Christmas

Christmas has felt a little different to me this year, since I haven’t been around on weekdays. It’s also been a bit odd because our living rooms is full of furniture. Village Free School is moving to a new location over Christmas break, and we’ve been collecting and storing some furniture to help them set up in their new space.

This means that the Christmas tree is squeezed into a fairly narrow slot between shelves and tables. And since I wasn’t around much, most of the decorating was done by Nathan, with occasional “assistance” from his sister. He did a splendid job in my opinion, although he had little patience with untangling strings of lights, and mostly just put them up in large globs.

We followed our usual tradition of opening one gift per day leading up to Christmas, and that worked well again. Next year I may even put them out under the tree and see if Mica has developed enough executive function not to rip them open. And this year, partly because I was gone so much, we did our Christmas cookie baking on Christmas Eve. This was, as usual, all about frosting and insanely large piles of sprinkles.

But the most exciting part of the day was undoubtedly that evening, when I looked up from cooking dinner to see traces of white on the ground. In record time all three kids were outside, where a thin layer of hard, pellety snow was busy accumulating. It was really more like a combination of freezing rain and ice pellets, but they didn’t care — for them, all those snowy Christmas cards were coming true.

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Title And Salary

I have a job — by which I mean, I now have the sort of job that comes with a title and a salary, not the sort I’ve been doing for the last eight years that comes with neither.

This has changed some things around here. I now get up before anyone else in the family, not to have time to myself (although the house is very quiet), but to beat traffic up into Portland. I spend all day working with other adults on intellectually strenuous problems. At lunch I read my book; at the end of the day I drive home alone, listening to a book on tape or classical music.

Dave, meanwhile, has been packing lunches, taking the kids to school, and handling dentist appointments. He takes his laptop to school and tries to squeeze in a little work while Mica plays with the other kids, returning periodically to be fed. This week he has also started making dinner during the week — for the second night in a row I returned home to a hot meal.

The boys have expressed mixed feelings about this change. On the one hand Dave asks much more work of them than I do. (When I gave Dave my list of weekly chores, he expressed confidence that he could train the kids to do them.) On the other hand he has also raised their allowance. There are clearly pros and cons to the situation.

There are pros and cons for me, too. Most of my hobbies have been put on hold, at least until we can move closer to Portland and I can spend less time commuting. On the other hand I am meeting new people, doing interesting work, and getting way more reading done.

Overall the family seems to be settling in quickly. Soon I suspect this will feel entirely natural.

Just A Picture

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End Of Summer

One of the advantages of homeschooling, I always felt, was not having that artificial transition at the beginning of September — from the heady freedom of summer to the rigid schedule of school. I really enjoyed, in past years, the sense of sailing right over all the Back To School hype, and just letting the natural pace of the season unfold.

So I feel a slight wistfulness this year, because now that we’ll be going to Village Free School for three days each week, it definitely feels like a transition. One that I’m looking forward to — there are a variety of things going on this year that I’m excited about. All the old staff is returning, but they’re adding some new interns and volunteers, including one from Germany and one whose business card lists him as a “visual storyteller.” And I know there are plans in the works to try out some new project tools, and to introduce some new concepts this year.

Most exciting of all for me is that the kids are looking forward to school as well. They’ve really missed some of their schoolmates over the summer and are looking forward to seeing them; plus Nathan this year is planning on doing Project Time and working on his animations during it. (Dave has fixed up his old laptop for Nathan’s use.) I am really looking forward to seeing him engaged in Project Time and all the other Room B things that go along with that. My sense of Nathan for a while has been that he’s been transitioning out of his early-childhood mode, and becoming ready for new challenges and ideas.

Hopefully there will be lots of those going forward.

Quiet

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I’ve lived long enough with city noise that I’ve become accustomed to it. Just as there is never true darkness in the city (nor, sadly, in increasing amounts of the world — thanks, light pollution!), so there is never really quiet. Even in the middle of the night, some neighbor is awake, and anyway there is always the sound of traffic.

