Monday, July 30, 2012

Going with the Grain

Last Friday my daughter and I went to pick up our veggies from our CSA.  After greeting us, Farmer Steve asked if we had gone through the "U Pick".  I asked which veggies were available to pick ourselves.  He happily answered, "Cherry tomatoes."  Without thinking my face wrinkled up, I stuck out my tongue, and I said, "Oh No! YUCK."  I surprised him and myself.  He said, "That is not the reaction I usually get."  I shared my story of  being maybe four years old and returning home from my grandpa's garden with the back of our Toyota full of veggies.  The cherry tomatoes looked so beautiful that I couldn't resist trying just one.  Forty years later, I can still feel the awful experience of popping that warm cherry tomato into my mouth and tasting the juices as they exploded into my mouth.  I HATED the taste!  To this day the thought of eating a cherry tomato still makes me sick.

Farmer Steve knows me from years ago when the kids and I spent a lot of time on the farm volunteering.  After sharing my story he said, "Cathy, you are always going against the grain, aren't you?"  I knew he wasn't talking just about not eating cherry tomatoes but also how I have eaten for the last eight years and how I have chose to educate my children, among other things.

Well, this year we will not be going against the grain when it comes to schooling.  For the first time ever my children will be attending school.  Sophia will be a freshman and Alexander a junior.  After spending their previous years playing, exploring and even experiencing a feeling that I believe many children are lacking in - boredom, they are ready to find out what this whole school thing is about.

I do need to clarify that we aren't totally going WITH the grain.  Sophia will be a full time student but Alexander will be going part-time.  He will take two electives.  His school day will be complete by 9:30am.  As a part-time student he is able to participate in all extra curricular activities.  Sophia has already started cross country training and Alexander will start next week.

Many people have asked in a worried voice, "How do you feel about this?"  Truly, I am excited.  When we chose to educate them in a way that is even alternative to homeschooling, the intent was that they followed their passions rather than a curriculum designed by strangers.  Right now school seems to be the route that allows them to meet their current needs. Alexander chose to not go full time because he LOVES learning new things in a way that works very well for him and is afraid the staleness of a classroom may rob him of that love.  Instead he chose to take two classes that he has found difficult to learn on his own.

I have always wanted my children to have choices and not feel they were doomed to a one track way of life. Right now this is the path they both want to take and I can't be anything other than happy for them.  In fact, it has created a renewed closeness with myself and Sophia that I am absolutely loving!!!!  I see her as a very determined teen who will make things happen for herself and right now public school seems to be the route she needs to take.  She is a woman that needs to experience things - reading about them isn't enough.

As we move into this new world of public school, I do sometimes feel pulled towards the grain a little more than I want to, but when you know that it is meeting the needs of your children, it is worth it.  Besides that, knowing who I am and who my children are, I can't see us buying into everything or ever totally going with the grain.  It just isn't who we are.

Please wish us luck on this new journey.  I know it will come with surprises, disappointments, and also many great memories.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

It's My Pleasure

In the midst of trying to eliminate time away from home, I was offered a summer teaching assignment at a community college I have been trying to get into for several years.  After discussing it with my family, we decided that taking the assignment was a good idea even though it means I am away from home every Saturday and Sunday morning throughout the summer.  Long term it will allow for hours that will work best for my family's schedule.

I have to admit that I have loved this assignment.  I have been teaching adult ESL (English as a Second Language) for 12 years and this is one of the most interesting groups of students I have ever taught.  First of all, most of the students are 50 years or older and they come from a variety of countries: Vietnam, Albania, Russia, Pakistan, India, Mexico, and China.  I have two married couples which is always fun. Along with being the most diverse in countries and the oldest group I have ever taught, this group is also the lowest in their English proficiency skills.

One of the amazing things about this group of students is their ability to work cooperatively.  One self made group  consists of women from China, Vietnam, and Russia.  Watching them explain assignments together is unbelievable.  They struggle, they laugh, and they work it out - often doing a better job of teaching the content than me.  They speak very little English but keep a watchful eye out for each other and are very generous with the knowledge they do have.  Giving exams is not easy because they really want to help each other and tend to let their partner know if they have made a mistake.  I just love how my student from Albania sits alone at his table until he sees his friend from Vietnam show up and immediately his eyes light up and they start talking.  What they talk about I have no idea, but they often have their translators out and find pictures in their books to get their messages across.  Plus, they are both very proud of their drivers licenses and often have them out showing them off since they are fairly new!

