Thursday, September 30, 2010

On stupid children and the educational system

broken pencil on notepaper by paragen


Don't worry. The "stupid" in the title was tongue-in-cheek, as you'll see.

I had originally meant to include this post by Rachel Coleman in a Sunday Surf, but I started writing so much about it, I thought I'd bump it out to its own post.

Here's the link in question:


"I’m Sorry, Your Child Is Stupid,"
at RachelColeman.com



Rachel Coleman is the star and founder of the Signing Time DVD series (one of my reviews is here: "A review of Baby Signing Time DVDs, aka the cocaine of signing babies"). She started Signing Time as a way to reintegrate her love of music and pass on her newfound appreciation of American Sign Language after her first daughter, Leah, was born deaf. (Her second daughter, Lucy, was then born with spina bifida and cerebral palsy, but also learned to sign with her sister and parents, despite the predictions against it by her doctors. Both stories are captivating if you have the time.)

"We asked deaf adults for their advice on raising our deaf child. We asked them because they had lived the life that we wanted Leah to live… a life without limits. We followed their advice. We looked to the Deaf Community as our compass. They told us that Leah’s first language should be American Sign Language. They said that once Leah had a solid first language (ASL), we could then teach her English through reading and writing.

"Finally something that made sense!

"We were excited to share this breakthrough with the Early Intervention team, with the School District, with all of those people who could make a difference for every deaf child. We told them what we had learned and what we wanted for our child and why we believed it would work. They looked at us like we were crazy. They told us we needed to pick a program that they offered, they weren’t going to make up a new program just for Leah Coleman. It was such a slap in the face to have them simply re-offer their broken system, since that was all they had."

I really liked this post on "Your Child Is Stupid," because it captures the problems with deaf/hard-of-hearing education in U.S. public schools — and, it might be extrapolated, with the education of any student who needs specialized teaching. I thought it was really interesting from a language perspective as well. For Leah to be fluent in her first language, ASL, she needed to have at least two other fluent signers around her so she could watch the conversations (since the peers in her classes all signed by rote at a much lower level), and the schools resisted providing any such thing — both due to budget and due to lowered expectations for deaf children — an anticipation that they would never learn well so why bother. That's the part that really bugged me, of course. I know and know of plenty of highly intelligent, bilingually fluent Deaf people, so it's a shame that the public schools would have a system in place to fail those students who don't have a Rachel Coleman mother fighting in their corner, with all the privileges she has, such as a high level of education herself, white privilege, class privilege, relative wealth, etc. — and none of this is said to diminish Rachel's herculean efforts, just to note that it would be even harder for some other parents or for deaf students without parent advocates to bring about the same changes in their education.

This also made me think, maybe a homeschooling or unschooling situation would be better for deaf students, then, but maybe not, since they need that interaction with other fluent signers. In some ways, I feel an affinity to Rachel since I, too, am trying to raise a child bilingually in a language that's not native to me. But, the huuuuge difference is that if Leah didn't learn ASL, she would have been missing her native language, not the non-native one. ASL allows deaf children to grow up with a language that's as vibrant and expressive as a spoken language is for hearing children, so it's an essential groundwork for later learning, and comes naturally for deaf children born to deaf parents (which is, perhaps unexpectedly, rare — something like 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents, as was the case with Rachel and Leah). And this is true for many deaf children even when a device like a cochlear implant is used. (Watch Sound and Fury if you're as interested in these things as I am and want to see one family's wrestling with the topic.)

ASL is not a representation of spoken English but a language all in itself, with its own grammar and culturally specific rules. The best way I can describe this association is to imagine what happens when you're learning a second language. For awhile, when you hear the word Baum, you translate it in your head to the English tree, and only then do you visualize a thing with a trunk and branches and leaves. But as you become more fluent, Baum jumps straight to the visualization, so that when someone says Baum, you see the image rather than its "translation." Beginning signers might memorize that such-and-such a sign "means" the word tree, but what it actually means is that thing with a trunk and branches and leaves. And just as there are phrases and words in German that don't directly translate into English but are just an approximation, there are many ways ASL is unique from spoken English. ASL has the added difference of being visual, so that it truly cannot be directly translated into English (nor other countries' sign language systems into their spoken languages). Depriving deaf and hard-of-hearing children of ASL (as well as children with other cognitive disabilities who benefit from signing) is depriving them of a rich and meaningful language uniquely suited to them. You'll see in the comments on Rachel's post that many special education programs are frustrating parents in their refusal to count signs in their evaluation of children's vocabulary, focusing solely on spoken English ability.

Here are some sobering statistics for deaf and hard-of-hearing children in the United States:

  • Deaf and hard-of-hearing children are expected to graduate high school with a third- to fourth-grade English reading level.
  • Deaf/HH children typically gain only 1.5 years of literacy skill from age 8 to 18.
  • Only 55% of deaf/HH students graduate from high school (compared with a national 8% dropout rate — and do you see the race factors at work in those national statistics?), and only 8% of deaf/HH students graduate from college.
  • The earning capacity of deaf/HH employees is 40-60% lower than that of hearing employees, and the unemployment rate among deaf adults is 42%.

Keep in mind that some deaf/HH children (as many as 40%) might have learning challenges apart form hearing loss. Even so, it seems like the public school system must be doing something wrong. Please let me assure you that I am not blaming individual teachers (big kudos to you for what you do) but the system's failures.

It seems like the schools repeat the same tired tropes that learning ASL hampers deaf/HH children's ability to learn English, but I would think it's going to be difficult to learn a spoken language if you can't hear regardless of whether you learn ASL or not. At least with a foundation in ASL, a deaf/HH person would have a language to be fluently expressive in, and to fully understand what's being said to that person. Keep in mind that lip reading garners only about one-third of what is said; it's a way to guess and estimate the conversation, not a full comprehension with all the details. (Interestingly, that's about how much spoken German I typically absorb in a conversation!)

There are other arguments that can be made here, too, of course — that educational success is not the be-all-end-all for anyone, and that just because our society values English literacy, bachelor's degrees, and career prestige doesn't mean those are the only criteria of success. Can a Deaf person who is fluent in ASL but holds no degrees or job still be successful by other measures? Naturally.

