with that massive special effects budget you figure they could afford more convincing wigs for the male characters

I like living with little kids. Lots of blankets, warmth, laughter, shared food, good smells, snuggles – and our bandaids have Batman on them.

Tonight I walk into the living room and the kids are on the Minecraft server but they’re also getting ready for a bath. Phoenix and Nels are in an oddly grown-up vignette; she stands with her back to him and her eyes onscreen, her hand holding her slippery golden hair off the nape of her neck, as Nels gently unfastens the buttons at the back of her pinafore-style dress. Tears sting my eyes and I want to swoop them both up into my arms. I have this impulse often and the kids don’t always appreciate it so I do my best to refrain. Ralph and I are particularly incensed that Nels insists we do not pinch his bottom (fair enough) but literally runs around in his tiny little boxer briefs flaunting the most pinchable bottom you’ve ever seen (it’s not just us that thinks so; our friend Jasmine commented on this last night).

What a day we had together. We took our errands out around town and the kids helped wipe the incessant condensation off the car windows (hazardous!) until things were finally warm enough. I was innundated with a barrage of questions and conversation openers. Phoenix asked me about methods of birth control (this began with her query, “Mom I only want to have one kid – how can I do that?”, a question that didn’t seem to strike Nels with any particular implications), which then included a recap on erections/”boners”, ovulation, menstruation, etc; then she asked if there were any side effects to any of the drugs I mentioned (this is her first question regarding pharmaceuticals – yay!), and the differences between miscarriage and abortion. Nels listened in to all this and offered his own summaries and helpful suggestions. Phoenix told us she’d grow up and invent a side-effect-free birth control called The Birth Police Officer (FTW!).

A few minutes later as we sat down to snacks in the Safeway deli table section she and Nels began to innundate me with more questions while stripping off their coats and in between running to wash hands and procure napkins and an Odwalla juice to share. This batch of queries included the likelihood of observing and the cosmic mechanism inherant in a solar eclipse, what B vitamins were, which planet was the largest planet, and speculation on the atmospheric makeup of Neptune. I could have used a smartphone and the internet a few times, because not only do I not have all the answers, sometimes I have a shockingly complete lack of any answers. Fortunately I don’t have to put much faith in me as Knower of All Things when I put entire faith in my children as being enthusiastic and relentless Learners and we can just look it up when convenient.

Tonight on my mother’s suggestion Ralph, Phoenix and I went with her to watch Harry Potter and the Film of Interminable Duration. Nels was quite firm that he doesn’t care for the Harry Potter movies so he stayed home and our friend Laurena and daughter Sophiea came over to sort of house/Nels-sit (for a wee bit of Christmas money to boot). It was a great fourway date for us and my favorite part was leaning over to Ralph during the film and cracking wise and making him laugh, a lot. I’m glad he likes me. (Usually)

lizard hell valley

day late and a dollar short

Oops, Friday links!

Best parenting culture article I’ve read in a long time: Alfie Kohn “Spoiled Rotten: A Timeless Complaint”

“Scholars have no idea how many parents these days are permissive, or punitive, or responsive to their children’s needs without being permissive or punitive. (The tendency to overlook that third possibility is a troubling and enduring trend in its own right.) … [N]either logic nor evidence seems to support the widely accepted charge that we’re too easy on our children.  Yet that assumption continues to find favor across the political spectrum.  It seems, then, that we’ve finally found something to bring the left and the right together:  an unsubstantiated critique of parents, an unflattering view of kids, and a dubious belief that the two are connected.”

“Unjob Yourself! A New Paradigm for Work and Life” by Wendy Priesnitz

women and girls in mainstream media (video)

My Son is Not a Poodle Hey, are you a white lady? (probably, if you’re reading here) Are you a white lady walking around THIS close to totally misbehaving? Read this.

I’m more like my kids than I’m like adults at the Enjoy Unschooling Project (I relate – having met exactly zero non-schoolers around these parts)

“How to Tour in a Band or Whatever” by Thor Harris; a polemic of nuance and relevancy for our times

“Unlimited Sweets Project” at tranquilparent

“An Immodest Proposal” at Scarleteen
“By all means, not a one of us can somehow erase or alter all of the barriers we have right now when it comes to real sexual agency for all women. But there are no barriers beyond the limitations of our own imagination when it comes to rewriting the scripts of our sexual ideals, our individual sexual lives, and what we present to ourselves, our sisters and our daughters.” Yeah. I hope my daughter (and son) have far better “first times” than I did – and lots more awesome times beyond.

Golden Age of the Moustache, another excellent Flickr group (and YEAH, I’m a member)

"Heeellllllll naw!"

