Highest Score in Fifth Grade?!

Em came home yesterday and informed us that she had scored the highest score among all of the fifth graders in the school in reading. “It was nine hundred something,” she said, “and the second highest score was Azule, she was a seven hundred something.”

As a result of her high score, Em will be moved to the 6th grade reading teacher’s class along with the other girl, Azule.

I couldn’t help but smile.

Less than three months after entering public school for the first time – and them being concerned that she might not be able to read at all – it has been quite a change.

I would like to think that Em is changing how some of these teachers might view homeschoolers. She’s bright, outgoing, and involved. I can’t help but be proud.

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I write about everything from gardening and community, to education, the writing process, DIY, and more. I maintain four blogs, write fiction and non-fiction books, and I am a community educator.

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Posted in Tales From...THE SYSTEM | Leave a comment

Learning in Action – Flow Charts!

As we settle into the school year, the weeks have flown by. Em is doing well – happy, well-liked by her teachers and the other students, and applying herself in class. Last week was her first parent-teacher conference…

Quarterly Parent/Teacher Conference

Em has earned all As and Bs in her classes.

Reading – Ms. West gave her a B and admonished her to focus on her work and to ignore those kids who talk and goof off during class. “Your quality of work goes down when you let them distract you.”

Writing – Ms. Lamunyon gave her an A and is pleased with her progress. She told me that Em is the “mother” of the class.

Social Studies – Ms. Jerome gave her an A, but reminded her to try and focus less on the intricate details (they are making maps) and more on getting done on time. She let me know that Em had some difficulty working in a group, mainly the other kids were not doing what they needed to do and pulled her down with them, but overall, her work is great and she is very participatory in class.

Science – Ms. Grammer gave her an A and sang her praises. She told me that Em’s class is such a good class and that they are so responsive and open to learning that they have accomplished some extra experiments that the other classes have not.

Math – Mr. Gazaway surprised Em (and me) by stating that Em had strong math skills. He gave her a B in the class and we talked about why Em would feel she isn’t doing well and what we could do about it. His suggestion was the same as mine has always been – keep practicing multiplication and division, nearly everyone has difficulty with it at this age but it is so important that they learn it.

Overall, she is doing fabulous. Her one “cranky” teacher likes her more than Em would probably admit. All of them clearly want the best for her and are devoted to their jobs. Who would have thought it? Here we are, in the ‘hood, with some of the best teachers I’ve ever seen?!

I count myself lucky, yet again, that we are here in this place and this neighborhood.

Flow Chart – It’s For the Dogs!

I love seeing the unexpected benefits of learning. Because, let’s face it, getting info from your kids on what they learned during the day is difficult if not impossible. Short of when she comes home with an experiment, Em’s brain is apparently wiped of all information on the short one block walk home each day.

On Tuesday, a particularly windy day, we had the gates of the dog yard blow open not just once, but TWICE. That evening we put padlocks on all gates. Because I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend two hours circling the neighborhood looking for my dogs again.

Not that we find them, because we didn’t, they finally came home on their own. Em insists that there is a secret, underground doggie nightclub somewhere nearby.

But yesterday (Wednesday) she presented this lovely flow chart. I had a giggle over it, but it is now posted on the wall and will help us determine where the dogs are and whether or not we need to jump in the van to go find them!

Email Newsletter

I write about everything from gardening and community, to education, the writing process, DIY, and more. I maintain four blogs, write fiction and non-fiction books, and I am a community educator.

Click here to join the email list and receive ONE monthly newsletter that will provide you will all of the links to my blogs, updates on my writing projects as well as book promotions and special pricing.

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Posted in Community, Playful Learning/Learning Throug Play | Leave a comment

Great Minds Think Alike

Eleven Years Ago Today

Eleven years ago today I had just spent one uncomfortable night in a hospital bed, hooked up to far too many monitors. I was sure that “today was the day” that I would get to meet my daughter – but my body and Em were not willing to cooperate. This was a frustrating day that decade plus one year ago, and I remember it clearly.

Em’s arrival at 3:13 p.m. on October 4th, 2006 was a long-awaited relief.

I had so many fears in those days – one of them being that she would be shy, that she wouldn’t have any friends. I couldn’t conceptualize of the amazing social butterfly I would soon give birth to.

This past Saturday was filled with family and friends who came to wish Em a happy birthday. It was a wonderful day, and I remembered thinking how lucky I am, that my child has made such an impression on so many people, and formed some truly wonderful friendships.

It doesn’t seem possible that it has been eleven years. I absolutely adore this girl, much as I did her sister. Why oh why must they grow up?

Great Minds Think Alike

Em wakes up at around 7 a.m. these days. Since we live in a school district that has a fair amount of impoverished families, the school automatically provides breakfast and lunch to all students, regardless of income, so Em eats there for two meals each weekday.

