A MESSAGE FROM ONE STAY AT HOME MOTHER TO ANOTHER.

Scrolling through various inspiring mommy blogs the other day, I stumbled across this beautiful website, mindfulandmama.com and I'm honored to do a guest post. I'm Zoe, and I'm a stay at home mama. I have a blog called ThinkBaby.org, in which I write about the excitement of parenting three little ones, from flying diapers and beyond! 

Glancing this beautiful website, I saw so many incredible topics and work that these women put into every piece of their blog, but there was one post that stood out to me: Stay At Home Motherhood: Resisting The Urge To Be Shut-In, by Angi. Reading it, I could relate to a lot of what Angi was going through and feeling, as I too am a stay at home mother. I'd like to do a bit of an add-on post to hers and talk about some of the things I've learned and gone through as a stay-at-home mama and how to overcome the slump that often follows!

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Since the day my husband and I found out we were pregnant with our first child, he took on the role of being the partner working outside of the home. We were able to sustain this for a little while but by the second pregnancy we required a second income. At that point, I had fallen into quite a bit of disaster with several aspects of my life because I'd been home for so long. The first year was hard. Being a stay-at-home mom often sounds like a dream come true. You get to spend endless amounts of time with your babies, never missing a second of their growing up. In that regard, it definitely is! But with the aspects of friends, family, social life, freedom, and mental health, there can be deleterious effects.

From a mom that learned the hard way- it's extremely important to find a way to balance these facets of your life and make time for yourself, otherwise it can mentally and physically drain you. Because of my seclusion at home for so many years, when the time came for me to get another job, I was so antisocial that I developed social anxiety, a fear of going out and finding a job, and of being around people (and that's not like me at all). I eventually ended up working from home as a writer, which is how I started my blog (you can read more about how that came to be here). But I also lost a lot of opportunities, a lot of experiences, and a lot of friends. Overall, this whole 'mothering thing' wasn't turning out to be exactly the 'dream' I expected, and no one needs to feel that.

It's taken me a long time to learn and adapt to this lifestyle, but there are so many simple ways we can incorporate balance into our lives, ultimately benefiting ourselves and our health.

One tool my husband and I use is childcare sharing. Everyday, when he gets home, he takes care of the baby and spends time with her while I relax, draw a bath for myself,  and do things I enjoy for a few hours. This may not sound like much, but if you're an overwhelmed and overworked mama, it can serve as a mini getaway.

Making time for yourself while the baby sleeps is another important step. You don't have to monitor them or hold them if you need respite. Make use of those moments when your glass needs refilling. It can be your time to catch up on work or have a silent cup of coffee. I started doing this everyday, and a huge weight of stress has been lifted. If you're still not sure about it, jot down some ideas in a journal, during a spare moment, to help you transition towards it. Doing it this way helped me to adapt over the course of a few months to 100% guilt-free personal time (if you'd like more ideas about self-care, you can read my post about it here).

I admire the women at Mindful + Mama for being so open about the struggles inherent to Motherhood, as I've been in this place as well. I still don't like to go out, I'm still not the most social girl in the world, but I make time for the things I enjoy.

Even though you have a baby in your life, you needn't forget about the things you enjoyed before your little one came along. Life truly is about balance, and if we don't have balance, we're likely to have a rough go of it. No mother wants to look back upon memories with their children and remember the frustration, just the beautiful journey, so please take care of yourself, Mama! You deserve it more than anyone. One simple step at a time, and you'll be there before you know it.

-Zoe 

ODE TO A MOTHER- Claiming Our Stories.

With tremendous effort I was pulling off an A in public speaking. I was determined as a grown woman and a mother of three, to prove I was a capable student for the first time in my life. No one in that classroom knew I didn’t feel the least bit grown up. The magical transformation from insecure-people-pleaser, to self-assured-no-apologies adult, had passed me up. If anything, I felt incapable of claiming the attributes that I had earned with age and experience. I had know idea how to interpret my authentic life as a personal power. I just knew how to hide it.

