Published on ParentsandProse.com on September 14, 2017.
These days it’s crazy easy to pack our schedules. To fit in two and three outings a day, an art class or two, and heck, why not stop at the park with friends because, you know, it’s a good chance to get energy out (for our endlessly moving kids) and what’s a few three or four hours of fun before bedtime?
And it’s not just a packed physical schedule either, but mental ones as well. Like for me, every moment of free-thought time and filling it with audiobooks or podcasts (a favorite pastime for me while driving) or if I’m desperate for a TV show and story, propping up my laptop on the counter during the ridiculously, time-consuming process of cutting veggies and washing, I swear, the endless supply of dirty dishes (to the point where I had no idea we actually had that many dishes!).
Well, turns out, all those events and outings, and stuff my brain’s chewing on, that’s kinda a lot. And it really starts to add up.
Not that there’s anything wrong if that works for you and your family. But what I’m learning is that time at home is critical, especially for my family.
We’re a bunch of introverts.
If I schedule both weekend days with socializing everyone is getting ready to have their own personal meltdowns and not just the two-year-old (he just gets the distinct advantage of it being, mostly acceptable, to stomp and cry and scream). So, I already look at my schedule with more awareness than most folks. Yes, I could have swimming with friends the same day as we have a play date at another’s house… except I’m gonna be exhausted, and yes, my kids will be having fun (but exhausted, and hence, cranky)… but then I still need to handle those pesky details like bedtime and teeth brushing, and of yes, you kids do need to get fed three times (or more) a day.
Then, of course, there’s my goal of being a patient and empathetic parent with my kids. They’re constantly moving in and out of their own BIG emotions throughout the day. If I’m barely hanging on by a thread, it’s a good chance I’m probably gonna lose it and yell (and then immediately regret it).
And yet, even with my awareness, I still make mistakes.
Or maybe not mistakes. Really, they’re just choices.
Sometimes I am quite aware of what I’m walking into and what situation I’m setting myself and the kids up for, while other times it’s a straight-up opps! And then other times, I still push us a bit more.
Maybe it’s a once in awhile thing, like visiting dear friends up in Montrose one day and the next have my three-hour hair appointment, which while wonderful and desperately needed (I got some super cute pink highlights, by the way), it also meant I was socializing for three-hours and I’m now freakin’ exhausted. Oh, and it’s not like I can go home and kick up my feet. Nope. I’m full aware that I’m on kid-duty because poor Sean has dealt with a distraught Eric because his mommy abandoned him in his complete and total, utmost need. Meaning: I left him… at home… alone… with daddy. a complete and total toddler tragedy, yes? Anyway, soon as I walked in the door I told Sean to check out and take a nap. He needed it.
But the point here, is we need downtime. Your family will certainly have different mileage than mine, all four introverts that we are, and for us, we need that downtime with a capital N!
Every week I almost feel like some kind of battle-planner, marking in the large events, from going to Disneyland or the Aquarium or driving through downtown LA to visit my parents or friends. The next day needs to be like nothing. Maybe we can handle a short afternoon stint, like swimming and invite some few friends over (certainly something physical for the two-year-old). Or, maybe not. And really, if I want to do stuff like playing board games or reading or art with my kids, especially Kate, well, when’s that actually going to happen if we’re always on the go? If we’re always up and about?
Plus, I still got those damn dishes to do.
And the endless snacks for all these outings to get prepared, along with the backpack and Eric’s necessary change-of-clothes (I bring several). Then there’s me, doing this crazy (or, it feels crazy at times) gig of trying to run my own writing and publishing businesses, and I’ve got to get those things in the schedule too.
Turns out, there’s only so many hours in the day. Even more important, there’s only so much brain computing power this mommy-me has.
By the end of the day, I’m shot. Just, done. Brain’s working on its low emergency mode and to do anything creative at all? Or heck, even read a book? Wow. Sometimes that’s a feat! And do some giant mental exercise of playing a board game (and against Sean no less)? Yeah. Not happening.
It’s critical. Probably more so for my family than yours, but I think we when we find ourselves on the go so much, visiting with all these wonderful, exciting people in our lives and all the opportunities we’re continually faced with, all the choices we have… and I think we actually start missing out.
On the little things.
Like cuddling on the couch with me on my laptop getting in this blog post, somehow managing to type with Eric sprawled on my lap watching Wall-E and Kate, pressed against my side, asking for my help as she does the puzzles in, “My Monster Can Read” app. Or when Kate sets up her board game, Unicorn Glitterluck from HABA and says to me, “Mommy play? Come here, Mommy, play.”
