Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Supply and Demand

N. had his five-year-old medical check-up yesterday, and was scheduled to get the H1N1 vaccine. But since his pediatric practice doesn't have as much vaccine as they were expecting to have, they are only giving it to the highest-risk children. N. didn't qualify because he's homeschooled! Now, I realize that the vaccine is in short supply nationwide, but I thought it was a little annoying that he was ruled out just because he's homeschooled. It's that old socialization canard again, right? As if he's in total isolation and never interacts with other kids! In fact, he plays almost every day with our next-door neighbors (who go to preschool and thus presumably are exposed to the flu). Plus, we've had well over 100 cases of H1N1 on my campus this semester and I would think that my proximity to all those germy college students whose immune systems are compromised by their excessive imbibing would give us extra points in the vaccination rationing. Apparently not.

Well, I know we're not the only ones who want the vaccine for our kids and can't get it (except for those in New York who can get it but are declining it), and I do think its fairly likely that we've been exposed already. Maybe that little on-again, off-again fever N. had for a couple days two weeks ago will inoculate him for now.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Say Uncle!

About a week and a half ago, N. became an uncle when his (half)sister gave birth to Baby F! We are so excited to have this beautiful girl in our family! Here are three generations -- proud Grandpa Tim, Uncle N., and Baby F. when she was 1 day old:

And here's me getting some precious baby-snuggling time:

N. is moderately excited about Baby F.'s arrival. He hasn't been able to hold her yet because of concerns about flu and colds, but I hope he'll get more interested in her as he gets to interact with her more. Since he's the only child living in our house and has no cousins (yet!) on my side, I hope eventually he and Baby F get to be good friends. For now, her birth has made him want to hear again all his favorite stories about his own birth and first year of life.

An as-yet unsettled question is what to call the step-grandparents. Anyone in blended families have suggestions? Despite all that gray hair I'm rocking at age 35, I'm not quite ready to be called "Grandma Fanny Harville." I want a name that signals the significant relationship I hope to have with this baby, but I can't yet imagine what that term would be, just as there's no good name for the meaningful and long-standing relationship Baby F.'s mommy (my nominal step-daughter) and I have. I hope something will suggest itself to us!

And about that gray hair, if I may digress entirely from the homeschool theme of my blog for a moment: I got my first gray hairs when I was 15, and started getting a noticeable quantity in my mid-20s. In the last two years, the pace of graying has really accelerated. Supposedly its a myth that stress makes you gray, but I wonder... I'm a little vain about the fact that I've never dyed my hair, so I thought it was really funny when last week the employee in my university library's new Starbucks who knows my habitual order (venti London Fog tea latte with whole milk -- an expensive habit I need to break) asked me if I dyed it gray or if it was natural! Does anyone actually dye their hair gray? From time to time people will tell me they love my hair and I always think at first that they are complimenting the cut and style and I feel pleasantly flattered and then I realize that what they are really saying is exactly what my Starbucks friend was saying: "Wow, you really have a lot of gray hair!" At least the Starbucks lady tried to backpedal by telling me that the gray actually made me look younger! Ha ha. Who knows how old she thinks I actually am and what she meant by "younger."

End of solipsistic digression! The point of this post is not me and my hair, but Baby F. and her lovely full head of newborn hair! We look forward to watching her grow and to getting to know her.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Rainbow Laundry Line

This doesn't have much to do with homeschooling, except that it is one of the regular household tasks that Tim and N. spend time on: laundry. I thought of these pictures when I saw this colloquy in the Times today on the subject of line-drying clothes and energy consumption. Tim and N. have taken to hanging the laundry in a rainbow pattern!

Fortunately we live in a shabby old neighborhood with no rules about hanging out laundry (the idea that some places have such rules just infuriates me!), but I like to think that our colorful clothesline would convert the skeptics. It's laundry as art!

I love it that Tim has turned a mundane "chore" into something beautiful, even though it takes even longer to put the clothes on the line when he has to sort by color as he goes. Instead of trying to get through the laundry task as quickly as possible, he makes it meaningful. This approach is part of what makes him such a good homeschooling dad: he is a very intense person yet he is extraordinarily good at being in the moment and appreciating each moment's rich color.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Unschool Swimming Lessons

I sometimes joke that it is a good thing that there wasn’t a water-birth option at the hospital where N. was born, because from his first bath onwards he has hated being in the water. N. has eczema, so our pediatrician encouraged us to bathe him infrequently, and I was more than happy to follow this recommendation – the fewer screaming bath sessions, the better! This was an early but defining moment for me as I began to discover how I would parent. One approach would suggest that I should have bathed N. frequently when he was an infant in order to get him used to baths, that maybe he would even have come to like them. But I simply couldn’t bring myself to subject my baby to something that he definitely found so terribly uncomfortable for the uncertain possibility that he might someday feel differently about it. I kept him clean, but rarely gave him a full bath. Today he still prefers sponge baths to immersion.

