Herding Cats

A few days ago we were at one of Rowan’s t-ball games.  It was the third inning, and he was out in the (way) outfield, past where any kid his size could whack a ball.  He was supposed to be playing shortstop, but got bored, and wandered out to the fence that forms the perimeter of the field. He was trying to catch bugs that hovered around the pond that sits right outside the fence.  As he flung his glove around in an attempt to scoop up any stray insects, I knowingly smiled.  I had done the same thing during my t-ball days, and even looked forward to the escape of the outfield.  There were no pressures, no noisy adults dictating my every move, and certainly not much action.  I was free to dance, turn cartwheels, look for bugs, and just generally relax.  While my little boy was trying his hardest to fit his gloved hand through a space in the chainlink fence, one of the other mothers looked at me with pity, and said, “I know he’s homschooled, so don’t think too much of him not being able to play with the other kids.”  My jaw hit the dirt so hard that it’s a wonder I didn’t cause a new sink hole. (we’re kind of known for sink holes around here, because of the massive cave systems underground)  I managed a sort of half smile, and slowly inched away from her.  There are several reasons I didn’t turn it into an all out war smack down.  Here’s why: Rowan was too far away to hear, so I didn’t feel the need to say anything to explain away his behavior.  Also, why should I?  Show me one four year old that doesn’t like to dance, chase fireflies, and tumble around a grassy field on a sunny afternoon, and I’ll show you one unhappy little person, and an even unhappier adult.  Another reason I didn’t let her statement affect me is that at that exact moment, her son was busy removing second base from it’s nest in the ground.  I thought about that saying about “herding cats”, and was pretty sure it applied here.  Trying to get four year olds to play an organized sport the way professionals do, isn’t going to happen.  It’s like trying to herd cats.  Sure, some kids have the ability to blindly follow the crowd and easily fit into a mold casted by adults, but mine doesn’t.  He’s his own person, and I like it that way. 

I looked at our boys, neither one really thinking about what the rest of the team was doing, and I thought that they were having the time of their lives out there, locked in their own little worlds.  Rowan’s inability to concentrate on the game had nothing to do with him being homeschooled.  It had everything to do with him being four.  He’s a little kid.  As he reminds me every so often, he’s not even a whole hand old yet!!  I myself forget this from time to time.  I expect him to act like an adult, well trained by society, when he’s only been walking and talking for three years. 

I’m not a confrontational person, so starting a fight over someone else’s ignorance, especially in front of my influential son, isn’t something I’m prone to do.  Maybe I’m too passive sometimes, but I don’t see why I need to argue my point to know that I’m right.  What good would it have done, really?

In all honesty, it *did* bother be a little bit that she was judging my little boy because of his homeschooled status.  I know it’s not the last time this is going to happen, and I need to develop a thicker skin when it comes to this subject matter.  People are always going to judge, and look at us differently because I don’t choose to enroll my child in mainstream schools. 

All I ask is that people respect my decision to educate my son in a manner that suits us, and I’ll do my best to refrain from commenting on the fact that the kids from the public schools here can’t even properly re….oh right, I’m not going to mention that.

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iKid

Rowan was the very lucky recipient of an iPad for Christmas.  I know what you’re thinking: “Your kid is four already, and he’s just NOW getting an iPad?!?  Slacker.”  Okay, so you were more likely thinking along the lines of: “Why does your four year old need an iPad?”  That’s a really great question, thanks for asking.

There are some concerns that children will be less creative when exposed to the world of technology on a regular basis, and I think that’s a valid concern.  I understand the value of physically manipulating toys and objects and art supplies, which is why I don’t allow the iPad to replace those things, only supplement them.  Rowan has free access to all of his art supplies and his toys of course, while he has to ask to use the iPad.  I don’t say yes every time, forcing him to stretch his imagination, even if he whines about being bored.  We spend time outside every day, no matter the weather, and he will choose to go out and play over sitting inside with the iPad 100% of the time.  If that’s the case, one could easily argue that there is no need for an iPad in the first place.  Good argument guys!  I’m impressed!

