Thoughts on Photographs and the Last Ten Years

Due to several reasons, we had not been getting out for regular day hikes as much as we used to, and this made me sad. But last week we woke up, the weather was good, the time was right, and we decided at the last minute to go to the mountains for the day. (We never plan ahead for these things.) I can’t tell you how good this felt. My soul needs a good dose of nature. So included in this post are some photos from that hike.

Speaking of photos, I was also feeling sad that I have not gotten out to take real photographs in what feels like forever. My photography website has been neglected. My Nikon is collecting dust. Though I always had good intentions about pursuing photography more seriously, the life of a homeschooling mom proved to be a like an ocean wave that swept over all my prior intentions. Suddenly everything I once wanted to do isn’t so important anymore. My heart swells with pleasure at creating lessons, birdwatching, listening to classical music….all those things that my boys have brought to me. I know I will still pursue photography and all those other interests again someday, but for now, I am enjoying riding this wave.

However, I was determined to bring my Nikon with me on our hike the other day, and wouldn’t you know it, we were on the highway before I remembered that I had forgot it! How typical of me in my current state! At least my lovely husband bought me a phone with a decent camera, so I had something to capture our time on the trail.

Recently I also happened to look through some old photographs of my boys when they were babies, and it was a little shocking to me to realize that this was ten years ago for my eldest son. I mean, I know he’s ten years old, but to think that these photographs were taken ten years ago…that’s a decade! And so much has changed! We have different sofas now, but these “new” sofas are already starting to look old. The garden looked so green and fresh then, and we had grass too. Ten years of homeschooling and putting all our resources into our boys have taken their toll, and home improvements have taken a backseat too.

Yes, a lot of changes have occurred in ten years, including the fact that I’ve aged ten years. How young and thin I looked at 35! I was a new mother. A fresh mother. Now…..hmmm…..What will another 10 years do to me? **mockingly bites nails**

I have taken a lot of photographs over the years since I became a mother, and I’m so glad I did. As I scroll through a decade’s worth of photos, I notice how in ten, short years, I have already lived through a few different “stages” of my sons’ childhoods.

There was the infant stage. I remember breastfeeding, napping, breastfeeding, changing diapers, breastfeeding, going to the doctor a lot, napping, and breastfeeding. And we had a lot of visitors that year. (Family don’t visit as often after the “super cute” stage.)

Then there was the “nature stage,” which could also be considered the “science stage.” My memories are filled of visits to the nature center, snakes, making friends, walking on trails, discovering all sorts of critters, and realizing my son had a special interest in nature and science.

Overlapping with that was the “building” stage. He built with paper, cardboard, Legos, clay. He got into robotics. He took pottery classes. Life was rich with nature, science and creating.

None of that has gone away completely. He’s still interested in those things and does them when he has time, but I would definitely say we’ve moved into the “piano stage.” Or the “music stage.” And this is just another form of using his hands to create, right? A lot of time is spent everyday in this pursuit. It doesn’t leave much time for anything else. Not only does he practice piano, he reads about composers, watches classical music on YouTube, and enjoys attending concerts.

We are also in the midst of the “gaming stage.” Both my boys are deep into it. They play countless digital games and take them very seriously. They also love to watch other people playing games on YouTube. When I listen in on their conversations, it’s usually about a game, or their plans for future games. When they run around outside, I’m pretty sure they are imagining themselves in a game. Games have even increased their interest in history. In addition to this, my seven-year-old and I play board games or card games at least every other day. He’s my little gamer.

My seven-year-old also went through a “drawing stage,” and a “puzzle stage.” Just imagine drawings everywhere — on the walls, on the floors — and big puzzles all over the floor too. These interests still pop up every now and then.

Last but not least, my seven-year-old is still in the “bird stage.” It started long ago, and it’s still going on and on and on and on.

I see all these “stages” in my photographs, and I’m grateful I have a record of them. I am impressed with the longevity of these stages. People always tell me how children will flit from one interest to the next, but my boys have stuck with some of their interests for a good, long while. I know that proper support and tools inspire children to stick with things, but it may just be a coincidence too. Or my boys’ personality. I don’t know why, but I love it.