This gives us forty glorious minutes to wake up, cuddle, read together, talk, and just share some together time upstairs before she has to head out of the door.

This morning, as we sat on a loveseat in the library, her head resting against me, she said, “Mama? I’ve been thinking about school and I wondered if, after sixth grade, you would want to homeschool me again?”

Which kind of blew me away because that was exactly what I have decided I wanted to do! Whittier goes through the sixth grade and having her so close is lovely. It’s a quick half block to school and back and she likes most of her teachers and the friends she has made there.

Come seventh grade, however, and we would need to decide on a school a little farther away and probably far more populous. I had literally just written to a family member that “I figure we will let this year and probably one more play out there at Whittier and then I’ll re-assess the schooling situation before 7th grade begins. Middle school can be dicey, and I would prefer that she avoid too much early teen drama and focus on learning, but we will see how things go.”

I laughed in delight at her question. “That is exactly what I was envisioning, Em! We could homeschool and go to co-op two days per week for 7th and 8th grade. Then, when you hit 9th grade, we could still do co-op and also add in two classes per semester of community college. Probably math and some other core class to start with.”

“Really? You would want to homeschool me again?” Her face perked up.

“I sure would! And also, by 7th grade, you can have more say in what you are learning.”

“Could we do more science?”


“I think taking a math class at college would be good for me.” She paused, “I mean, it would be hard, but I know I need to learn it better. Mr. G says some of the kids in class aren’t as good at it as they should be and he sent me home with flash cards so I practiced with Daddy last night. I tried to do them fast because, you know, they are flashcards after all.”

“You are doing great with math, you know. You get better each time you practice. That’s all it takes, really. Just doing it again and again until you get it.”

She nodded and then turned to look at the blackboard walls, “Could we practice right now, Mama? On the wall?”

I agreed and she ran to get dressed while I wrote a 3-digit multiplication problem on the board. That ate up the last five minutes before it was time to go.

I miss homeschooling her, but I also look forward to the break this year and possibly next. It is good for both of us.

Re-Dedicating Myself to Learning

I am trying to eke out some reading each day. Right now, for fun, I’m reading Vector by Robin Cook, but I also want to add to my knowledge base, so I’ve been reading (and listening to) the following:

  • 365 Tao – It has daily quotes and concepts to examine and incorporate into my life. Some inspire, other resonates as part of my daily goals in life. It’s short, sweet and to the point.
  • Scriveners for Dummies – So far, I’ve figured out on my own most of the book’s tips and tricks, but I have had a couple of good ideas for better usage of the Scrivener program which I use to organize my book-writing projects
  • The Book of Yoga – I’m just getting started, but I hope to incorporate yoga, stretching and light weights into my daily routine
  • Mad Science – Just a snippet of science per day. A “this day in science” kind of book
  • Science Podcasts – While I’m cleaning, I’m trying to listen to podcasts and get some research done for my new book project, the sequel to Gliese 581: The Departure.

I’m keeping the old brain active with these different topics. I might also return to A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. History can be fascinating, after all!

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How About a Mental Health Day? (and other stories)

As the weeks and months have marched on, I can see clearly the path that this blog will be taking. I’m sharing that vision, along with an Em update, below…

Great Grades

“Hey Mama, I almost forgot, here’s my quarterly report card.” Em shoves two stapled papers into my face and I marveled at how quickly 1/4 of the school year has gone by.

As I looked over the grades, they were predominantly A’s with some B’s sprinkled in. In other words, excellent work for the first quarter.

Her homeroom teacher has lovely things to say about her, and her science teacher wrote me the other day and said, “Your daughter’s class is my favorite one. I always look forward to seeing her!”

So, while I believe that grades are not necessarily an indicator of learning, I am pleased to see her participating and trying hard in class.

Revival of Mental Health Days

Today, just as I was leaving to go to a cleaning, Em’s teacher messaged me. “Em’s eye is bothering her and she is asking for eye drops.” Since the nurse there did not (or could not) dispense eye drops, I picked Em up, swung by the pharmacy and took her to my cleaning with me.

I showed her the easier way to administer eye drops. “Lie back, close your eyes and try to relax. I’m going to add these drops here where the pocket of your eye is and when you open your eye, the liquid will flow in.”

She was scared the first time, but got over it and later, administered them a second time when the eye was still a bit scratchy and irritable.

“I could take you back to school after my cleaning, or you could take the day off if you wanted.”

“Well, my tummy still feels a little hurt.” (she had strained it doing situps for their fitness tests the day before)

“I wasn’t asking if you should stay home from school today, I was asking if you wanted to.”

“Oh, well, yes, I would like that!”

I introduced the idea of “mental health days” to my eldest when she was young. She had a far more difficult time in school than Em has had, and the look of relief was always rather obvious. A day off school? Absolutely! As the years wore on, she would infrequently request them and I would usually oblige.

