Sunday, 31 July 2011

Rough couple of days

I feel like I had been on such a high with the camping and outdoors and vacations as of late, but the crash I'm experiencing right now is maybe saying otherwise.

I feel in a low valley. I feel uninspired. I feel tired. I feel anxious. I feel disconnected. These are not my usual feelings.

And I don't think I got there in just the last three days. I must have been on a slow slope downward for a while and not really realized it until things slowed down. I guess auto-pilot has been on for a while, and I'm just starting to realize that while everything is functioning around me normally, something feels at odds. It is as though my life is a puzzle, completely put together, but even though the pieces all interlock properly the picture doesn't make any sense.

I'm not sure what the answer is. The weather is beautiful, James hasn't been inordinately absent with work, the boys aren't any crazier than normal. I maybe have had a little less me-time than usual, but that doesn't even feel like the solution.

Hmmm. I hope it's just a temporary funk. The last two nights I've taken Benjamin for a walk in his stroller just before bedtime, a half hour where he is just sitting, taking in the world and I'm soaking up the sun in my beautiful neighbourhood. Perhaps that will be the jump start I need.

Friday, 29 July 2011

The nap

Every afternoon for at least the past year and a half (probably longer!) I have been grabbing a short nap while the boys sleep in the afternoon. This has mostly been due to the utter exhaustion of still being up through the night with Benjamin.

However, a few times over the past little while, I have found myself not able to fall asleep when I head up to bed in the evening. And as most mothers know, when someone isn't tired at bedtime, it usually means it is time to drop the afternoon nap. Okay, I know that is usually in reference to your kids, but I figure it's applicable to me also.

So I'm starting a little experimentation. The catalyst for beginning today was a blog post by a friend of mine. She wrote about how important a clean and tidy (yes, both clean and tidy - I usually have to pick one or the other!) home is to her and how she manages to keep it that way, even with two kids under three years old with a third one on the way in the fall. (BTW - she is my hero!) Her method is zone cleaning, which divides the house into five zones and then focuses on cleaning one room or "zone" each day. Choosing five over seven (days in a week) leave you a little wiggle room for illness, activities, outings, or the blahs.

While the method is interesting, it was her schedule that intrigued me. She wrote that she gets her cleaning and tidying done during naptime each day. My first thought was "well, okay, of course it's easy to keep a clean and tidy house if you aren't desperate for sleep during naptime." I started to justify my own case, that I could clean with the boys awake but I couldn't sleep while they were up, and how much I really did need that sleep.

Then that thought about naptime and bedtime crept up, and I realized that while I still might need to do some sleep catch up at naptime, perhaps I might be able to drop the nap every other day. Plus, I really don't get much cleaning done when the boys are up, because they demand so much of my attention. So today is my first day of skipping the nap. To be honest, I haven't done any cleaning yet, since I spent all morning cleaning up after being away from home for two weeks. But I did get caught up on sorting and filing my digital photos, plus some writing, and there is still a half hour left of nap during which I intend at least to fold some laundry (another thing that can't be done with a one and a half year old, unless you want to fold each piece at least four times!)

But, in honour of the blessed nap, here are some great lyrics from Hilary Weeks, to the tune of "My Favourite Things"

Bedtime and naptime and bedtime and naptime
Bedtime and naptime and bedtime and naptime
Did I mention it's nice when the kids go to sleep?
These are a few of my favourite things.

Camping with the boys

Earlier this week I took the boys camping for 4 days, 3 nights. Yes, that is I, meaning by myself, without my husband. James was able to come up and sleep with us at night, but he was off early in the morning and didn't get in until dinner each night. So for most of the time, it was just me and the boys.


Okay, it was exhausting and chaotic as well, but so much fun. I usually prefer provincial parks, because their campsites offer more privacy. But while I enjoy being surrounded by only nature, the boys are a little young, since they can't really hike or bike yet. So I opted for a nearby KOA instead. You are almost on top of your neighbours, but that actually worked in our favour, since the boys love to meet and make new friends. The KOA also had lots of activities and things to do to keep the boys busy.

This is just the top of a huge wooden pirate ship park. There is a lower level that the kids can run around inside, and a big (fast!) slide and swings. There is another more traditional park at the other side of the campground, but we didn't even get to that - this was such a hit.

The mini golf course will be closing in August for major renovations, so they were offering as much free golf as you wanted. The boys would often play two or three rounds at a time. Benjamin held his putter like a hockey stick. Caleb always threw his ball down the green for his initial "putt" and then slid it around like a puck on ice until it got in the hole. Colin had a much better handle on how one is supposed to play the game, but then again, I've never been a stickler for rules. I like how creative the boys could get.

About 25 feet from our campsite was this mini basketball court. Colin spent about half an hour one evening, while eating dinner, sitting in his chair and watching some teenagers play basketball. It was typical Colin learning style. After that, he picked up the ball and started imitating them, everything from dribbling to shooting to trying to pass it around his back. Interesting that during school this year, his report cards kept saying all year that he needed to learn how to handle a ball, and yet once he was interested in learning it, he spent no more than 30 minutes studying it before he was doing it, no problem.

Giant Snakes and Ladders, where you get to be the "man." Hours of fun. They also had giant checkers/chess. Colin actually beat me in checkers. Twice.

I call this one "tent tumbling." Every night before bed the boys would jump all over each other, rolling around in our large 8-man tent. (Which could never in a million year sleep 8 grown men!)

There was also wagon ride, crafts, and organized games put on by the KOA. Bonus was the small wading pool, only about 18" deep, which meant I could take the boys swimming during the day when James wasn't there. James took Colin and Caleb into the big swimming pool in the evenings. There was a fire ban, so no fires, to the major disappointment of the boys, and much to the detriment of my menu!

