Saturday, September 16, 2006

A Day At the Beach

Actually, we were there a week.

Every September, my most WONDERFUL parents rent a house for us all in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It is, most definitely, the highlight of our year.

You may be wondering why we plan our NC vacation for September every year, considering this is the peak month for hurricane activity in the region. To this I say, Bah! We live on the edge! The added dimension of excitement and suspense as we watch the Weather Channel in the weeks leading up to the trip just make it that much more fun. And every year, except one - we have hit it just right.

This year was no exception. A week after Ernesto, the roads had a bit of water on them, but we had beautiful weather all week long.
There was a little rain on Wednesday, but that's the day to visit the lighthouse and the nature center and go shopping anyway. And you never know - you could go to the beach in July and get a week of rain just as easily as in September.

The best part about going in September is that we have the place practically to ourselves. Most everyone else is back to school by now, so we cyberschoolers need only pack up our laptop and a few books and go! The kids didn't do a lot of work, but enough to keep them legal. Uno had a whole science unit on Oceans this year, so we immersed ourselves (literally) in waves and tides and marine life.

This was the first year that we've had a dog to bring along. Rocky wasn't too sure of the ocean at first, but he sure loved chasing those birds! Every day, he got a little bolder, and by his last visit to the water, he was jumping through the (smaller) waves and digging up crabs to eat. When he didn't come with us to the beach, he lounged by the pool or relaxed in the house.

Considering we chose a large pointer instead of a small, cuddly lap dog, we were expecting Rocky to be some kind of great Adventure Dog.
When he didn't dive happily in the ocean right away like the other Adventure Dogs on the beach, we decided to try him out in the relative calm and safety of the pool at the house. I guess no one told Rocky that his breed was designed to swim - he did not like the pool one bit. We tried to coax him in a few times, but he never did (voluntarily) get wet.

The house itself was great! This was our first year in this particular house, but I'm sure we will choose it again. It was just over the dunes from the beach, it had a pool and hot tub, and plenty of space for everyone. It was so relaxing. My parents really helped out a lot with the kids (including taking them in their van 8+ hours each way) so Savageman and I got to spend time alone for a change. We didn't bring much stuff with us, so there was hardly anything to clean. And my Dad loves to cook, so he took care of all the shopping and meals for the week.

There was a loft overlooking the living room that was the perfect base of operations for me, my computer and my yoga stuff. I planned the science courses I am teaching at the homeschool co-op this semester and designed for myself a mini-course in writing fiction. I also finished reading a whole novel, listened to another in the car, and bought another at Beach Bag Books and Music, a wonderful little place in Corolla where Sara and Ken, the owners, on separate occasions chatted with us about favorite books and music. Their gigantic Newfoundland, Finnegan, lounged at Sara's feet. Savageman bought several local interest books about the Outer Banks.

Then came the highlight of the trip for Savageman - he and I took his truck off-road and drove up the beach to the North Carolina / Virginia border.
There, we saw some wild ponies and we wandered in search of a special monument he had researched extensively.

"What is this fabulous monument we drove all the way out here to see?" I queried, thinking it must be something really special, considering the effort we were putting into the search. A fallen Civil War hero, a famous discovery, or an old shipwreck, for example.

"It marks the border of North Carolina and Virginia," he replied.

"Oh." Whoopie.

Although we never did find the #$%^&$! memorial honoring the most excellent NC/VA border, we did have a good adventure following the wild ponies. And driving on the beach itself is always fun, although I'm not really sure why.

Playing on the beach was great too. Savageman dug his traditional hole, although this time, he dug it too far up and it never did fill with water at high tide as in previous years. He had a good time sitting in it, though.

We all really liked boogie-boarding this year, especially my parents!
We could go out to where the water was fairly deep and dive under the waves, then go a bit further out and suddenly we would be standing on a sandbar and the water would be knee deep again. Boogie-boarding at the sandbar was even better, and we spent hours at it.

We took several cute pictures of the kids, one of which will wind up on our Christmas card this year. Probably the only stressful time on the trip was trying to get the 3 kids and 1 dog to stand still and smile while I was losing the light I wanted. Oh well, we may end up using the one of them in the tree anyway.

This year, we were sadder than ever to have to leave. It was a perfect week, and it already seems like so long ago. Only 50 more weeks to go until we can go back...

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

"You've Been Very Naughty!"

Isn't the Supernanny great?

I don't watch much TV these days, but when I do sit down to rock my Baby Savage to sleep at night and flip on the tube, I am always happy to see the sweet face of the Supernanny looking back. Each week, she brings a new family back from the brink of destruction with a few simple ideas. At the end, the grateful families all tearfully sing her praises, raving about how she has changed their lives and taught them how to really enjoy their children.

Maybe she should come to my house.

Never mind, scratch that. If I really sat down and thought about it (like right now, for example) I could probably figure out for myself what the Supernanny would tell us to change.

Let's give it a go, shall we?

Okay, the first thing she always does is post a schedule. A predictable routine.

Now, right there we have a problem. I start out the day with a predictable routine, but it breaks down somewhere around breakfast.


I'm not kidding about this.

