Dear Mom Piggy-Backing Her Child Across the 14th St. Bridge

To the woman carrying her small child on her back, without the assistance of a carrier, across the 14th St. Bridge in northwest Calgary last Wednesday:

Thank you. Continue reading

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Comfort Zone Stretches

The other day, Neko and I went for a walk by the (manmade) lake near our house. When we got to the point where the path was about to veer away from the lake, I asked her if she’d like to continue on the path and around the hill, or climb the hill and walk back along the top. She said she’d rather climb the hill but when I said, “Okay, we’ll go a bit further on the path and when it turns, we’ll go up the hill,” she gestured to the steep bank to our left and responded, “No, let’s climb the hill right here. It’s harder.”

She wanted to take the harder way because it would be hard work and therefore would be “better for us” in the long run. I told her it’s obvious that she’s my kid.

“Do you know what a comfort zone is?” I asked her. Continue reading

Sometimes I Worry… But Then I Remember…

Sometimes I worry about unschooling (I know… all us unschoolers do!). I worry that because we don’t do any (or at least not much) formal instruction, and no worksheets, and no sit-down time where I walk Neko through equations and participles and such things, that she might fall behind her peers. When she shows an interest in learning to read or write, or figuring out math, we follow that interest. We have a Reading Eggs subscription that she uses a couple of times a week, and there are tons of workbooks and math games and reading primers available within the house. We read together every day, and even loosely follow the Jolly Phonics program. The opportunities are there.

Of course, I know that at six and a half, I have no reason to worry. I have plenty of unschooling friends with older kids, who describe to me on a regular basis how things have gone in their house – one kid picked up reading easily at age four, the other didn’t find that it really “clicked” until about eight. No matter the age they’re describing, it’s always the same story – they didn’t push any of the academics, they let it happen on their child(ren)’s own timeline, and provided materials to meet the child’s interest as well as a stimulating environment, then one day the child took interest and BOOM!, in about two weeks they were reading proficiently.

I’ve also seen plenty of evidence that basic math is better off learned naturally rather than through rote learning.

So, the logical part of my brain knows we’re fine. I have complete faith in what we’re doing.

And yet, I have more friends that are sending their kids to school. Friends from the States whose children learned to read in preschool at age four. Whose five year olds can recite the 5o states (I can’t even do that! Not all of them!). Who post on Facebook wondering if anyone else’s child is having trouble with their grade one homework of reading one chapter per night. Neko’s not even reading Hop on Pop yet!

I think about our impending homeschool facilitator visit, and what I’m going to tell her. Our board is very unschooling-friendly. It’s why I chose them (for those of you in Calgary, we are with Home Learning Connections). Our facilitator is hands-off, unless I need her – then she is available. We’re left to do our own thing, which is what I want. The last time she came, I told her about our regular activities, and our philosophy on Neko learning reading and math when she’s ready, and our facilitator was very supportive. So it’s not that there is any worry of her actually saying, “But you’re finished Grade One and your child can’t read! FAIL!” Still, I have nagging doubts in my mind that question our path.

Then I remember… I look back at all the things we’ve done this year.

Sledding.

Countless playdates.

Cat yodeling.

Tickle fights.

Blanket forts.

Days spent at my parents’ ranch.

Meetings to plan our little off-grid house.

Runs for fun (complete with setting up Neko’s own Daily Mile page).

Lots of neat crafts.

The girls working on their Sharpie tie dye shirts.

Sleep-in days.

Sliding, fully clothed, down a handmade mudslide along the river bank. And on and on. And I realize that given our schedule, we wouldn’t have been able to do half of these things if we had been sitting at home doing worksheets.

I understand that some homeschoolers (lots of them, probably) have time to do both. I’m not saying that just because you’re doing worksheets, you’re not having fun. (I also understand that there are plenty of kids out there who enjoy worksheets and the like and do them by choice.)

But for us, given my work schedule (one full day and two half days each week, plus stints of working from home worked into each day), and us having two extra kids in the house another day and a half each week (when I would prefer to not attempt to make Neko sit down and focus on worksheets, though I suppose I could if I needed to), I really prefer to use our time, while she’s six years old, to slide down mudslides, tromp through the woods, watch old Lindsay Lohan Disney movies while eating pizza, watch silly YouTube videos, go on playdates, do cool crafts and play at the playground.