Oh, and it absolutely POURED BUCKETS of rain the first two nights we were there. One of the biggest thunderstorms I've heard in a while, and trust me, every drop is like the beating of a biggest drum on top of tent canvas! But our amazing tent held up fantastically. Not a drop of water came in, which we can't say for many of the other campers, who were stuffing the dryer machines with pillows and sleeping bags the next morning.

Naptime still went down without a hitch. I just waited until Benjamin couldn't keep his eyes open, and then he laid down in his playpen without a peep. And he slept through every night. We may actually have the answer how for why he hasn't slept as well. The temperature dropped to about 14 C each night, which wasn't a problem for the boys with their sleeping bags, but all I had for James and I were bedsheets. I shivered the first night, my toes and nose freezing. I worried for Benjamin, who refuses to use blankets of any kind (he throws them off of his body and then out of the crib!) and for whom I hadn't brought anything really warm. The first night he slept in a t-shirt and pj pants. The second and third nights I put him in a long sleeve t-shirt. When I woke in the middle of the night (habit!) I felt his skin, but even though my own nose was freezing to the touch, his was warm as can be! I guess he pumps out an incredible amount of heat. And because "they" always say to dress your baby in an additional layer to what you are wearing, and to always keep the baby's room warm (ie: don't turn down the temp at night), there is a good possibility he doesn't sleep well because he's too hot!

At any rate, the whole trip was a lot of fun. The boys enjoyed the freedom that comes from camping (getting to go places on their own) and I enjoyed letting them all run around without constantly hovering over them. Benjamin was in his glory in the outdoors, and they have all begged me to book another trip soon.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Schooling and the crisis in Egypt

Plowed through John Taylor Gatto's "Dumbing Us Down" again. Randomly flipped through John Holt's "Teach Your Own." Still getting through Gatto's huge work "The Underground History of American Education."

James and I had a great fireside chat while camping about homeschooling. Holt has a whole chapter on the myth of the social benefits of public compulsory schooling, arguments that really need to be heard. That led James to pose the question: if not school as it currently is, then what?

The answer is that no one really knows. The authors I'm reading all admit they aren't sure what the solution is, but what they do know is that the current system is failing miserably. More and more money is being pumped into a system, while more and more kids dropout or are truant, and literacy rates are plummeting.

Is homeschooling the answer? Obviously, no. Homeschooling is not an option for everyone, that's a plain fact. What I compared homeschooling to was a protest. Take what happened this past year Egypt. For 40 years their economy has been collapsing and eventually people realized that the current system was so broken, it couldn't be fixed. It had to be completely dismantled. The first step was the protest. A small fraction of the entire population (it seemed big, but percentage wise wasn't everyone) took to the streets in protest. They stopped participating in the broken system to show they were serious about having something different. After the protest, came the period of uncertainty, and a little chaos. This period will likely last for years, while the people figure out what new direction they should take. There will be missteps, mistakes, victories, detours. But in the end something new will emerge, something true and honest, not forced by government but propelled by true social change.

The answer to a new education system lies in much the same vein. Currently, parents all over America are protesting the current schooling system by pulling their children out of schools and educating them in other ways. Alternative schools, private schools, homeschooling, unschooling, apprenticeship, travelling...their are as many different ways as their are families involved in the movement. These protestors may only account for a small percentage of the mass population, but their numbers are growing every year. Eventually, enough people will hopefully see what the alternative could look like, and a protest by a big enough population will hopefully lead to the dismantling of the current compulsory education.

What the step after that is, no one knows. Just like in Egypt, it will be chaotic, splintered, a crumbled mess of bricks slowly being built up again one by one. But what will emerge will hopefully be much better than what we have now, and perhaps all those homeschoolers will once again reintegrate into community education.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

The big toy crackdown part three

The boys still have not managed to keep the Lego clean. They have also not even asked about all their other toys in the garage.

It's time to do a major purge.

I was talking with a friend today and she said that she and her husband deliberately have very few toys around the house. It was a conscious decision they made and they have never regretted it. It's going to be tough to part with some toys that I think are so great, but the truth of it is, we just don't need them. Not only that, but I'm probably doing a disservice to the boys by inundating them with so much stuff. How on earth can I help them escape the snares of consumerism while they are drowning in all those toys? How can I help them develop their imaginations? How can I foster a love of learning? How can I encourage outdoor play?

I can't. This is another really good example of needing to first set down what my priorities are, and then make sure my parenting techniques match my goals. Right now my toy room contradicts what I'm trying to teach my kids. It's time for it all to go.

A list, more for my personal use, of the toys I do want to hold onto. Hopefully this will help me stick to this list and not sneak anything else in!

- Lego
- train set
- kitchen and food (for now, until one of my sister's has a little girl!)
- space set/pirate set (on rotating basis)
- little cars
- two big cars
- Little people house

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

School and religion

A story has been brewing the past couple of weeks over public schools allowing an imam from a local mosque to run a 40-minute prayer session just after lunch on Fridays. About 400 of the school's 1200 students attend the prayer, which Muslims must do as part of their religion. (Click here for more details.)

At the heart of the debate is the Education Act, which forbids religious exercises in public schools, versus the Charter of Rights, which guarantees religious freedom.

In such a multicultural country as Canada, and particularly in communities where large numbers of ethnic groups have gathered, I think the protest is unfounded. While some take the stance that because we are so diverse we should take all religion out of schools, I advocate for embracing them all instead.

