The Stories We Forget to Tell

I met Jonathan (my husband) when I came home from class one rainy Thursday and he was sitting on my couch in my apartment. My roommate had friends over and he had been included in the group.

One of Aiden’s language arts lessons and also one of Quinn’s language arts lessons (from completely separate curriculum choices) explained this week that an ellipsis signifies a break in narrative or a quotation. I don’t use ellipses as much as I did once upon a time, but one goes here. It’s funny how three little dots can cover so much descriptive territory.

It had been the kind of rainy day where an umbrella is useless – the rain hit the concrete and asphalt and bounced back up. I had felt soggy for most of the day, which is why instead of going out for late dinner with friends from my 7pm – 8:15 class (our Thursday routine), I went back to the apartment.

Once upon a time I told the story quite frequently. Now, more than 15 years later, I’m not sure our children actually know it.

Brennan didn’t remember that between meeting her dad and getting engaged to him there was a fire at my apartment complex. The actual fire was in the upper story of our building, but I lost things I still wish I had because we were in the ground level and all the water and sewage overflow ended up in our floor.

I think about my furniture, my shoes, my jewelry that had fallen in the bathroom floor so it was abandoned because I was scared to feel around for it, and the art history textbook that I loved even though I think I got a C in that class. It was on the bottom shelf of my bookcase. I would flip through it and sigh about how the vocabulary terms wouldn’t stick in my brain.

There was a mention of the Kirklin Clinic, where my aunt worked, which felt like a hug from God when I found it in the architecture section, and I HAD BEEN THERE. I hadn’t been to Paris or New York City (at that point), but I knew exactly where the parking lot sat that had been intended to house a mirror replica with crosswalks and So. Much. Glass. The project ran out of funds before they could pretend to start on the other half of the facility. I think about it any time we eat at Newk’s downtown, because we can’t eat at the Burly Early, because it closed down. I walked past that parking lot fairly often after I transferred to UAB and would eat lunch with my aunt.

Connections, all over the place. Planet Earth is so big and is covered with so many types of things, and yet there are patterns and connections that never cease to amaze.

My two middle kids hate going to sleep, which is great and terrible because I hate going to sleep. I feel vindicated, validated, and persecuted – all at the same time. I need some time, quiet and alone, before I can sleep. Well. I say QUIET, but let me be more honest and say that sometimes what I need is loud angry music poured into my ears through earbuds from the magic box that is my iPhone.

We’re living in the future, so my children don’t know what it’s like to have a stereo system and cassette tapes and CDs and limits. But they are figuring out that if you are quiet, you can stay awake until 1:30 in the morning *and not get in trouble*, and their mid-night entertainment choices are not so different than mine were at about their ages, which is not so different than mine are now.

I’m awake now at 1 in the morning because just before midnight Annie was already asleep and Brennan was full of “You know how…” statements that resulted in discussions of information including – but not limited to – how contractions work to cause babies to be born, what we could learn about with anatomy lessons if she can wait until next year (I was going to do botany then zoology then anatomy so it will be after Christmas 2021 before we get to it), why I buy so many books with great art in them, what havoc low pressure systems wreak on pregnant women (nine years ago I was sitting on the couch backwards trying to breathe through heavy contractions praying to God to not have to go to the hospital that night in that stupid storm to give birth to Brennan)… I don’t remember what else we talked about, but at one point she looked at me and said, “Maybe when I am grown up we will talk late at night and you will say ‘DO YOU REMEMBER HOW WE USED TO DO THIS WHEN YOU WERE A KID?!?'”

A pal from freshman year of college – who introduced me to blogging and got me a Gmail beta account and also led me to Facebook, aanndd who writes for Harvard Business Review now – wrote a poem, um, 18 years ago, maybe, and one line of it was, “Why does Truth wait until Midnight?”

I don’t remember the rest of the poem. But I know with all of my heart NOW that Truth waits until Midnight because the pressing issues of Day have lost their urgency, and we have time to remember the stories that we used to tell frequently, the stories that used to feel like obvious cornerstones of our experiences, that we just don’t think to tell anymore.

