Monday, January 30, 2012

How Oral Math Can Go Wrong

QOC (reading from the math page): There are six teaspoons in a set. How many are in two sets?

Deux: 120.

QOC: I mean in the real world, not in your world (in his world, all amounts are automatically ten times greater).

Deux: I did answer in the real world. Oh--did you mean sixteen?

QOC: No, not sixteen. Six. Six teaspoons.

Deux: Right, two sets of sixty spoons is 120.

QOC: Oh. Teaspoons. As in these (holding up teaspoon). Six of these in a set. How many in two sets?

Deux. Oh. Twelve.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Why I Don't Insist on First-Time Obedience

That moment, two and a half years ago, was neither the beginning or the end of the change in my philosophical approach to parenting, but it stands at the apex of the change.

We were still at our old house, where there was a large and lovely park just a block away, but across a busy road. Crossing this road twice was the moment of terror in my daily life. The ducklings were still all under five. Nonetheless, the twins were still in the stroller and the older two stuck close to me, and we generally crossed without incident.

Then came the day when I looked down the road, saw a car coming and then a large clear space after it, and my brain thought, "OK, we can go after this car."

But my brain and my mouth weren't in close gear that day. What came out of my mouth was, "OK, go." And the Duchess went.

The car swerved just in time. Somehow I kept myself mentally together enough to get us along the road and halfway down the block to home. And then I stopped everybody and knelt down with Duchess and Deux and said, "Listen. I know you are generally supposed to obey Mama and Papa and we try to only tell you to do what would be good. But sometimes we mess up. Sometimes we don't know everything. You have to use your own brain, too. And if what we say seems dangerous or doesn't make sense, please, please, stop and ask questions first."

Truth be told, I had never been very good at demanding instant, unquestioning compliance from the children. It's a very linear activity (Do X, Get Y) and my mind is not very linear. But I certainly started out parenting thinking that was what I ought to be doing. When the Duchess and Deux were very small, if they refused an order, we stuck it out, continuing to discipline for however long it would take until they complied.

Only, as we implemented it, it made less and less sense. One of the children simply didn't understand what we were doing--saw no connection between the punishment and the offense. The other, though usually cooperative, seemed to relish punishment as a chance to demonstrate great strength of character under adversity.

Over time, I've come to ask--where did this first time, unquestioning obedience as the ideal of "Biblical parenthood" come from? Did you know the Bible never tells parents to compel their children to obey? It tells the children to obey, yes. But that's a command to the children, not the parents. The command to parents is first of all not to provoke them, and secondly to nurture and admonish them. Nothing about compelling compliance. Or the first time.

I don't want my children obeying me as if I were God. Because I'm not God. I make mistakes. I forget promises I made. I don't know everything. And I am not going to be with them all the days of their life. What I hope for them as they grow up is that they will be self-controlled, make wise decisions, and talk to God for themselves. Obedience to parents at best is a very limited and temporary stage on the way to that.

Now, this is not the same as letting the children walk all over us. They still need guidance and limits. But I give those guidelines not as their divinely-appointed superior, but as a fellow traveler with a bit more experience.

What I work towards is an atmosphere of mutual respect, where they do what's right because it is right, not because I said so, and where they comply with matters of health and safety because they've learned why, and where they comply with regulations for the smooth running of the household because we've worked together to find a way that works for all of us. Yes, there are exceptions where there isn't a time or place to explain, or where they're not ready to understand fully yet. But the 95% or more that is based on working together makes that part more palatable.

I don't, except in a true emergency, expect them to drop everything when I bark out an order. I wouldn't want them to treat me that way. Setting the table can wait until they've come to the end of the chapter. We can pick a mutually agreeable time to finish playing at the park. I want them to start thinking this way because someday I'm not going to be around telling them what to do and when to do it.

Yes, sometimes the discussions get a little long and convoluted. Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn't be easier if they all just meekly did what I said whenever I said it without asking why or making counter proposals. But our relationship is good and they are growing in maturity and self-control. I see exercises in initiative, good judgment, and self-discipline that are far more meaningful than obedience ever could be.

When there's a behavior issue, I try to stop and look for why first. I've found that their best characteristics are also their worst--defiance is the flip side of natural leadership; hysteria the flip side of a vivid imagination. The challenge is not punishing bad behavior, but helping them learn to direct their strengths in the right way. Usually what I need to do is not deal out consequences, but rebuild the relationship and then provide vision and guidance.

