What We’re Doing: Sliding Through September

sept2016wbPhew!  This post is much later than I’d planned.  September, while it contained a nice birthday outing to Golden Gardens in celebration of my thirty-eighth, wasn’t exactly a pleasant month on the whole.  It had major ups and downs for our family, and some of those downs are leaking into October.

My car required repairs.  First an oil change, then a timing belt, then calipers and brakes, and there’s still another problem yet to be fixed, so I’m only driving in town for the time being.  My partner’s car needs new brakes, too!  We haven’t been able to turn on our heat yet because of duct and furnace problems, so we’re walking around the house in sweaters and socks and dragging blankets behind us.  We’re also preparing the house for an appraiser, because my partner wishes to refinance, and it’s going to take a lot of work.

Meanwhile, my daughter has officially completed a week and a half of college, and has already made several new friends.  She’s gone out with another friend the past couple of weekends (one of my other students), and is planning on attending her first dance soon!  Because of all of the issues with the house and the cars, my son and I are struggling to establish a new routine, but at least I finally got him to participate with me when singing “head, shoulders, knees, and toes,” and even the “Hokey Pokey.”  It’s a huge improvement, and it seems for now, while things are rather off-balance, half of our home preschool involves cuddling, and a good quarter is dancing, story time, and taking a long time with meals.



Daughter is learning Japanese, College Success, Psychology, and the Magic of Friendship.  She’s also learning how to balance school work, friend time, family time, chores, fitness, and personal time in ways she didn’t grasp while homeschooling.  Overall, I’m proud of how she’s been adjusting to this major shift in her routine.


Son is learning about the Human Body, though I put so many materials on hold at the library, we’ll probably be studying it for a couple of weeks.  Of course, we had a couple of field trips to both Urgent Care and two Emergency Rooms we’d not planned for: first he stuffed his fingers into the hinge of the front passenger door of my car at the library, right before I shut it to put him in his car seat.  Yowch! Thankfully, nothing broke in that cramped space, and despite some ugly bruising, he’ll be ok in the long-term.  Then a couple of days later, we ended up at the ER because he was in pain and acting unusual, and the nurse hotline said to bring him in.  After an IV and ultrasound, we were transferred by ambulance (that was exciting for him) to Children’s where they did another ultrasound and though the experience was more painful for him, they were on the whole, far more gentle with him than the prior hospital.  And they had kids’ movies he could dial in from his bed.  We were sent home at 3am.  Not appendicitis, but rather a virus that was causing his distress, possibly contracted at the Urgent Care a few days before.  Which is great, because none of his symptoms suggested his appendix was inflamed, but his blood tests might have.


For my birthday, we went to Golden Gardens to commune with the water and the sand and the ducks and turtles, too.  Friends met us there an hour after I texted.  It was spontaneous and perfect.  Two days before that, the kids and I went to see the 30th anniversary showing of Labyrinth, which is dear to my heart.  I saw it at eight years old for my birthday then, and a year later, David Bowie sang to me when I was falling asleep at his Glass Spider Tour concert.  Getting to take my kids to see it on the big screen was a wonderful experience.



As Mabon passed and the hint of October approached, we stumbled across a number of good books dealing with death and magic.  The highlights among them include:

the_garden_of_abdul_gasazi_van_allsburg_book_coverThe Garden of  Abdul Gasazi by Chris van Allsburg features exquisite illustrations in ink, and follows a boy and his unruly dog into the garden of a magician — a garden where dogs are not allowed.  Subtle, magical, beautiful.

Cry, Heart, but Never Break by Glen Ringtved focuses on four children raised by a grandmother who lays dying upstairs In her bed.  Death appears at the door and sits with them at the kitchen table.  As they play him with coffee, hoping to dissuade him from taking their beloved grandmother, Death tells them a tale about four children named Sorrow, Grief, Joy, and Delight.  It’s an excellent, gentle, humbling tale for young ones dealing with grief and loss.

The Dead Bird by Margaret Brown Wise unsettled me, but my son liked it.  It’s a simple tale like her other books, with art ahead of its time.  A handful of children find a dead bird and bury it.  Not much to it, but in the telling of the story, I found some absence in the words, that perhaps might be found instead within.