That day was no different, especially considering the circumstances that I alone knew. It was of no consequence; I was living in the same uncomfortable skin I always had, regardless of what happened. I told myself, ‘stuff it down, it’s your superpower. Just tell these people why community supported agriculture rocks, and pretend you’re fine. You know the drill…’

I inserted the thumb drive that contained my colorful PowerPoint presentation. I took a deep breath and turned to a classroom full of faces. I said “Good morning…” and than I choked. Organic veggies where the last thing on my mind. My eyes welled up with tears as I attempted to form my next words, but the truth forced its way up and out, “...I can’t do this.” My professor looked confused. He urged me to continue, reassuring me I could. But I walked away from the podium. I yanked my thumb drive from the computer and grabbed my backpack as I headed toward the door.

“Emily, if you walk out on your final you will not pass this class.” But I kept my head down and walked straight past him and out of the classroom. Later when I emailed him, I was grateful for the final grade he gave me. He understood my inability to function that morning; not many people have an affinity for public speaking after finding out that their mother has just been arrested.

I had grown accustomed through my childhood to all the terrible things I overheard about people like us: we were lazy Welfare recipients, getting rich off of hardworking taxpayers, not contributing to anything in society… worthless. I looked at my shoes while people glared at us in the checkout line at Goodwin’s grocery store. My mom ripped our food stamps from the allocated stipend the government gave us each month, and presented the paper card that identified her as a bonafide failure of a human with kids. We took our peanut butter, milk and ground hamburger meat and left the curses of my mom behind us as she ushered us out of the store.

We walked home along the same roads, laden with plastic grocery bags banging against our bodies. My mom had owned a car once, but I was too young to remember. I was used to walking. My big sister shifted the weight of groceries uneasily; terrified someone from school would drive by and see her this way. I can recall how often heads turned back to get a better view of my beautiful mom; her tight blue jeans, laced up boots stomping through puddles, a cool green eyed glare and a flashing white smile.

She was young and beautiful then; the recipient of breast implants (a Christmas gift from my ex-stepdad), accompanied her unblemished skin and petite body. People often marveled that she had kids at all, especially the stupor of suitors that followed in her wake wherever she went. The assistance she received from the state was billed to my father. He made a life for himself elsewhere with whatever was left over. My step father had left when I was 7 but not before leaving his marks on my mom. I imagine that many women are welcomed to a world of poverty and single-momdom this way. The odds are forever stacked against them

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The many homes we lived in through my childhood were hardly ever our own. Turns out the cash aid for a family consisting of one single mom with two dependents, doesn’t stretch very far. We lived with whatever boyfriend of my mother’s would put up with her and her “baggage”. It never lasted long. We lived in over 15 houses from the time I was a 2nd grader up until middle school. On the rare occasion that the rent was cheap enough for us to find a rental of our own, we would be so far from town that it was impossible to function. Without a vehicle, we hiked a heavy distance to and from the school bus stop. We ate the free lunch and later piecemilled dinners together with whatever was left in the fridge. I had only one friend whose parents would allow her to even come to the various houses we lived in, and I am proud today to know someone was there to witness what a wild world we made for ourselves.

Did my mom use the money and the food stamps to buy nutritious food and toilet paper? Did she pinch pennies and save so we could have a better future? So she could get a car, and than a job, and eventually wean us off the government's breast?? Of course not. She threw that money away when she had to: for dance lessons, for donuts on my birthday, for a new outfit from MacFrugals. She took us out to dinner on Saturday nights at the Big A for hamburgers with french fries, and gave us money so we could spend warm days swimming with the rest of the kids at Lake Gregory. By the end of the month we were packing our belongings into trash bags, my mom plucking butts from the ashtray outside and pacing back and forth with a short stub of cigarette hanging from her mouth. She would frantically glance up the street until Tom, Dick or Harry’s vehicle came into view and shuttled us off to a new place.