But the public school system has promised every student, regardless of physical, mental, or learning limitations, a "free and appropriate education." And not everyone is getting even close to that.

What have been your experiences with education for children (your children, yourself, others) with learning challenges?

If you're interested in learning American Sign Language yourself and/or with your children, to increase your communication with a significant portion of our population and the possibility of participation in the vibrant Deaf culture, I recommend (obviously) the Signing Time series and the online (free!) university at Lifeprint.com, or signing up at a local community center for a conversational ASL course and then perhaps continuing on with a college-level course, and, of course, getting out and meeting the Deaf community in your area and being a friend.

Photo courtesy Phil Ragen on stock.xchng

Disclosure: Signing Time and Amazon links
are affiliate links,
because I lurve Signing Time.
See my full disclosure policy here.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Welcome, autumn

boy in tree with autumn leaves

boy in tree with autumn leaves

boy in tree with autumn leaves

boy in tree with autumn leaves

boy in tree with autumn leaves


The lens on our nice camera died, so I'm making do with my phone's camera until the lens gets back from the shop. I can't tell you how much I miss that thing!

Find sites to link up your Wordless Wednesday post
at my super-cool collection of Wordless Wednesday linkies,
and let me know if you have one to add.
You can also link up a thumbnail from your post below!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Calling for submissions for the October Carnival of Natural Parenting!

We continue to be delighted with the advice and stories our Carnival of Natural Parenting participants share, and we hope you'll join us for the next carnival in October! (Check out January, February, March, April, May, June, July, and September if you missed them.) Your co-hosts are Dionna at Code Name: Mama and Lauren at Hobo Mama.

Please read to the end for an important announcement about November's Carnival.

woman dipping toes into waterHere are the submission details for October 2010:

Theme: Staying Centered, Finding Balance: For parents who practice attachment parenting, it can be tempting to center our lives around our children — but it's not healthy. This month we're going to talk about taking time for ourselves. Here are some possible topics for you to discuss: How do you take time for yourself? What passions do you pursue? How do you find the time and balance it with being a parent? And if you aren't taking time for yourself, what will you do to start? Think about how you feel when you do not get adequate time for yourself versus how you feel when you do.

Deadline: Tuesday, October 5. Fill out the webform (at the link or at the bottom) and email your submission to us by 11:59 p.m. Pacific time: CodeNameMama {at} gmail.com and mail {at} HoboMama.com

Carnival date: Tuesday, October 12. Before you post, we will send you an email with a little blurb in html to paste into your submission that will introduce the carnival. You will publish your post on October 12 and email us the link if you haven't done so already. Once everyone's posts are published on October 12 by noon Eastern time, we will send out a finalized list of all the participants' links, to generate lots of link love for your site! We'll include full instructions in the email we send before the posting date.

Please submit your details into our webform: This will help us as we compile the links list. Please enter your information on the form embedded at the end of this post, or click here to enter it on a separate page: October Carnival of Natural Parenting participant form

Please do: Write well. Write on topic. Write a brand new post for the carnival. As always, our carnival themes aren't meant to be exclusionary. If your experience doesn't perfectly mesh with the carnival theme, please lend your own perspective. Please also feel free to be creative within the gentle confines of the carnival structure. If you're feeling so inspired, you could write a poem, a photo essay, a scholarly article, or a book review instead of a regular blog post (though those are welcomed, too!), as long as what you write is respectful of the carnival's intent. If you want help determining that ahead of time, please talk with us.

Please don't: Please don't use profanity of the sort that might be offensive to more sensitive readers or their children. Please don't submit irrelevant or argumentative pieces contrary to the principles of natural parenting. You don't have to agree with all our ideals — and certainly you don't have to live up to them all perfectly! — but your submission does have to fit the theme and values of the carnival.

Editors' rights: We reserve the right to edit your piece or suggest edits to you. We reserve the right to courteously reject any submissions that are inappropriate for the carnival. Please also note that since there are two co-hosts on different schedules and conferring over email, our personal response to your submission might seem delayed. Don't be alarmed. We also reserve the right to impose consequences if the responsibilities of the carnival are not fulfilled by the participants.

If you don't have a blog: Contact us (CodeNameMama {at} gmail.com and mail {at} HoboMama.com) about potentially finding you a host blog to guest post. Please write your piece well in advance of the deadline in that case, so we can match you up with someone suitable. But if you really have something amazing to write — why not start your own blog? If you want advice, we find Scribbit's free Blogging in Pink ebook to be a very helpful and down-to-earth guide, for beginners on up.

If you have questions: Please leave a comment or contact us: CodeNameMama {at} gmail.com and mail {at} HoboMama.com

Links to tutorials: Dionna (and her hubby!) and Lauren have written several tutorials for our participants about how to schedule posts in advance, how to determine post URLs in advance, how to edit HTML — all for both Wordpress and Blogger users. For these tutorials and more, please see this handy summary post at LaurenWayne.com.

Stay in touch:
Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama

Show off: If you are a (former or current) participant or supporter and want our delightful button to put in your sidebar, grab this code and proclaim to the blogosphere that you are a natural parent!

Photo credit: trublueboy


Important Announcement About NEXT Month's Carnival:

Dionna and Lauren are excited to announce a new natural parenting project that will be coming soon. To celebrate our new project, we are going to do the November Carnival of Natural Parenting a little differently. Please watch for the official "call for submissions," which will come earlier than usual. In case you're feeling inspired already, our November topic will ask you to explore one concept from the natural parenting philosophy. (See a general description of what natural parenting is on our main carnival page.) Why is it important to you/your family? Or why does it resonate with you? Or what does it look like in your family?

Start writing and save your post for the November carnival!


Sunday Surf: Tap dancing around our securities

Welcome to the Sunday Surf! Here are some of the best links I've read this past week.

