Word Winding

attempting to spin cacophony into sanity

Archive for the category “Life’s Unanswered Questions”

Refining Our Scholastic Balance

School decision making may be the most nerve-wracking of all the parental dilemmas.

Our country prides itself on being chock-full of choices (but without so much as a pamphlet to see us safely through). If you’ve ever been concerned about the toxins in your beauty products or the protein content in your pet’s diet, you know the time sinkhole that is internet research.

Now pretend that choice might make or break your child’s future happiness, their eventual career(s), the very wiring of their brain, not to mention all of your familial relationships, and you begin to grasp the enormity of what we parents are asked to do, not for ourselves, not on behalf of an adult or a teenager, but for a child just beginning to sprout, whose needs and desires are still partially obscured.

Way worse than shampoo or dog food. The columns of pros and cons run off into the distance like Platypup’s favorite number: infinity.

If you’ve been coming ’round these parts for awhile, you know I’ve been here before. Three years agoTwo and a half years ago… And most recently this past fall, when we actually enrolled both Owlet and Platypup for the first time.

If I’ve written at least five (six, now) posts on the subject, you know it’s been mulled over endlessly. Thor and I frequently discuss school matters using the semi-coded, intentionally complex language of parents within earshot of their children: “I got a phone message from the scholastic institution in the style of my early childhood and after we submit the appropriate forms on behalf of our male descendant we can observe the occupants in their native environment.” (Translation: the Montessori school says we can tour after turning in some initial paperwork for Platypup.) My friend Kula and I sip tea, commiserate, and take turns as sounding board. Her daughter is right between Owlet and Platypup in age and our opinions on educational philosophies and the various local schooling options always track closely in tandem; no one bears witness to my “what feels right?” soul-search better than she. I sneak-attack interview complete strangers whose offspring are homeschooled or who attend a school on my list. And of course when the moon is full, the cats noisy, or the children restless, I lie awake at night and relentlessly chart and rechart potential courses until I force myself to yoga-pee-meditate back to sleep.

Then a couple months ago, a new chapter in Owlet’s schooling jumped out and threw itself across our path.

Owlet began in the fall at a partial homeschooling program, which we enjoyed but quickly realized was probably not our home long-term due to its tiny size and undeviatingly standardized curriculum. As we explored other options, we came across another hybrid program that seemed much more our style. We applied in November to transfer (this year if possible or at the start of next school year if not) and waited.

We had resigned ourselves to the luck of the lottery for Fall 2016 and were in full on, baby-anytime mode when we got the call: there was an opening if we wanted to take it.

Thor and I tore our hair out a little over the timing of it all (a couple weeks before my due date) but we toured and adored it, took Owlet for a trial day at which she had a blast, and officially transferred… On what turned out to be two days before Cria’s birth.

Bam! Huge life transition times two.

It could easily have backfired, but the combination turned out to be perfect for Owlet. As much as she loved her new school, she was really, really, really sad to leave her first teacher, and a tiny baby sister was an ideal distraction. Her class of fellow kindergarteners and first graders has given her a wealth of friends — and Thor and I a pack of like-minded parents! The curriculum is whatever we want it to be, with expert guidance to take the hassle out of homeschooling. Instead of the worksheets and textbooks that prompted alarming statements like “I hate science,” we have interest-driven projects and research and games. Because the curriculum is so perfectly tailored to the individual student, I can say without hesitation that all three of our kids will thrive here. Maybe there’s a curveball in our future, but for now, this fits us to a T… I know, because my midnight agonizing on the subject has ceased, and with all the newborn nursing sessions and cramped co-sleeping configurations, that’s saying something!

  

   

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The Jaguar, the Worry-Bones, and Me

I am a no stone left unturned kind of person by nature. I do not prefer to leave well enough alone. I am insatiably curious. And if it weren’t for a streak of shyness and some manners, I would be rather irritating in my desire to talk things out all of the time in exhaustive detail.

That said, when mulling over the large (and perhaps unsolvable), there inevitably comes a point in which my words, rather than illuminating new landscapes, begin to orbit frustration, sculpting the dejected path of a penned jaguar.

