A blog! Oh my!

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I’ve a bit of a conundrum.  I’ve long loved to write but also make a practice to limit daily “screen-time.”  So I fill pages and pages of notebooks, occasionally typing up and sending off for publication, which I casually send links to a small inner circle of friends and peer- editors.  I’ve been lovingly encouraged, however, to sow my wild seeds further into the Big Prairie.

Thus, this blog.   If you’d like to follow my heart-musings and radical-rantings, feel free to read them here.  I will re-post published items as they come up and, if the children are subdued, the garden completely weeded, the piano unbeckoning, the dinner already cooked, and the lover content, perhaps devote some more screen time here.

The photo above, the crooked Pecatonica, from which I compose.

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Home Education Magazine, One Foot in, One Foot Out, Jan. 2014

http://unschooling.com/homeeducationmagazine/january-february-2014_table_contents/

I wrote this for Home Education Magazine about my juggling act of homeschooling my own children while substitute teaching in the public schools.  A strangely symbiotic relationship

One Foot in, One Foot Out
Seres Kyrie

I’m always interested in how people financially sustain their homeschool lifestyles. It is a mostly unspoken component to teaching our own: many families have to make it work on a one-income situation in a two-income sort of world. For our family, we hob-cobble together part-time jobs, my husband makes art and works on a farm; I write articles here and there and substitute teach.

Substitute teaching seems to be at the bottom of the barrel in the world of teaching prestige ( two words rarely found together anyway). The pay is just “okay”; there aren’t any “benefits”. Except the Big Benefit, which is deciding whether or not I want/need to go to work on any given day. Subbing is a sort-of on-call job, mostly between the hours of 6:15 and 6:45 am. The phone rings, often jostling the whole family awake in a rude snapping out of dreams to which, with a wee bit of adrenaline, I answer as professionally as I can to accept or decline the day’s job. Occasionally, I get lush pre-calls where a teacher is planning a vacation or simply calls in sick the night before, ahhh, luxurious. This scenario has really honed my husband and my relationship skills. We quickly realized that it wasn’t doing anyone any good to be holding the phone to my pajamed chest and yelling at my husband in bed whether or not I should leave for work in 20 minutes, leaving the kids with him until 4:00. Now, we hash out the next days plans the night before, “Should I take a job if I get called in the morning?” “Nah, I’ve got to run to the city and can’t really have the kids with me all day.” Or, “Sure, I was planning on loading a kiln tomorrow so they can play around the studio.” Admittedly, the calls are not a sure thing. When I began subbing they were sporadic and like gifts generously bestowed by the omnipotent sub-caller. Seniority, familiarity, and friendliness with both teachers who can request specific substitutes as well as the voice on the other end certainly help to ensure future job-placement. I spread my oats widely, and have registered myself on the sub-list of about 8 neighboring schools, ranging from pre-K through high school. Three years later, I’m receiving a pretty stable 3-5 calls per week.

Stepping into a public school as a homeschooling mom felt like carrying a big secret. I recall a teacher in my own formative years who supported a wife and five kids taught back at home. It was the stuff of playground whispers and mysteries, and a topic I never broached with him as a 6th grader. Additionally, my own parents were public school teachers and I knew too, that his scenario did not sit well with them. So when I began subbing, I had mock-dialogues planned out in my head how would righteously defend my position.

Turns out, not many people inquire. Substitute teaching is a fairly solitude venture. I arrive at quarter to 8, sign the paperwork, pick up the staff-id lanyard and head off to the assigned classroom. Unless I courageously eat lunch in the staffroom (not unlike the awkwardness of sitting in a lunchroom as a new kid in school), I don’t get to interact with that many adults. Which is fine, I’m there for the kids. And the kids, being first and foremost, kids, are awesome. I admit, with some pride, that I am a popular sub among the youthful crowd. “Mz. K! We have Mz. K today! You are the best sub!” they exclaim when I enter familiar territory.

