puzzled but he nodded and smiled and waved.

It was an adventure because I realized on the walk home that I left the keys in my pocket. Whoops. The walk should have been right around two miles. Instead it was 3.6 miles. That’s ok, the exercise is good for me. I read 80 pages of my book. (Book 4 in the Immortals Quad. Yay Daine!)

While I was walking the kind babysitter was at home doing one of the sewing projects the kids got for Christmas. This kit is hard enough that Calli really can’t do most of the work. She’s thrilled with the results but I’m kind of a whiny butt about doing the work. I was so happy to pawn it off on the babysitter today. Calli and the babysitter had fun. They both learned new skills. Before I left the house to drop off the van I had to teach them back stitches and running stitches. I had no idea I even know that much about sewing. I surprise myself all the darn time. Shanna regularly comments when I’m doing these projects with them, “You complain a lot but you seem to know what you’re doing.” Yeah. I’m like that.

Noah tells me that I like to have something to complain about. I wish he weren’t right.

On Friday I go to have the last board cut to fit the trailer. I should probably schedule an appointment with DMV to bring the trailer in so I can get a license plate. I am feeling overwhelmingly like a grown up.

We won’t be able to get a schedule match with home schoolers for a camping trip this spring, well not a group trip. One family says maybe… but they hate to camp and they don’t know if they can because of custody. Heh. I appreciate that you are willing to consider it at all given that you hate camping.

I’m torn between wanting to ask other (adult) friends and being scared of more rejection. Being a grown up was supposed to be easier than this! (Err, we are looking at the weekend of April 17/18/19 and I have a spare tent and an extra air mattress…)

Find gratitude

I have 70,282 thoughts that are kind of whiny.

Today I am grateful for my friends. A former student came over today and visited for a while. She taught Shanna how to play some video games. We talked for hours. She is reading Outrunning Suicide slowly. She says she desperately wishes she could have read it at 12.

My husband continues to jump through a series of flaming hoops so I can eat despite all kind of ridiculous changing metrics. There are not enough words of gratitude in existence.

Lately Shanna has developed a habit that pleases me so much I shiver when she does it. When I manage to choke off yelling at her and take a deep breath and explain why I’m upset about something in a reasonable voice she says, “Oh. I didn’t know that. Thank you for telling me.” She has this clear, piping little voice. It makes me feel like any amount of work for that child is worth it.

Callidora says, “Can I tell you something?” Then she asks a question and I giggle every time.

I am very glad for my life.

Also: gluten/dairy free apple pie is totally low fiber so I had it for lunch. See, I’m totally “healthy”.


I sort of feel like “she’s bullying me” is the clarion call of my childrens’ generation the way “it’s not fair” was for my generation. They do not understand what they are complaining about and it sounds pretty funny to me most of the time. “No, actually your sister doing something you dislike isn’t the same thing as bullying.”

We are starting to run into bullying situations. I have a heavy heart as I think about how much like me my daughter is. Shanna can be a bully. The other day at a park a bigger girl told Shanna to be on “guard duty” so Shanna beat the shit out of the little boys who wanted to come to that part of the playground. Luckily she is very bad at fighting. But she hit the little boy in the face.

I intervened about as fast as I physically could. We talked there and ended up coming home early because the excuse, “The bigger girl told me to do it” isn’t one that buys you a lot of slack with me.

I believe that one of the things I said as I huffily dragged her from the park (she was screaming about how I was bullying her by not letting her play) was, “It is despicable to hit someone half your size as part of a game. I don’t care if you think I’m bullying you. You can go home and play alone if you are going to act like that.”

I haven’t lost any sleep over enforcing the boundary but I do worry about her growing up. She’s going to have to make a lot of the same mistakes I’ve made.

I was a vicious bully.