If the past six years of homeschooling has taught me anything, it is that kids do not suffer from a day off here or there. In fact, it can be rather beneficial.

We headed home and Em was in her room when I knocked at the door and whispered, “Would you like to go somewhere with me?”

Her face lit up? “Where?”

“Do you want me to tell you? Or do you want it to be a surprise?”

She grinned, “I want it to be a surprise.”

We told my dad we were heading out to run some errands and went to see the Ninjago Lego movie, eat popcorn, and fill our stomachs with three refills of Coca-Cola ICEE along with chocolate treats smuggled in from Trader Joe’s.

The movie was stupid, but Em loved it. More than anything, she loved spending time with me, and I felt the same about her.

I used to take her big sister on movie dates all the time when she was this age and younger. I hope to do more of it now that things have settled into a nice pattern.

If We Homeschool Again

While we were at the cleaning I asked Em lots of questions about school. What did she like best? What did she not like? Her answers made me smile…

Em likes…

  • Her homeroom teacher’s reading voice, “It’s soft and soothing, like yours, Mom
  • Science class – “It is always so fun! I love the experiments we do!”
  • P.E. – “We get to play games and stuff.” (And I always hated P.E.)

Em doesn’t like…

  • Math class – “I just don’t like math, Mom.”
  • Not being able to pee when she needs to pee
  • Not being able to talk during lunch – and seriously, what is up with that? That seems totally unfair!

I listened to her describe the ups and downs of her days. Finally I said, “I have a good idea of what I will do if we ever homeschool again.”

“Really? What?”

So I listed it out…

  • More science experiments and activities – it is obvious how much she loves the experiments and I think I could incorporate writing a short description of each activity and what she learned into the curriculum. And possibly get an experiment of the month subscription
  • Reading out loud with her – just like we are doing now, twice per day (I read in the morning before school and in the evening before bed)
  • More sports – soccer, homeschool sports, and maybe a yoga or dance class
  • More art – maybe explore a particular artist’s life and how they lived as we reproduce or create art in their particular style
  • Outsource math and history – through co-op classes. But also study from a basic math book and listen to Story of the World while doing art. Em might not like math, but she still needs to learn it.
  • Allow her to have screen time once she has finished her homeschool for the day instead of waiting until 5p.m. or later. It is a double-edged sword – but if she has it as an incentive, she usually applies herself to the work in front of her so she can “go have fun.”

I can see this public school working for this year and probably next year. But after that? Middle school? I’m not so convinced. I’ve simply told her, “If you decide you want to homeschool again, I’m up for it.”

And that is the truth.

Having my eldest stuck in the past and saying rather negative things about my parenting really shook me up. I’ll admit it. Combined with our life changes since my dad came to stay, and the stresses of other money-making endeavors, all snowballed into a painful decision to go with public school.

And it works quite well for now. I am also seeing, however, the possibility of making it work again in the future. The assessments show that I was doing a lot more right than wrong, something that I really needed to hear.

A New Domain Name Coming Soon

I just purchased the learningadvocate.org domain name and will be contacting GoDaddy for directions on how to make it point to this blog. I’ll eventually let the other one expire and just use learningadvocate. Because, after all…

Life is a Learning Adventure for All of Us

When I made the decision to send Em to public school, my thoughts inevitably turned to this blog. Should I keep it? Should I shut it down? What was I doing?

Crises of confidence are always fun, aren’t they?!

In the end I realized something very important – my signature on all of my correspondence reads…

Christine D. Shuck
Writer, Artist, Auto-Didact, and General Malcontent

And while I started this blog initially with the thought of encouraging others to homeschool while discussing my own path towards homeschool along with parenting ups and downs – in the end, it is about learning.

Lifelong learning – becoming an auto-didact – connecting with others in their quest to learn as well.

So this blog isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

More later, that’s enough writing for now!

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My Science Loving Wunderkind

So Em has been in public school for four weeks now and they have these assessment tests, the NWEA, also known as MAP tests. Apparently, they are assessed three times in a school year – at the beginning, the middle and the end of the year.

Now Em has never taken any kind of assessment test. She’s been homeschooled and I didn’t see any reason for her to take one while we were homeschooling and she was young. Assessments for college, sure, but elementary? Nah.

But public school is a whole new ball of wax. And I couldn’t help but be a little curious. How would she do?

The first one she took was the Reading test. Her score was equivalent to a 7th-grade reading level. And I couldn’t help but be proud. After all, this was a girl who didn’t really “get it” until age 8 1/2. She dug in her heels and avoided reading at all costs.

The second test was Math. Her score was just below grade level. Believe me, this was a relief, because I knew I hadn’t pushed math as much I probably should have. It isn’t my strength, and I had been easily discouraged when she would dig in her heels over math problems.