In this moment: we had a few dinner guests tonight and two of them are staying late with their new video game system (a Wii, if you must know). The game played now is loud and intense and highly active and imaginative. I’ve never been very good at video games and the noise-intensity of the game and the fervent self-competition my children are evidencing is a bit off-putting. Quick blog-post them I’m going back to the living room to see if I can learn something new.

it’s Friday so that means linkage

Actually that’s not true. I’ve never been one to do any kind of ritual on my online journal with any kind of regularity. But here’s some good stuff.

Trigger warning: the first section of these links discusses bullying and education.

American Culture:
“Why I Think Unschooling Is The Best Option… For Everyone” by Idzie

Today on Twitter Idzie wrote:

People are terrified of a lack of control. Utterly terrified. Of other people giving up control over them, of giving up control over others… Or at least that’s the way it seems to me, from the reactions you get at any suggestion of freedom! … It seems so many ppl have felt excluded & judged in unschooling circles or by other unschoolers… This makes me so sad every time I hear it. & also makes me really hope I haven’t contributed to it myself. I try to be welcoming to all ppl interested in/supportive about/considering unschooling, while still expressing my own opinions honestly & authentically, despite the fact they might upset some people.

I really relate to what she’s written here; and I know I myself I’ve likely caused offense while trying so hard to communicate my own reality as well as ideas and worldviews that have changed our lives in the most amazing fashion.

Yet it must be pointed out that many who react with anger and accusations are reacting to ideas that upset them, oftentimes for reasons they have not yet examined; many were hostile to these ideas from the second they were first exposed but have not taken the steps to unpack that hostility and fear. Given that environs when discussing consensual living, punitive-free parenting, and autodidactic education, I’d like to remind those of us writing (and talking and singing and living) it’s almost impossible for us to not elicit angry reactions.

Do people in life learning/unschooling/attachment parenting groups say exclusionary, insensitive, dogmatic, harmful, ignorant, or incorrect things*? Absolutely! Especially that latter group – at least in my experience. No group or ideology is above committing wrongs. However is is hard for me to engage at length with the words of those who are already hostile to my ideas and have dismissed my body of work and research without their own investigation. If they won’t give me the respect of entertaining my “expertise” (such as it is) they can learn little from me – although I don’t mind learning from them.

Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” It is surprising to me how few people can even entertain my thoughts (which weren’t mine originally, usually), although conversations with those who can – and their individual interpretations, whether supportive or critical or additive – is one of the rich pleasures in my life.

***

“Opinion: Sometimes It’s OK To Let Your Kid Be Bullied” on parentdish
OK, first I’m not even going to get into dissecting the “THAT MOM” trope (overinvolved, controlling, elevating her child to sainthood – mostly just another strawlady), or the chills that ran down my spine at the stalwartly unreflective “we sometimes fight battles that would be better solved on the playground or by the people who are paid and trained to educate our children”, OR to weigh in to claim this parent (mom) did something wrong or went amiss in how she handled her daughter’s scenario.

The article starts to go wrong for me here: “Stepping in to micro-manage every aspect of your kid’s life is a mistake. It robs children of the ability to deal with conflict and rejection. It saps their independence. It labels them, in the eyes of their peers, teachers and administrators, as weak.”

“Micro-manage every aspect of your kid’s life”. In my experience observing parents/carers this is far more rare than pop-psych anecdotal “truthy” pieces would have you believe (this fable usually exists parallel to much pearl-clutching and table-pounding about “helicopter parents” and “useless” “kids today”). Interestingly Life – that “real world” people are always talking about? – is FULL of adversity and hurdles and stumbling blocks. Parenting compassionately means we usually get to watch with joy how our children handle these episodes, knowing we have their trust and they have their self-trust – because we have their back. I can know my children’s lives will be filled with difficulties and limitations, I don’t have to make more of them nor artificially create them (Example, my daughter wants a pony, guess why we can’t get one? No need whatsoever for me to furnish false “natural consequences”, see also some pieces on “sheltering” and “adversity” in numbers #15 – #17 on this list). Helping our children when they’re being fucked-over is not the same at all as “micro-managing” NOR is it done (in my case) based out of a trembling Mama-Bear “hysteria” so many like to snark about (in fact, from reading this author’s self-stated feelings regarding her children’s sufferings, I am in comparison entirely unflappable to my child being “hurt” – because I know she can handle it until she can’t, and gee, how do I know this? Because I know she knows she can get help from me if she needs it).

I could write pages on this, and maybe I will soon.