I feel this is an earned proclamation, I arrive with years of thoughts about pedagogy and the human spirit. I’ve read, how people learn, how they don’t. I want to make it fun- not to earn brownie points with pre-teens, but because I believe it HAS to be fun simply in order for the information to be retained. Games should not be a reward at the last three minutes of class but the very means of a learning. At first, I felt very tied by the lesson plan left for me. A serious pity-party that I had to be in a walled classroom with such uninspiring material. There have been days when I watch that big proverbial clock with its hands ticking just as slowly for me as it is for the students. Now I use the lesson plans as an outline, a jumping point, requiring a bit of on-the-spot interpreting and tweaking. Coming to a classroom with a belief in humanity, however, shines through any monotonous worksheets we must first plow through before we get to the good stuff. Some of my favorite days of teaching include a reading unit with the Iditorod trail as subject. Beyond text, I asked the children about their own pets and the care needed for them- a topic that never fails to light their fires. In high school reading, we talked of syntax, rhyme and pattern, first assigning from the text, Emily Dickinson’s poems ABBA, AABB patterns. Then, we broke down popular songs- seeing Macklemore and Kenny Chesney follow many of the same rules. “Are songs poetry, Mz. K?” they asked, their eyes widening and waking up from the Dickinson example. I even allowed a group of fourteen year olds to climb a beautiful and ancient oak tree outside the classroom window. Yes, I got reprimanded (sometimes its better to beg forgiveness than seek permission) but my, to see them put down their phones and delight in an age old kid-pastime, it just might have been worth it.

My biggest challenge as a sub is when I am required to be part of, what I consider, breaking of the spirits. I’ve been wrangled into proctoring standardized testing and sulk in a moral dilemma all day. I had one young boy diligently writing a Xena Warrior Princess Screenplay. He had pages of scrawled notes that he had written late into the night before. He simply did not want to stop in order to take the required “SRI” (Scholastic Reading Inventory) test and it just about broke my heart to enforce him to. I sometimes fight the urge to whisper in ears, “There is a another way! Ask your mom if she’d take you out of school so you can spend all day on your screenplay. . . “ Instead, I have to settle with offering my praise and encouragement, occasionally the honest promise that life will improve after high school. And to the boy who wouldn’t stop playing with the earwig swarm in the classroom corner? I required him to sit in on the group lesson but allowed him to return back to his corner for study-hall time. “Have you ever read Walden?” I asked, sharing the chapter where Thoreau carefully observes ants.

Subbing and homeschooling have become a symbiotic relationship. I know I bring a valuable and fresh outlook to the classroom because of my homeschooling background. And while I would never insinuate that homeschooling parents need be teachers, my experiences in the public school have certainly informed my homeschooling as well. I feel I’ve gained skills of how to present information and a general understanding of kid-demeanor. My kids love it when I bring home some extra worksheets so that they can play “school”. It also gives me a touchstone of what similarly aged kids are studying, bringing home new knowledge of films watched and websites utilized (CoolMath.com is a universal favorite). When I get home from teaching, I am sometimes exhausted, kidded-out. But I am also really grateful to see my two wild and untamed children. My daughter asks me how my day was and what did I do; I marvel at the conversational quality she possesses that many school-children aren’t given the confidence or freedom to ask of adults. My kids are also unabashedly impressed when I know half the kids at the playground on Saturday.

Many subs are transient. A good bulk of them are either retired teachers looking for a little extra income or recent grads needing a stepping stone to a full-time position. I know of one other comrade who chooses this career, Tom. Tom is a tall middle-aged man with a shock of white hair and mustache who I occasionally run into in the hallways. I suspect he illicits the same sort of enthusiastic classroom pleasing as I do and when we find ourselves working in the same building, we have lunch together. He’s subbed contentedly for over 15 years and knows pretty much everyone. Tom suggested that we retitle ourselves, “Guest Teacher”. He promises that our wide range of classroom experiences and exposures equip us specially in a way that many teachers who have been rehashing the same curriculum in the same classroom for years do not. I like this, guest teacher. I come from the homeschooling world of child-potential, bringing a gift of trust and creativity to the classroom for the day.