  • Two from Babyfingers:
    • "We're fools whether we dance or not": Yea for adult dance classes!
      Backlit Tap Dance
      "Moral of my tap dance story: Don't let anyone tell you you're too ______ to do something, and especially don't tell yourself you are. I'm so glad I took a chance and signed up. I'm so glad I rejected the notion that if you haven't learned to dance by the time you're six you're a lost cause, and the notion that pregnant women shouldn't make spectacles of themselves. I hate that many women would never in a million years take a dance class, not because they don't want to dance, but because they think they aren't skinny or young or whatever enough."
    • "Medicaid patients shall be checked for gold teeth at the revolving door": Thoughtful response to a letter that's making the Facebook and email-forward rounds, stirring up the age-old misapprehension of the "deserving poor." Having been a recipient of some financial aid in my life and not wishing to have all my decisions judged because of that, I appreciated hearing Jenny's point-by-point rebuttal. I also liked the article from Judgmental Hippy that inspired her to go ahead and post: "The lowly peasants you work with may have a differing opinion."
  • "Gentle Parenting Ideas: Toddlers and Transitions" from Code Name: Mama: I've come to the conclusion that 99% of our tussles with Mikko occur over transitions: from wearing pajamas to getting dressed (or back), leaving the house or coming home, going to school or leaving school, getting in the car seat or out of it — any ideas to make those transitions go more smoothly are welcome!
  • Two from Spilt Milk:
    • "The right to bear": On adult privilege and allowing children to own their own personhood — and grow up on their timetable.
      Steph woman with security blanket from childhood

      "It’s not 'babyish' to find ways to self-soothe and to cultivate feelings of security: it's human, and it's smart. It's not wrong to form attachments and dependencies and when it's people and things that do not harm us, it's actually desirable to do so. There is no prize for growing up the fastest, especially when growing up means shedding, or hiding, human vulnerabilities."
    • "The wrong prescription?": Thoughtful response to the suggestion to make formula prescription-only, and the possible implications. I have to admit I need to think this topic through some more — not because anyone in power is asking my opinion on the subject (ha ha), but just because at first the idea of making formula prescription-only had some merit to me. But I can see the validity of the arguments offered here. And I would add another, personal one: We almost never go to the doctor. It costs us a lot of money. We don't use prescription drugs from the U.S. anymore, because they require routine doctors' visits and cost a lot more than over-the-counter drugs. When I do need something prescription (and know exactly what it is: generic name, dosage, etc.), I order it from India or Mexico. I wouldn't want to add another financial burden on parents without health insurance or prescription coverage whose babies need formula. So there it is. I think I'm backing off the whole formula-as-prescription-only dream. It was only a dream, after all. No way the formula lobbyists would ever allow anything like that to happen in the U.S. I'm working on some posts on the WHO Code to explore their marketing practices further.
  • "It's just a color. Or is it?" from This is Worthwhile: This is from awhile back, but I love this take on the pink vs. blue setup of our society. I've had those same initial instincts to let Mikko choose whatever color he wants — and then the sudden shrinking horror when he chooses the hot pink or the bright purple. And it means something to examine both reactions.
  • Gambettes hot pink crocs in the garden



You can find more shared items during the week at my public Google Reader recommendations feed. Check out Authentic Parenting, Baby Dust Diaries, Maman A Droit, Navelgazing, and pocket.buddha for more Sunday Surfing! Feel free to add your recommendations in the comments. Happy reading!




Photos courtesy, from top, earlgreyrooibos, Kathryn Beadle, and Etolane, all on flickr (cc)

Friday, September 24, 2010

After the positive pregnancy test

So I was going to write a completely different post today, but it felt weird to move right along after spilling the news of our BFP. Several commenters asked something along the lines of "Tell us how it happened!" and while I hope you all know how it happened in the barest (get it?) sense, I will divulge the story behind the events.

33 weeks pregnant belly shot
Pregnant last time, at 33 weeks. Aw.
Sam and I have been debating since before Mikko was born as to how many children we would have. I don't mean debating against each other; I mean, just talking and processing aloud together.

Then Mikko came along, and we weren't sure we wanted the one baby we had. Ha ha! Just kidding, Mikko. No, but seriously, the thought of having another when we were feeling so turned upside-down by newbornhood and the year and a half scared us.

Gradually, we became more comfortable with parenting, and we became ever more in love with our little guy, to the point that having another didn't seem quite as threatening. At some point, I decided, yes, despite all the inconveniences, I would like to have another. I was fine with spacing them pretty far apart, though, so I waited till Sam felt like he was ready — and hoped he would be someday, but no rush.

Well, earlier this summer, he just up and agreed. Yes, we should have another one, and soon, while we still think it's a good idea. (We worried if we waited much longer, we might enjoy Mikko's independence so much we'd lose the urge to start back at the baby stage all over again.) So he decided on January for us to start trying. That, he said, would allow me to enjoy Christmas and New Year's. And by "enjoy," he meant drink booze.

Fair enough, I thought. It was sort of an arbitrary deadline, but I wasn't about to gainsay him when he'd made up his mind so suddenly and confidently. January it was.

But, of course, the more we started talking about it, and the more decided we were — the less it started making sense to wait. Maybe we were just getting antsy. Maybe I convinced him that I don't really need to drink booze over the holidays. Whatever it was, we asked each other, Why not now? So we threw caution — and condoms — to the wind.

Well, ok, we didn't actually throw the condoms anywhere. We didn't get them out at all. We felt so scandalous. So free. It was a lot of fun.

We thought, We'll just take it casually. I won't chart. We won't really time things. We'll just enjoy ourselves and it will probably take a few months, but whatever. No rush!

So, of course, I'm pregnant.

Because as soon as I was pretty sure I'd ovulated, it kind of hit me what I'd done. The two-week wait was full of mixed emotions: premature guilt over forcing Mikko into a change in our breastfeeding relationship, assuming my milk goes south; anxiety over our health insurance situation — I decided to apply to upgrade just my coverage, but I still haven't heard back that I've been accepted, which is making me ├╝ber-nervous; a general sense of panic that we weren't ready!; and an irrational guilt at having unprotected sex so cavalierly. Even though I'm married. And we want another baby. See, that's the irrational part.

Those were the bad emotions, but of course there were the good ones, too: the giddiness of checking early symptoms and wondering and hoping; the trying on of due dates; scouring baby name sites for another boy name (we have a girl name left over but are stumped for a boy!); broaching the subject of a little brother or sister with Mikko and hearing his enthusiasm for the idea (hooray!).

I was sure I was pregnant by the earliest day I could have expected my period and it didn't show. But I forced myself to wait, because it comes within a three-day window, so I wanted to wait out the window before saying for sure. But it just really did feel right. My breasts were much sorer than I would normally attribute to premenstrual symptoms, for instance. Plus, I just had a sort of fatalism about it. Because I was feeling somewhat guilty about the idea of being pregnant (mostly because of the Mikko and breastfeeding thing), I was sure: It was too late. There was no turning back now.