Getting rich off of welfare meant my mom slept through depression for a good majority of the day. We watched the same 5 VHS movies on a daily basis and filled the gaps in between with Nintendo. School attendance was often optional. When I couldn’t stand the dark, quiet pushing down on me inside, I took long walks through the winding hills in our mountain town, trying to get lost, knowing she would wake up and be sorry that I was gone. But I always knew how to get back home in the end. And I always wound up missing her first.

By the time I was in high school, many things had changed. My mom had given us a baby sister; a widowed mother, infant in arms, she could have fallen apart, but she didn’t. Through the support of her family, she won a court settlement of $60,000. This was for the removal of her ruptured silicone breast-implants. She wasted no time in pulling up her bootstraps. She moved us away from that god-forsaken town and purchased an old, faded blue, Ford LTD. She paid rent on a house for a full two years and moved us in. She got a job working nights at a local coffee shop. She took her wisdom of poverty and established a division she named “Special Projects” through the local church. It was a charitable cause that focused on assisting single mothers and getting them back on their feet.

That short time that spanned the life of what we called “mom’s boob-money’, was about 3 years total. During that time, I was given the greatest gift of my childhood; the opportunity to see who my mom could be. She wasn’t lazy. She wasn’t a low-life, dependent of the state. She didn’t pop out kids to collect a fatter welfare check. And she definitely didn’t choose the circumstances that had left us miserably poor for the majority of my life. Given the opportunity, she thrived. She helped other people that she knew were struggling like we had. She became a roll model for me for the first time.

But the effects of silicon in her bloodstream for the past 10 years, had taken its toll regardless of the riches it bestowed upon us. There were still days she couldn’t get out of bed. She had planned ahead and after waiting on a list for section 8 housing for more than 2 years, we were accepted. We moved into an apartment and my mom became a real welfare queen, paying rent that was $28 a month. She worked limited hours as a waitress, and spent the majority of her money medicating the pain she was daily living through. She had been diagnosed with Lupus, and than Reynaud's Syndrome and later, some kind of throat condition without a name. She kept medicating to get up and going. We knew that her good moments were sponsored by uppers, and that days of darkness would follow.

I moved out at the first glimpse of 18. My 4 year old sister spent a great deal of her childhood bouncing between my older sister’s house and my grandma’s. Eventually, wherever she was when she was away became more of a home than the places my mom was living. It turned out my mom couldn’t come up with her $28 rent. She was back to couch-surfing. Life got harder and so did the drugs.

It seems crazy now, but it was hard to feel sorry for her. It was even harder that day as I fled the college campus, cursing her name as tears ran down my cheeks. She had kept collecting the meager Welfare allotted to her as if my little sister were still a full time dependent. She owed the state the money she had unlawfully collected. She had been trying to apply for social security, trying to get a correct diagnosis, trying to keep living while the world, and her family, and even her daughters, slowly gave up on her. She was cuffed and taken away in the parking lot of her public defender.

We couldn’t pay bail. I was terrified my mom would show up to her trial date in an orange jumper, cuffed, without legal preparations. She would be dressed, playing the part of convicted felon in front of a judge who was yet to determine if she was even guilty. All praise be, a shitty X-boyfriend ended up paying for a bail bond to get her out. She would later be acquitted of all charges, but not until the stress and mental fatigue had pushed her half into a grave.

In the last years of her life she was diagnosed with scleroderma. It’s not a well known disease. It’s fatal, causing chronic and painful hardening of the skin and tissue. She had been dealing with this illness, and misdiagnosed since I was 10. Turns out Welfare queens don’t get the best medical coverage.

I realize that many people have made it through harder times than these; that single-momdom and welfare don't always end with tragedy. But in hindsight I see that poverty had it's clutches on us in ways that we could not have broken free. I spent my youth trying to defend my mom against the judgments of well meaning middle class Americans: “Why doesn’t your mom just… get a job...stop sleeping all day...spend less time worrying about that boyfriend…?”  I hear the same comments about specific groups of people today and I quietly cringe.