Home Education Magazine- Feeling Light, Feeling Free, Aug. 2013

Home Education Magazine- Feeling Light, Feeling Free, Aug. 2013

Here is an article published summer 2013, about the educational possibilities of road-trippin in a Vanagon (the Kyrie home-away-from-home)

 

Feeling Light, Feeling Free     

Our family spends a lot of time in our van. Most recently we lived out of our Vanagon for 5 months while we were transitioning between homes. It was a great way for us to save on housing and utility expenses. We have a home base these days but still take time for adventures every few months. Our van is our vessel whenever we travel to events or visit friends. But sometimes the destination is simply, Warmth! or Mountains! or Seafood! We pack, pile in, and take off wherever the dusty road may lead us. Over the years, we’ve honed our system down to a matter of simplicity and ease.

Road trips seem to invite car-clutter and when the vehicle is your home too, the mess can get pretty crazy. So we try to simplify, simplify, simplify. There are four of us in the family, my husband, self, daughter (age 6) and son (age 2). Every time we go for an excursion, I realize I could have packed less. I’ve paired down our packaging needs to the essentials. We bring one suitcase for the four of us, though winter wear certainly is more bulky than summer. Almost anything you might need along the way (ie; cough syrup, extra mittens) can easily be found at thrift stores and pharmacies. Our world is filled with extra available “stuff”. Things we do carry along include a tool kit for roadside repair (and we have made them all). My husband also makes an allowance for his banjo which we’ve never regretted. It will be a great day when we can discard the bulk of car seats and diapers.

This February we tripped down through the Appalachia’s with a destination of sunny Carolina coasts. Before leaving, a friend had offered to pack a bag of fresh toys for the kids. We never connected with her before departure though, and I never packed a bag of our own. The results were amazingly great. Not only did we not have to contend with the extra bulk of toys, the children seemed no less entertained than when we previously had been “prepared”. I’ve found that children express their boredom most at the beginning of a journey and then settle in with their creativity. On the 20 hour travel time down, my two sang songs, made faces at each other, and drew on the dewy windows. When they did need tactile entertainment, they played with collected shells, a piece of yarn, and plastic to-go spoons (again, the child imagination trumps all!)

We don’t have any stereo in the van but we do sing songs. We don’t have a movie-player but we do look out the window. And although we are avid book lovers, books are too much bulk on the road, so we tell stories instead.

This style of travel is extremely affordable. On our last 3-week jaunt, we paid a total of $45 for overnight sleeping fees which covered the splurge of two-night’s ocean side campsites. Otherwise, we find sleeping spots as they come: trail-heads, friend’s yards, parks. In a pinch, vacant for-sale homes and graveyards are great sleeping spots. Our daily activities are free. We find riverbeds to explore, rocks to climb and sunsets to watch. We cook from a campstove or over the fire if we are fortunate enough to have one at night. Most gas stations have hot-water for an easy cup of tea, bowl of oatmeal or rehydrated soup. And PB&J always suffices for meals without preparation.

Travel has taught us many lessons. At six, Finn can make a fire, use a jackknife, read a map. We’ve bunkered down during raging storms, seen whales and dolphins, picked up hobo hitchhikers, snacked on boiled peanuts, explored caves, and observed mountain-top coal mining. Because we travel with only a loose agenda we’ve had the opportunity to impromptu join peace-walks and camp with new found friends (sometimes other homeschoolers). Because our van maxes out at about 60 mph, we feel most comfortable traveling on backroads, window-watching people and small towns instead of billboards and truck stops. On rainy days, we might be found retreating into libraries, catching up on laundry or creating make-shift tents out of large ponchos.

