Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A great, big WTF?????

Ziad and Maya are sick. No park day for us today. Normally I view park day in the light of a reward for them, and have not hesitated to postpone or withdraw it altogether in the face of lagging schoolwork and music practice.

Today, though, I'm wishing we had gone. My sister is apparently angry at me again. Venting on the internet is not a practice I wholeheartedly condone. In this case, though, what choice do I have? I definitely feel the need for some venting, and maybe even some acknowledgment, the kind one's mom friends can always be counted on to provide. So feel free to chime in any time with remarks like "Yes, it's obvious your sister doesn't understand/appreciate you. And how sad for her, really!" You get the idea.

So here's the deal. My sister recently extended an invitation to Maya to accompany our mother to her house in Massachusetts. Since we live in California, anyone who knows me even a little knows that that was never going to happen, and I believe my mother told her that right up front. The basic reasons have nothing to do with my sister, really. Maya has never spent the night across town from one or the other of her parents, let alone across the country. And if we were to just let her trip merrily along with my mother, there would be hell to pay from Nabil's side of the family, who already feel a little slighted (or so I understand) that there have been no overnights with these particular grandchildren. Jennifer's reaction when I mentioned this to her was, "Oh, so I'm not allowed to take her to the park, but Grandma is allowed to take her cross-country." ("Don't be silly," I said, "Of course you can take her to the park.")

People like to stay on my sister's good side. Or to try to anyway. So I attempted various delaying tactics.

My sister persisted, however, and I finally had to tell her "Not just yet."

Whereupon she fired back an e-mail telling me not to be surprised if she leaves her house and worldly goods to other individuals.


I replied to her e-mail, but I have to say my reply was really lame, because she had, as she so often does, completely flummoxed me.

I mean, seriously, WTF?????

Honestly, I would have been more surprised to find that she had included them in her will than to learn that she had excluded them. And now I'm shaking my head wondering why I'm even thinking about things in such a sordid way.

Is she saying that she is such an unpleasant person that people would only visit her when motivated by the desire for monetary gain down the road? Or is she saying, as I am more inclined to believe, that I am the kind of person who is only motivated that way? I haven't forgotten the time she called me a pathetic mooch. I'm not 100% sure why she said that, but I think it had something to do with my brazen effrontery in indulging in the slacker lifestyle of stay at home motherhood. After all, I could just get my husband's mother to watch them for me and do something worthwhile like get a job!

She also apparently felt comfortable telling Jennifer (or so Jenny has told me) that the only reason I maintain friendly relations with my father is because he set up a trust fund for my children. I mean, really. Who says stuff like that to someone's kid?

Oh, I know. The kind of person who gives that kid a chocolate to make them sit still and then cuts their hair behind their mother's back when their mother had planned to never cut their hair so they could have really cool long hair when they were older. (Yes, that really happened, when Jennifer was three.) OK, so maybe the long hair thing was not the best idea, but whose call was it?

Now let's assume (and in fact it's the case) that I was trying to figure out a scenario where this visit could be accomplished, maybe not right just yet, but in a few years, perhaps, after Maya has actually met her aunt, and I have actually met her husband, and there is more of a relationship to build on. Is this the kind of behavior that would make me want to entrust her with my precious daughter? And how come she invited just Maya? Was it so beyond the pale to think that Maya and I together might be a nice combination of visitors? (Although, I have, in fact, sworn a vow never to spend another night under her roof, and no matter how well we get along in the future (not very well, most likely) this is not something I intend to compromise.)

On top of everything else, I think I'm expending more effort trying to decode her e-mail than she did in sending it out, although I can clearly picture her working herself up into an unpleasant rage before she sent it. That's the two of us -- one gets herself all worked up about stuff, the other obsesses endlessly about what it all means.

What does it all mean? And what's next? I've said it before, I love my sister. I don't want to fight with her. I only wish I could figure out how to make her stop fighting with me.



Monday, April 28, 2008

93 (I'm counting down)

I have a document somewhere with lots of reasons on it, and I'm definitely going to look it up and start working on it again, but in the meantime, I've been thinking a lot about how homeschooling affects children's perception of themselves.

