The list remains the same list that I have given to others who have had initial questions. I have new resources to add as my children have grown and as I have found new things that I have tried.
Most of the resources on that list are good resources for understanding the motivations behind homeschooling.
My definition of homeschooling has had to expand over the last few years as I have expanded my students. I continue to teach my children but have now included their friends. Although my classes aren’t all taught at home, I still teach the same way as if I were in my home with my children. It is through exploration and conversation.
Yesterday I was reading a book and a quote by George Washington Carver summed up an answer to a question that I have been asked about homeschooling.
How do you know what they need or what to teach or what they want to learn?
“Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough. Not only have I found that when I talk to the little flower or to the little peanut they will give up their secrets, but I have found that when I silently commune with people they give up their secrets also – if you love them enough.”
By simply loving them, loving the child in front of me, my heart hears what story they need, what activity they might enjoy, what math problem will make them delight in the world, and what poem might act as a salve.
They tell us when they are ready. We just need to be there to listen.
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
― Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
I was teaching one of my zoom classes to older teens at the beginning of April and asked what they had done on the weekend. Some had no idea. They had started to lose awareness of what they were doing for large blocks of time at home. The days started to meld into one long Groundhog Day.
Ugh. We can’t sleep walk through life, just waiting. Take stock. Be in your body and feel your moments at least. The best thing right now is that we can choose how we want to live through this experience.
For me, I like to be wide awake.
I immediately came up with this idea for a day tracker. This one was mine for April. According to my husband, I am quite good at compartmentalizing so I decided to categorize my actions throughout my day instead of writing down hour by hour what I am doing.
(If you have no idea what you are doing, as some of the teens told me, then you have to start with itemizing hour-by-hour what it is in fact you “do” all day and then you can categorize.)
The black line above denotes the time I wake up and the black line at the end of the column shows the time I sleep. I rarely sleep past 9:30pm and I wake up on average between 4-5:30am and rarely wake up past 6:00am. It’s an interesting way to be aware of how we are spending our days in this strange time.
I had to add “family talk” category late in the month because there was so much of that going on during the evening because we have no internet and that’s all we do as dinner is being made and prepped. We are all congregated around the island just chatting about everything.
Here is my new May tracker:
This tracker seems like it could kill spontaneity when it fact it makes me welcome it and enjoy how life unfolds to expand time. It feels like such a paradox – the more I keep track of the blocks of time, the more time I have. I stumble upon open spans and my to-do lists are checked. Time is a solid companion that allows me to do everything that I love. It also allows me to see the type of life I am crafting.
Stay tuned for some more exciting information about A FREE “Book of Hours Remix” course over email. Sign up here.
Let me preface this particular sound byte for today. Our oldest has not lived with us in four years so it’s a bit of an adjustment again. I forget she is an adult. She forgets we are her parents and that she has siblings.
Overall, it’s been amazing to have her here and spend time with her but occasionally, there are….well, moments.
She is currently trying to sew her own bathing suits as one of her leisure pursuits in the Jungle:
She held up a little bikini bottom that she designed, fully lined, and held It up to show me.
Me: Oh amazing! Is that for Dad?
Her: I hate you.
Me: LOL. (Me actually saying “L-O-L”)
Cue collective eye roll from ALL the kids and my eldest taking a deep breath and because I can psychically hack my kids, I can hear her thoughts:
“What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.”
The homeschool win comes from seeing the results of the things that I introduced to them as part of our “homeschool.” Sewing was one of them. When I learned to sew, I wanted to save money. If I learned, I knew that I could make costumes and make clothes for growing children of a big family. I could make gifts and even clothes for myself when I couldn’t shop for a new wardrobe because wearing those Lululemon yoga pants with the spit-up/some-brown-I didn’t-even-want-to-know-stains “mom” uniform was going to push me over the edge.
I took advantage of cheap pillow cases and curtains at the secondhand store and channeled my inner Fraulein Maria. Necessity is truly the mother of invention. The sewing machine was out all the time. Using fabric that a good friend donated to me, I made quilts for each of the kids and quilts as gifts. We made our own stuffed animals and pencil cases and bags.
This was the very first piece I made at a sewing class with Barb and where I cherished every Tuesday night hanging with my sewing friends – Nancy and Agnes:
If the kids wanted to buy something made of fabric – a bag, an apron, a piece of clothing – I would always say, “We can make it.” They would sigh because they wanted the item “now” but it would take a little time for me to make it but they knew that I would. And I did. Always. (Sometimes it took me two weeks and sometimes two months.)
And when we first pulled our eldest out of school when she was 11, she spent the entire year making a Quilt…
And it was painstaking and she wanted to quit after it took her weeks to cut the pieces out. But WE persisted. I sat and helped. And then she sewed piece by piece. Her own labour of love.
So when she asked to message my friend to borrow her machine, I was immediately grateful for persisting myself – learning how to sew and sitting at the machine at the end of the dining table ripping seam after seam when I got it wrong, piling up the projects, and wanting to quit myself and just buy them that stupid plastic pencil case.