Skeletons for Dinner by Margery Cuyler is a silly romp with a cute skeleton who misunderstands and invitation by a coven of witches for dinner.  There’s a lesson here in making assumptions.  Excellent for both our human body unit AND in preparation for Samhain.

51ewu-9sril-_sx329_bo1204203200_Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente is this great author’s latest novel.  Like much of her work it’s luscious and complex and the opposite of condescending.  Valente expects that those who choose her work are intelligent and willing to follow along unknown paths on fantastical journeys, and allow the details to unfold in their own time.  Her work always reads as poetry, and Radiance is no exception.  I’m still in the middle of it, not yet having come to understand the full film at play on the screen in my mind, but wanting to plunge further.  Not your standard space drama.  Not your standard anything.  If you want to read something outside tired tropes, and engage your mind in a feast of delights, pick this — or any of her work* — up as soon as you can.

*[Recommend: Deathless for adults who want a linear fairy tale, The Orphan’s Tales for those who enjoy stories within stories, and The Girl Who Navigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making for children and the young at heart.]



In September, we finished the miniseries Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.  I checked out the book at the library, and it might just have War & Peace beat for largest novel.  We also watched the first two seasons of Dharma & Greg before daughter started college, didn’t quite finish Crash Course: Economics, and watched all of Over the Garden Wall, which I thought would be too creepy for my son, but he loved it.



Since my new, amazing, informative goddess of a naturopath has suggested I go four to six weeks without dairy, I’ve been reinventing some of my standard recipes to accommodate the change.  Our salmon tacos, for instance, currently don’t feature my usual crema recipe, so to get a multidimensional flavor from my tacos, I roasted some green peppers (about 2 stars worth of heat) in the toaster oven, pan fried my salmon in my homemade chili powder blend plus garlic and lime, and warmed up the tortillas.  When I filled them, I added avocado, greens sprouts, roasted peppers (for adults, not for our kids who don’t like them), tomatillo salsa, and Cholula.  Served in thick corn tortillas, with purple roasted potatoes, sauteed pepper greens (cook them like spinach with garlic and olive oil), and roasted red cabbage on the side.

Yes, I missed my crema, and yes a proscription against dairy meant I was dreaming of warming cheese between two tortillas and using THAT for the tacos (mulitas style), but I enjoyed the flavor nevertheless. If I had thin tortillas, it wouldn’t have worked; the heat would have overwhelmed the rest, but I was quite happy with the results.  No pictures — they were gobbled down too quickly!

Weaning the Fox

SleepingFoxMay2016The Little Fox turned three a few weeks ago, and it was around the time we were recovering from bronchitis, I decided I needed my body back.

My son, while a joy and a wonder, also possesses a fierce determination, a demanding personality, and refuses to accept “no” from anyone in the house.  Asking him at 7:30a.m. on Mothers’ Day after ten minutes of nursing if we could try to get a little more sleep, resulted in a small child screaming directly into my ear and crying for a long while.  His sister slept in until 9:30.  His father slept in until 11.

The only way I could guarantee a low-stress way of avoiding similar events at naptime was to eliminate naps as a requisite daily activity.  We’ve switched to quiet time, and while he isn’t quiet during it, my breasts stay in my shirt, and we don’t fight over sleep at midday or bedtime anymore.

In fact, he’s falling asleep fast and beautifully at night, sometimes before he’s finished nursing on both sides.  So, there’s some minor engorgement going on, but he gets both sides morning and night, I get relief, and soon my body will get used to the schedule.

Some reading this will wonder why I breastfed him this long, others will wonder why I’m not letting him fully lead the discussion.

To the former, I’ll direct you to the WHO and AAP.  Both organizations agree, if mother and child are both comfortable with it, it’s best to feed at least to age two (“and beyond“) and is still beneficial up to age four. To the latter, I’ll emphasize the part about both parties being comfortable and desiring to continue.  After all, it’s my body, and I was ready to be done almost a year ago.

My daughter, the Dragon, nursed until 2.5 years.  Having her in daycare contributed to the timing, as she wouldn’t take my milk in a bottle, so it lessened our feedings far earlier — soon after her first birthday — and feedings only happened two or three times a day.

