Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What Ever Happened to Childhood?

I spent a lovely day yesterday chatting with friends and drinking tea while kids of all ages ran amok, played games, ate scones and made crafts. Throughout the afternoon big kids picked up books and read them to little kids or themselves, several board games were figured out and a rather elaborate game that involved characters and plot was created.

Days like this make me so thankful for the freedom and flexibility of our homeschooling lifestyle.

Driving to take my son to play basketball that afternoon, I noticed a number of tiny kids struggling backpacks that looked like they weighed more than the kids themselves. Later, while writing a letter in a cafe, I could overhear a number of conversations related to homework and school struggles. None of them sounded as though there was any love of learning taking place. Most of them seemed to be rather down on themselves and education, both of which made me sad.

It reminded me of a rant I wrote a few years ago for a newspaper about schools pushing kids too hard, too early. I know that not all schools push kids, but it does seem to be a trend. The baffling thing to me is that as a society we are going along with it.

What ever happened to childhood?!? 

Here's that piece- I'd love to hear what you all think about the subject:

"People who care about young children should be outraged by how much more academic work kindergarteners are supposed to be doing now than was expected of them in the past, including reading and homework. We should be questioning why or if and how this benefits our children.

Some kids have always been ready to read early, but are all children somehow now developmentally ready a year or two earlier than they were 20 years ago? The intervention programs label many children as slow, but they would have been right on schedule a few years ago. These labels will follow them through school and most kids will learn to live up to their label of being slow and inadequate. I would think that many of the kids aren't even slow, but just stuck in a system that is moving way too fast. It's the system of too high expectations too early that needs intervention, not the children.

What ever happened to childhood and time to play? Of course reading and literacy are important, but why at 5 years old? What's the rush? Do we need or even want our youngest children to be able to read all the newspaper and magazine headlines, many of which are about terrible violence in the world, or all of the advertising that you cannot avoid if you leave your home? Who is speaking up for the rights of the children to just be children? Five-year-olds need to be listening to and enjoying stories from books, not being forced to do worksheets that only frustrate them.

Many school children I talk to will read only for schoolwork or prizes, certainly not to gain information for themselves or because they enjoy it. Many end up hating it. Perhaps no child will be left behind, but many of them will grow up thinking they are stupid or slow and never learn to read for pleasure, find enjoyment in education or truly think for themselves. It doesn't seem like this is a system that is about the children anymore, but one that is about making money with textbooks, tests and intervention programs.

Next, will we move the ages of crawling and walking up a few months, and develop some programs to assist all these children who may have been fine on the old time line, but are just too slow these days?

I know there are plenty of parents and teachers who agree that this is ridiculous. I think we all need to stand up and speak out loudly for these kids. We shouldn't just accept this loss of childhood and force our kids to grow up sooner than they need to."

*****This article was originally published in the Record Searchlight's "Speak Your Piece" column and also is featured on the Homeschool Resource Center website.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Meal

Back in January, I chose the word "Explore" for my word of the year, and since we're two months into 2012, it's probably time to evaluate and see if I'm going anywhere with it.

So far, my exploring has been mostly been focused on art, writing, and money money schemes that don't include having a regular full time job (all completely legal and morally responsible, of course) I just finished a mini little art project from the folks over at the Art House Co op in Brooklyn- the same folks who inspired me to do the Traveling Sketchbook Project in January.

This current project was called "The Meal" and the idea was that people all over the globe get together at the same time to share a meal from wherever they are, and then take a picture of themselves, and their meal. The Art House people will then create an exhibition of the "global snack" photos.

The set time was noon in New York, but 3 hours earlier where I was. 9 AM isn't exactly early for me, but let's just say I prefer to avoid public appearances in the morning, and that includes photos. Timeliness isn't my strong point anyway.

Well, every time I tried shooting the photo with myself in it, I somehow captured that unsightly inner arm view- you know, the pale, wobbly, and very unflattering one that proves I should probably start some sort of upper body strength training before my arm flaps accidentally whack someone when they're flopping around unrestrained. It was very disturbing, indeed.

