maggie and milly and molly and may

by e.e. cummings
maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach(to play one day)
and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles, and
milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;
and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and
may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and and as large as alone.
For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

Learning This Week – Anatomy and Math Resources, Poison Oak Remedies, Nature Studies

January has been extremely germy for our family. I don’t quite get why, with the mild climate here on the central CA coast, we still get the extremely immune compromised winter months.  On one hand, its convenient for our human body study, as its been driving home lots of specific immune system questions. When J, my four year old was throwing up with the stomach bug, he repeatedly asked me, “What exact virus is in me? When will my white blood cells kill the virus?” It was kind of heart breaking and amazing at the same time.

Some of our Anatomy study books

Because of the aforementioned bout of stomach flu (which ripped through the whole family), we had to put off celebrating my oldest’s birthday with her buddies, and then I had bronchitis for another week. More fodder for immunity study (or lack thereof!). Finally we had the party – an enchanted forest party at my daughter’s favorite fairy grove. Everyone got Poison Oak. They do know what it looks like, but after years of drought, the sticks of it look kind of weird and were covered in new grass – well, long story short, the girls were pretty pathetic. But I have a new tool in my arsenal, thanks a tip from my dentist’s office manager, who saw my daughter when we came in and told us to go get this stuff post haste. Its stupid expensive ($40 at my local pharmacy, but about half that on Amazon – I’m definitely planning on keeping some on hand – it worked great and saved my day/week).

Its gotten them back outside in trees where they belong!
We also did this DVD, which I love with the heat of a thousand suns:
…because *suddenly* both my 8 and 10 year olds know their multiplication and division facts.I would not say “in an hour,”
 that’s a bit extreme, but after watching the DVD a few times and reviewing their flash cards a few times – DONE.  Which is a very different experience than we had with our visual learner and the dreaded addition/subtraction facts (or that time I accidentally gave my kid math PTSD).  I have both an extreme visual spacial learner and a more audio sequential learner and it was amusing to me to watch the reactions to this. I really got it in an effort to effectively help the visual learner, who has always struggled with memorizing math facts. She actually has amazing memory – she retains ridiculous amounts of information about things she attaches meaning to, but just not random numbers. So this method worked beautifully.  
She immediately caught onto what was going on and loved it. My audio sequential learner was less enthused – she initially was saying, “This is SO WEIRD!!” and “This makes NO SENSE!” but eventually caught on and has gotten all of them memorized easily as well. Even my younger kids have memorized the stories (since its in DVD format, and being media deprived, they will watch anything on a screen). So while I wasn’t intending it for them, hopefully it will make it easier for them later on. 
We were also excited to get a new app from Dragonbox this weekend – Dragonbox Elements.  The kids started playing the original algebra based Dragonbox 5+ and then 12+ last summer and loved them, so they were super excited to try out a Geometry based game from them. While it didn’t give my oldest two as much play time as I had hoped, it was still worth it for all of them to play through I think. I liked that there were multiple levels from easy to hard – my 4 year old has started it and been engaged. I do wish that maybe the levels might have been more significantly different, the way that the Dragonbox games seemed to be. 
I was not just cracking the math whip this week. Although Physics prof husband would love that.  
I try to balance that compulsion.
A few nature studies I enjoyed this week:

C – 6 years old – He likes to get up early and observe the birds at our feeders. 
He old me this picture shows the progression of the bird looking for food

MG’s (8) Dark Eyed Junco (lots of these at our feeders right now)
This cracked me up – I looked over to find this on C’s math book and his narrating, 
“hahah, I have ENSLAVED YOU ALL!”  
Not long after, my oldest ran in, exasperated with her writing assignment, saying that she couldn’t think of anything to complete them that didn’t involve death.
I think I read once that one of the benefits of homeschooling is 
“really knowing your children’s hearts.”
Erm, yes.

Learning This Week

My trail partner
The highlight of the week for me was going to Sobranes Trail, on the north end of Big Sur. While we’ve been to a lot of Big Sur, I’d never been to this particular area before, and I was enchanted. It was a cool, misty morning – rain threatening for the afternoon, but holding off for us in the morning.
Here is the rusty barn you can see from the highway.

We found a quiet spot right off the trail next to the trail to sit – 
I worked on my journal and my little guy had his snack. 
What’s beyond those mountains?

Jack spotted a dew covered spider web and watched it, looking for its owner

We will be back with the husband unit to do some more serious hiking, since we didn’t get very far before having to go back to find and then throughly inspect the port-o-potties (Jack has a mini-obsession).
 Other stuff…
My kitchen has been taken over by a construction paper food chain diorama extravaganza… 
or I suppose this is what you could consider pre-k / 1st grade project based learning 
(I will, thanks very much, as I sweep up the cuttings).
It started with my four year old seeing a cool mobile of a food chain in a Magic School bus book – he grabbed his big brother and they got to work…
To the point right? NOT ENOUGH!

