Friday, January 28, 2011

Fearful Freak Outs

It never ceases to amaze me how much people love to share and spread fears. I don't know if freaking other people out in the process is a motivator or just an unfortunate side effect, but in either case, I wonder what the point is. It certainly isn't very productive or helpful.

Here's an example- My kids and I are planning to visit all 50 states in the next few years, and are currently preparing for the first leg- halfway cross country with 2 kids and a tent. Some people are excited for us, but others can't seem to tell me enough just how dangerous the idea is. You would think we were heading off in a canoe down an uncharted river full of poisonous snakes instead of driving on public highways in a developed nation. They say we could be mugged, murdered, abducted. Lions, tigers, bears- Oh my!

The fact that we walk the streets downtown in our own city all the time and theoretically we could be mugged and murdered right here at home is something they don't seem to acknowledge. When I asked one relative in particular about this, (who was so nervous at the thought of my journey that she had an attack of the hiccups) she said "Out of state weirdos are always creepier than local weirdos." Well, I took a good look around, and it seems to me that there's weirdos a plenty all over the place, including an abundance of locally grown creepy ones. I just try to steer clear of them. Just a few minutes perusing the local news online brings up plenty of stories full of big time creepers as well as just general idiots causing trouble.

That's precisely why I avoid large doses of the news. I do like to know what's going on in the world for the most part, but I also think it's damaging to be bombarded with all the trauma, woe and suffering that most news media is focused on. Who needs all that bad news? And where is the good news?

I had a rather negative and bitter person imply that I was naive and sheltered because I prefer not to watch bad news, especially with my kids. They said we couldn't just pretend bad things weren't happening in the world. I found it interesting that this person who has a steady diet of not only news, but numerous homicide shows, does very little if anything in the way of volunteering, donating or otherwise trying to improve the world. They do seem to spend a good deal of time complaining and brewing fears. I may not enjoy watching images of devastation and death, and I try to avoid putting the images in my kids minds either, but we are all aware there are plenty of things that need fixing in the world. We just prefer to spend our time and money trying to help where we actually can instead of just gawking and complaining.

Sometimes I know fears are based on genuine concern, as in the case of my hiccuping relative, but other times I'm not so sure. I teach childbirth classes and my clients are often slammed by horror stories of everything that could possibly go wrong. For goodness sakes- the world is overpopulated because the whole birth / baby thing works. And how exactly is telling scary stories about childbirth to a pregnant woman who is about to go through the process supposed to be helpful? The stories never seem to have any type of prevention theme, just fear about how close to death they will be. My theory is that sharing these nightmares is therapeutic for the teller, and they usually are not even thinking about the impact it will have on their audience. Maybe if they realized how much anxiety they were creating they would shut up?

Since some people probably won't realize, and won't shut up with their fear spreading, I just tend to smile at the talker and pretend I am listening while making a noise in my heads to block out the story- something like you hear on Charlie brown when the adults talk "Wah, wah, wah, wah wah"  or I also really like "I can't hear you. I'm not listening. You can't make me."

I figure that life is full of adventures, and they generally are a little scary. That's what makes them different from ordinary, every day life. I just don't want to be so afraid of things that I miss out on opportunities. I'm trying to teach my kids to be safe and smart, not fearful. The world is a wonderful place, and we want to see it. So when we head across country or just out the front door, we'll just try to use our brains, and ignore the fearful freak outs.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Balancing the Tiger in the West

By now, most people have probably chimed in on the controversy of Amy Chua's Wall Street Journal article about her strict parenting methods. I think I instinctively raised one eyebrow and had a slight nostril flare / lip curl reaction to the title "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior." Since I am not a Chinese mother, the title implied that I am inferior, and no mother likes to hear that. In fact, it's likely to bring out the inner angry bull of this Western Latina mother. (I read in a subsequent interview that Chua did not chose the headline, but I am sure the hullabaloo will help boost sales of her book.) I also instinctively knew that in reading the article, I was probably going to feel like I was having the finger pointed at me as a "slacker parent."

