Thursday, July 22, 2010

Getting an education from the ground up

Helicopter Seed
It was the occasion of a grasshopper clinging to the windshield on a recent road trip that made me understand just how much children miss these days. Not all children, perhaps, but those whose mothers work and those who are enrolled in after school programs and weekend sports and never know the pleasure of spending an entire, sunny day sitting in the grass and learning about the world that thrives beneath everyone's feet - even those who hurry through it day after working day.

I realized that my son had never seen a real grasshopper before. I learned he didn't know how to make a whistle out of a blade of grass. He'd never watched the diligence at the business end of an anthill. He'd never had time to sit and watch.

I realized then how much knowledge we gain from just being children at large. The experiences of children without a schedule to keep. Sitting in the grass or under a tree reveals the secrets of this lowly world. There are treasures to be found at the base of an old oak tree or in the damp soil beneath a rock. Crawly and slimy treasures at times, but also the rare sighting of a walking stick bug, glimpsing a chipmunk happily scurrying away with an acorn, the odd garter snake or toad.

I have advised The Boy that if he wants to learn anything useful about the world, he must start from the ground up. The luxury of a nice back yard is helping us with this and has provided us with views of chipmunks, squirrels, skunks (from a distance), the dissection and identification of mysterious green globes in the grass (they would have been black walnuts apparently, if they'd managed to hang on the tree another month or so) and lessons in how to make a funny decoration for your nose out of those helicopter seeds that fall from the maple trees.

Today, as I watched a group of sparrows gather on a telephone wire and chirp their daily news to one another, I thought "this is a sign that I am getting old, I am watching birds sitting on telephone lines". Then I realized that it is very much what I did as a child on those long, summer days when everything was interesting and not just the news or work deadlines counted as important. Then I realized that age is not what makes us old. The harried, hassled, workaday me was old. She didn't care about sunsets or raindrops or anything that really mattered. As I stuck a helicopter seed on my nose and listened to boy laughter, I thought to myself how good it is to be young again.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Who Turned Out the Light?

Remember when you were a kid and the greatest mystery in the world was whether or not the light stayed on in the refrigerator when the door was shut? Of course, once you'd found the button that depressed when the door shuts, the mystery was gone.

I haven't had to worry about the light going on or off for about a year now - the bulb burned out. I know it's the simplest thing in the world to replace it, but for some reason I just never get around to it. I also have some very good reasons for keeping the food in the dark.

Aside from the fact that the dark keeps most things fresher longer, especially milk, there's also the hope that the fridge is a less inviting place to visit. The children treat every visit to the fridge as if they were on a window-shopping expedition. Even the day before grocery shopping, when it's fairly empty, they can stand and stare at the nothingness for ten minutes.

Children must be hopeful creatures because they will return to a refrigerator several times just to ascertain that it still contains nothing they are interested in eating. In fact, the less it contains, the longer they stand there staring. The day after I've done the shopping, they can lay hands on something tasty within seconds of opening the door. But the day before is a day of bleak lack and snack hunger. With wide-eyed, unblinking gazes they survey the barren land before them and sigh.

According to my calculations, a 40 watt light bulb that runs an hour a day could cost me nearly $2.00 over the course of a year. I know it doesn't sound like much, and it won't make us rich. But it will annoy everyone to have to explore a dark fridge and I will make $2.00 at the same time. What a deal!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Keep the Negatives

One thing I have noticed from being on Facebook is that people like to take photographs. They take thousands of photographs. What they don't seem to do is edit. They need to edit the content, edit for quality and basically, edit out all those boring photos that no one wants to see.

As an example, there was recently a wedding in the extended family. Several family members who attended the wedding posted pictures online. I have viewed several dozen photos of people that either I do not know or who are close relatives made unrecognizable by the cellphone camera they were caught in the lens of.

One set of photos had me wondering whether the guests were wearing glow-sticks or if the reception had been invaded by luminescent worms from outer space. I know your cell phone takes lousy pictures, but still, a definite lack of talent is needed to get photos this bad.

Facebook is crowded with photos - photos of the kids, the grandkids, the kids holding the grandkids, the grandkids holding toys, the garden, the new car, the old car, the grass on the lawn - anything and everything people can go "click" at. Honestly, most of these photos are very, very boring. Some of them are potentially embarrassing to the subjects. I am most surprised by people who post hundreds of photos of their kids on the internet for anyone to see.

I haven't ever put photos of my kids online. I wouldn't put them on Facebook either. If I want to send a photo to a particular person, I can email it. One day my children may thank me for this - the day that their friends are looking at photos posted online from when they were potty-training or eating their first bowl of spaghetti or appearing in their first school play. None of this is going to be online to haunt my children into adulthood. No bearskin rug photos with bare behinds to be found by potential employers. And let's face it, if the picture is online, there goes the potential for blackmail.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer Games

It's officially summer. Summer was the greatest time of the year when we were kids. We were free to play the whole day long. I remember playing tag, baseball, kickball and even sitting out in the shade of an old tree playing board games.