I need to be able to close my laptop, with no worries or stress — what I was working on can get done later (because I’ve scheduled downtime into our week meaning I can get it done later), and then, just play with her. Then play again because she had such a great time, and now Daddy’s up so we can all play together!
We’re starting to move into art because Kate’s interest in this area is growing, and this is part of the self-directed, homeschooling journey we’ve chosen for our family, to follow their interests… so I certainly can’t ignore her when she’s giving me this big ol’ hints in bright pink My Little Pony drawings, now can I? Or when Kate starts writing out numbers as her auntie rolls a bunch of dice for her Dungeons and Dragon character (hmm… I guess we’re gonna start those game sessions early so Kate can join in too!).
And it’s not just about Kate or Eric either.
It’s me too.
When my brain is stressed, trying to gauge the timing of everything, the endless little lists that need to be complete before I can walk out the door with my kids (teeth? clothes? shoes? hair brushed… well, no one will notice and we’re seriously running late). It’s overwhelming. So overwhelming that I can’t possible be creative at that moment.
And that’s what I need to start protecting, as well as making time for.
Or more to the point, daydreaming.
I used to be so good at this day. Boring day at school? Boring office job? Oh man, I had the coolest, craziest adventures going on in my head. But it also helped me fall into the stories I was writing… thinking about the characters… hearing their distinct and personal voices.
I know darn well that I need this quiet. If I want even a shot to tell a story I need to give myself the quiet time to simply let my creative voice come out and play. I need to turn off the podcast, because while informative and fun, I need to be bored. Bored enough to start hearing and seeing the story come to life.
And I’m really, really bad at this part.
I mean, there’s so much I want to do and so very little time I actually have, and this whole daydreaming thing? Oh, it’s so easy to put it off as “less important.”
Big ol’ sigh right here.
Which is about when I get stuck on a story. The words flowing out my fingers ground to a halt. I mean, sure I can keep typing, and with every darn word it just feels wrong. Like the story is starting to spiral in some direction that I can’t see, or even where it needs to go.
That’s one of my first clues that I’m missing something. That I lost the story or the character did something that they wouldn’t have done. Or I didn’t jump to the right place in time.
All I’ve got is this feeling, this creative gut-thing and it’s little (quiet) red-flashing light.
If I’m to busy, if my brain is overwhelmed and overworked, I practically miss it. Then I have to go and cut about 7,000 words of the new novel and redraft cause I was kinda missing the real important character emotion in there, or, at least the one that this particular story needed.
But, I’m learning.
Really, I am.
It’s taken a lot, of trying and trying again. And I’m constantly looking back at my weeks and days, looking at everything I’d like to accomplish and just what I and the kids can realistically do. Also too, that I need to be flexible. Sure, I’ve got some staples, like every Friday I host a Nature Day outing that’s open to all ages of homeschoolers, and while I used to never miss, I’m feeling the need to be flexible again. To go to Disneyland with Grandma or some friends (especially when it’s a hit-or-miss with people showing up). But that means I can’t stick in a whole lot in those mornings (or expect to do a whole bunch when we get home). I usually get in my fiction writing for that day and that’s it. So, Thursday can’t be over packed with outings or visits, or as I’ve learned, even short Disneyland trips (we tend to not want to move much the day after).
I just got a new scheduler that allows me to pencil in the week’s activities and goals. It gives me space to write and I can flow through the week, even write in times for when something needs to start and can it, really, fit in? That’s helping. It helps too to see across the top what my goals are cause if I fill out the whole box chances are, I’m not exactly being realistic.
Like I need to start getting videos of Kate and Eric to send to our speech pathologist. I’ve got a 2-week block to get it done, and it’s important. It also takes a lot of time. I can plan for that now. I can go with the flow if one day it doesn’t go well (or the actual video got messed up).
But I think the biggest part is really looking at yourself, at your family, and being aware. Temperaments, energy levels, driving time and do you honestly have enough time to make dinner from scratch and get everyone to bed before the sun actually rises and you’ve got to start the process all over again? And how about your own daily movements, hmm? Do you have time during the week to get in your hour-plus yoga session or go rock climbing?
I think this goes double for us homeschoolers.
I mean, there’s so much we can do! There’s so many opportunities, places to visit, classes to take, and why not jump into as many as we possible can?!
Well, you can.
And then it will either work for you and your family, or it won’t.
Or you’ll find yourself craving some of that quiet at home. Of maybe just taking the afternoon to bake some cookies, letting your two-year-old playing in the flour, measuring out cups to his heart’s content (and knowing full-well that’s not going in the batter if you actually plan on making, you know, actual yummy tasting cookies). Or perhaps cracking open some books, sitting and reading and seeing if your kids come wandering over because they want to cuddle and be read to.