The third test was Writing and her score placed her in the 6th grade for writing ability – which made me happy and proud. She had also been rather reticent to write much, and I had tried a barrage of different techniques to change the tide on that particular stumbling block.

The final test was taken yesterday. And when she came home, she said, “I scored a 218 on the Science test. I think I did pretty good on it.”

Pretty good? Pretty good?

The expectations for 5th grade are as follows: 200, 203, and 205

I emailed her teacher for more info and was bowled over by the answer…218 equals a 11th grade understanding of Science!!!!

After recovering from this rather stunning news, I began to mentally review how it was possible she got to this level. Here is the list I came up with:

  • Native/innate talent/interest
  • LEARN Math & Science classes at Rockhurst Community Center
  • Science classes through our LEARN co-op
  • Car talks – discussions about what a hypothesis and how to conduct an experiment
  • Science City at Union Station
  • Nature studies – through co-ops, Nature School, City of Fountains, Camp Fire day camp, and walks together
  • Gardening/Chicken Keeping at home
  • Home science experiments and baking

It was actually rather shocking to see how much time we had spent on science. Most of it was a side effect of just having fun – walking, spending time in the garden, visiting Science City, enrolling her in Camp Fire day camp, et cetera.

Can I just say how proud I am of both of us? Me for getting her to these places and helping her explore her interests and her for obviously sucking down the learning when it came to science topics.

I took her to Glace for a celebratory ice cream and let her order whatever she wanted.

Seeing the results of these tests has absolutely changed the way I view our years spent homeschooling. Obviously, she has retained a great deal of knowledge and understanding of material – despite my multitude of fears of inadequacy. It is the atta-girl I have needed in the wake of such upheaval and change.

Retention Not Regurgitation

Lastly, this led to a further explanation/addressing of an issue I had with my dad a week or so ago. I wrote about it here. At dinner Wednesday evening, as we discussed Em’s science score on the NWEA. We asked her what kind of questions there were.

She remembered that there had been 42 questions, but could not recall a single question. She shrugged, “I just don’t remember any of them.”

And it cemented in my brain what I had already suspected. “This is what I was trying to explain. Em does not regurgitate well, but she obviously does a smashing job at retention. And when it comes to learning, retention is what is important, NOT regurgitation.”

I looked at Dad, “You were asking her to regurgitate something she had learned that day. But Em’s brain doesn’t work like that. Obviously, from the scores on the NWEA tests, we can see she has learned a great deal while being homeschooled, but it is all retention. So when we ask something more short-term, she can’t remember it. I would far rather see her retain that just mindlessly regurgitate.”

My little science-y wunderkind. I couldn’t be more proud!

Posted in Homeschool - Science, Resources | Leave a comment

Raising a Strong Woman

I have been thinking about strength and resiliency lately. What it takes to be strong, to bend with life’s misfortunes, to not break. And, raising a daughter, this has been especially important to me. I don’t want her to be a victim or act like a victim, I want her to know when to stand up for herself, how to defend herself against bad words, deeds, and intentions, and how to survive life’s many challenges.

Recently I added a book to my daily reading list. 365 Tao. Each day I read a passage and try to understand it. Sometimes I do, sometimes, not so much. Today I read the following passage:

Arctic breath coils the mountain,
Rattling the forests’ bones.
Raindrops cling to branches:
Jewelled adornment flung to earth.

Trees in winter lose their leaves. Some trees may even fall during storms, but most stand patiently and bear their fortune.

They endure rain, snow, wind, and cold. They bear the adornment of glycerin raindrops, glimmering icicles, or crowns of snow without care. They are not concerned when such lustrous splendor is dashed to the ground. They stand, and they wait, the power of their growth apparently dormant. But inside a burgeoning is building imperceptibly.

theirs is the forebearance of being true to their inner natures. It is with this power that they withstand both the vissitudes and adornment of life, for neither bad fortune nor good fortune will alter what they are. We should be th same way. We may have great fortune or bad, but we should patiently bear both. No matter what, we must always be true to our inner selves.

That really spoke to me.

What if being true to ourselves is also the key to being a strong woman? Cultivating that strength from the inside out?

You Take the Gravel and the Shell and You Make a Pearl

I don’t listen to Pink. But the video excerpt from the VMA awards circulating around Facebook caught my attention. I have watched it nearly half a dozen times now and it still makes me tear up.

There is poetry in the words she utters, “You take the gravel and the shell and you make a pearl.” And I think it is so relevant to so much of life.

We don’t need any grandiose words or popular movements to get behind, but we do need to learn/know/be the person who takes the shit end of the stick and makes something beautiful with it. Partly for our own sanity, and partly because the alternative is simply unacceptable.