Despite N.’s aversion to water, or really because of it, I think it is important that he learns to swim. Tim is not a big fan of being in the water either (and I believe this is one of his many genetic bequests to N. – they are so similar in so many ways!). He is not a comfortable swimmer and hates putting his head underwater; in fact he was saved by his sister from near-drowning at age 12. So, I have occasionally taken N. swimming in the past few summers, and at first he would cling to me with an iron grip, then if we went often enough he would agree to stand on his own feet in the water, still holding my hand, then eventually walk on his own in the pool. Oddly, even when he was clinging desperately to me he really enjoyed going to the pool. But at the beginning of every summer we’d have to start the process of familiarization and getting comfortable in the water all over again. The first time Tim took him to the pool this summer, N. refused to get in, and sat on the edge dangling his legs in the water and happily scooping and pouring for a couple hours.

Clearly N. is not yet ready for formal swimming lessons; in addition to his hesitancy about getting in the water, he resists joining in group activities and following group instructions. He likes to watch on the sidelines for a long time before participating. So, I proposed that we institute “homeschool swimming lessons,” setting aside at least one afternoon a week for a Mommy-and-N. swimming date at the Y (this means that now he swims more often than he bathes!). So far, this has been really fun, and N. has been making great progress. He’s enjoying it so much that it’s been hard to convince him to get out of the pool to go home for supper! While we play in the water together and practice dipping our chins (working up in baby steps towards blowing bubbles and eventually putting our faces in!), we see kids in swimming classes in another part of the pool and we talk about what they are doing as the goal that we are gradually working up to. Sometimes as I shiver in the water, I look enviously at the moms reading their books on the pool deck while their kids take lessons from the teenage lifeguards; it looks a lot easier! But I am grateful to have the opportunity to help N. learn to swim at his own pace, and when we come home from our swimming lesson, Tim always tells me I am giving N. a great gift by helping him become comfortable in the water.

The “Unschool Swimming Lessons” might exemplify our family’s approach to unschooling, a label I find needs qualification and elaboration in order to convey accurately what we do in our homeschooling (but that’s a subject for another post). I’m not going to put N. in a swim class because I think he needs to learn to swim or because that’s what other kids his age are doing. But I am also not willing simply to follow his lead in this instance, as perhaps a “true” unschooler would; it is safe to say that he has never once said to me, “Hey Mommy, let’s go swimming!” I do think swimming is an important life skill best learned in childhood through practice and repetition (oddly, I seem to think swimming is more important than immersion bathing!) and I am not willing to leave it to him to learn whenever in life he might express the desire to do so. So I’ve tried to come up with a way to satisfy my concern that he develop a consistent level of comfort and skill in the water, a way that is fun and enjoyable for him and that respects his feelings, temperament, and learning style. That, at least in part, is what unschooling means for us.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Random Encyclopedia Entry

In September, Tim and N. started reading a randomly-selected encyclopedia entry (or several entries) just about daily. I bought for very little money a complete set of 1997 World Book Encyclopedias and a complete set of 90s Britannica at my university library’s deaccession sale a couple years ago. This is a fairly self-explanatory activity! N. picks a volume from either set of encyclopedias, and they open it and read whatever they alight on, as well as other nearby entries that grab their attention. We love the fortuitousness of bibliomancy; there's just nothing like randomly happening on things as you flip through a book, and we much prefer the book versions to online encyclopedias for this reason. This activity violates the principle of contextualized learning that usually guides our studies, but N. seems to enjoy it very much, and to retain a fair amount of information from these snippets. At supper, Tim and N. tell me together about what they learned, reinforcing through conversation. N. is already very curious and eager to learn, and I think the random encyclopedia entry reading reiterates that inherent wonder in the vastness of interesting things in the world that makes young children so much fun to be around.

Bonus reading: The Know-it-all: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World, by A. J. Jacobs, in which Jacobs sets out to read the complete abridged Encyclopedia Britannica. Very, very funny.