Working Towards a New Lifestyle

Since moving we kind have been floundering in our everyday life. With no job, school, or even scheduled hobbies to structure our life things have been…. laid back… to say the least. Its been nice though just spending time with each other and exploring our new city and neighborhood. I’ve learned the Public Transit, been to the zoo, countless food carts, finally figured out a grocery shopping routine, even had issues (now resolved) with the neighbor. We’ve had visitors for the first time now and that really marks the end of our time of settling and now its time to get into gear.

There are several changes that seem to be happening quite naturally. The first is that our baby is no longer a baby, and we are starting to treat him a little different because of that. Its nothing we really planned its just happening naturally. Mark is wanting and we are allowing him to have more time by himself. Often he wants to just play with his cars or his trains, sometimes he ‘reads’, or draws or just wanders around our front yard. I check in on him from time to time, and remind him to use the bathroom, but more and more he’s just doing his own thing for periods of time. We are also letting him fuss more and are not catering to his every want, or just making him wait a minute. We don’t make him wait just for the sake of waiting (we do love him, and that’s not cool to do to anyone you love) but we let him realize that we also have needs and wants and that he needs to learn to respect all people (and their things). This in itself could be a whole blog post, but lets just say Mark is moving from baby, to child.

We also seem to be moving away from screen time. Part of it is the great climate and culture here, we just want to be outside or other places, not sitting around in the house. Part of it is that we are all trying to read more. You don’t have much time for the TV or computer when you are trying to read every extra minute of the day. Whatever the reasons, moving away from screen time is a good thing. My migraines have totally stopped since I lost my phone a week ago and stopped staring at the tiny screen and my son isn’t constantly asking for TV. Its nice. Right now he’s sitting on the couch “Reading” a book of poetry.

Another change we would like to implement (we haven’t succeeded yet) is eating at home more. We said that when we moved to Portland we were going to “get in shape” and “be healthy”. Well, with all the delicious, not great for you food out here, that hasn’t happened. Ace stopped losing weight and I started gaining weight. There are tons of healthy options to eat out with here, but the BBQ, noodles, and sushi, are often too tempting. I love a good pulled pork sandwich or a slab of ribs covered in sauce with a big piece of cornbread, but its not exactly the lunch of champions… So we are trying to get better. This week I planned to eat all our breakfasts at home and planned out 3 lunches and 3 dinners. We have food for a little more than that, but I know I will be cooking 3 dinners at home this week. That will be the best since we moved (yeah.. there have been a lot of pizzas and burritos the last few weeks). Hopefully we can save a few dollars this was too, but the quality of the food I’m buying makes eating at home just as expensive most of the time.

We are also becoming more relaxed. That’s just how things are around here. The neighbor across the street runs a garage out of his…well, garage… and he works at his own pace. It was a little annoying how long it took him to look at my car, but I learned a bit about how Oregonians work and live and became a little envious of him. He said “I work on farmer time, but I’ll only ever change you book time, probably less” (in fact he did my car for free that day). Somedays he takes all day to get one car done, other days he’ll push though four in a few hours, but most days are the former. Its importnat to note that its culturally acceptable to drink beer or smoke pot pretty much anywhere at anytime, so that certainly helps people to relax. Our mechanic neighbor has offered me beer as early as 10am. This isn’t to say there aren’t busy people, but here in SE Portland they are sparse, and I like it.   I’m learning from the neighbors how to relax and not always be in a hurry, this is causing us all a lot less stress. Somedays we just sit around in the front yard. I’m take the bus places, which means walking (sometimes 6 blocks to the 19 route), waiting (up to 20 minutes), then riding (up to an hour), all opposed to a 20 minute car drive. Making life slow down a bit. But when you have time to spare its not a big deal. You meet interesting people and expose yourself (and your child) to new experiences. Our pace of life is just slowing down and I like it, a lot.

The last part the puzzle that needs to fall into place is making money, and becoming more self sufficient  I’ve already started by trying to do my own minor repairs and installations around the house. Some I’ve succeeded in, (refurbishing a table, installing curtains), some not so much (like that shelf for the bathroom that is now in the closet). I never leaned how to use drywall mounts or fix a toilet or make compost as a kid, but thats not going to stop me. With books and the internet I can do almost anything. Once I can buy a saw I’ll really be set. Its looking like Ace is going to get an awesome part time job teaching guitar and piano, between that and renter income we should be set. If I can make a few bucks here and there building or fixing something and then selling it, even better.  I’m considering trying to build basic skate ramps and selling them. In our neighborhood alone, I know that would be a hit.

Our lifestyle is changing a lot, but its for the better and I really like it. I’m hoping along with these changes means more writing and regular blog posts too, so keep checking back.

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The Learning has no Beginning and no End

Everyday I observe my 23 month old son learn, and boy does that boy learn. He is more spongy than he’s ever been, sometimes saying a dozen new words a day. Today he learned a lovely one, “Suck” luckily he can’t say “S” quite right and it comes out “Luck” so only I (and Dad) know what he’s actually saying. Though he is getting that “S” sound better everyday so I’m sure soon he will be saying that and other not so great words (that he may have picked up from me) in a perfectly understandable manner.