Homeschooling is like that quilt. It’s a patchwork thing. It’s a collection of pieces and sometimes it doesn’t fit perfectly or even look good. Sometimes there is a pattern and sometimes you wing it and use what you have and you know that it’s a slow, creative endeavor. You take it stitch by stitch trusting in the end that it will be the most beautiful and comforting blanket simply for the fact that it was made by YOU.
This is a blog post from 10 years ago with a list of things I heard around the house. (#1 refers to first child, #2 second child, and so on…)I wanted to post this because I am so grateful that I have documented snippets of our family life.All of a sudden the edges feel rounded and the memories are filtered in that pretty sepia-tone. I know there were other sounds – the sounds of broken dishes (hence the metal prison plates), broken words causing broken hearts, and even worst, the cold silences of tension and contempt. But in this time where we can pay more attention to the sounds of our homes, I encourage you to take a moment and write it all down.
Stay tuned for a list of things I hear in my house right now in 2020...
#1 had her provincial volleyball tournament two weekends ago and our family is still recovering it. I’ll recap another time.
Some soundbytes from around our house:
#1: “1500m is long. I only ran it in 7 and 1/2 minutes.”
(This was said after she came home from track and field tryouts. I wanted to shake this kid and say, ‘Are you kidding me? You just ran almost a mile in less than 8 minutes…some adults would kill for that time.’ She has no clue.)
#2: “I miss eggs.”
(Eggs aggravate her eczema. But she LOVES them.)
#3: “I don’t want to go to school today.”
(She came down with a nasty cold yesterday and has lived on our couch – one hand holding a plastic bag for throwing up and one hand maneuvering a mouse on my laptop.)
#4: “FREE BALL!”
(Did I mention we are still recovering from the big volleyball tournament? #4 throws a ball at me whenever she can yelling this – she loves to surprise me as I come around the corner carrying a basket full of laundry.)
(I swear he calls for me now.)
Ever-Patient: “I am so mentally exhausted.”
Today I will focus on placing one foot in front of the other, walking with careful deliberation and acute consciousness. I will listen and engage. I will give thoughtful answers as opposed to automatic responses. I will regain awareness of the life around me.
I never in a million years thought I would be doing what I am doing this morning. I never thought I would pick up this particular book to read.
And I love reading books. I am always reading at least five at one time.
I could read this book in one sitting.
I have seen it every morning on our bookshelf for five years. FIVE YEARS. I vowed never to read it because the very title annoyed me.
But as I looked at our shelf today and saw it, my curiosity outweighed my annoyance on the scale of emotions. Oh hell, why not.
The Perfect Day Formula by Craig Ballantyne.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Craig. (Maybe love is a strong word. I appreciate Craig. Yes that’s more appropriate.) Craig is my husband’s earliest business mentor. Craig is one of the main reasons why we live the life we do. I have been grateful for the relationship between Craig and Chris and Craig introducing him to running an online business.
But once upon a time, Craig had also been this reminder of being “too late” or “not enough.” Chris would beat himself up about not being able to set up the routines or systems that Craig suggested or be as “productive” while making the efforts needed to enjoy the “success” that he should be enjoying. There were deadlines and timelines that Chris would fall short on.
Chris would get frustrated and tell me about “too late” and “not enough.” I would roll eyes or we would fight. It would always start with something Craig said and me yelling, “I don’t give a flying fck what Craig says. He is a single man with no dependents! YOU have five children and a wife that is barely sleeping who has to resort to high fiving herself daily for the ‘success’ of keeping the kids alive again.”
He was also the sole reason that my husband had to travel for business leaving me at home with five children, four of which still needed maximum care 24/7 – 1 nursing, 2 in diapers, 2 co-sleeping, 4 needing bath time monitoring and bedtime rituals.
It would always start with these seven words: “So, there’s this event that Craig says…”
I would take a deep breath and be completely supportive in the most passive-aggressive way. “Great. Just make sure you stock up on apples, cheese, and popcorn. Give Craig a hug for me.” And every time he went away, the kids would ALL get sick. It was as if the universe was cued to perform its most sadistic tricks as soon as his plane took off like the time all the kids got the stomach flu the morning he left which included me heading to IKEA for an emergency purchase for a new mattress (if you know what I mean) with five sick children in tow all wearing a mix of diapers and maxi pads. (Spoiler alert: There isn’t a story like that one in The Perfect Day Formula.)
So of course in 2015, when my husband received this book in the mail, I rolled my eyes – my standard Craig reaction. But I was in a different place in my life than I am in now: my youngest son was about to turn six that year and my head was still spinning from a good 17 years of non-stop mamahood where I wasn’t sure where I began and my kids ended – physically, emotionally, psychologically. It was all blurred lines. I had just adjusted to having a teenager and she was already turning 17. I had so many existential moments between 2013-2015 that I felt I had just stepped off a carousel ride and I was trying to find my land legs.
I couldn’t read the book. In fact, I couldn’t read any book that told me what I “should” be doing to have a more perfect life because listen, I got up in the morning and didn’t yell at anyone until 10:00am so F off. That was my “success.”