Sam wanted a test to confirm. I didn't need one. We almost bought one at the grocery store, but I couldn't choke down the price tag when I know the dollar store tests work just the same for over a tenth of the price. Sam happened to be going by a dollar store with Mikko one day, so he picked one up for me. Mikko helped me with the testing the next morning. Don't worry — I did the peeing in a cup, but he helped me count out the drops to drip into the little well, and then I told him, "Now we just wait three minutes!" Before that sentence was out of my mouth, the test line had also turned, nice and dark. We were pregnant. Mikko was getting his little sibling. (Or, as he refers to it/them, "my baby brother and sister." He's also partial to "Kelly" as a name.)

I had Mikko bring it down to Sam. And there we were. A family of three, with the fourth on the way.

We're due late May/early June. I don't believe in due dates, just due windows. We had to give one to our family, because they very much do believe in due dates, so we said June 1. Just in time to ruin Mikko's fourth birthday. Turn about's fair play, though. He pretty much ruined our anniversary, by being born the day before. I guess we like to group things together? That's what we get for not waiting till January…

Here are my current feelings and impressions if you're not bored to tears yet:

  • Queasy. All day. I take to heart the suggestion that morning sickness is worst on an empty stomach, so I also eat all day. It's not the best combination. There are other stomach-y things going on that I won't detail here (thank your lucky stars). The bad news is the queasiness started earlier this pregnancy than with Mikko. The good news is two-fold: that I never threw up with Mikko, so I hope this also doesn't elevate past a sort of low-grade motion sickness feel, and that I didn't get morning sickness with our first pregnancy that ended in miscarriage. Every time I feel a wave of nausea, I know the baby and uterus and hormones are still doing the right things.

  • Speaking of miscarriage, while I'm hopeful that all is well with this little one and we'll carry safely to term, I know that that doesn't always happen. And it's early days yet. I'm sharing the good news far and wide, anyway, now that I know from experience that, no matter what happens, I'll want support through it all.

  • I am huge. I hope it's just bloating (from the stomach-y things I was talking about). It could be that constant snacking I was talking about, too, but I seriously don't think I'm eating more than I normally do. I've gained about five pounds already, and I just … look … big. Not
    13 weeks pregnant belly shot
    Starting in on maternity clothes last time (13 weeks).
    pregnant, by any stretch, just spreading. You know how when you look things up on forums about when other people started wearing maternity clothes, there's always a chorus of people who say, "Oh, I wore my regular jeans till my eighth month — and then I had to unbutton them"? And you (ok, I) just want to shoot them? Because I am soooo uncomfortable in waistbands right now. Already. It's shameful. Isn't it? I started wearing maternity clothes about 12 weeks last time and felt like a complete doofus, but darned if it was wasn't so comfy, and I never regretted making the switch that early. I'll be lucky to make it to eight weeks this time. Seven even. I don't think it makes the queasiness any better to have a tight waistband, right?

  • To that end, I pulled all my maternity clothes out of storage. I think I have enough to see me through the pregnancy. Which is good, and a little sad. I'm sure I'll buy some new fun things anyway.

  • There is so much in storage that we can just clear right out after this baby. All that space we'll reclaim! In some ways, I'm sad in advance that this is the last one. In other ways, yea for storage space!

  • I have this feeling that we might get our wish and have a girl (to complete the set, natch). I know this doesn't mean anything, but it makes me feel a squirmy little thrill of happiness. I was sure Mikko was a boy, even though we didn't find out in advance.

  • Then there's the depressing things that make it so I can't be entirely happy. Like the fact that our friends are all leaving us in droves. One was suggesting using an online scheduling service so friends can bring us meals when the baby comes — and I started crying about it later to Sam, saying, "What was that all about? We won't even have any friends left by then!" I counted, and we've lost seven friends this summer. Seven. That's pathetic, right? I mean, seriously. They've all been nice about it and said we can still get together sometime, but … you know. Maybe I'm just hormonal. Though that's not a bad thing.

  • Then there's the breastfeeding thing. I really do feel like a heel depriving Mikko of his very favoritest thing in the world. So far, I still have plenty of milk, and I'm letting him nurse as he wants to, despite the fact that it feels like daggers. It hurts the worst when he first starts, and then tapers off to bearable, and it's better if he latches properly rather than, say, lunges from the side unexpectedly, so I'm working on positioning him more intentionally, for my own sake. But most pregnant women lose their milk supply sometime in the course of the pregnancy. I've been talking to Mikko about this in advance, saying he can still have nummies if there's no milk, and that when the baby comes, there'll be plenty of milk again. He listens to me gravely and then says something chipper and heart-stabbingly adorable like, "How about the baby and I share nummies?" I hope the transition, whatever it is, is not traumatic for either of us, and that with love and patience and grace, we'll all find our way through. And, dang it, I'm crying again. Stupid pregnancy.

All right, that's all my brain spill for now. I was wanting to share our process of leading up to conception with y'all, but Sam wisely pointed out it might not be fair to our parents to let other people know before they did. We wanted them to be first, so we called them the day before my Wordless Wednesday post. I know I dropped plenty of hints, though, so kudos to those of you who figured it out in advance.

I am now off to be depressed and excited and queasy and peaceful and guilty and happy some more. I'll let you know how it all turns out.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Round two

boy pointing to positive pregnancy test

positive pregnancy test


Find sites to link up your Wordless Wednesday post
at my super-cool collection of Wordless Wednesday linkies,
and let me know if you have one to add.
You can also link up a thumbnail from your post below!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Playing hooky

pirate boy in the parking lot
Who wouldn't want to hang out with this pirate boy?
I've been unschooling myself, since our last Carnival of Natural Parenting, and allowing myself some space. And I've been pondering while I'm goofing off.

  • Part of the reason is we've recently lost a lot of close friends, in the sense of friends we see on a regular basis. So Sam and I have been wallowing and grieving and wondering what the heck's wrong with us. I met with a dear and wise friend (who has not broken up with us, joy) who said the question is not, "What's wrong with me?" (or "with you") but, How is it hard for us to come up against each other in relationship? What are those dynamics? How does that make us uncomfortable? As it turns out, of course, there's not always a fixable solution to these answers.