She’s Not Afraid to Speak Up

I forgot to mention that in the second week of school, Em had been bothered by this boy who, from what she related to us, sounded like he was flirting with her. Apparently though, I have a daughter who does not put up with such nonsense and complained to the teacher.

That afternoon I received an email from her homeroom teacher mentioning that she had spoken with the boy and Em and explained to him that his actions were inappropriate and that they could get him into a fair amount of trouble if he continued.

He has since shown better behavior and I found the entire exchange fascinating. Em is no shrinking lily, she can and will stand up for herself and what she believes is right.

Body Proud

Em is reaching the age when her body is beginning to develop. We had been in the process of reading What Is Happening to My Body for Girls in homeschool, but had not finished at the end of spring when we took a break. Now with public school, I imagine they will have sex ed, but I would far rather teach her myself by continuing to read the book.

From what I’ve heard, Sex Ed in school can be a mess if not handled right, and I’ve always felt that as her parent, it is fully my responsibility to pass along the education, rather than a stranger. Or worse, no education at all and she learns things the hard way.

I remember her sister saying some things that I found shocking and immature, mainly centered around her fears of her body being “ruined” by childbirth. The last thing I want is for Em to get the idea that having children will “ruin” her. And not only because I want grandchildren some day, to me, that is no different than hating your body for not being in perfect shape.

I remember taking Dee to see the Vagina Monologues when she was a teenager. It was an eye-opening experience for both of us, and rather transformative. I plan on taking Em when she is a few years older.

If there is any gift I can give her to take with her into adolescence and adulthood, it is the sense of being proud of, and happy with, the body she has.

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A Gentle Pattern

There is a gentle pattern to our days now. Em seems very happy, And I’m not stressing over fitting homeschool into a full day of house cleanings, caring for my dad and writing. I’ve even contacted the North Kansas City Library about teaching just three classes next year.

Here is a rundown of the latest…

School Is Going Great!

I have long held the belief that, overall, learning should be enjoyable. Not every second of our lives is going to be fun, and there are plenty of moments that will be frustrating or boring, but when it comes to spending approximately 1/2 of your waking life somewhere, it should be a relatively pleasurable experience.

Em wakes up at 7 a.m. and has just a handful of things to do in the morning before she leaves for school:

  • Feed and water her cat, Sugar
  • Brush her hair
  • Get dressed

Breakfast and lunch are provided by the school (one of the many benefits to living in the ‘hood – free meals) and Em told me the other day, “I get to eat sweet cereal every day Mama. And there’s nothing you can do about it!”

I imagine there is something I could do, but I was more amused by it than anything else.

I usually spend a few minutes stretching in the exercise room (my former office) and we talk and visit while she brushes her hair.

So far, Em has taken three of the four NWEA tests – Reading, Writing, and Math. She was running a fever last Tuesday so she missed taking the Science one. Her Reading scores were at a 7th-grade level, her Writing scores were at a 6th-grade level, and her Math was just at grade level.

It had never occurred to me to administer any kind of placement test – but now I wish I had. I would have felt better about my homeschooling abilities if I had!

Em seems to be happy with all of her teachers, even the prickly Mrs. W., and from what I can tell, is trying hard in all of her classes.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again, no longer having to be the one to push homeschooling, I am now able to enjoy her company even more. We happily read aloud from a book up to five nights a week. Just a couple more chapters and we will be all done with Mary Poppins!

The Addition of Soccer

This past summer, Em had asked if she could join a soccer team. With little warning and the summer already upon us, I found a free soccer group but Em did not enjoy it much. Too many boys, all with attitudes about girls playing sports, and we quickly decided to try an all-girls team.

Last week, she attended her first practice. The Swope Park soccer complex is a BIG place and we sure had a difficult time finding her group at first. She was quick to listen and learn for the time that they had, and then her first game was on Saturday.

She did well, managing to land a few kicks that kept the ball out of the opposing team’s control. Her team lost the game, but not for lack of trying.

Unfortunately, some of the game times conflict with her participation in Harmony Project on Saturdays, so we are trying to balance it by skipping some games. This Thursday she will go to practice, but she will skip the game. I figured she needs the practice a little more and then she will be a more effective (and valuable player) in later games.

Keeping In Touch With Our Homeschool Community

This past Saturday we also went to Double Digit Game Night, which is a LEARN event. Just $5 for three hours of hanging out with her homeschool peeps while I relax with some of the mamas.

It was bittersweet, talking with them. They are in the midst of curriculum planning and discussing a yearbook. And while we have a membership paid through the end of the year, I felt a little out of the loop. Public school or homeschool, I can’t be both. I’ll probably maintain my LEARN membership for a year or two more, though. It helps to stay connected, and I have no idea how the next few years in public school will turn out for Em.

Car Talks

“You really seem happy in school, Em.” I said as we drove to Double Digits Game Night, “I’m happy for you.”

