Adolescent Education

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I just read a book written by a home schooling mom of ten children; all of her older kids have started college by age 12 and the rest are on tract to do so. Her three oldest daughters finished an engineering program, an architecture program and medical school, respectively, by around age 20. Their mother writes a lot about paying attention and discovering each child’s passion, then nurturing that passion and, by hook or crook, giving them an appropriate educational jump start on life without any serious pushing. Her oldest was a math genius, learning how to do calculus with her dad for fun while she was in grade school and he was in grad school. Her second daughter loved to draw and design and her third daughter was passionately drawn to medicine. Their mother worked very hard to allow all three girls to realize their full educational potential as swiftly as possible.

I find this idea very appealing for several reasons. I hate wasting time (it is a very finite quantity for us humans!) and skipping/fast forwarding through some of the pointlessness of the later stages of K-12 education sounds like an excellent plan. I enjoyed high school but I certainly was capable of college level coursework and would have benefited from being done with graduate school in my early 20s versus my late 20s.

I also think that we as a culture have developed a very odd relationship with childhood. In many ways we steal childhood away from our kids by erasing the boundaries between children and adults and then exposing little ones to far too much troublesome adult information: the news in general, inappropriate sexual behavior in media, disrespectful attitudes (do I sound like a crotchety old lady yet?), dysfunctional adult relationships in virtual and actual reality… We imprison our children inside our homes out of completely inaccurate fears regarding their safety alone outdoors, and then chronically, toxically expose them to all our inappropriate adult conversations and entertainments.  Under the guise of “respecting” our children we treat them as mini-adults, trampling on the biological realities of the drastically different cognitive processing of immature human brains. Under this well-meaning misperception and in the interest of honestly and openness, we throw off our verbal binders and blithely engage in all sorts of inappropriate dialogue and media in the presence of our big-eared, traumatized little pitchers.  The end result: anxious small children plagued by big adult fears.

On the other end of things, though, we continue to deny the biological realities of the changes happening in adolescent brains that essentially make them nascent adults with surprisingly good decision-making abilities, away from their peers anyway. Instead of fostering their emergent grown up brain, we force them to idle away as dependent children, spinning their wheels for literally years after they are ready to take on adulthood. Consequent of our evolutionary history, teenagers are neurologically ready for “adult” responsibility and “adult” work – once you could reproduce, by God it was time to make that next generation happen!  Allowing teenagers to emerge from the dependency of childhood and start to really use all those mature neuronal connections to benefit their future full-grown adult selves is again simply an acknowledgement of biological reality. I think it’s wonderful we have the abundance to allow our children to be children – we should guard that magical time of childhood and keep it precious. I also think it’s wise to acknowledge that teens are biologically ready to start being adults and, out of that same abundance that allows for true childhood, engineer their nascent adulthood into a more practical exercise of being the grownups they will ultimately become.

Finally, I believe one of the great unanswered questions created by the opportunities feminism has given to us is “Now what do we do about children?”. The choice a lot of women make in order to have a career and the self-sufficiency to care for themselves and their potential children is to delay childbearing, which is what I did.  This gets complicated, unfortunately, because, unlike men who essentially produce unlimited energetic little fertilizing swimmers all life long, we women are at the mercy of our finite supply and release of egg cells from our persnickety, clock-watching ovaries.  Also, as someone who waited until she was almost 30 to have children, I face the reality that I will be an older grandmother than my mother and if my kids wait as long as I did to reproduce, I won’t be able to snuggle grandbabies for as long as my grandmother did.  Biological reality. (Unless, of course, my kids get knocked up/do the knocking up much earlier than I am banking on with all my preventative sex education!)

One solution that doesn’t unequivocally solve the problem, but does work at the edges of it, is to facilitate early completion of higher education and career commencement for young women. Finishing a 5 year long architecture program at age 17 or 4 years of medical school at age 22 definitely gives you five to ten years of leeway during your 20s to establish a career and still have time to relax a little and be a younger mother (which, as an older mother, I think has advantages. Not that I would change anything about my life or childbearing choices, because being an older mother has its advantages too and I like these exact children that I have and and think I am wiser now, but mostly because I can’t change the past – if I could I would probably have even less time for blogging! Or maybe more. Hmmm…  Regardless, there’s no point rehashing my own life when I want to concentrate on the lives and opportunities of my children). 

What got to me about this book (besides the constant references to creation “science” – quotations in lieu of eye roll), was the text of one of the author’s book recommendation:

  • Mary Pride’s two books, The Way Home and All The Way Home. These books taught me of the dangers of feminism and the joy and freedom of being a stay-at-home mom.

Reading the above was as gut wrenching as reading about Phyllis Schafly’s work in defeating the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s in the fabulous book When Everything Changed. Women working against women, using the gains of feminism to tear down the ideology that lifted them up is always such a sucker punch for me.

The first dictionary definition of feminism is “the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men“.