There are so many people in this world that are just trying to make it through the day.  I witnessed my mom live an entire life this way. I got a glimpse of her looking to the horizon, and making expectations for herself but it was too late. A lifetime of dependency, of willfully being a victim of her own means, and unwillingly being a product of poverty, led to her young death. I will always carry a sadness with me that she died in a state of ruin. But her absence has taught me that our story is one to own. It is pivotal that I examine it, and inspect what we were, as opposed to what I thought we were; or what I allowed other people to say we were. I am a bigger person when I claim this youth of mine. It fills me up, so that I no longer meet every obstacle with a “fake it ‘til you make it” philosophy. I am good enough, just as I am. And so was she.  

-Emily










 

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EMILY

Becoming a human-vessel made me a mother, but it also taught me who I am as a woman; literally, I didn’t know that I had a uterus or that it was super bad-ass, until after I picked up my first Bradley Method book. Four home births later, my husband and I have maintained a sense of humor while maneuvering the daily failures, lessons and bonds, that parenting provides.

      My brighter moments are spent homeschooling outside in the Sierra National Forest with other wild families, and pursuing a slow and steady education towards attaining my BS (I will never not think that is funny). Other days you can find me: eating pineapple even though I am painfully allergic, actually running out of gas, and crying in public when strangers show empathy with one another.

     

 

ACLU FLASHBACK.

As much as I’d like to imagine myself dressed in George Washington-esque garb, with one foot up on the bow, chin up, bouncy white curls blowing in the winds of democracy…. I confess to feeling mostly inadequate when it comes to taking up space in the world. I have a difficult time naturally being comfortable outside of my own happy home, let alone being thrust into a group of 300 strangers and forced to openly discuss the state of affairs in our country. Needless to say, lobbying sounded like the last thing on earth I would be good at. But here I digress: the ACLU  (American Civil Liberties Union) would provide childcare for the first time at a seminar in Sacramento that aims to empower constituents with tools to mold our government and change unjust laws. (Thank you, Tamara, for insisting that mothers with children are a valuable force when it comes to changing the world.)

I could take my two older children with me to a full day of training followed by a day of lobbying at the capital. I could demonstrate what I so often preach, “we can do hard things.” I could show them, and in doing so possibly fail miserably, which would be something else that I can’t shut up about: FAIL is an acronym that stands for First Attempt In Learning. I had no excuse not to do this thing. We would confidently march through those white pillars dating back 125 years, past metal detectors and armed guards, and hunt down our states assemblymen and senators so that we could figuratively and literally open new doors to express our demands as “we the people.”

I didn’t do this thing on a complete whim. This winter I had the pleasure of attending a training course by the ACLU in Fresno. I felt assured that a woman like me: white, middle-class citizen, living in a systematically white supremacist society, had a bit of a duty to learn more about the existing laws that make our society just so. I have discovered things that make it impossible for me to ignore, feel shame about, or perpetuate, what being white is. A host of books led me to seek out a new education of what history has held for “not white” people. I could contribute in this demand for justice that so many people have been fighting for, year after year, trampled constitutional right, after trampled constitutional right... way before it got cool; people who have led lives cursed by a fear under existing laws and witnessed the brutality left in the wake of lost liberties.

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I have hope that a new privilege; one where I acknowledge the lives of these people who have battled hardships outside of my knowledge: Black, Latino, Asian and native people of color- will enable me to hear their wisdom and face the challenges ahead with camaraderie. These races and many others have left timelines riddled with their rights ignored. They continue to challenge this country for interpreting them as “not-white” in an attempt to end the repeated crimes against them, ones that benefit the wealthiest and the most powerful. I am aware that my interpretation of life is often rosy in comparison to those battling systematic racism. I don’t know what it personally feels like to be judged based on my race, but it is imperative that I hear the stories from those who do so that I can understand what life in America looks like outside of my white veil.

