Monday, January 28, 2013

Happy Wolf Moon (or, a Love Letter to My Son)

Dear Rowan,

I wrote this the day of the Wolf Moon of 2013. That moon hung low, yellow, and pendulous in the sky this morning, pre-dawn as you and I drove your father to work. We sang, "Look up, it's the moon!" to you in the back seat. Did you know that we sing every day now because of you?

Yesterday, we celebrated your birthday and your grandparents from both sides trekked to see you and spoil you rotten. You had kids over to play "Bozo buckets", pin the tail on the donkey, and to bust a piƱata. You got gifts and affection and attention galore. I made a pink dragon cake for you and added to my birthday playlist on my iPod. I brought out the felt banner that I made for your first birthday, and the green pillar candle we have had since your birth altar that we now burn on your birthdays. I had everyone sign your special book that we have had since your baby shower.

It was three years ago on the Wolf Moon that I labored with you. That day was an adventure and uncharted territory for me, but it was nothing compared to the adventure we are having together now. Motherhood is amazing and I am so lucky to have you in my life. You make me laugh and smile every day and I am so grateful for that. We learn and share, grow and change- together. You are my favorite person and I love you so much.

You were born in the San Francisco Bay Area and we currently live in Columbus Ohio. We'll probably live here five or so more years. We moved here for you- a sacrifice, yes. I use the word not to martyr myself, but in the original meaning of the word- "to make sacred". As parents, we opt to make decisions that we would not make if we were single and childless. And we do it with joy, freely and lovingly. We moved to Ohio because needed a cheap place that was closer to extended family and a support network (so we could get back on our feet financially while still giving you a childhood worth nostalgia- one with playing outdoors, music lessons, and camping vacations).

Right now, daddy is working to get back to college, and mama is working on finishing her grad degree, too. Once we have those pieces of paper, we will have better skills to support our family the way we want to- flexible schedules (so we can spend oodles of time with you!) and decent wages for our work (so we can live somewhere nice with you and give you experiences worth having).

Here in Columbus, we have the ability to pay off student loans and live cheaply (as students with a kid are wont to do) for a while. We don't plan to be here forever, but while we are here, I get to show you wonders like snow forts and lightning bugs. We have a great zoo, an amazing library, and cool science museum for kids here. I am unschooling/homeschooling by choice-  as the different child of weird parents, I want you to live as free from judgment and scorn as possible. As your main teacher, I set a few goals, but you choose most of where and how we learn. Here in the midwest, you get to experience not-so-subtle seasons as the Wheel of the Year turns and we teach you about nature, the sabbats, and the world around you.

I cannot wait for the next phase of our family's evolution- back west, but to a new city. In the meantime, I am enjoying every minute of your preschool and early elementary years here in the Capitol City. We are in the right place for this time.

I love you so much.

Love, Your mama.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Watching My Son Grow: Goal Setting

I have always be a "do-er". I am a list maker, a goal setter, a strategic planner. I also believe in letting kids be kids and letting play and natural exploration govern their learning. So how do I strike a balance between these two philosophies with my son?

Introducing... "The Rowan Station"! It is a kid-height bulletin board in our kitchen that helps Rowan focus on things we (his father and I consult on these things with Rowan) think he needs to work on. They are interests that come up (Soon he will be taking violin, for example. I never would have picked that instrument- Rowan picked it. (I am more of a drum girl, myself.) I look forward to rusty hinge noises during practice for the coming years- groan!), as well as developmental milestones, and age-appropriate topics. We pick five- it seems like a reasonable amount of things to juggle and maintain interest without being overwhelming. With five things, we can switch from topic to topic, so nothing gets boring or seems like we are drilling him (what could divert enthusiasm faster?).

Right now, as Rowan approaches his third birthday, this is what he is working on:

1. Phonics. He knows his alphabet, and is about halfway through knowing the sound of the consonants. It's very exciting, and we cheer him on and tell him how close he is to learning to read himself. He is so excited to learn to read. We go to the library weekly and check out a huge tote bag full of books. We get him picture books as well as young adult chapter books that aren't overly scary. Right now, besides picture books, he is hearing stories from Rudyard Kipling, Maurice Sendak, and Roald Dahl. He loves books and memorizes the shorter ones so he can tell the stories to himself when we are not reading aloud. It is adorable.

2. Manners. Oh my. How this mama wishes that manners were an innate quality humans have. But alas, my preschooler is a beastie with no sense of propriety. Manners is an umbrella term we are using for respecting others and being a good citizen, family member, and friend. What are "bad manners"? Littering, crowding people, watching people in the bathroom, staring at others while in a restaurant, chewing with your mouth full, picking toe jam or your nose at the table (ugh!), and interrupting conversations (particularly with shouting, whining, or demands). We are focusing on giving people space, privacy, and table manners while eating right now.

Rowan scored very high in problem solving
in his preschool assessment. Here he is,
piecing a puzzle together.
3. Numbers and Counting. We are spanning the bridge between knowing the memorized sequence of numbers in their order and using that to actually count objects properly. We have him in the kitchen when we cook, "helping us" by counting out tortillas, for example.

The first three items are things we are actively working on, daily (and Rowan is right there, on board). The last two items are things that he is ready to do, according to all the experts, but is not doing as well as he could be. We have them on the list as a reminder to the adults that we should be putting the idea out there and raising the bar gradually on these items.