Notice, however, that I don’t call these moments in time “phases.” Somehow to me a “phase” has a connotation of something trivial that will pass whereas a “stage” is something that is natural and part of one’s development. It may or may not pass, but it’s an integral part of that development.

My husband and I take each of these stages very seriously, and despite criticism we may receive from other people, we know that it’s important to respect our children’s interests and consider each one as more than a “phase.” It’s what they are now, and we want to do whatever we can to help them do their best with it. We know that if they do their best now, they will do their best with anything they pursue in life.

I look forward to the continuation of these stages. I look forward to future stages. Really, it’s just one, big, magical time.

Right Along Here

When I was young and traveling somewhere by car with my dad — and I think my Aunt Carolyn said this once too — I would ask, “Where are we?” and he would answer, “Right along here.”

When I thought about writing something today this seemed like the perfect title for this post because quite frankly, I don’t have any focus for this blog post. We have finished up our homeschool year, and we’ll be getting to the new one in due time. We just had birthday week, but we all got sick, so it wasn’t quite what anyone was expecting (and that’s okay), but it has driven me off the course I was expecting to go. I am not ready for anything. I have nothing checked off my to do list. And now I need to get ready for an upcoming adventure that I will tell you about another day, but none of that has anything to do with planning lessons, keeping house or getting work done. But that’s okay.

We’re right along here.

When I think about our daily life as homeschoolers, I realize that Life can interrupt us quite a bit. We get sick once or twice a year, or if we’re unlucky, more times than that. Some major house repair or a cleaning spree suddenly needs to happen. I realize we need to go shopping for clothes because everything is getting too small!  (Did I mention I have a seven-year-old and a ten-year-old now?! Wow. Just wow.) Or, I get tired, and I need to take a few days off. I need to watch Poldark on Amazon Prime. Life can toss you a wrench in many ways.

In short, Life is our routine with a series of bumps and interruptions that we navigate around and climb over constantly. And while sometimes that can be a little frustrating, it’s also good. It’s Life. Those bumps and interruptions make it more interesting, and we must embrace them.

We’re right along here.

So despite being sick, the boys had pretty good birthdays. My seven-year-old decided to first come down with the virus on his birthday and then give his brother and me the gift of illness. But he wasn’t that sick yet on his birthday, so he enjoyed a day of visitors and spending his birthday money, homemade cake and going out to dinner, etc.

My 10-year-old, however, was just about as sick as he could be on the morning of his birthday, so I did hear him said, “This is the worst birthday ever,” which I had to agree with, but by the evening, things improved. Now we are all recuperating and slowly getting back to normal.

Luckily I wasn’t as sick as I was in June. (Yes, this was my second summer cold. Hmfp.) You know, there are illnesses that make you go flat on your back, and then there are illnesses where you can walk around and do simple things, but please no thinking involved. This is how I felt. So on the first day when I just had a bad sore throat, I was able to at least walk around the yard, and I visited the praying mantis that lives on my son’s carnivorous plants (he’s a smart praying mantis, I think), and I found those beautiful little mushrooms, and I sketched a Carolina Chickadee. I haven’t been very good about sketching every week, but I do try to get the sketchbook out now and then. These down days are perfect for that.

Before we ever got sick and before the birthday week, I happily helped my son begin a new building project. He hasn’t wanted to build anything in a long time, and I think that’s because he’s so focused on piano. But I’m glad to see that when he has time, that urge creeps back up. Unfortunately, he never went back to finish this project, and I doubt he will. But, still, yay for the creative morning.

As I mentioned before, this summer didn’t quite feel like a summer. It was so hot that we didn’t get to venture into nature as much as I would have liked. But we did make it one day to Zoo Atlanta when we were pining to get out of the house. It was deadly hot, but the zoo has a lot of shade, and we were delighted to see that the flamingoes had babies!

It’s time for me to think about some posts describing plans for our 4th grade year and 1st grade year, and I’m sure somewhere on my to do list I have plans for other posts, but like I said…

We’re right along here.

Where are you?