If we’re constantly on the go, constantly moving, how can we allow for these quiet times when the real magic can happen? The real special connection when it’s just you and your kids.
Or, for me as well, me and my creative voice?
We each need some amount of the quiet, of this downtime, and it’s really, really hard to see it for how valuable and how precious it is. And it’s hard to look at the schedule and start saying “no.” Start crossing off visits or memberships (because then you feel this need and responsibility to use it).
Allow yourself, and your family the quiet, and then just wait and see what kind of magic happens.
Because really, it’s something truly special.
Like noticing that Kate had drawn butterfly and rainbow marks from Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash (if you don’t know, they’re My Little Pony characters). At that moment, I had no idea how well Kate knew them, even picking out the exact colors from the chalk to match the character’s colors (and without looking to double-check). And yet, when I stopped moving, when I gave us all this moment of quiet, I got another glimpse into her amazing little mind.
This, right here, is why we homeschool. This, right here, is why I’ve chosen to be a parent — and this particular kind of parent.
And I’m so glad to have paused long enough to see and experience this joy with her. (And then she asked me to take a picture and send it to Daddy, which, we did.)
So, think about your busy, busy days and remember to sometimes pause and see just how many rainbows and butterflies your young one is dreaming up.
Learn by Living
Published on ParentsandProse.com on August 17, 2017.
With everything I’ve got going, life is a bit crazy at times. Raising two young kids (late-talkers to boot), homeschooling, not to mention my own writing and publishing business, which I’m slowly resurrecting after surviving two years of my cute little boy’s existence. I also recently hosted Kate’s fifth birthday party, an event that wasn’t complete without a lost Elsa balloon and the said cute, little boy burning his fingers on the grill. My kids had lots of emotions that day, and because they did, that meant I did. But hey, that homemade cake was really good… even if I didn’t actually get a piece, and enjoy it, until we got home.
Life there’s a bit overwhelming, right?
And sure it’s not all crazy times. In fact, I have some pretty amazing moments and days with my kids, when I’m just so connected and in tune with them, but no question about it: I’ve got my hands full.
Which is why it makes perfect sense that here I am, now starting a monthly camping group. A small, intimate (and hopefully) close group of homeschooling families. People who simply fit together, who my kids will look to as their family-in-nature, exploring different State and National Parks, going on adventures and seeing where it takes us —
And… you’re probably shaking your heads at me, thinking I’m straight-up nuts. Crazy, even.
(Sean certainly thinks so.)
But to me, it makes perfect sense, a perfect fit really for this next stage of our journey.
At least for me.
I’ll back up a couple decades here to where this desire, for me, actually started. When I was younger… from like 7 (I think?) to 13, this was what our family did. Every summer we would be gone for a month or two at a time, camping and visiting every National Park we could fit in between the dog trials my parents were part of. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of places we’ve been, the different little museums we checked out during those years, but what I can tell you is that it gave me such a deep, profound love for nature. Something that is so engrained that it’s simply part of my core, of who I am.
But it’s also more than that…
It’s some of my absolute best memories with my family. It’s the time when I felt closest to them, and not even the big “events” like when we went to Disney World with relatives. In fact, it was more those little moments, those snippets of memories that are the most precious to me. Like when we’d drive out of Los Angeles in the middle of the night and head to Las Vegas. I have no idea why that direction always seemed to be our first destination of choice, camping at the RV lot in Circus Circus, but it was — and I loved it. Loved driving at one or two o’clock in the morning. The roads completely empty of cars and that desert… just so darn black. Not a single light in sight (for a bit anyway, and then they got really cool and really colorful). But that empty stretch of road, that blackness, was my favorite. It’s when I got to sit in the front seat and listen to all the Classic Rock tapes my parents had, from the Beach Boys to The Who, and I would just sing and sing and sing.
It was great.
Great connection, great fun, and also, a whole lot more. You see, as a parent and when we first started looking into homeschooling, those experiences gave me the insight I needed to feel confident and comfortable in our decision, not just to homeschool but to unschool (also called self-directed learning). When we, as a family, decided where we would go together. What would interest us most?
Like that Quake Lake up in Montana, just outside of Yellowstone, where a mountain literally slid off its top during an earthquake and created this lake. You can see the tops of pine trees sticking out of the water, like silent sentinels guarding a place where people died and homes were swept away, where now ospreys make their nests and leap into the air. It was eerie, with a a kind of stillness I’ve only felt a few times since.
But… I remember that place.
