The Things We Used To Do

. . . are good for us, it seems. Like watering the garden.

When my daughter was a little girl, she loved being outside. One of the things I used to do while keeping her company was water the garden. She would be busy inspecting odd leaves and aiding wayward bugs while I was busy sweeping the water wand back and forth, back and forth, listening to the sound the drops of water made as they hit the different kinds of surfaces.

When Stephanie stopped amusing herself in the front yard, I stopped watering the garden. My husband coincidentally put in some soaker hoses around that time, so the garden didn’t really need me, but I realize now that I needed the garden. I’ve started watering it again, and it feels good. The sun feels good, the sound of the water is just as lovely as it ever was, and the fresh air is wonderful. Alright, sometimes it’s humid, but mostly it’s wonderful.

I’ve started to think about more things I used to do when my kid was little that I stopped doing when my kid got big:

  • riding my bike around the neighborhood. On the sidewalk. It’s less stressful that way.
  • making coffee-table centerpieces out of pine cones and branches found on neighborhood walks.
  • using art supplies such as pastels and felt.
  • squeezing drops of food coloring onto coffee filters and watching the crazy swirls.
  • making photocopies of book illustrations I like and then decorating them with colored pencils.
  • listening to Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books on tape. No wait—I’ve never stopped doing that.

My point is simple: the things we used to do with our children never lost their validity or delightfulness.  If you can remember some cast-off diversions that gave you joy then, why not try them now?  The kinds of activities we pursue when we are full-heartedly intent on pleasing and enriching our children are most likely healthy, educational, and, most of all, fun. And people of every age need to be pleased and enriched. Most enjoyable activities are not rated G, PG, PG-13, and R. (And let’s not get into how I feel about the movie rating system.)

It’s a really hot day. I’ll bet the garden needs water again. Sweep, sweep, drop, drop, good.

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Support the Carnival of Homeschooling

I love blog carnivals, and the Carnival of Homeschooling is very special to me because it’s the first blog carnival I ever met. We hit it off right away and have been friends for years now. This week’s edition is at Sprittibee, and here are my favorite entries:

  • Growing Wild is a fascinating read for two reasons: 1) it describes a life that, geographically, is probably unlike your own, and 2) it describes a life that, philosophically, is probably a lot like your own. Please check it out and see what I mean.
  • Sheltering and Weird Homeschoolers proves that there is always room for yet another take on the homeschooling/socialization issue. Here’s a sample: “There is . . . not much in the allegedly ‘real’ word that resembles public school. In public school if you are being harassed or bullied you do not have the option of calling the police, or just getting up and walking away.”
  • 15 Delightful Summertime Stories tells you about fifteen places you and your child can go to find joy, and they’re all in the library.

Happy reading.

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When Sleeping Was the Enemy

As I write this, my daughter sleeps. It is noon. My teenaged daughter is sleeping. She’s not home sick. She’s just home. She’s just sleeping. When I was her age, that would have been a crime.

Can you remember how much you wanted to sleep when you were a teenager? I can. Remembering the sound of my mother’s voice waking me for school can still make me cringe; it was a knife slashing my thick blanket of sleep, a rock creating ripples in my tranquil pond of sleep, a siren piercing my silent cocoon of sleep—you get the idea.

Waking up for school was a trauma I experienced every weekday morning for what seemed to be decades upon decades but was only in fact twelve years. (Twelve years, by the way, is even now  a bit less than a quarter of my life, which I think is a lot!) Nobody sympathized with my desire to sleep; it was something to be resisted. Actually getting out of the bed was only the beginning. After that, I had to fight to keep my eyes open, throwing water at them again and again, until at last they surrendered to the day. If and when my brain surrendered to the day is another matter altogether.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, “teens need about 9 1/4 hours of sleep each night to function best (for some, 8 1/2 hours is enough).” Wanting to stay up late and sleep late is natural during the teen years, and “most teens do not get enough sleep—one study found that only 15% reported sleeping 8 1/2 hours on school nights.” I wish that high schools would start their day later so that all the teens could keep their sleep blankets, ponds, and cocoons sacred for as long as they need them. If you’re an education activist, please work on that, okay?

In the meantime, I’m glad my teen is sleeping. Or make that was sleeping. I hear the not-so-pitter-y patter of her not-so-little feet above me now. She’ll be awake long after I fall asleep tonight. And she might sleep later than I do. But, as my best friend likes to say, it’s all good. It’s all good.

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Just Do It

One of the times we "just did it."

There’s a television commercial I’ve seen a lot lately. The product being advertised has something to do with arthritis relief, and the voice-over proclaims that “a body at rest tends to stay at rest” while “a body in motion tends to stay in motion.” Issac Newton proved that, and it’s definitely been a fact of my life. The more I do, the more I tend to be able to do and want to do. That’s why it was a mistake for me to cast off this blog in order to write a book. That’s why this post is titled “Just Do it.”