I recently heard a local parent talking about how there’s a natural “pecking order” on the playground and we adults should stay out of it. I don’t have room or energy to write the many ways I think that sounds like a terrible idea (new reasons occur to me daily in fact). Incidentally this man’s own son – who is often at my house, this summer spending more time with me than his own parents – used to often try to bully my own children (unsuccessfully), occasionally attempts to extort money from them, tells falsehoods when confronted and won’t make eye contact (lying is not so much an inevitable child behavior as could be better described as one most parent/teaching regimes wholly facilitate by their oppressive tactics). He’s reformed quite a bit in our household since he’s realized I’m not about to “punish” him or ream him out, although I can’t allow him at our house if he keeps breaking our chicken eggs purposefully – for example. Outside my kitchen window, when he thinks no adult can hear him, I hear him shouting at other smaller children they are “retards” and they need to “get off [his] property… or [he’s] calling the cops.”

I know many children who behave one way around adults and other ways when they think they are unobserved. It isn’t the children who’ve initiated this regrettable state of affairs, either.

And both for this author and the local parent; really? This “pecking order” is OK or a “natural” and relatively harmless part of social life? I completely disagree. Sadly, this story was just posted regarding a 16 year old boy’s bullycide – a semi-local school, where with sickening familiarity I read: “The school says it never received any complaints about bullying from the boy or his parents.”

Right. Let’s continue to let “kids be kids” on this bullying thing.

***

Two great articles from Australia (but relevant, IMO, to similar discussions in the US) on health, fat, obesity, dieting, and body image: “Talking Fat” by Elizabeth at mymilkspilt and “Health Hysteria: Helpful or Harmful?” by Dr. Samantha Thomas at The Discourse. Great posts and analyses I can add nothing to.

Mamapoekie’s brief post on stalking deserves more than just my comment. The topic is in my thoughts right now – for reasons I can’t divulge in this space, sadly.

Inspiring:
My sister says some of these were so beautiful they made her cry. I feel the same way.

I’m currently reading: Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity by Julia Serrano. This is a pretty amazing book. I’m sad it’s likely under-read as many cisgendered people don’t understand it’s hardly a “fringe” topic or treatment at all, but at the heart of human right questions entirely salient for us today.

“the dangerous spiral of criticism & how to claw your way back out” at Scoutie Girl: “Instead of reaching for big, bigger, biggest, we reach for safe & allowable. Self-consciousness refuses to let you create art. It only allows for ‘nice.’ Ew.”

Shop:
Support an awesome homeschooling mama with some uncertain financial “adventures” ahead of her. Also: handsewn, so you can’t go wrong there!

I want to buy this for Phoenix, so bad. She loves creepy 50s horror comics times ONE MILLION.

Who wants a sexy little rockabilly dress homesewn? Fuck, who doesn’t?

Fun:
Twisted Vintage
Lovely images and weirdness (Ah… this image from The Postman Always Rings Twice, some real sexiful there!), some altered and some as they were; lots of great Halloween content! Um, don’t read the comments. At least the one comment thread I clicked on was full of misogyny, including comments by the post author, and a bit of homophobia, etc. Gross.

Please provide a caption for this picture.

Craftzine is having a Halloween contest. You got the chops for it?

***

* Recent example: an unschooling group brought me an email wherein a member called another person’s daughter an “illiterate, foul-mouthed slut.” This went unchecked by the moderator (as have a few other problematic incidents); I may not stick around this community much longer.

Comments: For any new readers today: I don’t want to hear word-one about “controlling” parents (moms), go anywhere else on the internet and discuss it, you’ll find entirely receptive audiences.

linky mcfuskerson

In a few hours I’m off to the City (not really: Olympia) to watch Ralph and Liights play sweet, sweet music (I will also be giving Flo a squeeze as I haven’t seen her in a while!). I’m also hoping to eat some spicy Thai or Vietnamese cuisine until my mouth explodes in a hedonistic flavor party. While I’m rocking I’ve got some links for you all to bask in the radness therein:

Local:
Mamma Mia! is playing at the 7th Street Theatre tonight and tomorrow. I might go tomorrow. Anyone want to come with me?

Social:
Tami Harris hits it out of the park at psychologytoday: “What’s so wrong with ‘sounding black?'”

Proof that a man can do Feminism right: “Silence, Ines Sainz and Offensive Lines” at postbourgie

Idzie published “Misconceptions About Unschooling” at her blog I’m Unschooled. Yes, I Can Write. It’s a great piece (of course). I get a huge, huge laugh of the people who occasionally come to this 19 year old’s (incredibly well-written) blog and tell her how if you unschool your child he/she won’t learn how to write! NO SERIOUSLY! This happens!

“On Birth Rape, Definitions, and Language Policing” by Cara at thecurvature; some day, I truly hope, we can begin supporting victims instead of re-victimizing them by denying them their lived experience.