Anyway, we do a lot of reciprocal homeschooling around here, meaning the kids teach me as well as my teaching them. My amazing Girl Child taught me to use the timer on the camera so I could avoid the arm angle, and still get myself smiling with my meal. But by this time, I had cold coffee and low blood sugar grumpiness and still hadn't eaten. Ahhh- the things we endure for art!

Due to my hunger and caffeine withdrawals, my smile looked forced, and rather scary, and in the end, I still liked the photo of just the food. At least it was yummy when I finally got to eat it.

What creative endeavors are you up to this week?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Long Shots

If you keep your eyes and ears open, you'll probably find that life is full of amazing and wonderful opportunities. The art of writing is no exception- contests, submission calls, grants and workshops abound, many of which can help a writer become stronger at their craft. Of course, if you have the least bit of a skeptical nature, as I do, you'll quickly realize just how unlikely some of the opportunities are to ever happen.

I'm fairly diligent about looking for new markets and ideas, but when I come across a prospect that's a complete long shot, I often wonder whether I should even bother trying. To be honest, more often than not, I don't even try. Instead, like many people, I resign myself to the fact that the opportunity is out of my league, and I should probably just concentrate on smaller pieces of pie.

The thing is, I've been feeling hungry for a bigger slice. I've been reading helpful how-to articles for writers, subscribing to lists, and taking writing challenges for some time, and I keep seeing a similar piece of advice. The idea is that at some point, you need to just go for it.

In my late night internet reading, I came across an online writing program through UCLA extension that seemed perfect. The variety and focus of the classes, the experience of the instructors, and the fact that I could take classes online and fit them in my life seemed like an ideal match. My practical dream squelching side kicked in fairly quickly, and I looked at the cost. My excitement began to wither. I continued to browse the site, albeit feeling somewhat defeated. 

As I looked around though, an opportunity presented itself. There were ten scholarships available for the writing program this year. If ever there was a total long shot, this was it- I mean, this is a program through UCLA. I would think there would be some serious competition, and I'm a small scale mama writer living 
in the hills. The odds of my winning seemed very, very small.

But, I decided that all of these helpful how-to gurus might be on to something. I decided to just go for it. Yes, it was a long shot, and very unlikely, but the worst they could do was tell me was no.

I procrastinated on writing the required essays until a few days before the application was due, but when I wrote, I tried to speak from my heart about how much the program would mean to me. I gave it my best shot, and sent the packet off into the universe with my hopes and wishes.

Weeks passed and I had not thought much more about it, until one afternoon when an email came in my box...."We are pleased to let 
you know ...."

I had to reread it at least six times to make sure it was true before I could celebrate. I simply couldn't believe that I was actually awarded one of the ten scholarships. My long shot had paid off.

The reality is that I have no idea how many people applied or what the actual odds were in this opportunity, but I had certainly perceived that they were stacked against me. Had I listened to my practical side and not decided to just go for it anyway, I would never have won the scholarship, and I wouldn't be in the midst of classes now.

I know not every long shot will pay off. Not every one will even be worth the effort involved, but if you're feeling up for whatever an opportunity is, don't let the odds discourage you. If you never reach for that bigger piece of pie, you'll be stuck with the tiny portions forever.

****This article was recently published in the Funds For Writers Newsletter, and was another long shot that paid off. You can check it out here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Better Than Being Bitter

In the days leading up to Ash Wednesday, I'm usually doing a good deal of pondering what I will give up between now and Easter. I'm not Catholic, but have a good childhood friend who is, and introduced me to the concept of Lent back when I was a teenager. Voluntarily giving up something for 6 weeks as a means of spiritual growth just struck with me as something I could benefit from, and I've participated in some form or another for more years than not ever since.

Most years, it's something concrete that I give up. In the past, I've gone without things like:

*coffee, (my children have requested that I not do that again- apparently, it's unpleasant for the whole family) 

*meat (It was hard when I did it for Lent, but then I saw Food Inc last summer. It grossed me out so badly that I pretty much quit eating it altogether now anyway) 

*wine (I'm at a point in life where I feel I've both earned and benefit from the occasional glass more than I would from skipping it.)