Here's how it's supposed to go: Uno gets up first. He's supposed to get dressed, make his bed, brush his teeth, feed the dog and practice the piano. The piano wakes me and the baby up and we do our morning routine too. By now Uno is done with piano and we get ready to go for a walk. At this point, Dos is getting up. He gets ready for a walk, and we all do the 2 mile loop around the neighborhood. Afterwards, we eat a nutritious breakfast and get to Uno's small amount of schoolwork. We break for a nutritious lunch, finish the schoolwork, wrap it up for the day. The kids play until dinner time, then we sit down to a nutritious dinner, have some family fun activity with Savageman, bathe, brush teeth and go off to bed with hugs and kisses.

I think this happened once. Sort of.

Here's what really happens: Uno gets up first. He gets dressed, sort of makes his bed, I hope brushes his teeth, and he heads downstairs and eats breakfast because he's hungry. He lets the dog out but forgets to feed him. While he's eating, he's bored so he puts on the TV or a book on tape. Baby Savage hears this and wakes up, sneaks out of my bed without waking me and joins him, opting for a bag of tortilla chips or microwave popcorn for breakfast, which he munches on the couch, making a crummy mess. When I finally wake up and realize that he's gone, I get up, make my bed, brush my teeth, and get dressed. While I am getting dressed, I sneak a peek at my email. Something interesting catches my eye or requires a response and I take care of that. By the time I make it downstairs, the place is a mess, the dog is scratching at the door crying to be fed, the baby is no longer hungry for a nutritious breakfast and Uno is too full to go for a walk. Not that it matters, because there is still no sign of Dos. I ask Uno if he has fed the dog and he gets that shocked look on his face like that kid in Home Alone. I ask if he has practiced the piano and he starts getting all defensive and we have our first fight of the day. Still no sign of Dos. I go up to see if he is still breathing, notice that Uno didn't make his bed and left his drawers hanging open and clothes strewn on the floor. When he is done with the piano, I remind him that the bed needs to be made and room picked up and he gets all defensive and we have our second fight. The fighting wakes up Dos and the two of them begin fighting with each other. I try to clean up the downstairs mess while Uno takes a second shot at the bed and Dos gets dressed. It is now almost lunchtime. "Can we finally go for our walk?" I ask in desperation. We get our shoes on and get ready to go out the door. Then Dos decides he's hungry and wants to eat too. We wait for him to eat. We get ready to walk out the door again and Tres decides he's finally hungry for cereal. We pack a baggie with dry cereal for him to hold in his stroller.

We finally head out for the walk.

Of course, now it's too hot to do the whole two miles, so the negotiations begin for a shorter route. If I don't give in, Uno realizes after a few minutes that he forgot to go to the bathroom so he has to take a shorter route anyway. Not sure if he is serious or not, I err on the side of dry pants and let him take the shorter way. Dos has long since taken off on his scooter and has finished the two miles easily. We all arrive home at different times. When I get there, I say, "Okay, time for work!" Of course, Uno can't do work because he is so exhausted by the walk. I took the same walk, while pushing the baby, and I'm ready for work, but the healthy, young, energetic boy is wiped out. I mow the lawn or do housework while he catches his breath. When I come back, he has recovered and is tormenting Dos. "Okay, now it's time for work!" Nope, now it's lunch time. "Why didn't you eat lunch while I was mowing the lawn?" "We weren't hungry." I wait while they eat lunch. I have coffee (because now I'm wiped out, but I'm not allowed to show it so I drink coffee instead) and a few bites of whatever.

The rest of the day consists of attempts by Uno to get out of his work, all the while whining that he never gets to do what he wants. I show him the fancy chart I made (idea from the Supernanny herself) with the velcro Smiley Star that moves along the path as he completes each task until it hits the celebration spot. I remind him that after he gets the (three whole) subjects I have lined up for him done, he can have the rest of the day to himself. He takes frequent trips to the bathroom, prays I will get a distracting phone call or that his brothers will require my attention, and does his best to do everything but his work. Eventually, I conveniently forget the Smiley Star and find an excuse to get everyone out of the house. We get home at dinner time and stand around with Savageman eating cold cuts or whatever because I'm too drained to cook. While we discuss what to do, the children wander off in various directions, play with friends, etc. and just as we've decided it's too late to start anything, they show up wanting to do something. We do something, get them ready for bed, maybe bathe, and put Uno to bed. I rock Tres to sleep. Dos is still awake (since he had slept until 10:30 am) and he asks to do his own (optional) schoolwork. We snuggle and do schoolwork until way too late, and he goes to bed too. Too wiped out to do anything with Savageman, I finally have a little time to myself before crawling off to bed way too late.

What would Jojo say?

First, she would probably tell me to stop blogging about her and go to bed.

Next, she would tell me to come up with a more realistic schedule we can actually stick to, and to schedule plenty of fun time that they don't have to earn. Right now, if they want fun time, they have to earn it. They rarely do, so we miss out on a lot of fun. She'd probably also have me get up before them so I will be ready for them when they get up. She would also have me plan for cooking, chores, and time for myself and Savageman before midnight. And she'd tell me to eat better.

