School’s Out For – Ever?

I think I’m not going to re-register the boys at their preschool for next year — essentially unschooling, ahead of schedule.

I’d previously secured a promise from the other parent that we’d “look at all the options” come kindergarten-age. “All the options” would include the regular public school down the street, whatever charter or magnet options are available, and truly alternative options like unschooling and the state’s K-12 online curriculum (technically a charter, but logistically very homeschooly).

When we agreed-to-agree-later, the expectation that the boys would just happily bop along in preschool until the final lightning round. But it’s just not going well enough to justify the time and effort and expense. And because of their late birthday, they will be nearly 6 before starting kindy — kind of unthinkable to a May-baby like me.

I was ardently supportive of unschooling years before we thought we’d have a kid. I read The Teenage Liberation Handbook in college — alas, a couple years too late to apply it to my own life — but the attitude and openness to unschooling was exactly what I’d wanted, and what I’d eked out a little of, in spite of compulsory public schooling, without ever having a word or a model for it.

I was so underserved in school because I was a smart, good, girl.

I didn’t demand anything from my teachers. I didn’t even ask sweetly for anything. I didn’t know I could.

I finished every assignment early and pulled out a book or needlepoint project.

When I broke my ankle in 3rd and 6th grade, I stayed inside and graded the others students’ worksheets while they went out to PE, because I was accurate and trustworthy.

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Christmas, age 7. My favorite gift? A book called The Human Body. #ThisIsNotNormal

Because my home life was, um, “hectic,” I did all my homework on the bus on the way to school, or during homeroom, or in the class immediately prior.

My teachers asked to keep my posters and projects and papers to show as models to next year’s students. Except for a diorama I made in 2nd grade of The Snowy Day – that one we donated to the big public library downtown, and they displayed it each winter for several years.

I won scholarships to summer arts camps at the local college.

I scored 99%ile on every CRCT and ITBS and any other standardized test we took. A perfect score on the 8th grade state writing exam.

I got straight A’s until 8th grade, when I got super depressed (again) and revolted (finally).

I wanted to DIE.

And I was one of the lucky ones.

I mostly had good teachers, caring and bright.

At the end of kindergarten, my teacher recommended I be tested for the gifted program, which I easily passed. Taking that test is one of my few early memories because it was so FUN – solving puzzles, one-on-one, for a nice lady who smiled at me!

Once a week for the rest of elementary school, I spent a day in a gifted class, with more interesting projects and a chance to stretch my thinking a little. In middle school, it changed to a class period a day. Better than nothing?

“Slow down and let the other kids catch up,” my parent’s joked when I came home complaining.

“You think it’s easy now? Just wait til you get to middle school,” they said.

“You think it’s easy now? Just wait til you get to high school,” they said.

“You think it’s easy now? Just wait til you get to college,” they said.

So I went to college, as I’d been begging to do since at least 8th grade. (“This standardized test says I’m reading at a 16th grade level! I wasn’t even trying! Why can’t I just skip to it?” I was insufferable because I was suffering.)

I’d like to say college was the sea change I’d been seeking. And when I got there, there were other smart women, and super professors, and fun books to read, and new ways to stretch my brain. But there was still so much awareness that I had to slow down to let others catch up with a class discussion, or not be too participatory in a group project. Just save it for office hours, just work it out in the essay you’ll be getting an A on no matter what.

I couldn’t take a math class because I probably wouldn’t get an A in it, and that would threaten my scholarships. Even though I had questions that my high school math teachers hadn’t been able to answer.

I couldn’t take an econ class because  I wasn’t an econ major or minor, and I might not have gotten an A in it.

I couldn’t sleep at night because I was manic.

I couldn’t wake up in the morning because I was depressed.

I couldn’t…I couldn’t…until I couldn’t any longer: I spite-failed my senior seminar (required for my major) and had to take 21 hours in my last semester to graduate on time/get on with my life. If it weren’t for STUNT, I don’t think I’d be here today.

As a kid, I could never make my parents happy, because their unhappiness had deep roots reaching back well before I made the scene. My teachers, on the other hand, were too easy to please: I didn’t struggle academically or socially, and god knows there were plenty of others who did, enough to fill all the teacher’s available time and attention and then some.

Bosses, it turned out, were like my teachers (and occasionally like my parents). In either case, my effect was muted, and I would quit after 9 or 10 interminable months. Over and over, for years. (Also, being a secretary is really. fucking. boring.) Only once I landed in libraries did I slow the rapid-failure pace and find a sweet spot for fulfilling my needs for curiosity and autonomy and service.

One of the hardest works of my adult life has been recognizing that I am not normal, not average, and never have been, and that it’s okay to be that way.

A few years after college, I tried in vain to get my mom to tell me what my IQ score(s) had been from my gifted test in kindergarten, but of course she’d willfully forgotten and saved not a scrap of evidence, like it was some kind of the dirty family secret.