There was actually more on here before I took the picture, but I had to move it so I could OPEN THE FRIDGE.  It was a boat (it has to be on top of the water of course – of course!). 
I know, I’m so mean, and totally stifling art, man.
Now in my kitchen there is also the human connection – a street lined road with trucks delivering shrimp to stores for people (the apex sea predator) to buy and eat. 
Among other things, one burning question the boys had going down the food chain was what does plankton eat?  I learned along the way on this project were that phytoplankton use photosynthesis to make their own food (although the boys kept shortening this to THEY EAT THE SUN, which I guess sounds more much more dramatic), while zooplankton eat the phytoplankton. Also see the Angler fish on the bottom? Those eat squid, turtles, and occasionally the very lost seabird.
And this isn’t even our official science….
That would be anatomy:
Doing skin rubbings from various body parts
Lego digestive system model

Lego nervous system model (both via my 6 year old)
Poetry teatime – keeping it real – yes, it still says “happy halloween” on that board.
My 6 year old observing and drawing the birds at the feeder and listening to the Princess and the Goblin. 
Multi-tasking, yall.

Fall Learning

S has been working on Human Anatomy for science – 
although what has really captured her interest has been the new slides we got for the microscope.
Watching Crash Course videos to go along with our history chapter (thanks for the tip Aunt Jennifer!) 

We’re trying All About Reading and All About Spelling this fall. 
Some of my more advanced readers and spellers are obviously enjoying the letter tile board.

Poetry teatime!

C chose this squash from our CSA box for his still life drawing

Making sculptures out of Sculpey

Keeping it real – the table after 4 kids are done with it on a typical day 
(the play dough is my pre-K-er’s).

TRIGGER WARNING – dead stuff

I’m touched by my kids reactions to things in nature sometimes. Often when we are out hiking and exploring we come across animal remains, and often the children are interested. At the park they stumbled upon this very newly passed Scrub Jay. The boys and I initially found it, and their reaction was purely scientific, examining as closely as I would let them get, then finally running off. MG disappeared for a time, later to come get me to show me the memorial she had made for the bird:

Star Wars READS!

So we have a pretty awesome library. The space is nice, the collection is excellent, and there are some really amazing librarians. Such as those who come up with events like this: Star Wars Reads.
I know, right?
Come to the library, do some cosplay… you don’t feel alone because all the librarians are also dressed up (it was mostly all the younger librarians, go figure 😉

play with some Legos….
do some sing-alongs 

(Star Wars themed, of course)
(the same librarian Karl also gave an 
awesome dramatic reading from The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda)
But the most awesome item on the agenda started with the making of one’s own life saber 
(out of a pool noodle and duct tape of course)…

Then, when your light saber done, prepare for your Jedi training session with 
Jedi Master Ben Kenobi! Freak out! Well, I freaked out.

Then it got kind of awkward because yeah, Darth Vader also came in to give lessons, and while that doesn’t exactly work with the cannon, this guy made up for that by 
being super serious and in character.

Eventually the large group proved too unwieldily, and they asked the big kids to sit and wait for a bit, but the bonus was that they eventually got some semi-private Jedi training.

Vader’s looking on like, “I need to get those young ones on the dark side like PRONTO.”

He told MG that she had much potential for the dark side. Yoikes.

This pic is totally out of focus because Vader was being a total jerk to me. 
I was intimidated. I think he was enjoying it. Fun stuff.

What We’re Reading: Thanksgiving Week

We’ve been taking a bit of a history jaunt the past week, veering away from the very interesting-looking chapter on “The Bottom of the World” in our history spine to give homage to the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. I was fortunate to find several good books at the library:

The story of the first Thankgiving told from the prospective of Squanto, who is incredibly important, but usually sidelined. I think I always thought as a child that he somehow just magically knew how to speak English! I appreciating reading the context of what has going on with the Native American nations as the first English settlers were arriving.
This story chronicles s child’s perspective of making the journey across the Atlantic on the Mayflower
After reading so many more accurate historical descriptions, this one stood out as a more romanticized picture of the pilgrims. It was interesting to contrast it with the other more grim representations. The artwork really is lovely though, and makes for a nice picture study. 
And to counterbalance the romanticized view, a depressing one! 
I will warn you at least, lots of people die bluntly in this book. But there are lots of engaging illustrations and the author certainly does not shy away from presenting the suffering that the pilgrims faced. My sensitive daughter looked a bit ill. But its true that its difficult to appreciate how relieved they were at the time of the first Thanksgiving without understand the difficulty they had already undergone.
I found this a really interesting modern tie in – what would a modern day pilgrim look like? Who today is looking for religious or political freedom? How might the beginnings of our own country change they way that we should respond to such people?
I’m thankful my library has done such a nice job curating their book selections. 🙂
Hopefully we will get to some art projects and such…

Learning to Mind Our Own Business, or, Getting Out of the Mommy Wars For Good

Recently Time magazine unleashed another wave of mommy war teeth gnashing with its article on childless living: The Childfree Life: When Having It All Means Not Having Children” by Lauren Sandler. Since I haven’t been reading Time lately –  I did not renew my subscription to Time after being so irritated by the bizarre article on Dr. Sears and Attachment Parenting they ran last year – I first saw mention of it via a friend’s Facebook post. I was particularly interested in the way the article linked in the post phrased is was something along the lines of, “Even women like us who don’t even have kids yet have now been pulled into the mommy wars! Women can’t make anyone happy whatever they do!” Later I happened to catch a radio show with the article’s author and was struck by the personal angle she was coming from – she had felt judged as a mother with only one child, and saw her childless friends also feeling harassed, so concluded that an article exploring the benefits of not having children would be a great thing.