Next, she would talk to me about the way I talk to them. She would tell me not to yell and to give them lots of enthusiastic praise and encouragement in a sweet voice. This is easy with the Baby Savage, but I forget to do it with the bigger ones. I hardly ever talk to Uno that way, which is probably why he feels so hassled all the time. Maybe that is why he is so avoidant of me and the stuff I want him to do.

Next, she would probably have me stop counting them with the 1-2-3 thing. Give them one warning, and then off to the Naughty Chair. Have them sit there for a minute per year of age, then have them apologize and move on.

More importantly, Jojo focuses on the positive stuff. Having fun together and building your relationship so that they want to behave for you is probably much more important than what you do when they misbehave. We focus way too much on the consequences and too little on the love. We don't spend enough time just having fun with them. She would have us fix that.

Finally, she would look at how Savageman and I work together. She would tell us to communicate more and look for ways to help each other. She would tell us to spend more time alone together.

And she'd remind me again about the sleep.

Okay, Supernanny, I'm going. Thanks for the consult. I'll get to work on it right away.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Fishing Day

It was raining this morning when I dragged my tired self out to the annual fishing derby. I was tempted to stay home. Numero Uno was up at 6, ready for his Papa to pick him up on the way there, Dos was at cub scout camp with Savageman, and Tres wouldn't have known the difference. Still, it was a tradition, even in the rain.

As it turns out, fish like to bite little rubber worms when it rains. A record number of fish were caught (and released), and Uno actually caught several himself, which was a real thrill. When it was time to pack up and go, he wanted to stay and do more, so we stayed while he caught another three fish. The next few hours were spent wandering through sporting goods stores looking for the same lures he had used to catch all these fish (because it had to be those exact lures - nothing else was acceptable).

By the time we found the right lures, my enthusiasm for Uno's new passion was beginning to wear thin. I reluctantly agreed to go back to the scene of the morning's fishy bonanza, only because he had left his tackle box there and we had to go back anyway to get it. The list of things I had been hoping to accomplish today at home was beginning to grow. The thought of sitting on a dock, trying to keep Numero Tres from getting drenched, twiddling my thumbs while Uno fished and the list of chores grew more and more urgent in my brain - well, let's just say it wasn't a good thought.

So I trudged down to the creek with the biggest and the littlest Savage, and spent about 10 minutes working the fishhooks out of the flap of Uno's pocket, where he had cleverly decided to store them, not realizing that the little barbs at the end of the hooks would keep them from being removed from the fabric without a fight.

Once the hooks were removed, the fishing began and the little Savage got himself immediately drenched. At least I didn't spend an hour trying to keep him from getting drenched first. We waded in the creek and put shells and rocks in his little pail. He picked up handfuls of little shells and pebbles and threw them into the air to watch them fall around him back into the water. Over and over. I laid on the pier and watched the clouds, my feet hanging in the cool water. Listened to the birds and the water and the trees and the occasional whoop from Uno as he caught (and released) seven more fish. Tres babbled to himself and made up some story featuring the rocks he had collected.

Time stood still.

I couldn't believe I had resisted coming back and sitting here surrounded by all this fresh air and peace. The only reason I'm not still sitting there, watching the moon rise over the trees, is that the Baby Savage started complaining about being hungry and wanting dinner. Uno would have stayed too. He'd have still been fishing there at 2am if I had let him.

2am. Yeah, I guess I should get to bed. Numero Dos and Savageman will be arriving back from their wet weekend in the woods early tomorrow morning.

I hope they had as good a time as we did.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Lessons Learned

John Taylor Gatto was voted New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991. Although he is certified to teach English and Literature, what he is best known for is his writing on what he believes school actually teaches children, which can be distilled into the six lessons covered in the article you can find here.

Because reading Gatto's Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling was instrumental in our initial decision to homeschool our kids, it is good to occasionally remind myself of and reevaluate these reasons, so I was glad to have been sent a link to this article from my homeschooling friend Jaimie in AZ.

Lesson 1 is to stay in the class in which you belong. How the kids were categorized into the classes are not really the business of the teacher, just how to keep them happy that they are there. The students envy and fear the better classes and hold the "dumber" classes in contempt, which is why they are content to stay put. See Brave New World for a more detailed explanation of why it is so much better to be an Alpha (or a Beta or Delta, depending on whom you ask).

Lesson 2 is to turn off and on like a light switch. While kids are expected to be enthusiastic and interested during the lesson, they must immediately drop everything and switch gears, finished or not, when the bell rings. "The lesson of bells is that no work is worth finishing, so why care too deeply about anything?"

Lesson 3 is to surrender your will to a "predestined chain of command" where a child's rights to question, to disagree, to privacy, and to individuality are granted or withheld by the adults in control.

Lesson 4 is that only those in charge decide what is important enough to learn. Curiosity is discouraged, conformity encouraged. Gatto writes, "This is another way I teach the lesson of dependency. Good people wait for a teacher to tell them what to do. This is the most important lesson of all, that we must wait for other people, better trained than ourselves, to make the meanings of our lives. It is no exaggeration to say that our entire economy depends upon this lesson being learned."