Breastfeeding both of my children hasn’t been easy. I’ve fought against PTSD flashbacks from past trauma and associated feelings of being trapped, resentful, and not having a say in my own body.  It’s made breastfeeding complicated, but I still wouldn’t have made a different choice for them.

But three years of age is my limit. We need to end this part of our relationship, and while it’s clear he’d like to continue for a long while, weaning him slowly seems to be a good compromise (so far).  Here’s hoping, like his sister, weaning will be immediately followed by a sudden desire to conquer potty training.


If you like comics about breastfeeding or just need a humorous boost, you can read The Leaky Boob Comics might be for you, visit the Leaky Boob for resources, or discuss breastfeeding on their Facebook page.


Why I Don’t Join Moms Groups

“We Mustn’t Panic” scene from Chicken Run; This sums up the looks I get from other adults when I open my mouth.

I’m on the cusp of introvert and extrovert, though I lean more toward the former than the latter.  Beyond the standard trappings of introversion, you have people like me.  Weird people with strange minds who don’t fit into most groups, especially not moms groups.  This leads to a conundrum because …

1. I want my children to interact with other kids.

2. As homeschoolers, this often means joining a mom’s group or attending community events.

3. I’m weird and empathetic.

4. Other people in groups sense this weirdness and don’t know how to react to it.

5. Feeling their discomfort, I retreat into myself and do my best to hide everything about me.

6. Exhausted after having to be social, but hide who I am, I take the kids home.

7. I do not want to go back, but that’s ok, because I’m usually not invited back.

See also: Why my parties are small despite large guest lists, and Why I’m a wreck after family gatherings.


I like people. I like interacting. I like parties and games and having fun. But I’m weird and few people get me enough to want to spend time with me. Because I also like cuddles and bouncing and dark humor and science fiction and contemplating odd scenarios and … I don’t feel particularly human because being human the way people expect me to be human isn’t the way I am.

So I cosplay Pinkie Pie on Easter because people understand Pinkie Pie. Who is like me when I don’t have to hide.

Pinkie Pie owned by Hasbro

Pinkie Pie and her party cannon; the original, the best party pony

I don’t join moms groups.  Instead, we go to community events open to all, and make the best of it.  I’ve learned there are two things I can talk about that don’t feel like small talk: parenting and gardening.  But I have to resist hugging the first person who displays a shared passion or interest.

Thankfully, my kids love me, and I have good friends who accept me as the oddball I am.  Mostly because they’re oddballs, too.

Do you ever feel uncomfortable in moms groups or community events?  Start with local newsgroups and find out which families share similar interests.  You might not become best friends with the parents you meet, but it’s possible you’ll have something to talk about while your kids develop their own friendships.  Support in parenting, especially for parents at home, is crucial to staying sane.  (Also, you might become best friends.  You never know.)

When It’s Just Too Much


Every parent, no matter how balanced, patient, and aware gets to the point where something — or everything — is just too much.  Sometimes “too much” is a matter of comfort, sometimes it’s a physical drain, while other times it feels almost personal and emotionally overwhelming.

I’ve experienced all of these at some point in the last fifteen years, usually many times.  While it helps to have a co-parent now, it’s still not easy from day to day.

If you’re fortunate enough to share parenting with one or more adults, it’s wonderful to be able to lean on someone to provide support and to give support in return.  But what if all the adults are feeling tired, grouchy, or overwhelmed?  What if you’re going it alone?

Here’s what helps get our house back into flow, when we adults remember to do it.

  • Slow down.  No matter how important keeping to a schedule seems, sometimes it’s best to simply stop watching the clock and take time to pay attention to the little things — and little ones — who need us.  Sometimes I forget dinner can wait a few extra minutes so I can finish up a game with my son, or my late night work can wait another day so I can have a heart-to-heart with my daughter. When we cram too many things into a day, it becomes too much for everyone, and leads to less patience and more shouting.  Typically, the smaller the person, the bigger the scream, too, and a screaming toddler is no fun for anyone.  Take a deep breath, go back to basics, and focus on the two or three things that matter most in a day — or the one person in a moment.