I worry about my privileged little princess punching down. I was not starting life in a position much like Shanna’s. My behavior and hers… really shouldn’t be comparable. I fought all the time because I was being viciously beaten and raped. My kid has never had a traumatic experience. But she seems to feel almost as much need to hit and be defensive. I’m not sure what to do with this. I keep offering martial arts and she is turning me down.

I believe that “bullying” or punching down behaviors need to be watched forever. One needs to engage in self-monitoring. Everyone punches in some direction–never punch down or you are a bully. That’s just a rule in my little world. You can’t punch down. If you do you are hurting people who are less able to defend themselves than you are and that is poor sportswomanship.

Wow. Spell check let me have that word? Cool.

Shanna is trying to use physical intimidation a lot more in general lately. That is not going as well as she might hope. If you shove your face in my face and growl at me I’m very likely to grab the shirt of your outfit and make sure I win that intimidation game. I tend to win even with people who are bigger than me. Shanna doesn’t have a chance. I’m scary when I feel threatened. I had to learn the skill.

Part of the reason I don’t hit my kids is because I do not want to punch down. They are already so very helpless compared to me–less helpless by the day but still–that hitting them at all would be punching down. Always.

It is going to be quite a journey for Shanna and I to learn how to be bossy together without being bullies. Bossy is good. Bossy is great. Bullying is not acceptable.

People learn things best by doing something wrong and observing the consequences. I need to be patient with my children and with me. We have to mess up or we won’t learn. Sometimes, that messing up involves punching down when you don’t understand that it is a problem.

I’m looking forward to when my kids are old enough for the really mess-with-you-mind teaching. I want to talk about the Milgram experiment and the Stanford prison experiment. I want to talk about obeying orders. I want to talk about what it means to hurt someone else on the say-so of your “boss”.

But I’ll wait to mess with their minds for a few more years. Puberty will be so much fun.

There is a difference between having engaged in bullying behavior and being a bully. It is the same dichotomy that exists in racism, sexism, ageism, ableism. There is space for an ignorant person to say something or do something without a larger scope of targeted behavior. When does someone jump the tracks into “being” that kind of person.

I’m not sure. But I’ve met people who are on that side of the line. It’s like pornography–I know it when I see it.

Hindi study

Last year we somehow stumbled across an advertisement for Hindi lessons at the local temple. (It is on the end of our block.) All four of us went to the first round of classes and it was pretty fun. This year Shanna said she didn’t want to sit still every week and only Calli asked to enroll.

I find the study of Hindi to be stimulating in a way that few things have been. Having to memorize different letters and connect them to sounds that don’t exist in my language feels an order of magnitude different from studying languages with a similar alphabet (like Spanish). I’m not saying harder–I’m not sure if it is harder. But it feels different.

I studied Spanish in school–both high school and college. I am nothing near fluent. But the study of Hindi is teaching me that I have a significant vocabulary–my problem is verb conjugation. When the teacher asks us to create a sentence in Hindi to answer a question I always have a complete sentence in Spanish pop into my head and I have to consciously not say it. Wrong language. But having these little epiphanies over and over that I could probably actually go to South America and communicate fine after a month is pretty huge for me. I have lots of impostor syndrome. I think I am stupid and incapable of learning many things. Then I find out that I ALREADY KNOW THINGS!!!

It is hard to explain how exciting this feels. On one hand, people regularly tell me I am intimidating because I am smart/educated. On the other hand, I feel like I’m not talented nor smart nor educated because I know people who have gone way deeper into almost any topic than I have. I’m good at viewing things in the way that makes me look bad.

Hindi is causing me to feel pride in my ability to learn in a way that few things have. For one thing: I’m turning around and teaching Shanna once we get home. She is making progress as fast or faster than Calli and Calli is actually attending the class. It is like ASL only better. ASL was harder for me to feel pride in because Shanna picked it up at two or three times the rate I did and I always felt stupid and like I am too slow to be able to say what is happening in my mind. I just can’t make my hands go fast enough.