Homeschooling Is My Compass

There are times I get super busy such as when family visits or all our play dates and appointments get clumped into one week. No matter how much I try to spread out our activities, I go through periods of non-stop excitement and then the welcome reprieve of being at home for a few days with nothing pressing to do.

But…there’s always something to do.

It’s easy to think that we have this flexible lifestyle with all this time on our hands, but that’s not really true. I have to get the boys out of the house to socialize (What?!! Do homeschoolers do that?!!), and we have errands and occasional doctor appointments or what-have-you too. (Not to mention 3~4 weekly appointments/classes during the school year!) Then when we’re at home, I have to take the time to do the laundry, get the house into a “livable state,” plan homeschool, and oh yeah! Homeschool! My kids don’t always get to do anything they want to do. We have work to do! Planning it and executing it is a lot more work than you might guess. Even though I consider myself a “relaxed homeschooler” who doesn’t follow any prescribed deadlines or course of study, it takes a long time to figure out what I need to accomplish with the boys in order to keep them on track to becoming well-rounded, educated adults. (Actually, I think it would be a lot less work to follow the instructions in a comprehensive boxed curriculum!)

The mornings we do homeschool lessons are not always flexible either. There is a certain amount of work I need to do with the boys, even though I don’t worry about meeting certain deadlines or “mile stones.” I would like to cover a variety of topics, and I also want the boys to have time to explore what is meaningful to them. But it’s impossible to do all that — with two different children — in one day. I have to pick and choose what we do each day, and some items never get checked off the “want to” list.

On top of this, I take time to write, which is sometimes how I relax and sometimes how I…oh. do. I. dread. having. to. write. Or sort photos. Or any other mundane task that someone needs to do or it’s just going to pile up into impossible, insurmountable mountains of tedious work. (But sometimes I stop everything and watch a show on Amazon Prime too, and I don’t feel guilty about this!)

There are things that never get done. There are people I rarely go visit. There are weeds that never get pulled, and there are recipes I never try out. I can beat myself up over this because on one hand we’re flexible homeschoolers, and I really want to do all the things, but on the other hand, there are more important things — priorities — that must get done. I try to remember this.

And my #1 priority is my kids and their education! Luckily, spending quality time with them, doing fun things + educating them overlaps most of time. (When it doesn’t overlap: handwriting lessons.)

When I finally have time to sit down at my computer and I 1) don’t have a pressing deadline, and 2) I’m not bone tired, homeschool planning is my compass to  get back to what is most important. I make lists of what the boys are doing and what I want to do with them. I ask them if they have a project or idea they want to pursue. I think about the ideas I want to pursue with them. I also make lists of writing ideas, tasks to get done around the house, reminders for this and that….Because I’m growing older and I can’t remember anything anymore unless I write it down! 

But the thing is: when I think about the boys, their ideas, our goals, and I line them up on a page, and then I step into the activity room to get it ready for whatever lesson or endeavor we plan to undertake, I feel like I’ve finally made it back to the destination that all these busy days were part of and leading me to: our home, our education, a life well-lived.

And when I say “our” education, I mean our education.

Why Do I Blog?

I sometimes ask myself this question. There is no reward in blogging except for the infrequent but kind remarks left in the comments. There is even less reward in writing a newspaper column. (I will comment no further on that.)

Sometimes I get tired of writing about myself because I wonder who really cares? There are millions of mommy blogs, and only a few people land on my site. I don’t expect them to stay or leave comments, though I would love for them to. I rarely have time to read the blogs I enjoy, so how can I expect others to keep up with mine? Unless it’s a relative of mine, I don’t expect people to care. I’m not being callous or negative…honest! I’m just stating a fact.

Sometimes I think it’s kind of silly that I blog or write anything publicly, but it also seems a natural transition from those days I used to fill notebooks with my thoughts and daily activities. If the technology was available back then, I probably would have blogged.

Blogging is like keeping a journal except that it’s more focused and more well-written than the scribbles in a diary. It is a practice. It is a meditation. It’s how I process my thoughts. It’s how I unwind. It’s how I make sense of the world.