  • Clean up.  When the demands of parenting and being an adult add more pressure than you can handle, it can help with focus on regain a sense of control by cleaning something.  Get everyone working on picking up their toys and objects, or if you need to be alone and not supervising, deal with some chore you’ve been putting off or you know will help you let go.  My daughter tells me she’s actually come to enjoy doing dishes for the relief she feels after doing them.  Together, we’ve gotten our fridge deep cleaned and our kitchen in excellent shape this month, and we enjoyed doing it together.  My son has had fun picking up his cars, ponies, and Duplo (always out at once, for some reason), just so he can have a chance to play with my Calico Critters.  Yes, I said mine.  They relax me.


  • Declutter. Lately, my partner has been feeling the crunch of time between a demanding senior position, a long commute each day, and the little bit of time each evening he gets to spend with his family.  It’s a classic complaint, and I’ve taken to working harder to hear him out even when I’m feeling grouchy.  He gives me respite from parenting, while gaining the joy of playing with the children, and I’m able to get time to practice piano, play a solitary game, get some chores done, or tend to a health complaint.  One of the aspects of our home aggravating him the most (besides the roof) is the abundance of toys spread out across the office every evening.  I’ve suggested we rotate bins and only take out one when the rest are put away, but until I can get everyone on board (especially our son), we’ve agreed there are a lot of toys he simply doesn’t play with enough to warrant holding onto.  This week, we’ll be collecting the toys our son isn’t using and donate them to a non-profit who can make better use of them.  Even my son likes this idea, because it overwhelms him, too!


  • Be gentle.  When feeling overwhelmed, pressured, on the verge of tears or yelling, it can be difficult to remember everyone else’s feelings.  One thing I say to everyone, including myself, is to be gentle.  Gentle in word, deed, and feeling.  To avoid assuming someone is doing or saying something intended to be unkind.  Our family is a caring bunch, and homeschooling leads us all to spend more time with each other than many parents who are unable to do so.  No matter how much we love each other, we get on each other’s nerves.  Taking an extra breath when grumpy and ready to argue, it helps to remember to approach each situation gently.  It can be hard, I’ve certainly failed a number of times when my patience wore thin and I raised my voice or said something cynical, but like everything, we get better with practice.  However we react to pressure will affect many events that follow.  Some small slight can wreck a whole day or weekend, while pausing to regain an outlook of gentleness can help everyone relax and move smoothly into a happier day.


  • Make plans. Another way to regain control is to sit down with the family and make plans to tackle whatever issues you’re facing.  Whether it’s cleaning out the garage together, going on vacation, planning your weekend, or just coming up with school activities or a meal plan for the week.  By brainstorming a list, and setting goals and steps to achieve them, the family becomes a team and even if not very exciting, can lead to better cooperation all around.


  • Dance party.  When all else fails, engage your body.  Get physical.  Dance it out.  Sing, drum, run, swim, laugh, shout.  Do whatever it takes to get out of your head and into your body again.  It’s grounding, energizing, and can encourage everyone else to get loose and join you in an impromptu romp.  Come together in the joy of movement, rhythm, harmony.  It might not solve all your problems, but you’ll feel better for it after, and things might not look so overwhelming.

These are some actions I take when the kids are yelling at each other, my partner’s grouchy, and I want to hide in my room playing Bubble Witch 2 until it blows over.  Believe me, these help a lot more than avoiding the issues at hand.  What works for your family?

Chickening Out or Checking In

Tutus c. 2015 Raven J. Demers

Tutus by Raven J. Demers

There was a different post I’d intended for this week, but I’ve been a whirlwind of productivity, twice injured, and spent the last week with a host of challenging emotions.

It’s easy for me to forget how sick I am.  I spend a lot of time gritting my teeth in denial; I’m smart enough to play mental tricks with myself to push the pain aside and do what needs to be done anyway.  At least the basics.  But part of those tricks are distractions that keep me from doing my highest good: both my writing and one-on-one parenting time with my children suffers.

You’d think being a homeschooling parent, we’d have plenty of quality time, but when it’s a struggle to control the pain long enough to get the meals made, the rooms tidied, the errands run, and the education planned, there isn’t much time for Mama to be fun.  When the energy is there, we do art projects and have dance parties in the living room, and no matter what, I work always to put a humorous spin on things, look on the bright side, and try to find ways to make every day an adventure.

