Education On My Mind

in Blog, Community, Homeschooling, Kids, Life

Ever since MMM wrote his article “My Son is Ready for Early Retirement“, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of Homeschooling or Unschooling our son.

When I get like this, I go into full on research mode. I read every single comment on the article (which I rarely do these days) and contemplated every idea presented. I was pleasantly surprised to read all the pro-homeschooling comments. I looked up Waldorf schools and Sudbury Schools (this was really interesting – look it up if you’re curious). I figured out that in Colorado, you can homeschool and even participate in programs run by the public schools for an option to do a bit of both.

Then, I did some research online and looked at homeschooling studies. I checked out a bunch of books from the library with titles like “The Good School” and “Radical Unschooling”. I read some of these books in a single sitting. The general consensus for me was that homeschooling is a very effective way of educating a child. I was convinced that with the right attitude and resources on my part, my child would do very well and even thrive.

So, I told my son that if he wanted to be homeschooled, I was all for it. Guess what? He didn’t want to talk about it. Somehow the idea upset him and for a full week, every time I brought it up, he was upset and wanted me to stop talking. So I stopped, but I was sad that as soon as I had convinced myself, he suddenly wanted to keep going to school. I had become so excited about the possibility and my role in it. I had been ready for action and was brought to a complete stop. It was a very odd reaction on his part considering his feelings on school and his repeated insistence that he wanted to stay home.

I mentioned this on Penelope Trunk’s blog in her article “What does genius risk-taking look like in the context of school?“. She had mentioned MMMs article on her Homeschooling blog and I chimed in asking: “What do you do if your kid doesn’t want to be homeschooled?” Penelope kindly replied with: “My younger son wants to go to school. I don’t let him.

I found this to be a really interesting answer, as many homeschooling parents have said that if their kids ever decide they want to go to school, they let them attend. She obviously feels so passionately that traditional schooling is terrible and possibly detrimental to a child that she won’t allow her kids to attend. This threw me for a loop, as I feel that my child’s opinion in the matter is of extreme importance. Was I really subjecting him to something so awful that I should take charge and just take him out? Her comment had me thinking for days.

Meanwhile, as this was going on for a couple of weeks, I continued to volunteer in the classroom. I volunteer every Monday morning for about 3 hours, so I get to see what is going on at school. I also volunteer for other events, so I’m at the school a lot. All my reading did not go to waste, as I realized that my perception of education had shifted quite a bit after doing so much research. I started acting differently with the kids and seeing their discussions and free-play in a more positive way. I also saw things I didn’t like – with the curriculum and how certain situations were handled by the teacher and by the school.

I was also perfectly comfortable letting the teacher know that my son would not be coming into school on his birthday. We stayed home and built a gigantic snow fort instead.

On those volunteer days, I watched my little boy and his interaction with others and realized that school provides him with a lot of fun times. For example, he enjoys being a leader in groups, he likes to make people laugh, and he’s very comfortable with his group of friends at school. He’s well liked and not shy at all with his peers. His personality and his comfort in his school environment have really blossomed since he was in kindergarten. And, while I think his reading and math skills would have been equally well developed (and perhaps more advanced) as a homeschooled kid, I do feel like his writing ability and his story telling have really benefited from the more structured school environment. Is this stuff important? I don’t know the answer, but my instincts say yes.

I also see how his day starts outside every morning as he rides his bike to school. We have very relaxed school mornings with dad making breakfast and lunch, while I sit with our son and read. He has recess twice a day and he has a gifted and talented class twice a week that he absolutely loves. He has an outstanding Art teacher and our son is always so excited to go to art class. There are a lot of good things. The teachers, for the most part, are wonderful and very excited about teaching. Their enthusiasm and experience really make the school special. He is always happy after school and bikes home excitedly telling us about his day. We know all the kids and their parents – we all hang out together for fun. We often bring a kid or two home with us after school. The community just can’t be beat.

