Life Without A Field Guide – Still

(This is one of my favorite posts. It was one of those times when I didn’t really write so much as channeled thoughts from the warped soul of someone who was killed in their unschooled kid’s science experiment explosion. I wrote it back in April of 2007, but it’s just as relevant now as it was then.)

Other home schoolers’ blogs make me feel like such a slacker. Like Ava, who is a translator. Her husband, Carl, is a biologist who specializes in diseases of plants. This year, they’re educating their three kids via field trips to the Louvre and strolls along the Champs-Elysees, because she’s translating books from Arabic to French and he’s fighting grape blight or blot or rot or something. Anyway, whatever it is, it makes the wine bitter and undrinkable, so he’s my man. Sometimes, life is a Cabernet, non?

They’re both so intelligent that they have to drink three glasses of wine and take a Benadryl to talk to ordinary people like me. On Thanksgiving this year, I assume they hit the Beaujolais and then composed a “what our kids are doing in home school” post as they digested their dinde roti and sauce de myrtille. Sandwiched in between photos of French street scenes with tiny figures that might have been them or might have been almost anyone, including pigeons, were lists of what their kids were up to. I swear they only do it to make unschoolers like me feel inadequate.

My kids are very artistic, but they’ve never shown any interest in art history or anyone else’s art. Their kids are making a copy of the Empress Theodora and her retinue, a mosaic which appears on the south wall of the apse at San Vitale. Life-sized. In their hotel room. With pieces they manufacture themselves by breaking bottles, ashtrays, ceramic soap dishes and cough lozenges. (The picture of it is kind of dark, but I believe I can just make out the Smith Brothers logo on one of the red robes.)

My kids go to the library and get books about Pokemon, the latest fantasy novel, Barbie and fairies. Their kids write books like “Deforestation and its Impact on Biodiversity, Habitat loss, Trade and Endangered Species.” With footnotes. In Latin. I’m only up to page 568, but I can tell you, we won’t be getting any mahogany furniture anytime soon.

We visit museums and spend more time arguing about whether the blinds are made out of aluminum or plastic than we do looking at the exhibits. Their kids are docents at three museums and a private collection of Faberge Eggs. Imperial Eggs.The eight missing ones.

We have a Black Lab and three cats. They have a Giant Gambian Pouched Rat, a Komodo Dragon, several hedgehogs and a platypus. Laying eggs. It’s their science fair project at the homeschooler’s science fair. We don’t attend ours, ever since the unfortunate incident with the manure vs chemical fertilizer experiment. Who knew it had to be aged?

We play Mario Tennis. They play polo with real ponies and several members of royalty. We spend hours wading in tide pools, but never remember to bring our marine biology book, so all we can identify are crabs and those brown wiggly things with all the legs. Sandworms? Clamworms? Well, they’re ugly as sin and can give you a painful pinch, we know that. They often do research for the Cousteau Society. In a shark cage. With the door open.

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little here, but honestly, this is what it feels like sometimes, when I read all the blog posts about museums toured, concerts attended, instruments mastered, classics read, projects completed, esoteric knowledge acquired and businesses in operation. Doesn’t anyone else just hang out with each other most of the time? Visit with friends? Read for pleasure? Make things just for the heck of it, not because they’re projects or educational? Consider Jeopardy or Good Eats or If Walls Could Talk highly educational? Doesn’t anyone take a walk without a field guide?

Sure, we get a lot of non-fiction out of the library every week and my kids are both very creative, but we’re pikers compared to what seems to be the norm in the homeschooling blogosphere. I have this recurring nightmare that my kids are going to turn 18 and sue me for not making them learn more. Oh wait, didn’t I just read that a 10 year old homeschooler did that? And represented himself. In a Class Action Suit. Tough luck, Ava and Carl.

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Posted in humor, unschooling | 5 Comments

Sex Ed – Coming to a Restaurant Near You

(Warning: This is a little racier than my usual stuff, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

Has anyone ever asked you how your kid is going to learn about sex if they don’t go to school? Well, several people have asked me that and now they’ll get an answer. Mind you, I think it’s a pretty stupid question, because the human race managed to keep itself stocked just fine way before there were schools, so the little nippers must have been learning about the birds and the bees somehow. But now, apparently, we don’t feel capable of explaining  how to reproduce and, more importantly, how not to reproduce, and also what all of that has to do with love, respect, responsibility and all like that.

Well, at least in my case, my restaurant karma, which you may remember from a couple of other posts here and there, brought sex education right into the dinner table conversation, just like they tell you to do in those public service announcements on TV.  By the time we were done, we just about had to hide our heads under the tablecloth and my tendency to snicker when served with breadsticks, which I acquired during my other restaurant visit with the two salesmen who were discussing how to “enlarge your proboscis naturally” with diagrams they drew on napkins, had progressed to any “stick” shaped food. But back to the lesson.