This is my thinking on the matter: it is vastly more healthy for a child to develop their own identity without having to constantly deal with other children's preconceptions.

Clearly, I am thinking of Ziad's nature studies experience here. There was a group of kids, he somehow got on the outs with a few of them, and the next thing you know, everyone thinks they know who he is. That he's just a pest, not someone to deal with face-to-face. Not important.

That's their opinion (and their loss, when it comes to that). The thing is, when a kid runs afoul of that kind of thing in a school setting, those perceptions start to get hammered in, until the kid is also buying into and even perpetuating the situation. The scars from those experiences can take decades to heal.

I remember when my older daughter was in high school I came across a note one of her friends had written. "I'm a loser, nobody likes me, I'll never have any friends," was more or less the theme of the note. This from a smart, cute, funny kid who in grade school had had ambitions to be President. I wished then that I could tell him how soon his life would change, how he could leave behind the people who couldn't appreciate him and go find ones that did. And in fact my daughter herself, when we were talking things over one time, said, "Yeah, well, I always had a few cool friends, even when most of the people around me were kind of mean. Then after high school I made lots of cool friends and now that's who I spend my time with." The point being that the enforced proximity to jerks that most schools provide with such unfailing regularity is a) artificial and b) damaging and c) unnecessary.

I'm not really advocating a situation where children are constantly shielded from conflict, or even from people who don't like them. I'm just saying that it doesn't have to be their daily lot in life. Unless, of course, they're enrolled in school.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Dusting off my hundred reasons

A long, long time ago (or so it seems), I started a list of a hundred reasons why I personally prefer to homeschool my children. I should say right now that I never pretended I was going to come up with one hundred completely unique, totally freestanding, and non interrelated reasons. Many of my reasons, in fact, are things like anecdotes or pieces of art or writing that my children have made on their own, without help or prompting, that illustrate to me the joy they find in learning and creation. Or, in other words, "here is more evidence that they have not had all creativity stomped out of them by the public school system."

Then I began to realize how popular homeschool blogging is, and I was all, "Oh, well, if everybody's doing it ....." What homeschooler wants to be part of a crowd? I also felt frustrated that something I wanted to post was a picture, and I didn't have that whole posting pictures thing figured out. But now I can post pictures! And I still have a lot of thoughts about homeschooling in my head (and feelings in my heart). So I am going to dust off my list and try to post at least one reason a week for a while (barring further computer difficulties that make it just too much trouble). Stay tuned ...

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

April 24, 2007

This time we began our day with an exploration of the coyote bush around the parking lot. There were plenty of cool pathways just the right size for eight-to-eleven year old bodies to crawl around in, and, unfortunately, plenty of junk for them to find. I guess I can kind of understand why they would find bottle caps in there, but the discarded make-up case Maya found is a little unsettling.

Eventually we were ready for our hike in to Horseshoe Lake. As we approached the lake, we saw a large waterfowl perched on some kind of stump in the water. It was spreading its wings out to catch the sun, and every now and then would flap them a little, but mostly stood still as a statue.

We checked out the pool where the newts had been last week, but they seemed to be all gone. The water was somewhat murky, and its possible they were lurking around on the bottom, but we definitely couldn't see any. The tree frog was making itself scarce, too. So we followed the dry river bed into the trees, and climbed down what must have been a waterfall, to a place where there were the most interesting soft black rocks. Erica and Maya spent some time flint knapping, while Ziad and Henry began construction on a wizard's village.

After some snacks, it was time to explore the Lambert's creek trail. This trail heads up into the woods, then starts downhill at a pretty steep clip (as we discovered when we had to hike back up). As we rounded a corner, I scared a garter snake that had been sunning itself on the path. It disappeared up the bank next to the trail, and although Ziad make a good effort to catch it, he came up empty. We emerged onto the most beautiful sunny hillside, covered with grass and wildflowers, and took a brief moment to identify the Blue Dick, a lovely flower relative of the Amaryllis.