Time to let the verbal approach quietly rest, then, yes. But the issue at hand, whatever it may be, will continue to leap out in inconvenient moments if I stop grappling with it altogether.

This is when I invite my persnickety problem to make a guest appearance in my garden during my nightly meditation circle.

I keep whatever is bothering me in the wings for a time while I settle my mind, open my heart, and work to connect the simple fact of me sitting there to the unfathomable depths of earth and sky, time and space, truth and mystery.

Once I’ve made a fair attempt at the above, sometimes I find my original concern has grown so small as to be no longer worth my time. Other times I explode with sudden insight, the kind that eats problems like mine for breakfast, leaving a trail of worry-bones in its wake. If that doesn’t happen, I may try to reach a more complete description of what is truly going on, or perhaps let my wild imagination take it on an adventure. And occasionally, for a really, really tough one, I just sit. I just sit there and hold it awhile, not trying to put it down, not trying to engage it, just feeling it deeply, with every ounce of my being, uncomfortable though that may be.

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[NaBloPoMo’s question for today was, “Do you find it more helpful to talk things out or to let things quietly rest?” So I guess I’m going with, “yes.”]

How do you know something exists?

Recently this photo caught my fancy:

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I love that something presumably created out of closedmindedness can be so… Oddly universally appealing.

The original intent is clear: theist says this, atheist says, but here I am, theist says aha! now ya see what I’m saying, atheist is either slinks away or converts on the spot.

But an atheist sees it in an identical/opposite way.

Namely, that you don’t just believe something without reason. (Especially not in the face of solid evidence to the contrary, as with the atheist still existing contrary to the above meme.)

Because the issue here is about what really convinces a person that something is true.

The average, relatively mentally sound person, theist or atheist, believes something when there is either a) evidence, or b) someone or something they trust says it is true.

So when I say I don’t believe in any deities, I mean I have been given no proof, no reason, and no one whose authority is unquestionable to me has said it is so.

And when a theist says they do believe in one or more deities, they mean they either have personal experience (I specify “personal” not to be derogatory but because we have no scientific evidence of deity existence) that has proven their deity(deities) to exist, or someone they trust implicitly has said it is so.

So. How do YOU know something exists?

The Wishing Star

Tuesday we got a Berenstain Bears book called “The Wishing Star” from the library. In it is a familiar old rhyme:

Star light, star bright
First star I see tonight
I wish I may, I wish I might
Have the wish I wish tonight

Owlet brought that poem up yesterday while I was cooking dinner, a mildly fussy Platypup at my feet. I mentioned that I used to say that when I was a little girl, and that my mom, Grandma Jackie, had taught it to me.

I saw the wheels turning in her thoughtful little head. An unusual silence reigned.

And then she asked, in the sweetest little conversational tone, “Do you see her very often?”

Ah, no, girl child. I would not be holding her back from you!

“Grandma Jackie?” I confirmed. She nodded. “No, honey,” I said, crouching down to her level, “she’s dead. Grandma Jackie died a long time ago, before you were born.”

I have been waiting for this question. I cannot express how happy I am that her immediate thought was not full of the fear that I would similarly leave her. I’m sure it helps that 13 seems as old as 30 to a 3 year old; likely she does not realize I was still a child.

Lately Owlet has been asking a lot about our friends’ son, Caemon, who died of leukemia in February and should have turned four two weeks ago. In step with her clown’s-scarf collection of never-ending “Why?”s, she has been very eager to master the difficult subject of life and death. Last week Caemon’s parents lent us a children’s book called Lifetimes: the beautiful way to explain death to children by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen that did exactly what it should — demystify and familiarize, answer the primary questions and create openings for many more, and all with poignant illustrations and a soothing rhythm.

Amongst Platypup’s grousing I told my keen-eyed Owlet how much Grandma Jackie would have loved her, just like Granny (Thor’s mom) does. I said that I missed her very much still and wished that they had gotten to meet. She asked if Grandma Jackie had been very old, and I explained that, no, she had gotten very sick, like Caemon. And reiterated that most people live to be old, but some get hurt or sick when they are young.

