June 5th, 2012

ILY by bethany actually
ILY, a photo by bethany actually on Flickr.

When my brother and I were kids, my mom used the ASL sign for “I love you” (hand, palm facing out; thumb, pointer finger, and pinky all extended; middle finger and ring finger folded down to touch the palm—a combination of the signs for the letters I, L, and Y) all the time with us. When Annalie was old enough, I taught it to her. We use it with each other as a way of checking in, of saying, “Hey, I’m glad you’re alive!” or “Remember that no matter how much I’m annoying you right now, I’m doing the best I can and I care about you.”

Day 6 - a loving chalk portrait by my daughter

On Day 6 of 7 Days, I asked Annalie to go outside on the deck and play with Elliora for a bit while I cleaned up the kitchen. She didn’t really want to, but she did it anyway, wrapping up in her blanket and grouching her way out there. Despite her reluctance, I thanked her politely. (I’d gotten my way, after all, which makes it easier to be polite!)

I saw her pick up a piece of sidewalk chalk and brightly suggested I could give her some sentences to write for handwriting practice. “How about, ‘My mom is awesome’? Or maybe ‘I love my mom! She’s the best ever!’”

Annalie gave me a dirty look and said, “How do you spell ‘stupid’? I laughed, said she could figure that one out on her own, and went back to cleaning the kitchen.

A few minutes later, Annalie called out, “Mom, can you please come and see what I drew?” I went out on the deck to see her sitting next to this drawing, fighting a grin.

She drew me scolding her, and herself imagining blowing a raspberry at me. See the little tongue in the thought bubble? I cracked up and told her that was very smart, because blowing raspberries in her head is much less likely to get her into trouble than doing it in someone’s face. She laughed, all hostility gone.

I love that Annalie can pour her anger or frustration into creating something–a drawing, a dance, a puppet show–and the negative feelings seem to evaporate in the process, leaving only the art.

Then, even though I had another idea planned for that day’s photo, I took a picture of the drawing and all our feet for my 7 Days self-portrait. How could I not?


These two. They’re such stinkers sometimes, but they make life so very fun.

in the groove

March 6th, 2012

Storytime suddenly it's all clicking

We’ve had a string of good days lately. It’s probably due to a combination of factors—we’re recovered from all the travel we did in January and February, no one is sick, everyone is sleeping better—but I think the biggest factor is that we’ve gotten back into a routine.

I know that I function better when life is somewhat predictable, and I know that my kids do too. For some reason I have a really hard time sticking to a routine, even under ideal circumstances; throw a baby and frequent travel and a husband regularly working long hours into the mix and all is confusion and chaos and lost tempers and pouting and hands thrown up in defeat.

A few weeks ago I stumbled across some reading and math workbooks that looked like a good fit for Annalie. I had Annalie look them over, and she thought they looked good too. We talked, and agreed that we were going to start out by doing one lesson per day from each book. That’s not very much, considering that last year before Elliora was born we were consistently doing two to three hours of sit-down schoolwork per day, but I figured it would be a good way to ease back into things.

At first, Annalie resisted every suggestion that it was time to do some schoolwork, but I stayed calm and persisted. She thought it was pretty cool when I told her that she could take a pre-test before each math chapter, and if there were concepts she already had a grasp on, we could skip some of those lessons. Within a couple days, she had stopped arguing and was doing the work with no complaint. Now, she actually seems excited to sit down and do school. (Of course, this is in addition to all of the unschooly things we do every day, but it seemed like it was time to re-introduce some discipline back into our days, for both of us.)

Today, she suggested that instead of doing the one page of reading in the workbook, she could read the Magic School Bus book that my mom had just sent her. I told her that was a great idea. She read every single word in that book to me, without hesitation or angst. We paused several times to discuss additional information she’d gleaned about the subject (teeth) from Wild Kratts (you might want to turn your volume down before clicking that link). The reading moved from the dining-room table to Elliora’s bedroom briefly when there was a diaper change, and Annalie didn’t even blink, just moved, made herself comfortable in the nursing chair, and kept reading.

Something seems to have clicked for Annalie with both reading and math recently. She’s had the skills for a long time, but it was almost as if she wasn’t emotionally ready to read on her own. Now, she’s suddenly doing multiplication and adding two-column numbers in her head with ease. She’s reading pretty much everything she sees without much difficulty at all. She still isn’t what I’d call a reader, which makes me a little sad, but that’s okay. I imagine that there are a lot of people who would shake their heads at all the hours I spent indoors reading books as a kid when I could have been outside enjoying fresh air and sunshine.

I think when she’s ready, Annalie will discover chapter books and how reading them is like seeing a movie in your head. (Also, she’ll discover the house rule that kids have to turn off the light at bedtime…unless they’re reading. That’ll probably motivate her to read more!) Until then, there isn’t really a reason to rush. One of the best things about homeschooling is that kids have the freedom to move at their own pace. And I’ve been doing this long enough now that I know Annalie really will move ahead. She doesn’t really do slow and steady. Just when it seems like she’s been stalled in the same place forever, she’ll leap and bound far ahead of where I would have expected her to be. And that’s absolutely, totally okay.

layered self-portrait in my front door "Dada? Dadaaa!"

In addition to the ease with which we’ve been getting schoolwork done every day, Annalie has gone from surly and uncooperative to pleasant and helpful when it comes to unloading the dishwasher, playing with Elliora while I make dinner, putting her toys away, running downstairs to fetch me a Coke Zero, whatever. I suppose her change in attitude is partly because she’s consistently getting more sleep, and partly because she’s not seven and a half anymore (she’ll be eight in two months). But mostly, I think it’s because we’ve gotten a good routine going.

Annalie knows that when she wakes up, she can play games on my laptop or watch one of her shows until Elliora and I come out for breakfast. She knows that after breakfast, she can play till 8:45, when I’ll ask her to unload the dishwasher if it needs doing. She knows that after that, we’ll sit down and do some schoolwork until it’s time for Elliora’s morning nap, and so on. And knowing what’s coming next seems to make her happy.

It makes perfect sense, really. I’m the same way. I can handle unpredictability better than she can, probably, but I am a lot happier when I know what’s coming up, even though I resist schedules. That’s why I am writing this post: to remind myself, when I start to slide away from the routine, that it really does make things easier. And if we have a routine, then we get to experience the best part about living a predictable life: doing something unpredictable! Being spontaneous is about a hundred times more fun when you have a routine to break away from.

Ellie Lou Who springtime girl