Thursday, 23 August 2012

Not So Baby Girl

It's been just over a year since we welcomed our baby girl into the family. I'm not rightly sure I can even call her a baby anymore. I know being a year old doesn't seem so big, but I find myself baffled daily by all the change in her. She's no longer just a baby, she's all of a sudden a wildly active, clearly opinionated, loving little girl. She's started jabbering on all the time, and every once in a while we're catching some words in there. My little girl is also so close to walking it's insane! She's cruising on everything and using anything she can slide against the floor to get moving. Our girl is driving me crazy with all her little and big milestones!

A week or so ago, we discovered (quite  by accident), that she can climb the stairs at break-neck speed (thankfully no necks were actually broken). Biggest boy had gone upstairs to go use his little potty and didn't full latch the gate when he came back down. I didn't notice the unlatched gate and went in the kitchen to get a drink. After the two seconds it took me in the kitchen, I came back to the livingroom and noticed she wasn't there. When I saw the open gate I freaked out, expecting to see her a step or two up (which has happened before), but was very surprised to hear her all the way upstairs in the bathroom goofing around with one of her sister's toys. Since then, we are much more serious about firmly locking the gate. Phew! We also let her crawl up the stairs for naps and bed times and she seems happy adding this bit of independence to her sleep routines. I still follow behind her with my hands out in case she slips, but she hasn't needed my help once.

As for chattering, she's easily the most talkative of my four kids at the same age. She was a very calm, quiet baby up until now, but all of a sudden she wants to communicate verbally (and frequently). She's finally started saying Mama (be still my heart), and has perfected her old standard, Dada. On top of that she's fond of asking for her cup, "this one", which she picked up from her brothers I suspect, and has recently taken up slurring out "I love you". The big kids usually stand at the gate at the top of the stairs when my husband is leaving for work shouting "I LOVE YOU DADDYYYYYY!" until he's driven out of sight, so I'm not surprised she picked this one up. Surprised or not, it melts my heart to hear her saying it to me with her big, blue eyes looking at me in earnest. I am lucky to have such a loving girl to spoil me.

Besides all the moving and shaking, she has recently decided to work on her own food routine. Out of nowhere, she decided she wanted to start weaning herself from breastmilk. This has been quite the rollercoaster! Some days she only wants to feed once, and other days she changes her mind and wants to feed all day. She's been teething pretty brutally the past two days so she's back on the breastmilk wagon. To say my body is confused is an understatement. At least she didn't go cold turkey like her older brother! Because she's weaning, we've decided to start giving her rice milk and almond milk to make sure she's getting some of the nutrients she's missing out in my milk. For the first time, we've decided to avoid cow's milk. We're also phasing cow's milk out of our older kids' diets (I'll explain that in another blog). They love almond and rice milk, so it hasn't been as tough as I'd expected.

It's been a wild year getting to know my newest little princess. I feel so thankful that God gave me the grace to say YES to a new life even though our hands seemed like they were already so full. Every day I've shared with her has been a reminder of how incredibly blessed we are to have a God who so carefully plans every aspect of our lives, if we just let Him have control.

For Her, Not for Me

As I'm sure most homeschooling families can attest, choosing to educate your children from home seems to invite a certain amount of discussions, questions, and criticism. Sometimes these conversations are eye opening, sometimes they make me want to close my eyes and shake my head. I have no doubt that if I had chosen private school for my child we'd still get questions, but it would be more about the uniforms and tuition fees than whether we were doing right by our kids. On top of that I know that if we had chosen public school, it would be treated as so matter of fact that the most we would have been asked was which school, what outfit for the first day, and what school supplies we'd purchased. No one would be asking me if my curriculum was sufficient, if the teacher was capable, or if I thought my daughter would thrive in either public or private school.

I appreciate there is a certain amount of curiosity surrounding homeschooling as it is not as common as the other alternatives. Most of the people that I had heard about being homeschooled were those who were taken out of public schools as the result of bullying. It's only now as an adult that I'm meeting those who choose not to join the public school system in the first place. A few of my friends are actually homeschooled children, and seeing what bright and socially capable they are, I'm actually very encouraged by our choice. I think that the so-called "weird" or "awkward" homeschooled kids aren't that way because they're homeschooled. I met plenty of "weird" or "awkward" kids in public school. All the socialisation in the world didn't change that. Often times those kids became magnets for bullies and spent more time trying to survive school than actually learning. If there seems to be a greater proportion of "weird" kids that are homeschooled, I'd suspect that's because their parents have pulled them out of public school so that they could focus on their education rather than on how to avoid being bullied or ostracised by their peers.