Technology is going to be a central part of our kid’s lives, we might as well help them become comfortable with it now.  Rowan can turn on, operate his with ease, and even knows where to get free books to download.  Of course I have parental locks on there, so he can only access age-appropriate and pre-approved sites.  When I am unavailable to read to him, ie: cooking dinner, he can sit in the kitchen and be read to. (I’m a single mom, and in addition to Rowan, my 93 year old grandmother lives with us.  There’s only one of me, and sometimes I need backup.)  I confess, I’ve used it to “babysit” my child while I do things around the house, or while waiting at the DMV, or on long car trips.  Is it replacing his ability to wait?  Is he learning that instant gratification is the only option?  I don’t think so.  I see plenty of instances where he demonstrates his age-appropriate attention span, even sometimes defies it.  I remember one such instance a few weeks ago, where we had to wait almost two hours, and he amused himself with a pencil, a piece of paper, and three pennies.  I’m getting off track though.  Having a screen available to amuse him is as much of a discipline in patience and control for me as it is for Rowan-maybe even more so for me.  As with most things in life, if used in moderation, it’s not a bad thing.

The iPad is a toy, yes, but it’s also a tool.  As a homeschooling mother, I run across times where Rowan is reluctant to learn.  As with any child there are moments of frustration over not wanting to practice phonics, or learn addition.  After struggling through a lesson, he can back up what he just learned with a game involving his work for the day.  In some cases he even learns more, as he is more eager to play a game than do a worksheet.  He’s hitting all of his educational goals, and exceeding some, in part to the iPad.  Games that we can play together-we do.  Games that we could play with an actual board-we do.  If my child was in a public or private school, there is a good chance he would be using an iPad, and there is a 100% chance he would be using a computer now, or in the very near future.  This is no different from that, except the technology is more advanced.

My imagination and resources can only go so far, and what I miss, the iPad fills in.  It can provide story books, text books, and magazines that I can’t provide hard copies to.  It’s a window to the rest of the world via FaceTime and the internet.  It provides art, foreign language, and music lessons that I wouldn’t know how to teach.  Let’s face it, it can teach math lessons that I don’t know how to do!

So why does it benefit Rowan to own his very own iPad, instead of just using mine?  One of the reasons is that it’s easier for me! I don’t have to worry that he’s online purchasing a 5 million dollar car off of Ebay, or messing up the order of my apps.  There isn’t a button on his iPad he can’t touch or explore.  His has an indestructible case, and parental internet controls.  I’m not frustrated with his apps cluttering up my home screen, and he’s able to pick and choose on his own what he wants to do.  His stuff isn’t filling up valuable memory space on mine, allowing both of us to have more space.  I’m less possessive and controlling with my own iPad, now that he’s got his.  I don’t hesitate to install a new app, or allow him to get a new book.  With him having his own iPad, he can take control and ownership over that part of his learning, and he gains confidence from that.

Children and technology is a fairly new topic, therefore the studies on it are young.  I’m curious to see how children in this age are affected by it, in both negative and positive ways.  For now, I’m happy to let young Rowan use this portable learning tool as a complement to his daily life.

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Every couple of months or so, I write a blog entry in my head, but by the time I sit down to write it, I have homework to complete, or am too tired, or need to vacuum up the hamster poop from under Rowan’s bed, where the hamster, Caillou, spent a day trying to evade capture.  It was a harrowing escape from his cage, with 4 foot plummets, dashes across rugged terrain laden with petrified remains of an afternoon snack, and two maniacal predators, that stalked the addled little rodent, but were too lazy to actually hunt him.  Instead they just sat on the piano bench, licking their paws, and emitting a half meow/half growl sort of sound and left the actual capture to me.  They licked between their toes, kicked one leg into the air to lick their back sides, and then licked each other’s ears, all the while keeping their eyes locked on Caillou.  This story has a happy ending, because not only was the hamster successfully returned home, but you’re getting a blog post out of it!

