Tag Archives: kids

Maniacal Mathematics

Arithmetic is where numbers fly like pigeons in and out of your head.  ~Carl Sandburg, “Arithmetic”

I homeschooled my oldest son until 5th grade. When we would study math, he could work numbers so fast in his head that I had to try to race him on paper to see if he was getting the right answer. I let him work them however he wanted; he was a natural, so why mess with something organically brilliant?

There was a blithe certainty that came from first comprehending the full Einstein field equations, arabesques of Greek letters clinging tenuously to the page, a gossamer web.  They seemed insubstantial when you first saw them, a string of squiggles.  Yet to follow the delicate tensors as they contracted, as the superscripts paired with subscripts, collapsing mathematically into concrete classical entities – potential; mass; forces vectoring in a curved geometry – that was a sublime experience.  The iron fist of the real, inside the velvet glove of airy mathematics.  ~Gregory Benford, Timescape

I myself didn’t even like math until I began to study Einstein, relativity, and the rest of the mind-blowing theories of how to understand the world. I began to appreciate that math wasn’t just a torture device, but was actually a way to investigate reality itself.

Mathematics is not a careful march down a well-cleared highway, but a journey into a strange wilderness, where the explorers often get lost.  Rigour should be a signal to the historian that the maps have been made, and the real explorers have gone elsewhere.  ~W.S. Anglin

My son has been doing less than stellar in high school math. We received his abysmal honors Algebra II class grade (on the same report card where all the other grades were A’s) only days after he brought home his standardized test results: he is in the upper 90th percentile in all areas.

Twice two makes four seems to me simply a piece of insolence.  Twice two makes four is a pert coxcomb who stands with arms akimbo barring your path and spitting.  I admit that twice two makes four is an excellent thing, but if we are to give everything its due, twice two makes five is sometimes a very charming thing too.  ~Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky

Now for me, I give little credence to any of those random numbers: the tests, grades, percentiles. That’s not reflective of reality. That’s not math. That is an attempt at control, an enforcement of policy, an effort to remove all vestiges of the individual and place him or her on a spectrum of value compared to the rest of the population.

So what to do about a horrifically bad grade? Is it the teacher’s fault? Is it the student’s fault? Is it the subject, the number of students in the classroom, the bureaucracy, the textbooks or the lack thereof?  Is it the age, the weather, the parents’ lack of involvement or the fact that they won’t push their offspring to conform, chopping off bits to fit their kids neatly in the box the way the PhD’s have decided they should?

Although I am almost illiterate mathematically, I grasped very early in life that any one who can count to ten can count upward indefinitely if he is fool enough to do so.  ~Robertson Davies, “Of the Conservation of Youth,” The Table Talk of Samuel Marchbanks

All I can think is how, when he first started school, they wanted to put him in remedial language arts because his spelling and punctuation were atrocious. When prodded, the teacher acknowledged that, yes, the content of the writing sample is well above grade level.  So, the part of the writing that a monkey couldn’t do is amazing…

Although he may not always recognize his bondage, modern man lives under a tyranny of numbers.  ~Nicholas Eberstadt, The Tyranny of Numbers: Mismeasurement and Misrule

Within a year he was in the AIG program. The announcement was something to the effect of: Congratulations! Your child is gifted intellectually! I swear to heaven above if we had the funding, we would actually provide him with some great resources! Now go on about your business! As you were!

I know I am just his overprotective Mama, certain my little angel is right in the face of any evidence to the contrary, defending his inherent genius against the Big Bad school system with its infallible judgments rendered against the very soul of the intellect. I am surely, pathetically, unforgivably blind to any of his faults – my darling could not possibly be lazy or apathetic or rebellious or *gasp* unable to grasp a concept!

Sometimes it is useful to know how large your zero is.  ~Author Unknown

I want to cry when I think of the days he and I spent playing with numbers. Adding, multiplying, strategizing, using them to build and bake and live.

They’ve done nothing but use their suspicious numbers against him. Against all of us. I will defend my boy against any of their numbers, big or small.

I hope someday he remembers that he and the numbers used to be friends, removes them from the clutches of the pencil pushers and rebuilds a meaningful relationship with them.

One of the endlessly alluring aspects of mathematics is that its thorniest paradoxes have a way of blooming into beautiful theories.  ~Philip J. Davis

My Little Bookworm

What a marvelous feeling, the unfathomable pride, the unmitigated joy, to walk into a room and find your two-year-old engrossed in a book!