Lesson 5 is that your self-respect depends on the evaluation of someone else. An incredible amount of store is set in the grade a teacher assigns. "The lesson of report cards, grades, and tests is that children should not trust themselves or their parents, but must rely on the evaluation of certified officials. People need to be told what they are worth." One aspect of this lesson he doesn't discuss in the article is the role of peer pressure. Teachers use this tool for years to encourage conformity in the classroom and make their job easier, but amazingly enough, when kids reach adolescence, they are told to think for themselves and not follow the crowd, especially when it comes to risky behavior. The evaluation of one's peers is a powerful force, and one that is hard to resist after so much encouragement.

Finally, Lesson 6 is that you are being watched. This has been a central theme in theories of government throughout the centuries. "Children must be closely watched if you want to keep a society under central control." Gatto continues with a blistering assessment of how school prepares kids to be good workers who do as they are told and don't ask questions or think much for themselves. This is juxtaposed against the values on which our nation was founded:

"Yet only a very few lifetimes ago things were different in the United States: originality and variety were common currency; our freedom from regimentation made us the miracle of the world; social class boundaries were relatively easy to cross; our citizenry was marvelously confident, inventive, and able to do many things independently, to think for themselves. We were something, all by ourselves, as individuals. It only takes about 50 contact hours to transmit basic literacy and math skills well enough that kids can be self-teachers from then on. The cry for "basic skills" practice is a smokescreen behind which schools pre-empt the time of children for twelve years and teach them the six lessons I've just taught you...
At the pass we've come to historically, and after 26 years of teaching, I must conclude that one of the only alternatives on the horizon for most families is to teach their own children at home... I teach school and win awards doing it. I should know."

Wow. Powerful stuff. I hear you, John Gatto, and I agree! I enjoy knowing that I have spared my children from these six lessons of compulsory education and have lit a fire for learning in their hearts so that they may grow to be the independent, free-thinkers that our 21st century Global Community will need and value.

Okay, seriously now.

I have probably taught my little Savages a bunch of these lessons already, despite my good intentions. Numero Uno told me today he wants to be a hobo when he grows up, just so he doesn't have to think or do any real work. This assertion closely followed a blistering assessment of my own educational system. According to him, I have denied my students their rights, forced them to learn arbitrarily chosen boring stuff, evaluated them harshly and kept them under constant surveillance.

Has he been reading Gatto?

Probably not, since he no longer is interested in reading or learning anything after 4 years of my crummy teaching.

I suggested to him that if this is the case and he really hates learning so much, he should just go to school and hate learning there and leave me out of it. I actually like learning and could use the extra time on my hands to finally finish my PhD.

Of course, like with most things, after sitting with it for a while, I can see his point. I have not kept to the ideals with which I set out on this journey, and the results are clear on days like this. I could do more to encourage the kids to think for and evaluate themselves and give them more space to be free-thinking individuals.

I will. I promise.

As soon as they start behaving better and do as they are told.

Okay, maybe Gatto and I need to have another chat, because I'm having a hard time with parts of the plan.

For now, I will console myself with the knowledge that Numero Uno is still free-thinking enough to speak out against his oppressor.

The Founding Fathers would be proud.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Am I Whining?

For the last week or so, I have been itching to write something, but have held back, lest it become another rant or complaint. Needing to break the negativity streak, I've been holding out for something uplifting and inspirational on which to share my thoughts.

Unfortunately, that didn't happen.

I did, however, gain some understanding of why it is so satisfying to rant while blogging.

My good friend Jozet is a seasoned blogger and the wind beneath my own cyber wings. I often try to read her stuff out loud to my Savageman and I usually can't get through it because I'm laughing so hard. When I'm feeling particularly grouchy, this is one place I can go for a giggle, with the knowledge that if I can still giggle, whatever it is I'm grouchy about can't be THAT bad.

Anyway, I was having one of THOSE days and I needed a humor fix, so I checked out her blog today, and found the answer to why I am so tempted to rant here. She gave an award for a great post on another blog detailing, in part, a frustrated mom's reaction when she found her kids delightedly and repeatedly flushing a Barbie in the toilet. While discussing why she enjoyed the award-winning post, she pointed out that when things are going well, one can take something like this in stride...

But, when it's been one of those days?

You know, one of THOSE days. One of those days that started with your kids cracking 12 eggs to make an omelet and moved headlong into doggy haircuts and then sister haircuts and then measuring the perimeter of the house with a roll of paper towels and it's still only 10AM.

Then, after all that, you are called in to witness the princess spinning in the toilet and it's like staring into the parenting equivalent of The Eye of Sauron. You feel your soul (and possibly your college degree) being sucked-out right through your own pupils.

And the only thing that might possibly save you, the only thing that makes it even a little bit better, gets you through to another day -…oh hell, the next parenting moment - is the knowledge that you can tell someone about it (someone beside the hearing-impaired parent).

You can blog about it.

And someone will hear you and answer. Someone out there. Another parent will read along with you, nodding her head in agreement, knowing that she too has stared into the abyss and has felt the utter aloneness of a spinning-toilet-princesses or a 12-egg omelet.

And that other parent will reach out her hand (or his hand, let's be fair) and pull you back from utter despair (and morning martini number three) with those five healing words of salvation through supreme empathy:

"Me too, sister. Me, too."

It's so true. Just as tragedies bring people together, whining about toddler tantrums and squabbling children often elicits the understanding and support we Mommies so often need from each other.