Practical:
“Cloth diapers for apartment dwellers” at hobomama. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. You know, I no longer use diapers but I seriously, seriously love how supportive, helpful, and awesome the parents/carers are who write these types of DIY primers!

Krafty:
“Kids Clothes Week Challenge (Fall 2010)” at elsiemarley. What do you think? Should I do it? What should I make?

Humor:
This made me laugh until I had tears in my eyes: “The Inconsiderate Breastfeeding Woman” at citizenofthemonth.

I’m not exactly sure what category this post is in, because it’s funny but apt and brilliant and my favorite of all posted here today: “Kids and wheelchair manners” at badgermama.

***

In other news, last night I received an email that included this passage:

Some days I feel as if I am standing inside a thick, heavy, almost greasy-feeling cloud of frustration, guilt, hopelessness and torment. It actually presses down on my shoulders physically (at least it feels like it). The moments that you share are like one of those industrial strength hurricane fans that they use in the movies. Once I begin reading, the fan begins to blow that cloud away. I can breathe again. I can be happy about something again. By the time I’m finished reading, I’m ready to take on the next challenge.

So… that was pretty wonderful to hear.

re-posting is cheating, but still

This article from Jeff Sabo is a beauty: “I’ve Walked Many Miles In Your Shoes”. Excerpts:

” …I did not just simply read about unschooling and connected parenting one day and suddenly become blindly evangelical about it. I read about it, considered it, discussed it, observed it, tried it, cried about it, had ups and downs, learned more, committed to it, and tried again. I approached the small educational pieces first, then the whole life pieces such as TV and bedtimes. I spent weeks, months, and years agonizing about whether or not I was doing the right thing. I gave my ear to the naysayers of my choice as well as the supporters. Living this way was a careful, deliberate decision made after a substantial amount of reflection, study, and trial.

“However, I do try to keep in mind that my approach to parenting is ‘radical’ when compared to what the vast majority of parents in our society believe. Like the people that I have fired in my career, I have had many years to be at peace with my decision, while they have simply read a few snippets over a few days. Is it any wonder that they disagree and think I’ve lost it? Is it any wonder that they feel the need to educate me on how very wrong I am?

“[…] Somewhat less palatable are the emails and comments I periodically receive that seem to want to ‘teach’ me about why my viewpoints are wrong. These notes would hold much greater weight if the sender had devoted as much time to considering the philosophies behind my views as I had, or even if they had indicated a willingness to learn about them.”

And… it just goes on and on with awesomeness. The whole piece is great.

how many “m”s in “commemorative”?

A while back I got this goofy idea to take “back to school” photos for my kids.* I am now fully aware this is a bit silly of me, but school pictures were a ritual I enjoyed as a child. I asked Phoenix what she’d like me to sew up for a school picture dress and she voted for something vintage and sedate and suggested the photo be taken in a historical setting like the Aberdeen Museum of History (which she’s been asking to visit for some time).

I asked Nels and he said he wanted, well…

So, Phoenix & Nels Hogaboom, “academic year” 2010:

Phoenix & Nels, 2010

General Store

Phoenix’s dress is from Vogue 2448, a pattern about 60 years old. It was so fun to sew up and has many lovely details! I only regret I had to produce such a work of art in such inexpensive, Joanns-sale fabric. I am starting to realize my sewing skills would best be served by higher-end fabrics. That does not make me MORE able to afford them.

Nels’ deer suit was a self-drafted pattern and is complete (incongruously) chenille fawn-spots and bound-buttonhole -removable antlers. I hand-dyed the corduroy to get it a darker color than the camel I purchased (again, a not-so-hot Joann’s buy). I also dyed the chenille to change its brilliant-white to an ivory. Then I washed the whole business in warm on accident and the brown bled into the chenille. This will likely come out. Or it won’t. Nels doesn’t mind at all.  You can see some details of the little corduroy deer in the Flickr tagset.

I had this idea to take sedate and unsmiling photographs of the children, seated at a desk or somewhere stodgy. There were certainly great sitting opportunities at the Museum but it turned out my kids aren’t so into sitting. I have a bunch of very blurry pictures of them smiling really big as they run to a different exhibit. They really enjoyed the Museum (which is as you might expect rather prosaically grownup); I hadn’t been there since I was my daughter’s age and I was pleased to see it is still very much alive with volunteer efforts and grant-writing and such. They’d even edged some Kurt Cobain around the more typical logging fare you see around here; now that can’t have been a decision without controversy (you might be surprised how vitriolic some local residents, especially those older than forty, feel about the man and his music).