I haven’t been back since I was a child, but I remembered all those images, remembered the feel of the place. It left an impression on me, one I carry with me now, even as an adult.
Looking back on my childhood, I asked myself, what do I remember? What did I learn? And almost just as important, when did I learn it? Was it during school? Or heck, can I remember learning anything in school (we’re talking specifics here)?
And in contrast, what did I carry with me into adulthood?
For me, those answers were party obvious.
As a writer, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to explore and play with these places, the experiences that touched me most. I’ve written magazine articles for Women in the Outdoors, Jakes Magazine, and Montana Outdoors. I wrote about trekking on the Matanuska Glacier in Alaska, complete with ski poles and crampons as a teenager (and with all the emotions that went with being a teen). We hiked by ice climbers and looked down these brilliant, aqua-blue crevasses and the melting water literally falling down under our feet and into the ice. And yes, it was also cold and my feet really did hurt, but it was amazing.
Besides, how many other kids got to say they hiked a glacier? (I thought I was pretty darn cool, by the way.)
I also have a deep love for mountain goats, of all animals. You probably have never heard of them before, and yet, they’re my favorite. Why? Because I remember, in Glacier National Park, Montana, looking up at one of those black, craggy mountains with binoculars, trying to find this speck of white that my dad had claimed he’d seen (I never saw the mountain goat myself). But all the pictures I saw while we were there?
I thought they were beautiful. Majestic.
It was a love that again, I carried into adulthood. An interest that pushed me to write what became a lead article for Montana Outdoors (along with a few others) and ended up making me a good amount of money, actually.
And it was because of that love, the unique place that was Glacier National Park, which pushed me to try our first family vacation there. The result was a definite mix, especially the whole not-sleeping-for-a-month (Eric had decided the vacation was a great time to start teething). But I got to see my mountain goats, holding my six-month old boy, and yes, I cried.
It was that beautiful a moment, that touching for me. I can’t wait to go back.
We also stayed two days in Butte, Montana so I could sneak in some research in between the needs of my kids. Butte, you’re asking? Never heard of it. I hadn’t either until some family vacations took us through there and again, a place left an impression on me. This one wasn’t as obvious as the mountain sliding into a lake, but no less powerful. I have an entire historical mystery series set there, as well as a whole new fantasy world. Also, Eric got to hang with me (literally, he was in the baby carrier) while I got a personal tour of the Dumas Brothel Museum.
All of this stayed with me. Something I saw or experienced as a child, something I learned by living.
This was why our decision to homeschool came so easily to us, especially in regards to self-directed learning. All I had to do was look at my life, at what I remembered growing up, and the answer was there.
Just sitting there, waiting. All I had to do was trust in it, trust in my children to learn, just as my parents had trusted in me.
Also, just like I’ve been waiting so anxiously for when the moment was right, when I could start this journey of exploring and camping with my kids. When they got big enough so I could, you know, actually enjoy parts of the trip and not just be in work-mode the whole time.
The camping group I’m putting together is small. There have been opportunities to join some other large group camping events, but that didn’t work for me and my family (for me it’s a mess of anxiety with all those people I don’t know). But a small group? A chance to really connect, to form some deeper friendships? That I can totally do. Especially when you get together the right group of people, people whose energies really compliment each other, especially those who share this deep love of nature, who believe a childhood in nature is essential.
I’m really, really excited.
And I’m excited for my kids. In my heart, I know this will be an even better opportunity for Eric. For late-talkers, one common thread is when they go to new places, have new experiences, you’ll hear new words start coming. It’s not a guaranteed thing, but what can happen, when they’re ready, is the experience itself becomes this little shock to the system. Or maybe a little rocking motion to get things going. Something new and exciting and super fun and the words just kinda pour out without them being able to contain it.
Again, my intuition is telling me this will be good for Eric.
Also when we’re camping he can simply run and be himself, to pee on rocks and trees. I mean really, nature is a place where our rules, ones we’ve laid down as adults, simply don’t apply. And for strong-willed little explorers, with their own (very opinionated) little minds, this is a good thing. A good experience for them.
So yes, this camping group is an added load to what I’m already carrying, but for me, it’s worth it. Worth it to finally be at this place, to share this experience with my children. One I’ve looked forward to since before they were born. And I hope I can give them the chance to build their own memories, follow their own path, and have it not be regulated to only those summer months when school is out.
They can do it every day, as often and as long as they like. And not only that, but building a community of friends and family around them, kids of so many ages, to share and grow up with, to follow their lead and learn through living.
Wow. What an opportunity. One I’m so jealous of, but just can’t wait to get started… and see where this next adventure takes us.