Saturday, September 26, 2009

massive tangle

This morning, in what was to be a triumph of technology that hastened the enjoyable process of watching freshly spun skeins of yarn dry outside on a sunny fall day, I put fifteen skeins of handspun yarn in the washer. I wasn't washing them, understand. I just wanted to spin the water out of them after I'd carefully washed and rinsed them by hand in the sink.

Except I also decided to let the washing machine do an extra rinse. Which maybe wasn't so smart. Also I have a front loader, which I understand might have been a particularly bad choice. You know, if one were to choose a washing machine for its ability to spin the water out of handspun yarn.

We have now run this experiment, and there will be no need to run it ever again. Consider this my contribution to yarn science. I have attempted a crazy thing and suffered for it, so you don't have to.

For the curious, there are 12 skeins of yarn there, three of the burgundy, four of the green, and five of the natural white.

I did manage to separate three skeins from the main tangle, but I don't think I'll be knitting with any part of this yarn any time soon. There are sections in these skeins that are like tiny colorful dreadlocks.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

the problem of the day

We're having an interesting adjustment to public school. Mostly things are going swimmingly, although there are the expected feelings of being overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of students (him) and the bureaucracy required to handle those numbers (me.) Big One is going to have to learn to get very organized, very fast, but we knew that was going to happen. On balance, he's really pleased to be with other kids and to have other adults in his life.

The interesting part is math. Because of his standardized test scores, he placed into an accelerated math track, which means he'll be taking the state exam for ninth graders at the end of eighth grade. All good, great, terrific. The teacher of the accelerated math class does a Problem of the Day: the kids solve a problem at the start of class, then come up to the board and explain how they did it.

Big came home from school on Friday saying, "I totally bombed on the Problem of the Day in math class today. What is an LCM?" We did a quick table session over the weekend, talked about LCM (lowest common multiple), and he gets it. Problem solved. But it happened again on Monday, with GCF (greatest common factor). And I expect it's going to continue to happen, most days. His math journey has not been traditional, and I know there are going to be topics from the fifth grade curriculum that he's never seen.

This is where you might expect me to engage in some hand-wringing and doubt of myself as a teacher and a home school mom, where I might think I've done it all wrong and go the traditional route with Little, where I should recriminate myself and the non-traditional school Big attended.

Indeed, many parents did just that when they pulled their kids from our progressive school and put them in public school. I heard from parents more than once that our math program was weak in computation skills, and that they needed to heavily remediate when their kids went to a more traditional math curriculum.

But I'm not, because here's the thing: I know that Big is going to catch up, and I know that he has a math background that is excellent in other ways. He understands math. He has had some fabulous opportunities to use math for what it really is: reasoning at its most elemental level. He likes to think things through, he has a need to understand what he's doing, and I wouldn't trade that for anything.

I'm not sure you can have it both ways. Either you emphasize reasoning and concepts, as I have done, or you emphasize quick computation skills and many topics, as most schools have traditionally done. You could theoretically have both, I suppose, but it would take a lot of time, and you would spend your entire elementary career doing math, and you'd miss out on something else equally important. You have to choose.

Little and I have chosen: we did our math and our reading for the day, and we're off to playgroup for some fresh air and running around with friends.

Friday, September 11, 2009

let's talk about depression, shall we?

Let it be known that I am no longer depressed, and that this post should be evidence of that. There is no way I could write about this stuff if I were still in the thick muck of depression.

But let me say this: I was depressed all summer, and probably for many months before that. I have been tired, exhausted, uninterested in everything, self-recriminating, bored, boring, negative, hopeless, overwhelmed.... classic really, now that I can look back at it.

I would occasionally look over what I'd written here, and feel miles away from the person who could have comfortably asserted that she knew anything about kids or knitting or spackling or any of the rest of it. The person who wrote those posts (even sometimes with humor, albeit self-deprecating humor) seemed like another person. A distant cousin, perhaps, one whom I don't get along with and rarely see. And the person who went to school every day to teach other people's kids? She must have been a person from another planet.

I had a long conversation about a month ago with a friend who routinely takes pills to ease his chronic depression, and he recommended that I see a doctor. Since he takes pills for his depression, it made sense to him that I should as well. This did not sit right with me. I'm not against pills to ease mental and emotional pain, but something about it didn't feel right. For me, understand. If you take them and they're important to you, please don't imagine I'm being critical here. I just didn't (and still don't) think it's the right approach for me.

Then I had another conversation with another friend, and she had some great and important insights. I told her that somebody had told me I sounded really depressed, and that maybe some pharmaceuticals could help. She told me about this book she'd read (sorry, I forget what book) that suggested that depression (or any other emotion, probably; I haven't read the book) can and perhaps should be seen as a sort of sign along the road to somewhere.

The sign (depression) could be saying, "AAAHHH! Don't go down this road!" or it could be, "Please don't marry that person, you'll regret it," or any number of other interesting and important messages about one's life and its living. This rang true. She also pointed out that pills, if they blunt the emotion you're feeling, would blur the writing on the sign, and make it really hard to figure out what it says.

So I sat with that for a few days, and just let the question simmer. If my depression was a sign, what was it saying?

And that's when I had to really admit to myself that I am just not happy being home all day. I don't know if there's a way to change things up so that I can be happy with it; I feel like we have really tried a lot of different structures and strategies, but it's not really working for me. I love my kids, and their intellectual development is important to me, but oddly, I don't think they need me. Of course they need me to be their mother. They need me to listen to them, to support their projects and ideas, and they need me on a most basic level to keep the house running so that they can eat and wear semi-decent clothes. But they don't need me to be home with them all the time, particularly not if that choice is making me depressed and unhappy.