Ralph and the kids liked the little theater best (it seats only 21):

Watching

Shadows

Theater Hijinx 1

We hit  the park afterward.

Petticoat

Kiss

Then we got home and I made some tasty Vietnamese cuisine and we had friends over and washed the dishes and – now? It’s suddenly beer-thirty! (Because seriously, my friend J. just told me the health benefits of dark beers like Guinness are “well-documented”. Sounds good to me!)

Today at Flickr: [ link ]

* When I thought it over I became far less interested in this idea but still quite invested in sewing what my children and I had planned. OK well, they gave me their ideas and then I obsessively planned the sewinz. Because I am a Try-Hard.

“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

ThistlesOur day today included much bike riding and a marathon swim date at the HQX YMCA. To my surprise the same lifeguards have been totally transformed from their demeanors during the school year. Rather than a handful of rigorous, goofy, and flighty pseudo-rules a more relaxed atmosphere of sensible regulations prevailed. It was wonderful. At first I was confused; then I realized that with summer and more children in the pool (I counted two dozen) there was not the petty energy to piss-about with “don’t touch the ladder” or “don’t lean on that”. Groups of children played freely, teenage boys doing improbably lopsy flips from the diving board and helping one another out (young men who show tenderness and comradery make my eyes sting with tears*), small tots being cared for by older kids, children exercising the fastest-possible technical “walk” on the pool deck (“WALK!”) – their legs stiff and elbows flying, and Nels and Phoenix delighting in having more child-company.

For a brief moment I considered a world where children were not institutionalized most of the year; where more children were more places I went during the day. It was a lovely vision.

I’ve written a bit about watching my son’s inspiring (to me) journey in swimming self-teaching. Today he is determined to learn to dive in the deep end. He first crouches low and hops into the water; then he bends his knees less before the jump, and so on. Over and over he tries different approaches until finally he jumps from a standing position. I’m thinking how much he will love our time at Mason Lake later this month. I tread water close by as Phoenix dives over and over and the two swim around one another like twin seals, all laughter and slippery camaraderie.

My son is such that it is entirely obvious how any amount of pressure or “teaching” agenda usually backfires and impedes his process. Yet helping when he asks and being there to facilitate safety (because truly he is enough of a swim risk-taker I’m glad he’s learning with me close by, here in the 8′ end) I have the honor of watching a flower bloom. His body is a delight, wiggling happily, not one second is he unsmiling. After watching his exertions for a time I am glad he will be sitting on the back of my bike rather than riding his own; he’s still little enough the round-trip and swim efforts would likely tax his little Self more than he’d be comfortable.

My daughter is an amazing mentor to her brother. I notice she offers advice to Nels on his backstroke: “Keep your back straight – put your tummy up,” she tells him firmly. He gladly complies and laughs in delight at the immediate improvement in his stroke. He then flips over and goes under water, emerging with his long hair across his eyes, just his perfect little nose and his big smile visible. Phoenix says, from a distance of a foot, “Do you need help?” Not at all bossy, entirely considerate. He energetically wiggles in his idiosyncratic dog-paddle to the edge under her friendly eye; she watches to make sure he is fine alone.

Typically after physical exertions the kids come home and want more sedate fare.  Nels plays with an electronics kit with the neighbor boy. Phoenix reads. Thanks to our Tweep Justin our daughter has a rather impressive small library of various sci-fi and fantasy novels she’s reading (now as I type she has her nose in The War of the Lance**). Later, the kids are excitedly talking about the creatures they want to pretend to be for the evening: a female centaur (Phoenix), a river-nymph (Nels).

Then Ralph asks them, “Should mama be a harpy or a sea serpent?”

(Asshole!)

Staircase wit: I should have shot back with, “Should daddy be a tiny-dicked orc, or a tiny-dicked ent?”

But I don’t always have a quick reply.

Nels Walks To The Store(Nels walks to the corner store.)

NERD!

** NERD!

“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” – William Wordsworth

My recent Life Learning Magazine* article published automatically on Underbellie (I’d forgotten I’d scheduled it); I’m going to leave it up for now (with a call-out to my editor to make sure this is cool; read it while it’s hot!). And  yesterday I rather busted ass on a shadow-dieting piece which I feel rather massively insecure about mostly because the topic is so vast it was hard to condense it.

The funniest thing (to my tiny brain) is I clicked on a tweet re: unschooling to find myself quoted in a blog, which is how I found out the unschooling piece had gone live. And the blog post didn’t say anything hateful about me (bonus).

I must stop writing and publishing. One day someone is going to be SO MEAN TO ME (well, AGAIN), and I’m going to seriously cry. I will never be a thick-skinned person.

But anyway, today I’m proud enough of my writing.