She paused again, in a way that clearly meant the conversation would resume shortly. I started back on dinner.

“Who will be the next person to die?”

Now that is an unanswered question!

Of course I said there was no way of knowing, that no one could predict exactly when someone would die. And she was satisfied.

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A typical shot of our kitchen. Platypup making a mess and trying hard to clean it up, Owlet drawing.

Questions #23 & 24: Addiction harpooning tips, anyone?

(This post is part of a series for July 2013 entitled “Question Month.” Read the intro to the series here.)

My Facebook post earlier this week (yeah, gave up on the daily thing, but for good reason):

Question Nos. 23 & 24: How do you break your addictions? How do you form new, better (hopefully lasting) habits?

What are my addictions? Hmmm, let me gnaw on a cuticle for a second here while I think… Yup. That’s one of them right there. But wait, there’s more…

Cuticle gnawing.
iPad tooling.
Juice guzzling.
Family for-granted-taking.
Ear canal scratching.
Photo snapping.

So I’m not the world’s worst addict. That much we know. Still, I would like to reform the above. I have bitten the skin around my fingernails for nearly my entire life. I tried it for the first time, no joke, because a fellow preschooler said it was cool to bite your nails. They were wrong. The nails themselves feel scratchy in the mouth, taste bitter, and can lead to serious pain, but the cuticles… Ah, the cuticles are a bizarre delicacy from which I have yet to be parted.

I should not be on the iPad during my children’s waking hours. I am better than I used to be on the “real” computer, but still. I am somehow absent from the room while iPaddling in a way I am not while doing anything else: laundry, cooking, composing, knitting, gardening… All allow me to be attentive to my children in a way the iPad cannot.

Laugh if you will, but juice is my Achilles heel. I had it bested for months and months and then just a week or two ago broke down in a bad way, and now I’m scrabbling my way back on the wagon.

My family is beautiful, precious beyond measure, and deserving of a far better mom and spouse than my current self.

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I cannot seem to stop cleaning my ears with Q-tips even though I know it could damage my hearing… Partially because the alternate method for ear cleaning requires alone time (to let some drops seep in before flushing the ear out), but mostly because of the eargasm involved. I know I am not alone in this.

All of these are Habits in Need of Breaking, sure, but what’s wrong with photography, you ask? Well, sometimes nothing at all, but occasionally it detracts from actually living and enjoying the experience in an effort to document it sufficiently.

What habits am I trying, with varying success, to instill?

Water and tea drinking.
Meditation and mindfulness.
Doctor-approved ear cleansing.
Kindness toward those I love.
Eating a large and timely breakfast.
Keeping up with chores.
Regular music practice (composing and instrument-playing).

I won’t bore you with my attempts at the above, but I will gladly blame my absence lately from what was intended to be daily blogging upon a visit from in-laws followed closely by a sudden and delightful ability to wrestle composition time out of nowhere. For the first time in far too long I have written significant amounts of music over four (4) consecutive days, sometimes in just five-minute increments stolen throughout the day, and am rewarded with the delightful experience of having my own music stuck in my head.

I have truly enjoyed having a theme for July despite my waning participation toward the end here, and have thus been planning a much less time-intensive theme for August. Details to follow before long!

Question #22: Should We Shun the Great God Gluten?

(This post is part of a series for July 2013 entitled “Question Month.” Read the intro to the series here.)

My Facebook post earlier today:

“Question No. 22: Should my kids and I go gluten free?”

Truthfully?

Probably. At least for a trial month.

I wouldn’t have even considered it before reading this article. But the writer didn’t just speak to me, she spoke like me; her initial impression of gluten free as the new fad diet followed by her careful doctor-supported trial of eliminating gluten, then adding it back in just to be sure, was rather convincing because it is exactly how I would go about such a thing. And then there is my dear good friend, who has been doing her own trial month with her kids and is seeing positive results ranging from a calmer temperament to the disappearance of a persistent rash.

