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Fairly Odd Mother

Frantically waving my magic wand to make wishes come true.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Is it easier to homeschool kids who have been to school?

That's it! I'm calling the school tomorrow!

Where's that bus? Oh, how I wish I could make it stop. . .

Really? You're going to fight me for one page of math? It'll take you 10 minutes! If you were in school. . .

You don't know how good you have it.

I know a lot of homeschooling parents who have either said, or thought, the above in some way, shape or form when their kids give them a hard time about doing any kind of structured lesson (or even unstructured ones!).

(and if you are one whose child never, ever gives them a hard time, consider yourself lucky. . .and rare)

I think most of what I'm feeling when I say or think the above can be summed up in the last statement: You don't know how good you have it.

And here is where I start to think that maybe kids who have been IN school before can appreciate homeschooling more:

Maybe the child who has had to get up at 7am, day after day, to scarf down breakfast, throw on clothes, brush-comb-wash, and run to the bus appreciates eating a slow breakfast and doing the first day's lesson in PJ's.

Maybe the child who has had to sit through long, boring instruction on a topic they mastered months before appreciates skipping forward a few pages when the lessons are too easy.

And, conversely, maybe the child who was confused and struggling but didn't get the attention they needed in a classroom of 20-30 kids appreciates being able to spend as long as necessary on a topic, until it is mastered.

Maybe the child who gazed longingly out the classroom window on a gorgeous afternoon appreciates being done with his work at noon and having the rest of the day to explore, see friends or do nothing at all.

Maybe the child who was bullied and teased appreciates being in a safer environment, with kids who don't seem to care if he's a little different from the norm.

My oldest, in 4th grade, seems to "get it" more, mainly because her school friends will tell her how "lucky" she is. But, my middle child, who has never gone to school, will moan and groan over a few minutes of grammar or spelling or math, and it drives me batty.

Don't they know how good they have it?
Edited to add: Okay. . .due to the rather angry direction these comments have taken, I'd like to clarify a few things: I am not anti-public school or anti-private school. My oldest says she wants to go to high school and, when we reach that point, she will most likely do just that. If I thought one of my kids would be better suited to life in a school setting, I'd seriously consider it.
That said, to call homeschool kids "weird" is ignorant and closed minded. And, not all public school kids go on to deal drugs (though I think Tracey was trying to make a point, not paint every kid with the same brush).
And really? We're all doing the best we can with the choices we've made. So play nice.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

When homeschoolers move on to something else

There aren't a ton of homeschoolers in my part of the state, especially in my town with its "good public schools". So, when I first started homeschooling, I remember keeping track of everyone I met because it made me feel better to have a circle of people who had all chosen this not-very-popular way of educating their kids.

But, lately, it feels like more and more of them are choosing a different path, and it's made me a little sad to see them go.

There is the awesome friend and new neighbor who moved to my town---my town!---but then decided to try out those good public schools. There is the wonderfully supportive friend whose oldest just got into the local charter school and started today. There is the well-known radical unschooling mom whose teen decided to try out school this year. Another mom I know just sent her oldest to private school. And then there are friends who are trying a public-school-sanctioned virtual learning course, with a teacher overseeing their progress.

This all doesn't mean that a bunch of people have decided that homeschooling sucks or doesn't work or is too hard. I know they all had to do a lot of soul-searching and had to think of their child's wants as much as their own. And, for those who are my friends, I know we will still remain friends, no matter how their kids get educated.

But, I'm sad that my circle seems to be shrinking, just a bit.

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

My pond

This originally ran on New England Mamas. I'm going to be pulling some of my favorite posts over here to keep them all under one "roof". Hope you don't mind the repeat if you've seen this before.


It is a quiet place. The house is nestled in the pines, almost on top of the waterfront. The water is fresh, clean and teaming with sunfish who, upon hearing my feet on the dock, rush to me in the hopes that I will have some old bread for them. I might see an old turtle swimming in the waters or hear a duck quacking around the bend. Or, I might hear nothing at all.

I have been coming here my entire life.