Because I focus this blog on homeschooling (mostly), that shows that this is my main work. As I write out what my kids are doing, what resources they use, and how we structure our days, I’m able to see the big picture more clearly and understand if it makes sense or if we need to change something. How many times have I gotten an idea while I’m planning my blog posts? Many.

I have gone long spells without writing anything, and I’ve noticed that my mind starts to get a little muddled, and I feel less organized. Do other writers experience this?

I have noticed that when I blog like this — simple reflections on my life — I have more mental energy to put into my freelance writing.

I also think that writing helps me remember things. Sorting photographs, putting words to them, and recounting experiences helps solidify them in my memory. I have a pretty bad memory in general, so maybe this is why I feel the need to write everything down. (Or maybe I have a bad memory because I write everything down, and my mind doesn’t need to remember it.)

Writing in general is a very lonely process, and being a stay-at-home mom can be very lonely too. I suppose I blog for those infrequent but kind comments that occasionally connect me with another human being, someone who is going through a similar situation, someone I can reach out to and say, “Hello. Do you see/feel/do this too?”

Thank you to those who take the time to read my blog, and double thanks to those who leave comments as well. I really appreciate you.

 

Waiting for Brother

An evening I’ll fondly remember when the boys are grown.

This little guy will sigh and ask, “How much more does he have to play?” Older brother used to have more time to play, and quite honestly, he still has lots of time to play, but that doesn’t make it any easier for a six-year-old to wait patiently through an hour (sometimes hour+!) of piano playing twice a day. And he needs to remain somewhat quiet.

But he’s so good. And really, he is patient. He steals my heart.

He used to sit on the floor playing with his dinosaurs, and while a little noise doesn’t hurt, the banging and roaring of dinosaurs was a little too much. So then he began to draw on the art app on our iPad while his brother played piano. After months of that, he grew tired of it, so he moved on to other things. When the weather warmed up, he decided he’d  go outside to swing and play with our dog, and he still does that often. Sometimes he sits in the kitchen and looks over our Calvin and Hobbes books. Sometimes he just curls up with me on the sofa and waits.

Sigh. “When’s he gonna be done?” (After the first piano practice, the boys get to play games on their digital devices, so it’s especially difficult to wait for that.) But he does.

I was kind of sad when he stopped drawing because for the last few years, he loved drawing and coloring, and he often occupied himself doing this. But then he stopped, and I wondered if that interest was fading.

But the other day I suggested we color together in his bird coloring book. (I had suggested it in the past, but he always said no.) This day, he said yes, and ever since, he’s been coloring in that book on his own every time big brother plays piano. I snapped this photo the other night because I wanted to remember the moment, and I love his expression as he colors. He takes his work very seriously, as you can see. 🙂

I love this photo also because it nicely wraps up the boys main interests right now: for the nine-year-old, piano, and for the six-year-old, drawing/coloring and birds.

I know someday they may move onto other things, but I hope not. I hope whatever they choose to do with their lives, they’ll always love classical music, and they’ll always love birds. And maybe the six-year-old will continue drawing too, even just for fun.

Today, the six-year-old brought me his coloring book to show me which birds he had colored, and he told me that for now on, he would color in it while his brother plays piano. Then he hugged the book to his chest and said, “I love this.”  He steals my heart.

(And then I went and ordered two more bird coloring books.)

A Little Bit of Wildness

This morning was the first morning that was warm enough for us to sit on the porch and do lessons. I love sitting on the front porch, but it’s tricky doing our lessons out here because it’s hard to keep the boys focused. They are ready to jump out of their seats and go play in the yard, but frankly, since there are some days that I have a hard time getting them outside, I don’t mind. I guess you could also call doing lessons outside my strategy for getting them to play outside. But we still got a lot of work done, so I’m feeling pretty good about this morning.

I am in the process of reading this wonderful essay by Carol Black. (It’s so long, I haven’t finished it yet!) She talks about how kids in traditional schools are losing their wildness. (Really, you should go read it yourself. She explains this much better than I am.) I began thinking about this and wondering that even though my kids are not in traditional school, they probably don’t have that kind of wildness she refers to. In an attempt to balance that unavoidable necessity of being able to live within our society, I make my kids sit down every morning and do lessons. I make them clean up their dishes. I make them get up early and get to places on time. All these things temper that natural wildness.