Em smiled, “I am happy, Mama, I really like it.”

“You know, Daddy asked me if I was okay with that – with you being so happy in school – and I told him yes. I am a little sad because I miss homeschooling you, but I’m also really happy because your test scores show me that I was doing a LOT right, and that made me feel real good.”

“You did do a good job, Mama! The teacher’s think I’m really smart!”

“Well, you are smart. More importantly, though, you try hard.” (This is something I have tried to promote with Emily all of her life – smart is nice, but trying, and keep on trying, is what helps you succeed. Native intelligence only goes so far.)

“I just want you to know, Em, that as long as you are happy in public school, and doing well, I am completely supportive of you doing it. If you become unhappy or are having a lot of trouble, then we can always go back to homeschooling. I know now that I was on the right track, and that I was probably being too hard on myself. But no matter what, you are the focus here, not me.”

And then she smiled at me – a huge, bright grin – “You are the best mama, you know that, right?”

Oh, my heart.

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What Did You Learn Today?

Having my dad living with us has continued to provide me with powerful lessons – moments that reveal to me my own shortcomings, mannerisms and attitudes handed down to me by my parents.

One of them – the compulsion to put others down when frustrated or disappointed – came screaming to the forefront today.

It started innocently enough. As Em left for school, my dad said, “Have a good day at school and come home and tell me something that you learned.”

At that moment, I felt a wave of discomfort rise in me.

I can remember him asking the same of me.

This evening, at dinner, my dad turned to her and asked, “So, tell me what you learned in school today.”

She thought about it, “Well, we learned about something called DARE.”

I groaned, my mind flashing to Dee’s immersion in D.A.R.E. around that age. But Em was discussing something different. “It stood for Define, Arrange,…and I can’t remember the last two.”

After a couple of questions from me, we learned that it was some kind of language arts concept, probably in regards to writing.

But what my dad said next, set my fur on edge. “So tell me something you did learn, since you obviously didn’t learn DARE.” He said the last part of the sentence quietly, almost under his breath, but I heard it and knew immediately why I had felt uneasy that morning.

How many times had I been made to feel stupid, incompetent, or insufficient? Just because I couldn’t remember the entire details of a concept I had learned?

“Don’t you dare do that.” I barked at him, “Don’t you dare try to shame her because she doesn’t remember every detail of that concept. That is NOT okay.”

Dave, who had been only half-listening, was taken aback. “I don’t think he meant to shame her,” he said, “he was just asking what she learned.”

“Oh really?” I turned back to my dad, “Go on, tell him what you said.”

Dad was silent. I glared at him, and Dave quickly changed the subject, doing his best to calm the waters.

I took him outside afterward and explained what had happened, what he hadn’t heard my dad say, and why it garnered such a strong reaction. I went back inside and walked into the living room.

“I would like to talk to you.”

Dad muted the television.

“Do you know why I objected to what you said.”

“Yes, you didn’t want her to feel shamed for not knowing what each letter of DARE meant.”

“And why would I have a problem with that?” I asked him.

“Because Emily needs to be encouraged, not put down.”

I nodded. “I cannot count the number of times in my childhood when I felt stupid, or incompetent, because of something like that. And I grew up, and I did it to Dee, and I started to do it to Em too. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to do it anymore.”

And then I got up and walked away to go explain myself to Em. She hadn’t heard his snipe at the dinner table. So she had been quite confused by it all.

I want Em to have this amazing, magical connection with her own children when she has them. I want her to not battle these demons that I have battled, or repeat the mistakes that I have made. I want this particular family trait to cease and never raise its ugly head again.

Shaming a child, making them feel stupid or insufficient or lacking in some way – it doesn’t help, it only hurts. How I wish I had learned these lessons three decades ago.

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Good News, Great News

With over two weeks of public school under our belts – I wanted to update everyone on how things have been, and how both Em, Dave and I are adjusting to our new norm.

A Seventh Grade Reading Level?!

Recently Em took an online reading test. As her homeroom teacher, Ms. L. explained, the more the student knows, the more questions they are asked. Em scored high, a 212, which equaled out to mean she is reading at a 7th-grade level. Considering she is in 5th grade, and that it took until she was eight before she felt comfortable reading, I thought this was a fabulous score.

I’ve beaten myself up a lot about not reading enough with her – but I think just the exposure alone to books and an advanced vocabulary has helped enormously.

Embracing Science

Yesterday I was on the phone when Em came home and instead of coming upstairs, she went straight to the kitchen. I finished with my call and headed down to see her.

I expected that she hadn’t liked lunch and was grabbing a snack – which in a sense she was – but her mind was fully on reproducing a science experiment that her science teacher, Ms. G., had shown them. She had taken the basic recipe for salt dough, and substituted sugar for a majority of the salt (“But not all sugar, because that would have made it too sweet, Mama”) and was busy chowing down on a flour, water, sugar and small amount of salt mixture.