When I was growing up, my family didn’t “do” much. Granted, we were quite poor. We didn’t have money to go out to dinner, take vacations, or see concerts and plays. I didn’t do any of those things until I started going out with friends. As a little girl, nothing much happened for me and my parents unless a relative invited us somewhere or somehow instigated something. In physics-speak, we were objects at rest, not changing our state of motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. (And believe me, some of my relatives were quite unbalanced forces! That’s part of what the book will be about.)

In the family I have now, I’m the primary instigator. As I got older, I slowly realized that I had the power to defy my learned inertia. Unschooling helped. I’m certain of that. Removing the  confines of the school calendar created a complex new life calendar, unfettered by outwardly imposed mandatory attendance. My family likes it when I put us in motion: read a review and then buy tickets to the play, or see a yard sale on the side of the road and pull over. It’s a good feeling to know that as-yet-unthought-of things are entirely possible.

When I was a kid, there was a carnival that set itself up along the major highway in my area every summer. It looked glorious—Ferris wheel turning, lights shining at night, merry-go-round spinning all day long. Never once did the car I was in ever stop at that carnival. I’d stop now. I’m in the driver’s seat now.

I say: Stop for ice cream. Go to Europe. Walk the extra block to where the crowd is gathered and find out why. Like what Sandra Dodd calls strewing, living a motion-filled life “changes things out,” providing your family with new and exciting experiences that involve “time together, shared experiences and conversation.”

For heaven’s sake, just do that.

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Mother, Smother

When I was a little girl, like all little girls, I had a special doll. I held her, I kissed her, and I made her doll clothes from scraps of my old flannel nightgowns. I used a piece of my mother’s crocheting as her bed, and I covered her securely at night with an old pillowcase. This solicitous behavior lasted a long time, perhaps three weeks, which as a portion of one’s childhood is quite a generous chunk.

In thinking back on those early days of motherhood, I recall that what made my heart full was being close to my doll: kissing her, hugging her, tucking her in, feeding her. Proximity. That’s what felt so good. I think I smothered the little cutie with my love.

Then I had my baby, Stephanie. Human babies are designed to be proximal. They need their mommies close by, and we are happy to oblige. Maybe that’s why it’s such a successful relationship; it’s win-win. The sophisticated young woman  becomes content to have a chubby-thighed little person sitting on her lap and eating from her plate. As a mother, I lost all sense of a boundary between me and my baby. Whose saliva was that? Who cares?

When little Stephanie was sick, I think I experienced the closest replication of my precious doll-love days. As she lay feverish on the couch, taking up less than one half its width, I would sit at her feet and tuck the cool sheet in around her, offer her sips of cool water, and take her temperature. Stephanie ran very high fevers as a child, which made her ripe for extra TLC. I think I smothered the little cutie with my love.

Now that my doll is in a big box with Stephanie’s dolls and now that Stephanie is as long as the couch, I have no little ones to (s)mother with obsessive care. Stephanie and I have boundaries now, created and sustained by her ever-growing sense of self and my acknowledgement and respect of that. Occasionally, though, the boundaries almost blur—when one of us is very sad or very tired—and then I feel it again. The love I had for that doll. The love born in proximity. The love that proclaims complete commitment in the all-too-fleeting present.

On Mother’s Day, remember the one who smothered you with her love. And smother the ones entrusted to your arms. Smothering doesn’t have to be suffocating. It can be pure unadulterated envelopment, just for a moment, just long enough to communicate that your love is boundless and timeless and as pure as the love of a little girl for a dirty-faced plastic baby doll with scraggly hair and the sorriest looking dress a seven-year-old mama ever made.

We grow and we change, but love is always the same. Happy Mother’s Day.


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Smaller Pieces

I tend to be a bit too strict with myself. I tend to make rules for myself when none are needed. For example, when I want to write a book, I decide that means I can’t write a blog, too. Not true.  I can. So here I am, still moving on, but not moving out.

My book is slow going. My husband’s very good way of dealing with anything difficult is to break it into smaller pieces. That’s what I’ve been doing with the book. So, now I’m no longer writing a book. I’m simply jotting down memories. If the memories twist and turn themselves into a book one day, so be it.

Smaller pieces mean more room for more things: more experiences, more feelings, more light, more air. Smaller pieces mean that I can be here, back at this blog. That makes me feel bigger.

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Moving On

Then

I’ve known this day was coming. This is my last post for The Expanding Life blog. Has life stopped expanding? Oh, no. But the current path (I’m writing a book!) leaves little time for blogging in the way that a good blogger should. And the situation our family was in at the time I started this blog has completely changed.

Then, we were new to unschooling; now, we have built a life that allowed our child to thrive without compromising our family’s beliefs about learning and living.

Then, I knew no other unschooling moms; now, because of my wonderful readers, I know more than I ever could have hoped to know. Their words and ideas have helped me and changed me and made me a better mother and a better person.

I shall blog again! But not here. This piece of our lives stands as a completed statement: life is learning, education is living, and a caring, committed family can do anything under the sun.

I wish you the courage, every day, to keep expanding your life, and I wish you all the joy you’ve given me by visiting here.

All my love,

Susan

Now

Now

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