Admittedly, we are not always happy campers. We have our fair share of riders not wanting to be buckled in, kids asking “are we there yet?” and marital map disputes. But the reasons we road trip and the reasons we homeschool are much the same: freedom. Freedom to be together as a family, freedom to move as we please, freedom to visit empty beaches in January when everyone else is stuck in school. Freedom to live life at our own pace and to learn by passion, following each nugget of interest as they come. I am not interested in creating memories; I want to live fruitfully in each moment. And I don’t want to have experiences solely for the benefit of my children, I want to have them too! The children in our life should not stop us from adventure and whimsy, they can simply join us as we live fully in each day, wherever the road may take us.

 

Home Education Magazine, Illness and Transformation, May 2014

Home Education Magazine, Illness and Transformation

Here is a link to a “teaser” for this story but you must subscribe to read full post.  So here is the full article:

Our daughter had just turned seven and still did not know how to read.  I had read all sorts of parent-prep and teacher advice and was determined to play it cool and confident in my daughter’s abilities.  We are, after all, a family in love with all things literary and she consistently awed me by how well she could sit quietly and attentively to stories read aloud to her.  She could recite and remember details from stories that, as the reader, I had long forgotten or not had not even registered.  She also loved to pour through picture books, with a delightful enthusiasm for library trips and perusing books late into the evening in her bed.  Still, it was our first year homeschooling and the silent yet watchful awareness of my skeptical family loomed over me- after all, these days, kindergarteners in public school are primed and expected to be fluent readers.
And then, she got sick.  At first, it was low-grade fevers and dizziness.  She had recently slammed her thumb in a car door and, swollen and bruised, I aligned these two maladies with a low winter immunity.  We had every confidence that the illness would soon pass.  But days dragged on and she still would not budge from her bed.  We are not usually a hospital-going family- both our kids were born at home and have never taken any medications before.  So we dug deep into our prayers and our medicine cabinet and prepared teas, administered tinctures, coaxed raw garlic and lavender baths.  Still, she moaned in pain until, scarily, she stopped moaning.   Our daughter had become almost listless and we became very concerned about possible severe dehydration.  Taking note of her very, very red face and a tongue lined with a thick white substance, I continued to research possible illnesses and remedies.
Finally, I came upon a textbook description that fit her conditions precisely: scarlet fever.  Basically an intense, body-bearing version of strep, this is the illness that rendered Mary in Little House on the Prairie blind (though  scholars later argued it was probably viral meningoencephalitis) and that which killed Beth in Little Women.  The boy in the The Velveteen Rabbit had to burn all his beloved belongings after his dose of scarlet fever. In 2013 however, it is an easily cured discomfort and after a trip to the pediatrician, a strong dose of antibiotics, and many Pedialyte popsicles, she quickly improved and we re-met our dear girl.
As she perked up dramatically, something very interesting unfolded: she could read.  And not just Dr. Seuss, she was reading herself Little House on the Prairie.  As she recovered, she devoured book after book, finishing about one Box-car Children chronicle each day.  She had clearly traveled to some deep place in her illness and returned with a new awareness.
I was amazed but remembered a text by Rudolf Steiner that addressed just exactly this phenomenon.  In a lecture entitled Inner Nature of Man and tlie Life Between Death and Rebirth, Steiner says:
Let us assume we have had an illness in life which has caused pain. At some point, when we are in the world of the spirit, we will experience the opposite mood or state of mind, feeling ourselves to be in health. This mood of being in health will strengthen us to the same extent to which the illness weakened us before.
This may come as a shock to the intellect; it may also enter much more deeply into the emotional life and irritate the soul. We know that certain things which are of the spirit must always be grasped at this level. We need to consider the following: some kind of shadow lies over the connection between the physical illness and the health which gives us strength in the world of the spirit. The connection is a true one, but somehow we feel in our hearts that we cannot really accept this. This has to be admitted. If we really understand the connection, it has another effect.
As a culture, we are so quick to want to heal- and who can place blame?  Sickness is uncomfortable and it is life de-railing.  But it must also serve a deep transformative purpose.  The poet Patti Smith, in her memoir Just Kids recalls:
My small torrent of childhood words dissipated into an elaborate sense of expanding and receding.  It was my entrance into this radiance of imagination.  This process was especially magnified within the fevers of influenza, measles, chicken pox and mumps.  I had them all and with each I was privileged to a new level of awareness.  Lying deep within myself, the symmetry of a snowflake spinning above me, intensifying through my lids, I seized a most worthy souvenir, a shard of heaven’s kaleidoscope.
Alice Walker too has written extensively about her experiences about having had her eye shot by a pellet gun as a child, and later, years-long deteriorating from an undiagnosed case of Lyme’s disease. Freda Kahlo produced some of her most prolific paintings derived from her physical pain; Terry Tempest Williams has added literary insights reflective of dis-ease from an African stomach worm .
We can ask our children:  “How do you feel about how you feel?”    We can be gently curious about what we fear of illness.  Is it the loss of freedom?  Discomfort?  Not being mobile?  We can experience deep faith in the wonder of our bodies, rejuvenating herbs and, when needed, modern medicine. We can be thankful for our loving caregivers and chicken noodle soup recipes passed down through generations.
As homeschoolers, we have the luxury of reaping the benefits of illness.  We can allow the body its sometimes long healing process and not worry about being marked absent.  We do not have to busy our  children’s already hard-working bodies with extra homework in bed.  We do not have to mask the natural healing course with band-aid medicines just to get through another hectic day.
In Annie Dillard’s novel, The Maytrees, her character Deary says: “Every place you injure adds a patch to your consciousness.  You grow more alive.”  May we approach the inevitable illnesses of life not with disdain but with awareness, not with fear but with belief in illnesses‘ trans-formative power.  Our children -through fevers and runny noses- are also in the process of growing more alive.