  • It's strange there's not a clear way to break up with friends, isn't it? There isn't a convention in place, as with romantic relationships.

  • How does a break in friendship affect the children involved? I've lost two aunts to divorce, and it wasn't some super heart-wrenching thing for me, because we weren't close, but it did seem odd. One day, I had an aunt I'd see at family reunions and receive birthday cards from, and the next day she was gone, never to be seen or heard from again. Does it matter that Mikko will not be in these people's lives anymore, or not to the same extent at least? How do I explain why we're not hanging out anymore? At this age, he probably won't remember by next year, but it still feels sad to me.

  • As a break from being depressed, Sam and I enjoyed a marathon of the seventh season of Curb Your Enthusiasm on DVD (we were in line for it from the library). Particularly if you were a Seinfeld fan but less than impressed with the finale, you'll be happy to watch this season. That wasn't a deep thought. It's just what we've been doing.


  • I have a few pieces of intriguing news that I'm not yet at liberty to share. There, that was sufficiently obnoxious.

  • Avast, mateys, it be Talk Like a Pirate Day! Raise a flagon o' rum and dance a jig, me hearties. I was thinking of doing this whole post in pirate lingo but am sparing you.

  • Sam and I dragged poor Mikko around Home Depot yesterday for several hours. He was appeased only by being able to hook the cart to those gates they have on most aisles (for closing them off if they're moving a fork lift in there or whatever); Mikko really liked that part, and watching a fork lift in action, the rest not so much. We also bummed him out at Ikea, where we enticed him into using the free playroom, where we erroneously thought we was having fun; he let us know otherwise when we picked him up 40 minutes later. Sam and I keep wondering about making our place prettier. How much can we reasonably spend on such a goal? If we have the money (and we don't for many of our loftier plans), would it be better to save it for retirement or travel or school fees for some amazing private school? How much is beauty worth? If it's not for resale value (and it's not, because we're planning to park here for years and years), then is it justifiable to spend money on making a home lovelier and more functional just for our own sakes? If so, to what degree? These are the questions we're asking ourselves. Along with things like, How much can we do ourselves, considering putting up a ceiling fan took us two months and a lot of cursing? (I swear, everything was different than the instructions said it should be. Although I do really like it now it's up. Ahhh…cooling breezes…)

  • Today I got out Mikko's breakfast, and he said, "Mama, you're the best!"

  • We barely had a summer, and now it's fall in full swing. It's been raining almost every day. I'm going to have to renew my commitment to play outside in bad weather. That's what jackets and hats are for, right?

  • Sam and I have a usual arrangement where we trade off taking care of Mikko. Our wallowing has meant we've gotten to spend more time together as a family. Despite the fact that this means we've gotten pretty much no work done, it's been nice. More like the old days where Sam and I were always together and people snickered that we were codependent. I like liking his company.

  • I haven't read anything this week online, so I can't do Sunday Surf. Mea culpa.

  • We've once more sworn off soda and are trying our hardest to drink only water and other non-soda goodies. We bought three more of the insulated stainless steel bottles that we like — ice stays frozen overnight (!), and only really cold water is decent to drink, I've decided. In fact, just to demonstrate how much I hate water, when I was at that friend's house I mentioned earlier, she served me four glasses of ice water while I was there. I peed twice. I went out to the car and reached for my water bottle because I felt parched. And honestly, my first thought was, How strange that she didn't give me anything to drink while I was there. And then I remembered I'd had four glasses! Seriously, water doesn't let my taste buds and throat know it's passed by. So, to alleviate the unrelieved water drinking, I made some more of the recipes from the July/August Mothering article (issue 161). I tried out the sweet fruit tea elixir, or whatever it was called, and it pairs really well with seltzer and fruit juice. If you missed the issue, there's a fun video showing you how to make the Rooibos tea mix on mothering.com. We've also been making more smoothies, and mothering.com offers a homemade Orange Julius alternative. Well, there, that's a little Sunday Surfing for you.

So that's all I've got. We've been drinking, watching TV, reading books, and shopping. For some reason, it was kind of a fun week, despite the wallowing. How has yours been?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

September Carnival of Natural Parenting: Too lazy to unschool?

Welcome to the September Carnival of Natural Parenting: We're all home schoolers

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how their children learn at home as a natural part of their day. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.



cosleeping toddler and mother


If you research unschooling at all, you will come across defenses that unschooling is not lazy parenting. Quite the contrary, unschoolers will say, sending your kid to school for six hours a day is lazy! Mainstream schoolers will counter, No, it's not! I invest in my kids' education as much as you do, and I put in time above and beyond the school hours! Then more structured homeschoolers will chime in, Well, we put in more work than all of you!

And I back away sloooowly…

Because…I am lazy.

There, I said it.

I hope you realize I'm being semi-facetious in my recounting of the various schooling arguments as regards parental effort — not every parent engages in such debate — but rest assured that it is out there.

In terms of learning, the philosophy that resonates with me on principle is unschooling, and it speaks to Sam, too. But we're just not sure we can pull it off.

The idea of unschooling, as we understand it and would (do, mostly) practice it, is child-led learning, where the children follow their interests and passions and parents come alongside to (all as needed) facilitate, guide, and encourage. I love this idea. It's how babies learn, for instance, modeling their parents' behavior and following innate cues. It's how I learn as an adult, pursuing activities and knowledge that please me, enrich my life, or pique my curiosity, not because of a grade or external praise. There's really no reason to think such a learning style skips over the preschool through college years and can't be equally applied to students of those ages.

Sam and I were very good in school — in retrospect, we realize we were too good. We were always the teacher's pet, striving only for that feedback of pleasing authority and earning the top grades. It took until the last year of college for each of us, with "real life" looming on the horizon, for it to break through that we could learn because we wanted to, not because someone was "making" us. I audited a Judaism class that year, and took beginning violin pass/fail, just to make a first break away from those ingrained habits of learning what was useful in terms of advancing to the next grade. Since I wasn't sure I would continue on to grad school (and I haven't), there was no next grade. There was only life, and I had missed out on 19 years of it by being obsessed with teacher pleasing and stellar GPAs.