A commenter posted this WSJ article which includes real science, something I am all about. She also came up with this gem which I am still mooning over: “one person’s anecdotal evidence does not a peer-reviewed study make.”

Yes. That, in short, is why I have been so skeptical.

That, and my desperate love of bread.

Should we go gluten free?

Probably.

Will we?

Ah, that is quite a different question. The cost, the time and extra effort. The starvation of my beloved sourdough starter. I am not sure I have it in me.

Perhaps we will edge ever so slightly in the gluten free direction and see how far we get. We already buy very little processed food, especially grains, for the simple reason that they might, in fact, be not food at all but something more like poison. So we are speaking primarily of a modest amount of bread and bagels, with a smattering of pasta, couscous, and the occasional tortilla.

And beer. But nobody’s perfect. I think we’ll just cut the beer from the kids’ diet and let the adults keep it.

(Jeeze, people. No, our kids do not drink beer, though they do try. And Owlet does pretend. And Platypup may have an obsession with bottle caps that are absolutely never within his reach. Yet somehow he finds them anyway.)

There is reputed to be a place in a town 20-30 min south of us which makes its own flour (home-grown and GMO free, of course. I mean, it is NorCal). I do not know the current price tag but suspect it is a distant number compared with the hefty sack of commercial bread flour we purchase at a local restaurant supply store.

Still, it could be a nice intermediate ground prior to taking the big plunge.

Yes, I think we’ll start there and see how it goes.

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Do we look like we need less gluten?

Question #21: Noble Grammar Snob?

(This post is part of a series for July 2013 entitled “Question Month.” Read the intro to the series here.)

My Facebook post earlier today:

“Question No. 21: Is upholding the finer points of grammar a noble endeavor or petty snobbery?”

Most of my life has been spent in accordance with the official rules for the English language, and a good deal of my teenage and adult years have been spent looking down upon those without skill in this arena.

Then awhile back I read this post by Painting the Grey Area.

Go on, read it. I’ll wait here.

[Thumb-twiddling.]

So. Thoughts?

To me it resembles nothing more than the issue of classical music (orchestras especially) in modern society. As a classically trained musician, I have done quite a bit of thinking and reading on the subject (I highly recommend Greg Sandow’s blog) so will start there and extrapolate back to our question of grammar.

Classical music is not better than all other musics.
Yet classical music is a richly rewarding art form.
On average, more training required of its performers, composers, and conductors than rock or pop.
It provides breathtaking scope and depth of emotion as well as the development of ideas over time to an extent unmatched in the traditional popular arena.
It has a subtlety of tone color, dynamics, and melodic complexity not often found elsewhere.
Yet it also requires more of the listener — not in terms of education, as some feel, but in terms of focus. Despite common usage, it makes poor background music, in my opinion, compared with rock, pop, jazz, “world,” or any other genre. Complete aural submersion akin to meditation is best.

And back to official laws of English grammar? Can we rephrase the above?

High-brow English is not better than all other dialects.
Yet it is a richly rewarding language.
On average, more training required of its speakers and writers than other dialects.
It provides breathtaking scope and depth of emotion as well as the development of ideas over time to an extent unmatched in the traditional popular arena.
It has a subtlety of tone and grammatical complexity not often found elsewhere.
Yet it also requires more of the listener — both in terms of education and in terms of focus. Despite common usage, it is much less readily texted on mobile devices. Complete visual or aural submersion akin to meditation is best.

My answer, after much mental wrestling? Both, of course. Upholding the finer points of grammar is a noble endeavor when constricted to one’s own writing or via formal education or informal education by request of the recipient only, and petty snobbery if used against others with scorn.

Questions #18, 19, & 20: Got privilege? Uncomfortable? Doing anything about that?

(This post is part of a series for July 2013 entitled “Question Month.” Read the intro to the series here.)

My Facebook post earlier today:

“Question Nos. 18, 19, and 20: I’ve been throwing the word “privilege” around a lot lately in several different contexts. How are you privileged? Does it make you uncomfortable or do you feel deserving? Do you feel the greater one’s privileged status, the more one should work to benefit others?”