And in that respect, I have been more than blessed to be part of the best Mommy Tribe around.

Yesterday, when she had ascertained that I really was dangling from the last thread on the very end of my rope, one of the Tribe insisted on taking my children for the afternoon. She pulled up in her minivan, loaded up my Savages, and took them away.

I hardly knew what to do with myself.

Okay, after the first half-hour, I figured it out, but at first it was really weird.

And quiet.

I put the Big 80s Lunch on the radio just to make it less eerie - and because I really like the Big 80s Lunch.

I planted stuff in my garden, talked on the phone in peace, and cleaned a noticable portion of the house. I didn't have to break up fights, clean up spills, chase anyone out of the kitchen, break up fights...

Almost enough to make me want to put them in school.


After a few hours, I started to miss the little guys and I headed over to her place. I found my kids having loads of fun, not fighting, (and making a big mess of her house and yard). Numero Uno spent the whole time playing Guitar Hero on the Playstation. He really rocked, too. Despite the house, my friend seemed none the worse for the wear, and she said my kids had behaved just fine.

Within 12 seconds of arriving home (I counted) - they were fighting again. I knew it was too good to last - this was not a big surprise.

What really did surprise me was the way I felt after having an afternoon to myself. After all, my parents take them sometimes on the weekends and once they're finally in bed at night, I do get a good 2 hours of me-time. But by this point, I am usually so fried all I want to do is watch a movie with Savageman or play with my new laptop. Certainly no playing in the garden, drinking iced-coffee and dancing around the cleaning chores to the Big 80s Lunch like I did yesterday afternoon.

I felt SO GOOD. I let the Savageman and grandparents take the kiddies to baseball, and I did a 90-minute Yoga class (and kicked butt at it instead of feeling like it kicked MY butt for a change). I came home, figured out how to download music off the internet, and put some good music on my MP3 for our morning walk. I talked Savageman's ear off about all the good ideas I'm having to help the kids behave better.

He thinks I've suddenly switched over from the depressive to the manic end of the crazies, but that I'm still crazy.

He may be right, but I'm not going to mess with it - it's all good.

And I'm eternally grateful to my friend who knew exactly what I needed and gave it freely. May I only hope to be as good a friend when my own turn comes up.

So maybe I did find something inspirational and uplifting to write about after all.

I'll stop whining now.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Educating Savages

I am a homeschooling mom.

How I wound up here, teaching these three little Savage boys instead of doing whatever it was I was supposed to do after 5 years of graduate school, I have no idea.

All I know is that it's a lot harder than it looks.

Not the school part, of course. The school part is actually quite easy and fun. We have a great Cyber-school curriculum and the kids are learning all kinds of cool and interesting things. My 1st grader spent the year learning about things like ancient Mesopotamia and art history. He already knew how to read and he was able to skip 1st grade math completely, so for those two reasons alone he was glad not to be stuck in a first-grade classroom all year long. My 4th grader is also a year ahead in math and spent a lot of time this year working on literature and composition, his weaker areas. We ALL started learning Spanish together. Teaching this stuff is loads of fun and I love doing it.

The hard part is the little Savages themselves.

Sitting them at a table together keeps them both within view and helps me answer their questions without having to run all over the house. So when they are doing independent work, this is where I like to keep them.

Unfortunately, the minute I turn my back to unload the dishwasher, wipe the bottom of the littlest Savage, or (gasp!) do something as daring as answer the phone, my quiet homeschooling kitchen-table of knowledge turns into a chaotic circus of pencil throwing, taunting faces, paper-stealing, and of course, tattling.

"He's making the loser sign at me!"

"He's tapping his pencil!"

"He won't stop making that popping sound!"

"He wrote on my paper!" "That's because he wrote on mine first!"

"Ow ow ow - he threw a pencil at me!"

"Ow Ow OW! He broke my arm and now I can't do my math!"

And that's all before I get the silverware unloaded.

Separating the boys solves this problem, but creates new ones. I used to be able to work together on the computer or at the table with one of my students while the other one played or worked quietly on his own.

That was before Little Savage turned 3.

I never could understand why the term "terrible twos" ever became part of the cultural lexicon - I think two-year-olds are the cutest, sweetest, funniest little things on two legs.

It's when they turn three that they become possessed by the Devil.

I'm not saying that they're possessed all the time - if that were the case, we wouldn't keep them. No, in order to secure themselves a continued presence in the household (or on the planet, for that matter) they cleverly intersperse their evil behavior between bouts of the most adorable behavior ever, and they look especially angelic while they are sleeping, so that even during the most frustrating moments, we still want to keep them around.

My own Little Savage has the most adorable little face, the sweetest little smile, and when he looks up at me with his big, innocent, blue eyes...

...I can almost forget for a minute that he has a death-grip on the hair of Numero Dos, who is screaming and writhing on the ground in a dramatic fashion befitting a persecuted middle child.

This Little Savage is, by far, my easiest child, I remind myself as I dive across the room to remove from him the broomstick he is wielding at his cowering brother. When you tell him "no" he says, "okay" and finds something else to do. When you say it's time to go, he takes your hand and leaves. When you tell him to share a toy, he cheerfully walks over and offers it to another child. He's a sweet, amiable little guy who loves to give hugs and kisses and loves everyone.