I’m also learning a lot. I’m learning that I still have a lot to learn. I’m learning how to fit reading into my day of child-rearing. I’m taking that time to read about learning. Children and how they learn has always been of interest to me. I starten baby-sitting at a young age and have always loved kids and been involved with them. Being a mom is the ultimate fulfillment of that, and wanting to be a good mom I knew (many months ago) I would need to research schools and teaching methods pretty diligently to make sure my son got the best education he could. At first I thought “Anything but public school” then that morphed into “Anything but traditional schools” this then morphed into thinking Waldorf was the answer, while I still think its a step above public school, its still traditional in many aspects. Namely, the kids have no major say in the curriculum. If they want to read early (depending on which school they are at) it may be discouraged, or simply they aren’t helped along since that’s what the class is doing right now. Even though they are more relaxed in the younger years than a normal school, it is still scheduled: Now its play time, now its snack time, now its time for art, music, language, etc…  After I decided I didn’t much care for Waldorf I read up on Montessori.

I liked Montessori much more and still do. There is a curriculum, but besides a short lesson each day the kids are free to work at their own pace on whatever subject they chose (or don’t choose) so long as they aren’t disturbing other kids. Much of the curriculum is working though understanding each of the materials. They are not allowed to use ones ahead of where they are, but will always have several options across the subjects available to them. EG, they can’t use the brown stairs until they master the pink tower, but if they don’t want to work on the pink tower they can go work on their available language  or practical life activities activities. There are always lots of options, and most schools allow kids to choose not to work or to free read as well.

Ace has always talked about homeschooling, but I often dismissed it thinking it would be nice, but that I couldn’t do it. Why I dismissed myself when I taught years of mixed age children in our church I have no idea, thats much more difficult than one child. I always told him I’d see what our child was like and decide from there. Well I’ve noticed this, my son is bright, curious, and will seek out knowledge with no pushing from anyone. He is naturally curious and is learning a lot of things with only basic work from me. Things such as, providing him books and reading them when asked, aswering questions as best I can or looking up the answers, finding videos and turning them on, taking him to lots of different places when we are able.

Before we moved I listened to a lot of Unpluggedmom.com and it really challenged me to re-think my responsibility as a parent. It also challenged my thought that private schools were significantly better than public. I decided to look into it some more and read “Teach Your Own” by John Holt and that is what convinced me that I can and should homeschool. Homeschooling and specifically unschooling makes sense for me for many reasons, more than I can talk about here. But I’m going to tell you the first and most practical one and that is that learning has no beginning and no end.

Years ago Rob Bell challenged the idea that we have a “Spiritual Life”.  He argues that there is no way to separate our spiritual life from the rest of our lives and that is how the hebrew people lived (and still do). Many unschooling advocates  point out that separating “learning or “Education” from the rest of our lives can be very damaging, especially when children are forced to “learn” (rather memorize long enough to keep the teacher happy) something they don’t want to. They quickly learn that “learning” is something that is boring and not fun, a necessary evil, or a means to an end and often separate “learning” (something done in school and in homework) from the rest of life;  having fun, doing stuff, making things, etc…. When you are told what to do 8 hours a day (then told to do MORE of it at home) 9 months a year for what seems like your whole life,  you often learn to dislike school. There are high points to school for most kids for sure, for me it was band. I lived for band (and for skating after school) and I trudged though the day so I could do well enough to get to what I really wanted to do, play trumpet and go skate.

After reading and a lot of reflecting on what the school system is really like and what its true purpose is (to create obedient workers and soldiers, just skilled enough to be able to work the machines, but not smart enough to really think for them selves and to mess up the system for the elite) I realized that my only real choice to let my son realize his own potential is to home school. Right now at home he generally pursues what ever interest his little heart desires. Today he colored pictures of food, animals, and farm equipment at the farmers market. Unfortunately we had to stop him before he wanted to stop (in general I try not to do that) so we could get some lunch (or breakfast, or brunch… whatever). When we got home he needed a bath (after a big poop accident) and he played in the tub for a long time. Then he picked out his (hilariously mis-matched) clothes and a book to read before taking a nap. When he woke up we went out to eat where, as much as possible, he chose his own food. When we got home he rode his bike for a long time, and played with his tucks making a parking lot in the driveway, then he and the neighbor kid and I moved heavy chairs to the back yard. The boys learned how to use a skateboard as a tool to help move the chairs and moved the last two with out me. Later he rode his train while looking at a book about trains, then he got out coloring supplies and colored (on his own). As Mark gets older he naturally is exploring things developmentally appropriate and I just don’t see a good reason to hand over the majority of his waking hours to a stranger in the name of “education” at whatever age the state dictates.

In short the way he learns won’t radically change at any given age so the way he is taught shouldn’t either. Homeschooling is the perfect extension of attachment parenting, libertarian/anarchist politics, and living in community, all things that our family highly values. For us homeschooling makes just makes perfect sense.