I didn’t need a single man reminding me of where I fell short. I was already Captain Self-Flagellator of my perpetually sinking ship – a wondrous feat similar to the fate of Prometheus.
I left it on the shelf. Since then, I have embarked on my own journey, developing my tools and formulas that work for my life with a husband who is self-employed and five children that are homeschooled.
But one thing I have learned in the past five years is that our bookshelf is quite a magical entity. Often the books that to call me to read (or reread) are ones that I need to read in that moment.
Imagine my surprise at the call, more like a clearing of the throat of a man I had never been too fond of not through any fault of his own. He was the other voice that Chris kept on his shoulder as I perched on the other. Angel and devil would be too simplistic a dichotomy. If we were going to talk Craig’s language, Craig was the Stoic and I was the lesser known wife of the Stoic – of course, without a name and I am not sure about their existence and how they felt about their Stoic philosophizing husbands because we never got to hear their from the wives. Or just call me the Skeptic.
I hadn’t even noticed that we had the book still – I thought we had gotten rid of it in The Great Marie Kondo Purge of 2015, another book I had rejected until my second daughter begged me to read it.
So I pick up Craig’s book and silently make the intention to be open because already the idea of the perfect day irks me, let alone having a formula for it. Maybe it’s the creative artist in me or just the mother of many that makes me skeptical. But again, curiosity and the magical book shelf get the best of me and I grab the book.
The preface begins with a quote from Epictetus, a Stoic philosopher:
“First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.”
Nice. Personally, I didn’t do it that way.
Flashback to 2014, pre-Craig’s book, when I started to feel a little, let’s say, off. I know who I didn’t want to be. My daughter was 16 and I was afraid of the world. And then I looked at the four younger ones and thought that I couldn’t let them out there either. There were so many things that could happen to them – like all the bad guys with candy and puppies. I was 36 years old and a basket case. There was a rage and a desperation. I didn’t want to be THIS way. I wanted to launch them in the world with trust and with that other word that would make me vomit in my throat a little – hope.
Looking back I knew this fear and anxiety was all rooted in not knowing who I wanted to be or who I even was without the identity of mother and wife. I couldn’t let them go because the world was so bad or was it that I didn’t want to let them go because I didn’t want to?
Eventually, they would leave and then what?
2014 was a year of inner work and turmoil. It was a mess I couldn’t contain anymore.
Back to Craig’s book. Craig asks the reader to imagine their perfect day. I stop and close the book. It’s only been 2 minutes and I just can’t. I have this visceral reaction to the word, “perfect.” Why does it make me cringe? I look back at my life and see one imperfect day after another. One mom fail and wife fail and daughter fail and sister fail after another. But I see them as blemished pearls strung together on a priceless oversized necklace that I wear proudly layered with the necklace I have crafted carefully over the last five years – the one that’s a little more polished, still with blemished stones, but at long last, a perfect fit.
I don’t know. Maybe I have my math wrong. The formula is not adding up. So I keep reading.
I give Craig the benefit of the doubt and imagine the day. It’s the day I had yesterday and the day that was beginning to unfold. I never actually thought my days were perfect. I just can’t imagine my life being any other way. Is that perfection or is it just good old-fashioned gratitude?
I read on confident that at the very least Craig is pushing my thinking on old beliefs that are like a bad rash – always threatening to resurface with a change in temperature or with the appearance of an allergy. (I used to be allergic to optimism or being happy.)
There’s more talk about his systems and formulas. Catchy names like reverse goal setting and always conquering something. I have had enough battles in my life: being in the “trenches” with the small ones, “The War To End All Wars” with laundry for seven people, and small “victories.”
As I reflect on my life with many children at home with me for most of their lives, I am all about the systems. A system for everything. The systems don’t have catchy names. You can hear my kids fondly reminisce about two of the systems from time to time: their “orphanage” bed system and their “prison” plate system.
“The Prison Plate System” The plates don’t break, have separate portions for different food groups (i.e. apples, cheese, and popcorn), and they clean and stack well.
“The Orphanage Bed System” Having a three bedroom semi-detached house in the city with five children leaves one room with at least three children. The only ways we tried to fit three children in a small bedroom:
A) A bunk bed with at least a double bed on the bottom which means two kids will be sharing a bed which could lead to a fiasco like this one. B) Small mini beds (only found at IKEA) are kept in a row where each child can have their own bed, like in an orphanage.
Anyway, that was a couple of our systems. There was the “Anti-whack-a-mole Bedtime System” : each had a bedtime bag in front of their little bed that I made. It had their bedtime book, slippers, and pajamas. After bath time, there was no going downstairs anymore. That is, until I had to change the system to accommodate #4 who always wanted a drink before bed. Now she never had an accident so we gave it to her to avoid the bedtime drama. But that would mean whack-a-mole would ensue. Each child wanting to get up to get a drink, to go to the bathroom, need one more bedtime kiss, need one more bedtime story because they aren’t tired, because their sister is breathing too loud, etc. So then a system change happened and we instituted bedtime snack. After bath time, bedtime snack, and then that was it. No leaving the room unless you had to pee.