But really what the article and the radio show came down to me is that women in general feel a tremendous pressure to conform to a cultural ideal of two children. Women who have no children or only one child feel that their motives are openly scrutinized and naturally become defensive about why they want to live “childfree,” all for reasons that most parents can agree that yes, are easier without children (more time for oneself, more money, more time for career, etc). What I desperately wanted to point out reading this was that actually women on the other “wrong” side of the cultural idea also get tremendous loads of scrutiny put on them for their larger families. Any women whose family portraits veer much to either side of this two kid norm experience uncomfortable – and inexplicable – pressure to conform. While it might be appropriate from a sociological standpoint to ask why our nation’s birth rate is falling, and what steps might need to be taken as a nation to support childbearing in general, these are not the tone of questions being asked. Most voices in the media seem perfectly gleeful to stir up debate over what decision is superior for various reasons, but the question I want to ask is,

“Why is any of this anyone’s business in the first place?”

Why something as intimate, nuanced, and personal as childbearing considered to be open season for public critique? Why do we feel  comfortable venturing questions of family size or timing with anyone but very close relations? And if a question is asked and answered, how can any of us really feel comfortable telling that woman what she should do? Of course we hope its that we want the best for her, but in reality, we won’t be the one juggling career and baby, or wondering guiltily if we are missing out by staying home with them, or any of the myriad considerations that having children involves. We are the village around that woman and possible children, certainly, but what kind of village are we? Instead of warm and supportive, we have become shrill and combative. Its no wonder that the “Mommy Wars” have become such an apt description of the tension women today feel over their family decisions. When someone is judged and berated, they usually respond with defensiveness and will naturally feel threatened by others who are not in their camp. Its become such a vicious cycle that some women feel completely alienated from friends and family who make different choices than them, and this is truly ridiculous.

Fair disclosure: I am a mother of four children, who while not being perfectly timed, I am thrilled nonetheless to have had just when they happened to be born. I know the bone tiredness, the emotional stress, the overwhelmed days, the financial juggling – I know them very well. My husband and I agreed on the decision that I would postpone my career to take care of our kids at home while they are young, and now we even homeschool them, pushing back my reentry into the paid economy even further. Both of these decisions I wholeheartedly believe are correct for us, but I also consider them deeply personal and not at all transferrable to the general public. The fact that this is what we have chosen to do does not mean that we think everyone else should do it. Its simply not our business. We will happily share our hopes for this lifestyle with others who ask (and I have been asked a lot – rolling in scientific and academic circles we are not at all the norm), but we try to do so without pretension that ours is universally superior, but only that after careful thought, it is preferable to us.

Unfortunately today it seems that just the act of making decisions for your family has become synonymous with choosing a side in hyped-up war. I have learned from being at the awkward answering end of casual  questions about “will we have more?” to being told by a stranger that I have too many kids and need to “get a new hobby,” that a woman’s reproductive activity has been snatched out of from under the protection of culturally assumed privacy and thrust into the realm of vocal public scrutiny. After fielding these kinds of questions for years (a youngish mom with a gaggle of children in the grocery store always seems to draw attention, even when everyone is behaving themselves), I’ve become convinced that any leading questions to a woman about kids – when she’s having them, how many she wants to have – anything – are usually unwelcome and not really appropriate. We need to kindle a sense of deep respect for the privacy that the process of family planning – whether that family decides that they want no kids or fifteen – deserves.

The real problem – and the root of the mommy wars – is that  we as a culture have suddenly been presented with more options than ever before for what a woman’s life can look like and we just cannot accept that one woman’s ideal can be – will be –  different that another’s. But we are not automatons, and one size, one life, does not fit all. And this is not only okay, its wonderful.

I want to challenge every woman especially to  refuse  to buy into the tension and drama that swirls around us. We need to let go of the judgmental attitudes we’ve bristled under and nasty comments we have heard in response to our decisions and make a commitment  to support and encourage other women in our lives – especially those women that have made different decisions than we have about family or career. Give insight when asked, but no judgement. No snippy comments or veiled insults. Let’s be comfortable enough with our own decisions that we don’t feel the need to convince anyone else to make the same ones. Once we do this, the mommy wars will have no fuel to burn on, and all women – those with and without children – will be better off for it.