I know many people think I've drunk the special kool aid and that I've bought into some sort of hokum about how public school and teachers are evil, and I need to protect my kids from society so they don't turn into hoodlums and axe murderers. Seriously folks, that's ridiculous. While I see the difficulties of our public school system, and have even discussed them before, I do realise that some kids thrive in that scenario. I know lots of kids who excelled in the group learning scenario, made lots of friends, and came out the class president and valedictorian or whatnot. I value so highly what our teachers, principals, and other staff are doing for the kids in the system. They have tiny budgets, varied learning styles, complex material, and not enough hours in the day to connect with each and every student. They are incredible people, taking on the mantle of educating young minds, while receiving flak from students and parents alike for their teaching methods, quantity of homework, marking, etc etc etc. Over my years in the public school system I had many teachers who I realise now were experiencing an unimaginable level of burnout because they had tried so hard for so long to do what was best for the kids entrusted to them and simply had no more to give.

The fact of the matter is that while all of this came into consideration, the real reason we are home educating our child isn't because of our opinions about the public school system. I'm sure that if we sent her to school she'd do fine. Make a few friends, get a passing grade, and learn what she needs to learn. She'd have opportunities, experiences, make connections, and probably meet that one special teacher she'll look back on for years to come. All good stuff. All admirable and desirable. Plus, I'd get the pleasure of having one less duty around the house for the bulk of the day. But it's not about me. It's not about getting by or her being fine.

For me, homeschooling is a parenting choice. A choice based on each child and their individual needs. For lots of kids, public school is really the best thing. For others, private school is the way to go. For still others, homeschooling is the best avenue. Our choice to educate her at home isn't to shelter her from life, but to educate her in the way we think will best help her to excel, grow, and become who she is meant to be. After a lot of thought and prayer, and some initial resistance from both of us, we realised that the unavoidable truth is that homeschooling is not what we want, per se, but what she needs. That I can offer her this opportunity to learn in the way that is best for her is amazing and humbling. I am not unaware of the incredible responsibility I'm shouldering as her primary educator. I also know that with a lot of hard work, and by the grace of God, I'll look back and be happy we chose to accept this path for our family. This is a choice we're making as a family, for her sake, not for our own.

At the end of the day, questions are normal, especially with something so different from the norm. I still find it difficult to be given the third degree about this parenting choice from friends and strangers. (Not that everyone is giving us the third degree! So many of our friends are very excited for us!) As I was saying to a friend, you'd never corner a woman and berate her for breastfeeding or using a bottle (or for heaven's sake you shouldn't!). As strangers to the situation and the process behind the choice, we need to sit back and realise it's simply not our business. No parenting choice is taken lightly, from feeding, to diapering, to schooling. Each choice a parent makes is for their child, not for themselves. By all means, ask questions as a means to educate yourself on the choice. I'm more than happy to answer any and all questions in that light. However, if your question at any point starts with "Don't you know that...", "How could you..." or "What about..." or other judgement heavy lines, perhaps we would all be better served if you took to the internet or a book to find your answer. If a parent has come into a choice with prayers, discernment, and lots of research, all you're going to do by asking judgemental questions is to alienate them.

What I'm left with in all of this is that no matter what people ask, or how they ask it, we can keep our heads up because we know that this really isn't about us or what we want, it's about our daughter and what she needs. No amount of doubt or concerns from others can change the fact that we're doing the right thing for her, even though though we may not be doing right according to others.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

First Day of Homeschooling

The first day of school is rapidly approaching, oddly enough without the sense of urgency I had expected. Unlike the parents of students going to public school, I can set my own start date. I also am not scrambling to buy up school supplies according to an exact list. Don't get me wrong, we've been slowly acquiring supplies over the summer. We already have paper of all varieties, writing implements, scissors and the like. We also acquired a few curriculum workbooks made specifically by Canadian public school teachers for reinforcement and enrichment of their programming that I'm going to use as a kind of benchmark for my daughter's learning in tandem with my own lesson plans. We also found, blessedly on sale, a collection of flash cards for early math, french vocabulary (because YES, I will be teaching my daughter the equivalent of core french), as well as sight words, which I am especially excited about. The great thing about these cards is that, unlike the workbooks which will be written in and then be done (it would cheaper to buy new ones than to photocopy the pages), I can reuse the flash cards for years to come. We also picked up a really great map of the world which includes the flags of all the countries. Seems silly, but I can't imagine a school room without one. Geography is such an essential part of education, even from the start. Kids always need to know the world is bigger than their classroom.