Stopping at 2, Grounded Magazine

Stopping at 2, Grounded Magazine

Grounded Magazine is a lovely publication about conscious parenting.  This is the 2nd piece they’ve published of mine, this one in their “ad hoc” section and not requiring a subscription to read.

2kids-1

Stopping at 2 by

“So, do you think you will have any more kids?” It’s a common enough question for a young mother of two but it doesn’t make the uncomfortable-ness of it any easier. This is a new question in history, one both posed and contemplated only by fortunate couples of the last few birth-control decades. It is a weighty question, taking into account family dynamics, finances, size of house and capacity of vehicle. It’s a question, once given to fate, now on the shoulders of discerning couples.

I am from a family of just two children, myself the elder, my dear sister two years younger. We played together seamlessly and are often, to this day, asked if we are twins. But I remember asking, nay, begging, my mother to have more kids. She laughed me off, saying if it were up to her she’d have a few more but that dad said two was enough. I couldn’t understand this, more siblings just felt like a guarantee for more fun.

 

A decade or so later, I’ve got two lovely children and I think that’s it.

As I daydreamed of starting my own family, again, I thought big. 3 kids at least, to satiate my childhood wants, possibly 4 and if my not-yet-real husband was a trooper, maybe 5. I imagined an imaginative, art-filled house, kids piling out of bathtubs, kids stacked up in bunk-beds. Soccer teams, house-bands.

A decade or so later, I’ve got two lovely children and I think that’s it. Motherhood turned out to be a hell of a lot of work but that’s not really the kicker. In fact, I still daydream of what a large family could be. We homeschool and when I see families who have a whole little one-room-school-house spill out of their passenger van, I feel jealous. I think of when I’m older and how nice a large bustling household of grown children and grandkids coming joyfully to visit for holidays could be. Consider it even a security plan for old age.