*chocolate (yeah- that was just plain painful, but I did it)

Last year, I tried giving up something that wasn't so tangible, but was real, nonetheless. I went 40 days avoiding smack talk ( aka negative commentary.) To be honest, I don't think I would have attempted the feat if I hadn't been traveling with my kids for 5 of the 6 weeks. Not  that my kids don't ever talk smack- they do on occasion, but I try to squelch it. The helpful thing was that talking smack with kids just feels ickier than a session with the ladies, so it just didn't come into play as regularly. I certainly caught myself starting in on a negative rant more than once, but having the goal and the kids constantly present kept me from going very far with it.

This year, I have another intangible, but very real goal. Lent is about stretching and this will be a stretch for sure. I'm going to try to give up all things bitter. That's right- no more bitterness from me until Easter. (not that I plan on picking it back after the holiday, but just that I need a goal marker)

Some people who know me, but don't happen to live in the same home as I do, are under the impression that I am a cheerful person. (random trivia- my first name means "all honey") I suppose my cheeriness is mostly true, but internally, I'm also housing a whole lotta acidic, vinegary thoughts, and they bubble below doing unpleasant things to my heart, my soul and my mood, not to mention giving me scowl lines between my eyebrows, which will naturally make me even more bitter in the end. (More random trivia- my middle name means "bitter ocean" which may explain this "other side" of me) 

For the record, it's not like I'm bitter about just any old thing. There are just a few certain groups, situations and people who've done some things (and continue to) which are just not OK, and really tend to make me mad as heck. Since anger is the precursor to bitter, this is where I'm trying to start. 

I know that being mad at them doesn't fix anything. I also know that focusing on how justified I am in my anger just wastes my time and sucks my energy, both of which I should be directing into more productive avenues. Plus, the people I love get the brunt of my bad moods and that's just not fair.

In preparation for how hard this will be, I decided that I will nip any stray bitter thoughts in the butt by snapping a hair tie rubber band on my wrist whenever they pop up. Realistically, I know those thoughts will, and I'm hoping I'm ready.  

I even started my better than bitter plan a day early (which is traditionally Fat Tuesday, where you can go all out with a feast before Lent. I kindly opted to spare everyone the trauma and drama of my going hog wild with any bitter gorging, airing of grievances, etc. I think I'm growing already...) of this morning, I already have a small red mark on my wrist from the snapping. (It's surprising how often I think potentially bitter thoughts)

Two wise woman friends have mentioned that Lent is as much about what you add in as what you take out. In that light, I'm adding in some positive thoughts, meditations and writing prompts for myself every day of the season. Today, I found this whole page of quotes on anger, and they're just thing for me to reflect on as I start off this journey. 

I'm still wondering....what about all of those other "cheerful" people out there? Are they all really a bit bitter as well, but just good at concealing it from the public eye, or are they truly a peaceful, serene and full of joy as they appear? I'd love to hear responses from both the "happy" people and those who live with people like that. As I mentioned, my family has a slightly different impression of my personality than the outside world.

So, if you happen to see me in the next few weeks with large puffy marks on my wrist, you'll know why. It's not an allergic reaction or some form of self mutilation. It's just part of my attempts at becoming a nicer person, and it's better than being bitter. Wish me luck....