I had a “Be Prepared for the Worst System” for traveling in the car. We had car bags that I made to hang in front of each person’s seat in the van. It had toys, snacks, coloring stuff, extra mittens, snow pants, and of course, a change of clothes and extra diapers. There is nothing worse than not having an extra diaper in the middle of a three-hour hike. Or as my dad learned the first time he took all the little ones for an outing when he had a vomiting child in the middle of a busy shopping mall. God bless him.
We still have a system for leaving places called “When-Daddy-Or-I-Make-This-Gesture-You-Better-Get-Going System.” We have a signal that we do after we make eye contact with the kids that let’s them know we are leaving. They know that they have 45 seconds to drop what they’re doing, clean up, say goodbye, and go. I had been sick of calling ALL their names, half of which I had forgotten anyway being so sleep-deprived.
A system for chores. A system for mornings, afternoons, evenings. A system for road trips. A system for travel. A system for being in a hotel room. A system for conflict and resolution. A system for putting away groceries (little child labour assembly line never hurt anyone).
Craig made me realize that I had a lot of my own formulas too. Again I differed on the type of formulas I started to create back then.
No sleep due to nursing child + a toddler that refuses to nap + a preteen that wants to talk only at night when her siblings are asleep = Zombie Parenting aka Low Expectations – just keep the children alive
After my sleep equalized a little, I could play with variables. Before that, it all depended on sleep quality.
Coffee + Being Awake Before the Kids = A Peaceful Morning
Coffee + Being Awake Early + Exercise = A Productive Day
Waking up late due to a bad sleep night + coffee = Slow start but salvageable day.
Waking up late due to a bad sleep night – coffee = Be quiet and get out of mom’s way.
Number of children / Number of parents = Always Outnumbered – Have another cup of coffee.
The less variables, the easier it was to figure out what works. I have digressed a bit. Back to the book. Now I am on the chapter on “How to Control Your Days.” I pause again with a little eye roll, because you know, the chapter title. But I persist. And I read something, that surprisingly, I 100% agree with.
Craig says, “The most important ritual in your life is what time you choose to get out of bed, and the best decision you can make is to get up fifteen minutes earlier.”
When I started to get regular sleep in 2015, I started the practice of waking up early before the children consistently. This changed my life. All the good stuff went up: my focus, my patience, my will power, my creative output, my time for myself, my productivity in terms of planning my homeschool lessons. In 2020, I consistently get up before 5:30am.
The next chapter is “The Essential Rules for Your Life.”
I am pretty sure “Never brush your daughter’s hair when angry” is not on his list.
Of course what surprises me is that we have a few rules in common. (We definitely differ on #4. Craig’s rule, “I act polite and courteous and do not swear.” If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you know my proclivity for profanity. But I am definitely polite and courteous for the most part if you don’t effing piss me off.)
A summary of my surprises while reading this book:
It’s hard for me to say this without fearing you think I am full of shit but I will say it proudly, I have perfect days.
As much as I scoffed at Craig developing a formula for a perfect day, I have my own set of systems and formulas too. We all have a default formula or system whether we are aware of it or not.
Stoic quotes can be direct and dry but if the backbone of the philosophy is to take responsibility and choose how you want to live every moment, I dig it. I am thinking of reading some Marcus Aurelius in the morning to add to my “formula.” But I definitely still need my poetic prose and nature writing in the morning.
I am definitely not into battle metaphors anymore. Maybe it’s just the nostalgia that comes with age but those early years were also steeped in magical stories of the rain and the stars and the mushrooms. It the time of storytelling and hibernation. A final surrender to that time of life where my kids are little and I don’t have to fight it, I can just relax and cuddle all day with them because that’s all they need. And as they grow, there isn’t much that changes either except that they start to leave your orbit and have their own lives but there is no adolescence to be at war with or muster through. I also don’t want to conquer or control or fight my day.
I agree with most of it. The part about the need for structure to allow freedom especially; how important the mornings are; and the habits we create.
I didn’t realize how one personal rule I made a few years ago really shifted my own life until I read Craig’s bit on “Personal Rules.” I used to drink alcohol but then I started to notice that I did not like how I felt or who I became when two or three drinks became four or five. It wasn’t daily but it could have been daily. I wasn’t judging those that enjoyed drinking alcohol. But my husband didn’t drink and so I stopped drinking. I would have the occasional glass of something with friends or at dinner when my husband and I had date night, but then I wouldn’t feel great. My early mornings were greatly affected. And I LOVE my early mornings so I made a choice.
My personal rule of sleep is big too. I am committed to my sleep times. Getting to bed early and never staying up past 10:00pm has also changed my life.
I thought that I would find routine boring. Nope. After living in a place that provides endless opportunity for anything but boring, routine is a comforting security blanket.