I got an email about renewing thebarntales.com – the email mentioned that if I renew and also put the address up for auction, I could possibly make over $1000 to part with it.

For about a decade this has felt like a really important part of me. I Have Websites. Even when I was so frazzled that I couldn’t figure out how to string words together to post on the blogs hosted at the websites, I felt like I owed them something. But I was already wondering if I really want to keep throwing money at this. I’m not sure that I still need this as a cornerstone of my story.

Mother’s Day portraits

I did real-camera photos of the kids last Friday. In the clothes they had been wearing to play outside. After dinner. And after painting. I wanted to take advantage of the light and the mostly-good moods. I wanted good pictures of their normal… normality, I guess. 

(That first picture was from when I was verifying camera settings and I was going to delete it – since Quinn’s head is half gone – but that was technically the most cooperative they were the.whole.time. So. It stayed in.)


block scheduling for kids

I put a version of this on Facebook this afternoon. What I put there will go in inset block quotes. (I have more things to say now.) I started typing on my phone in frustrated reaction to memes and other social media posts I’ve seen in the past week about MULTIPLE aspects of the ‘Kids Unexpectedly Home from School’ Situation and Working from Home. This post will just have the information applicable to kids. What I would like to do is set up a post with recommendations about working from home, and another post about working from home with kids around. I may quit the internet before I get that far.

A BIG THOUGHT:

We are in SERIOUSLY WILD TIMES right now. The other troubles The People (and Plants and Creatures, Et Cetera) of Planet Earth were experiencing have not magically stopped for us to figure out what to do about the spread of COVID-19.

It is okay to not be okay.

It is okay to take care of yourself.

It is okay to laugh and play and enjoy slowing down. Find the good things and celebrate them.

It’s also okay to cry and be mad and feel fear. Just don’t *stay* there.

We’re about a week into this mess. I am still unpacking the details, possibilities, and ramifications. I’m overloaded with options and emotions and ideas. My kids have a general idea of what’s going on. I tried yesterday and today to give them some open time so that they can have fun and I can have processing time.

It backfired.

Our feelings are too big. Playtime is too open. The uncertainty is breathing too closely down our necks. I need to temporarily dial back my expectations regarding emotional control and response inhibition (and other similar skills) in myself and my kids.

Y’all, listen to Megan: some kids don’t know how to Just Play All Day without some input from an adult, because their time is so structured.

If you *want* to let your kids play all day but they are making you insane with their boredom and their messes and their demands, try implementing a block schedule for types of play. You can have stations and not let them be with each other part of the time.

The base of this post is answering “Kids can play all day for the next three weeks and they’ll be fine.” because “But this may last more than three weeks.” and “Kids thrive on routine.” and “I don’t like Anarchy.” and “Where did you even find this many clothes?” and “Permanent marker is not good make-up.”

Block scheduling has sounded ridiculous to a lot of people I’ve talked to over the years. I have had more people tell me that it sounds like a great idea but it won’t work at their house than I have had so OH THAT MAKES SENSE. I guess it sounds too simple? It is simple, when you find yourself in survival mode and you need some scaffolding.

To make a block schedule, you need blocks and anchors (nonnegotiable things that will happen; at our house that’s just food and waking and sleeping… and turning off devices to let brains rest before sleeping).

SAMPLE BLOCK SCHEDULE:

Wake up

Block 1

Breakfast

Block 2

Snack

Block 3

Lunch

Block 4

Snack
Block 5

Dinner

Block 6

Screens off

Block 7

Bedtime

If your kids are very young, you can actually add more feeding times. If you don’t snack, you can take those out. Do what works at your house, even if that’s shutting your browser window and laughing at me.

A random block tip: set up transition time toward the end of the block so that your kids know you’re switching gears (even if you’re coming back to this activity after the anchor) and so that you have a chance to get help tidying the space that’s been used.

WHAT CAN GO IN THE BLOCKS FOR KIDS?

ANYTHING YOUR KIDS ARE WILLING TO TRY.