In the first workshop of our day-long training, I was able to choose between several very necessary and important topics. Some of them I felt I had a grasp on already from reading, so I made an effort to attend the workshops that offered knowledge about topics I was mostly unfamiliar with. The first workshop I attended was called “ICE out of California”. I learned what it means to be a sanctuary state, and how the law is being broken by our local authorities. Each time an officer ignores our 14th amendment, arrests “people” and detains them without due process of law, our laws become worthless. These authorities then deliver people to the hands of immigration and customs authorities (ICE), an action that is prohibited under the law.  

And I can already hear my very conservative community telling me, “If people can’t make a good decision then the government has to make it for them…” I can get on board with this if we are talking about children, which is the common analogy people make; sometimes my kids, all 4, decide that the dinner I prepared for them is not their favorite, but I demand that they eat it anyway. But parenting is an authoritative role, a dictatorship if you will. And passively defending our law enforcement by these tyrannical concepts not only undermines the battles we have fought through history to create and maintain our democracy but also allows the rights that you value as a citizen to be jeopardized.

The first step I can take to protect myself from those who would hand our rights over to a dictator is to understand the laws that are being broken; like (Senate bill) SB 54.

“California Senate Bill 54 effectively makes California a “sanctuary state” by legalizing and standardizing statewide non-cooperation policies between California law enforcement agencies and federal immigration authorities.”(Federation for Fair American Immigration Reform)

This is the current law, regardless of any federal lawsuit that aims to attack our states attempts at establishing very standard rights for undocumented immigrants. Other bills such as (assembly bill) AB 450, and AB 103, are also included in this attack. We often acknowledge that the system is flawed in our state and our country when it comes to handling the lives of the 11 million immigrants living here. These bills are attempting to make strides to correct those flaws. It is “unfinished work” an ACLU veteran named Korina explained to me. She is not fighting with an unrealistic goal to fix all the injustice in our world but to continue chipping away at it. Demanding rights for all people is her walk in life now. She may not see the benefit of her unremitting determination, but she is well aware that the struggle is worthy.   

When other people suffer under the law of our land, we all suffer. Doing nothing about this issue is leaving a clear path for those who would ignore the rights of others. We are mothers, capable of empathizing with a woman who is ripped from the clutches of her children, slandered as a “criminal” without any due process of law, and detained while she awaits deportation. It is a nightmare to imagine. When others call her an “illegal” or a “criminal” we know she has a different name within her family. We know how needed she is and valued she is for her role as a caregiver. The deficit she leaves when local authorities assist ICE in yanking her from the community like a weed is not available jobs for citizens or less criminal activity. The void left when we allow people to be nothing short of kidnapped is a vacancy filled with anger and hurt and massive shortcomings for those who depend on her.

“Alejandra Galacia, 35, said she hardly left her home, not even to buy groceries, the week of the ..arrests. The Lamont resident said she worried about being separated from her three young daughters.” (Andrea Castillo, New York Times)

History has so much to offer us when it comes to unjustly marking someone as a villain without first trying them in a court of law. Our country has made this mistake over and over. The 14th Amendment reminds us that we have rights as citizens, but also that any “person” in this country is entitled to respect under the law:

“...nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Our communities across this state and others are standing idly by while a precedent is set; one that tells undocumented immigrants that they should be afraid, that reporting violence, or criminal activity in their own lives, will likely result in them being torn from their families. How can this fear make us safer? One day of lobbying won't save the world from tyranny. This battle continues every time I speak to another citizen who narrowly defines a group of people as “illegals”. And while our federal laws and state laws continue to conflict, I will reach out in my community to volunteer, and speak up for those who cannot.

If you feel like your own voice has a passion and purpose, I full-heartedly recommend looking into joining the ACLU. I also recommend talking to someone who disagrees with your views because it's easy to get tunnel vision and forget that usually we as people are not as polarized as we think we are (thanks, Dad.)