So what is it then that he dislikes about school? Waking up early, being away from his parents, math worksheets, and many of the rules. The same stuff MMM hated about school, actually. Our kid is a homebody. He hates being away from us. Is the forced time away good for him? I’m not sure about that either, but I think it is, to some extent (I am really starting to think that a three or four hour school day would be ideal… 6.5 hours is a long time).

Since I volunteer, I also see all his classmates regularly (there are only about 17 kids in his class, which is nice). These kids, some struggling and some thriving, but all with so much personality and spirit… I love these kids. I want to see each and every one of them succeed. Some don’t have great support at home and I feel like I am able to help so many of them. They all yell out my name when I come into class and say goodbye when I leave. I have seen them struggle and make breakthroughs. I see them laugh and cry. One child told me she was sad because her father was in jail. These kids are incredible and I feel like I would be abandoning them. The school is incredible and has so much potential. It is a school I really believe in. In many ways, it is how a neighborhood school should be. They definitely have the right idea. There is community, diversity, incredible parents, fabulous teachers (again, not all, but most), they focus on things I care about: the environment, a world view, walking/biking to school. This school is trying to do amazing things and I want to help them. It is a school in transition, but they are on the cusp of something incredible.

One of the books I read encourages being an activist in your school. For now, I’ve decided that instead of taking my child out of school, I’m going to integrate myself more into the school. I’m going to be an advocate for the kids. I’m going to help bring the school up to its full potential. I’ll be more outspoken about things I think should change. That way, I help my own kid, but I also simultaneously help many more kids. Because every kid deserves a good education. I also get to be a role model for my child – he will see that when things aren’t the way you like them, you can change them. That one person can make an impact.

I’m not saying that homeschooling is not a good answer for families. I think it is a wonderful thing and I will homeschool my child if he wants me to. We might do it for a bit and then go back to his neighborhood public school. But, I also feel really empowered knowing that I can help a lot more kids than just my own.

Tim Ferriss Experiments and So Should You

in Blog, Life

Last night, our family watched the first episode of the Tim Ferriss Experiment on YouTube. I rarely watch TV, particularly reality TV, as I usually find it supremely repetitive. Do I really need to know “what’s coming up next” when the show is only 20 minutes long? But, I was curious about this show as Tim was telling me all about it on my Twitter Feed (yeah, we’re good buddies, Tim and I). It turns out it was really fun to watch – and with very little repetitiveness, which I appreciated.

One thing I like about Tim (and really, I know next to nothing about the guy) is that he is constantly smiling. He seems like a friendly guy. I liked him in the show and the other characters were really interesting.

In this episode, Tim is trying to learn to play the drums in one week’s time culminating with him playing “Hot Blooded” live at a Foreigner concert on the last day. I love this idea. I’m hooked already. Not only do we get to meet some neat famous people in the show (the smiling Tim, the entire crew of Foreigner who seem really fun, and my favorite: Stewart Copeland, the drummer of The Police), you also get to learn a bit about all these new skills yourself. What’s not to love?

When I see stuff like this, I’m inspired. That’s really what this show is about. You can just sit there and idly watch or you can bring some of that energy into your every day life. Like “The Biggest Loser” (one of the few other reality shows I’ve seen), you can watch or you can participate. I hope you always choose to participate.

What did I do? Well, not much, but I decided to write down some five year goals. Yeah, I know – a ridiculously cheesy and cliché exercise, but I haven’t done this in years and had no clue how it would turn out. I sat next to my son, who was doing his homework, and wrote down whatever came to mind with a purple pen on a lovely piece of pink paper, trying not to think too much about my answers in advance. I quickly scribbled together this list:

In five years I’d like to…

  • be super healthy and fit (this is foremost in my mind right now because I have been sick on and off for nearly a month)
  • have a very close relationship with my then 13 year old son
  • continue to have a close and happy marriage
  • have a great, lush garden that I can visit every morning with a coffee in hand
  • spend more time seeing close and extended family
  • enjoy more travels with family and friends – camping, multi-day hikes and bike rides
  • have a kick-ass crossfit garage gym that is visited by friends in the neighborhood (for free, of course!) to form a fantastic fitness community
  • many dinner parties with friends
  • close relationships, laughter, love, ongoing fun and rewarding projects
  • be more patient and calm through meditation, yoga, morning walks or runs, garden work, quiet hiking
  • be working hard on at least one project that I’m interested in, such as writing a book, volunteering, or somehow helping my community and others

The nice thing about writing things down is that you can go back and analyze what you’ve written from an outside perspective. I’ve kept a journal almost my entire life and it has been extremely helpful during harder times. Your writing often has secret messages hiding inside of it and after a few days, you can go back and find those messages and give yourself valuable advice.