I do realize that some of this is because the children are a little older and more capable of reason and guidance. But at 6 and 7 even Deux and Duchess are still well within the "Because I Said So" range in most people's books. And even with smaller children, I would do it differently. I look back now to the time I spent nearly an hour making the fourteen-month-old Duchess sit down in a chair she wanted to stand up in. Now, I'd just pick her up and move her out of the chair. It's not giving in, but it's also not trying to make a battle out of it. Because I don't need to win; I need to keep her safe and help her grow in understanding.

Note: I am not a parenting expert. Nothing in the post should be construed to constitute parenting advice. This is merely a reflection on personal experiences and philosophy and is not intended to be prescriptive. Results may vary. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Snarky Things I Want to Say on Homeschool Forums

But never actually do.

Random Commenter: "Im wondring if I should get a spelling cirriculum."

Snarky QOC: Of course! They say it's never too late to learn. Oh . . . did you mean for your kids? (Note that I do not immediately assume the children would be better off in school. I've read worse from school teachers.)

RC: My four-year-old is getting really stressed out over school. He cries and says he doesn't want to do the worksheets. He still doesn't know all his letters even though we've been working on them since he was two. What can I do to help him love learning?"

SQOC: A three-year supply of tranquilizers. Not for him, for you. He actually loves learning and can't figure out why you're making him do squiggles on paper when he could be doing something truly educational like disassembling the dishwasher or turning the living room into a ninja fortress/train station.

RC: I don't think it's worthwhile for my daughter to spend time studying (higher math/ philosophy/ business skills) when we are raising her to be a "keeper at home."

SQOC: Yes, because we all know of God's promise in Hezekiah 3:14 "Thou shalt grant to the woman of virtue a husband of great wealth for all the days of her life," as well as that profound insight in Cappadocians 2:27, "Let thy women be of feeble mind, that they may be more easily duped."

RC: Character is more important than academics. What good will it be for our children to know algebra if they don't know Jesus?

SQOC: So, ten years from now when your child can't get a decent job because they don't have the requisite skills, are you going to keep telling him it's because of Jesus? *That* should keep him in the faith. And since when does slacking off on your work show good character?

RC: It just occurred to me today that instead of just reading the textbook about birds, we could go outside and watch some real birds. Do you think this would be OK? It might mess up our schedule.

SQOC: First you're going to need to fill out a "Request to Deviate from Arbitrary Program" form in triplicate and send it to the publisher, curriculum provider, and randomly-selected educational official. In three months when you get the results back, you can figure out how many weeks of school you'll need to make up in penance for daring to learn something real instead of getting it third-hand.

Winter Wonderland

We spent the long weekend in the mountains with some friends from DOB's law school days and their assorted increase (though none have increased quite so much as us).

A few days before, our Organizer-In-Chief (who did a fabulous job) sent out an email noting that snow was expected. Well, it was up among the foothills, so this was not surprising. The kids went into raptures and I went into the basement to find snow gear. Much to my surprise, I was able to assemble a complete outfit for each of the kids. This turned out to be a good thing.

Anyway, we had a lovely time in the very elegant setting, and the kids had a great time shrieking and chasing each other around the pillars and up and down the marble staircase. The first day the snow fell elegantly but to little accumulation, but Sunday was definitively snowy, with the fluffy, moist snow that makes ideal snow sculptures, which we proceeded to make and follow up with hot cocoa and everything else necessary for an idyllic snowy day.

That afternoon, conversation turned to the impending departure--we were at the end of a long partly gravel road, and it was downhill all the way to the interstate. Most of our friends are from farther south and were not confident about driving in the snow. DOB volunteered to demonstrate his midwestern snow-driving skills for the benefit of one of the other guys. They headed out. About forty-five minutes later the other guy showed up at the door. Going downhill had worked fine, and DOB had masterly avoided all sliding except as he chose. However, coming back uphill hadn't worked at all. DOB waited in the car for some evening visitors with four-wheel drive and chains.