-Emily

 “From the equality of rights springs identity of our highest interests; you cannot subvert your neighbor’s rights without striking a dangerous blow at your own”

-Carl Schurz

 


 

 

 

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EMILY

Becoming a human-vessel made me a mother, but it also taught me who I am as a woman; literally, I didn’t know that I had a uterus or that it was super bad-ass, until after I picked up my first Bradley Method book. Four home births later, my husband and I have maintained a sense of humor while maneuvering the daily failures, lessons and bonds, that parenting provides.

      My brighter moments are spent homeschooling outside in the Sierra National Forest with other wild families, and pursuing a slow and steady education towards attaining my BS (I will never not think that is funny). Other days you can find me: eating pineapple even though I am painfully allergic, actually running out of gas, and crying in public when strangers show empathy with one another.

     

 

WHAT’S IN A NAME? Letting Labels Get the Better of Our Curiosity.

It’s easy to call the things we don’t understand “weird”.  It’s natural that when we aren’t accustomed to a person, or a place, or a thing, suddenly a feeling of apprehension may rise up inside of us. Often times when a situation gets weird, what it really becomes is something we have yet to understand.

I fall prey to relying on my ego like any other well-meaning human. I get nervous and my armpits start sweating when I’m forced to openly deal with situations that unfurl outside of my comfort zone. Thankfully, crows feet and stretch marks advance with wisdom. I am at least aware of this universal fear; being the last one to know, or worse, being totally wrong about something in the face of others. This shame that accompanies a lack of knowledge thwarts me from moving forward, prevents me from asking questions, distracts me from actively listening to an offered explanation, and ultimately halts me from being the best version of myself. I should be proudly demanding a better understanding of the world around me, not shrinking from my duty as a lifelong learner.

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Unfortunately, our egos seem to retaliate at the first signs of humility, throwing out an obstruction to block the concepts that we haven’t collected enough information about. Instead of displaying the vulnerability necessary to learn something new, we resort to quickly labeling something: “That is so gross…” “He seems really strange...” “You’re weird...”  What we are really sharing about ourselves with these statements is that we haven’t yet learned anything necessary to make an honest judgment. The ego says, who cares, say something quick. And out comes the least bit of knowledge we have; “Whoa, what a freak…”

All these labels got me thinking about prejudice; those thoughts that determine who or what someone is based on an accumulation of brain garbage: like bottom of the pyramid jokes, about sexism, race, or disabled people; “harmless” and oh so foundational for all the “real” hurt that we condemn at the apex level. I can’t make it through an 80’s family movie now without pausing multiple times to explain to my kids why someone would find domestic violence or overt sexual objectification entertaining, or why people of color are demeaned into portraying one type of character over and over. These were the movies that raised me. It takes effort to peel the labels away and see things for what they truly are.

As a mom, my job is to fill in the blanks a handful of times a day as my children discover new things and inadvertently quiz me on them. My prejudices become discriminations once they are out of my head, acting as a guide to my kids. My first defense against foolishly labeling things is to harness enough strength to get vulnerable. Channel your inner Brene Brown and give other people in your immediate vicinity courage to do the same. Say bold things like “I know nothing about that” or “I am open to learning about that”.

Prejudice is a sneaky F’er. It can disguise itself as well-meaning; like telling a kid who's worked hard to achieve something that he or she is “smart”. It’s a compliment that adults once dished out to us as children, and we now feel compelled to do the same. My son labors through long division, and gets the wrong answer, and starts over, and fails again, and through tears and my insistence, he tries again. He has the right answer now. And my prize to him is this label; “you are so smart”, an empty compliment that’s got negative consequences down the road.

Later, when he is without my praise, and the world around him gets unclear, or complicated, will he remember that I told him over and over that he was smart? His ego will have grown with his size, and he may choose to rely on what I told him instead of identifying and dealing with confusion. He may refuse the lesson, or the struggle to understand, based on all that he already knows because he’s “smart”. “That looks lame” he may say, about some kid performing a monologue; about a girl asking him to dance at Sadie Hawkins; about a backpacking trip to the desert with some friends... Smart people know things, they don’t actively engage with new concepts that look challenging. Being smart is a full-time job, and if it’s the nicest compliment someone has given you, why wouldn’t you work against trying new things or ideas in order to keep being the same old smart?