It’s been a remarkable year.  The most significant and life-altering event was the death of my dear, sweet best friend.  She was brave and brilliant and inspiring.  She was enchanting and confident and bright.  She was my grandmother.  I miss her more than I knew it was possible to miss someone.  While the pain isn’t as raw, those lugubrious moments still creep through, and I find myself crying over silly things.  Just yesterday there was a cardinal prowling for food, and preening itself on a branch not far from where she used to sit in her room.  There is no longer a bird feeder there, but every now and then a hungry bird will wander over to make sure the food is still gone.  When these little remnants of her life pop up, that hole she left suddenly feels bigger, and I ache to hear her laugh, listen to her read to me, or cuddle in her bed discussing life.  It’s been nearly a year since I’ve been able to experience any of those things, but less selfishly, it’s been nearly a year that Grandma has been out of pain.  It’s been nearly a year that she’s been able to walk and run and jump with her husband, her parents, her family and friends, and her dogs. 🙂  It’s been nearly a year since she arrived at the gates of heaven.  She’s perfect and whole now, and that’s enough for me to be able to let her go from this crumbling world.

This year Rowan and I both ventured into the world of academia!  Rowan started his home school career this fall, and has flourished.  He eagerly devours any work pages I give him, kicks my booty in any educational game, and gently corrects me when he sees I’ve put the days of the week in the wrong order.  (Okay, he laughed his head off and said, “MOOOOOOM, even I know Tuesday comes before Thursday!”)  He loves any arts and crafts we do, and puzzles are easily solved.  I think his favorite thing is when I don’t give him a cap on the amount of books I’ll read to him.  Wobbly stacks of literature surround us on Rowan’s bed where we learn about bats and insects.  We laugh at Curious George, and marvel at  mighty construction vehicles and powerful locomotives.  I’ve started reading to him from Charlotte’s Web, and he’s learning to sit quietly, use his imagination, and to genuinely love words.  It’s magical.  Homeschooling is proving itself to be the best path for my little family.  It provides us ample time to be together, a flexible schedule, and a peace of mind  I certainly wouldn’t have sending my four year old to public school.   I also get a firsthand seat to the greatest show out there-watching my son grow up.  We have such an amazing homeschooling community here, filled with friends and mentors and other parents to encourage me.  Rowan has friends to play with, learn from, and be a wonderful example to him.  Rowan is swiftly on his way to graduating before I do.

I went back to college this fall to chase the geekiest degree I could find: Library Science.  In other words, I want to be a librarian.  Highest paying job out there?  No.  Most prestigious? Not really.  Great benefits?  Not so much.  A job I’ll love doing, won’t bemoan over having to attend daily, and something I’ll be proud to support?  Without a doubt.  My grandmother instilled an intense love of literature in me at a young age.  She exposed me to so many genres and authors that now I love to read everything from biographies to science fiction to the articles in Country Magazine.  She taught me to write and be read to.  She taught me the difference between books to read for fun and books to change the way I view the world.  I want to inculcate, to infuse that same kind of lust for reading into others.  I would thrive in a job like that.

Grandma’s death brought many of her most beloved friends and family into our(her) home.  People poured onto our front porch, and story after story was acquainted of her life.  Many were from her childhood, some were from her adulthood, a few about her death.  There was one recurring theme that popped up no matter where she was, what she was doing, or who she was with.  She gave.  She gave her time and her talents.  She gave everyone a smile.  She gave advise and encouragement.  She gave me a love of words, and some of the best memories of my life.  Every person at that service knew that it was a celebration of who Jean Emily Wetherbee was.  It ended up being the highlight of my summer, as I was able to reconnect with relatives I haven’t seen for years, and meet some I’ve somehow managed to live my whole life without knowing.  We are not perfect, but let me tell you something about my family: we genuinely love each other.  I know I’m sort of biased, but I think my family is pretty cool, and I wish we all lived closer together.

In between all the big stuff this year has been lots of little stuff.  Rowan completely potty trained himself in one day.  Early in the year he just decided that he was done, and would wear underwear now-even at night.  He never had an accident, and I have happily spent all his diaper money on chocolate.  He turned 4, decided he would start reading, and soaked up any form of words people would give him. He’ll sit for as many books as you’ll read to him, he loves hearing different languages, and he’s more stubborn than….than….I was going to say me, but that’s not possible.  He’s just really stubborn, and unlike some parents, I don’t want to punish it out of him.  I want that strength to do what he believes is right, to follow him for the rest of his days.  I know it’s my job to mold that little boy into a man.  He’s not perfect, as nobody is, but he is a wonderful example of love, energy, a hunger for learning, humor, and a mischievous streak a mile long.