Something like the Education Act is a general or national law that completely ignores the needs of smaller communities, and by that I simply mean local needs. The Toronto School Board has been experimenting with a race-based school, specifically for African Americans. They heard the members of their community talking about the need for students to learn more about themselves and their history, acknowledging their background rather than trying to ignore the differences between cultures. The school mentioned in the article above also saw a need: 1/4 of their students were leaving the school every Friday to walk to the nearby Mosque. Some students never made it to the mosque, many never returned to school afterward. To preserve class attendance, and, more importantly, to ensure student safety, the prayer session was allowed into the school. I see it as a triumph, a way for community members to gather, a way to open up dialogue between religions and races.

For the groups that are protesting (Jewish, Hindu and Christian), I wonder why they might not counter with having a group of their own. I think of the religious class in my own church, called Seminary, where high school students attend a bible study class every morning before school starts. While it currently takes place in our church, because it is right next to the high school, in another city it might be easier to have the class happening right in the high school. I would much rather see school officials and parents work together to increase awareness and understanding of cultural and religious differences than to hide them away from others, which would only feed ignorance.

I concur that there must be an "all or nothing" attitude when it comes to this issue, but I see many more benefits to the "all" approach than the "nothing."

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Palmyra pageant

This weekend we ventured on a 3 day vacation with good friends of ours down to Palmyra, New York. Our children are all born within months of each other, and their two oldest boys are great friends with Colin and Caleb. We chose to leave Benjamin at home with James' parents, because that much travel and excitement would have been too much for a one and a half year old. (It was the right decision.)

Day one consisted of doing the four hour drive in chunks, shopping just over the border, setting up camp, and taking a dip in the pool to cool off in the 35+ degree weather. As we were getting settled into our cabins in the campground, the boys ran around with each other, playing all sorts of imaginative games and having a blast. That was the moment when I realized this was going to be a great trip for them. There are a lot of things at stake during this kind of trip. 1) just because you are good friends with people doesn't mean you'll travel well together. Luckily, we were all very much on the same wavelength when it came to making decisions, and generally we were all very easy-going. 2) Just because the adults are good friends, doesn't guarantee our children will get along. Luckily, they all had a fantastic time together.

Day two started out in the Museum of Play in a nearby city. This was a most amazing place. Each exhibit was in a huge room, and featured some sort of theme from childhood (Dollhouse, Super heros, Sesame Street, Berenstein Bears, Adventure, Fairy Tales, etc.) We could have spent days in there, but by lunchtime the kids were getting tired and badly needed a nap.

After that rest, a little more swimming and some mini gold back at the campground, we were off to the pageant. The Palmyra pageant is an outdoor event put on by our church, with a cast of more than 650, and a crew of 150. They go through some of the stories in the Book of Mormon. The cast and crew are made up of families who descend on the area for about 3 weeks, to rehearse and put on the show. I hope one day we can take the boys down to participate.

Day three saw a split from our friends. After being up all night with one of their boys, they opted for a quick drive home. Being Sunday, we wanted to worship in some way, but we have heard that trying to attend the local church can be crazy, since thousands of people descend there. Instead, we decided to head out to the Sacred Grove, a beautiful forest. We walked partway in and then read from the scriptures together.

With that we were on our way home. With the rest of the day ahead of us, we took our time and stopped as needed. One rest stop in Niagara-on-the-Lake was particularly interesting. As I waited for the boys to use the restroom, I noted the most eclectic gathering of cultures. A tour bus of Asians stopped and several converged on the souvenir shop. Three men emerged from a van, buttoning up white shirts over their prayer shawls. Two Islamic men carried a rug to the back of the rest stop to offer one of their daily prayers toward Mecca. All of this happened without any party giving any other a second look. I love this multicultural aspect of Canada.

Final verdict: a fantastic trip! When asked, Colin and Caleb both proclaimed their favourite part of the trip to be the swimming. Just like their dad, you couldn't get them out of the pool. Caleb hit a swimming milestone of his own - the first time he would swim without a parent holding onto him. His confidence grew in leaps and bounds once he realized what the life jacket would do. My favourite part was the campfire - house of chatting with great friends about something other than children and motherhood. While I enjoy those topics, too, they seem to monopolize most of my conversations with people, since mothering is an easy topic we all have in common. But I always crave a good philosophical conversation, and around a campfire was even better.

As a young family, we are just starting to create traditions, and this is definitely one to continue!

Monday, 18 July 2011

The authoritarian school

If a police officer wants to search your locker, he or she needs a warrant. If a teacher or principal wants to search your locker, they can simply break into it.


Saturday, 16 July 2011


I've been sick with a super strain of strep throat for three weeks now, which has put me out of commission in a lot of areas. One of the major ones is bedtime. I say that it is major, because I know how I feel having to handle bedtime on my own when James is away. If he calls and has to work late all of a sudden, that's about the best way to make me totally lose it. (I do my best to try and be understanding, however, since I know it isn't his fault.) Then there has been the added pressure of handling naptime with all three boys, which is almost like bedtime except that only half the day is over and I still have some energy and patience, especially since I know if I can maneuver is successfully, I might get a nap of my own.

At any rate, without much energy, I came up with a new strategy: have Colin read stories to Caleb while I put Benjamin to bed. A 5 year old and a 3 year old don't really have it in them to stay quiet on their own, unless put to a task such as this, and quiet is absolutely necessary to get Benjamin to sleep.

The idea jumped in my head one night when Colin asked if he could read his bedtime story to me, instead of me reading it. I readily agreed, and he picked up a book we haven't read in over 6 months - "The Very Hungry Caterpillar." But his fantastic memory didn't fail him, and he recalled every single word. More than that, he "read" the book back in such an expressive voice, it could have been a professional reading for a recording!