Then, while I continued on down the path to reconnoiter, it was time for a game of foxtail (another game I don't really know the rules of) while Erica and Maya took a break in a handy tree.

Erica found a caterpillar up there, pale with dark diamonds on its back, but none of us knew what it was.

Then, fearing it could take us a while to get back up the hill we had come down, we headed back towards the lake. Heroic efforts were made by Katherine, who was carrying Margaret on her back, and Oscar, who is still very young for these steep uphill hikes. We all made it, though, and as we came up to the lake we saw that the bird was still there.

We were almost to the parking lot when we saw the coyote on a hillside meadow in front of us. It was an exciting end to a wonderful day.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Homeschool ruling followup

This was circulated in an e-mail to a homeschooling list I subscribe to:

In February 2008, an appellate court in Los Angeles issued a decision that interpreted California's education laws in a way that was very unfavorable to homeschoolers.

Unlike many states, California does not have any laws specifically authorizing or regulating homeschooling. Like several other states whose laws do not mention homeschooling, California does have laws that say that children can meet the state's compulsory attendance laws by going to private schools. Homeschoolers in California, like homeschoolers in those other states, complied with the compulsory attendance laws by enrolling their children in private schools that permitted teaching at home, and these schools could be ones operated by third parties or ones established by the parents themselves for their own children.

This manner of homeschooling was not, as many in the press have portrayed it, a "loophole". California law does not have many regulations pertaining to private schools, and the ones that it does have can be met by parents forming their own schools and by schools that support homeschooling. The state's Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack O'Connell, was aware of this interpretation of law, and agreed that it was permissible.

The appellate court, however, stated in its February opinion that it did not believe that private schools could permit homeschooling. The judges seemed to think that the state legislature had clearly thought about homeschooling when it passed the private school laws and had decided that the only way to teach children at home was under a
separate statute about tutoring, which requires a state teaching credential. The court, of course, could not change a law or pass a new law; only the legislature could do that. But it was interpreting the law in an unfavorable way.

The Governor, the Superintendent of Public Instruction and all of the statewide homeschool support groups have gone on record as stating that the court's interpretation was incorrect. The statewide groups were preparing to appeal to the state Supreme Court for help in rectifying the situation, but in late March, the appellate court decided to rehear the case itself.

By court rules, whenever a court agrees to rehear a case, the opinion that it wrote the first time around is vacated, and of no further force or effect. What that means is that the original decision with its unfavorable interpretation of law has gone away, and no judge or government official will be able to take action using that opinion as authority. State law about homeschooling is now exactly the same as
it was prior to the issuance of the February opinion. The Governor, the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the various statewide homeschool groups believe that the interpretation prior to that decision was legally correct, and homeschoolers can continue to teach their children at home in reliance on the law as previously understood.

The appellate court will hold a new hearing on the matter this summer. All of the statewide groups are, with the assistance of pro bono counsel, filing amicus briefs in support of the prior interpretation of law. A new decision is expected this fall.

We believe that the legislature is waiting to see what happens in the court system before taking any action. It is quite probable that if the court's new decision does not change the interpretation of law that was in place prior to its original decision, the legislature will not take any action, as the Governor and the Superintendent of Public Instruction are both accepting and even supportive of that interpretation.

Debbie Schwarzer
Co-chair Legal Team
Legislative Chair
HomeSchool Association of California


Thursday, April 24, 2008

April 17, 2008

We started our morning with an enjoyable round of lizard-catching in the parking lot.

Erica and Maya holding lizards:

A close-up of Erica's lizard:
When everybody was done catching lizards, we hiked in to Horseshoe Lake. This lake is very small, but quite beautiful. We saw a lot of ducks, coots, and red-winged blackbirds. The wildflowers along the trail were impressive, too -- California buttercups, poppies, lupin, vetch and blue-eyed grass were a few of the varieties I recognized.

There's a bench located right at the bottom of the horseshoe shape formed by the lake, and we stopped there for snacks, drawing, map-making, and a treasure hunt. We also found a small pool of water that is probably all that remains of what was once a stream in the winter. It had an abundance of newts in residence. I thought I was doing well when I found six, but Katherine counted eleven. We spent a while watching them swim leisurely in the murky water, every now and then coming up to the surface to catch a water strider.