Reading the book made me appreciate my efforts over the last five years at deliberating creating a life which really is a collection of these such attempts at routine and structure, only to fail and try again until that baby finally sleeps through the night, and then the next night, and then their own bed. And finally you are left alone again, the two of you, a day you thought would never come and a different world awaits.
It’s funny how I read this book with a “preaching to the choir” type of mentality. But in this 150-page book, an explanation of a formula in that Stoic-“It’s that simple” type of instruction, I am reminded of my own years of the blood, sweat, and tears of failing at it. My failed attempts would be at least twice the size of this book. My family can attest.
I see the names of men listed to show as example how they took the morning for themselves: Van Gogh, Hemingway, Hugo, Frank Lloyd Wright, Beethoven, and Stephen King.
But I wonder about their wives or their mothers? Or were they alone and childless? And in this moment, I celebrate my own efforts (and other mighty women’s efforts) at doing what these men could do – my own heroic attempts at waking up at dawn to do “my work.” The work of a woman who has never seen herself without an “other” next to her – feeding off her or her feeding them, sleeping beside or with. The woman’s work of actively finding a room of her own because no one will give up theirs or will only reluctantly lend it.
I agree with most of the tactics in this book with a few exceptions. I am a creature of habit but the daily script feels too contrived and I prefer creating a daily intention. Sitting in stillness making an intention for the day – instead of scripting, I make a rough sketch using pretty washi tape which I call my Book of Hours.
I actually hoped for a little more _Craig_by the end – personal details that help me connect with advice. I liked the personal stories that helped me understand now after all these years that maybe we had more things in common than I wanted to admit to including supporting Chris.
But I can’t help but feel slightly patronized as I read it. The pep talks mixed with personal accomplishment leaves me a little jaded. Then it hits me, an obvious detail I don’t want to admit: that’s how I talk about my life on this blog. I have always wanted to share with you, dear reader, personal superstar moments in hopes that you could learn from my setbacks and failures. If I have been patronizing, I apologize.
I also appreciate that he had the courage and discipline to write and publish a book. I can’t hate on that. It’s on my to-do list.
I asked some of my kids what their perfect day looks like. They are confused with the question.
One says, “Tuesdays and Thursdays. Pre-covid.”
I ask, “Why?”
She says, “Because it was filled with things I love doing.”
And another says, “When the sun is out and I can get up before half the day is gone. And I like my work. I’ve always liked all of the jobs that I have had.”
One counters that and says, “It depends. It depends on what I choose to do with what life gives me. If I feel like I made the best of it, then it’s perfect. Currently if I can sleep in, meditate, and read, it’s pretty perfect but I would add going to the beach in the early evenings to play volleyball.”
The other questions that line of thinking, “But mom is talking about _perfect._It has to be sunny. This is one condition for a perfect day. A perfect day can’t be every day.”
And the debate stops as they all continue to question perfection.
Thanks Craig for the inadvertent philosophical discussion because I pulled your book from the shelf today.
After reading this straightforward look at creating a structured life, I need a little detour from Craig’s mapped out, fully paved highway, that is for sure getting me from Point A to Point B. I want to take a scenic route that may take me in real and metaphoric circles. I turn to Upstream by Mary Oliver – which I have already read twice since buying it in 2016 prior to our move -for a little freedom in wondering. But I see that she too tells it straight and also gives me another dose of the same message that apparently I need to read today:
“You must not ever stop being whimsical. And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life.”
That’s my big take away from reading Craig’s book. And from the Stoics. Rules are ok when you create them and accept the consequences for not following them. It’s not the sexiest or most thrilling way to live but it does help you move closer to a life that you own.
I came across this quote in one of the books I am re-reading, The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard:
But isn’t waiting itself and longing a wonder, being played on by wind, sun, and shade?
I have often associated longing as a paralyzing, waste of time. It just screams weary and melancholic.
But of course, I am an Eeyore plus a walking contradiction most days so I have fallen in LOVE with this feeling.
Psalm #2: In praise of longing.
I long for the days when I didn’t have to get up to pee in the middle of the night. They were literally only a handful of days in lay life – I was pregnant or nursing for most of my 20s and early 30s.
But on this night. This particular night that I have to get up and go pee, it’s a new moon.
There it is again. That feeling. (No, not the feeling of having to pee but this longing.)
Getting up in the middle of the night to pee means going outside in the dark. I can see the Milky Way. The absence of the moon gives the stars a chance to have their moment. There is a rhythm – the wax and the wane – where we begin to stop longing and relax into it. Except when I long for the light at night. The full moon. The empty nighttime bladder.
(Practical side note: I won’t turn on the light because then I will have fully woken up instead of being semi-conscious enough to go back to sleep.)
With age, comes an acceptance and almost a welcome to longing.
The older we get, the more chances we have to look back, playing with the elements.
Yes yes. Live in the present. Be here now. The past and future don’t exist.
But there is something romantic about longing. Something very Victorian era. Something tangible that Jane Austen would write about, as my third child would say.