Especially his brothers.

When he's done pulling their hair and throwing heavy toys at their heads, he gives them a big squeeze and a kiss and says with total sincerity, "I'm thorrwy!"

Having such a child certainly livens up the day, but also makes for a logistical nightmare when trying to teach two others. If I am working with Numero Dos, Numeros Uno and Tres do pretty well together, as Uno at age 10 is almost as big as I am and can control the Baby Savage with brute force if necessary.

Numero Dos doesn't do as well when left alone with said Baby Savage. He will let himself be pummelled, pinched, pulled and provoked until he is screaming and crying, but he won't leave. We've pointed out to him that even the dog, who is 65 steps lower than him on the evolutionary ladder, knows to get up and move when the baby starts to pull on his ears, but it's no use. Needless to say, Numero Uno has not had the level of individual attention I would have liked to have given him this year.

He doesn't mind, of course. Especially when we're right in the middle of something as exciting as finding out the area of a triangle and I have to leave to go break up another fight. When I finally return to resume our lesson, nine times out of ten he's gone and I have to spend the next 20 minutes a)finding him, b)getting him to stop the new activity he has started and c)convincing him that he still doesn't know how to figure out the area of a triangle and that he needs to come back.

By now it's time for another fight between the other two, so at this point it is often easier to rationalize that playing fetch with the dog is actually as educational as calculating area would have been anyway.

Which is my theory on the invention of unschooling.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Movies I Could See a Hundred Times (and in some cases have) : Thoughts on Jerry Maguire

Here's a movie with something for everyone.

Sure, it's a chick-flick with the relationship stuff and Tom Cruise and all, but it's got sports in it too, so the guys at least stay awake. But the main reason I like it is because this movie is about courage - courage to change one's life when it's going in the wrong direction, to risk everything in the pursuit of an ideal, to confront a friend who's on the wrong track, to admit a mistake, to try and open one's heart to another person.

Not that the main characters are any kind of genius superheroes or anything - they are extremely flawed people who have a long way to go on the path to enlightenment. Here we've got Jerry Maguire, the sports agent on top of the world who is losing his soul, and Dorothy Boyd, a 26-year-old widow who longs for a husband and a father for her adorable little boy. Jerry risks his career by impulsively writing up a "mission statement" sharing his idealistic vision of what a sports agent should be with the rest of the sharks in his company. (I love the Jesus-looking all-night copy store guy who says, "That's how you become great, man. Hang your BALLS out there!") Dorothy takes a chance and allows herself and her son to get mixed up with a guy who is clearly not capable of the intimacy she needs.

I said they had courage, not foresight.

After all, we're talking about a guy who, in one night of typing, destroys his entire career and a woman who says things like, "I love him for the man he wants to be - for the man he almost is..." (cringe)
Even without listening to her much wiser "disapproving older sister Laurel" she knows it's a mistake, but she lets it happen anyway.

(Speaking of that, the porch scene is one of my favorites - how many of us can remember how that feels? Knowing something is totally wrong but just not quite being able to stop? The gentle, dreamy Paul McCartney instrumental piece is the perfect background for the aching dizziness of the moment as he's kissing her neck and shoulders and she is trying to decide whether to let go and enjoy it or put a stop to it. Her facial expressions are priceless - What a great scene - I get goosebumps every time.)

As I was saying, these are not the smartest characters in the history of film, but we want things to work out for them because we know they deserve it - and because we admire their courage. Heck, even Laurel (played by the awesome Bonnie Hunt) is pulling for them, against her better judgment.

When Dorothy realizes things are not working out, she does the bravest thing yet. She apologizes for the mistake she has made and takes responsibility for it - a major leap forward on the path to enlightenment.

"I was just on some wild ride and I thought I was in love enough for both of us. I did this... and at least I can do something about it now," she tells him.

"I'm not a guy who runs. I stick."

"Well, I don't need you to 'stick.'"

"What do you want from me, my soul?" he asks.

"Why not? Don't I deserve that?"

"What if I'm not built that way?" He honestly doubts he can do it, as much as he wants to.

"Between my need to make the best of things and your need to be responsible, if one of us doesn't say something about it now, we could lose 10 years being polite..."

He tries to dissuade her, but she knows she is right.

"Jerry, you know how hard this is for me. On the surface, everything is fine. I have this great guy and he loves my kid. And he sure does like me a lot. And I can't live like that. It's not how I'm built."

Wow. What a moment! Now that is a gutsy, self-actualized woman. (At least for the duration of the scene, anyway.)

Being a man, Jerry's steps toward enlightenment are a bit less impressive - after the big football game at the end he comes running back home to her but it is really all about him and how he misses her, with no mention of how he is going to have to change the very core of his being to give her what she needs. I mean, we've established the fact that the guy can't handle being alone - why should we believe that his return is anything other than his phobia flaring up?

Just when I'm thinking, "No way, she's not going to take him back that easily," she comes out with, "Shut up, you had me at hello." Major slide backward on the path to enlightenment. Oh well.

Did I mention that they're flawed characters?