Over the past couple of weeks, he has taken his job of reading to Caleb very seriously. As I've listened from the adjoining room, I've discovered just how many books he has memorized! Nearly our entire catalogue of Robert Munsch (always fun to listen to, since his text just begs for a dramatic reading!), plus many of the Little Critter books, some Franklin stories, and many others from our extensive collection.

And if I can peek in before they see me, I see the two of them sitting on Colin's bed, Caleb peering over the page and studying the illustrations while Colin reads the story, his face and eyes and voice all right into the performance. Priceless moments, these are.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Learning with purpose

Perhaps the most concrete idea I've taken from these past weeks of reading is that learning should be done with a purpose. There's no point in just having someone memorize the facts of history without delving into how it relates to us, here and now. Otherwise, it's just another story, and very likely a fictional account would make a much more interesting read.

There is so much to learn out there, and it really can all relate back to life. Whenever I come up against something hard in motherhood, I like to remember that billions of women have done this before. While I may feel all alone in my uniqueness, odds are that sometime, somewhere, someone has been through this before. And all those experiences are captured in books, in a variety of subjects. History, geography, science, literature - everything I could possibly learn relates in some way to the world in which I live.

History is the most obvious, because humanity doesn't really change all that much. While I find it hard to imagine a full life out of a paragraph in a history book, I try really hard to picture those ancient characters doing something really ordinary, like needing to run to the bathroom really badly, or the delight of someone cooking their favourite meal, or a speck of dust getting stuck in their eye and trying to work it out. It helps me remember that even from this small paragraph, I can perhaps glean something from their experience that relates to mine.

Geography, well, land is land. This earth that I walk on has been walked on for thousands of years, by millions of feet. The same earth has yielded crops for millions of mouths. The varying landscapes rolled on before my eyes ever fell in love with them. Learning how this earth works helps me know what to wear for the weather today, and how to coax red peppers from the ground, and what's behind the hundreds of shades of green that I perceive.

Science is the basis of life around us. As I learn about my body, I can more readily prepare a diet that will make me feel great, and finally decipher the code to the perfect cleanser for my skin. As I learn about the properties of elements I could actually create my own baking recipes instead of just following others, or figure out how to tweak something that's nearly right so that I can achieve perfection.

Literature, music, art - these are the ways to tap into the soul. I read a book and feel as though I have made a new friend, both in the character and in the author. A book allows me to know someone so intimately, in a way you rarely get to know anyone in real life. A song can capture a life's worth of emotion in 3 minutes. A piece of art can freeze life indefinitely, let you live in a moment for as long as you like, because life never holds, even for a second.

All this is important to remember, because as I teach my children, I need to remember that the things they learn never need be disconnected information. They should be relatable to their lives, to themselves inside and out, to the world in which they live. Everything can open their eyes and increase their understanding. This is when education and learning is exciting! This is when a student drinks up knowledge as though they are parched. This is when they have a true desire to learn.

Have you ever noticed how much kids want to be like adults? Our life is so fascinating to them, and so often I find myself relegating them to playing. "Go play in the other room," I urge, so that I can get something done, something adult, something boring. But perhaps it wouldn't be all that boring to them. Maybe cooking dinner looks so fascinating, they would eagerly figure out fractions in order to bake the pie. Maybe sorting laundry would finally help them understand fashion, and what goes together and what doesn't. Maybe turning the dial on the sprinkler will show them how gears work. Why do we so desperately want our children to be children, when they so desperately want to be more adult? We spend all these years telling them to run and play, and then wonder about the phenomenon of 30 year olds still living in their parents' basement.

I tried for months to teach Caleb his alphabet with no response. Then one day I caught him reading the letters off of a cereal box. Sitting in front of a worksheet had absolutely no relevance to him or his world. But those honeycombs sure are awesome, and honeycombs has an H-O-N-E-Y-C-O-M-B-S in it.

I'm going to try to look for more natural ways my kids can learn all these subjects I want them to. Because I don't want them to just rattle off rote memorization. I want them to see that everything out there is relevant in one way or another. I want them to relate to life and learning.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

How's this for a swing?

Last night I went to a Home Depot "Do-It-Herself" workshop about power tools. It was fantastic. I was the only one there, and the young girl in her early 20s new more about power tools than anyone I know. It was probably the most perfect learning experience for this situation possible. I even opened up the Home Depot flyer this morning and the pages and pages of tools in there actually made sense to me now.

I also want a mitre saw for my birthday.

After I returned home, all jazzed about starting to learn how to DIY, I grabbed a shirt I want to alter and headed over to the Fabricland sale.

How's that for a swing? Goes to show you how far and wide my interests are. Probably not many people rolling up their sleeves with power tools just before they compare indigo and violet fabrics, trying to decide whether to go with cotton or knit.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011


Yesterday a Lego catalogue came in the mail. (Thank you, Lego. Can you hear the sarcasm dripping in my voice? Now my 3 year old is begging for the Star Wars Death Star Lego, priced for parents of all kids at $500!!!!!) As Colin was flipping through, he was pronouncing with amazement the theme of each page:

"Oooh! Star Wars! Look, there''s Luke Skywalker, and there's the Death Star!"
"Oooh, look at this space station and the rocket and the space ships!"
"Oooh, this lego train actually has a remote control and drives on its own!"

Then, he flipped a page an exclaimed:

"Oooh, look, it's (dramatic pause) Hah-rrry Pottahh."