Hindi isn’t like this. I shouldn’t feel so much pride that I am picking up concepts faster than many of the 6-7-8 year old kids in the class.. but they are growing up in houses where this language is a daily occurrence. I do feel pride that I am managing to study on my own well enough that I am picking things up faster than people who are learning more about their native language. (They all speak English in most of their lives and Hindi almost exclusively at home based on what they say in class.)

I’m not competing with the kids. That’s not the point. But I have fairly clear proof that I am learning and I am not stupid. I’m progressing quickly. Having it be so crystal clear that I am learning is… it feels really good. I feel proud of myself.

Today we had kind of a weird class. Some of the teachers were ill so they combined levels 1, 2, 3, and 4. This meant that the class was too slow for half the people and way too fast for the other half. Ahhh group teaching. The teacher who teaching level 4 was disappointed in me that I couldn’t come up with a Hindi sentence describing what I will do on Halloween. Uhm, the only verb I know is “is”. I know colors. I can count. I’m on my way to knowing the alphabet. No… I don’t yet know how to say, “On October 31st we will dress up and go trick or treating.” Nope, don’t have that vocabulary yet. But I may work on it this week and write down the phonetic sentence and say it next week. Because she’d be thrilled I looked it up.

I find it strange that I feel so good about the positive affirmations from the teachers. Why do I care? They are strangers and it’s not like this is going on my permanent record. But I care.

Hindi requires a similar kind of discipline as training for the marathon. I have to show up consistently and do the study. Every single day. I have to train. I have to live my life as if attaining mastery of the language is a goal. Just like training for the marathon. I have to not skip runs because I feel whiny. I have to do it anyway or my body will not be ready on the crucial day. If I don’t study Hindi I won’t ever be able to go to India and study farming with people who have questionable English. I want it so bad I feel an ache in my bones.

I want to be able to talk to people in other countries about farming and incest. I’m kind of weird. I want to go meet people when I learn farming and build relationships and come back years later after they know me and trust me and then get their communities to talk to me about incest. I have a plan.

I feel grateful that some days I wake up and it doesn’t feel like I’m trapped in limbo. I’m on a journey. I’m not waiting for the future to happen to me. I’m living my future. I am doing what I always wanted to do. I am home schooling my children in security and love. I am learning languages so I can go learn from people who have entirely different life experiences than me. I am getting to enjoy the companionship and growth of my children such that I am truly getting to see a happy, healthy childhood up close. I am ridiculously blessed.

When I have conflicts with my kids and I feel very anxious about them it is important to keep in mind that I get along with them better than I’ve ever gotten along with anyone. That doesn’t mean it is always smooth sailing. I am pretty sure I will never have a relationship that is all smooth sailing. That doesn’t mean I should opt-out of relationships and it doesn’t mean I should try hard to keep people away from me.

Life is complicated. I’m grateful that this portion of my journey involves getting to engage in study that improves my sense of self esteem while also significantly furthering my life goals. Often those two aspects do not move in tandem. I am lucky.

Ok, now that I’ve done my Hindi for the day time to run. It’s a wonderfully easy Saturday. This is my shortest Saturday run until April. I should find joy in that. From here on out it gets harder.

Luckily, I can do it. I already have so I have no fear. The half marathon Thanksgiving weekend (my race is on Saturday) will be easy. My informalish goal is to manage a 11:50 or better pace. I was super close last time until mile 11 when my ankles seized. More stretching this training schedule. I’m also doing more weight lifting. Being stronger seems mandatory for more speed at this stage. And 26.2 miles just doesn’t sound that far any more. March will be here soon and I’ll run that far and be fine. It blows my mind.

I am more than I ever thought I could be.

Why unschooling?

I can’t sleep so I might as well pontificate. I wanted to unschool before I had a word for it. I knew in the pit of my stomach that the best way to learn is to be given access to materials that can help you learn and minimal instruction. I believed it was true and I felt overwhelming disdain and anger for the curriculum I was forced to follow in schools. I don’t think I can adequately describe the years of anger, frustration, and rage I felt about school.