So I took the MENSA entrance exam one sunny afternoon, thinking that’d be an easy way to rule out that I fell in the top 2%. I didn’t expect to get the acceptance letter a few weeks later.

Well, THAT’S interesting, I thought.

I read books and blogs on unschooling and laid their frames over my story, imaging different experiences and outcomes. Verdict: Yes, I probably could have been a contender. I taught the word “autodidact” to a physician I worked with/for. I read whenever there’s a spare moment and play pub trivia for its louche appeal.

More recently, I’ve read about Asperger’s/ASD (especially in women, it’s different, yo), and about Dabrowski (he GOT it), and blogs like Your Rainforest Mind. And it’s bittersweet – to finally be seen, not just a malcontent and nerd but as someone with high potential and deep sensitivities.

As someone not congenitally broken.

As someone who deserved more than she got.

I can’t make education decisions for my children without weighing these experiences.

At 3, the boys are too young to test for giftedness, but according to the research consensus, their IQs likely fall within 5-10 points of my own. (Which I still don’t know exactly, argh.) Their donor is an unknown variable, but most of the heritability of IQ comes from the mother anyway.

As environment goes, they’ve got nearly every advantage we can give them, that I wish we could ensure for every child everywhere: food, shelter, loving adults, relative stability, books and music, art supplies and blocks, time for doing and time for reflecting, chances to make mistakes and get hurt and make new mistakes and get better. They were born full-term and healthy #blessed. They’re bilingual. They are curious and motivated and tenacious and intense.

Plus in the fall, they’ll start weekly German school, and maybe an extracurricular, and we’ll keep going to libraries and museums and performances and cultural festivals and playgrounds, and I’ll keep thrifting way too many great books and toys. We’ll visit family and friends, spend time in the woods, make art, eat good food. Within the year, I expect they’ll start reading independently, asking more questions, testing even more limits.

In other words, I have no reason to think they are NOT gifted, and I want them to be treated as such.

Preschool’s greatest strength and ultimate betrayal is its die-hard determination that all students are equal.

Public school’s greatest strength and ultimate betrayal is its insistence that all students better be equal (but the white male ones should be a bit more so, that’s just how it’s always been done, hup hup, barf).

In both cases, all student deserve the same opportunity for high-quality education to grow up to be the best contributors they can be, with the most fully-realized selves. Society depends on it. Our collective future depends on it.

And for now, my children depend on me to make the best choices for them, given the options and information available at the time. It’s not a decision I take lightly or wish to abdicate to anyone else. Their futures depend on it. Their selves, now and later, depend on it.

The world has the right to expect great things from them, and they have the right to know it.

 

Math

Everybody tells you, when you become a mother, that you won’t even get to go to the bathroom alone.

Nobody told me that I’d be so not-alone that I’d always have a quorum.

Happy Anonymous Donor Day

My children don’t have a father. They have two moms, and an anonymous-for-now  sperm donor.

(They also have amazing aunts and uncles and cousins and neighbors. And I hope one day they’ll have some donor-siblings, but today I’m thinking specifically of their donor.)

The information we know about the donor is a strange mix of intimately detailed and hopelessly limited.

Some of things we know: some basic physiological characteristics and measurements, some resume fluff like education and career, some self-reported interests, a few generations of family health history. One small picture of him as a toddler. Some impressive sperm counts and morphology from a thawed sample.

What we don’t know could fill many a book. We don’t know if he has dimples, or if he needed braces as a teenager, or how much he likes to sing in the shower or dance in the kitchen. We don’t know if he was ever afraid of thunderstorms, or when he got his first passport. We don’t know if he ever thinks of the children that he helped create.

I don’t know how much it matters. The boys are so much their own people — arrived on the scene as completely their own little people — that maybe it doesn’t matter one whit about the meatbags and middlemen that mixed some body fluids to get them started.

I can surmise the donor is pretty smart. I mean, he figured out how to get paid to masturbate, and if that’s not a sliver of the Manly American Dream come true, I don’t know what is.

But half-kidding aside, I can also surmise that the donor is major-league generous. His contribution — however anonymous, or pleasant, or lucrative, or not — made us mothers, the kind of gift that nobody can put a bow on. Not even one of those Lexus-sized Christmas bows.

I can thank KK for making the leap with me, for all the once-in-a-lifetime-ness and the relentless daily grinding of it all. For being brave enough to let her heart burst open, so there’d be room to hold us all.

I can thank our friends and family for the support and patience and love they show us every day, that they show the boys every day.

Sometimes I get a little sad that I can’t thank the donor for his role in the gift, too, for helping me finally find my life’s work.