A walk outside
Outdoor games
Water play
Nature journaling
Birdwatching
Plant identification
Other outdoor activity
Drawing
Coloring
Painting
Playdough or modeling clay
Cutting cool paper into tiny pieces
Gluing tiny pieces to other paper
Making jewelry (beads and string)
Sewing
Cross-stitching
Crotchet
Knitting
Other art/craft
Board games
Tabletop games
Card games
Reading a nonfiction book
Reading a reference book
Reading comic books/manga
Reading a fiction book
Reading poetry
Reading a play
Reading aloud
Reading in crazy voices
Telling stories from books just based on the pictures
Listening to an audiobook
Watching a video of a celebrity or author reading
Other reading
Dress-up
Post office play
Flower shop play
Restaurant play*
Grocery store play*
Hospital play*
Doctor’s office play*
(*Don’t discount or avoid these right now; roleplaying helps kids process big feelings and ideas.)
Vet clinic play
Other imaginary shop/job/whatever play
Bake treats
Do chores
Do a building project
Reorganize a space
Watch TV/movie
Play a video game

I mean, I am tired of listing things so I am stopping, but do you see what I mean?

I thought of more things while I was cooking dinner, but I forgot them again. Basically, the blocks are where you tuck the HUNDREDS (THOUSANDS?!?) of suggestions and free trials and downloads and virtual tours and and and being shared across social media as people step up to fill gaps.

BUT WHAT ABOUT MY BABY?
Babies have high expectations and don’t care what I think but they are happier when their caregivers are not throwing stress hormones all over the place.

BUT WHAT ABOUT MY TODDLER?
Toddlers also have high expectations and don’t care what I think. But. If you put a toddler in a zone and expect that toddler to do the things in that zone, the toddler might play big and be happy.

BUT WHAT ABOUT MY OPINIONATED OTHER CHILD?
Children can be really rude and can hate other people’s plans and ideas and hopes. They’re like adults that way. But it has been my experience that if you give them some options (not too many) and a time limit, they can handle cooperating.

BUT WHAT ABOUT MY TEENAGER?
Block scheduling works for teenagers too. They like and need some independence. Be clear about which blocks are theirs to control, and which blocks are for assisting you or participating in family time.

Sometimes you can’t tell if something will work until you try it.

THE FINAL THOUGHT:

Express your expectations for yourself and the people you’re attempting to influence. Get feedback from them (yes even young children). Do what you can, reasonably, to accommodate preferences of those others.

You’re in this together.

Use your kind words.

Make good choices.

Don’t use water beads near a sink/tub/drain pipe.

And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Or, be afraid and do it anyway.

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school stations

In February I swapped our school days around so that most of our core subject work on formal instruction days is done at stations. The most basic version of the plan is that the four kids work individually and rotate among four stations at 30-minute intervals. I do have to read to Brennan (and sometimes Annie, if she’s being serious) and am available to assist anyone at any time, but the majority of the work is self-managed. This has simplified our school routine so much that I almost feel guilty, but I’m working to channel that guilt into plans to add in a little bit more intentional work for next school year.

A note because after I got through science talk I feel like it looks like all we do is try to read a bunch of different books and make notes: we do a lot of projects and illustrating and documentary-watching and such, but most of that happens OUTSIDE of stations time. Because my cover-school-imposed guideline is to accumulate 175 days of school work, we do formal instruction on a certain number of days (actually, the number of history chapters plus the number of individual history sections, because that’s what helps motivate me) and leave the rest of the days open for projects and experiments and field trips and finalizing our formal work. At one point I called many of those other days Overflow days, because we were doing what little “testing” I do, and focusing on arts, and filling in gaps, and all that stuff that sloshes out when you’re trying to maintain routine.

So, what are we doing for stations and why is it working okay for us???

First up: history!

We use The Story of the World as our base curriculum. That provides us with a storybook-ish textbook, maps, review questions, coloring sheets, and some projects. There are also recommedations for further reading and notes about which page numbers in additional recommended resources line up.