The word feminism means many things to may people (right Tiff?), but this is its heart: Men and women have equal rights. To what? I suppose that’s where the debate arises; I say opportunities, representation, legal status and health care, for starters.

And what do you call a woman with six girls and four boys who devotes her life to seeing each and every child, regardless of sex, achieve her or his full potential?

I would call her a true feminist.

Duck Duck…

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We had a staycation this last weekend and, as usual, Joel and I had a fabulous time with each other. This is not surprising because we are both such brilliant, funny, entertaining people who genuinely like each other. And who like to talk to each other.  And who like having sex with each other. Especially without small constant endless interruptions to attempted conversation (luckily so far we have avoided being interrupted directly during sex… whew!).

The afternoon of our last perfect day together Joel wanted to go for a walk to break up the monotony of movies and treats of all kinds so I said yes.  We went out in search of a park the people at the neighborhood association meeting assured us was relatively close.  As we wended through non-through streets, a woman in a blue car pulled out of her driveway, rolled down her window and asked,

“Have you seen any ducklings?”

No. No, we had not. She planned to track them down and rescue them and maybe take them to the zoo or whatever one does with orphaned ducklings. Suddenly I saw a wiggly row of ducklings scooting into the yard just across the street. We momentarily panicked as the puppy in the yard enthusiastically greeted them but then decided perhaps they lived there, as the dog seemed to see them as friends rather than food.

We continued our walk in search of this mysterious park. Suddenly I saw another four ducklings scurrying in their little row down the edge of the street next to the curb and an instant later one! two! three! four! little ducklings sequentially disappeared down a storm drain with frightful speed.

All four ducklings scrambled around, peeping determinedly at the bottom of five feet of rough concrete wall roofed by and almost impossibly heave grate.  We spent quite some time working the grate out as much as we could all the while the four ducklings fixedly scrambled up and up, as far up the nearly vertical wall as their tiny clawed toes could take them.  One intrepid little one finally made it to the ledge we exposed by levering the grate up ever so slightly with sticks under the corners and hopped out. I cornered it by the curb and held its scrambling, determined little body in sweaty hands while Joel continued working at the grate and attempting to strategically place climbable sticks down in the cool, unreachable depths of the drain.

We finally gave up and walked the escaped duckling several circuitous blocks back to what we hoped was its home. It immediately ran under the fence after we gave up pounding on the door surrounded by the plastic toys signifying small children in the house.  We walked all the way back to the fateful hole in the street, passing one very annoyingly full-of-leaves storm drain that would have made for a much easier rescue. We saw one more little one scramble out of the drain right as we got back, but there were still two cheeping ducklings down there.

We walked on. What else could we reasonably do? And where on earth is their mother!?

Fifty percent, however, is not a passing grade.

Yesterday I found the remains of what I am pretty sure was a duckling next to the storage shed, dragged there by one of the many neighborhood cats who sense my hatred for domesticated felines and thus smugly make my backyard their home.

Are these Easter ducklings? Disposable pets?

I cannot comprehend bringing a living animal in your home as a temporary toy.

Well, either I am appalled or it is simply a plague of ducklings, but either way at least the neighborhood cats are happy.

Why I Don’t Blog Anymore

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1. – 4. All these children. It’s a lot of people to feed and read to and schedule for and do laundry for and clean up after.  And this last baby is a demanding mess who doesn’t let me escape sleep very much during the day. Some of my issue with him is that this is my LAST BABY and sometimes the last bit of anything is the hardest to force oneself to finish.  As you may know, I don’t like babies anyway, and I’ll like this little person more when he is no longer a 15-month-old teething terror who has given up a second nap just to torment me and already manages to say “Mama” accusingly.  And when he says, “wawa, wawa”, it’s not a sweet request that means “I would like my water please, dear Mommy”; no, it is an imperious demand of “Get that drink to me this instant, SLAVE. How dare you disobey me!?! Every cup in this house is MINE to toy with!!!”  I suppose I should be glad he’s so good at emoting and pointing to things, as those are positive developmental signs but I am tired of babies. I like grade schoolers.

Speaking of grade schoolers…

5. Home schooling 2 of 4 said children. I have pondered turning this blog into a record of our activities from the group I host at my house every other week because we do some pretty cool stuff.  Last semester we learned about all the historical figures from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.  This spring we are doing various scientists and the major ideas associated with them. So far we’ve done Watson & Crick & Franklin (DNA), Mendel (patterns of inheritance) and Darwin (evolution by natural selection). Next up is Pasteur (Germ Theory of Disease & Manufactured Vaccines) and then Goodall, Curie, Cousteau and Turing.  Our two hour sessions take A LOT of planning and one day maybe I’ll put it all together into some sort of curriculum.  All the activities for each session are all organized neatly into folders on my desktop, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten. So, see? That takes a lot of potential blogging time.