I took these photos and emailed them to her teacher. Props to Ms. G, you are an awesome science teacher!

Our New Rituals

Each morning during the week, Em wakes up at around 7 a.m. Since her school provides breakfast and lunch free of charge, there is only a handful of duties in the morning before she has to leave: make sure Sugar has food and water, brush hair, and get dressed. She often does this as I do stretching exercises on the floor of our workout room.

She likes it when I walk her to school so we walk together to the end of the block and then a kiss and hug and she is off with the crossing guard across and then down the street to the back doors of the school.

In the afternoon, she runs home and barrels into my arms, smiling and happy (except for one day when she didn’t have enough lunch and showed that she is as prone to hypoglycemic attacks as I am).

In the evening, at around 8 p.m. we begin bedtime rituals. A bath first. Then afterward we brush our teeth together and then snuggle up in my king-size bed for a half hour of reading.

Last night, the time got away from us both and it was 8:52 when she asked for us to read together. “I know I need to be in bed, but this is my favorite time of the day with you, Mama.”

And how could I say “no” to that? We read until 9:20 in Mary Poppins.

I’m Finally Okay With This

I will admit it. When I first decided to do it, to put her in school and let go of the reins, I was frustrated, overwhelmed, and very depressed. It felt like a failure like I was giving up.

And in a perfect world, I would be independently wealthy, possess the perfect blend of Mary Poppins and the mom from Leave it To Beaver, and be able to spend my days feeding her curiosity.

But for now, in this time and space and with these teachers (yes, even Ms. W has come round and seems to really like Em), Em has what she needs. And that is such an incredible relief for me. It means that I can focus on work and make things run smoother here in the house and in our renovation projects. It means that at the end of the day I haven’t struggled to get her to do what she needs to do. I’m not worn out from educating and parenting all day long and I really, REALLY love being able to lie down with her and read each night.

All of this has brought us closer – and we are all a lot happier with the results.

A month or two ago, I could never have imagined that it could be this good. I guess I did better than I initially thought and Em is responding better than I could have hoped – both combining into a huge WIN for this little family.

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Fits and Starts

Today Em will be back at Whittier. I slept poorly for the second night in a row, my thoughts occupied with running through our options…

  • try again with Kauffman
  • return to Whittier
  • augment Whittier with a touch of homeschool during our mom/daughter time

And every time I thought of returning for a second or third day with Kauffman, I flashed onto the memory of Em’s tear-filled eyes beseeching me to tell them the truth, that we had agreed to one day, and one day only.

She was scared, intimidated, and was also tired, hungry and suffering from her fall allergies. It wasn’t a perfect test, but I have to live with the results and agree that, for now, Whittier is our best choice.

A Catastrophic Day

We received an acceptance offer to Kauffman Charter School on Wednesday, and despite having “made up our minds to attend Whittier” I couldn’t help but wonder if we should at least give it a chance.

Em was not excited. She was also beginning to get the sniffles – a sure sign of fall allergies setting in – but she agreed to “try out Kauffman for one day.”

On Wednesday night she was quite nervous, and slept in our room, tossing and turning, talking in her sleep. Dave, who had ear plugs in, was the only who got a full night’s sleep.

Combine that with the early hour, not enough breakfast, and a full immersion into the school’s unique way of educating children and we had nothing less than catastrophe.

Worse, I was told by the staff member to pick her up at 4:30, but Kauffman has an early release all this week at 1:30! So Em waited for half an hour, dissolving into tears, The phone rang at 2pm, “Come get me, school let out at 1:30.” She couldn’t manage to say anything more and I ran for the door and drove there as quickly as I could.

I finally got there, went to the wrong gate, then parked when I should have pulled forward to some invisible place I knew nothing about and went to the front office which was the incorrect place to go. They were kind and walked her over to the office where she appeared, face and eyes swollen from crying, and buried her face in my chest.

“We will see you tomorrow, Emily!” the staff member chirped brightly and Em stared up at me, her eyes brimming with unshed tears, silently beseeching me to set them right.

This morning I called them and said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think this is going to work out this year. Frankly, she was terrified and overwhelmed.”

Reading Adventures – Full Steam Ahead!

A few days ago I was watching Curiosity Stream “The Real Mary Poppins” and I felt a huge twinge of sadness. On our bookshelves in our library are four of the Mary Poppins books in hardcover, purchased when Em was a baby or I was pregnant with her. We began to read the first book years ago, but never finished.

My heart twanged with sadness. Was it too late? Had I missed our window?

Years ago, struggling as a single mom, I had wanted to buy all of the Oz books, in hardcover when I discovered them coming out at the local Barnes and Noble. I had wanted to read each one to Dee, but time, energy, finances and more had meant that we never did, something I regretted immensely over the years.