Public school was an interesting journey for me. On one hand clearly I was exposed to concepts and I learned. On the other hand I was beaten, shamed, taunted, and bullied constantly by students and teachers alike. Ok, the California teachers couldn’t hit me. Just the teachers in Oklahoma and Texas.

I understand that my children would have different experiences. I also understand that public education has gone down hill in the intervening years between when I was in school and now. That’s not a good thing. It wasn’t great then.

Learning happens in so many ways I can’t begin to address them all in this blog entry. Suffice it to say that learning can be horizontal or vertical. You can go deep or you can go broad. You can find out everything about one species of dog or you can become obsessed with the organization of biological organisms and their relationships. Personally I’m a generalist. I don’t go deep on many subjects: the primary ones being education, incest, and suicide. Otherwise I tend to stick to having a better than average grasp of a subject then I move on. I don’t need to be an expert on everything. In schools they require you to do everything on a level before you move up. Rarely they will allow someone to bump up in math or reading if they are “very advanced” but mostly you have to “cover everything in the 3rd grade textbook before you can go on to 4th grade” and that just seems silly to me.

Shanna (my six year old) told me recently that she thinks maybe it would be easier to learn to read in school. I asked why she thought that would be easier. Her response was, “Well in school I would have to do it or get punished so I wouldn’t keep putting it off.”

You know what? I’d rather she learn to read for a reason other than avoiding punishment. I’d rather she learn to read because reading is wonderful and engrossing and a fabulous way to spend time. Could she learn to read at a faster pace than she is currently using? Yes. I could force her to learn reading faster. I don’t see a point. I think that as long as she is learning and progressing in many areas at a good speed it doesn’t matter when she learns that skill. She sits down with books every single day. We read to her. She has memorized a large percentage of our library and she “reads” to herself. She’ll get there. It’s ok that she isn’t an early reader. It doesn’t make her stupid and it doesn’t mean unschooling is failing.

I am deeply bitter that coloring is emotionally stressful and painful for me. I had too many teachers who told me “No no no. You are doing it all wrong.” So I’m afraid to try. I don’t want my children having such an experience.

I don’t think that home schooling is necessary for all children. I do not believe that unschooling is the One Twue Way. I think it is what will work best for my family. This is part of why I don’t want to be part of public policy decisions. What is best for me may not be best for you and I’d be a serious jerk to try and change the tone of education in a country based on my personal preferences. But I believe it is very important that people be allowed to participate in whatever educational path is most fitting for them.

I believe that other people have mothers who managed the public education system without trauma and those mothers are capable of dealing with the conflicts inherent within the system. I am not those mothers. I would be printing out whole trees worth of research and I would wall-paper the school with data about why homework is deeply harmful to children. I would not be popular. My kids would suffer for my behavior.

You have to make life choices based on a deep understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses. I am not suitable for meekly going along with the public system. That doesn’t mean the public system should be burned down. The simple truth is that it is a necessary part of life for most of our society. I do not believe that every parent is constitutionally, nor financially able to home school. It’s a super hard job.

If I think back over my life by far the easiest job I’ve ever had was being a library “tech”. I don’t understand why I was called that. I fixed the copy machines and organized the magazines. I had lots of time to sit around and read and do my homework. Other than that I wouldn’t say I’ve had an “easy” job. Some of my jobs have been physically hard, some mentally hard, some emotionally hard, some have been a combination of different kinds of hard.

I don’t think I will ever pick an “easy” path. If I’m going to pick a hard path I might as well pick the one that has the most to offer me personally. I really should pick the path that opens up the most doors to the future. I should pick the path that will present the fewest obstacles for me.