Don’t let my face scare you. That’s just the gears going, trying to reconcile “Parent Trap” Lindsay Lohan with the current train wreck we see in the tabloids. The pizza (Coco Brooks) is delicious.

I picture myself when she is 10, or 12, or 20. This usually happens when I’m thinking back on Neko at age two or three and reminiscing about how cute and funny she was. She was also a total pain in the you-know-what and I am enjoying six so much more, but she was admittedly hilarious, and we had a lot of fun. I think a lot about how glad I am that we spent as much time together as we did, because we’ll never get to live that age together again. I’m thankful that I nursed her as long as I did; I’m thankful I didn’t need to go back to work full-time (well, really, I worked a TON of hours each week developing the store, but at least it was flexible and I still got to spend lots of time with her); I’m thankful that we went on dates and did silly things together.

I reflect on my favourite memories…

Taking a week to go camping on Summer Solstice when the rest of the kids were still in kindergarten

Having pancakes for supper in fancy dresses at a local pancake house when Justan was away for weeks and we just needed a break

Visiting a photo booth together; going for tons of playdates at our friends’ farm right outside the city; checking out new playgrounds with friends. And I realize that these will be some of Neko’s favourite memories, too.

That’s when I tell myself: It doesn’t matter that she can’t write a sentence yet, or count by twos. Like learning to walk, or talk, these are skills that will come. In the next year or two, most likely. If they don’t, then we’ll look at focusing a little more. But for the rest of our lives, we’ll have these memories to look back on. And then I feel really good about what we’re doing.

Solstice Celebrations

Happy, happy Solstice to you all. I’ve been excited for weeks about celebrating, officially, for the first time ever this year. Justan and I share the shortest day of the year as our mutual favourite, and of course Neko’s birthday is this week as well, so this time of year always feels special to us. Last year, as we stood outside at 12:30 am to watch the lunar eclipse through our neighbour’s telescope (we had woken Neko up to see it, as it would be her only chance to see a lunar eclipse on Solstice and her birthday), I regretted not having planned more formal or extensive celebrations. I planned out this year’s Solstice celebrations over the following few days, and this year, all the planning was done for me in advance!

I had included plans for a Solstice feast, ice lanterns to be lit at sunset, and a few different craft and activity ideas which we could choose from.

Preparations started earlier this month, with grocery shopping for the feast, and the making of ice lanterns. We found the instructions at Love in the Suburbs.

Gathering materials for the ice lanterns, and Neko standing beside some partially assembled lanterns.

We also made popcorn garlands that we could give to the birds on Solstice.

Then my friend Jen invited us to a Solstice party, where we could make prayer flags to set our intentions for the new year. Her inspiration was this post from Rhythm of the Home.

I spent the week before Solstice preparing any foods I could in advance, and getting the pieces of the prayer flags ready to assemble. I baked the fruit cake, cut out triangles of fabric, chose intentions, chopped onions, and measured spices for mead.

Jen’s party began Solstice, the night of the 20th. We drank sunshine punch and snacked while we painted, cut and sewed. The kids played for hours in the dim house.

Candles, sunshine punch, and prayer flags in progress.

Jen drew, then painted, beautiful Celtic knots on hers with Gaelic words beneath. I wrote my words on in permanent marker (I’m not a perfect crafter, okay…) and sewed up the edges of the flags by hand. My fabric came from a damaged nursing tank; fabric bags from prefold diapers; a clothing swap romper; and an old dress I had bought years ago to make beanbags as party favours for Neko’s third birthday party.

On the morning of the 21st, we lazed in bed for a bit, then Justan made us scrambled eggs (from our hens) while I had a nice, warm bath. We cleaned up around the house a bit, then headed out for a hike near the river to hang the popcorn garlands. It was a beautiful, sunny day (I always picture the Solstice as so dark in my head! But the daylight hours, of course, are just as bright as ever.), but the pathways were icy because we’ve had such variable temperatures recently, and there was a biting wind blowing. We hiked down into the river valley with our popcorn garlands and our warm drinks in hand (hot chocolate for Neko; homemade mocha for daddy; homemade vanilla cafe au lait for mom).

Neko shows off the popcorn garlands we’ve hung for the birds.

In the afternoon, Justan and Neko played Just Dance while I packed for Christmas. Okay, okay – video games are not my idea of something you do on Solstice. But, it was daddy and daughter time, and they had fun. There are worse things.