What has worked the best for us with SotW is that each formal instruction day we:
a) cover one reading section OR the chapter test,
b) fill in the chapter’s map and/or a coloring sheet and/or an activity sheet, and
c)  make notes or answer aloud some review questions about important details.

We’re having some trouble that I am going to work around by beginning our school day with this as our read-aloud, and then during stations the boys will be responsible for those coloring sheets/maps and more in-depth responses (using the book as a guide) while Brennan will still be working directly with me for narration/review. Annie is doing a half-baked year of unenrolled kindergarten but LOVES to have her own station set up so that she can color the pictures and the maps, so she gets included as far as her attention span will allow.

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In addition to our base SotW text, I keep our Usborne Internet-Linked Encyclopedia of World History available for the younger kids to look at and for Quinn to read and outline. [Please note: I am an independent consultant for Usborne Books and More, so if you happen to order from any of the links to that particular online UBAM shop, I receive monetary compensation.] Last week I snagged this cool green Short History of the World  as an order add-on and the boys have both really liked it, so into the pile it’s gone. If I have an issue of National Geographic or a library book or whatnot that meets our theme for the chapter, it goes into the pile also. If the kids get stuck and I’m busy with another kid or if they finish ahead of the timer, then they’ve got great picture-heavy resources to engage to stay at least medium-well on task.

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FOR SCIENCE:

This year our sciences are Earth science and astronomy. I started out with a really gorgeous list of the topics available in the resource books we have, and my idea was to rotate through all of those topics while also trying to dig deeper right outside our house for some general nature study. It has not gone at all as I had hoped it would, but oh well.

Right now we’re going back over ecosystems (based on continents) because we’re covering a lot of different places back-to-back-to-back for history before ending up fairly Eurocentric with talk about exploration and colonization. I found this pretty cool printable biomes map and we’re filling it in as we hit each geographic region, and the kids are also going to draw their own similar maps (because next school year we’re going to do way more map drawing and I need them to stop gaping at me in horror when I mention drawing maps).

Also, one of our pumpkins from last fall has finally gotten mushy, so we cut it open and now we’re watching it while it does its thing in this close plastic baggy.

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These are some of our science resources that go with what we’re doing this school year and will be doing next school year. I’ve been working to load the new shelves but I still haven’t managed to pull all of the science books out of general rotation. I’m mostly okay with that, because I’d rather the kids look at them than the books be tidy and together and on a shelf. Except that it would be nice to live in a world where those options don’t feel mutually exclusive.

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FOR MATH:

We use Khan Academy for most of our formal math instruction. The lesson videos are great, the practice sessions are quick and easy to feel good about, and the boys are able to manage their experience with very minimal interference by me. I’m able to log in (either on their accounts or on my own) to see what they’re doing, if they’re struggling, where they’ve managed to leave gaps, and how the lessons tie in together. If they’re having trouble, we rewatch videos and I work with them to see which steps or bits of concepts they’re missing.

Especially because the girls are still developing number sense and getting comfortable with basic arithmetic, they do a lot of work with manipulatives, shapes, blocks, matching, and puzzles during their math stations.

We also do some math journaling, defining concepts and making notes about lessons.

This week we had history material about the Mayan numeral system, so the boys filled in a cool chart about that and then did a worksheet. If we ever have an opportunity to directly link math to another subject, I take it.

AND FINALLY, LANGUAGE ARTS:

Language arts is the station that is the hardest for me to explain and the easiest for me to feel bad about. Right now, because we had hit a harsh patch of refusal to cooperate, we’re using language arts station to work on reading journals or do half-baked grammar lessons or work through handwriting workbooks or practice phonics or play with bananagram tiles or just whatever vaguely English-language based thing I decide to pile up. I’m using the other stations to get a lot of the boys’ reading and writing practice in and using THIS station to reinforce the basics and work on developing cursive and stuff like that.

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Right, well, 90 minutes and 1200 words later, there you have it. Partly. Sort of.

scheduled plans

I tried (REALLY I TRIED) to set up and follow a plan for posts. The plan is more for me than you; I need to be better about attaching words to images for record-keeping.

But.

I’m typing on my phone.