It was my grandparents' place, then my bachelorette pad, and now the place my mother calls home. Before I was 18, there was a boys' camp across the way, and I'd wake to hear a voice on the loudspeaker telling the boys what their day held for them. I flirted shyly with them as they canoed on the pond, banging their metal boats into each other as if fighting some primitive war. If any came too close, my grandmother would yell from the second floor windows, Get away from my granddaughter!

My own personal body guard at 13.

When I lived there alone, I was never afraid. I'd come home late after working in the city, open the door of my car and hear a thud at my feet. Two shiny eyes would be looking at me. It was my neighbor's large black lab who had come to play catch in the darkness. I'd hold the drooly ball between my fingers and play catch for five or ten minutes in the heat of the summer or the freezing cold of winter.

When I swim, I feel the span of generations all around me. I remember swimming up to my grandmother and holding on to her sturdy wrinkled arm. I remember watching my dad diving off the end of the dock and swimming off into the center of the pond. I recall my sister doing bobs in the water. I think of the friends, family and my new husband all swimming in the dark waters after our wedding.

And, now, I see my own children playing in the waters that have soothed me my entire life.


This is a place so special to me, it must remain secret. However, that isn't to say that it is closed to you. Families now walk through the former boys' camp and ignore the "Do Not Enter" signs that lead to a quiet, sandy, no-frills beach area. For the determined, there is a way in. And, if you see me on the other side, wave.


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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Field Trip to The Big E!


Today, we made the almost-two-hour trek to Western Massachusetts to visit The Big E with friends. The Big E is not just a "fair", but a fair I attended year after year when I was growing up in that part of the state.

Not much has changed; except for maybe the increase of disgusting fried things (Fried BUTTER!?!?) and the number of people in motorized scooters.

I will never, ever understand the line that snakes back and forth at the "Maine Building" so that people can spend $5 on a baked potato. Don't they realize you can get a baked potato in one of those neon food carts and skip the line?

But, some things aren't meant to be understood, like a giant sculpture made of butter:


One of my favorite things about the day was seeing the people demonstrating old-time skills, like using a loom or spindle, or hammering tin into candle holders and decorative objects. And I am humbled at how time-consuming, yet beautiful, hand-made lace is.

The kids loved that they were even pulled into the demonstration. Here is Jilly with the loom:


And Belly with the tin man (Tin Maker?)


He showed them how to make a star ornament that is hanging in my kitchen right now:


It was weird to be back with the kids and to have such different feelings about the place now that I'm older. When I was young, The Big E was all about the food, the rides and hanging out.

Now, the food looked so much more expensive and unhealthy. I had made a "NO RIDES" rule ahead of time. And "hanging out" today mostly meant that one of the kids was too tired to walk anymore and needed to sit down, right there on the ground.

It was different. But it was still fun. Though I still don't understand the baked potatoes.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Sticks and stones and scooters

I didn't break a bone until I had moved out of the house.

Once I was on my own, however, I sprained both my ankles, broke a wrist, fractured an ankle, chipped my front tooth, and damaged both my knees so badly I was on crutches for weeks. Not all at once, but over a few short years.

This could be why I give my kids a little more leeway than my own mother did. I'm not sure if there is any proof in this, but I'm hoping if they learn their boundaries and capabilities young, they won't go through their twenties like I did.

Let's hope I'm doing the right thing: Because on Labor Day, when Jilly fell off her scooter in our driveway and fractured her wrist, I was contemplating wrapping my kids up in bubble wrap and refusing to let them out of the house. It wasn't that long ago that D broke his humerus, his elbow and pulled a bookshelf onto himself. And Belly has also fractured her arm when she was a wee thing; I think my kids are starting to push the envelope on injuries.


And now Jilly: See her pretty pink cast? Thankfully she's taking it in stride and will heal in a few short weeks, whereas my broken wrist took about 3 months when I was 29 years old.

I'm either getting all these mishaps out of the way while they are young or I'm just raising a bunch of hellions who know what the inside of the ER looks like really well.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Confession: Just because they didn't "Cry It Out" doesn't mean they didn't cry

I think I was a little misleading in my last post about Sleep Training, or the lack thereof, in our household. My quip, "I can't listen to my cat cry without going to see what she needs, never mind my kid" makes it sound like I am Super Mama, leaping out of bed without a single peep to comfort my offspring.