So. How am I privileged? Let me count the ways.

Pale skin in a paleface-centric society.
Born into middle class family.
Raised in comfort in safe suburban environment by loving, highly educated parents.
Not skimped on the actually-near-vital, so-called “extras” in life: books, music lessons, sports, vacations, camps, pets.
Highly educated via first Montessori, then top-notch public schools, college, and graduate school with only minor student loan debt.
Only one world-shattering tragedy (losing my mom at age 13). A reasonable amount of smaller painful experiences.
Met future husband early in life (age 18) — this lends a sense of stability and continuity through life’s many changes as well as the practical benefit of sharing living expenses, cars, chores, etc.
Successfully and happily self-employed, currently lower middle class and financially stable with a likelihood of increased status over time.
Able to plan children and conceive with relative ease (almost instantly with Owlet, after 8-9 months or so with Platypup).
Own a house due to both Thor and I having received money from deceased relatives (my mom and his aunt), good credit scores, a wonderful realtor, a creative mortgage broker who masterfully wrangled two undesirably fragmented self-employed incomes into qualification for our loan, and impossible timing regarding market prices.
Young (30 is still young, right?) and physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy.
Surrounded by supportive family and friends all along the way.

Does it make me feel uncomfortable? Other than the obvious comfort of living a privileged life, yes, I struggle with the knowledge that others do not share in the above list to varying degrees.

Do I deserve it? Only in that I didn’t squander my massive head start. Otherwise, no, of course not, no more than the next guy.

And obviously, if you have any familiarity with me or my blog you know, yes. I honestly believe the greater one’s privilege, the more one ought to do to level the playing field.

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My greatest privilege: family.

Question #17: My Ideal School?

(This post is part of a series for July 2013 entitled “Question Month.” Read the intro to the series here.)

My Facebook post earlier today:

“Question No. 17: What exactly am I looking for in a school for my kids and why is it so hard to find?”

What exactly am I looking for? I have had a rolling, roiling pile of mental lists for quite some time and it is a relief to finally jot down whatever I can remember.

LOCATION: proximate. Ideally walking/biking distance, with inviting classrooms containing comfortable child-sized furniture, free child access to wide variety of materials, a good outdoor play area containing both playground equipment and as many natural elements as possible, and student-maintained vegetable gardens. As non-toxic an environment as possible.
COST: little or none.
CURRICULUM: alternative. Arts and foreign language are essential. Ideally Montessori or similar philosophy or at least a lot of hands-on learning. Very little time spent all at desks doing the same thing at the same time unless subject is naturally appealing to most/all children (for example: science experiments, open-ended art projects). Lots of outdoor time and unstructured and/or student-led learning opportunities.
ADMINISTRATION: community-oriented. Non-punitive disciplinary system. Up on latest research regarding all aspects of education. Ideally both highly intelligent and moderately idealistic.
TEACHERS: well-trained, creative, devoted to kids, in line with administration’s philosophy but both willing and able to put own stamp on classroom experience. Diverse in all possible ways (race, age, sexual orientation, background, etc). Ideally all kinds of brilliant, kind, and humorous. Paid appropriately and valued highly by administration and parents alike.
STUDENT BODY: diverse in race, ethnicity, economic status, primary language, and learning style. This is not optional. Ideally interaction between ages is facilitated (multi-age classrooms, mentoring of younger students by older students, and/or whole-school activities).

That’s what I’m looking for.

Why is it so hard to find?

See above list.

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(Hands-on learning with Thor.)

Question #16: What can I do?

(This post is part of a series for July 2013 entitled “Question Month.” Read the intro to the series here.)

My Facebook post earlier today:

“Question No. 16: What can I personally do in my community to reduce racism?”

So far, the two big ways I can think of to combat racism are (1) officially via public policy and (2) grassrootsedly in numerous ways.

Policy is both clear-cut and outside my current scope except as a voter and recreational protester (haha) so my interest at the moment lies in the informal approach. What can we small folks do to repair our connection?

Specifically me?