"What's that, Colin?" I ask, caught off guard.
"Here, it's a train with (dramatic pause) Hah-rrry Pottahh."

Now I'm stifling a laugh, both at the pause he gives so nonchalantly before saying Harry Potter with a heavily rolled R and a genuine upper class British accent.

"I'm sorry, it's what?" I can't resist baiting him.
"(dramatic pause) Hah-rrry Pottahh."
"Where did you hear about Harry Potter?"
"I saw a preview once for it, on a movie at Grandma and Grandpa's."

Now it's starting to make a little more sense. I can just imagine the preview, with that older lady who plays his teacher calling out Harry Potter with her stiff accent, rolled R, and a slight pause for dramatic effect before she calls his name.

James and I laughed all day every time Colin said it.

Succeeding in spite of schooling

(While reading John Taylor Gatto's books, there have been so many ideas I have loved, excerpts I want to post here as food for thought. The problem I found is that his ideas evolve bit by bit so that to take a small, manageable portion to post here is impossible without the longer context within which it is found.

Then I realized that to copy and paste his ideas here is exactly opposite to the ideas which I am so drawn to. Instead, I want to use his ideas as a springboard to my own personal, in-depth study and analysis on education. Otherwise I would simply be conforming and accepting another person's ideas, which is diametrically opposed to what Gatto is advocating, indeed, what is is warning against. So any of the thoughts in these posts are mine, as I reflect on my own education experience, the components I see of schooling and education, and how I think they are working or floundering, helping or hindering.)

Are today's great minds succeeding in spite of schooling?

Can creative genius, revolutionary ideas, come from the current model of school?

While teaching a good variety of subjects, schooling a mass student body of thousands of children on a nation-wide curriculum doesn't really seem the ideal place for new ideas to emerge.

More than that, great minds are usually those who have come up with an idea so completely different from the norm that it propels its discipline forward in a gigantic leap. I'm not sure that kind of erratic and marginal behaviour would emerge from an "A" student in the school system.

To get your As, you must learn your lesson from the teacher, and then demonstrate your ability to memorize exactly what they have taught you. If that is the model of our school system (and it is) then it would stand to reason that humanity would never learn anything new. Students learn 'x y z' from their teachers, and once they have shown to understand those concepts, can then qualify to become teachers and instruct the next generation of students in those same concepts.

Where is the deviance in this model? Where is the latitude to allow a child to meander down another road, that just might lead to an important discovery? Really, I think "genius" is simply a different way of looking at the world. In a school system that demands memorization and regurgitation of the same facts over and over again, can anyone look at the world in a different way?

I heard a news report not long ago of an amazing medical breakthrough...discovered by a 17 year old boy. When he was 14, he found a passion for medical research. He sent letters to many labs, begging them to allow him in to their workspace, to be privy to their ideas, to watch them at work. Every response came back in the negative, all except the very last one. This medical professional decided to allow the boy in, let him pursue his passion as an apprentice. He was allowed to do nothing but watch, and watch he did. He took every action in, pondered every experiment, digested every variation. After a while, he started sketching out some of his own theories. And wouldn't you know it - he eventually stumbled onto exactly what his mentor was searching for.

It all happened outside of school. But no one could say the boy was not getting an education. In school, he could take a biology class, just like all the other kids, and label the anatomy of a frog and stare into microscopes at meaningless and disconnected slides. Out of school, his imagination was given a place to soar.

In Amish communities, the government has allowed practical work on the family farm or in the family business to be a substitute for the nation high school curriculum. While the schedule of every day must be carefully documented and presented to an "educational expert," the government has concurred that the Amish form of learning is no less valuable or useful than the crowding of thousands of kids into a public system.

Hmmm. I just had an interesting imagery pop into my head. Have you ever seen video of mass production chicken farms, where the chickens are packed into the barn so tightly they cannot move? Contrast that with the idea of "free range" chickens, who are free to roam around a field, wandering in any direction they choose, pecking at the grass and squawking to their neighbours. We freely acknowledge that it is better for the chicken to roam free, and that the mass farming version stunts the chicken's growth in every way.


Tuesday, 12 July 2011


In line with my previous thoughts on family and community, I started to think of some of the choices we have made, and how and why we made them.

The first example that jumped to mind is sports teams. When summer comes, so too does sports. Last summer Colin played soccer, this year he and Caleb are in t-ball. But I have to admit that no questions other than "which sport" and "how much" really entered my mind. Now I am looking back to dissect the decision a little further.

The first question to ask should have been "what is my goal in signing my kids up for sports?"

Answer: a physical workout, and a time for family.

The current sports teams are all pretty much using the same model. Current leagues segregate by age, each age playing on different nights, at different places. The emphasis is on skill and competition. Hmm. Neither one of these ideas align with my goals for the sport. So why sign them up then?

Not playing a sport is not the answer I am looking for, because that throws out my desire for the boys to get a good physical workout. And I really like sports - I like the camaraderie that forms among team members, and I like the often intense use of my body.

I want my children to play sports, but my idea of a team would look much different: a team where all the boys can play together, where winning cannot be the emphasis because a 4 year old is never going to "hit you home", where the whole family can gather on one night at one place to watch each other play, where the older kids learn patience in teaching the younger ones, and the younger ones learn at a much greater speed as they watch the example of the older ones. When I break down what I want to get out of a sport, it makes our decision easier.

The soccer league we played in last year was close to exemplifying the above. In fact, it's probably as close as an organization can be, in light of the opposite (competitive) goals of many parents out there. The whole league played on one night, at one location. While the ages were segregated, there was still a good chance you could catch some or all of everyone's games. It was inexpensive, which allowed access to the sport for all, and the emphasis was on learning the game and having fun. Unfortunately, Colin really didn't take to soccer all that well. But I'm not going to throw out that one, just keep it on the back burner for the future.