But I think we are done. It’s not a decision that comes lightly, at all. But, and this might stir up a hornet’s nest, I do feel it’s my social responsibility. The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs recently released estimations that our world’s population will reach 9.6 billion by 2050 and 10.9 billion by 2100, up from 7.2 billion people alive today. Our carbon-count is reaching 400 parts per million and rising exceedingly high from the safety of 350 count. You cannot argue that excess people had not to do with that. Allan Weisman, author of both The World Without Us, and most recently, Countdown: Our Last, Our Best Hope for a Future on Earth? recently spoke with Orion magazine about population awareness. He states, “I think, in the twentieth century, when our population quadrupled, we got to the point where we kind of redefined original sin. Just by being born, we’re part of the problem. There’s also no question that the most over-populated country on earth is actually the United States, because we consume at such a ferocious rate. We may not be as numerous as China or India but our total impact is huge.”

Does this discussion stink of eugenics? We’ve seen theories of population control and sterilization pop up again and again throughout history, from Dust-bowl days to Nazi regime to Native American reservations. It has never been a kind idea. These dark spots in history, however, all had a fatal flaw. In almost all of these scenarios, certain groups of people were encouraged to have more offspring (read: white, well-to-do, educated, of Christian faith etc) while other people were asked, or not asked, to be sterilized (read: of color, uneducated, poor, not speaking the language, of handicap etc). The dilemma we are facing in the 21st Century is a different one, concerned not with class-ism but with the saving of the human race. We are all in this thing together.

The Center for Biological Diversity is one current group addressing population concerns. They describe themselves as “working through science, law and creative media to secure a future for all species, great or small, hovering on the brink of extinction.” Recently the organization distributed condoms with colorful images on the packaging stating: “Wrap with care, save the polar bear,” and “Wear a condom now, save the spotted owl.” That argument does it for me, yes, I will hold back my reproductive yearnings for the sake a beloved species. When feeling swayed by the thought of sweet little baby breath, a conjured image of a polar bear will do the trick. Many beings, precious.

Still, there are times when the reality of this decision hits me in the gut, keeps me awake at night. Are my pregnancy days, my nursing days, my baby days really behind me? Then I start daydreaming about just one more baby who would prolong inevitable empty nest for just a few more years. But all signs point to too many people. There isn’t a magic population number that will bring solace to this injured place, but a consciousness in our decision making will surely only help. In his book, “Maybe One,” Bill McKibben argues “We need to get over being so shy about it. We need to get over thinking about population as an abstract issue, a matter of “birthrates,” Population is a matter of how many children each of us chooses to have, and at the moment that choice is as likely to be influenced by the nagging of grandparents (“she needs a playmate”) and the nagging of myth (“only children are SPOILED) as by careful, steady thought. No decision any of us makes will have more effect on the world (and on our lives) than whether to bear another child. No decision, then, should be made with more care.”

This is an age where we must make personal decisions with a planetary conscious. With an American insatiable hungry for “bigger”, let us make a few steps towards “smaller.” Its go-time on planet earth and this is one simple yet conscious sacrifice I can make toward a healthier future. It is a sacrifice but of course it is not the only sacrifice. For some of us, we will choose to live without a vehicle, for others, to live multi-generationally within a household, still others forgo meat or grow their own vegetables. Each in our own way, we make our gestures of earth-care.

With two kids, I already have a lovely and manageable family, I wish the same for my dear planet. I choose to bear less children if it means that they can live happily and safely on a balanced planet than more children feel the stress and suffering of a strained biological system. I want for my children, clean air. I want for my children, unpolluted night skies so that they can see the stars. I want for them, hiking trips where they will not see another soul, but may, possibly, see a spotted owl.


Decter, Midge. The Nine Lives of Population Control, First Things. December 1993

Meilaender, Gilbert, The Meaning of the Presence of Children from: Things That Count. Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Inc.

McKibben, Bill. Maybe One: A Case for Smaller Families. 1999.

Sullivan, Colin and ClimateWire. Human Population Growth Creeps Back Up : New U.N. estimates suggest 9.6 billion people by 2050. June 2013.

The Center for Biological Diversity 

Weisman, Alan and Blechman, Andrew, Crowded Planet, Orion, October 2013.

Photo credit: Tatiana Vdb