I’ve never in my life been so confident with where I am and where I’m going.  I’m happy.  My son is happy.  It’s just the two of us in our little family, but two is all we need.

Here’s what’s up-bullet style!

  • We’re still alive!!!
  • Grandma is still alive!!!  She’s getting worse with every passing day, but then there are moments like this one, and it puts it all into perspective:

 

  • Both my dad and my uncle are getting cancer treatments this week.  Dad and mom had to travel for this one, so for the next week I’ll be holding down the fort.  Gratefully they are both doing well, but your continued prayers are much appreciated.
  • Rowan is, quite frankly, thriving.  He’s digging school, and excelling.  On non-school days he begs to go, and I don’t blame him-he gets to do stuff like this:

  • Personally, my patience, character, and will to do what is right is tried daily.  Between an extraordinarily strong-willed child, and a child-like adult that requires everything to be repeated three or four times, and then still insists that what you are telling her is wrong, I struggle.  I sometimes wonder if I’m cut out for this, but then the end of another day comes, and we’re all still breathing, and sometimes even laughing, and I realize it’s going to be all right.  If this is the growing experience people keep telling me it is, I’m gonna be darn near perfect when this is over. 
  • And finally, the picture you’ve all been eagerly anticipating: the ponytail picture!!  I was surprised how many people (mostly from F.B.) wanted photographic proof of the phenomenon that is my long(er)  hair.  I never guaranteed the quality of the photograph, so if it looks a little disheveled, hap-hazard, and like a two year old took it while standing on the lid of his toilet seat, it’s because it was!  So hold on to your britches, because here it is:

Change

Change is scary.  It’s scary, and it’s hard, and it’s exciting and mysterious.  I’m feeling all of these things at the moment, and it’s exhausting.

Rowan and I are moving.  It’s not far, but it’s still change, rendering it scary by default.  We are going to be caring for my 91-year-old grandmother with Alzheimer’s.  She can no longer live alone, and she has a three bedroom house, so it only makes sense. 

I’ll get my own bedroom, the one I’ve been longing for, and Rowan will get his own room with a big bed, and we’ll get our own bathroom to boot.  Grandma will get companionship, security, and three square meals a day.  It’s a win-win.

It’s also a HUGE commitment on my part.  Sure, I’m already committed to raising Rowan, what’s another being to care for?  Honestly, it’s not the physical work that frightens me.  Watching my beloved Grandmother lose her sense of self, her sense of reality, and her sense of me is what worries me the most.  I don’t want to watch her die.

What a way to show her how much I love her though.  What an amazing opportunity to express absolute devotion and appreciation.  I have the chance to care for the matriarch of this family.  To give back to the woman who raised my dad, loves her grandchildren and great-grandchildren unconditionally, and gives without limit to anyone in need-that’s an experience I can’t pass up.

Tomorrow we will start to gradually clean out her office and guest room and start to move our things in.  We will ease into a routine, allowing all of us to feel each other out, figure out what works, and eliminate the things that don’t.  I don’t know exactly when we’ll start sleeping there, but I imagine by next weekend we’ll be close to living there full-time.

In addition to moving, another change is taking place: Rowan is starting school!  On Monday’s and Tuesday’s, he and I will be going to his friend Ezra’s house, where I will be homeschooling both of them.  They are a day apart in age, terribly funny together, and have a combined IQ that’s probably three times what mine is.  Rowan is jumping out of his skin with excitement, while I’m just thrilled to be able to teach again.  Ezra is the youngest of four boys, and ready for some one-on-one (sort of…).  It’s another win-win!

I know this move is something I’m meant to do.  It’s going to make for long and tiresome days.  I will cry and wonder how I can manage.   There will be issues that I won’t know how to deal with, and times I come close to giving up.  I will have to learn to ask for help, and then learn how to accept it. 

I imagine I learn a lot in the coming months.