Maybe that's part of why I like this film. None of us does the right thing or makes the smart decision every time, but we still deserve some happiness in life. Could it work out in the long run for Jerry and Dorothy? One certainly hopes so, but I think it would require a lot. Dorothy would have to learn to be happy with what Jerry is able to give, and Jerry would have to really work on extending his borders. The fact that he was capable of his initial moment of greatness with the "mission statement" gives us hope for Jerry, and they obviously both love the kid enough to give it a good shot. (Well, who couldn't love that kid? We used to mess up our own kid's blond hair and stick a pair of glasses on him and get him to say, "A human head weighs 8 pounds," just to get him to look like that kid.)

Maybe sometimes it is okay to love someone for the potential we see. Kind of like buying stock.

Anyway, nothing in life is certain. Choosing to love someone is a risky thing, and sometimes people fall short of our hopes and expectations. Sometimes we fail the ones we love as well. It is not realistic to expect perfection from ourselves or others - all we can do is put ourselves out there, be brave, and try.

As Dicky Fox, Jerry's mentor sums it all up:

"Hey, I don't have all the answers. To be honest, in life, I have failed as much as I have succeeded. But I love my wife. I love my life. And I wish you my kind of success."

Good flick.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Our Disney Adventure

We're in the magical land of Disney! The five of us were invited to spend a week with the in-laws at a Disney resort, complete with Disney park passes and meal plan, so we took the kids out of school (haha) and headed for sunny Florida via Amtrak.

The Auto Train was surreal. We got on, spent a few minutes in our tiny closet-sized room, then spent the rest of the evening in the lounge eating dinner and watching Narnia. I put the baby to bed back in the room, the Boyz watched the rest of the movie and went to bed also, in pull-out bunks above ours. We woke up in Florida, had breakfast and got off the train about 30 minutes from Orlando. Unbelievable!

We met the rest of our group and ate lunch at the Old Key West resort, then headed for the Magic Kingdom. We had a fun luau-type dinner at the Polynesian resort and did a bunch of attractions, but not nearly all of them.
Fastpass is definitely a great thing. We stayed until VERY late, finding it hard to tear ourselves away from the amazing fireworks display at the end, but realizing it might be hours before we got home if we stayed until the end and had to fight the crowds to leave. It was good enough to make it worth it another night, though.

Day 2 was spent at Epcot, which was very cool. Everyone enjoyed the Spaceship Earth ride that traced the history of communication from the cavemen to today - especially me, having spent the last 4 years studying world history with Numero Uno in the homeschooling realm. Also interesting were The Land and The Living Seas exhibits - it's all good stuff. We ate in Mexico and spent a little time looking at the other "countries" in the World Showcase, then came back so the bigger boyz could swim at the resort before bed.

Day 3 was awesome - I got to take Numero Tres for the whole day by myself while the bigger two went outlet shopping with Dad (hey, their choice - I thought they were nuts!) I got to experience The Magic Kingdom through a three-year-old's eyes, which is probably the very best way to do it. I mean, the kid probably really believes we're sailing over London in the Peter Pan ride when he looks down. Unfortunately, he hasn't seen the movie Peter Pan in recent months, so he had no idea who these people were, even when I tried to explain it, which is why my mom has been bugging me to show him these silly movies for the last few weeks...

Well, thanks to Mom, he DID know about Cinderella, so he was thrilled to see her ordeal finally end as she was crowned Princess on the steps of the castle with all of her princess friends in attendance today. We munched on chicken fingers and applesauce near the steps while we watched the festivities together.

Probably the highlight of his day was visiting Mickey's house. The kid sat on the President's lap last year, but that experience has paled in comparison with actually getting to meeet and hang out at the house of his TRUE hero, Mickey Mouse. Today he even had a private audience with the Big Rodent and got his picture taken again with him. Very exciting stuff.

After numerous failed attempts to contact the hubby and big boyz via walkie-talkie (I did manage to contact several other families on the thing though...) we hopped on the Monorail and headed for Epcot. Eventually we met up with the rest of the gang in Germany for dinner, which was a tasty buffet with live Oom-Pah entertainment. Afterwards, we saw the American Adventure animatronic/movie experience which was cool, especially for Numero Uno who believes he knows everything about American history already. We stayed for the fireworks this time, which were spectacular of course.

Day 4 was spectacular. Even Outlet Man spent the day with us at the Magic Kingdom and admitted he had a good time. We spent much of the day together with the rest of the extended family, so it was fun and we had extra help with the kids. We started out with Pirates of the Caribbean and the riverboat cruise in Adventure Land. We rode Aladin's Magic Carpets in the rain, then our own little Savage clan saw the Mickey's Philharmagic 3-D multi-sensory experience movie (the second time for me and Numero Tres, but he still didn't want to wear the 3-D glasses) and everyone liked that. After the Haunted Mansion, the 5 of us did the Hall of Presidents and were very impressed with the life-like animatronics.

One of the best things today was the Pooh character buffet at the Crystal Palace. I knew the baby would love meeting Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, and Eyore, but it was just as much fun for everyone else! Numero Uno has been collecting autographs on his big red, white & blue felt top-hat, and we all marveled at how the Pooh characters could manage to sign their names wearing furry character mittens. We took a LOT of pictures.