But I get tired, and sometimes I get snippy as I work to muddle through the have-tos, forgetting how much of my life was a want-to that came true.

Little Fox Holding Mama's Hand, c. 2015 Raven J. Demers

Little Fox Holding Mama’s Hand, c. 2015 Raven J. Demers

Last week was my birthday, and I pushed myself to make all my guests tutus we wore at lunch.  It was hard work and a lot of fun, and I think I want to keep doing it in a professional capacity.  Also, I had scheduled with an artist to have my first tattoo placed after two decades of wishing.

But when we got there, I had a panic attack.  I felt adrift and cornered, even though I’d brought myself there of my own will.  I willed myself to lay down to see at least what the imprint would look like, and when I sat up to look, it was perfect.  Exactly what I wanted.

And I wasn’t ready.

I told the tattoo artist I wasn’t ready, and I felt like I’d chickened out.  He patted my hand and assured me he didn’t want to do it if I wasn’t sure; he wasn’t losing out, he wanted a willing canvas, after all.  As I left, I still felt silly and embarrassed.  I’d arranged for someone to watch the kids and my partner comforted me on the way in and out, assuring me I did the right thing.  Even my daughter, when I walked up to the store where she was, said it wasn’t chickening out.  It wasn’t the right time, and I honored myself in backing out.

Despite not going forward with one of my plans, I still stuck to another. That night, I disconnected myself from one of my biggest distractions.  I’ve begun a month-long break from Facebook and other social media that don’t directly relate to my career or volunteer work.

Monday was rough.  I kept accidentally typing Facebook into my browser, but at least I didn’t have the temptation on my phone (I deleted the apps, and set up a filter to send all notifications to a folder I’m not looking at until late October).  But Monday was also glorious.  I had my first piano lesson in nearly three decades, and it was a great deal of fun, so much so, that I was able to show my children everything I’d learned.  They enjoyed playing in my instructor’s neighborhood on a sunny day amidst gardens full of roses and other delights.

Tuesday was easier, and productive.  Despite waking up in pain with new symptoms, I checked off several major organizational chores on my to do list, wrote a press release for my volunteer work, played with the children, went for a long walk (on a twice broken toe), and made two delicious meals (my daughter made breakfast).  Writing this, I’m exhausted at the end of the day, and the pains and sores are there, ready to batter me again tomorrow, but I think I’ll be able to face them.

It’ll be a nice day out, and though we have a few people we’ve hired to come tomorrow, I think we’ll be able to sneak out for a while between appointments to indulge in a pleasant outing.

Mama’s not chickening out, she’s checking in.

Taking the Orange Rhino Challenge

The people closest to me know I have a temper (and all the reasons why), and more importantly, that I’ve struggled as a parent to eliminate this aspect of my life from my parenting. While I’ve come far in better maintaining my control and managing my quick-to-anger temperament, there’s still more I can do in order to live up to my personal goals toward peaceful parenting.

So, it’s probably not a surprise that I’ve read “10 Things I Learned When I Stopped Yelling at My Kids” at least half a dozen times. The anonymous author and creator of the Orange Rhino blog has inspired me to take her Challenge.

Today was Day 1. No yelling, no irritated voice, no snappish or cutting remarks. When I saw chores being left undone, I used “I need” or “we need” statements only. A good start.

I need to do this to improve my relationship with my daughter and support her emotional health, I need to practice this with my teen so I don’t make the same mistakes with my infant as he grows into toddlerhood, and I need to this for me, because I’ve stayed up nights, sleepless with guilt for recent or past instances in which I lost my temper and was the cause of my beloved child’s tears … I should be the comfort not the cause.

There are reasons for my temper, but they’re my monsters to fight, not my children’s, and blessedly, we all have a lot of support now that wasn’t there in my daughter’s early childhood.

Skill Diversity

One of the unspoken goals playing out in the back of my mind is to offer the children in my life the opportunity to live by the principles of this quote:

The Notebooks of Lazarus Long

The Notebooks of Lazarus Long (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

–Lazarus Long, Time Enough For Love

I’d like to add such concepts as: speak a foreign language, grow vegetables, sew a button, birth a baby, nurse the sick, darn a sock, knit a scarf, play an instrument, and so on, but above all, I want to ensure I’m instilling a diverse body of knowledge and skills — the ability to learn and explore the world’s many flavors — in my daughter and all those children whose lives I touch.