4. Getting Dressed and Undressed. He has shown no interest in actually doing it himself, which surprises me. He is so eager to be a "big boy" in other areas. We ask him to put on his jacket and after we get the zipper in the right position, to zip it up. He can put on his own frog boots (although he still has not mastered which foot!) but it is harder for other shoes without pull-up handles. He shows no interest in dressing himself, but wants to pick out his own clothes. I think the next step will be that he gets to pick out things if he is willing to put them on (or try).

5. Potty Learning. We would love for him to be actively trying, but right now he isn't. We ask all the time if he wants to sit on the potty, but right now he would rather use a diaper. He actively poops in his diaper instead of trying the potty. Sigh. We are not pressuring him- what's the point? There will come a time when he is ready and it will be a quick process when that time comes. In the meantime, it is something we keep reminding him of because he is at the age to start sometime soon.

If you notice (in the first picture), he also has a small calendar on the board- to teach him about the passage of time. He is curious about it and uses the words "today", "tomorrow", and the days of the week incorrectly at times. So I wanted to show him what they actually mean by using a calendar. I put events on there that will help him mark the passage of time (birthdays, Friday Family Fun Night, potlucks, storytimes, etc.), and we have him cross off the days as they pass. I am hoping that by using a visual aid, he will come to a better understanding of this abstract concept.

How do you teach your kids (both academic subjects at home and life skills)? Do you set goals, either privately amongst adults or including the child(ren)?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

My Yule, Appalachian Christmas, Mennonite Christmas/Chanukah with Rowan

Opening Yule gifts.
Life is weird and delightful. Let me just get that out of the way from the get-go. I know that as a Witch (who is a hard polytheist and has a very particular theology counter to what many people know and experience), my life is always going to be a little surreal. That's OK. I chose this life and am happy to live it.

Raising Rowan with our (his father is also a Witch) values while simultaneously respecting the religions of his relatives and friends is always challenging and takes a lot longer than keeping to ourselves or giving up/in to Santa Claus and the typical American secular Christmas.

New Trike!
So this time of year, we celebrate Yule as a family on the 21st, then Christmas with extended family, and then Chanukah with close friends. We counted down to Yule using an advent calendar with special fun and/or candy each day. The morning of the solstice, we opened gifts that were placed beneath a holiday tree that we decorated ourselves (as an event on the calendar!).

I am all about celebrating the traditions that were/are ours as pagans, polytheists, and Witches. I also let Rowan know that Christians do these things too- because they wanted in on the Witchy fun.* So we do the tree, gifts, lights, feasts, all the fun things that most people like about Christmas, but aren't specifically Christian in origin.

A "fallen" snow angel.
Rowan's grandparents are a little puzzled when we tell them that "we celebrated on the 21st", even though they know we are Witches. They ask few questions because they are afraid of the answers. That's OK. At each sabbat, it's all about connection- retying ourselves to the Wheel and each other. So I will not diminish the connection by forcing my views on anyone. And I expect the same from Christians and Jews.

Snow demon
After Yule (in addition to the advent calendar, the tree, and gifts, we had a log that burns three candles, had held a sabbat with other trad Witches in the area at our home), we trekked to Appalachia to Rowan's paternal grandparent's home for Christmas. We had a party that evening with aunties and uncles and cousins (where the family participates in a white elephant gift exchange and receives gifts from the family matriarch), then opened gifts for one another. Rowan made out like a bandit, as did the elder Kunnings- we got a flatscreen TV. (More on this in subsequent blog posts, I am sure.)

Rowan and E.
After several days relaxing with grandparents, we journeyed northward to Bluffton, a charming Mennonite settlement town in Northwest Ohio.

There we celebrated a family Christmas (late) with a family not our own. We traveled there to see our friend, R, and her daughter, E. We know them (and R's partner, D, from our childbirth class with the midwife we shared.

Our children were born a week apart and they have been friends their whole lives, literally. We are close to R and D and cannot wait until they leave San Francisco for Pennsylvania. After that, we will be spending one weekend a month with one another, rotating PA for OH, after they move. Huzzah! For now, we keep in touch with Skype and infrequent visits.

Rowan and E.
Can I just say? I love the way that R's family is with one another. It is a huge family, and very close. They are intellectuals and value education and the arts. It is a pleasure to play "Family Fun Game" with them or watch them open their gift exchange. They are also very active in social justice movements and pacifists, which is a welcome change after Appalachia- where Fox News, polarization, and guns are the norm. R's father is Jewish and her mother is Mennonite. She always resonated with the Jewish side of herself and when she was pregnant, she converted to Judaism and now she and her daughter are Jewish and they do shabbat every week and this time of year, they celebrate Chanukah. So we celebrate with them, too.

My holidays are far from the norm, but I love them. I love that Rowan is growing up with a big universe and knows all kinds of people.

*When he gets older, I will let him know that many Christians do not understand that what they do is pagan in origin- and that is OK. We do not need to rub it in their faces, as long as Christians do not begrudge us our fun, we will not piss on their parade, either. (And most of the Christians that we know and love do understand that most cultural trappings of Christmas are actually Euro-pagan and do not care.)