You watch for a moment, quietly, from the doorway, the birds chirping gleefully, the bunnies hopping gaily, the happiness overflowing.

This is what it’s all been for!

This is the moment that makes life worthwhile!

How could the world be any sweeter?

And then you realize…

She had to dig through an entire shelf of books to find the one she wanted!!!

There ain’t no rest for the wicked, I tell you! There is no reward without a ji-normous mess following close behind!!!

(Or did she READ all those books… Hmmm… maybe we can spin this back the other way… He he… yes, she is a genius, not a slob… I feel so much better about picking up all 748 books…)

Public Child; Private Child

I don’t want to control my children’s every move. I don’t want or ask them to perform like trained monkeys in front of company.

But is it too much to ask that they let a little bit of their awesomeness shine through when other people are looking?

My four-year-old is the  most cranky, anti-social crabapple in the world when he encounters people he’s not familiar with. Hell, even if he’s seen the person a hundred times. He puts his head down, has a sullen look on his face, and mumbles rude things if he says anything at all.

Although thankfully he is over the stage where he would call them “Stupid!” to their faces without provocation. So I guess we’re making progress.

For the record, this is what he looks like most of the time when no one is looking:

Irresistible smile.

Infectious goofballness.

I’m gonna make up business cards with this link on it so when he’s acting completely horrible to people who don’t deserve it, I can redeem him (and me!) somewhat with the evidence of who is really is.

That’s my boy.


Healthy Snacks

We are big snackers here. I want to revamp the meals I fix as well, but I want to start with what is available to munch on because I think we usually have too much junk.

Guiding principles: homemade, low sugar content, whole grains, fresh whole foods when available/affordable, nutritious and delicious!

(Another secret goal that I will never admit to so “I’m just speaking hypothetically…” *nervous whistling*… is, if my child snacks too much or too close to mealtime and isn’t hungry for dinner, I won’t stress about it. Because heck, if my kid has just munched on an apple, some cashews and a homemade oatmeal cookie, I’m thinking that’ll get ’em where they need to be.)

So here’s my sketched up list of…

Snack Staples

  • cut veggies (usually carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, bell pepper)
  • cheese (sliced by me or string cheese)
  • hard boiled eggs
  • muffins or cookies (loaded with whole grains, nuts, dried fruit, or other tasty nutritious ingredients)
  • homemade granola (again, whole grains, nuts, etc.)
  • soy milk
  • fruit (in season and as we can afford it, although we almost always have a bag of apples on hand)
  • dried fruit
  • nuts
  • homemade bread or roll (whole grains/nuts) with some kind of topping (peanut butter, nutella, cinnamon & sugar, etc.)

I’m hoping to come up with some new ideas of things my kids will love (and forget about how much they loved the pre-packaged stuff.) If you’ve come up with something fabulous that your kids love, please share it in a comment! We could come up with a huge wonderful list of awesome snacks!

Here’s a pic of my “Breakfast Cookies” which are as healthy as can be! For the recipe, read this post: New Project

Dream of Drumming

Last night the little ones (2 and 4) were in super-hyper-bouncy mode, as opposed to their usual, overly energetic mode, and I thought, hey, fun, let’s drag out the drums. I have two djembes, one my husband brought back from Ghana in 2006, the other I bought in Santa Cruz almost 20 years ago.

Which reminded me, shortly after I pulled the drums out of their hiding spot beneath my desk and the kids were banging the living crap out of them — I always wanted to practice drums.

And after I tried to “have a turn,” I remembered why I’ve given up that dream, over and over. Here are the two things my kids will do if I’m playing on a drum, trying to get into the rhythm and lose my thinking self in the beat: 1. try to drum on it with me or hold their hand down on the drum head, or 2. lay on the floor kicking and screaming because their half hour turn wasn’t long enough and they want another one immediately. Neither of these behaviors contributes in any constructive way to practicing a drum.

The only time I’m able to do anything by myself, uninterrupted, is when the kids are asleep. And have you ever tried to drum while someone is asleep? It’s not going to end the way you’d hoped, I’ll just tell you that much.

So I’ve managed to pursue, in small increments of fits and starts, some other, quieter interests such as reading and sewing. But the drumming? Just something I tease myself with on occasion when I think, won’t it be amusing all around if we pull out the drums?