After supper I decided to make a few more preparations for departure. There were quite a few eggs left, so I thought I would boil some to take for our lunch on the way home. I set them on to boil and went into the next room to chat. Some time--quite some time--later, DOB went into the kitchen to get water and called out, "Is this supposed to be exploding in here?" Sure enough, I had left the eggs merrily boiling until they had boiled dry, and the eggs were beginning to explode. We doused them with water, and then everyone had to come and admire the effect. Apparently most of them did not know you could make eggs explode. (As Atomic Robo would say, "Sooner or later, everything explodes.")

In the morning we parceled our bags out among the other departers, who sledded down to more level ground. We bundled the kids off and hiked down the hill (it had been a seven minute walk for me at a brisk clip earlier in the morning to fetch things) to the car in six inches of snow. DOB assigned them all roles as hobbits and styled himself as Gandalf, facing Mount Caradhras. I could never quite decide whether I should be Legolas or Boromir. Then it was a simple matter of repacking the car, ungearing the kids, and reloading everyone in the heavy snow, before we could proceed slowly, but without further incident, to the freeway.

In short, a good time was had by all, and we have maintained our reputations.

There was a little snow left here when we got home, but not much. Supposedly we're supposed to get a whole lot more tomorrow. We shall see. At least we have enough snow pants.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Assorted Happenings

* Last Wednesday we went for our weekly informal-homeschool-hiking-day with the only other family brave enough to head out in a complete downpour. Naturally it was the week we decided to go to the big, scary woods and we got quite lost. The twins were in hysterics and even Duchess was pretty upset because she had worn a very long skirt and it had fallen in a few puddles and she was soaked. However, we all got home and dry and this weekend Duchess and I finally made it to the thrift store and found her some pairs of jeans that fit. Tomorrow we can do it again! (It's not supposed to rain tomorrow, though.)

* On Friday we were hoping to have a Christmas play with the cousins, but it had to be cancelled because of sickness. Nothing daunted, the kids staged their own with impromptu costumes. This is the first year the twins have really gotten into acting, and they baaa'd very convincingly from under their white afghans. Duchess was the angel of the Lord in a pink afghan and sword, and Deux was Herod, wearing a pink tiara under protest because no other crown could be found on short notice.

* While we were at the thrift store I found a shirt I really, really loved. The only trouble was it had french cuffs and no cuff linky things to go with them. My grandma reminded me I could make my own out of buttons. So I dug through the old button bin and found two that were close but not the same (because that would be boring!). Then the kids commandeered all my plastic containers to sort out the rest of the buttons, and then made labels for each container, and I had nothing to put up leftovers with and there are buttons hidden in strange places all around the living room and bedroom.

* Then on Sunday I finally went to do some overdue shoe-shopping (chiropractor's orders) and wound up not only replacing my running-around-town-with-the-kids shoes, but also my cute-little-flats shoes and my cool-boot shoes. That's a third of my shoe wardrobe replaced in one fell swoop. However, it's very unusual for me to find shoes that I actually like, and two of the pairs were on clearance. And the shoes I replaced were mostly older than any of the children.

* In other long-overdue-things news, we finally got the electrician in to put lights in the basement! It's like adding on a third of the house! Now I have no excuse for not organizing it. Except that it's organizing. And a basement.

* A few months ago, a judge commented to DOB that he looked like he came from the Midwest. He's been growing his hair out ever since. So for awhile he looked like he came from Berkeley instead, but he has found an added benefit of keeping the back of his neck warm. Yesterday he finally found a hairstyle that keeps his neck warm and looks really good. Really, really good. I think it's time he came back home now.

Monday, January 02, 2012


my aversion to New Year's Resolutions, here are some things I would like to make happen this year:

Organize and upgrade the basement to the point that the kids will play in it.

Tidy and then maintain the landscaping immediately around the house. Add something edible somewhere.

Do at least one art and/or science project with the kids each week, without slacking on the basics.

Create an outline and do background research on the historical fantasy novel I've been wanting to write for years.

Read two books written before 1 A.D. Three books written between 1 A.D. and 1600 A.D. Four books written between 1600 A.D. and 1900 A.D. (Bible doesn't count; books read to kids don't count.)

Find a consistent time and plan for devotions separate from preparing Bible lessons for the kids.

Do enough legal work to keep my business profitable and find a direction and make a long-term plan for it.

Go for a walk three times a week; do a strength workout at least once a week; stretching/alignment exercies every day.

Maintain a monthly calendar so I can actually see what's coming before it hits me.

Serve vegetables or fruits for afternoon snack three days a week.