So when I first heard about unschooling, as a parent-to-be, it was both eye-opening and familiar. It was the new way I was learning, as an adult, and I loved the idea of my children growing up with that sort of learning as the norm — without their having to unlearn the idea of school.

Sam agreed. But then you get into the whole lazy angle.

Here's a quote from Pam Sorooshian on SandraDodd.com:

"Unschooling is really impossible to confuse with being lazy. It takes a lot of time and energy and thought on the part of the parent.

… The parent needs to bring interesting things and ideas and experiences to the child and this means being always on the lookout for what the child might enjoy. It means becoming super aware of your child—not only getting a good sense of what might interest him or her, but how does h/she express that interest and what is the best way for you to offer new and potentially interesting ideas, experiences, and things."

There are two problems with how such lofty goals apply to us: One is the shape Sam's and my adult lives have taken, and one is our own motivation levels as parents.

Ideally our lives need to be interesting, to begin with, but in a way that's open to our children. For instance, if we ran a farm, that could be a consuming adult set of tasks that would also include many intersecting child tasks (that perhaps could not even be separated into adult vs. child). But the fact is that Sam and I lead pretty dull lives, at least for a child. We work from home, selling DVDs online. It's not exciting, but it pays the bills. For our own edification and amusement, Sam and I both do a lot of (mostly unpaid) writing on the side (such as this blog). Neither experience, with which we fill many hours of our day, has much yet to offer our child. Mikko does do some labeling of DVDs, and we hope he'll grow into helping us more with our home business as he is able and wanting to, but it's not a business immediately accessible to a three-year-old, and writing is mostly solitary (in real life — in virtual life, of course, I know all of you!).

To balance the adult-centered portions of our lives with keeping our three-year-old amused, we employ a few techniques. The primary one is having Sam and me switch off who cares for Mikko on any given day, which usually means the caregiver and Mikko go off somewhere else for the day, such as the aquarium or playground, or even just running errands. Another tactic is bringing Mikko along with us to some of our "adult" activities, such as meeting with friends. It's hard to say how entertaining he finds this. The third technique is, quite simply, not working very hard. This goes back to the lazy thing, but at least in this case it's for Mikko's benefit.

But the fact is, when I think about having Mikko, and potentially another little one in the future, with us all day, every day, in perpetuity — I wonder how our boring adult lives fit into the picture. But mostly I wonder how we'd be able to convince ourselves to get up our duff and really engage our children, participate enthusiastically in their discoveries, and come up with creative directions to suggest. That's the second quandary.

Because right now? We do a lot of nothing. I mean, we do the outings to the science center and zoo, and train rides to the airport and bus rides downtown — but we also watch a lot of TV. Our arts and crafts projects, which we do every day on Mikko's urging, mostly involve Sharpies, glue, and stickers, because we're all three of us couch potatoes, and finger paints don't really work on the couch. (Neither do Sharpies and glue, to be honest, but we've adapted.) We can't even convince Mikko to play with toys on the floor, because — well, hey, the floor is really uncomfortable, but this couch is nice and cushy. So all the playing we do is couch-centric. (This is the same kid who [still] won't walk, after all.)

When I read other parents' blogs, and see the creative planned activities, crafts, science projects, and music times they prepare for their toddlers and preschoolers, or when I drop my son off or pick him up from preschool and see the ingenuity that goes into the kids' hours at school, I feel a little sheepish about how comparatively tame and unstructured our routine at home is. We do a little play dough if we feel like it. We try to read some books before bed. We sing Mamma Mia songs in the car. But I don't usually break out a big plastic tub of beans and bury animal figurines for a sensory dig. I don't always let Mikko join me in the kitchen or in doing household chores. When we visit the zoo or aquarium, we just wander around and explore and play; I never think to say anything profound about the exhibits or bring new knowledge to the table or get books out from the library about it afterward. I sometimes buy supplies for a specific craft project, but I never do get around to making anything planned, though we've made countless Mikko-designed "decorations" for Sophie, who's getting married, don't you know. (Or maybe you don't, if you haven't watched Mamma Mia umpteen times as we have. Mikko and Sophie sitting in a tree…)

In short, I feel like I'm already failing as an unschooler. Or, at least, the unschooler I would like to be, the unschooler I feel like Mikko deserves. Schooling, with all its drawbacks (and Sam and I can think of many), at least gives children stuff to do. Preschool, in particular, is hours of just plain fun.

On the other hand, Mikko doesn't always think so. And I was appalled when I was visiting my niece, who was in kindergarten at the time, to see that she had homework. Homework! In kindergarten! It slammed me like a sacrilege.

Right now, Mikko attends a half-day preschool twice a week, which gives him the immersion exposure to German that I wanted for him. Sam and I use those precious few hours twice a week to catch up on all the work we haven't been able to manage with him underfoot. And it's never enough time. The thought of six sweet hours of free (free!) childcare five days a week is enough to make me a little giddy.

But then I think what it would do to Mikko. He's such a homebody, so I know he wouldn't like the separation. He's slow to warm up socially, so I think a large class would overwhelm him. If he's anything like Sam and me, he'll be too good a student and fall into the same traps we did of equating learning with schooling, which is not the same thing at all. And I really do want better for him.

So there sits the conundrum.

  • In one scenario, we send him to school, continue our adult-centered lives in those hours he's away, and try to "make it up" to him at nights and on weekends by interacting with him more intentionally then. He will be exposed to multiple subjects and people and interests, as well as tedium and standardized testing and peer nonsense.

  • In the other scenario, we continue along our lackadaisical path, always short on time to complete our business tasks, and always guiltily sure we're coming up short in the unschooling department, for not offering enough variety and energy and oomph. Mikko will model himself after us and complete the transformation to total spud.

I mean, sure, I'd like to imagine a scenario wherein we unschool and completely change our natures, but let's be realistic here.

We're still in the middle of debating this in our own minds and out loud to each other, and we do have some time. Mikko can go to his current preschool through age 5. Then, I guess it's decision time.

We'll see what we choose. It's a matter of following our convictions either way — just a burden of deciding which convictions take precedence.

What have you decided about schooling? Do you see a way out of our dilemma for us?



Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated September 14 with all the carnival links.)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sunday Surf: Happy third blogiversary to me!