The other side of the first day of school jitters I know I'm missing is that of the teachers in our overwrought public school system. While they face a year of learning as few as 27 new names, preparing worksheets, tests, and permission slips, I have the distinct pleasure of already knowing every member of my class. I know how she learns, and I happen to know her parents personally. When I want to take a school trip, I won't need a week's notice. Maybe an hour or so because I'll need to check the bus schedule. I also don't have to worry about getting angry notes or visits from parents who don't approve of my teaching style or what I'm teaching. I can, however, fall more in love my sweet little student, give her hugs and kisses without fear of it being deemed inappropriate. When she's sick, I'll know well before it's time to take attendance. I also don't have to work as hard as the teachers in the public school system, who have to carefully manage their time to fit everything they need in a day. I don't have to worry that I haven't been able to spend enough time with each of my students comprehends the material. Because I won't have to stretch myself between 27 or more students, each unique and needing of different learning styles, I have the opportunity to tailor a program to just my child, a program that can grow and change with her. As I steadily prepare for the new year, I can't help but give a tip of my hat to all the public school teachers. They are truly making gold out of straw, and deserve our utmost respect for the good works they do.

For the next few weeks, as our excitement grows, we're working on what we'll be doing her first day of school. We want her to feel like this a special milestone, and to do activities that we can do the first day of school every year that she homeschools. We have a few projects in mind to fill our day. Because we want her Daddy to be there, we've planned the day of school to be on Labour Day, which is a holiday for him. So far we have the requisite first day of school picture, including fancy first day of school outfit. Next up we'll be doing a mould of her hand (and that of all her siblings because we want them to feel special too!). After that we'll be planting a garden box that we'll nurture as one of our nature projects during the year. I also plan to include a reading of Dr. Seuss' "Oh the Places You'll Go" and a picnic at a park down by the water if the weather permits. That will fill up most of the "school" parts of the day. The rest we'll spend like any normal day, being wild, loving, noisy, messy and fun. I know that the first day will be easy and wonderful. I know that every day after will be harder, but incredibly worth it.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The Green Clean

It's pretty tough for me to get myself motivated to deep clean, as I barely have the energy to actually clean. That being said, lately I've felt myself energized by a certain amount of smelliness I started to notice around the house. First it was the diapers. Considering they're cloth this shouldn't be news, but they seemed particularly stinky. Then I noticed our regular laundry had an odd odour about it. Next it was the carpets upstairs. Today I noticed our furniture had a certain kind of odour wafting from it. We've had a lot of humidity these past few week and it seems all that moisture is bringing out all the stinkies in everything! So, I got motivated to beat the funk. Because I have an aversion to conventional cleaners with all their chemicals (and they`re so expensive!), I started looking online for more natural solutions. I thought I'd share with you guys a few of the things I learned!

First of all, I had some suspicions that one of the reasons even my regular laundry wasn't smelling fresh was that the washer itself wasn't clean. After a year of washing three kids worth of cloth diapers and soiled clothes in it, I can honestly say I'm surprised it didn't come up sooner. After a lot of research, I put 2 cups of lemon juice in the empty machine and ran it on the longest, hottest wash cycle. You can also use vinegar for the same results. I did a test wash in the machine after and not only did it not stink, it smelled fresh and clean. Now that I had a clean washing machine, I knew it was time to try some different detergents that wouldn't leave so much residue and would rinse more easily while being more environmentally friendly. I discovered this amazing recipes for homemade diaper detergent that I also use for our regular laundry. My laundry hasn't smelled this fresh while looking so clean in a LONG time. The best part, it was so inexpensive and easy to make!

Even with my new diaper detergent, there was still a lingering smell. Not enough to make my eyes water or anything, but enough that when I folded all my diapers up together they had a collective smell that I could live without. What I did to battle the latest funk was to rinse all the diapers thoroughly by hand, and then let them soak in the bathtub for over an hour in very hot water with about a cup of baking soda mixed in. Even though I had pre-rinsed all the diapers and rung them out thoroughly, the water slowly turned a very unpleasant colour! After the soak I rinsed them all again and popped them in the washing machine for a full wash cycle with 2 tbps of my home made diaper detergent on the hottest cycle. After that I put them out in the sun to dry, which both deodorizes and whitens cloth diapers. Not only do they not reek like the mouth of Hell, they smell pretty like the outdoors. Win!

Next up I tackled the carpets. The ugliest carpet you`ve ever seen. I`d post a picture, but I don`t want you guys to gag to death. Let`s just say that most of the carpeting in our house is a vomit coloured green, sometimes with `white`mixed it. Also, it`s shag. 50 year old, smelly, ugly coloured, dirt-concealing shag. The boys room, which is the only carpeted room without shag carpet, but instead what was once cream, plush coloured carpet, had the remnants of their latest book tearing contest (that's a thing, right? It must be, because my boys LOVE tearing books to shreds and then marvelling at the remnants with their ridiculously high pitched cackles), not to mention far too many toys. After cleaning up the debris, I did the easiest thing ever: I sprinkled baking soda on the floor. I let the baking soda rest on the floor for about an hour to absorb all the stink and nastiness, then simply vacuumed it up. Brilliant! For the spots that had stains (can anyone say potty training disasters?), I took 2 tbps of borax and 2 tbps of baking soda mixed in a bowl of very warm water, and scrubbed the spots like crazy. After that dried I vacuumed up the dried out powder. As I mentioned above, the carpet in the boys room is, or should I say was, a lovely shade of cream once upon a time. While I wasn't able to completely restore the colour (darn Easter egg dye got on the carpet from when my Mom used it as her craft room),  it was now at least clean in the spots where the boys had left their own mark. To make sure the smell was absolutely gone I took about 4 tbsps of vinegar diluted into a small spray bottle and sprayed the carpet down once more. All I had to do was wait for it to dry and the smell was finally gone. An additional tip if, like me, you have a little bug problem, including tics (you can feel me shudder from a distance, can`t you) is to sprinkle borax on the carpet at the same time you sprinkle the baking soda. Leave it on there for 4-6 hours so the borax can do its work. This will help deodorize the carpet while dealing with any unwanted pests of the many-legged variety.