It was not (and is not) easy for me to come to terms with my kids inability to stay in their frakking beds all night long. I felt like a failure when our crib sat empty in the nursery while babies #1 and #2 slept in our bedroom (by #3, we had given up all pretense and donated our crib to my sister).

And I most certainly was not the picture of tranquility as I soothed my children late at night.

Often, I was the exact opposite.

It pissed me off to be woken up again and again and again. I'd curse my sore butt from my position on the floor, by the door, reading until sleep overtook their tired bodies. I'd "shhhhhh SHHHHHHHH!" them angrily when their wails threatened to wake up the rest of the household at 3am.

Does this come with the territory? Either they cry as babies, or they cry when they are older and we've drawn that line in the sand.

I have a couple of friends who put mattresses on the floor of their bedroom and do the "family bed" quite literally. But even with our big king-size bed, we could never comfortably do the family bed with more than one child in it. You do the math: If one was in our bed, that meant there was one, usually two, children who were not sleeping with us.

And often they were pissed.

This is a big reason why the girls now share a bedroom: To keep each other company at night. Jilly is my restless one, often screaming out in the middle of the night, and Belly has taken over my role with her "It's ok, go to sleep" murmurings.

And, it's another reason why I let D into my bed so easily. Not only is he my last one, but he is also the only one who has his own room. When he asks, "why do I have to sleep alone?", I have no answer and just tell him to scooch over to let me lie down.

I know in a few years, he will be so, so happy to have his own room. And then the girls will be crying for their own too.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sleep Training Dropout

Of all the questions I hated the most when the kids were little, it was this one:

"Is he (or she) sleeping through the night?"

My babies and toddlers never slept "through the night". Never, ever. Not when their little bodies were pressed up to mine, and certainly not when they were on their own in their big beds a couple of doors down.

I have slept on bedroom floors near a frightened child, on top of stuffed animals with a sick one, and on couches holding an inconsolable toddler. My husband and I even split up for a while: He in one bed with one child, me with the younger baby in our room.

I don't like to tell new parents this because it freaks them out. The good news is that I now have two children who do sleep pretty well through the night. Belly, at 9 1/2, takes a while to settle down, but once she is out, she's out. And Jilly, at 7 1/2, is the restless one, often screaming out or talking in her sleep, but is mostly in her own bed, sleeping, for the entire night. But that 9 1/2 and 7 1/2 is years, not months.

And, D, my newly 6-year-old? He still crawls into my bed at some point in the dark night. In fact, this morning at 4:30am, I carried him back to his room, crawled into bed with him, and fell asleep for an hour before stumbling back to my own bed.

I'm pretty sure Dr. Ferber is shaking his head in disbelief and pity. But, I sucked at Cry It Out. I can't listen to my cat cry without going to see what she needs, never mind my kid.

So, in an effort to make conversation, if I ever approach you, coo over your sweet little bundle and ask you those words I hated so much, you have my permission to stomp on my foot and bring me back to reality. I deserve it.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Life is Good

Some photos from the most awesome Life is Good two-day festival. We attended Sunday's festivities.

Ahhh, Belly, you are so right. . .

Kids' stage performers The Sippy Cups in all their wackiness.

I Am Not Your Broom! (it was hard to tell who was more excited to see They Might Be Giants: the kids or the adults).

Belly watching her first "rock" show, OK Go (great set, btw!)

Love these guys. And the kids too.

For once, Belly thinks my blog is cool: It gave us access to the very chill Chase Freedom Tent with airbrush tattoos, free candy and food.

Zoinks! The coolest balloon hat evah!

We also got to see Laurie Berkner and Dan Zanes perform, play tug-o-war (kids vs. adults--guess who won?), watch BMX bikes soar through the air, and make sure we exhausted the kids with lots of running around on top of a parachute.

Not a bad way to spend a Sunday, eh?
And I realize this isn't exactly a "Wordless" Wednesday post, but it's pretty good for me!