Perhaps the best idea would be to organize my own organization. I envision families all gathered together to watch/play with each other. Perhaps there are loose divisions: a primary age (3-10), a teen age (11-17) and an adult age (18+) While I prefer the idea of families all playing together, I can also see the possible danger of a 6 year old trying to catch a throw from a 15 year old. I say the divisions are loose, because I wouldn't prevent a family from having their kids play on the same team, for the sake of a few years. Rather than an official organization, it would run more like a community pickup game. Word spreads that family and friends are gathering to play, all welcome.

You never know. Perhaps there are just enough parents out there with like-minded views that something like this might actually catch on.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Preserving community

I love how thoughts wander down paths, gently led by various sources but all tending in a common direction. I have been pondering the past two days on John Taylor Gatto's thoughts about our disconnection from community. He writes that as we segregate children into schools and the elderly into homes, we eliminate our connection to the past and the future. He also expresses strong thoughts about the difference between 'communities' and 'networks.' A network is a group with a specific set of defining characteristics, be it interests, age, culture, gender, etc. There is very little genuine community any longer. Instead, we float between various and numerous networks, which fragments us into parts, only showing a portion of ourselves to each group.

While all that was simmering on the back element of my mind, I watched a PBS documentary on the Amish. I have always had more than a simple interest in the Amish way of life. Something about it has always spoken to me, and yet I had never really been able to pinpoint what it was, or why, I felt an abiding truth in the way they live their lives. The film tonight was finally able to articulate the "why" of their lives in a way that put words to my own feelings.

The film spoke of community. The Amish people make their decisions based on community. To live a life of simplicity is to embrace the notion of living humbly for others. By eschewing technology, they are preserving a pace of life that is manageable, peaceful, and unlike the rushing tsunami that technology brings today. I think it is easy to look at "traditional" life today and see the increase of isolation and the breakdown of communities, and I wonder if the Amish haven't hit on something important. This closing quote sums it up perfectly:

"They are a people who will not sacrifice community for convenience, who have not been caught up in progress, who believe that order brings unity and contentment...a people who don't discard the past, who fear pride, and who don't argue with nature."

While I may have many friends in town, I don't see the same level of community. Community is where we are in a constant state of interaction, where we know each other intimately, not just our common interests but our goals, victories, heartaches, yearnings, struggles, dreams. How many people can you say that you know like that? Do you know when someone needs help and how to help them? Do you open your own heart for help when you need it? Serving others is so difficult in an age when pride prevents true communication. The need for us to wear a facade that says "I've got it all together." Community is a free moving of people, not just a set of playdates scribbled on a calendar. It is dropping in because you were going by, it is living an unscheduled life, or at least a very flexible one. Community is spontaneous gatherings, a baseball game on a Saturday afternoon, or a barbecue and a guitar in a backyard.

I have always yearned to keep a wary distance from television and its kin in entertainment, and these ideas now floating around in my head are able to give voice to the reason why: sitting in front of a screen (be it a TV show or a film or a video game) is the axe hacking down our communities. It is breeding isolation at a furious rate. It is distracting us from finding contentment in this life, the kind of contentment found in relationships.

This is not about moving to an Amish community, but it is about evaluating my own priorities, purposes and goals. What is it that I want to be moving toward? Who do I want to be? What do I want my life to look like? What do I want to teach my children?

Sunday, 10 July 2011


Ever feel that sometimes all you need is a little acknowledgement?

In conversation with a friend the other day, she mentioned a Facebook comment she replied to. The comment was from an acquaintance, and was about nursing her baby, about to be born in the next few weeks. My friend, a La Leche League leader, saw the comment and felt the woman had been misinformed by her doctor and felt she should impart a different point of view, in an effort to give this acquaintance further information. The reply from this mother-to-be came back, defensive of her first comment, standing firm in the first point of view. At this, my friend let it lie.

As I listened to the story, my comment was that sometimes people ask a question not really looking for an answer, but simply for validation of their own viewpoint. It seemed to be the case in this situation, where although the woman was expressing disappointment in her doctor's advice, beneath it all she seemed to agree with it, and was hiding behind the professional opinion of her doctor to validate an opinion others might not agree with.

It happens more often than you realize, and I sure know that I do it often enough. People have very strong opinions, society has very strong notions, and mothers can be the most stubborn of all. And usually behind any opinion that is unwilling to bend is a whole lot of insecurity. The less sure we are, the more we hide behind a strong-willed facade.

Then again, I think sometimes as mothers we are just needing a little acknowledgement. Someone to nod their head in our direction, agree that we are doing the best we can, and acknowledge that we're in a really tough situation. I found myself on the receiving end of such a comment, and you can't believe that relief I felt at such an acknowledgement. In conversation with some friends, one turned to me and said "You really do have your hands full with Benjamin. It must be exhausting to parent him day in and day out. I've never had such trouble with any of my girls" "Yes!" I cried. "It really is hard." You see, I had been sharing some of my struggles with Benjamin's stubborn, willful and defiant nature. Usually these conversations illicit some advice from other parents, much of which I would give a try (since I'm at my wit's end with this kid!) But the wave of relief that washed over me when my friend responded in this way brought enlightenment to my understanding. Sometimes what we need to hear is "wow. That's really tough. Your endurance is admirable. You are an amazing mother."