As my students pack up their books to leave for the day I always thank them for coming to class.  They always respond back, "No Teacher, thank you."  (Gratitude from my students is a nice bonus that comes with my job!)  What I have started saying to my students is, "It's my pleasure."  I said this one day out of the blue because I truly feel that way.  I was pleasantly surprised at how happy a few of the students who understood "pleasure" looked when I said it.  I think it is important to know that the person who is motivating you wants to be there.  I certainly do.  I love my job and I feel thankful each semester that I am given another chance to work with such beautiful people.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Forcing My Way Out of the Busy Trap

About four or five years after moving into our current home we discovered a swarm of Yellowjackets had built a home in a hollow section of the frame of our house.  They were getting in and out where the siding no longer met.  Since their hive and pathway was on our front porch, we were concerned, especially since our kids were young and one of them seemed to attract yellowjackets. To remedy the problem, Steve sprayed what he could since we couldn't see the hive and caulked the siding.  This didn't take care of the problem. They chewed right through the caulking.  We called an exterminator.

The exterminator told me trapping an animal generally backfires because they will do everything possible to get themselves out of the trap.  He said he had seen homes where yellowjackets had chewed through drywall and come out inside the house.  Yikes!

Since January I have felt like the yellowjackets trying to fight my way out of a trap.  I created a work schedule that has left me working more hours than I have worked since my kids were born (actually this may be the most hours I have ever worked) as well as taking on other responsibilities.  Each job or responsibility has had its positives and I have loved each one, but together, they have been too much, which I posted about in the past.  I don't do busy well. If you know me and my introvert personality, you know this about me.  I need lots of downtime and when I don't give it to myself or I allow others to fill every moment, I suffer. I find myself backing away from the people I love to have a quiet moment alone.  In fact, I left school the other morning and seriously thought, "What if I checked into a hotel and spent the whole day and evening all alone?"  Yes, I think that question is a sign I am fighting to get myself out of a trap.

Last night I read this article by Tim Kreider in the New York Times about being busy, which I highly recommend everyone read. It really struck a nerve with me, especially the part about his friend moving to a smaller town due to expenses.  My husband who has also been way too busy mentioned again the other day how nice it would be to move somewhere smaller and quieter.  The minute he mentioned it, I felt my mind and heart craving that quiet town where I didn't have to add traffic to my list of things to think about. The idea of living in a lower cost of living environment totally appeals to me.  It's definitley something we have been considering for a few years and gets more appealing all the time.

I have been very lucky in that most of my life has allowed me to be who I am with lots of downtime.  Before we had kids our life was fairly quiet.  We both finished college and then found jobs.  Although both of us work hard, neither one of us is an overachiever which meant we limited our hours at work to have time together at night.  When Alexander was born, I quickly figured out I was not a full time working kind of momma and was able to go part time in the middle of the school year. (No, we couldn't afford it, but we took the chance.) When Sophia was born, we moved out of state and I stayed home with the kids full time until she was around two years old.  Then I found a job teaching at the community college two evenings a week after my husband got home.  While many moms with young kids are always on the go, my kids grew up believing a successful day was a day we didn't have to get out of our pajamas.  I still believe that to be true and strive to have that perfect day. I find it interesting that as my kids begin to think about their future professional lives, they are making down time a huge consideration. I love that!

 Down time just seems to be a very important part of who I am. When I honor that part of me, everything about life is good.  Down time suits me well. The next month should be fairly quiet with lots of time to hang out with my family as well as time for my mind to not have to be on constant alarm.  It needs this time away from constantly worrying about the next thing on my "to do" list.  One of my favorite quotes from Kreider's article is, "Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done. "   Yes!  Idleness is not being lazy.  It is being good to yourself.  It is when the best of me comes out strong.

What I have missed most about not having idle time:

  • Being home when my kids wake up.  This is the time they share the most about everything.  This has always been our special time to reconnect.  I know they have missed this time together also.  
  • Baking.  After a crazy day with homeschooling activities, baking muffins or a cake was my way of unwinding. Eating them was always good too!
  • Blogging and reading blogs.  
  • Enjoying a pot of tea at my desk rather than on the go.  I even found myself waking early some mornings without an alarm just to sit at the computer and sip on tea - another way my mind was trying to break out of the trap.
  • Having time to take a longer walk in the morning if I choose to.
  • A clean house.  Cleaning for me has many benefits besides a clean house. This is often when I get my best mind down time.

What about you?  How do you spend downtime?  Do you think it is necessary for you?

For another look at slowing down check out RA Guy's post here.

Thankfully Izzy gets me up and out walking every single morning.
 This is my one constant mind release everyday.