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Moment To Yourself

“Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths.” ~Etty Hillesum

For the second time in a week, the gas light comes on in my car. I’m busy, as usual, and so I push it a little farther, run just a few more errands. But I know that I do need to stop and refill before too long, or I will be left on the side of the road. I’ve been stranded before, and have learned my lesson.
Most of us know that when our cars try to tell us they need something, we had better respond or they won’t get us to our destinations.
We usually have some respect for red warning lights on the dashboard, and at least check out the problem. Unfortunately, it’s not always so easy to see our own signals.
Our bodies and minds don’t come with bright red warning lights, but they do give us signals when they’re running low.
Some of these signals are more obvious than others. When we’re hungry, we might be able to skip a meal occasionally, relying on snacks to get us by, but we all know that at some point, we need to eat real food.
We might be able to miss a few hours of sleep as well, and make it through the next day, but we can’t simply expect our bodies to keep performing without rest.
We may be able to survive in a grumpier and lesser performing fashion when we have less than optimal amounts of food and sleep, but we all know that we can’t skip those needs altogether.
But, what about the other needs that aren’t so obvious? Everyone has probably heard about the benefits of spending some time alone just to think and to gather their own thoughts.
If you work, go to school, have a roommate, spouse or children, this time probably isn’t easy to come by. It’s probably also more important than ever.
Lately, I’ve noticed just how important this need for solitude is to me. As a writer who works at home, as well as a homeschooling mother, I am blessed with lots of time with my family. What I’m lacking severely is time to myself.
Between errands, online college classes, a part-time job, volunteering, and meeting the needs of everyone else, I often end up neglecting my own need for a moment to myself to think, breathe, read, write, draw, paint, or do anything that helps me relax.
Ironically, I often find myself wasting ridiculous amounts of time stressing out about how little time I have.
Rather than using the snippets of time I do have to myself by relaxing—which is what I should be doing—I fester about how I never have enough of these moments or a long enough stretch of time, and blah, blah blah, the complaining ensues.
The very thing that I stress about is time—not having enough of it. But then, in a total self-defeating way, I blow the limited time I did have by stewing about how imperfect it is.
I know that a bit of solitude is a beautiful thing and it works wonders for me when I let it. When I neglect that need for time alone, I find myself feeling cranky and distracted, just as though I had skipped a meal.
I know I’m not the only one who forsakes solitude in an effort to keep up with the demands of life. Running on empty seems to be a modern epidemic. The solution is as simple as realizing that self time is just as real of a need as food or sleep, and honoring that need by allowing ourselves to relax in our brief moments of solitude.
Often we’ll have to consciously carve out those moments, and they may be brief, but the rewards will be worth it. A bit of beautiful solitude rejuvenates and gives the strength needed to go back out and tackle whatever the world has in store for us.
Where will you find a moment for yourself today—and what will do with it?
(This was a piece that I recently had published as guest blog post on the Tiny Buddha site. )

Thursday, February 9, 2012

We Bite

As much as I like to avoid an insanely busy life, that is what it appears I am going to have for the next few weeks. My new Essay Writing Class through UCLA is chock full of massive amounts of homework, and I imagine that most of my writing time will be devoted to that endeavor. It's a good class with a helpful instructor and I'm sure the writing workout will be great for me, so I'm not complaining.

Since I don't want to completely neglect my blog, I'm just going to share some photos when I don't have the time to write.

Today's photo is: "We Bite"

I think many of my homeschooling and mama friends can relate. We are, after all, very protective of our nests.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Letter A Day

Why do I participate in these crazy challenges that I find on the internet? I don't really know. I actually don't need any more challenge in life, but this sounded like a fun idea, so I wanted to give it a try.

My latest scheme involves trying to mail a letter a day for a month. An actual letter. The kind that goes in the mailbox with a stamp. And mailing bills doesn't count. Emails don't count either, or it wouldn't be a challenge.

What's the point? Well, maybe it will help the Post Office. Even though our mail carrier makes a ridiculous amount of mistakes, and if it weren't for unions, I can't imagine how they would still have a job, still, I find it incredible that I can send a card to my friend in Hawaii for less than two quarters, and it will most likely get there in less than a week. That is an amazing service, and one I don't want to lose.

Besides, who doesn't love to get a card in the mail? Especially if it's from a friend who loves you. Even better if it's covered in stickers.

Lastly, this is a great way to use up a bunch of the cards, postcards and stationary that I found in my OCD vs ADHD cleaning spree last month. I'll be so happy to see them shooting out into the world to hopefully bring a smile to a friend's face.

Maybe I'll run out of people to write before I run out of days, and I'll get to find some new pen pals from parts far away. Maybe I'll even make it a homeschooling project and involve the kids. Who knows....
Here's hoping for a fun project. Join me anyone?