I also let my boys spend time (because they so desire it) on screens. We don’t live on a big farm where my kids can wander aimless for hours, and though we do have a big yard, my kids can get bored outside after awhile. We garden, but we only grow a few vegetables successfully. There are days they want to go outside and play. There are days when they aren’t interested in going outside at all. Although the idea of living on some land and letting them wander for hours sounds ideal, it just isn’t happening. It’s not realistic for us.

But I agree with her. Humans lose something vital for our well-being when we’re stuck inside a building all day, and kids, especially, need to have more freedom to move around, explore, and develop an appreciation for nature. So many adults are stuck at a computer all day, they feel no connection to their inner wildness. I hope my children will grow up to feel a connection to nature.

This morning after lessons, my nine-year-old brought me this little hairstreak butterfly to show me, and it sat on his hand long enough for me to take its picture. While doing lessons, we noticed how the mama and papa bluebird would not feed their chicks in the birdhouse on our porch because we were too close to it, so we moved to the other end of the porch, and then the bluebirds got to work again. I also thought about how both my boys know the names of all the common birds we see in our yard, and yesterday evening my six-year-old came in from the backyard (where he was playing alone) to tell me he heard the baby chickadees in the birdhouse out there for the first time.  And finally, yesterday I noticed my boys stooped in the backyard observing something for a long time. Later, they told me they were watching some ants eat a worm — a very fascinating encounter for two little boys!

So perhaps we are striking the right balance between being a little bit wild and being a little bit not wild. Or, at least, we’re learning to appreciate the wild things and our place alongside of them as wild (yet just as predictable as the bluebirds) human beings.

***

And on the opposite kind of subject, my post Don’t Cut the Screen Time — Just Make Sure It Countsis up on the home/school/life blog today.

At the Heart of Homeschooling

I made some minor changes to my blog. First of all, I switched to a new template, though it’s very similar to what I had before. But it opens up the menu and side margin a little, which I like.

I also changed my tagline to “at the heart of homeschooling.” I did this partly because I couldn’t think of anything else, but also it seemed right. We are at the heart of homeschooling. That is, in the thick of it! There is no turning back from it now. We are educating our children so much differently than they would be in school. Is it better? I think so. But I’m not saying school is bad for all kids either.

Our kids are engaged in learning almost all day. When they play, they are deep in a crazy, imaginative make-believe world of their own creation, which I believe is the best kind of learning for kids. They don’t have the stress of constant test taking or having to switch gears so often. They are learning at their own pace. We have conversations about dinosaurs, classical piano concertos and composers, Calvin and Hobbes, birds, Star Wars, and oh the endless questions…which are all encouraged!

I’m learning more and more how odd we are, though. Most people don’t live like us. Most people aren’t excited about learning or exploring the world. They don’t ask questions, and they pretty much do what everyone else is doing. They put their boys in sports and girls in gymnastics. (I’m not saying these activities are bad! They can be very cool, but they are also more popular.) It’s hard to find people who do the uncommon stuff. People don’t talk about the cool fossil they bought at a rock show, sketching at the garden, obsessing about the birds in their yard, taking piano lessons, and general things that geeks love. (But I’m not saying people don’t enjoy these activities or a combination of popular activities with these either! It’s just hard for me to find these people.) That is, unless they are homeschoolers. Homeschoolers understand more about these things.

I don’t consider us privileged. I certainly don’t consider us better than anyone else. And we definitely aren’t swimming in money to make our lives easier. But we’re different. We make different choices. We have different priorities. We don’t fit in with the crowd. And that’s okay.

Then again, a lot of people don’t fit in with the crowd. But they are probably like us…they are sitting at home reading a book, taking a coding course online, working in their workshop, or spending time at the library. They are a quiet crowd. They are busy doing their thing and not caring what other people think.

Anyway, these are just some of my thoughts as I make some tweaks to the blog and reflect on this lifestyle I’m writing about here.