Lacto-ferment something once a month.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

2011 in Review

Borrowed from me two years ago. Some answers haven't changed. Some have.

1. What did you do in 2011 that you'd never done before?

Started a business. Played in a bell choir. Painted a house. Potty-trained twins.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I don't do New Year's resolutions.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth or get pregnant?

My brother and sister-in-law had their fifth. DOB's sister is expecting her first.

4. Did anyone close to you get married?

DOB's sister.

5. Did anyone close to you die?

My weird aunt. DOB's grandfather.

6. Travel?

Very little. Just our get-out-of-the-house-or-bust trip in November.

7. Did you move anywhere?

We moved into our own house in May.

8. What was the best month?

I think August was pretty nice: calm, somewhat settled in, not too hectic. November had its nice points, too.

9. What would you like to have in 2012 that you lacked in 2011?

Time to concentrate. On something.

10. What date(s) from 2011 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

June 14 (day my aunt died).

11. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Working and homeschooling and staying sane--in fact, feeling saner.

12. What was your biggest failure?

Losing a major contract.

13. Did you suffer illness or injury?

There was the stomach flu of eternal doom that afflicted us all for the first few months of the year. That was . . . nasty. DOB sprained an ankle.

14. What was the best thing you bought?

I was going to put "my Nook," and then I thought, what about the house? Well, that wasn't a personal expenditure.

15. Whose behavior merited celebration?

DOB, for persevering through starting a new career, building a business, and still having energy to interact with his family.

16. Whose behavior made you appalled and/or depressed?

Previous occupants of this house, who apparently smoked indoors and drank outdoors (and then smashed the bottles); grew things in the basement; and tossed dead pets with the rest of the garbage into the bushes.

On very rare occasions, the children did something stunning. Like knocking over the Christmas tree. On top of a pile of library books. Not quite appalling, though.

17. Where did most of your money go?

Most of the money I personally earned went to putting large payments on our credit cards. Which are nearing the bottom.

18. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Starting "real" homeschooling. Practicing law.

19. What song will always remind you of 2011?

"I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas"

20. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder?
ii. richer or poorer?

i. Happier, for the most part. We are beginning to fulfill goals. I think I'm finding a bit better balance. Maybe. I can eat things besides chicken broth and yogurt.
ii. And, by the same token, a bit richer. Well, closer to zero.

21. What do you wish you'd done more of?

Organizing the basement. It's a scary, scary place down there.

22. What do you wish you'd done less of?

Taken people potty. And zipped coats. The closer children get to not being helpless, the more annoying their continuing helplessness is.

23. How will you be spending New Year's Eve/Day?

We have already spent them.

24. What was an unexpected surprise?

Everything. I am easily surprised.

25. Did you fall in love in 2011?

Only with new projects.

26. What was the best concert you've been to this year?

I didn't go to any concerts, but we did take the Duchess to The Sound of Music, which was fun.

27. What was your favorite TV program?

LOST. Yes, I'm always five years behind the times.

28. Do you dislike anyone now that you didn't dislike this time last year?

Jack in LOST. Arrogant, reckless, god complex. And still presented as a hero.

29. What was the best book you read?

Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis. (They're really just one long book split into two, so I will count both.) Honorable mention to The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold. In non-fiction, The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. I have not read enough old books this year.

30. What was your greatest musical discovery?

How easy it is to learn cool new folksongs using Youtube videos.

31. What did you want and get?

Children who were potty-trained. A home of our own. Work.

32. What did you want and not get?

Children who are completely self-sufficient. A home with enough rooms. Work.

33. What was your favorite film of this year?

Since my peanut gallery says Neverwhere was a miniseries, not a movie, I will say Serenity. It is one of the most recent, though, so it could have an unfair advantage because of my poor memory.

34. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I was 33, and I played cards.

35. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Nobody I knew dying.

36. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2011?

Adding classy quirkiness.

37. What kept you sane?

Reading and taking walks for as long as I could. (This is always the answer.)

38. What political issue stirred you the most?

When I thought about it, the Occupy X movement annoyed me. So I tried not to think about it.

39. Who did you miss?

My weird aunt. My mom.

40. Random Memories from 2011?

The flu that would not die. Having the children baptized. Scrubbing walls in between potty runs. Feeling like a real lawyer for the first time. Hiking with the ducklings. Actually organizing a term of school and following through.