Good luck with that.

I Quit!

I want to quit caring if my kids are happy.

Can a person do this?

I will always care if they are genuinely suffering. I will always respond to that.

But the whining because they don’t want beans for dinner?

The whining because they feel too lazy to find something to play?

The whining because it’s too cold for a trip to the park?

The whining! The whining! THE GOD-AWFUL WHINING!!!

I can’t be held responsible for it anymore. I don’t believe it’s genuine suffering. It might FEEL like genuine suffering. But it’s a choice. An unfortunate, soul-crushing, peaceful-home-atmosphere-destroying choice.

I can’t care anymore. I’ve cared for almost 20 years. I’ve tried to respect their feelings, understand where they’re coming from, be responsive and supportive.

But I have to take responsibility for my own happiness. No one gives a thought to what I’m feeling.

So guess what? I will continue to do my very best as a homemaker and parent, providing what my family needs and some of what they want, making good meals, keeping the house a place for creativity, fun, relaxation and joy, but whether a child takes advantage of any of the good stuff I’ve done or not is THEIR problem. Starting NOW.

I am committed to sitting at the table and enjoying every bite of whatever I’ve cooked, even if there are people wailing in agony because they don’t FEEL like having rice for dinner.

Tough! Yesterday I cared, but then I quit. Good luck!


Patience has three stages. First, the servant ceases to complain: this is the stage of repentance. Second, the Sufi becomes satisfied with what is decreed; this is the rank of the ascetic. Third, the servant comes to love whatever the Lord does with him; this is the stage of the true friends of God. — Abu Talib al-Makki, from Essential Sufism

According to this outline, I am firmly entrenched in stage one.

If I read these kinds of things as a regular human, I can get in the groove. So wise!

But if I try to see it through the lens of a parent, it begins to make no sense. Asinine, even.

How can a person be expected to be satisfied with what is decreed when that person is given the ability to think up creative projects and the will to accomplish them, but they are surrounded by small creatures interrupting their work with alarming regularity?

How can a person be asked to love that the Lord requires the person to feed 7 people, when each of those 7 people has their own specific taste buds and hankerings and isn’t shy about declaring their intense displeasure at the food being served?


Hence — I’m stuck at complaining.

I have my good moments. If I feel like I’m teaching a child something new, I am patient as all get-out. I can accept that they haven’t learned it yet, and I love that I have been put in the position to impart the knowledge and skill to survive.

But when I’ve freakin’ told you 400 times just in the last hour, and you do the opposite of what I taught you while looking at me out of the corner of your eye with a devilish grin?


When I just want to finish this sentence without being interrupted for the 38th time and then I forget my thought again and in fact I forget where the whole post was going and I end up rambling like a fool…

Thank you, dear reader, for your patience. We have experienced technical, two-legged giant-mouthed difficulties and will have to suspend our transmission until next time.

In the meantime, good luck being patient, and wish me the same. I need all the help I can get.

The Choice is Yours

I used to think that parenting was all about helping kids make their own choices. After years of experimenting with this philosophy, I’ve had to adjust so that I don’t let my kids slam too many doors before they’ve even had a peek through the keyhole.

Looking back on my own life, I realize how huge every decision was, whether I made it for myself or my parents made it for me. Even seemingly small choices become huge divergences on the path of life.

Yesterday I took my 15 year old son to sign him up at a new high school. He wanted desperately to stay at his old one, but for various reasons such as our having moved out of district, not to mention the price of gas, the new school is a necessary change.

I felt terrible about it until we’d gotten him his new schedule which includes drama and computer classes. I feel like he has something to look forward to and can meet some people with similar interests.

He has chosen not to continue to play football. This feels like an even bigger decision to me, just because there are so many benefits and good memories generated by participating in school activities. While I don’t care about the pigskin in particular, it is the only sport he has experience in, and at this level of organized sports it’s too late to start something new.

I knew I had to turn this choice over to him.

I know some parents would push, some would push hard, but I just spoke to him seriously, trying to impress upon him the implications of his decision. But I know, having been a teenager, that there is no way he can possibly understand how big every decision is.

At this point, even though he is choosing, the responsibility for the future consequences falls on me for letting him choose.

Some days, this huge weight feels too big to carry. But somehow I take another step and move on to the next fork in the road.