I believe that a depressed, resentful mother at home is worse than a full-time working but otherwise happy and emotionally available mother.

It feels strange to admit this, even though everything in me is indicating its truth. I know many readers of this blog stay home with their kids. I am not trying to say anything here about anyone else's experience, only mine.

And I know I'll be home another year at least, but I'm going to take on some outside projects when they present themselves, and I know that home schooling is going to wind down, sooner or later. It is no longer a project with no deadline.

Feeling better now, thank you.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

quick update

Big's first day went well. He came home tired but smiling. He found a bunch of kids he already knows, sat with an old friend for lunch, and likes most of his teachers. He's excited to go back today.

And I'm breathing easy. Yesterday with just Little was a completely different sort of day. We're going to have fun this year, and we're both going to learn a lot.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

today is the day

Big One's first day of school. He's checking his new watch to make sure he'll get there on time. This day has been coming for some time, in glimmerings and rumblings, and more recently in definite plans and deadlines. He has for some time felt restrained by the tiny circle of his home school colleagues, which primarily consist of me, his brother, the dog and four cats. He wants, fervently wants, to do school with other kids his own age. He wants more direction, less free time, more projects, more work. He truly wants those things.

I am trying hard not to see this as another failure. I have really struggled this summer, with my feelings of not quite being up to the task of home schooling a middle schooler, and my desire to get back out in the world again. I admitted to myself not long ago that I'm not happy being home all the time, and so I presented Big with an opportunity: if you were to go to school this year, you'd be one of many kids who are new to the school. The local middle school has three feeder elementary schools, so nobody knows everybody. He was delighted to hear it, and jumped in with both feet. He decided, we registered him, he met some teachers and saw the building, and he's never looked back, not for a moment.

(Although last night in the car, he asked me to remind him why he's doing this. I want you to know that I was a mature adult mama, and I did so, with grace, love, and honesty.)

(Also this morning, he admitted he's feeling apprehensive, but also excited. I chose not to tell him that I hardly slept, and that I sobbed as I made his lunch at 6:30 a.m.)

My feelings today are so mixed. I'm incredibly proud of him for choosing public school when so much of his life has been defined by the choice not to go to public school. He was attending my private progressive school when he was three, and he loved it there. He has loved home schooling not quite as much, but he's enjoyed his freedom and his friends, and he knows that learning is supposed to come with a large dose of intellectual freedom and autonomy. He knows these things will be scant or absent in his new setting, but he's choosing it anyway, for reasons of his own.

I'm excited for myself, because I know that although Little is choosing to stay home this year, the time is coming when he too will want to get out there and find out first hand about formal schooling. And people? When he does? I am so outta here. I am going to burn it up getting back out there in the schools, working with other people's kids, because that is the work that reminds me of who I am.

When I'm teaching, I'm exhausted at the end of the day, but I'm satisfied, and I know I've accomplished something small and significant, every day. The work of being an important adult in the lives of children who need another adult is what I'm here for. Working with my own kids just doesn't cut it, and while it's taken me a long time to admit it, I'm there now, and that is going to lead us down a long path into the unknown.

Here we go.

And there he goes.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

always have a project

Joe and I have been busting it out with the paintbrushes this weekend. Sometimes it's latex, sometimes it's oil, but we've been pulling this old house in the same direction. I do find it troublesome that oil paints require a whole set of brushes unto themselves, and I also fail to appreciate the freaky-deaky paint thinner spaciness engendered after a few hours of huffing the stuff, but on the up side, latex paint smells like a bed of lavender when you shift gears.

Without further ado:

The fancy cut-outs have oil-based primer, and a finish coat of latex. This is the closest to truly done these decorative elements have ever been, photo to the right notwithstanding. The top rails, which still need a second coat, are new lengths of wood, fitted out and planed and what-not in the wood shop that used to be our garage. Joe has made rumblings about calling the garage his studio. I'm happy to humor him. We certainly aren't going to park our cars in there any time soon.

Another project that has been languishing pitifully for--ahem--years is the repainting of certain shingles that have been in place since we had the roof replaced on this old house shortly after we moved in. Included in the roof job was replacing the shingles that had to be removed when the roof was replaced.

We purchased new shingles and, on the advice of our realtor, painted them before they were installed. It was brilliant advice, and would have worked out perfectly had I been more astute about choosing a color to match the color of the old shingles. I chose badly, and our mismatched greens have been an eyesore ever since. Of course, nobody but me really notices, but trust me, I'm enough of a critic to make up for everyone else's lack of concern.

So there I am, painting a good green over the bad green. If you look closely, you can see that the shingles along the roof line to my left blend in quite well, while the shingles to my right are still the wrong green.

It's all painted now, and I wasn't even too freaked out about being up on the roof. Joe joined me after a while, wiping up my drips (of critical importance when using an oil-based paint) and keeping me company.

Friday, September 04, 2009

could be worse

I've been carding again. I thought for a time that I wanted to trade my drum carder for a very snazzy new/used wheel, but Joe reminded me that I got the carder for some reason that made sense to me at the time, and so I've been trying to figure out what that reason was.

Turns out carding is good fun, which of course I knew.

In other news, Big One is going to school this year. He will be attending the local Middle School, which is close enough to walk. After a short period of agony and agonizing, he and I are both delighted with his decision, and excited about things to come. The school has been lovely and accommodating. We've met many of his teachers. It's all gone as well as I could possibly have hoped, and I'm allowing myself to hope that all that will continue.

Little is staying home, but I suspect he may decide that home without a brother is sort of boring, and that may mean, my friends, that I will be back out in the world again, sometime before I'm gray and old.