* P.S. You should seriously subscribe to this publication, and no I get no kickback or whatever for saying this.

dominator lite – it’s TEH LOGIKAL

Today I get this automated newsletter in my inbox:

Dear Kelly,

I can still remember how I felt as a child upon seeing the very first “back-to-school” advertisement on TV. While a bit sad over the fact that summer vacation was almost over, I always felt a strange sort of relief knowing that before long I’d be doing something more exciting.

Summer was fun at first, then it got really boring. Only as an adult have I learned that my parents actually planned it that way. Their idea was to create a two-part summer: Part one was filled with fun: fun that helped us recharge our batteries after a long, hard school year. Part two was filled with a good amount of boredom and plenty of chores: dull duties that helped us really look forward to being able to escape to school in the fall.

On the first day of school will your kids go into shock when they are expected to sit at their desks, listen to their teachers, and complete assignments? Or, will they experience a sense of relief, thinking, “Wow! This sure is easier and more fun than being at home!”

As the school year looms large, might it be wise to begin making your home more boring and more chore-laden? Wise teachers know that kids who are used to doing plenty of chores at home are far more likely to excel at doing plenty of work at school.

In his CD, Didn’t I Tell You To Take Out the Trash?!, my father, Jim Fay, teaches simple techniques for getting kids to do their chores without reminders and without pay. If you want a happier home, and happier, more responsible kids, this CD is a must.

Thanks for reading! Our goal is to help as many families as possible. If this is a benefit, forward it to a friend or visit www.loveandlogic.com/join to sign up.

Dr. Charles Fay

If you’ve read here long enough you might be able to predict a bit about how our autodidactic principles inform my response to such an email. My first thought was Wow, that’s a lot of work. “Let” your kids have a bunch of fun at the beginning of summer, but make sure toward the end to set the thumbscrews with “boredom” and “plenty of work” as to make enforced schooling look better. This is all so the kid will go to school with a willing heart and mind, not because they wholly look forward to school and want it with every fiber of their integrity, body and soul, but because you’ve made the environment in their own home an unappealing one. Bonus, you got them to do a bunch of the dreaded WORK around the house while you did it! Yessiree, it’s a lot to be the Grand Poobah Manipulator but as you can see, it pays off, especially how it can create a teetering facade of having “good” kids who are Hard Workers, a family that’s “in it together”, etc. etc.

My second series of thoughts and feelings involved my gratitude for the life my family leads; my kids get to daily “recharge their batteries” in the methods they chose which they themselves are most primed to intuit as necessary. Their education is self-obtained with my assistance and loving help (when it is needed). Summer is just as much fun as fall and learning happens willingly and all the time. These days work (not “chores”) are done with a deep sense of personal commitment and gladness and no small amount of humor at the everlasting natures of our Work*.

I’m glad I still get these email updates. The institution that sends them out and writes the books and sells the CDs and gives the talks and events and all that is very popular in my peer group. Not that long ago my husband and I sat in a class facilitated by this Parenting Expert school of thought and a lot of it made sense to us. There seemed so much right with what we were hearing at the time: kids shouldn’t be coddled; there are too many kids who don’t “grow up right” because their parents “do too much for them”. Children shouldn’t be allowed to be sneaky or rude or shirk on chores without consequence. You should be the boss (a loving boss, but still the boss), and maybe most selling to my vulnerable heart, making your kids do work in the home is the only way to prepare them for the Real World.

I am hardly the first person to expose in any way some of the underpinnings of yet another school of parenting strategies to provide simple, clear techniques for getting compliance from our children – while relying on dominating techniques to do so. Many leaders, child workers, psychologists, and qualified smarter-than-I individuals far more experienced than I have weighed in on the phenomenon. Writer Alfie Kohn calls such schools of thought with regards to education “Assertive Discipline, […] essentially a collection of bribes and threats whose purpose is to enforce rules that the teacher alone devises and imposes.”

When it comes to similar parenting techniques, here’s what Kohn has to say in Chapter Four of his book Unconditional Parenting:

A number of consultants, meanwhile, have responded to the understandable reluctance of many parents to use punitive tactics by repackaging them as “consequences.” In some cases, the change is purely semantic, the implication being that a friendlier name will make the same practices less offensive. But sometimes we’re told that if the punishments are less severe, or “logically” related to the misbehavior, or clearly spelled out in advance, then they’re okay to use-and, indeed, shouldn’t be considered punishments at all.

Kohn talks further about such techniques – which can have slippery names and terminology – and their listed principles and consequences in Chapter 4 of his book Beyond Discipline, a chapter called “Punishment Lite: ‘Consequences’ and Pseudochoice.”