As a homeschooling mother in a primarily Caucasian area, I can tell you that Asians are not the only ones who have high standards and work their children hard. I've seen lots of white kids who are required to spend hours on grueling projects, and I think that they sometimes get the resulting prodigy offspring as well. Chua would probably gasp at my relaxed and eclectic homeschooling style- not quite unschooling, but what I refer as "fun-schooling" just as I'm sure that some of the more formal homeschooling families around here are mortified by my methods of the combining of fun and education. I've heard moms at park day lamenting the hours of hair pulling (figuratively, not literally) and tears over painful math worksheets, and phonics lessons. I doubt however that the Western parents would publicly admit if they withheld bathroom privileges or food, because even in a pro spanking crowd, that's a little hard core.

While I was a little shocked and saddened by some of her methods, I think that Chua has already had a more than sufficient tongue lashing for her parenting style, apparently including death threats and calls for her to "go back to China." Unfortunately, that is a risk of putting your work in front of a large scale audience of people who grew up on the idea that they have a right to say what they think. Regrettably, some aren't smart enough to realize that other people have the same free speech rights they do, even if they don't agree, and that just because they are thinking something, doesn't mean they have to say it. A few of them will just be rude and ugly.

Not at all meaning to be ugly, but from the outside, it doesn't sound very fun to be a child at Chua's house. On the other hand, it does sound like she does what she does out of love. Depending on the results you're looking for, the militant style may produce them. If you are able to break their spirit, you will either get compliant kids who excel, or miserable ones who loathe themselves and their parents and crack under the pressure. Of course, if they are Western enough in their thinking, they may just rebel too.

Chua does have a valid point though that there are certainly plenty of young Western kids with a sense of entitlement who have no idea how or why they should work for anything. This is where the balance comes in. Personally, I don't want hard workers who aren't free thinkers, and I don't want little wankers either. I don't want to raise kids to believe that they have to do things they hate just to please other people, or kids who think everyone should do everything for them. I want to raise people who like life, and like themselves- who know how to work hard when they have a goal- who understand that life isn't always easy and that sometimes you have to do things you don't like, but at the same time will question authority and think creatively to avoid mind numbing fates like crunching numbers in a cubicle (unless of course they actually enjoy crunching numbers in a cubicle, then by all means, I want them to go for it.)

What I really don't want to raise is trained poodles who will jump through hoops and perform tricks on demand because they are afraid the shock collar will come out if they don't. I am not raising worker bees, I'm raising kids, and I want them to be happy kids. To clarify, I don't think wanky kids who get whatever they want are happy. They often seem miserable too, just in a different way than stifled kids, but the wankers make everyone else miserable right along with them.

To me, being relaxed doesn't mean we don't have standards, or that my kids don't work hard, show respect, or have goals. I think it sometimes surprises folks in the stricter camps to see my kids winning writing awards and art contests when we don't push any of these things. The thing is they enjoy those things, and want to work hard on them, so they do. It's self motivation at it's best, and when a person has a natural talent, the end results are easier to see. But I'm also happy for my kids to try things that aren't natural talents for them. They can play sports or try activities, even if they aren't #1, and I don't feel the need to get them an award just for trying. I still expect them to try hard and do their best, and hopefully enjoy the season. If they don't, then what's the point in my driving them there?

I don't think I could ever be a Tiger mother like Chua, nor would I want to. My kids in fact, were mortified when I told them about her methods. They will however attest to the fact that I can certainly roar when I need to.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Sugar...His and Hers

Isn't it amazing how differently people, even in the same family, can go about life? My kids and I have been having some great discussions about this lately. We hang out with a pretty eclectic group of families so the fact that different families have different ways is not exactly new, but the older they get, the more they notice. They have also been noticing more and more lately the differences under our roof.

I assume that if you have been with your significant other a while, you probably notice that you have some significant differences too? My Dear Husband and I were well aware that we thought differently about a lot of things from the beginning. We don't even always agree on the big stuff like politics and religion, but it was never a big deal- it was just how we are. In fact, I rarely even thought about the differences........ until we had kids. Then, our separate ways were a little more front and center.

Of course everyone has their own ways of doing things in life, and that's OK an all, but in the end, I'm usually pretty certain that my way is the right way. I often think that if people would just do things my way, life would run so much more smoothly (for me at least.)

Lest I sound unreasonable and selfish in my opinion here, I have to say that at least when it comes to my family, I put a whole lotta thought and research into my ideals, goals and decision making. It may look like I'm just winging it, but I've really put a lot of work into it. Thankfully, even if we don't agree on details, we do agree on the big picture- a healthy family that loves each other.