So perhaps next time we hear a fellow mom off-loading about one of her kids, take a moment to acknowledge her struggle. It may seem small compared to your own trial, or trivial if you have much more experience as a mother than she does, but she needs to hear the support. I can tell you it will be a long time (if ever) that I forget the feeling I felt on hearing those words from my friend.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

The big toy crackdown, part two

Two weeks ago I came down hard on my boys and the disaster that is also known as the playroom. I removed every box of toys except one (I gave them the choice of which one - they chose Lego) and put them in the garage. I told them that if they could keep one box of toys tidy, then they could earn back another box. If those two were kept tidy, they could have a third, and so on and so on until they got all their toys back.

Two weeks in. They have yet to keep that box of Lego clean. They have also yet to miss or ask for their other toys.

I have come to realize that perhaps I was the one holding onto many of those toys. A friend of mine brought up the point that 100 years ago kids might have had two or three toys, not the ocean of stuff we drown our kids in today. Somehow, children back then were able to amuse themselves with a handful of toys and a heapful of imagination. It has also been said that too many toys actually hinder children's play and creativity, as they are overwhelmed by the amount of choices around them.

And so, I am thinking of a serious toy purge. Serious. The toys are great, and many in good condition (so if you are thinking of wanting some gently used toys for birthdays or Christmas, let me know!) but we've just got too many. And with three birthdays plus Christmas happening every year, and plenty of friends and family to spoil the boys with gifts, there will be no shortage of new and fun things for the boys to play with.

I have a feeling this will be much harder on me than it ever will be for the boys!

Friday, 8 July 2011

What works for me

I'm a huge fan of the "what works for me" parenting style. I firmly believe that most of us really are trying to do our best in raising our children, even though we all have vastly different opinions on how to do it. While some people will feel strongly about homeschooling, others love the public education system. Some firmly believe in vaccinations while others are wary about the practice. Some have major media concerns, others need it as a survival tool. It is much easier not to judge another's parenting decisions when you keep in mind that we are all doing our best, and doing what works for us, our children, and our family.

I also believe that it's important to expand your box of parenting tools by reading, talking and learning about other styles. You never know when something someone else is doing will be just what you've been looking for. The thing to remember is that each family is unique. We are made that way, and just as you could never be exactly like another person, no two families can (or should) be identical. You may look at a family and think "if only we could exactly duplicate that!) but that would be effort exerted in vain.

The best way to put in practice the "what works for me" theory is to listen to everything, consider them all, then filter stuff down to what might work for you and your family. Then give it a go, never feeling as though it has to work. If one technique doesn't seem to be working, it is no reflection on you or your family. It just doesn't work for you. Toss it out and try again.

Two example in my own life lately:

First, in homework. I wrote a while back about using incentives to get my kids to do homework. First, they had to complete 5 different tasks, one a day between Monday and Friday. If they missed a day, they had to start again the next week. After 3 weeks, I then adapted it to completing 5 tasks, but if they didn't complete it in a week, they could carry it over until they did. After a couple of weeks, I tossed that chart completely and just read with them, with no incentives. Now, for the summer, I'm going with a sticker chart: for every book they read they get a sticker, and ten stickers gets them an incentive. You can see that we haven't yet really found something that works for us, but I'm constantly thinking and adapting and trying new things, because I think the purpose of it is important.

(Also remember that sometimes what really works right now, may not work in a different time of your life, like next year or during the summer. Also, what works for one child may not work for another.)

The second example is not in parenting directly, but in my own scripture study. I've struggled for years on how to be excited about reading the scriptures daily. I don't like jumping around to much, because I really enjoy getting to know the context of what I'm reading. But, like so many people, I've read Genesis and 1st Nephi about a thousand times, and the entire book of scripture only a handful. Then, a couple weeks ago, I decided to just read an entire book - like the book of Luke (that's where I started.) I really enjoyed that method, and so when I finished Luke, I read John. Then I read Mormon. Then I read Nehemiah. Then I read Romans. Now when I sit down to read from the scriptures, I'll read on and on for as long as the kids are napping - sometimes up to two hours in a day! Understanding the history behind that book helps me understand why it was written and gives me better insight into the doctrine being taught. It's an entirely different way of reading, and I love it. It only took 30 years, but I found what works for me.

So don't give up trying. Life is a journey, right? which means we are constantly in motion, moving towards our goals. Don't get frustrated at the bumps, they make life interesting and keep things from getting boring and stale. And each time you find something that works for you, you'll experience the joy and peace of a little smooth sailing.

Thursday, 7 July 2011


Our boys have a "look." It's sort of an impish look that spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E. They all developed the look around 18 months. It spreads across their face when they are about to do something that is not going to be a good idea, and they already have an idea they shouldn't do it.

Colin's look said "I think I am going to do {this} - is it okay?"
Caleb's look said "I am going to do {this} - you've got 5 seconds to stop me."
Benjamin's look says "I am going to do {this} and there's nothing you can do about it!"

The funny thing is, the look is so crystal clear that even other people can read it in their faces. Benjamin does it at least ten times a day, so a lot of people get to witness this little rascal and his "look." I love to see the astonished laugh from them as they witness Benjamin's nerve, and, often, out-and-out defiance. That little guy is going to give us a run for our money!

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Saying "yes"

This summer, I'm trying to say "yes" as much as I can.

So often during the school year, I have to say "no" to the boys. They have to get enough sleep every night, and I have to keep some semblance of order in the house, and I need to get certain things done by certain times, and nap times have to be timed just perfectly between lunch and pick up.

For the last week, I've let things go a little. I've said "yes" to 10 more minutes in the sprinkler, "yes" to doing a puzzle instead of getting out the door, "yes" to a snack at an odd time, "yes" to staying up a little later with Daddy.