Welcome to the Sunday Surf! Here are some of the best links I've read this past week.

pirate boy in the ergo carrier
Arrr…we be hoboes here. And pirates. Maybe hobo pirates.

Yesterday, September 11, was my three-year blogiversary. I have never celebrated my blogiversary before and was curious when it was. I knew it was September, but when exactly? When I saw what the starting date was … well, seriously, could I not have chosen to start it a day before or after?

But, stupid choice of date aside, it's fun to think about what's transpired in the past three years. I started Hobo Mama when Mikko was three months old, which is surprising to me in retrospect. First of all, how did I find the energy to begin a new, life-changing project with a newborn, which is a life-changing project in itself? I think it was just that I had so many parenting thoughts and experiences flying through my head that blogging about it was a release rather than a burden. Secondly, clearly I was a know-it-all even then. But I think it's good to point out to any of you starting a blog when your baby's wee that you don't have to be a long-time parent to talk about parenting. Your voice is valid, no matter how long you've been on the job.

And now I have a three-year-old! And a three-year-old blog! Woo-hoo!

ring sling 12w 200708 Nursing in the Sleepy Wrap
The more things change…


A big thanks and a virtual hug to my readers who've brought me such joy and community. When I started blogging, I had no idea that would be the most precious part of writing out my ideas online. It's been marvelous to connect with so many thoughtful, natural-minded, open-hearted parents (as well as non-parents who appreciate such things!), and I look forward to many more years of enjoying your company as we tramp along this road together.

Ok, party's over. On to the links.

  • "Let the Little Children Come" from Momopoly: Compilation of Kate's insightful and respectful articles on bringing kids to a worship service. Sam and I had been experimenting with a home church that incorporates children into the experience, so I'll have to write about that once I get my thoughts together.
  • "Why (if I had to give birth again) I’d Give Birth At Home" from The Contemplative Mommy: I like that this article allows room for women to make whatever birthing choices work best for them — and is grateful for the interventions that are available when needed — but points out how the fear-based birth culture shortchanges women:
    "…I highly disapprove of shows like TLC’s A Baby Story and the like that over-dramatize childbirth and turn it into a prime-time TV offering! Such shows convey the idea that childbirth is frightening, life-threatening and will most likely end in an emergency situation of some sort. No wonder women are so fearful of giving birth!

    Can you imagine if we treated other rites of passage in this way? If we had previews for shows like 'Kindergarten Katastrophe' that announced: 'When Michael heads out the door for his first day of school he’s all smiles but when he can’t find his classroom and the teacher hates him, will he be able to get through the day?' And then had 5 year-olds watch them all summer?"
  • "Ten Things To Do While Breastfeeding" from KellyNaturally.com: I once read breastfeeding "advice" that said never to multitask while nursing but to devote your full energy to your baby at all times. I almost choked. I would not be breastfeeding past three-years-old if I hadn't embraced all the possibilities of nursing-friendly activities.
  • "Car Seat Safety" from Musings of a Milk Maker: I'm a staunch advocate of extended rear facing for babies and toddlers. (My three-year-old is still rear facing, once we found a car seat that could accommodate him!) So this ode to five-point harnesses for older kids' boosters is something I can totally relate to.
  • "Baby Names in the Digital Age" by Jen Genova on Babble: I thought this was an interesting take on the modern consequences of naming children. I've definitely thought about the domain-name issue, but I hadn't considered the privacy vs. searchability aspect. Frankly, though, Sam's last name is so uncommon there's really no way a child with his last name could hide.
  • In continuing honor of myself, apparently, I just wanted to share this little Twitter exchange that brought joy to my soul. I was looking at Alfie Kohn's Twitter page, through some happy accident, and noticed this quote in a Tweet that sounded familiar to me:
    Alfie Kohn tweet quoting Hobo Mama
    Found on a parent’s blog: “I was a very obedient child. I want better for my son.”

    I thought, That's a great quote! It almost sounds like something I would write. Wait a minute…
    screenshot of Hobo Mama article Arbitrary Discipline with quote that Alfie Kohn liked
    It is me! From "Arbitrary discipline," when Mikko was only eight months old.
    And, yes, I know every time I draw on a photo in Photobucket it looks
    like something a serial killer helped me with.

    So I @ed him, because I am a groupie, and proud to be:
    Hobo Mama Twitter response to Alfie Kohn
    Hey, was that a quote from my blog? Say yes and I think I'll swoon. :)

    His response, in direct message?
    "I'd have to double-check, but I'm pretty sure it was. Lovely sentiment, succinctly expressed."
    Oh, no, Alfie Kohn, author of one of my favoritest parenting books evah, did not just say I wrote something awesome! He did? He really did? Grab the smelling salts.
    P.S. I know I'm a dork.
    P.P.S. Look how many retweets my quote got — too bad it wasn't linked to me, hey? You can't have everything.
    P.P.P.S. Alfie Kohn's going to think I'm stalking him now and avoid ever quoting me again.
    P.P.P.P.S. But it was worth it.

You can find more shared items during the week at my public Google Reader recommendations feed.

Check out Authentic Parenting, Baby Dust Diaries (although I think she's taking a twin-pregnancy-induced hiatus, so go give her some love), Maman A Droit, Navelgazing, and pocket.buddha for more Sunday Surfing! Let me know if you also Sunday Surf or do a similar link love post each week, and I'll link you up.

Feel free to add your recommendations in the comments. Happy reading!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Cloth diapers for apartment dwellers

cloth Diapers drying on a rack in the sunDonkey's years ago, Missy of a work in progress… asked me if I had any tips for laundering cloth diapers if you don't have your own washer and dryer. I just hope I get this post up before she has her second baby…

I have actually given this quite a lot of thought, because we were pregnant with Mikko in one apartment and spent his first two years in another, and neither had a washer and dryer or hookups to get them. We knew we wanted to cloth diaper, so I started research if such a thing would be possible for us, and it turns out: It is!

You have a few options: You can use your building's communal laundry facilities (such as at an apartment complex), you can go to a laundromat, or you can rig up your own non-standard washing facilities at home. I'll start with the first two options since they're the most common.

Just a note: I'm going to use the term "apartment," because that's the most likely scenario for someone considering this. However, this information can just as well apply to people in rental houses or condos, dormitories, houseboats, RVs, and the like.