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But I grew up with quiet. Not silence, which on Earth is only a relative term, but a lack of that ever-present, ambient human noise. It was an everyday thing when I was growing up to hear the trees move in the wind, or water lapping against the shore; those sounds weren’t buried.

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Now when I visit my dad’s house I always notice it. Even walking on the beach with my family, I notice it — sure, there are children’s voices and footsteps, but there are also pauses in between, and there it is: Tiny waves spilling over stones. Leaves drifting against each other. Endless, and unaffected by me.

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When I was young, home — more specifically, the beach and woods around our house — was sanctuary, and my sense of it remains to this day. This sense of quiet is tied up in my sense of safety. When I spend a little time there I feel myself relaxing instinctively. There is nothing to prove, nothing to fear; it is entirely permissible simply to be.

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My children almost certainly lack that association. Or do they? I know I’m not the only person to respond this way to being away from the ever-present sense of people. Someday, when they’ve gotten old enough to express their self-reflection, I’ll ask them. For now I think it’s enough to be there with them.

Guessing Wrong

It’s easy to become complacent about the boys, to believe that just because I’ve been around all their lives, I get them. It’s therefore always a bit of a wake-up when I discover that I’m totally wrong about something.

Most recently this was brought home to me by The Art Book For Children. I got this from the library partly on a whim, partly by a recommendation, and thought it might well be one of those library books which is hardly opened. I loved making art as a child, but I was never much interested in learning about art history. The boys, who show only minimal enthusiasm for drawing, I thought would be similarly uninterested.

Then again, I could have reminded myself that I don’t always make good predictions about their reading interests. Only a few weeks ago I was surprised when Ryan, for his bedtime reading, worked us all the way through a book on shells — one aimed at children years older than him, talking about things like layers of calcium carbonate and how the structure thereof differs between a snail shell and an egg shell. Then he started us re-reading it again immediately after having finished.

He was the same one who picked out the art book and brought it to me. And yes, it’s written in an engaging style, and skips around to various artists from various times, so it doesn’t read like an art history book so much as an eclectic introduction to the wide world of art. (It would probably be better categorized as “art appreciation.”) Ryan seems more interested than Nathan; on the second night we looked at it he took me back to the Botticelli page for a re-reading. They both spent some time examining the page of optical illusions, and they both wanted to skip the Picasso page.

This is yet another reminder to me that they are simply in a different place in their lives. My world is full of ideas or subjects that I’ve chosen to pursue or not to pursue — and if I’m not careful, that choosing has ossified into a knee-jerk reaction. I am interested in biology, pre-modern history, and fiber arts; I’m not interested in politics, sports, and art history. I sometimes forget that the world is vast and fascinating and I am still just a neophyte in it, and that in any case I am a vastly different person from who I was even a few years ago.

But the boys, with fewer preconceptions, engage differently. That doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of arbitrary snap judgments — when I try them on a new recipe I hold my breath. But they haven’t already written off art history as probably boring, so a book about art doesn’t generate the same automatic reaction in them as it does in me.

Thank goodness. Because I’m enjoying this book too.

…And Done

The presents are gone; the stockings are empty. There is that languid December 26th feeling in the house, which I can best describe as “absence of anticipation.”

There are still traditions to come, of course. This year in addition to my taking-down-Christmas frenzy which I still hope to do on New Year’s Eve, I’ve also scheduled a Family Meeting. The topic is “What new things did we try this year, and what do we want to make happen next year?” I’ve no idea how that will go for the rest of the family, but it’s getting my brain going.

And I’ve done my other traditional post-Christmas task: creating a list on my computer for next Christmas. Next Christmas I’ll be totally organized, have all my ducks in a row, presents completed by October, advent calendar out on December 1st… You know the drill. The routine may be futile, but I find it comforting.