“make a real noise and lots of lovely noises” – nels hogaboom, age 5

I keep planning to write more about this:

Since I took my kids out of school they – who were already typically imaginative, happy, active children – have shown a direct and powerful increase in both physical activity, independence, and creative, autonomous adventures.  It’s such a powerful difference and it’s non-stop. Daily I am blown away.

Case in point.  My son is into making musical instruments. No, not playing them – although he loves this as well – but making them.  It’s not enough for him to craft something that resembles the real thing – it has to actually work.  The days we were moving into this house he made the following: an egg carton violin, a stand-up bass (using a yogurt container and a paint stick), a pie tin drum set, a horn (using a small conch shell as the mouthpiece, a plastic water bottle as the body, and a yellow plastic funnel as the bell), and a paper plate shaker (with dried beans inside). Then he made a “pickup truck” out of a large box – complete with separate wheels – that he will now load up and “drive” his gear in. The truck is parked in our bedroom with the musical accoutrement stored because, just like with adult musicians, having a bunch of gear strewn about the house can be annoying.

I should point out that I did not help him with the construction of a single item – although I did point out the location of the masking tape or the glue gun or whatever, when he pestered me enough.

Despite his prolific production of instruments, I didn’t really start noticing how much he loves this sort of thing for a couple days.  I guess because I am a shitty mom who’s always busy making bread, or trying to sew something, or obsessing about cleaning the toilet. This morning after breakfast Nels discovered one of his prize strings, a large green rubber band, was missing.  He called his father at work and demanded it be returned (Ralph has a penchant for wearing rubber bands around his wrist).  My husband brought the rubber band home – along with a handful of others – and while I sewed away on Sophie’s linen coat and pants my son found a shoebox, a couple of markers (for the bridge), tape, a quilting ruler, and created a five-string guitar.  The little device sounds rather awesome, especially in Nels’ rendition of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”.

After lunch my son expressed his desire to visit the music store to, you know, show the guys there his latest creation, and also to shop for a tamborine (a promise I’d made him last night in an attempt to cajole him into sleeping in his own bed).  The store owner was too busy to notice, but an employee and a customer there both complimented Nels’ instrument and compared it to a cigar box guitar, a contraption I’d only had a vague awareness of until today.

When I could get my son away from trying out the cymbols and the shakers and the cowbells, he selected a bright pink tamborine to the tune of $5.  But he wasn’t as interested in the ready-made instrument as much as I’d thought he might be.  On the drive home he instructed me on ways to make a whistle, and a homemade tambourine of his own.  When Ralph arrived home from work for the day they re-strung Ralph’s guitar and Nels, I suppose, learned still more about his latest hobby.

Who needs television?

choosing to breed, Surprise # 437

I am learning to cook some modest amount of French cuisine (and loving it, I might add).  Today for breakfast, on a lark: oeuf en cocotte; eggs baked in ramekins – with cream and butter and a wee bit of fresh parmesan.  At 10:30 my son thundered down the stairs, “What smells so good?!” he shouted.  The kids set the table, scrambled up.  Their faith in and love of my cooking is truly an inspiration and quite heartening for me.

It took longer to get the food on the table than I’d expect; I need my egg whites at a medium finish.  Peeking in and out of the oven, edgy and bored, and the kids’ rowdiness in our small kitchen grated on my last nerve.  As I finally brought the hot morsels to the table some clumsy or abrupt movement of a child climbing around set me off.  “Stop it. STOP IT!” (they are literally unable to hear me when they are all revved-up.  “This isn’t playtime, this is fucking food!” I fumed as I whacked down a ramekin.

The kids were silent; Sophie slid her plate away from me.  I turned to the oven, brought the rest over.  Moved back to the table with the salt and pepper, contrite: “Would you like some orange juice?” I asked.   My children softened.  They are more or less used to my temper, or more specifically, they know that it doesn’t last.  I mixed up the juice in their pitcher, sat down, and deliberately apologized for my outburst.  We enjoyed a surprisingly delicious breakfast; I felt giddy at yet another delicious dish learned.

I think one of the pleasures of life is serving a meal to your loved ones and watching them tear into it, pausing only to repeatedly praise the repast.

Later, after groceries and errands, I fiddled about in the kitchen cooking beouf bourgingnon while the kids entertained themselves, including drafting up a garage sale, cracking a child’s schoolbook on study habits (purchased last Friday at a church rummage sale for ten cents), and drawing then cutting out ferocious kitten masks decorated brightly and ferociously like luchadores.  Both their spelling and worksmanship impressed me; my son’s writing is improving enough that I can’t always tell it from his older sister’s.

Although I am fiddling with the temptation to place my children in a private school next year (with a generous scholarship this is just financially feasable for us), it sometimes seems obvious that our current track of unschooling is what works best for our family.

I have a few problems with this.  First, I sometimes feel I am only just able to handle having my kids around me near 24/7.  I feel the fault is my own; I am simply not a groovy-enough Mama to accept without protest or miniature breakdown the infringements on my daily freedom.  To be fair, I know that if I worked all day and came home to the wee ones I’d have about the same amount of miniature breakdowns. I guess I am just a colossal ass.  I am not sure what to do with this aspect of my persona, something that has given me a lot of personal emotonal pain.

Secondly, the same part of me that longs for freedom knows on some level she would not allow much more of it to herself.  The prospect of school for my children gives me the illusion I’d have more time for myself, and that I’d actually spend that time – on myself.  Sometimes I fantasize about having more time to do yoga or work on the home-sewn lovelies I so love to create; yet God Knows what I tend to prioritize is cooking and housecleaning and doing things with the kids when I have a choice of where to put my efforts.  I know from Sophie’s first and only year in public school that I would likely find myself to and fro the schoolhouse anyway, volunteering my time and staying up making flyers or binding little project books.

I might think I long for more time for myself and my exploits, more space (what does that mean?), but my genuine joy and interest in my kids’ day-to-day life – and a personal ambition, as well as some sense of obligation I can’t quite put my finger on – keep me away from these such that at present I might be getting the most of this “me time” I’d allow myself in any case.  At the end of the day the laundry is done and the counter wiped clean and maybe I haven’t gotten quite as far on the silk shirt as I’d hoped; yet most days I’ve acheived at least an hour of sewing.

I call this a victory, for now.