Then Ziad put his foot on a tuft of grass near the edge, and something plopped into the water. It took us a minute to recognize that a small frog had just jumped in.


We were fortunate in being able to eventually identify it as a Pacific tree frog. (At first we thought it was an albino, it was so pale) Apparently the Pacific tree frog exhibits quite a variety of coloration, and, even though it is a tree frog, is quite happy and comfortable in the water, and in fact, mates there.

We ended the day with a hike around the lake, stopping at a scenic overlook that has some fantastic oaks for climbing. We also went through an amazing field of lupin and poppies, the picture of which has unfortunately vanished. Ziad swears he actually took it. We passed a beautiful pine grove that I swear we will explore on one of these days.

Our last activity was an all-too-brief game of coyote territory in a gravel-paved parking lot. I'll have to get someone to explain the rules to me so I can post them here at some future date.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

My own private nature studies

I had to take Ziad out of the nature studies program he was enrolled in. Man, did that ever hurt. It hurt him and it hurt me; several sleepless nights later I'm still sure I did the right thing, but I really wish I hadn't had to. The thing I think he misses the most is the thing I can never give him on my own -- freedom to be away from the family and off by himself, unsupervised and alone in the woods or by the ocean, just on his own. I have to be his mom. When I take him places, I need to know where he is. I can't be like the nature studies instructors, with their laid-back approach to basic safety.

Which brings me to the real reason why I pulled him out. On the day of his last class (not that we knew that it would be the last), another mom and I had gone to the beach with our non nature-studies kids. We were at the Fern Grotto, a secluded beach a short walk down from the cliffs, with caves hollowed out into the cliffs on two sides. We spent the day exploring the caves, watching whales migrating past (I saw spouts, but more than that, I saw flukes and backs), and generally hanging out. Imagine our surprise when kids from the nature studies class appeared in ones and twos along the bluffs surrounding the beach!

Yes, it was the nature studies class, come for an afternoon by the sea. Now, parents are not welcome to join in the nature studies class, but it seemed to us that we had gotten there first, and didn't need to leave just because the nature studies class happened along. So we stayed, and it proved to be very instructive. I saw lots of things that made me question the judgment and leadership of the woman leading the class, but the last straw was when we were all heading back to the parking lot.

The kids were supposed to be playing some kind of game where they hide near the path along the way, and everyone else is supposed to see if they can see the person hiding without tipping off anyone else in the group. Of course Ziad was one of the hiders! And of course when he decided to hide he ran out onto the cliffs, right past the sign that said "Dangerous cliffs! Keep back."

Did anyone mention to him that he might want to actually pay attention to that sign? That the existence of the caves on the beach below was ample evidence that the rock comprising those cliffs is on the soft side, and easily eaten away by the water? That the cliffs are unstable and prone to frequent collapse and that teenagers on school field trips practically make a habit of falling into the water and drowning? As far as I could tell, I was the only one who had a problem. So when Ziad told me the class was planning to go back to the beach the next week, my blood ran cold. Not my impulsive, impetuous boy, running around by himself on those cliffs with no one really paying attention.

And yet, in their infinite nonchalance, the instructors handed me a gold-plated excuse for pulling him out, one that is actually completely legitimate on his own.

The nature studies class has a written-out code of conduct. Core values, it's called. Students are supposed to respect each other, supervise their own behavior, refrain from derogatory speech. And yet Ziad has been an ongoing target of agressive and hostile speech and action from other members of the class. I know he can be annoying. I also know that letting students hit him, call him stupid, or generally blow him off when he is just trying to be friendly falls well outside the purview of "core values."

And really, if he is being a jerk, isn't that a good opportunity for other students to learn to deal positively with annoyance? What benefit do they derive from pushing him, yelling at him, throwing sand in his face? In an ideal world, I think, Ziad would be made to confront the fact that his behavior is not helpful, and annoyed students would be given a chance to tell him why he is bothering them in a way that is not in itself problematic.