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Bye Bye Baby

He still sneaks into my bed at night so that he doesn't have to sleep alone.

He holds my hand when we walk.

And wants to be carried when he's tired.

But he's not a baby anymore. He can read. Dress himself.

He's even lost his two front teeth.


And today he is six. My baby. My youngest.



Thursday, September 09, 2010

If you think aliens came and took your sweet 9 year old away. ..

. . .and replaced him (or her) with some temperamental, moody, unpredictable (though still lovable) being: Read this.

Many thanks to my friend Lori for passing this on when she knew I really needed it. It makes me feel so much better knowing that I'm not the only one who has walked in these shoes before.

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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Homeschooling using the buddy system

I never wanted to go it alone.

I knew pretty much from the start that forming friendships, alliances even, with other homeschoolers would be critical to keeping me on this path.

It's not that I'm weak, I just like the company.

And so, from the first year back in 2006, Krystan* and I agreed to get together once a week. Our oldest girls were little kindergartners then. We were both loosely following the "Letter of the Week" format, and our classes were usually centered around whatever country we were studying that week: B for Brazil or D for Denmark. And Q for Qatar, naturally.

The next year, we launched a plan to do history together using Story of the World. Every week, we'd read the chapter to our own kids and then get together to do one of the activities laid out in the program. We figured we'd start with Book 1 in 1st grade, and keep going year by year, to Book 4.

And, here we are, starting Book 4 in 4th grade! (They should print t-shirts that say "I completed SOTW in four years" but I'm not sure they'd sell enough of them to make any money).

But also this year, we've upped the ante a bit. I have agreed to take over History for both my kids and her kids. We read the chapters on our own at home, and then I lead the kids through the discussion, outline, mapwork and other related activities.

But that's not all: Krystan has agreed to take over Science: Beginner Physics.

My joy knows no bounds.

I really, really do not like science, and I am especially afraid of physics which I avoided in school. Krystan is a nurse which, while I'm not sure this helps with physics, means she is super smaht in science and, thus, much better equipped to take this on than I.

We've made it through week one. My kids loved their physics class. Her kids were awesome to me as their teacher.

And I'm thrilled to have a buddy in all of this.

* her name has been changed to protect her identity and also because I don't want anyone else to snatch her up for her physics prowess

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Monday, September 06, 2010

My little pirate's birthday party

I was just putting the photos from D's 5th birthday party into an album (yes, I still do albums, albeit one year late), which made me remember what a fun party this was. . .


My son, D, told me he wanted a pirate party for his 5th birthday. Since his birthday is in September, I was able to scoop him up a Halloween costume from Old Navy and he ended up wearing it for his party AND Halloween.


For decorations, I used some basic clip art and black poster board to make some signs like this:


I also purchased the Pirate Party from Paper and Cake which gave me super cute printouts like little signs for the food ("subs" of course):



and cake:


To create the ship, I followed the directions from Parenting, and I am so happy with how it came out.


What to do with the little ruffians:

Along with some temporary tattoos, balloon swords (thanks Auntie K!) and a 2x4 on the ground (to "walk the plank"), the main activity was making Pirate Flags. I printed out pirate symbols and bought some sticker letters, along with a few cheap black plastic tablecloths that I made "flag sized". With some wooden dowels and double-sided tape, all the kids were able to make their own Pirate Flag.


After making flags, the kids went back to whacking each other with balloon swords or playing with some of our Playmobil Pirate toys before eating lunch (subs and hot dogs for the kids and grown ups).

Almost every Pirate Party you read of has a Treasure Hunt in it, and D's party was no exception. There was only one thing I changed and that was to make the hunt more collaborative and less competitive since I had kids ages 3-11 at the party. I hate to see little kids cry when they can't keep up with the big kids.

The general premise was that the pirates had to all work together to get to the treasure. There were several "tasks" they had to perform first.

Task 1: Free themselves

The pirates had all been captured and needed to break free to search for treasure! Each one was given a black balloon that was attached to a rope with a loop on the end (their "ball and chain"). With the loop around their foot, and the balloon at the end of the rope, they had to help "free" each other by stomping on the balloons (but not their own!).