At sunset, we lit the ice lanterns. They were in kind of rough shape after a full week of thawing and re-freezing, so their candle-spots had largely filled in. I tried to fix this using water, containers, and our freezer, but it only partially worked. They still looked really pretty though. They were lined up right across our front porch, and I kept them lit until we went to bed, to welcome the sun back on the morning of the 22nd. As the sun set, we prepared ourselves for the longest night of the year.

I spent the rest of the afternoon putting the finished touches on the dinner. Our menu was:

I chose the menu to be as local as seasonal as I could, while including foods we don’t eat on a regular basis. I wanted to eat foods that we could have grown ourselves, and I wanted the meal to be special – not something we would have any other time. We ate by candlelight, which was really nice, and Neko loved.

After dinner, we played a co-operative game that we got from Riva’s: The Eco-Store, called Wildcraft. We felt this was appropriately hippy-ish for a Solstice celebration. There was a moment of hysterical giggling when Justan asked me a question about finishing the game and I answered him by shooting back, in a very serious tone, “No, Justan, we each need to gather two buckets of huckleberries before we go back to Grandma’s house!” Justan thought this was hilarious. It may have been the mead, though.

After Neko was in bed, our plan was to play board games, but Justan said he didn’t want to play with just me, because I always beat him. (Note to self: next year, invite friends to join us for board games.)

I finished up the prayer flags and on the 22nd, after the longest night was over, I hung them from the chicken coop in the backyard.

The intentions we set are: transcendence, security, intuition, expansiveness, prosperity, integrity and love.

I’m already taking notes for next year’s Solstice! I will change a few things about the menu – we didn’t love the barley bake, and the recipe for the Mashed Potato casserole made a ridiculously huge amount, even cut down to three portions (it would have fed ten!). I would leave the oven at 500 degree for 14 minutes for the bison before turning it off, as this roast was quite rare. And even though I think fruitcake is perfect for the occasion, maybe next year I’ll make a crisp or something. I also think we could plan more activities for the day – I didn’t, this year, because I didn’t want to pack the day and make it stressful. But next year, maybe a trip to a local pond to skate would be nice. I would like to incorporate friends more, next year.

All in all, it was really lovely to formally observe Solstice for the first time. Tomorrow will be six seconds longer than today, and after that the increase in light will accelerate daily until the summer Solstice, when we’ll be on our second annual Solstice camping trip. I hope that all of you out there are also celebrating the return of the light (or the waning of the light, for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere).

A Conversation We Had Today

On the walk home from the library tonight, Neko and I were talking about her impending 6th birthday. We discussed what she might get for presents, and whether she minds having a birthday so close to Christmas.

She said her legs were tired, and asked me to carry her. I said, “I’m sorry, you’re going to be six now. I can only carry you in emergency situations.”

“Sometimes I think about the old times, and feel sad,” she replied. “I wish I could still ride on your back.”

“I think about the old times sometimes and feel sad, too. Getting older can be exciting, but it can also be sad, because you have to leave some things behind. I loved carrying you on my back, and feeding you bubby (our word for breastfeeding), and snuggling you in our bed,” I told her.

“But we’ll always do that,” she said, “Even when I’m grown up.”

“What? Snuggle in bed?”

“Yes.”

“Of course. And when I’m old and frail, and can’t walk on my own anymore, you can carry me on your back,” I suggested.

“Mommy! No I can’t! I’m not carrying you on my back!,” she laughed.

“Oh, come on! I carried you around for years! You can’t carry your poor, old mother?” I pleaded with her.

“Who’s ever heard of someone carrying a grandma?!” she exclaimed.

“We can be the first,” I said. She giggled.

A few steps later, she told me, “Mommy, sometimes I get sad when I think about when I’ll be a teenager and I won’t love you anymore.”

Oops. We’ve told her that she won’t always listen to us like she does now, and that when she’s a teenager she probably won’t want to be around us as much.

I reassured her that she’ll still love us just as much, hopefully, but that she just won’t want to spend as much time with us, and she will probably think we don’t know much about anything. I told her that I hope we’ll have a good relationship and that even though she won’t want to spend as much time with us when she’s a teenager, hopefully she’ll still want to hang out with us sometimes.

“I’m going to keep living with you when I’m older, even if I save up enough money to buy a house,” she told me.

One day I’ll look back at this post and shed another tear like I did tonight.