We were sitting in a local restaurant, right next to a table where four Canadian women were just being seated as we ordered. Daughter was trying to decide whether she wanted an iced tea or a raspberry iced tea, which seemed to be on a par with China deciding whether or not to devalue its currency, only a little more complicated. I was trying to find something that didn’t have a nickname like “Bunyan-sized” or “Belly-buster.” Our neighbors to the North (do they still call Canadians that in social studies? do they even HAVE social studies any more?) were discussing the relative merits of drinks before dinner or drinks with dinner or, maybe even, drinks with dessert, one of them said boldly. There was much snickering and trips down memory lane to other occasions when “Barb had that coconut drink and we didn’t know it was triple strength and the waiter was so nice about his  mustache getting singed and his zipper getting stuck halfway.”

Finally, they all agreed that they’d just start with a couple of shots before dinner, go with beer with their meals and maybe have a little sweet wine with dessert. I should have left at that point, but Daughter had finally decided she’d just have water and I had found a menu item in the “good for you” category, which meant that it had fewer than 600 calories. Actually, it said, “less than 600 calories” but I automatically translate “less” into “fewer” thanks to my 4th grade English teacher, who drummed the whole “fewer if you can count it” and “less if you can weigh it” mantra into my head, where it stuck and won’t get out unlike other more useful mantras like “don’t put the kettle on and go outside just for a minute” or “check your bank statement before you write that check”, but I digress.

Daughter and I were having our usual restaurant conversation which consists mostly of her saying how hungry she is and me saying why don’t you eat a roll and her saying that she’d be too full to eat her food if she ate a roll, when the ladies next to us all let out a huge bray of laughter that made us look over at them. They were all very red in the face, so I figured the shots had done their work, but then Barb, who seemed to be the most highly charged of this group of live wires, said, “But how do you BOTH use it? Don’t you kind of have to hook up to it?”

I was starting to have a suspicion that they weren’t talking about installing software and the next round of conversation proved it when they went into very graphic detail about what we’ll euphemistically call a very advanced marital aid with, er, how shall I put this? Well, let’s just say that if it was a video game, and there probably will be one of these out at some point if there isn’t already, it would be a two-player game with dual controllers.

By this time, Daughter and I were both very red in the face and hardly knew where to look. Every time I looked over at her, she burst into wild laughter and the same thing happened to me when she looked at me. Now, we’re not prudes, either one of us. But she IS 13 and says “eeeuuww” whenever things get too racy in movies or on TV or at the mall. She doesn’t like “people who are falling out of their clothes” or “people mauling each other in public” either. And, I guess we could add “people talking about sex toys in restaurants” to that list, at least for her. Me, I was getting an education. I’m 59, but my motto is that  you’re never too old to learn. I’m an auto-didact, which has nothing to do with anything kinky, by the way. Well, unless you’re learning something kinky. Oh, just look it up. More digression. I’ll try to stay on topic here.

We got our food and started to eat, although we were thinking maybe that was a risky thing to do in view of the choking issue when you’re laughing like two hyenas. The ladies, who all looked like either schoolteachers or librarians or maybe school librarians, got their food and one of them, probably Barb but I didn’t quite catch which one it was, motioned to her plate of spaghetti and they were all off into gales of laughter again. I was hoping Daughter wouldn’t look over at the arrangement of meatballs and a sausage, but she did and then we were off again. I was starting to feel like an 8th grader, back when anything to do with sex or bodily functions was hilarious because it was so scary and unlikely sounding and forbidden. Then I realized that – if anything like this had happened to me and my mother when I was 13 – she probably would have gone over and whacked Barb with her purse, given her a Bible tract and then come back and whacked me up-side the head for listening.

Luckily for my daughter, I’m not that kind of mom. I did kind of try to distract her when the conversation next door got even more x-rated as the drinks kicked in. By the time they got to dessert and the wine that went with it, even the waiter was blushing and she had tattoos, a green Mohawk and a shirt that would have made a nice belt if there had been a little more of it. Daughter was jotting down terms to look up when she got home … Oh no wait; that was me!

We decided to forego dessert and left just as Barb was getting up to show the folks at the next table “the flamenco dance I did in Barcelona last winter, when I fell on top of that drummer and just about busted his c******… ” I won’t tell you what Daughter and I thought Barb said, but I will tell you that the term for a small drum used in flamenco music is spelled “cajon” in case you’re wondering, and Barb pronounced it plurally, so I guess she broke at least two of them. The poor man. I wonder if it ended his musical career? It’s hard to make beautiful music with busted cajones, I would imagine.