How to launder cloth diapers in a communal washing machine

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Ride the Ducks

First, let me just apologize for being a terrible Wordless Wednesday host over my vacation. I definitely didn't comment on as many of your lovely posts as I visited in the chaos of traveling. I hope to make up for it today! So link away below, and meanwhile, enjoy more scenes from Grandma's visit this spring. So terribly touristy, but danged if Mikko didn't fall in love with that stupid duck tour!

Boy with Duck Tour quacker

Ride the Ducks Duck Tour Seattle Captain Funtastic

Duck Tour Seattle Center

Ride the Ducks Seattle water view

Ride the Ducks Seattle city view

Ride the Ducks Seattle duck boat entering water

Ride the Ducks Seattle duck boat on water

Ride the Ducks Seattle duck boat ahead of us on water

Ride the Ducks Seattle mother and son

Ride the Ducks Seattle preschooler staring over the side into the water

Ride the Ducks Seattle big smiles


Find sites to link up your Wordless Wednesday post
at my super-cool collection of Wordless Wednesday linkies,
and let me know if you have one to add.
You can also link up a thumbnail from your post below!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Perspectives on parenting: Coming up against other points of view

daddy and son resting head on shoulder


One of the things travel does is expose you to ideas and perspectives beyond your own. In the case of our recent trip, it reminded us of attitudes we'd left behind in recent years, which was eye-opening in itself. There's nothing like hearing someone else embrace the old perspective to bring home to you how much your own has changed.

I don't know how to write this post without sounding self-righteous, but I'm just going to write it as the encounters happened and our reactions to them and let it stand as it is. This isn't a post about how we're awesome parents and our friends and family don't know what they're doing — it's just a post to illustrate how much we've changed, in our own mindsets, which perhaps will encourage you as you evaluate how much you, too, have grown. I find it inspiring every once in awhile to have a yardstick to measure my own progress as a parent, because day to day, it's easy to lose sight that anything's changing. I think we're all on a parenting path of some sort, and those of us who think this hard about parenting are probably moving forward toward better, yes?

We were at one gathering when Sam broke away with some of the other dads and talk turned to parenting. One of the fathers pointed out how his son, a little younger than Mikko, never listened to anything they said, and how all their scolding and bribing and punishing was doing nothing. He asked Sam his opinion of spanking: "Would a little swat on the butt work, do you think?"

Sam felt a little bit lost, because the question he felt he needed to answer wasn't, "Is spanking effective?" (it isn't) but "What's your whole philosophy of parenting and discipline, and what can you tell me in the next two minutes to change mine?" It's a tall order.

Sam said, in an effort to put forth his point of view in a nutshell, "Well, we try to talk things over with Mikko, let the little things go, and offer him options."

"Oh, we offer our son options, too," said the other dad. "We say, 'You can do what we say and be a good boy, or you can disobey and be naughty.'"

Somehow, those weren't the options Sam had in mind.

I was talking with another mother on our trip, and she was swapping discipline stories about her son, who's also about the same age as Mikko.

Now, the stories she told actually were quite funny, but the premise behind them kind of floored me. She prefaced the stories by saying her son has become quite the picky eater, refusing to eat dinner some nights.

"Well, that's not allowed," she said to me, as if of course I would just agree. I kind of blinked back at her, because my theory about eating and food is that children should eat when they're hungry and what they want to eat from a selection of healthful choices. It's not, for me at least, necessary to guard against the old objection of "becoming a short-order cook" for your children, because usually the things Mikko chooses that are alternatives to what Sam and I have chosen are fairly quick to whip up, and we could put off more complicated requests for the next mealtime if it didn't work out for us at that moment. Since Sam and I get to choose what we eat, and don't always eat the same things as each other, why shouldn't Mikko have the same privilege?

So I was just kind of staring at her, wondering whether to nod along as courtesy called for or speak up. She had just pointed out that he sometimes had large lunches, so he was definitely eating, just perhaps not on her schedule. She continued with the backstory. "So, whenever he won't eat what we've made for dinner, he has to go straight to bed. I'm not going to have him up playing for two more hours if he's refused dinner."

At this point, I was struck by how familiar this trope is — "Eat your supper or go to bed" — while at the same time being struck by how very far far far I've diverged from it.

Why on earth would you want to make eating a battleground, and sleep a punishment? How does that set up healthy eating habits, when you're forced to eat what you're not hungry for? How does that establish healthy sleep habits, when going to bed is seen as an exclusion from fun?

But how do I counter such an assumption, when it's being told to me not in an advice-seeking way but just as a matter of course? How do I respond with my own whole philosophy of feeding children and respecting their needs and desires? Do I have more of a responsibility toward the parent to be tactful or more of a responsibility toward the child being treated that way to speak up?

In the end, I didn't say anything and just stored it up — for a blog post, apparently. I had the sense that nothing would change if I said something, beyond making all of us uncomfortable.

And it's not like I have "the answer." I don't know how to make her son eat his meals, for instance, no more than Sam had an idea for getting the first child to do whatever his parents ask.

What we have goes beyond those questions to ask what we think now are more fundamental ones: Why should my child do what I want? What makes my desires more important than Mikko's? Why do I want my child to do a particular thing, and is it really that important? If it is important, what's a respectful way I can approach it with him? How do I respond gracefully when I "lose" and he chooses a different way? How can I stop thinking of it as a win-lose situation? What do I ultimately desire of my child as he grows: compliance to authority, or an thoughtful, emotionally mature interdependence, and what sort of parenting will help facilitate the latter?

It's not like I always have the answers to those questions, either, but I like seeing that Sam and I are asking these new questions now. In fact, even though I am asking these questions, I very often fail, but that's part of the learning as well. In fact, that's why I find it so encouraging to compare my mindset to other parents' on occasion — to the type of parenting I grew up with and was most inclined to embrace — so that I can see proof that there is some change in me, even if I don't always grasp it in the nitty-gritty of parenting challenges. But it's hard to pass on this whole new mindset to other people on the spur of the moment. All I can do is hope we set some sort of example by the peace in our family, and our joy in the outcome.

Make me not feel unbearably alone in my pretension to parenting greatness. Share with me a moment of your competence and confidence as a parent.