Monday, November 28, 2016

When TV is real

When I was five, the Brady Bunch aired on TV. I watched the Brady Bunch, and not understanding that the show was produced for TV, I was convinced that my family was also being watched by other families. I thought I was on TV all the time. I stood up straighter and tried to walk like Jan Brady, straight and deliberate. Jan was a middle child and so was I, so of course, I had to be like Jan. I looked all over our house for cameras until my sister Kim caught me and, after a brief spurt of ridicule and laughter, explained to me the difference between TV and real life.

Of course, I understood the difference between TV and real life: I knew cartoons weren't real. And I knew the Brady Bunch were on TV, but unlike any show I had watched before, this seemed real--a family in situ. I guess I was  anticipating reality television. I thought that if that family could be on tv, my family could too. I remember how it felt to believe that I was being watched.

In college psychology,  we discussed the experimental bias that occurs when subjects know they are part of an experiment, and I flashed back to how it felt to "be on TV" for a week. It's on my mind this week because of mom and the trouble she has distinguishing between real and TV. I have to be careful about what kind of TV mom watches.  Even Disney animated movies can cause her distress. I try to remember when she is confused, how it felt to believe with my whole heart that my family was on tv. I don't want her to feel afraid or watched, when I can help her. And I know she knows the difference between tv and real, just sometimes, the files in her brain mix up the things she is genuinely worried about, with the ones in her "recents" file.

This weekend, Florence Henderson died. The news caused mom great distress. She is worried about dying. She tells me all the time that she is in great health and there is nothing wrong with her, but she doesn't believe it. She says it defiantly, daring me to disagree.  She also always wants to know how old every one was when they died, and if she is older than the person who dies, she says, "well, they weren't very old." This weekend, when she found out that Florence Henderson died unexpectedly at 82, she became convinced that she would die at 82 also. "I guess I don't have that long, I'm already 80."

To change the subject, I asked her what was on her Bucket List. I had to explain that a bucket list was all the things you want to do before you "kick the bucket." She sat back and thought awhile, then said. "I have already done so much more than I imagined I would when I was a kid in IdaMay.
 I moved out here and got a job and learned to drive. I had 4 kids, I went to school and learned to cut hair. I have been to Hawaii on an airplane, and to Alaska on a cruise... I can't think of anything I need to do yet.  I guess I can kick the bucket anytime."

I laughed, and said "Oh no you can't." I hugged her up hard and said, "you have some great grand kids to see born and some dancing to do, you have songs to sing and ice cream to eat."

She said "we have ice cream?" and headed off to the fridge.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Thoughts on education

Before I started homeschooling my own kids, I didn't have strong opinions on education. I'm not sure I had any opinion.

Now, I have lots of opinions. My opinions run counter to many, and I don't expect anyone to believe what I believe. That doesn't mean I won't share.

First: Children are not blank slates. I don't think this is an opinion, its a fact. I know John Locke  postulated a theory about tabula rasa and that many other educational theories are based on the idea that children are inherently nothing, until we mold them.

Sorry, nope. Having had two kids of my own, and assorted nieces and nephews, and a slew of homeschool friends kids around, I can assert positively that children are born with an operating system that functions all on its own. They like and dislike stuff, love and hate foods, and have a host of subroutines that you discover as you spend time with them.

Second: The idea that a child can get behind. This is an opinion that is widely quoted in educational literature as a fact--especially for curriculums pushing early reading or math skills. Get your child ahead! My response is always--ahead of what?

 My sister is a preschool teacher and she said something to me that I thought was very profound. She said "curriculums come and go, but child development hasn't changed. Kids, especially preschool kids, are the same now as they were 100 years ago, or two thousand years ago."

People will argue about this--what about the exposure to media? what about traveling in a car? Eating food from the grocery store?

Ok, our world has changed. But babies start out the way they always have. Being carried, crawling, putting everything in their mouths, walking, climbing--all the same--all over the world.

So why do we think in the First World countries that we can rush our kids to an Ivy League school by pushing early reading and math--and why doesn't anyone in the school system question this idea. In Dayton, the mayor has endorsed a tax proposed by the Learn to Earn coalition to fund for early learning. I have many issues with this , but most fundamental is that early learning thing. The Learn to Earn Coalition cites a "broad range" of research (unspecified) about early reading and success.

My opinion is based on my own experience. My son was an early reader--not because we taught him to read, but because we read to him. My daughter, read a little later. I think you cannot teach a child to read who isn't ready to read, or math to a kid not ready to do math.

 What are robbing them of when we stick them in a classroom at 3 to learn early reading? Maybe we are robbing of them of the chance to have success? Maybe we are robbing them of being a discoverer. Maybe, by putting them in a an early learning situation with expectations and outcomes for which they are unprepared, maybe by labeling them as "behind," and putting them in remedial classes, and giving them IEP's and disability managers, maybe, we're crippling them.

Monday, November 7, 2016


So, I am a homeschooler.

I didn't set out to homeschool. I have a son that's an alien. He was allergic to everything. Dust, mold, trees, milk, soy, wheat, cleaners, peanuts--you name it, he was allergic to it. Not from planet earth.