Sometimes, though, I can barely manage to get through math, science, and literature in a week, and wonder where the time went.  I worry often I’ll not be able to come anywhere near my ideals, and thus, fail my daughter, leaving her without the tools she needs to succeed in the world.  *sigh*  Does every parent feel this way?  I find myself even more lost without my mother, all the questions I have now have go unanswered without her experience to guide me.  It’s cruel they only come to me now to even consider asking . . .

Dead Air

My apologies to the 24 people who follow this blog.  March saw us madly dashing around trying to get ready for Norwescon, which we attempt to attend every year.  This one was our biggest — my daughter had worked hard on a costume of her creation to enter into the masquerade competition (and won, second year in a row), and I got a chance for professional critiques of my writing in THREE writers’ workshops — and was immediately concluded at the end of the weekend with frightening news that my mother, only 56 years of age, was heading to the hospital, unable to speak properly and spouting impossible and paranoid things not at all like her.  She had been ill for a few weeks, but her mind had been fit beforehand.

A week later, I was on a plane to Germany, because her condition had seriously worsened.  I arrived an hour too late, my mother passed away on April 16th of an infection she contracted while in the hospital.  Since then, our homeschooling experiment has been bumpy at best, and it’s taken a high toll on both my daily living and my daughter’s ability to focus on anything but her art.

It’s almost two months now, though it feels like days since it happened.  She was an extremely generous, loving, and creative person, and her husband, my daughter, and I are all still reeling from the shock of her sudden absence in our lives. Of the three of us, I’m pushing hardest to avoid allowing my grief to consume us.

Betsy Content Bogert Moelders
Dec. 7th, 1955 – Apr. 16th 2012

That being said, I’m going ahead with a plan I’d had rattling in my head for the last few months.  I’ve talked to my daughter and my friend’s eldest about the almost-two years of Reading Selections I began with them, where it’s taken them thus far, and whether they feel other children would benefit from it.  So, starting in September, I intend to take on new students in a casual environment — a handful of children in the homeschooling group — and give them a more polished and practiced form of this literary critiquing group we’ve been having so much fun with.  I’ve watched my daughter’s awareness of what she reads deepen, her insight into the subtle working of the world around her awaken, and my friend’s son’s critical analysis take on greater nuance.  They’ve become more considerate of the media to which they’re exposed through choice or accident, and I’m so proud to see my daughter’s own test scores in reading and spelling jump far ahead of where she’d been when she was in institutionalized schooling (and flagging) — she’s finally proficient at her approximate grade level!

I went back through this site’s archives and saw how there was nothing posted for the last “school year” of Reading Selections.  Tomorrow, I will attempt to sit down and post the list, complete with the links I can find of sources for the readings we did from September through March (our work stopped when my mother died), so anyone interested in what they’ve been reading, or who are looking for recommendations, can provide the same materials to their own home students.

What I’m most enjoying at the moment in our schooling adventure is how they’ve both taken to this summer’s reading selections project.  Their assignment is to choose three books: one fiction novel (not graphic novels/manga/manwa/etc.), one non-fiction book on a subject they find interesting, and one collection of a single poet’s work*.

Friend’s son has chosen:
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
Content by Cory Doctorow
Death and Transfiguration: Poems by Kelly Cherry

Daughter has chosen:
Sky Village by Nigel Ashland
A Druid’s Herbal for the Sacred Earth Year by Ellen Evert Hopman
A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson

After reading their three selected books, they are to find common threads, themes, or a single key subject within each of them and create a project based on that element.  They’ve both started reading, and they seem to be enjoying themselves!  I can’t wait to see what they come up with in September . . .

*I decided a single author’s work is more definitive of an individual voice, where as a selection of poems from various authors, usually compiled on a theme (e.g. feminist poetry collections, horror poetry collections, etc.) would dilute the process of seeking a shared connection between the three books.  If one of the books is already a cacophony, it can be hard to make the three books together create harmony, to tie them together.