I have come to believe that parenting is made up of 25% interactions and 75% guilt.

I checked on Amazon for the age range, realized it was ages 10-12, and immediately proposed we read the first Mary Poppins book after we finished When A Monster Calls. By the way, this was an excellent, if grim book. Fair warning, it will make you cry!And now I’m trying to figure out how to shove the Oz books, of which I have all of the first 14 and possibly half of the next 14 (written by Ruth Plumly Thompson), as well as Little House on the Prairie collection, Anne of Green Gables collection, and Lemony Snicket’s books all into our reading repertoire.One chapter a night, at least 4-5 nights per week. That’s my goal.Now that the onus of homeschooling is off of my plate, reading isn’t “an activity to shove in before bedtime in addition to all of the other gotta do’s” – it’s time with Em to cuddle close and enjoy her presence. It also means a limit to her screen time each evening, but in a way that she will enjoy.

The Trio of Fairies Continues

It occurred to me that I have not updated on our continued fairy journal. And I will predicate this by saying that we do not write often. This is because I forget to…constantly…despite having several obscure notes on my desk reminding me to do so (they kind of get buried under other papers).

In any case, Em is enjoying her interactions with Whip,Snap and Per, limited as they are. It provides a nice note of levity to our days, and Em responds so well to the pretense that I cannot help but continue.

Here are the last few interactions…

In case this is hard to read it says:”Dear Whip, Snap and Per – We haven’t talked in a while so here’s an update today. I [hurt] a lot and it feels like I [might] have burned myself on a firework but the pain started this morning but I’m not [sure] please write me back I miss you three bye – Em-Lee”

The fairies call her “Em-Lee” which she finds amusing, so they have continued to do this. Here is how the responded…

Em wrote back rather quickly…

And my response back (finally) yesterday…

She had a good giggle this morning as she read the entry and immediately noticed it was from Whip. She enjoys it, and we both pretend that I am merely a bystander in all of this. I regularly comment that fairies “are rather unreliable, flighty things” to explain my inability to remember to write back regularly.

She takes it in stride. When she is tired of waiting she comes to me and says, “Mama, the fairies STILL haven’t written back.”

And then I try desperately to remember while she is still asleep in the morning.

It’s all about timing, after all. The little shits are nocturnal.

Internal Struggles

It isn’t PC to post about your emotional turmoil – to speak frankly, or worse to continue to repeat what your pain feels like. We live in a society that admonishes us to “buck up” and “put on a brave face” after all.

But six weeks after what felt like the final blow in Dee’s and my relationship and I’m still reeling, still floundering about and trying to define who I am in the face of a diatribe of labels. I am also trying to match her words with the person I had spent 18 months peaceably living with from May 2015 to December 2016 (not to mention her first 18 years of existence).  The years we had spent working out our issues, and the past 18 months of not only living together but often working together – having such a different, starkly negative outlook from her, it continues to shake me.

I look at Em and think of how much I love her. How much I loved her sister. I think about how I put off college when Dee was struggling in school. Because to work full-time AND go to college meant I wasn’t there and present for her. And she came first. I had no idea at the time the gravity of the situation affecting her, no inkling that my second husband was not the man I thought he was, but still. I was willing to wait, to put off college and focus on what was important, her.

And with Em, the decision on whether to homeschool or not was an exquisitely painful one. Was I neglecting her by working? Had I condemned her to a sub-par education because I was concerning myself with retirement and money issues?

Not a single one of my decisions as of late have been easy. The decision to not argue, not post a blistering response to the fallacies uttered by my eldest, to not defend myself in any way – that was really hard. It’s still hard. Of all the people in the world, the ones we love have the greatest capacity to hurt us. They know our secret fears, they know just how and where to twist that knife.

Accepting that I could not give Em the best educational experience, due to needing to work, write and more – that was really hard. I look at her and remember Dee at her age. I was desperate to slow down time, to extend each minute, each hour, and truly enjoy my time with them. I was, and still am, painfully aware of how quickly our children grow into adults.

These fears, these moments of sheer misery reach out and smack me regularly. They wake me up in the middle of the night and will not let go for hours.

I say this, not because I need sympathy, kind words, or advice. Honestly? They won’t help. I just need to experience it, and hopefully make it to the other side. I need to accept that my eldest will no longer be in my life and that there is nothing to do or say to change that. She does not want me.

I say it because I know there are others out there going through painful moments. They may not be the same, the circumstances tweaked in a far different way. But it is there. Hold strong. Allow yourself to grieve, to question yourself (and to create new answers) about the person that you truly are.

I doubt I will ever understand why this has happened now, after all of these years and effort, sacrifice and love. But I know that I have to accept it and move on. I have a child who loves me and needs me – and she is who I am going to focus on. Because in the end, that is really all that is left to do.

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