What I needed at his current age was someone to glorify failing. If someone had demonstrated that wrong answers lead to right ones, that being good at one thing doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of struggling towards victory in other areas, I would have been less likely to throw in the towel on so many things that I was curious about. I could have had the liberty to try the things that only my heart knew I wanted. Imagine a grown up not complimenting a young girl on how pretty she is, or how strong her brother is, and instead asking them with positive vigor, “what challenged you most today?”

How can we get past our first line of defense, our ever ready egos, and respond to new situations with carefree curiosity? Let’s be baffled and enthralled and let labels have the day off. What if we placed more value on wondering? I am attempting to parent by harnessing the magic of learning. It’s painful sometimes, addressing the plethora of things that I don't know. I am grateful each time my quest to understand leads me to ever more brilliant questions. I strive to be a student of life and hope to give you permission to do the same.

-Emily




 

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EMILY

Becoming a human-vessel made me a mother, but it also taught me who I am as a woman; literally, I didn’t know that I had a uterus or that it was super bad-ass, until after I picked up my first Bradley Method book. Four home births later, my husband and I have maintained a sense of humor while maneuvering the daily failures, lessons and bonds, that parenting provides.

      My brighter moments are spent homeschooling outside in the Sierra National Forest with other wild families, and pursuing a slow and steady education towards attaining my BS (I will never not think that is funny). Other days you can find me: eating pineapple even though I am painfully allergic, actually running out of gas, and crying in public when strangers show empathy with one another.

     

 

GOING PUBLIC ABOUT HOMESCHOOL- Making the Shift to Teaching at Home.

I confess to thinking “no thanks” when a trusted neighbor brought a book to my house about homeschooling. I flipped through the pages, nodding in agreement as she insisted that keeping all of my kids at home with me would yield “more freedom”. I kept my judgy ole misconceptions to myself: homeschooling was for persnickety parents, ones who placed too much expectation on what a public school should provide.

I had read and reread "You Are Your Child’s First Teacher" by Rahima Baldwin Dancy. The first five pivotal years of my child’s life had and would continue to unfold in the nurturing/stimulating nest of our home. After that, public school would be their side gig. I hoped my kids would get a good gleaning of knowledge from the professionals before they came back home to me. They would be homogenized humans; normal, but brilliant. I would not shape them into tiny, weird, sheltered, idiots.

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My discomfort with confrontation meant that I learned very little from the exchange with my neighbor that day... I could have asked questions or made stupid assumptions that she would have been happy to clear up, but no; my goal in situations such as these was to prematurely wrap up the conversation no sooner than it had started. My own idiot ego wanted to quickly slap a label on something instead of understanding it. I acted like an unknowingly prejudiced fool. (I have progressed since then into a self-aware prejudiced fool…)   

Kindergarten started, and I spent the first school year mostly proving myself right: public school was a wonderful experience for my 5-year-old daughter. I witnessed her gregarious nature on Tuesdays when I played teacher’s helper in the class. Haven loved the games played in a giant circle on the rug. She liked talking to people and being challenged and pridefully following all the rules. I didn’t realize at the time, but the number of creative projects, flashcards, and homework that we were completing at home had a great deal to do with Haven’s academic success. I was basically homeschooling without a personalized curriculum.

It wasn’t long into our kindergarten endeavors that I noticed the same experience was not being shared by all the kids in Haven’s class. A group of younger kindergarteners spent the first part of each morning crying for their mothers. In a room of 32 kids, the teacher had little sympathy to extend to this group of mostly boys. The kids, whose parents engaged in their little lives outside of school, all sat at the “red” table. The Roy G. Biv smart scale trickled down to subsequent tables all removed from one another.