Most parents I personally know employ various forms of Assertive Discipline.

I wish I could render artfully, dear reader, how carefully almost everyone I’ve talked to dances around the subjects of the domination and subjugation of children. It’s something I’ve only recently begun to notice. Since many American adults in my peer groups are squeamish about hitting children they have a separate category called “spanking”; it is elementally different, see, and apparently the ONLY way to make sure a toddler won’t run in front of an oncoming truck (much like the “ZOMG noisy children in restaurantz!!11!” example, this is often trotted out with no imagination or variance and often entirely hypothetical – very Weak Sauce, people). Parents who don’t spank and literally never hit or grab or forcibly pick up their children with semi- and unapologetic regularity employ more fascinating methods of manipulation and coercion. Immediately recognizable versions are “time outs” and “natural consequences” and stickers and rewards and charts* and “I’d love to help you but, sad, bummer – I can’t because blah-blah-blah” (my husband and I still employ this bit of douchery now and then – it’s hard to shake).

In writing here I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad for how shitty they’re parenting.*** I am so NOT wanting to do that I’m going to leave these two sentences all by themselves.

I write because I’m sorting through this stuff – me. It’s my journey. I am not putting down parents. I am a parent! I am doing this work! I am failing, daily, in eschewing limited and harmful practices! I have at times resorted to every type of strategy I just wrote about – and a garden variety of other shittery I often detail here in this journal!

But I am in the position to improve and to do better; to resist the passed-down traditional tropes most people I know adhere to. I know some parents who are part-dead inside; that is, parenting is for them exhausting and kind of humorless and at times scary and “thankless”. But all parents I know, as far as I can tell, love their children deeply.  They are doing the best they know how, and they make mistakes, then they get back on the horse. Mistakes don’t concern me; we all make them. It’s the traditional parenting schemas that I question and anaylze – the secondary reason I write is to provide exposure to better ideas than the ones I (we) had the day before (the primary reason I write is to keep a personal journal).

And these traditional parenting/teaching strategies, most parents and carers literally think there is no better way, that any other approach is Impossible or Impractical or will result in the Village of the Damned Children. Sure, maybe some of the manipulations and hand-holding and Requisite Omnipresence and punitive measures don’t sit right or don’t feel quite right, and certainly with some parent-child combos the problems get worse and the punishments (whatever you choose to call them) become increasingly convoluted or tricky to employ or downright scarily-received, and sure your “well-behaved” child exhibits deep rages or sorrows and you wonder Where did this come from? But… these other ways this Kelly Hogaboom or whomever talks about, these are Silly or Hippie or Trashy or Elitist or Too Complex or Too Simplified or Too Lazy or Too Work-Intensive.

But: really? These ideas I’ve been studying and employing? They really have made things better in our family – in so many ways. And I write because I know I help make other people’s lives better.

And by the way? I always have to epilogue this: my kids are great. Not stellar human beings that make people fall to their knees weeping: just garden-variety Great Kids. They are not lazy. They are full of life, not cynicism and subtle cruelties. They so rarely say they are bored (I don’t know if Nels has ever said it). They are not unprepared. They handle the Real World better than many (adults and children) I meet. They are not more rude or Lord of the Flies or more “disrespectful” or “selfish” than other kids (in fact I frequently get compliments on their behavior).

Finally: get this. The book I cited, Beyond Discipline, was written in 1996. Six years before I squatted out my first child. And Kohn is talking to teachers – you know, people who have to round up a classroom full of all sorts of kids from all sorts of backgrounds, professionals who have many obstacles stacked against them to do their job (I think the teaching environment is harder than ever). Kohn is tackling ALL that, tackled it years ago – and here I am struggling with my little family, just getting up on the learning curve.

I feel humbled. And assy. Here I am just getting started on doing things a better way. For my own two kids.

What am I doing typing away here? Time to head to the library.

H/T to Scott Noelle for his phrase, “Dominator Lite”.

* I am still struggling with the nature of “chores” and will soon write about it.

** Note: having stickers in your home does not make you a jerk.

*** Hello! Yesterday I leaned down and whispered very mean words to my son – well I said I was very angry and he was being totally rude – at which point he curled up inside himself and stifled tears and started “behaving” better, and I immediately felt bad, but fortunately we both knew this, and he put his arms up and I held him and I said I’m sorry. I let myself and my kids down often, and I always apologize and, sadly, that’s my “good enough” some days, so don’t be coming to me claiming I think I’m some Awesome parent who’s “evolved” past whatever). Parents already feel shitty enough and beleaguered enough and I’m not setting myself up as Best Mom Ever, and never have.

mealtime manners

Late evenings we’ve been watching Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe on Netflix Instant. I’m probably the last person, ever, to discover this show but if you don’t know it, I can vouch that it’s fabulous. It’s a simple enough premise: a television personality going around the country (and occasionally abroad) performing one day of the kind of work most people don’t know about and won’t be clamoring to try after they see it. The show is interesting, it’s funny, and I love that it shows the underpinnings of our society (another great reason to watch with kids) – and okay okay, my husband is right, I have a teensy crush on the host, probably mostly because I like to watch guys work and get all messed up (and yeah, Ralph… network server stuff isn’t quite dirty enough).