Still, the other day I was struck by this one little example of how we do things differently...

When buying sugar for the family, here is what I would bring home:

When Dear Husband comes home from the store with sugar, here is what he buys:

Thankfully, this is just sugar, and it's not really the end of the world if we end up consuming a bleached, processed product that was a "great value" rather than the organic and rather lovely product that I would have chosen to sweeten our lives. So, in times like these, I am learning to just let go and try to be glad that I don't have to drink black coffee. I do hope my children will end up choosing my (better) product when they are making the choice for themselves, but I also hope they will know that it's OK if not everyone makes the same choice, and that you can love a person, even if they bring home products that you would be embarrassed to have in your shopping cart.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Popping Up Some Edible Science

Science Experiments You Can Eat: Revised EditionMy hands on family loves both food and science, so we were really excited to come across Vicki Cobb's book Science Experiments You Can Eat at the library.
It isn't slick or glossy, nor does it have a lot of colorful illustrations. But, it is full of all kinds of fun chemistry and science experiments, most of which seem plenty easy to try at home.  While everything I looked at in the book so far has involved food ingredients, they did not all sound like something I would want to eat. Molds for example... not so tasty sounding.

We started with something that we would want to eat- the popcorn experiments. We love popcorn and our air popper is out a couple of times a week, For this experiment, we were looking at measuring the moisture in popcorn kernels, and how varying amounts would effect the finished product.

One group of popcorn kernels were to be soaked in water overnight. Not being professional scientists, but rather a group of sidetracked multi-taskers, we accidentally forgot all about the kernels the next day, so they actually ended up soaking for a couple of days. When we remembered, the kernels had swollen incredibly, and the water actually had a fairly strong alcoholic smell to it. So, we ended up with a bonus experiment in brewing, however, we decided that the children should probably not actually consume that batch. Never one to waste though, I figured we could just give it to the chickens.

 The second batch, was to be dried in the oven on a very low heat for a couple of hours. Now, I would have thought that popcorn kernels are already dried, but apparently, we were just removing any trace of moisture that was there. Thankfully, we did not forget about this batch, as I'm sure the results would have been even smellier than the forgotten wet batch. The kernels didn't look dramatically different, but they did shrink up a bit.

The last batch was the control- just plain popcorn. We wanted to observe how the kernels varied in appearance, size and weight both before and after popping.

My Girl Child is an organized little thing, so she got busy and took thorough notes of the process. I got out the butter and nutritional yeast, ready to snack.

The wet batch not only smelled bad, but it hardly popped at all.

The super dried batch popped, but not as well as it normally would. It didn't quite look right, and when we tasted it, well, it was really dry. Not that popcorn isn't usually dry, but this was not your normal dry- it was like sandpaper dry.

The normal batch popped up light and fluffy as we expected and it was the only one we ate. The chickens didn't complain about the pitifully popped and possibly alcoholic wet batch or the dry as the desert batch. In fact, they happily gobbled it all up, and if they were at all "loopy" afterward, we couldn't tell the difference. It was cold out anyway, so maybe it helped to keep them warm that night.

We learned that apparently there is a science to having just the right amount of moisture in popcorn kernels, and that manufacturers can't just wing it when they dry it, or they will have unhappy customers and an unpleasant product.

We've tried a few other experiments out of the book, and will try more in the future, I'm sure. Some we are likely to actually eat, like the rock candy, and others we are not so likely to consume, like the ones involving molds. In any case, it's a fun little book with lots of great activities, so don't let the lack of pretty pictures discourage you.

What kinds of science experiments is your family popping up these days?

Monday, January 3, 2011


Recently some moms in my local homeschool email list mentioned that their kids had been teased in some of their classes. Although there was a small response along the lines of "kids will be kids" or "that's just life," I think most people were genuinely surprised that teasing was happening in such small groups of homeschooled kids. No one likes to believe their kids could be a part of such things, especially when we've gone out of the way to give them happy, sheltered childhoods. Homeschooling families take on a big commitment for raising our kids ourselves, and I know I keenly feel the responsibility that comes with that.