The Pain of Joy

Shadows and Light - Grand Canyon, 2007

I’ve been reading a lot of Buddhist philosophy lately, which keeps me mindful of sensory experience, the fleeting nature of thoughts, interbeing and the simultaneous possibilities of suffering and joy.  Our animal nature instinctively wants to avoid pain and seek pleasure, and so the idea that we might accept both of these in order to reach joy takes some getting used to.

Parenthood has taught me a lot about accepting the paradox of opposites emerging from the same situation, existing in the same space and time.  Among other mind-blowing revelations surrounding my first child’s appearance on this planet, it occurred to me that as I gave birth, I also gave death.  We cannot bring a person into the world without simultaneously condemning them to face their last breath someday.  The pain of joy!

So philosophically I’ve understood the idea of the connection between pain and pleasure, but my body finally truly got it the other evening.  I was driving to teach my Spanish class and mentally reviewing the events of the day, which included some wonderful news from several members of my family.  I began to feel proud, relieved, excited, happy.  Instead of judging these feelings as “good” or “pleasurable,” I just felt them as they welled up.  I quietly watched how my body was responding to these emotional thoughts.  (Somehow I kept driving too… not the best situation to get distracted by an awareness exercise, but that’s about the only quiet time I get these days.)  My eyes were tearing up, my chest was squeezing tightly, my breath was shallow and strained, my head felt like it was going to explode.  From my removed perspective, I realized that it felt exactly like grief.  This overwhelming wave of happiness resembled exactly my recent experiences with crushing sorrow over the loss of my Grandma, except that normally I would have labeled it “good” and so it would have felt amazing.  When it is about something “bad” then it feels awful.

I’m not sure what to do with this new physical awareness. Does “good” become tainted with “bad”?  Having seen the man behind that curtain, do they both become irrelevant?  Is there no longer pleasure or pain?  Can we trick ourselves into thinking “it’s all good!” and avoid pain forever?

The Overlook - Grand Canyon, 2007

Is there a new place to dwell, a mountaintop above these paradoxical dualities, where we can see something more true and real than animal emotions and senses which flash hard and random like lightening through our conscious minds?

Attachment Parenting At Every Age

My situation is unique.  True, every family is special, but I think the typical family in the US seems to consist of two kids, maybe three, spanning no more than 6 years apart from oldest to youngest.  These aren’t real numbers, I’m just speaking from observation.

Garth (14) and Gwen (1)

For me to have five children makes me strange right off the bat.  But for the span between oldest and youngest to be 17 years, puts me pretty far off to the side of normal.

Something that occurs to me again and again: by the time most people have teenagers, they are done talking and thinking about babies and toddlers.  There isn’t much interaction between the newer Mamas and the more experienced Mamas because they all seem to seek out parents at a similar stage of development.

Hank (3) and Rose (18)

And as much as the parents of older kids don’t feel the need to relive the younger years, I think perhaps the parents of younger kids don’t really want the more experienced ones around anyway.  There is an idealism that might be necessary to new parents that older parents just cannot stomach anymore.  The new parents in the 21st century are determined to forge a new path, and there are a lot of old paths that could use some serious detours.  But the weathered edge of cynicism of experienced parents might tarnish the vision the new parents strive towards.

So what do you do when you’re new and experienced?  As a Mama who could currently join a parenting group for a child at just about every stage, I feel like a fly on the wall who gets to listen in on everything.  And I often don’t know what to say to people.  When they see me with only the baby, they’ll say, “Just wait until they’re teenagers, then you’ll be in for it!”

Olivia (8) and Hank (3)

Why do we try to scare new parents with horrible scenarios of the future?  No wonder they don’t want to listen to any of the things we could tell them that might help.  Or if folks see me with one of the older ones, they’ll say, “At least you’re done with all the diapers and terrible twos!”  Why would we feel relief to be done with a time of simple joy and unlimited promise?

And so I enjoy the company of other parents, being the comrade of whichever stage parent I happen to be hanging out with at the time, keeping mostly silent except to talk shop about the age of child currently at hand.  I feel lucky to be running the entire gauntlet of ages at present, occasionally looking up from my juggling act to see the big picture – seven individual paths crisscrossing within the same household, running vaguely parallel but each following its own unique rhythm, contributing its own distinct sound to the harmony (at times discordant!) of our life together.