But no. Apparently the leaders of this class have a problem with acting as "authority figures." So when another student threw sand in his face that day at the beach, it was the straw that broke the camel's back. Enough is enough, I said, and the program director apparently agreed with me. Expressing his regret at Ziad's withdrawal, he immediately gave me a refund. Neither of the teachers saw fit to utter so much as a word of sympathy.

So now we have our own nature studies program. Along with a few other homeschool friends and families, we head for the mountains on Thursdays, and spend the bulk of the day in the woods. This is a commitment I have undertaken for my son, in an attempt to at least partially restore the happiness I took away. So I think that for the next period of time, Thursdays will be my day to post our nature studies report, much as the instructor of his erstwhile program did.

Something to look forward to tomorrow!

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Another sky poem from Ziad

I think I can fly,
So I want to try,
I'd love to fly
So high in the sky
To look below
At the places I know
Take from a tree
To fly so free
To fly in the sky
So high, so high

Monday, April 21, 2008

Visiting my father

Up 280, where the wildflowers are blooming in the cow pastures and the hawks are flying in an astoundingly blue sky, through San Francisco on 19th Avenue, admiring the Marin headlands as we cross the Golden Gate Bridge; then through the rainbow bridge into Sausalito and the crazy Marin traffic until I can't stand 101 any more and turn off onto the road that crosses the Petaluma river and its gorgeous wetlands, heading east through the huge meadows where the Clover dairy pastures its cows. At the racetrack we turn north again, through more fields and the wineries with their endless vineyards, finally entering the oak woodlands that tell us we are almost there. Ziad and Maya are getting more excited and happy as we get closer and closer. I love how much they love to see their Grandpa and Pat, and wish that it wasn't such a rare treat for them. The $70 it cost me to fill the tank, however, and the increasing tension in my back and legs from all the driving, conspire with everyone's surprisingly busy schedules to make this long day trip hard to pull off.

We hear my dad playing piano as we walk up to the front door. Lunch is waiting for us, homemade sandwiches and cookies. While Pat is getting everything organized, Ziad is off hunting for the golf balls that fall into their backyard from the golf course adjacent to their property. He is an amazing golf ball finder, and in this short visit will end up with 34. Maya is renewing her acquaintance with their two small dogs. During lunch we tell jokes.

Ziad brings out one of his favorites: "Why do seagulls fly over the sea?"

That's a puzzler.

"Because if they flew over the bay, they'd be bagels."

But my dad has one for him: "Why do they have to bake bagels on land?"

Well, obviously, if they baked them at sea, they'd be seagulls. It may be you have to say these jokes out loud to fully appreciate them.

After lunch, Ziad and Maya take turns practicing on the piano -- the only way to really make the day work out and fit their practicing in. They already spent an hour practicing guitar before we left in the morning, as well as having done some quick lessons. In retrospect, I guess it wasn't that considerate of me to expect them to concentrate on school with such an exciting day ahead of them, but then again, we're just finishing up second and fourth grade math, and I'm anxious to move on.

When the practicing is over, Pat and Maya and I take the dogs for a walk while the menfolk clean up the golf balls. They get a lot of golf balls on the property, and apparently the golfers are not supposed to leave the boundaries of the course to retrieve them. My dad could generate a second income for himself selling those things. He gives them away by the handful and still has a big box overflowing in the garage. Ziad has found one with some grapes on it, one with a compass, one with an anchor. All in all there are sixteen he's really fond of, so it's a blow that I only let him take home four, but the last thing this child needs is another collection to squeeze into his overstuffed bedroom. He swears he has a box already in there that has room for the five (Grandpa gave him one) he's bringing home.

Pat has some errands, so the rest of our visit is just sitting and talking with Grandpa. I'm knitting a sweater, my mindless project for when I don't want to have to concentrate on what I'm doing, Ziad is building a pyramid out of golf balls, Maya is petting the dogs. We hate to leave, but Maya wants to read in the car so we need to get going before it gets dark. Besides, Ziad still has more guitar practice to finish.