What I saw of the donor on insemination day - the bag from the lab that held the thawed sample

What I saw of the donor on insemination day – the bag from the lab that held the thawed sample

Angels Unawares

I spent the morning doing the math. In sum, i spend about 80% of my time wishing I weren’t wishing I were dead. As you can imagine, one doesn’t get much concrete proof of productivity from such endeavors, despite the long hours and dedicated vision.

It just doesn’t translate. It’s hard to sell at cocktail parties. It’s easy to feel invisible.

On a Monday morning when everybody woke up crying, when I’m loading the boys into back into the car after a 1.5-hour driving nap and a trip to Aldi, in the middle of a scorching grocery parking lot on a 90º day, and a lady twice my age offers to take my shopping cart back, and I decline, since I haven’t even been able to unload the bags out yet (babies first, with air conditioning, always), and she says “Don’t worry, I’ll wait,” and she means it.

And when I say “thank you so much, that’s so kind of you to do,” and she says, “You’re doing such a great job. I’m just amazed you’re getting out to the grocery store. It’s the hardest job in the world. You do what you have to do, right? You’re such a good mom.”

That’s when I cry. Instant, ugly cry. And throw two giant bags of groceries in the back of the van, and push my cart into hers. She wouldn’t even keep my quarter. She gave me a hug.

After I blew my nose, and changed the other baby’s diaper, and put him in the carseat, and looked up to thank her again, she and her big white SUV were gone.

She might be a grandma in a handicap parking space, but man, she travels light and fast.

This is not the first time a random-act-of-kindness-lady has made me cry in a parking lot.

Not even the first time in the last 6 months.

On the one hand, that’s just fucking mortifying. But on the other hand, I got a grandma hug out of the deal, and something else to think about for a while.

Moms are legion, and they are awesome. I can’t wait to get my shit together enough to represent.

2 large shopping bags full of Aldi brand products

concrete proof of productivity

A Gentler Look at Postpartum Bodies

The intimacy I experienced with my body and my developing baby during pregnancy ….became, in a way, a metaphor for how I feel about parenthood—a striking awareness of loss of control, simultaneity of surrendering to change on a moment-to-moment basis while experiencing more joy and more fear than the heart can contain. Pregnancy and parenthood invoke an unprecedented heightening of anxiety—excruciating awareness of vulnerability, altering one’s perspective on the fragility of life, as well as a depth of love that redefines the concept. Why would we erase all of this complexity—the physical and psychological makings and markings of pregnancy and parenthood?

[via Smaller Than Before: The Politics Of Postpartum Bodies | Role Reboot]

Sixteen months postpartum, I thought that I haven’t been driven to “erase all of the complexity” (ie lose 20 pounds, or 60, Spanx up the twin skin belly, and so on) because even before kids, I didn’t have the standard sexy Barbie body.

I didn’t have even a healthy body before.

And I’ve been a radical feminist since forever, and to hell with the male gaze.

And frankly, I’m just too tired to take on the project of improving my projection.

Today I was reminded that while those ARE all reasons, they’re not ALL the reasons. Zucker’s post, quoted above, struck a gentle chord. It reminded me that the body-and-soul pregnancy experience I lived in and through — in and around and with my children’s bodies — was an Experience. Capital E, and it deserves to be remembered and revered as such.

Carrying and birthing the twins truly was the most carnal and sacred Experience of my life. Never before have I participated in a miracle, at once so engineered and so wild, and I never will again. I treasure it.

I’d never let anyone take the Experience away from me, and I sure as hell am not going to be the one to brush it off, minimize it, or forget about it. So yeah.

Classic monuments get chiseled from granite, cast in bronze, erected in steel, encased in glass.

My mama-ment is flesh and blood, muscle and sweat. It wiggles when I walk or laugh or work. It wraps my babies up in hugs, squeezes and shushes and sways. It’s mere mortal meat, an ephemeral expression of one genetic milemarker in human history. It’s just one of the latest in a line of mama-ments stretching back forever, and forward farther than I can fathom.

Erase THAT?!

I don’t share C.S. Lewis faith, but I return again and again to his apt living house metaphor from Mere Christianity:

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. Уоu thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

Monuments are purposely built big, hard to miss, and impossible to forget. Why should mine be any different?  I’ll be proud to rear my children in a “decent little cottage,” but they deserve to remember that they came from a palace.

2013.10.05 EJ at 37 weeks pregnant

37 weeks. Like that’s NOT going to leave a mark?! (For scale, my boobs were H+ cups.)

 

Do stay-at-home moms need annual leave, too

The average American worker is entitled to sixteen days of paid leave per year. If being a stay-at-home mom is tantamount to a full-time job, isn’t this a benefit we deserve as well? The obvious answer is yes. The reality is far murkier, both because of the nature of the “work” of parenthood and the extent to which it is valued by society.

“Murkier.” Yes, that’s one way to put it.

via Stay at home moms need annual leave, too – The Washington Post.