Outcome: This was very funny to watch and took all of 30 seconds to finish. It took a good bit more time for me to blow up all those balloons.

Task 2: Search for treasure

Greedy pirates can't help themselves and start digging in the first place they can find: The sandbox. Luckily, there are some jewels: each pirate got to keep three plastic rings and a few gold coins that were buried in the sand.


Outcome: I don't care the age or gender---kids love to dig for stuff.

Task 3: Prepare the ship for a long journey

Pirates often suffer from scurvey because they don't get enough fresh fruit while out on the ocean. So to protect our pirates, they had to load their ship up with fresh fruit. To do this, I took the GIANT bag of plastic balls we already owned and put them in our kiddie pool. The kids had to carry as many balls, I mean fruit, down our little hill and into waiting containers. The task wasn't complete until all the balls had been transported.



Outcome: Hilarious. Awesome. They took this so serious, I laughed the entire time. Every age could do this too which was great.

Task 4: Enemy attack!

I wasn't able to find cheap little toy boats, so I grabbed plastic egg cartons and separated them. With a little play-dough at the bottom of each one, they floated upright in a tub of water. The kids then took pennies and stood a few feet away and had to try to use the pennies to sink the "enemy ships".

Outcome: Cute idea, but started taking a long time since the egg cartons needed several pennies in them to sink. The kids ended up standing over the "ships" and dumping handfuls of pennies on them, but it was fine and cost almost nothing to create.

Task 5: Swab the deck

Pirates are messy souls, so each child had to take their turn to "swab the deck" (er, driveway) of a few ping-pong balls.


Outcome: The older kids did fine, but this was much trickier for the little kids, since I was trying to get them to put the balls into buckets.

Task 6: Treasure!

The last clue led them to find the Treasure, aka, big pinata.


Outcome: As long as no one gets bonked over the head, it's hard to screw up with a pinata.

The Rest:

There was cake time, of course:


Gifts were given:


And a few sea shanties to end out the day:


Super fun, not too expensive (lots of DIY options) and great on a nice day. I also love that a lot of the kids dressed up for the party (as did some of the adults). I bought most of the party supplies, like hats and pirate-themed goodies, from Century Novelty (the hats, in particular, were awesome).

Oh, and all the adults left with mini bottles of Parrot Bay Coconut Rum. Hey, we aren't always G-rated.

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Thursday, September 02, 2010

The Nesting Instinct

If I didn't know any better, I'd say I'm going into labor in about two weeks.

I have been on an organization, clean-up-this-house-if-it-kills-me kick for the past few days, probably spurred by the fact that the month of August was spent out gallivanting or hosting guests. In other words: The house was neglected.

As of this week, my dining room table was still piled high with last year's homeschool curriculum and papers. The girls' bedroom was a disaster, the kitchen table (aka "my office") was littered with bills, papers, and CD's to review.

And so, after the kids went to bed, instead of working, watching TV or talking to my husband, I started to organize. First was the dining room/school room. Then it was my kitchen table. This morning, the girls and I cleaned their bedroom. This weekend, the basement will feel my wrath. (Note to my husband: If there is anything you want to stay, you may want to bolt it down).

Also on my to do list: organize the hall closet which I'm afraid to open for all the blankets, comforters, towels and sheets stuffed in there; go through the clothes in the attic to see what fall clothes I can find; mail/drop off donations of clothes, toys, CD's, books, etc.

Oh, and try to do something with these two monstrosities (they look so much worse in person):



They are the tops of the girls' dressers, and they are awful. If anyone here has a good storage solution for all the minutiae my girls collect, please speak up. I'd like to sweep it all into a giant garbage bag (save for my original "Dusty" doll!), but I think my girls would smother me in my sleep if I did.

Once this is done, I should give birth to a (fairly) organized house by about October.

Can't wait to meet the critter.


Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Face Painting

What happens when Auntie breaks out the face paint one afternoon:




And what happens when she agrees to let the kids paint her face:


(thank goodness she's a good sport!)

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