It doesn’t really matter what someone else would prefer. No one else has to spend every day in my life. Just me. I have hard days, but I like what I’m doing. I feel very happy about unschooling my kids. I have self-doubt. I have periods where I am afraid I am not making the best choice. I genuinely do not see a better for my family option. There are other arrangements that could be made to work. But I don’t think they would be better and they would involve an enormous amount of stressful change and emotional separation.

I’m a selfish person. I don’t really want to allow anyone else to get most of Shanna and Calli’s time. I want it. I want to be the person who sees them all day every day. I want to be the one who knows exactly where every bump and scratch came from. I want to be the one who is available for hugs and kisses whenever they are needed.

Being present for that heals something in me. I can’t get this pit of need met any other way. I’ve tried.

Sometimes I feel a little weird about the idea that I am making the parenting choices I’m making partially because this feels like the road to my Zen. What I want from life is the ability to feel connection to people. Shanna and Calli are my best chances hands down. It is hard sometimes in the way that any spiritual path involves hardship and strife. It wouldn’t be worth very much if it was always easy.

Unschooling gives me time I can’t get any other way. I feel deeply grateful that Noah (my husband) is able to make this lifestyle easy and comfortable. It would not be possible for me to have this life without him.

Even on days when I’m not very good at interacting with my kids I feel good about the fact that they have freedom to explore and make mistakes without being told constantly how bad they are.

When Shanna breaks things, mostly I laugh it off and say, “Yup. You are my kid.” I’m a huge klutz. I break things frequently. I have no soap box to stand on for preaching about “be careful”. I break things so often. It is hard to handle sometimes but it feels like a journey we have to go on together.

I tell them sometimes, “I don’t know what to do in response to this situation. This is outside my entire realm of experience and I don’t know what the right answer is. Do you have any ideas?”

Whatever self-doubt I feel about whether or not I am making the right choice would be magnified if I gave up on home schooling. I would consider moving to an online charter with more interactive teachers long before I just up and put my kids in public school.

Can we try problem solving that doesn’t involve “Get a new life”?

Today these little unschoolers are going to spend the day at a pumpkin patch. There’s a maze and a huge corn kernel pit that the kids can play in. We’ve been before. We will be there with dozens of friends. It will be a long, hot, fun day.

Tea party stories

“Let’s pretend that you are from Portland and you are from Texas and you are here to have a tea party with me!”

I wish you had assigned me Portland instead of Texas, but I promise that I will visit you from any distance. I will. I promise.

Going to see a geyser

I’ve never seen a geyser before. A friend asked us to go with her family up to the petrified forest. It will be an adventure.

I’ve been noticing that I should be tracking our “school” activities at this point. We are officially home schooling. Oh goodness. More things to track. So much excitement.

We are actively working on Hindi, Spanish, math skills, and history is always a frequent topic in our house. As unschoolers this is all happening in a kind of free form manner.

What does unschooling mean for us? It means that we pursue child-led-education. We don’t follow curriculums and we don’t worry about hitting the milestones exactly when everyone else hits the milestones. It means asynchronous learning. It means having middle school level discussions about the body with pre-readers.

So far unschooling means that we learn all the time, everywhere we go. We cannot put our learning in a building and leave it there. Learning is all around us.

I’m told, by more experienced unschooling parents, that with unschooling the key isn’t to sit down and map out what you will do with a year. You have no idea in advance. The key is to accurately record what you are actually doing and give yourself credit. You won’t be able to predict how your children will learn in advance.

I wouldn’t have guessed that most of our first written down math problems would be in service of selling things in the front yard. If you want to learn to make change, this is the process.

It has already been a busy year for learning things and September is only half-way through. I need to record better. Maybe if I wrote down that yesterday we studied Hindi and read books and cooked panna cotta for the first time (I didn’t cook–Noah and the kids did.) I wouldn’t worry so much that we “aren’t doing anything”. We are doing things. Just not all the things in a set order every day.

Having faith that the future will work out is not my strong suit. I guess there needs to be a first time for everything.