I think one of the hardest things for kids (or adults) to do when they see someone being teased or bullied is to stand up for the victim. Many people won't actually take part in the bullying, but they won't say anything against it either. I want my kids to know that if they see someone being mean to another kid, it's OK to say something like "Knock it off" or throw them a look that lets them know clearly they don't think their bullying is cool. I know confronting people is really uncomfortable, and not at all easy to do. In some situations, it could just turn the bully against you, but just standing there watching makes the victim feel like everyone there agrees with the bully. And I think some bullies thrive on an audience. If they can't take a stand, at least say "Let's go" and / or at some point let the victim know that you don't agree with whatever meanness was happening.

While there is some teasing that homeschooled kids may incur, I really don't think it is anything like what most kids in school have witnessed. Certainly my kids know very little of bullying compared to what I saw by the time I was their ages. They can't even imagine. The thing is, outside of schools, it isn't really so much a part of life. Of course there are jerks in the world, but as an adult I haven't really seen other adults blatantly making fun of hair, clothes, body shape, physical ability etc in the malicious ways I recall kids behaving. I've heard adults talk about other people behind their backs (which is not cool either,) but not the straight in your face meanness. I can't imagine going into a workplace and hearing "That outfit makes you look fat and your hair is stupid."

As parents, it is definitely our job to let our kids know what is ok behavior and what isn't. Even if it isn't meant to be cruel, words can hurt, and kids should know that. It's one thing if a 2 year old says "Why are you so fat?" or "Why is your car all rusty?" or "This food is gross" and it's a completely different scene if an 10 year old says the same thing. At some point, they should know that it is rude.

That's just my 14 cents...
What's your take on teasing?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Enjoying the New Year

Another year gone and a new one on the horizon. I love fresh starts, and all the possibilities that dreams and goals for the future bring. My friend Erin inspired me a few days ago with a blog post about her word for the year. Her "forging" ahead was inspired by another writer who talks about forgoing resolutions in favor of choosing a single word as a focus for change. I like this idea quite a bit and I've been thinking about it for days. So many many directions to to choose just one? 

I thought I had my word for the year with "Enjoy" but then I remembered there's already a Northern California lifestyle magazine with that name. In fact, I had been thinking that I would enjoy writing for "Enjoy" in the New Year, so maybe I need another word of my own. 

So, being a geeky word type who also dislikes stealing other people's thunder, I hit where I spent a good amount of time getting lost in synonyms. Then I wasted a bunch more time researched even further going in all kinds of directions, perusing random vocabulary sites in my search for the perfect word to inspire me into 2011. Relish? Savor? Revelry? Treasure? Celebrate? Merriment? Luxuriate? Laugh? Abundance? I got completely sidetracked and was on to words like "chortle" and "cackle," the latter of which has actually been used to describe my merriment, but I don't think that makes it a word to live by. Maybe"patience" (or maybe I should be realistic.) "Love" is a good one, and so is "Blessings." So many words, I may have to get back to you....

For now, I still really like "enjoy" as it covers a lot of bases, and it truly does sum up how I'd like to live. Maybe I'll keep it as my word for the year- I'm OK with choosing to enjoy my New Year, even if I'm not the only one using the word. It's a great word after all. I'm hoping the magazine folks won't mind either, and as long as I leave "magazine" out of my "enjoy," I don't think I'll be violating any copyright laws either.

In any case, I felt blessed and happy as I luxuriated in eating, drinking and being merry during a mellow, but happy New Years Eve with people I enjoy.We laughed, (I may have even cackled) played family games and watched movies, and eventually watched the festivities in New York on TV.

The highlight of our festivities was about 20 minutes to midnight when I went out to get yet more firewood to keep us from freezing before morning, and surprisingly, it was SNOWING. I ran in to get the kids who immediately ran outside and shrieked with joy. They ran back in shortly when they realized they had forgotten to bundle up and they were freezing. Layers of clothing were added and back out they went to dance and celebrate the magical midnight snow. The made another run out to bang pots and pans a little after midnight just in case anyone in the county had managed to not hear the revelry the first two times. It was a very happy way to ring in a new year.

The snow lasted till morning. It wasn't quite enough to sled by, but the kids tried anyway. The may be a tad bruised, but they are young and full of resilience. Hey- that's another good word- "resilience." I can't wait to hear what the kids come up with as their word for 2011.  Girl Child is leaning towards "fun."

I wish you all blessings, and hope you Enjoy the New Year!