So last night we were watching the episode Alligator Egg Collector – rather self-explanatory, really. As we watched Rowe push apart a nest to retrieve the leathery treasure therein my daughter commented, “That nest is farther from the water – those are probably mostly male eggs.” I sat there in stunned silence with my second glass of wine in hand. My kids are always telling me things I didn’t know previous and I can tell exactly by their tone of voice when they’re telling me a fact. I usually kind of shrink a bit and feel my Limitations and timidly ask them in what way now they’ve now advanced beyond me (I don’t use those exact words of course).  So I ask my daughter now, “What? What do you mean?” Patiently, she explains that the temperature of alligator nests determine the sex of the babies – if the nest temperature is under 85 F the clutch will be all-female and if over 93 F the eggs will be male. “Nests farther away from the water are warmer, so all the babies are male.” she says calmly. I ask her to get me the book where she learned this and she obliges, sliding out of bed and padding into the living room to retrieve it, flipping the encyclopedia open and pointing. Her eyes are predator-stripes, her body sleek and alive and All Is Right in the world.

Today the kids slept until almost 1 PM at which point they called me in the bedroom to play a trivia game; answers I got right required a kiss to Nels, answers I got wrong I was forced to kiss my daughter. We all liked this game Times One Hundred.

The children’s sleeping-in gave me plenty of time to cook, clean, and sew a bit before they rose and we went on our bike errands.  I’m on Day 3 of arranging a large tray of comestibles for the kids. They love this and so do I. They are flush with compliments for my food and my general personhood; they sample nearly everything that’s put out, lazily thumbing through a book and cracking open edamame shells, stacking fruit on small plates, pouring tea.  Between the four of us the tray’s fare is devoured with maybe one slice of peach going out to the chickens by day’s end. We are definitely eating more of a variety of foods, especially simple fresh fruits and vegetables.

Tonight dinner was spaghetti and meatballs, the sauce of which was started yesterday and simmered down to the Most Delicious Thing Ever. Ralph made the meatballs, a bit larger than usual, dropping them in the simmering sauce while I stitched away in the sewing room.  We sat down at 7:30, a kale and carrot salad from our local CSA rounded out the meal along with the few snap peas (also from the CSA) from today’s tray. Dining as a foursome, I’m eating and I can’t believe how good the food is. I ask my husband, “Is this what my spaghetti always tastes like?” He says Yes. I say, “This is the best spaghetti & meatballs I’ve had in my life.” (I seriously invite any of you all to come weigh in on this). Phoenix immediately pipes up: “I agree!” Nels takes a bite of the salad and says it’s “delicious and sour.” Phoenix kindly tells us lettuce makes her barf. Ralph explains it’s not lettuce it’s kale, and I mention it’s high in calcium (she’s been interested in what foods are good for dental health). Phoenix says, “That’s great, but it still makes me want to barf,” and goes on in an avid description of exactly the kind of gagging that results from trying to eat such a thing. Ralph gently asks her if she wouldn’t mind not talking about puke at the table. I’m trying not to laugh.  I hated lettuce and greens at her age too; I’m still rather picky about them.

My mother comes over after dinner to pick Nels up; she and the kids have been working on putting together pieces for this year’s Young Artist Showcase at the Harbor Art Guild gallery. While they’re gone Phoenix plays games on the computer and I sew on my current Fabulousness for Nels.

As soon as I’m settled in the sewing room, every time without fail, ALL FOUR CATS dart in. Mable lays at my feet, pornographically delighted to have me touching her; Harris lays on his side for a few minutes before rising and sitting up at the door silently, his handsome nose a dignified arrow, “Let me out, please.” And the two kittens.  They climb my fabric and try to tear things up to shit. Today I chucked a book at Hamilton (not hitting her, just trying to startle) to get her off a noisy activity and she lightning-fast spun towards me, her “arms” up in an alarmed ‘Y” and her mouth popped open with a fishy smack – a comical expression of dismay and surprise. I laughed loudly and she scrambled away, her body – only miliseconds before engaged in aggresive horseplay – crumpled up like a concertina of Shame.