You Are Rock-Paper-Scissors

You are very smart and mentally inclined person. You like games that test your brainpower.

You are good at noticing patterns and making predictions. You can size other people up well.

It may not seem like there's a lot to what you do, but you have a strategy for everything.

You tend to think through every decision you make carefully, but you're also sure not to over think anything.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Putting old age to good use

I am entering that time of life where anything can happen. I could wake up feeling energetic and hopeful. I could feel old and worn-out. I could feel young and delightfuly hip. I could feel out-of-touch and out-dated. I might watch Nickolodeon with my son or spend the day complaining about the screechy voices on all kids' cartoons these days. I might consider dyeing my hair some vibrant new color or I might spend the morning examining the sudden growth of grey at my roots.

I read articles about middle age and peri-menopause and some days I feel grateful that so much is known and understood about the workings of the female body. At other times I wonder if women aren't being conditioned to expect symptoms they might never have noticed otherwise. Or maybe it's all just a great way to explain the everyday things that happen as we age and deal with the stresses of everyday life with bodies that are no longer firm, tough and energetic.

The one symptom that I can take comfort in laying at the door of hormonal fluctuation is forgetfulness. According to the article I read today, never remembering the word you are looking for is not necessarily an indicator of senile dementia, it could just be hormone fluctuation. They recommend that if you can't remember the exact word for things (around here, I just say "refrigerator" if I don't remember the right name for something) then you should really stop multi-tasking. No reading your email while talking on the phone. That might be a good suggestion but I think I can come up with some other ways to cut down on the multi-tasking.

No cooking dinner while trying to answer the teen's questions about school subjects that you thought you never needed to remember. Yes, you will need to use algebra again, although it won't be until you have children in school taking algebra. You shouldn't try to put up curtains while holding two pet rats whose cage is being cleaned. And you definitely shouldn't be saying "yes" to anything the teen asks you while you are on the phone with the bank trying to clear up some discrepancies in your balance sheet.

This is why I say "refrigerator". It means "mom's brain is out to lunch and she's not going to give you any useful answers". I don't know if I am having actual symptoms of peri-menopause or if I am just tired of being a reliable resource. They are just going to have to learn that if "refrigerator" isn't the answer, then maybe the question isn't worth asking.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Homeschooling - Is it better?

If the truth be told, I was am an anxious mother. When The Girl began to approach school age, I began to worry about this tiny, delicate child being subjected to schoolbus rides and playground injuries and every other conceivable risk of leaving the home. After all, she had been cared for by my mother for four tender years, how could she cope?

But for me, homeschooling was not an option. I had to work and so the child had to be sent to the public schools. In the beginning, once my fears wore off a bit, it seemed a good thing. But now that she is older and facing more difficult tasks, I see that homeschooling might well have been more successful for her and the trade-off in socializing experience was not enough to make up for the deficiencies of a public school education.

The statistics bear this out. Homeschooled children fare at least as well as children in public school on standardized tests and in some cases far exceed their scores. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal in February 2000, homeschooled kids scored better than average on both SAT and ACT college entrance tests.

For those who can manage to be home and are interested in homeschooling their children, there are now some really excellent resources that can help.  For parents who want to homeschool, there are programs that can be a great asset. 

Homeschooled kids do not become socially inept flops, but confident and well-educated adults whose success has been proved over and over.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

I remember...

There are times when I feel that I remember very little of my childhood and other times when strange images and experiences of my senses come flooding back. If I close my eyes just now, I can see the old Stride Rite shoe store.  It's long gone now and there's a  small shopping center occupying the space.

In those days, children's shoes were a serious business. They weren't just adult styles made tinier with the appropriate cartoon character emblazoned on the upper as they are today. Children never wore sneakers or even shoes that appeared comfortable. They were well-structured boots that were designed to support those unstable toddler ankles. It was supposed we would never learn to walk properly unless our feet were trained to do so.

I don't really remember being fitted for shoes, or what kind I wore. I remember the store. I remember it being very bright with white walls, inside and out. Mostly, I remember the carousel.

There was a carousel in the store. While mothers shopped, children rode the carousel. Perhaps we got a ride once we'd behaved and quietly had our feet custom-shod. Perhaps our mothers simply needed a few moments of peace while we were being entertained. I don't remember.

I remember the carousel and inside this memory, the feeling of being a child and more importantly, being my mother's child. Each memory of her is precious, so I search through the hazy fog of time to find them and fine-tune them, to experience them once again and keep them safely tucked away in some region of my brain that won't discard them. Memories are spotty things, and sometimes I don't have enough of them to fill the void my mother left in my life when she died.