Sometimes we like to stop at Baker Beach when we're on our way south, but not today. I just need to get back. So we make the drive with no stops. Ziad and Maya are practicing some of the songs they sing in chorus, and if it wasn't for the arguing about who is going to sing what, it would be quite pleasant.

Driving home takes about two hours, for a combined four and a half hours round trip. Why is driving so tiring? Really. You're just sitting there. There's no physical movement to tire you out. Regardless of the reason, I'm exhausted, but it was a wonderful day. I wish we could do it again tomorrow.


Monday, April 14, 2008

In the time of cell phones

is how Maya identified the era of the American Girl book she is currently reading, which takes place in the 80s.

I like the way it sounds.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Does this sound right to you?

Since I refuse to create an account with these people, I can not copy the code that would show you the lovely picture that accompanies this quiz result. Nor can I provide you with a link that will let you take the quiz for yourself. I can, however, cut and paste the text that accompanied the picture:

You are Dishcloth Cotton.
You are a very hard worker, most at home when you're at home. You are thrifty and seemingly born to clean. You are considered to be a Plain Jane, but you are too practical to notice.

I ask you, does that sound right?

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Two stories about my mother

I heard these for the first time today.

My mother grew up in Los Angeles. When she was young, the valley was one big orchard, and she walked through the orange trees to go to school. One day, as she was on her way, she saw an elephant. Since that made no sense to her at all, she just kept on going and forgot all about it. Until she got home, and saw the newspaper article about the elephant that had walked away from the circus that morning.

Years later she was telling this story to some friends, and no one could believe she could just forget about having seen an elephant.

Another time, when she was eight or nine, the merchants in her community were having a coloring contest, similar to the kind you still see in grocery stores today. They distributed black and white drawings for kids to color in, using two colors only. The lucky kids who happened to choose the correct colors for the week would win a prize. Apparently they had prizes for all the winners, and my mom remembers being in a movie theater where it was down to her and a boy to choose from the last two prizes. The prizes? A doll and a croquet set. They gave my mom first choice, and she went for the croquet set. If that seems unremarkable to you, remember that this was the 1930s, and certain gender roles were fairly rigidly enforced. Wouldn't she really rather have the nice doll? No. No amount of argumentation could shake her from her choice, either, and eventually she went home with the croquet set.

This last story illustrates a few things for me. First of all, what an extremely hard-headed family we are. I think it takes a fair amount of guts for a young child to stick to an unpopular choice in the face of opposition from adults. (I swear though, this family breeds children who stand up to adults like it was nothing. I could tell you stories about my cousins ....)

Secondly, what a non-traditional kind of mom I really have. I've often listened to women talk about the kind of pressure they get from their moms to look a certain way, or to keep their house to a certain standard, and sometimes I just feel like I'm from Mars or something, because I got none of that at all. What I remember instead are the times she made little alligators and turtles out of bread dough that puffed up so beautifully when she baked them, and the cupcakes with green coconut grass that had jelly bean easter eggs hidden in them that she made every year at Easter. And I remember a mom who was able to let us know she loved us. I've never felt unwanted or unappreciated. I know I'm often critical about things in my upbringing I think should have been handled differently, but when I look back on it now, I realize how truly lucky I have always been.


Thursday, April 03, 2008

Gone Away Lake

by Elizabeth Enright

This is a wonderful book. It seems that everything I've been reading has such dark overtones, making this sunny, reassuringly normal book about a summer vacation in the country a real treat.

There is very little plot to speak of. A girl and her brother visit their cousin in the country. In the course of their explorations, they find a lake that dried up when it's source was dammed, and two elderly people living in what's left of the summer colony houses there. The old folks reminisce about their past when they used to summer at the lake, the young ones fix up a room in one of the houses for a clubhouse ... it sounds mundane, but reads beautifully. Of course it helps if you love descriptions of woods and swamps and wildlife.

Above all, though, I just love that this book is set squarely in the real world, with no overtones of fantasy at all, yet still manages to weave such an entrancing spell.