A longing for a time when there was no shame in forgetting to squirt the hand sanitizer before entering the grocery store. A longing for frolicking in the ocean. A longing that teeters on that precipice of hope but shies away from the brightness of that light, opting for the cool shade of nostalgia.
I will not convince myself to shake off the grasping and yearning.
Today as I celebrate longing. I know I won’t remain here in this in-between of time and spaces of my heart. (My husband won’t allow it.) But as I sit and breathe in those memories of when my five kids fit in my arms all at once, I will let that lump in my throat stay. As I look at pictures of my grandparents and my great-aunts who have all passed in the last three years while I have been miles away, I will stay long enough to hear the echo of a language that used to ring in my ears.
And above all, as I look now at the sliver of the moon waxing slowly, I will long for the darkness.
I created this entry August 11, 2015. Every year I choose a poem or passage and a symbol for each child as a wish for their year. It was a way to set an intention to really see that child and keep the poem and symbol close to me the entire year.
This one was dedicated to my daughter. She was 17 and sprouting wings. She had big plans for the year. Her hopes outshone my own at 17. It was a beautiful thing to witness.
Today, I dedicate this entry to YOU, dear reader. I am thinking of you today. I am writing this on Friday but I am up on my land today holding hope for you. Hope, the thing with feathers.
I will be doing a FREE Book of Hours – The Rexmix Email Class where we will dive into the practice – words plus craft – for more information, click here.
Drawing is based upon perspective, which is nothing else than a thorough knowledge of the function of the eye.
– Leonardo Da Vinci
This past week I spent some time briefly reviewing some of the art movements post-Renaissance and I also asked them to look at some independent artists on Instagram and share some favourites.
They also made their own artwork inspired by some of the indie artists:
My main intention was to show how art is a reaction: a reaction to culture, to politics, to status quo, to tradition, to what we see and experience.
How do we see the world and how do we look at ourselves?
Looking at art with context and an overall appreciation.
For example, one of the teens remarked that they loved the Jackson Pollock paintings because everyone says that they could do it and they don’t know what the big deal is about paint splatters. And then the teens went on to say, “Yeah, but YOU didn’t do it. HE did. At that time, it was big. That’s the difference.”
I love that. It opens the discussion to discovery, innovation, and creativity. How to express yourself in the privacy of your own home to your own people is different than doing it publicly. It takes courage to present something – a new scientific theory, a new art expression, a new piece of writing – and invite scrutiny and criticism.
How many artists or inventors held back their expression because of fear or because there was no access?
For their journal prompt yesterday, I asked if their perspective has changed in any way this month. They wrote for ten minutes and then I asked them to share. Here are some of their responses:
I thought it was more complicated than it was or you needed special tools but all you need is a paper, some tape, and a straight edge.
Yes, I thought I couldn’t do it at first too but you can just follow the rules and it was a fun interactive activity we did together even though we weren’t together.
_I really didn’t like the Renaissance-style of paintings before but after watching that video on Raphael, and doing the perspective drawings, I have an appreciation for that period.
It was a good reminder that sometimes you can’t go back and re-do mistakes, like when you have a structure that hasn’t been built strong like these architectural structures of the Renaissance.
I liked it but at first it was confusing and frustrating – all the lines – but I still liked it.
It was fun to learn a new things and really opened my mind to this type of drawing. It’s just lines and so you can do this without too much skill. It is simpler than I thought.
I am looking at structures differently. It changed the way I see how things are built and how to draw them now that I know some of the rules of perspective drawing.
I loved our brief trip through art history and especially understanding what was happening through the Renaissance and art and architecture – it gave context to what we were doing.
This was only a month-long introduction to a particular subject and they found something new and interesting and possibly ignited interest in art. This block wasn’t meant to be a Master Class – an entire smorgasbord Entree of facts and lectures. It was a slow and methodical block – a tasting. A short introduction to a new way of seeing the world.
We took a virtual stroll through the MoMA. We discussed different pieces and why they loved some and didn’t love others. We talked about what art meant and what it means today and how imperative it is to keep creating it right now. To keep our humanity. To share how we see things. To see the world through another’s eyes.
Perspective: late Middle English (in the sense ‘optics’): from medieval Latin perspectiva (ars) ‘(science of) optics’, from perspect- ‘looked at closely’, from the verb perspicere, from per- ‘through’ + specere ‘to look’.
After we finished an intense history block in March that ended with project presentations over Zoom, I asked my #2 and #3 teenagers what they wanted to learn in April with their friends.
One said perspective drawing and the other said literature. (To be more precise, she said, “Shakespeare! Please Mom!” If you know my girls, you probably know which one said what.)
Although I have done perspective drawing with them before, one wanted to do it again. She said, “I think now would be a good time, Mom.”
I agreed, much to the chagrin of the Shakespeare-lover.
I opted for Perspective Drawing for 2 reasons:
1) The inundation of facts or funny Old English words proved to be frustrating and challenging as we delved into understanding the politics and historical events of the United States. We were brain-tired connecting the dots of the past and present.
2) Like geometry, it’s precise and there is little ambiguity but room for creative flair. It is an activity that requires “doing” and “trying.”