When he was school aged, but not compulsory school aged, the pediatrician suggested I hold him out a year to see if he outgrew any of his allergies. He said, "He might not have to be the kid with the epi-pen." By the time he was five, my son and I had had enough experience with this allergy thing to know, being the kid with the epi-pen was not a good thing.

 Folks fall into two categories when it comes to allergies. There's the dangerous group, which tends to be men of my dad's generation that think allergies should be overcome by will. "What do you mean he can't drink milk? It's good for him." One friend's ex-husband falls into this category. He tried to make her son eat foods he was allergic to because he saw avoiding them as disobedience. One daycare person my son was exposed to was in a sub-category of this "won't hurt 'em" camp. She would give my son milk when a holiday was coming up,  because kids with diarrhea have to stay home until 24 hours from their last solid BM. The daycare used to survey parents to see how many would need services on say Martin Luther King day, a bank holiday, but not a retail holiday. I always had to work. But if my son had diarrhea, well than I was out of the running. And it was only a little allergy.

Then there is the second group, people who are scared of kids with allergies. They follow your kid around and ask "is he allowed to have this?" I understand when the kid is a baby, but at 5, my son knew what things he could and couldn't have. He knew to check if he wasn't sure. It was always hard for him to have adults snatch his food away and bring it to me to see if he could eat this cookie or that yogurt.

We decided to stay home a year. And it worked. He outgrew his milk, soy and peanut allergies. But when he was six, the school wouldn't enroll him in first grade, because he hadn't done kindergarten. I asked for him to be tested. They refused. So, we stayed home another year. Our vacation in October cost a smidgen to what it would have cost in June. Our kids were thriving. "Why were we trying to enroll in school?" We never looked back.

So, I am a homeschooler. I have developed strong opinions on education and the direction our country is moving in its educational policies.

Occupational Therapy

One of the challenges of spending time with mom is keeping her busy. With a house and yard to look after you'd think it would be easy, especially as she was raised on a farm and used to thrive on hard work. She still talks about working outside. She is always complaining that my brother won't let her cut the grass. But Alzheimer's has affected her ability to perform complex tasks like laundry, or tasks that require planning, like cleaning a bathroom. Its hard to "help" her. If she is having a really bad day she can go about tasks in ways that are messy. Not a big deal, but its normal to intervene when you see someone overflowing a pot with water----but mom's reaction is unpredictable. She may laugh and say "oh, look what I did," or she may have a an angry outburst. She doesn't like to feel managed."

This weekend, I helped her fill her bird feeders and sweep the back porch. It was hard because she'd hidden her broom. She hides things. She doesn't know that she has hidden them. She sometimes claims the kids are coming over and hiding her stuff, but she doesn't know which kids--sometimes she says my brother "is a scamp." I cannot tell her that her middle aged a scamp wouldn't drive up from Hamilton to hide her broom--she doesn't remember how old he is. We never found the broom.

I pulled an old broom out of the garage--hardly more than a handful of straw left on it--and set her to sweeping. I left the back door open and the dog out to watch mom. Then, I went in the house, ran the vacuum, washed the dishes, wiped all the tables and the counters down, grabbed up all the old newspapers she will never let me take away and cleaned out the fridge of food that she's always going to "heat up in a minute." I tied up all the trash and carried it out past her to the dumpster. I was inside ten minutes. She was sweeping exactly where I'd left her.  The dog was asleep in the grass.

I came up next to her and said "Isn't it a beautiful day?" and she threw the broom down and said "it's too cold." She went in the house and closed the door. I picked up the broom and stowed it away, shut the garage and went in the house.

Mom said "oh honey, here you are! Do you want a cup of coffee?"

I said "What have you been up to?" and she said "oh just cleaning up around here."


I remember last winter with mom as hard. I look at my journal of those days, and it seems like she was always grumpy. I had hoped it was just the adjustment of the move, but now I am thinking its more that short days don't agree with mom. She's an outside girl.

Last year we worked on embroidery together. It was hard. She had trouble following a pattern. I had to find small, easy designs that still looked nice, and I had to help her by color coding the patterns, so she would put the right thread in the right place.  This year she can't focus on the pattern long enough to embroider. She can't thread her own needle. She can't fasten her own embroidery hoop. She  doesn't remember the work she has already done, and complains that someone has messed with her hoop. It's been months since she's embroidered anything. Although, she loves to tell me about the luncheon set she embroidered for Lulie Burns when she was "just a girl," she can't actually embroider any more.

One thing she loves are pictures. This weekend, we took a bunch of pictures and put them in a photo album. I let her tell me all about each picture, if she remembered who the people were, and I told her all about the ones she couldn't remember. Always careful to introduce the memory by looking long at the picture and saying "Isn't this that time..." Or "look at your hair...." so she could "recognize the picture and tell the story back to me. 3 hours of fun.

My sister called just as we finished the album and mom told her all about how we were putting pictures in an album and having so much fun. I cleaned up all  the cut paper and debris from the table. Mom came in from the phone and sat down at the table. She turn ed the album towaard her and looked at it. "Is this your book?" she asked me.