After dinner, the grandparents and baby niece went back to the resort and we hung out with my sister & brother-in-law. We did the Peter Pan ride again, then took Numero Dos on the Stitch escapes adventure, which made him cry because Stitch the Alien gets loose and spits water on you while you're locked in your seat in the dark. I didn't like it much either, to be perfectly honest, but I was impressed with the effects. We made it up to him by going on the Buzz Lightyear ride again, which was probably the favorite of the Boyz.
We finally saw the whole fireworks display from a good spot, which was spectacular! It was such a good time, we even stayed for the light-up parade, and wound up getting home at about midnight. It was worth it, though - very magical all around.

Day 5 was spent mainly at Animal Kingdom. It was okay - the highlight was probably the Festival of the Lion King which was amazing - otherwise, we did a lot of walking around looking at animals like you would do at the zoo (and I've been to better zoos, so it wasn't that impressive in that respect). We ate lunch at a place in DinoLand USA which turned out to be McDonalds (ick...) but at that point, who was going to suggest all 12 of us leave the air-conditioning to find another place to eat? Hubby and I took the Boyz to see a 3-D movie about bugs, but the two older Boyz hated it because it got dark and scary at one point. Chickens... We ended that part of the day with a special engagement safari and dinner extravaganza. The food was good, but the safari was just okay - I like Lake Tobias better. No giraffes or elephants could be found and if you've seen one gazelle, well...

The best part of today was after we put Numero Tres to bed and took the two big Boyz back to the Magic Kingdom. Did you know that if you stay at a Disney resort, the park sometimes stays open for you until 3 a.m.? Neither did we, until tonight! We only stayed until 1, but it was a lot of fun, going on whatever we wanted with hardly any lines, no heat, pretty lights and fireworks... it was a good time. After midnight, I think they sprinkle some kind of fairy dust on the place, because we all started to feel quite silly and wacky. Numero Uno finished his collection of signatures on his big hat with Goofy and Donald and we got some really nice pictures.

Finally, it was time to go. I would have liked another day or two - there were a few things I wanted to see at Epcot still, and we didn't go to MGM at all. We took the Auto Train back, feeling more relieved than ever that we didn't have to drive. I am wiped out. They must spray something in the air at Disney World - Pixie Dust or something - that keeps you feeling happy and energetic while you're there. I didn't get a single full night's sleep, but I still woke up feeling good every morning and walked 10+ miles every day without feeling fatigued. Today I woke up on the train feeling groggy, and I've been sluggish all day. I guess I'm feeling Pixie dust withdrawal!

In any case, I was reluctant to go, and I never would have chosen this on my own to do, but I'm glad we went, and I would go back in a few years and do it again. The thing that impressed me the most was the effort that goes into everything - especially the performances, parades & light shows. You leave feeling like this was a really special day - that of all the days to be at the park, this was the best one. Never mind the fact that they do the same fireworks / light show every night - we only got to see it once and it was so spectacular that it felt like a one-time special thing we were lucky enough to see.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

My Research Post

It has been ten years and I just purchased a laptop.

I am finally able to conduct my research and share my findings without having to sneak off to a remote corner of the house, counting the seconds until my presence is missed and someone comes looking for me. For the first time, I can finally sit among the Savages, pretending to be involved in their goings-on while really I am in my own little cyber-world. Being male, none of them care if I am actually paying attention, of course - they just need the reassurance of my presence to go on about their business.

Right now, one of the small ones (age 7) is excitedly trying to teach the 36-year-old how to play a game that involves an exchange of cards with little monsters on them whose names we are all expected to know by now. The reluctant student announces that he has been given a little monster named Krabby and warns me not to say what I'm thinking. Meanwhile, the young master is delightedly using a complicated set of rules he has no-doubt made up on his own to befuddle his opponent, who is still trying to figure out the rule-book that came with the cards.

Tribe Elder: I think I like Candyland better.

Young Master: Candyland is for babies.

Tribe Elder: At least I don't have to deal with being sent to the Underworld...

Bedtime for the others has (fortunately) already happened. The littlest one (age 3) nursed to sleep in the rocking chair while watching a really bad Disney movie about soccer-playing kids and a goat. The biggest one (age 10) actually took the dog and went to bed without a problem. He must really be sick and not faking it this time.

Meanwhile, the house that I spent 10 solid hours cleaning last weekend is already destroyed. It looked great for about 10 minutes. One of my friends has a sign that says "Cleaning your house while the kids are growing up is like shoveling snow while it is still snowing." Or something like that. Anyway, it's absolutely true. Nevertheless, this knowledge still doesn't prevent me from trying like crazy to keep the place picked up. The only thing that really works? Send them away for the weekend and clean it myself. Some families can function in a messy house, and in many homeschooling families it is almost a badge of honor, but not us. We need order, we need neatness, we need structure - and yet we can't seem to maintain it for long. What can I say? It's a constant struggle. So tonight after the card-trading lesson is finally over and the young master finally tucked into his bed, we will look around, sigh deeply, and begin the nightly ritual of putting the house back together. We might get to bed by midnight. Much later if we want to read or watch a movie.

Young Master: He's dead! I win! (sings triumphant song)

Okay, time to put him to bed and party down...