I coupled this with our 21 Days of How To Live Journalling Prompts which turned into 29 days.
We also started doing two novel studies where half the class is reading The Iliad(original by Homer – English translation) and the other half is reading To Kill A Mockingbird. We are moving slow, especially with the Iliad, to allow for comfort with the language used in these books.
Both books were suggestions from my teenagers. They wanted to read good books and discuss them – like a book club. _To Kill A Mockingbird_was a perfect selection for after studying U.S. History. The Iliad was a surprise. Her motivation: “It’s challenging and I want to read the original to understand why it’s referenced so much.”
As you can see, a lot of what I do is co-created with my children and the children I teach. Not all the kids want to learn the same thing but after a year and a half of learning this way, they are always willing to give it a try and perhaps find something interesting that they didn’t expect to learn. This allows for a respect for each other’s interests and curiosities while maintaining an open mind that you may be surprised at what you learn. And maybe even liking the topic.
Enter Perspective Drawing. They are open but hesitant. There are a lot of belief systems in place, including from one of my daughters, at not having “art” as their thing or they’re not good at it, blah, blah, blah. I heard the same with Chemistry or History or even the novels.
For each lesson, we take out a piece of paper, our straightedges and triangles and we draw. In our first lesson, we began with the horizon. We spent the first lesson drawing a familiar vista for all the kids that live here. After the horizon line was drawn, I told them that this is where the sky meets the sea.
Now you have to understand that our beaches have been closed for weeks. Before all of this, all of these kids would get together to play volleyball and often sit on the beach looking at this horizon. They know it well.
In this moment, they had to pull it from memory – the colours especially. What type of blue is the sea closest to the horizon? And how do you know when it becomes sky? There is a line that is made as the two blues meet. As we change from the deep blue near the horizon to a lighter one as we get nearer to the shore, we show distance. We know that the horizon isn’t two feet away.
In the next lesson, I briefly talk about the revolutionary technique of Perspective Drawing that begins in the Renaissance. There is a change in the way we see and translate it to a two-dimensional page. Art literally changes perspective with the philosophy of Humanism.
It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view.
– George Eliot, Middlemarch
Toward the end of the week, we have created a small courtyard using one-point perspective. I introduced the “vanishing point.” We talked about the concept that only here, in this realm of perspective drawing, do parallel lines converge. They converge to this imaginary point – “the vanishing point.”
When we physically look at a road, we see how parallel lines seem to converge because of the way our eye is constructed to understand depth. In reality, we keep traveling on the road and it does not narrow. This may seem obvious but we take this for granted. This ability of spatial awareness in this way. Paintings prior to the Renaissance were flat.
It’s a strange concept after learning in math that parallel lines never converge. We changed our perspective. We could see how we could geometrically construct our art to represent our reality. It follows the language of the universe – math and physics.
After two weeks of perspective drawing and looking at Renaissance art and philosophy, I sat with my child who would have rather read Shakespeare. I wanted to check in with how she was feeling about drawing.
She hesitated. I was ready for an eye roll and a frustrated answer. The last time we tried perspective drawing it ended in one of those “I’m not my sister” outbursts (see below) so we quit it and never tried it again until now.
She took a deep breath and said, “Up until a few days ago, I was rehearsing how to tell you that I wasn’t going to continue these lessons with the class and propose an independent learning month where I outline my readings and what I want to learn. You know, take responsibility for my learning.”
Oh those magic words: “responsibility for learning.” She knows me so well. I am ready to acquiesce.
But she paused and looked up at me, “Because mom, it’s hard. I don’t like drawing, especially perspective. Everyone is so much better than I am. But then I literally changed my perspective. I thought about how most of the blocks we do, we write. And I LOVE writing. I love writing essays and compositions. I love summarizing. And it comes so easy and naturally. Then I thought about my sister and some of my classmates who struggle but try anyway to get better. And so I may never use this skill, or be an artist, or love this, but I can try. I can push myself to finish something that’s difficult. If I can do this, I can look back and remember the feeling of overcoming an obstacle. I also loved how you introduced the philosophy of the Renaissance especially showing us that video on The School of Athens by Raphael. I could only fully appreciate it only by trying it myself.”
I start to tear up. As a parent and mentor to several children, I don’t know half the time of what I am doing. Some days I have a general idea of what I think would be good to present and it flops and so I adjust the next day and go into that place of stillness and humility. That ability to change my own perspective about learning.
Yes, I am full of gratitude and appreciation for her observation and self-awareness. But I am emotional because I struggle with this all the time. I get questions about this from other parents, “When do I push and when do I let go?” I always say, “It depends. It depends on the child and your gut. It’s always different and a lot of the time I get it wrong.”
How do I know when I get it wrong? When I have a child screaming in my face, “I AM NOT MY SISTER!” There have been many public in-my-face screams over the years.
This happens a lot with different sisters like the time I wanted one to try soccer or be in an outdoor program in -40 degree weather or do trapeze or try watercolor painting or surf or do perspective drawing. And the most exhausting thing is that sometimes it’s just the wrong timing. So you keep trying, just in case. Just in case there is a breakthrough like this.