6. Neuroanatomy. The updated medical school curriculum kind of ate my lunch for… I don’t even want to think about how long.  Faced with reconciling a serious reduction in the amount of time available to teach the anatomy of the nervous system and the fact that IT’S ALL ON BOARDS, not to mention ALL THERE IN REAL DOCTOR LIFE, I decided to generate tutorials that, ideally, accelerate the rate of student acquisition of this very challenging and very vital information. I think I accomplished that goal, but making pure awesome takes A LOT of potential blogging time.  And a lot of personal time. And a lot of schooling time with the kids and quality time with Joel and time doing anything besides obsessively and painstakingly creating tutorials. Which were entirely extracurricular because I AM CRAZY LIKE THAT.  Oh, and then there were all the brand new lectures and labs to generate that I was actually getting paid for. The only reason my marriage hasn’t suffered serious damage from this black hole of Never Finished is because my husband is an extraordinarily kind, patient and giving person.  Of lasting consequence: I NOW HAVE AN EYE TWITCH. Which made my dad laugh way too hard when I told him about it.

7. TAXES. Taxes don’t care if you are obsessively creating neuroanatomy awesomeness or if you really actually do want to be present for your offsprings’ childhoods.

Those are seven very good reasons for not blogging.

What are some good reasons to blog?

1. I miss my blog friends.

2. I would like to stop thinking only in status updates and have complete thoughts again. Like ones with beginnings, middles and ends and maybe a few side points.

3. WE SOLD THE RENT HOUSES!!! It all went down January 22nd, about three weeks after we decided to sell and listed them on craigslist.  That process, of course, precisely overlapped the first three weeks of the actual nervous systems course, so I got to do all that paperwork and neuro, but… they’re gone! There have been two First Of The Months since we sold them and it is eerily blissful to just not care.  No phone calls, no picking up rent, no deposits, no record keeping. My mail volume is drastically reduced, my bookkeeping is winding down, I don’t internally flinch when the cell phone rings, Joel stays home all weekend (which was good because I was working all weekend for most of the seven weeks of the nervous systems course and the children probably would have gotten in trouble all by themselves for that long).  And we probably won’t have to pay taxes for a few years because we ate an enormous loss and IT’S WORTH EVERY PENNY.  We saved and worked and bought ourselves out of our indentured servitude!

So those were some really good reasons to come back to blogging. But during my hiatus, I sort of gave up deep thinking about anything but the nervous system and whatever topic I have to present for home school group, so what are some blog possibilities?

1. The courtesy of rednecks versus the rest of club going heathens.

2. How four children actually make me a better parent.

3. the role of shame in civilizing children

So, short list, I get it, but it’s a start! I am still catching up with all the things that have dropped by the wayside in the furor of the nervous systems course (have I mentioned that thing was all consuming? I knew it would be insane for students, but did not realize how grueling it would be for instructors). Last weekend I cleaned the house top to bottom. It took about eight hours and I wore my knee pads long enough I got a bruise on one of my shins!  Then on Tuesday I got to clean my van. Thursday I got our little corporation’s taxes done and all our personal and rent house information to the accountant.  Friday I finished one lingering tutorial I wanted to have available before the class even started but didn’t have time to finish in January.  I am slowly shedding my major responsibilities.  I still have the four kids, the home schooling and an ever-renewing list of things to do, but I see some daylight. It’s flickering a little through the eye twitch, but I still believe it is there!

Nicknames

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The oddest family nickname I remember was the name my Uncle Jeff called my little sister Cindy: Cinder-binder-flakes.

In contrast, Beeba for Reba and Gabey for Gabe are quite tame.

Tonight Hazel asked why Daddy called her “Schmoo” and he said, “Well, I think it’s because that’s what Mommy calls you.”

Why Schmoo, you ask?

Because her name is Hazelly-bazelly-schmoo, emphasis on the Schmoo, Schmoo for short.

Because she is kind of a Schmoo.

And a Sugar Pie.  And just a simple Hazel-bazel.

I also have an Eowynny-woo (Woo for short) and an Ashy-bashy and Greyggers (alternately Greygrey).

I once knew a girl who adamantly called each of her children by their 3 syllable names with absolutely, indisputably NO ALTERATIONS WHATSOEVER for any reason. No nicknames, because she’d given them those lovely names because those – and only those! – are the names she intended them to have.

Which is kind of cheap, I think.

I think your collection of nicknames is just one more way to show how precious you are to someone. To show that your relationship is so special and unique that you have special and unique names for each other.

Like when my eldest calls me “Momby”.

The more bizarre the nickname, the more intimate the acquaintance.*

Hazelly-Bazelly-Boozelly-Schmoo
(she just looks like a schmoo, doesn’t she?
but you’ll have to come up with your own nickname; that one’s mine)Image

*Well, except for that one girl in college that I decided to call “Peabody” and she called me “Schwartzie” on the 3 occasions we saw each other socially. We were definitely acquaintances, not friends. Certainly friendly acquaintances, but our bizarre monikers belied our actual relationship status.  I wouldn’t want to mislead you, Peabody.