I am a hard-core introvert. Yesterday I vowed to stop looking down so often while talking to people behind service desks, especially when our skin tones differ, in case my shyness is reading as racism.

I am working harder in general to make my internal impression vivid on my face. Grinning at adorable children frolicking in the shoe aisle while I try to find something to fit around my son’s impressive foot-chub. Looking people in the eye as I pass. Regardless of race, but especially if we are different. My own private internal affirmative action.

Did I mention I am an introvert? This is hard for me, but I sense its importance.

As a child, from the moment I learned about prejudice I began obsessively tracking my own responses. Was I afraid of this person or that situation because of our differences? As a young adult I was squeamish about my own privilege. The first time a black friend visited my house (I did live in a town dubbed White Folks Bay after all) I wished it were not so… How shall we call it? Very Suburban White. As a college student I was filled with glee to be paired with a roommate of a different race (instead of having a double room to myself, mind, after my previous roommate left to study abroad) because I felt sure if there was any sneaky racism lurking within me I would soon root it out.

There wasn’t, really, by that point, and it wasn’t until I began gearing up for child-rearing that I resumed my obsession with playing a role in eradicating racism.

The plan was to move to Northern California from Boston. As two self-employed people, we were moving without a safety net, so we were going to wait to be sure we could make a living here before procreating, but the near future was planned for babies.

I wanted to spare my children the experience of a homogenous childhood.

I consulted graphs of racial distribution and Wikipedia articles on every town in the region to determine which had adequate diversity. We settled on Berkeley or Oakland. Where we would be lucky to afford a one-bedroom apartment.

Then the opportunity arose to rent my dad’s girlfriend’s house. In a predominantly white area of a less diverse city.

A house, though, instead of a tiny apartment.

To say we leapt at the chance would be putting it mildly.

And then.

And then we settled in, had a baby, realized how amazing it was to live in the same town as my father and an hour’s drive from my sister, met some amazing friends, bought a house a few blocks from the one we were renting, had another baby, and became, in short, quite willingly anchored.

My worry for my children, that they might grow up as I did, in a sea of pale faces, diminished as I began frequenting local playgrounds. Whatever the statistics, we were not entirely lacking in diversity, especially if we made the small effort to choose playgrounds, libraries, classes, and schools with an array of skin pigmentation.

But still my inner racial activist simmered, eager for the front lines but afraid to burst out.

Afraid of what, exactly?

Not afraid of other white people, that’s for sure. Couldn’t care less what they thought — I knew my true friends were with me, anyway, and anyone else could go segregate themselves into a cave somewhere.

No.

Afraid that my attempts would look foolish to friends of different backgrounds. Afraid my lack of general cultural knowledge, possibly stemming from no cable TV as a kid (a fact I am now mostly proud of) combined with an inability to learn the names of celebrities might mean I was also terribly at sea when tackling the fundamental issue of equality.

It sounds preposterous when written out.

And when I rummaged around in my hesitations I realized that and said the hell with it. Better foolish than afraid to act.

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Back to me and my community.

I think what I can do best is change people’s minds. I can be both quietly and loudly persuasive and am not lacking in persistence. I write decently and make bad jokes, often puns, which I do with frequency whether nervous or basking in the comfort of my favorite people.

A friend and I began planning a project of sorts earlier this year, half serious, half tongue in cheek, to bring the clueless white masses into step. We both have small children and, furthermore, live on opposite coasts, so it has been slow to take shape, but the core idea is in place. I was, as I said, feeling rather unqualified, in my whiteness, to place myself in a position of authority on racial issues, but my self-conscious inhibition pales in comparison to the death of a child and his murderer roaming free.

I am compelled to write, and write again, and keep at it until things begin to crack, to shift, to move toward equality.

You may have noticed that about me this week.

Care to join me? Read, write, and share on your Facebook wall and Twitter thingy all of the wonderful articles on race that are being written as a result of this atrocity. Seriously, my meanderings on the subject need not be part of it so long as you are heightening the overall buzz into the roar it should be. The time for action, well, truthfully it was eons ago, but the second-best time is now.

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