Frankly, if she came to me and had rational reasons for changing directions with what she was learning this month, I probably would have been ok with it. I am happy that they love learning. That was my goal all along for homeschooling. But this is something that I didn’t expect. The push was what she needed and I didn’t even push. She pushed herself because something came together for her that I could never have anticipated.
It’s still not “her” thing. But that’s not the point. The point is to not limit your experiences. And trying once for 10 minutes is not enough. Sometimes we quit just before the magic appears, right before you find the keys to castle and the drawbridge is lowered. Sometimes you have to return another time when you are ready.
This is the method to my madness. I am a paradox of a teacher. I am a teacher of contradictions. I am a parent who is flexible with fixed points of view.
I was sitting having my coffee one morning in the last few weeks, enjoying the rising crescendo of birdsong, when I heard another type of song being sung.
At first, I thought I was just recalling an old memory in my mind as I watched the birds do what they do.
But then the song continued.
“There’s not a star in heaven that we can’t reach…”
I thought, Oh Dear God, no. Please.
It was #4 singing in her room and she belted out the rest:
“If we’re trying so we’re breaking free. You know the world can see us…”
She came flying down the stairs singing the rest of the song.
High. School. Musical.
She discovered it, she says. And she just can’t get enough.
Her older sisters peek out of their rooms sheepishly and I flash them the dirtiest of looks and say with an exasperated sigh, “We live in the middle of the jungle with no internet, I thought we were done with this.”
My oldest shook her head, “Mom, we will never be done.”
The saga of Troy and Gabriela have returned to our house. They had lived in our daily car rides, and in the karaoke system #3 had. She really loved the musical. They all did.
Except for #4 and #5 who were too young.
But now it’s reared it’s catchy show-tune head in our house again. I was even humming “Bop bop bop…bop to the top..” while working out. Ugh. We even watched High School Musical One the other night (oh yes, there is more than one). Slow internet and less access to it for downloading leaving us with minimal options. It’s been over ten years since my eldest was crazy for it.
It’s a cute vanilla high school story. The songs are catchy. There are fun dance numbers. And for my kids especially, high school is a fantastical reality that they will NEVER experience. They ogle at the cafeteria and are mesmerized by the lockers and the ringing bells – “so a bell has to remind you to get to class because you might forget to look at the time?”
Our eldest went to high school for one year so she regales them with tales of what it’s like – the rotation of classes, the busy work, and the offensive shop teacher.
I once mentioned here on the blog that musicals make everything better. As much as I hesitate to call this a musical, this has surprisingly made my fourth child a different person in the morning. The Eeyore/Darth Maul character that would greet the day now bounces down the stairs like a Tigger every morning humming tunes from this musical.
Instead of getting frustrated at this Disney musical invasion that I had weaned out of my house, I let it go because there is something more.
I look at her closely. She is in the throes of the middle years before teen-dom. For me, having three girls that have already been through puberty, adolescence really begins at 14.
That’s the thing about being with my kids at home. I get to see each and every growth – all of those breakthroughs and breakdowns. I sense changes in them long before the leap. It’s like a change in the wind – subtle yet distinct.
I know the signs:
The making of one’s own playlist of music to listen to on car rides.
The shifting from athletic clothes 24/7 to the occasional dress or frilly top.
The brushing of the hair before we leave the house.
The questions about whiter teeth and eye brow plucking and leg shaving.
The curiosity about moon cycles.
The frustration of being almost and not yet, but also too far and too big.
As she sings and dances around the house, it feels bittersweet because I know it’s coming. The last of my girls to transform into a young woman. No one tells you about teenagers or how to look at these middle years (12-14) as the bridge. This is the moment with one foot in childhood and one foot on the bridge, stepping to cross and enter that murky forest of body odor and bad moods.
But for my girls, and all of us women, it is also the place where we begin to live by, for, and with the moon. There is a cave there where we go when we want our privacy and where we question our sanity. It’s where we isolate to hear ourselves. But we also must remember that we are not alone.
When we come home, the three eldest go to their rooms. They change, they read, they nap, they find alone time. My fifth sits with his dad or me and asks about my day. (I can’t even tell you how adorable except that he would kill me.)
And lately, the fourth stops at the stairs. I watch her waver between leaving her bag and joining me on the couch with her cookbook as she sometimes does to plan with me her next baking adventure, or heading upstairs to her room to listen to “her music.” The the sign of things-a-changin.’ Sometimes she stays, but more often now, she goes.
But a mama knows how to stretch a little more time, how to get them to stay a little longer in one place, and not grow up too fast.
As she starts up the stairs, I start singing, “Soaring…Flying…” She turns and come back down belting out the next line, “There’s not a star in heaven that we can’t reach!” And we sing and we dance. As much as this musical makes me cringe, it is a way for me to keep tethered. Singing to cheesy musicals with her is my way of letting her know she is not alone and like all her other sisters, we’re “all in this together.”