Good Kin–Argh!

“Good King Wences–Yar! Good King . . . Wen . . . Doh. Good King Wenceslas looked ooooouuuuttttt . . .”

This is what it’s like to listen to Squirelflight learning a new song on the piano. Guess which song. Guess. I dare ya.

“Good.  King.  Wen-ces-las . . . looked . . . ooout.  On.  The.  Feast.  Of.  Ahhhhhh!!!”

Fearing Chemistry

So, I’m not very good at Chemistry.  The only reason I got a passing grade in high school was for inappropriate reasons I won’t go into here, but with a semi-drunk teacher and an expectation to just “get” the formulas in the book and come back and produce results in the lab, I floundered a great deal.  I would have taken Biology for my science requirement, but I’d heard my high school spent the first month entirely on plants, and half the school year dissecting worms and other tiny critters.  I’d already run through a genetics course and dissected a fetal pig on my own in 7th grade, so I wasn’t too keen on taking several steps backward.

Instead, I ended up in a class where once in a while, whatever was in our teacher’s mug would push him past some line, and he’d say something like, “Everybody put your pencils down.  I’m going to tell you why nuclear power is the future . . .”  And we’d have to listen to him for 50 minutes as he droned on in some not-quite-coherent ramble about his opinions of politicians, the way things ought to work, and what would save our sorry asses.

To add to the confusion and the drunken slurs, during at least half the labs I felt either queasy or dizzy or both, and ended up being hauled off to the nurse’s office.  One time our principal was monitoring the class, and she escorted me herself. Having never been in trouble at that school (we won’t go into Holy Innocents’ Episcopal here), we didn’t know each other too well, and I could pass myself off as something other than what my classmates called me.  It was an awkward, touching, and anxious time as I tried to walk down the hall with her and not vomit on her school’s lovely carpet.

So when Squirelflight told me this summer that she was interested in studying Chemistry, I really, really wished she’d said she’d seen the light, and was ready to go back to Anatomy.  Because, I get anatomy, even if I’m rusty on all the terms and placements and such.  Heck, my co-teacher knows a great deal, having a keen memory from her studies and current work as a massage therapist. We have a copy each of the Anatomy Coloring Book for the four of us (two oldest children, two mothers) . . . but no.  And my step-father, the one with the doctorate in Chemistry, by the gods, is a good third of a world away from us and can’t be here to tutor and instruct.

Thus, we have books.  Books on experiments, a teacher’s guide, and a whole lot more.  And we have charts and tools and lab kits.  What we don’t have–or didn’t–was a me who was willing to get over her fear of this gaping ignorance, the fear that I’ll never be able to get Chemistry on a more-than-basic level in order to teach it.

But I think I’ve figured out a way to structure it so that we can learn together, and it’s all thanks to this video:

With a handy table of elements, a working knowledge of subatomic particles, molecules, and the atomic structure, and a wealth of knowledge of inventions, history, and uses for each element, I think I’ve come up with a plan.  If I can take one element at a time, link it with something manifest in the world (hydrogen bomb, matches, dirigibles/balloons (and the Hindenberg), table salt, breathable atmospheres, et al), we can get through this.  The basic physics of chemistry are easy enough for us to go through, and once we get to through the chart, linking things to real world objects and history, we might get ourselves to a place where we can look into experiments and understanding them.  Maybe even as we go along. “We learned about element X before, and now we’re learning about element Y, and I have this fun experiment for combining the two . . .”

Like all homeschooling, it’s a rather organic process, and this will be one of the biggest learning experiences in what works for us that I’ve yet to take on.  Linking things will make it easier for both of us to see how these elements impact our world, our societies, and what they can mean in a more tangible way than the theories of higher chemistry can offer beginners like us.  The real-world applications of chemistry, especially in fuel cell technology (a field my step-father sorely wants to be a part), can mean greater efforts for a more sustainable future, and hey, she’s the one who’s going to be living on this planet longer than me.  I’d like her to understand how to help it out.

I figure, if I can make it possible for me to see the relevance, then I can make it possible for her.  And heck, I always thought alchemy was cool, perhaps if I just view this as a more precise form .  . . it’s not like we’re trying to make gold from iron and sulphur.  Right?  😉