I watched in agony as the more privileged kids established who got to be friends with: someone shy, someone wearing knockoff Skechers, someone whose unbrushed hair was not styled by adoring parents. The kids who weren’t mature enough to not make fart noises all the way to the pencil sharpener (more than half the boys) had to learn the hard way by having privileges taken away. After half a school year banished to sit still during the times actually permitted to move, the boys began to begrudgingly shut up and sit semi-still.  

But Haven seemed a perfect candidate for all things public school. She thought the way her teacher laughed without smiling, in response to a million kid’s stupid stories, was hilarious, not offensive. She made friends and played with different kids on a weekly basis. I adored completing every monotonous art project they sent home with her: creating something with 100 items, building a leprechaun trap, handcrafting valentines, celebrating the Chinese New Year by constructing a giant, embellished dragon head that could be worn by a small child… (okay, that last one was all me, desperate for praise, which I got and totally earned. That dragon was kick ass).

Haven was all set by the end of summer to continue her public education into the future. She would become a first grader in the fall. I would continue pulling her from slumber each morning, dressing her appropriately, packing lunches, driving to and from class each day, and helping her complete the assigned homework required to keep her ahead. But that summer, my idea of what school was, came to a screeching halt when I visualized Bowie walking through that same kindergarten door.  

He would be that younger student with a September birthday. He was emotional and quiet and intimidated by rooms full of noise and people. He would not receive a reprimand to “cry quieter” with any constructivism when he missed me during those first hours of class. What was I to do? Wouldn’t he become a tiny weird idiot if I sheltered him? Was public education a tool to weed out mainstream learners, and file the rest accordingly by table? What table would society want to shove my son into? Who would be there to give him the attention he needed to thrive?

I would.

I finally picked up the book. It was "The Well Trained Mind" by Jessie Wise. It sucked me in, terrified me, blew my mind, and intrigued the apprehensive, creative freak right out of me. Holy shit! I was a homeschooler!

I want to tell you that it was all easy peasy from that moment on, but it was terrifyingly difficult at first. Being responsible for the education of a person is intense (all praise to teachers everywhere!). Being suddenly responsible for the education of two persons, while entertaining a toddler and breastfeeding a newborn infant was f’ing craze balls.

But, the one thing that was guaranteed? I had more freedom. My neighbor was absolutely telling the truth. I lived in a pair of pajamas for months, didn’t brush my hair or concern myself too much with what my kids looked like, as long as they were put into the tub on a weekly basis and had an assortment of food thrown their way. It was survival, but I never had to force something. I got to be me, and my kids got to be them.

I remember the day Bowie and I finished "Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons." There had been absolutely nothing easy about it, but I was so proud of us. He could read. And he could do it in his underwear nestled beside me, where fart noises were permitted. I realize that homeschooling isn’t a choice for all families or even a desirable thought for others, but being an advocate for my son’s needs was personal, and I feel grateful that life permitted me to provide him with a learning environment that considers who he is and how he best learns.

After six years of homeschooling, I am still certain that it is the best fit for our family. I have learned the value of failing and how teaching to mastery takes more time than most classrooms can allow. We are life schoolers; absolutely not sheltered, unabashedly weird at times, but able to persevere through failure because messing up is learning.

I want to thank Genevieve, who humbly offered me books, solutions, and options that were unconventional. You enlightened me to homeschool and homebirth, and to ultimately enjoy my role as a mother.   

-Emily

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EMILY

Becoming a human-vessel made me a mother, but it also taught me who I am as a woman; literally, I didn’t know that I had a uterus or that it was super bad-ass, until after I picked up my first Bradley Method book. Four home births later, my husband and I have maintained a sense of humor while maneuvering the daily failures, lessons and bonds, that parenting provides.

      My brighter moments are spent homeschooling outside in the Sierra National Forest with other wild families, and pursuing a slow and steady education towards attaining my BS (I will never not think that is funny). Other days you can find me: eating pineapple even though I am painfully allergic, actually running out of gas, and crying in public when strangers show empathy with one another.