The result has been a much happier home. The kids are more at ease, and my mindset has let go of schedules in favour of easy-going. Sure, there are still times when I have to say "no," but I am amazed at how often my instinct is "no" when it could just as easily (or not as easily, but still able to) be "yes."

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

What a baby can do

This past weekend we spent up at my Nana's home. There was a flux of people there every day and night, friends and family celebrating, people bunking down in every room and camped out on the floors. As an introvert, I enjoy the one on one time I got with lots of different people, but at other times I just receded back for a moment or two of quiet.

During these times of quiet, I had a chance to observe Benjamin interacting with all these different people. As long as I'm in the room, Benjamin absolutely loves to explore new friends. He spreads his charming smile and walks right up to someone, touching their hands and even climbing up into their laps.

But it wasn't Benjamin I was watching - it was the other person with whom he was interacting. I was amazed by the light that came into that person's eyes, the smile that touched their lips, the joy in their face. It was like the innocence and happiness of a toddler was passed through Benjamin's and touched them subconsciously right down to their soul.

The guests who came through were as eclectic as you can imagine, spreading every age, culture, and personality bracket. Some had families of their own, others hadn't yet started, others were just beginning. Benjamin touched each and every one of them. It was such a pleasure to sit back and observe this little phenomenon. It made me smile to see the private moment between my little son another person four times his size - for that minute it was just the two of them, alone and in a moment of pure joy.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Happy Canada Day!

Very busy, very fun. Here it is in short:

- drove up Thursday afternoon to Bobcaygeon with the three boys, James and my sister. (2 and a half hours in the car.) The drive went well until they lost it halfway, just in time for a stop for dinner. Note to restaurants: someone else badly needs to hop on board the "playplace" idea for kids. Small, contained, air conditioned place to play always seems to beat out the need for food that doesn't make us sick. Why, oh why do we continue to eat there? Oh yea, the playplace.

- Benjamin does not do well overnight in other places. He couldn't sleep until the room was dark, when the sun went down about 10pm. Then he was restless all night, so I pulled him into the twin bed with me. He wriggled around constantly. I slept not at all.

- Canada Day started with games at the local park area. Races and duck fishing and face painting and hot dogs and prizes. Crazy, but loads of fun. I also learned that red Canada shirts are not an overpriced holiday money-grab, but a necessity for festivities. My boys and I were the only ones not in red and white. But I did look really cute in my new shirt, shorts and sandals!

- Ice cream at the Kawartha Dairy. BEST ICE CREAM EVER. Except they have discontinued my favourite flavour. Apparently, while I have been eating it constantly for the past ten years, I have been the only one eating it.

- Naps for everyone. Hurray!

- Canada Parade. Basically a couple of bands and a whole lot of decorated classic cars. And one float: the local "department store" (small town department store!) celebrating 100 years with a 15 foot cake and a 15 foot red high heel. Plus 10 young girls with long blond hair in red and white bikinis. Definitely said "department store" to me!

- Wedding shower for my cousin and his bride-to-be. So wonderful to meet her for the first time. She was so lovely, and a breath of fresh air to the group. I'm very much looking forward to seeing her again at Thanksgiving and Christmas. My cousin is very lucky. Plus, she was so astonished and grateful at all the presents. She emigrated to Canada as a child and her family worked hard to bring other relatives over, so she rarely, if ever, received gifts growing up. Truly a breath of fresh air.

- Caught up with another cousin I spent a summer with back when I was 17, working with her in her parent's small store in cottage country. We haven't had much of a chance to connect in the years since, but we had a great chat on the back deck there.

- Fireworks. A-W-E-S-O-M-E. Best show I've ever seen. Thousands of dollars went into it, and every firecracker was a big one, with absolutely no "filler." It went on and on and on, with a constant "ooh" and "aaah" soundtrack from the listeners. And did I mention we watched it all from the back porch/yard/kitchen window (for the little ones) of my Nana's house? That's right. Her house looks right over the lake where they set the fireworks off from. We could see the sand piles where they were set up. And the house is on a small raised hill, above the trees, which gave us a perfectly clear view. It was the first time the boys have ever seen fireworks. It's usually so late, and I've never wanted to brave huge crowds to get there and then battle out through them on the way home. This was a perfect solution. They watched in their pyjamas and were in bed as soon as they finished. Colin's eyes were so wide, and every display of lights brought another comment of amazement from him. Caleb was loving it until he swallowed a bug (after we ruled out him having bitten a glow stick!) and screamed in pain for the last half of the show. Benjamin squealed over the lights from the kitchen window, where the sound was deadened enough to be enjoyable.

- Late night for everyone, which still didn't mean sleeping in for Benjamin. I snuck out with him just before 6 am and went for a three hour walk around "town" with him. Smoothies, breakfast and timbits at Tim Hortons, down to see the boats at the locks, a play in the playground, a wander through the Farmer's market. And we were far from being the only ones up!

- Drive home, getting off late and having to stop for lunch half way. Then James got called into work. He got picked up on the road to head down there, and it wasn't until I got home that I realized he had the house keys in his pocket. Locked out, I drove around town until I found a home we could crash in for a few hours until James returned. I realized how grateful I am to be living in a place where I not only have many friends, but at least 6 good friends on whom I could drop in unannounced to stay for a few hours and possibly have to eat dinner there also. I am blessed beyond belief.

- James returned, only to tell me the keys were actually packed somewhere in the van. He found them, and we finally returned home. Adventure over!

Happy Canada Day! How grateful I am to live in this beautiful, free country, with all the privileges it affords me.