Last but not least, I had some furniture to clean! First I vacuumed, because I didn`t want to get all the toast crumbs and bits of goldfish wet and rub them into the furniture. I took a bowl of warm water and diluted 2 tbps baking soda into in and then carefully scrubbed down all the soft furniture. I did my best to not oversaturate it as too much water can lead to mould! On a warm day like today it dried up quickly, leaving everything fresh and clean. I went over everything with a vacuum again to make sure I got up all the dried baking soda, then took my spray bottle of vinegar and water and sprayed everything down and let that dry.

So, while there are still mysterious odours coming up from the laundry room, all the main areas of the house smell so much nicer! Well, except me, because I worked so hard I`m sweating like a pig!

Monday, 6 August 2012

Good Taste in Popular Culture

I grew up in a family that didn't really follow the popular music scene (except my eldest brother, who even then had rather moderate taste). We listened to our national radio station, lots of classic albums (okay okay, my Mom may have owned a few Cheech and Chong albums we laughed our way through), oodles of musical theatre, and a large quantity of folk style music from the 60s and 70s. The first CD I ever owned was the soundtrack to Evita (still listen to it today). I got more excited about a newly discovered Sondheim play than whatever New Kids or Boys to Men album had dropped. That wasn't because my folks didn't want us to listen to pop music or had some sort of ban of what was "cool", it was because that wasn't their taste, and they didn't have a problem commenting on the style, or lack there of, of whatever we listened to. My folks could be swayed by a band that played with real talent and style (the Barenaked Ladies were a great example), but if it was garbage, they had no problem telling us. They didn't stop us from buying whatever music we wanted with our own money or even as gifts, but they instilled in us an ability to see past what the radio was telling us was "good" to figure out what was music written by truly talented musicians. We are a musical family, and we wanted our music to be well written, lyrically deep, and to have staying power. That's probably why the Beatles had more play in our house than the Backstreet Boys. In the 90s as so much of the music was overproduced, ghost written or lyrically just atrocious, I was glad that I had been raised to have good taste rather than popular taste.

The same went for books. Most of the books on my parents book shelves today are the same authors as they were back in the 80s. Usually if they're purchasing a new book it's a replacement of an old copy that has become so worn through multiple readings it has fallen apart. Books are like friends, to be treasured and visited often. Lots of great, classic sci-fi, fantasy, military, thrillers, and of course the English classics. Besides my Dad's ever growing collection of Clancy books, the most modern thing on our shelves was probably by Hemmingway. As a kid I read all the usual suspects (included my fair share of Scary Stories anthologies and Judy Bloom books), but side by side I was making my way through a fair collection of books I would still read today. In grade 2 I read the Hobbit for the first time. I tried the Lord of the Rings the next year but found it boring. My University degree in Classics proves not much has changed, except that my reading selection has gotten even older and dustier. I am a great troller of used book stores. Lately I've made my way through some new writers whose epic stories (yes, the word epic is deserved here) and easy reading stories have kept my attention. I'm talking about the Harry Potter series, anything by Jasper Fforde (get out and read some of his well written, clever books!) and the Hunger Games more recently.

I think one of the greatest legacies my parents taught me wasn't to stay away from culture, for better or for worst, but to have real discernment for what I choose to spend my valuable time on when I go out and seek it. I have fallen prey to some awful music over the years, but when I'm in the mood for something that speaks to my souls, I will always turn to the Beatles, James Taylor, The Mamas and the Papas, and other such solid, beautifully written music. The same goes for books. I might get a thrill out of some hilariously trashy reading once in a while, but after reading A Moveable Feast, I'm reminded that real literature is something you become emotionally attached to. It's a book so well loved and leafed through that it passes from hand to hand, generation to generation, never losing its charm. So, while I won't keep my kids from reading whatever the latest incarnation of popular music or literature is out there when they're old enough to enjoy it, before I throw them into the fray of pop culture, I hope to have built in them the same good taste and critical eye I was gifted with by my parents.