Anyway, believe me, I’ve only touched the surface of the conversation we overheard here. There was much more about how to get pregnant, how not to get pregnant, how to seduce husbands away from their Blackberries at 3 a.m. (yeah, there’s an app for that and Barb has it) and how to avoid sleeping on, um, damp sheets and how they get damp. (Pouring a glass of water over an unresponsive mate will do it every time. Ask Barb.) Daughter and I are considering giving up restaurants for a while, or maybe just picking up takeout for our once-a-week treats. Which reminds me of something Barb said about her sex life, but I promised I won’t digress any more and I won’t.

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Does The Marriage Bed of Satan Have A Memory Foam Mattress?

(Another blast from the past with a book review at the end.)

As usual, Daughter and Son and I went to the library last Monday. While there, I perused the new books and had a hard time finding anything at all to read, so I browsed the stacks and found a couple of ancient books that looked intriguing but turned out to be more like bible tracts than books when I read them later. Daughter, on the other hand, found a stack of books and was already putting them into her cloth bag when I joined her in the children’s room.

Now, some of my relatives and a couple of friends, have criticized me for not monitoring my kids’ reading material. When I was a kid, one of my late mother’s church lady friends told me that reading the wrong kind of books when you’re a kid leads just one step closer to the Marriage Bed of Satan, a phrase that pops into my mind when Son takes out books with covers that show warrior women wearing the latest in leather bikinis. But I still let them read what they want to read.

Daughter’s reading tastes are, like mine, varied and eclectic, and tend to run in spurts. Lately, she’s been reading a lot of American Girls, Ranger Rick and Discover for Kids magazines, joke books and her constant favorite: animal encyclopedias. Son, on the other hand, enjoys a range of non-fiction, but only sci-fi and fantasy fiction. Lucky for him, fantasy seems to be the genre du jour lately and he also found bushels of books. So we were all booked up and went home to read our heads off.

A few days later, while I was working at the PC and Daughter was reading on the couch behind me, I heard mutters and mumbles and exasperated sighs. When Daughter sighs, work is impossible. If Tolstoy had been blessed with a daughter like Daughter, War and Peace would have been a shopping list. However, I’m not writing War and Peace, although it feels like it sometimes when ideas won’t come, so I turned to her and asked what was wrong.

“Her father’s a jerk,” she said.

“Whose father?” I asked her.

“Elizabeth, the girl in this book I’m reading. He’s really mean. First he’s nice and then he’s not nice. And her stepmother is a wimp. She says she’ll help and then she says she’s too busy to even see Elizabeth. And I think he killed Elizabeth’s mother. Elizabeth thinks so too.”

This did NOT sound like an American Girl. Well, unless the latest AG takes place in Prohibition Era Chicago and Elizabeth’s daddy is a gangster. I didn’t think that was likely, so what the heck was my ten year old reading that had this level of domestic violence in it?

“Are you sure about her father killing her mother?” I asked. “Maybe you read it wrong?”

Sometimes, Daughter’s attention wanders and she misses facts and the odd sentence or two in books, although she’s a very good reader otherwise. This is one of the reasons she learns at home – so that someone else can fill in those little gaps. Like when she read the book about American government, but couldn’t answer the question about why we have an electoral college. Oh wait, that was me! Well, anyhow, she misses things sometimes.

“I’m going to go back to the beginning and read the part where she talks about her mother dying,” she said, “Maybe that’ll help.”

So she did and it helped.

“Yup, he killed her. Killed a bunch of his other wives too. What a jerk.”

Light dawned.

“What’s Elizabeth’s father’s name?” I asked.

“Henry Vee or Vie. It’s V-I-I-I but I don’t know how to pronounce it. What a jerk.”

So there you have it, folks. Daughter’s pithy but accurate review of Henry VIII. And they say unschooling kids can’t do book reports. Hah! Later Daughter finished the book and treated me to a scathing, but realistic report on most of the Tudors and a couple of the Stuarts with a short but compelling airing of her views on Phillip of Spain, who was, according to Daughter, also a jerk.

If your daughter or son would like some painless – and actually enjoyable – history lessons, sashay to the shelf in your local library that has The Royal Diaries, published by Scholastic. And if, like me, your library books of the week turn out to be clinkers, the Royal Diaries aren’t bad for a quick read after the kids go to bed. I’ve just finished Kazunomiya, Prisoner of Heaven, Japan 1858 so Daughter will be reading it today. I wonder what public place we’ll be in when she asks me what concubines are.
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Posted in unschooling | 1 Comment