And that gets kinda obnoxious.

Oh well.

I cried (I CRIED ACTUAL TEARS) over the weekend because I tried to start flower seeds early but it’s been cold so the flowers are like NAH MAN JUST NO. This afternoon, with the sunbaked deck burning the soles of my feet, I found these amazing tiny purple flowers in the “Is it gonna die ARE YOU DYING?!?” lemon thyme.

The roses are pretending to bloom but they look so sad in pictures.

Our poor little lizard friend has been running up and down the stairs. Quinn tried to catch him today, but he skipped the risers and went right down the main brace (and then under the barn). I’m concerned that he’s completely insane, because he runs at us and then kinda waves and just hangs out right near where we are. Also. Y’all. It might be a girl but I’ve been thinking of it as a boy so *shrug*.

Last weekend I found the biggest slug I have ever seen in real life. It went all flat and then the longer I watched it, the more its eyes poked out. So crazy.

Aanndd that’s all the photos I can get to load without saying ugly words!

the view

These shots are all from the past two weeks. I’m so excited about how green everything is (the photos are ordered newest to oldest). It’s almost a surprise that it happens every year!

sharp

Yesterday I used a big blade to separate water irises to move them to better ground. I keep calling it a machete, but it’s not – it has a sort of hook at the end. Oh well. It’s a big ole past-knife blade.

At one point I decided I had maybe lost my mind – feet slipping in mud, what are the kids doing, rain sprinkling on me, hands past my wrists in muddy water making sure those clumps were gonna be covered when the flood finally soaked into the ground.

Yesterday was a turning point in a lot of ways.

I had a shovel in my hands. I dug up squelching mud to slide it out of my way – it made creepy horror movie noises, like, in a horror movie, something would have gone very wrong at that point.

And I just keep thinking about more details from yesterday. A year ago… a year ago I would not have lasted to do 1/3 of the work I did yesterday.

Jonathan looked at me last night and said “So you’re SERIOUS about these things you’ve been talking about wanting to do… about trying to farm.” and I just smiled.

I say it a lot because it keeps being true (even as it morphs into the next stage of the path): It’s funny how things can feel like mistakes and false starts and then you catch a glimpse of how it really does all fit together.

[school] ancient americas

This week for school we’re talking about ANCIENT American cultures. We’re zeroing in hard on the Nazcas for some art projects – about Nazca lines and pottery. We’ve watched videos and I have a National Geographic with some EXCELLENT photos. But. It gets kinda tricky. Even after studying this five or six different ways, I get the timeline confused.

One of the projects we did was to draw on white paper with white crayons. Then we used watercolors on the paper.

Annie got so mad about not being able to see the white-on-white that she completely quit participating… but she found a map and knew it was a world map so she was doing more learning practice than she thought she was. But. We went from an inset at the top corner to Australia for Chick-fil-A.

growing up

Hang with me, please, because I’m sort of thinking out loud.

I’ve been blogging since before it was called blogging. First it was on angelfire – where I had to learn just enough HTML coding to get anything to even show up on the screen, and I learned about intellectual property rights. Then I tried Typepad – I was in college and wanted to do graduate work, so I tried really hard to pull myself together and write thoughtful, though/provoking pieces about the news and what I considered code words that “normal” people didn’t understand. But it got to where what we now consider standard blog features were going to cost me $100 a year, so I migrated to WordPress. I got my “own dot com” (as Quinn calls it) and tried to photo blog my way to photojournalistic portrait fame. Along the way, I’ve had blogs through Xanga and Blogger and Tumblr – possibly dozens of variations and side projects and ideas that didn’t pan out.

I always come back to the same few basic ideas:

I like to write stories.

I like to share photos of details.

I like to try to explain what I’m learning.

I like for people to feel included. (There are exceptions.)

I like to build a record of what we’ve been doing – a sort of timeline/archive/life update sort of thing. (I think that’s why I like seeing my Instagram feed on Tumblr; it helps me break the posts down into monthly batches.)

I’m hoping that I can make my way back to blogging and keep those basic likes in mind.