After putting together this list, I looked over it and realized a few things. I can accomplish all of these things right now! In fact, I have accomplished quite a few of them already, but I probably don’t feel like I have because they are not part of my daily routine. Maybe in five years everything on there will have become second nature to me. More likely, I’ll still be “working” on these exact same goals.

Another thought that pops into my mind, related to the Tim Ferriss Experiment, is that I prefer to be immersed in a few things that are important to me, instead of experimenting with many different things. I’d rather dive deeper and become an expert. That’s good to know.

So, how can we experiment in our own lives? I was wondering about this and I began to think through all the life experiments I’ve conducted so far – things that I’ve done that maybe others haven’t, things that stand out, or things I’m proud of.

Here’s my list:

  • was a pretty good recreational gymnast in my day
  • graduated college with a useful degree that immediately got me a job that I was good at and enjoyed (after a few minor hurdles, like flunking out of BioTechnology – but of course, this hurdle was necessary to get where I wanted to go)
  • backpacking through Australia and New Zealand for 3 months with a friend with what turned out to be a pretty small backpack (one girl I met had an entire backpack just for her shoes!)
  • moving to another country (from Canada to the United States)
  • regularly biking to work in all kinds of weather
  • going on a month long trip by myself (I could write a whole book about this experience)
  • becoming a project manager and turning out to be really good at it
  • retiring from work when passive income surpassed expenses
  • becoming a mother, the greatest experiment of all
  • starting a business or two
  • becoming a real estate broker and being awarded Rookie of the Year in 2009
  • becoming a dedicated crossfitter and being in the best shape of my life

When I look at this list, I realize that I’ve actually done a lot more than I thought. Most of the accomplishments I’m proud of are those where I’m doing something physically or mentally challenging, doing something completely new or scary, or being recognized by others for my achievements. I’m sure that’s pretty typical and we all have lists that look like this. But, until you write it down, you might not realize that you’ve already been conducting experiments your entire life. Seeing what this list looks like allows me to understand what kinds of things I should focus on in the future.

There’s always something to work on. As one of my favorite bloggers reminded me today, you find your balance over your years, not your days.

Here’s the episode by the way (I put it at the end, so you wouldn’t ignore me and run into Tim’s smiley arms):

Parent Sex Education Workshop

in Blog, Community, Kids, Life

Last night I attended an absolutely fantastic workshop for parents about teaching kids about sex and sexuality. My expectations were not very high – or, more specifically, I didn’t have any expectations. But I left feeling educated and empowered.

The woman running the workshop has a lot of experience and background on this topic and clearly did a ton of research. We were all there to help review the workshop, provide feedback on the content, and have a general discussion on the topic. We probably helped her out a little, but we all left feeling like we got so much valuable insight and education.

It’s a topic that is pretty taboo in our culture. As the presenter mentioned, using the words “kids” and “sex” in the same sentence makes many of us cringe. It’s not a workshop I would have signed up for myself — after all my kid is only seven! But this is a workshop that is going to be offered to parents of preschoolers (among many other parents as well). After listening to what this woman had to say, starting early makes complete sense.

The idea that we sit with our kids on one big day to talk about the “birds and the bees” is an intimidating and antiquated idea. In reality, these conversations start very early and are short discussions that happen constantly throughout a child’s life. Being able to start these conversations at an early age sets a precedent that it’s okay to ask your parents these questions.

The other point that resonated with me is: we need to know what we ourselves believe about sex. When she put this question forward, I was unsure. Nothing really came to mind as it’s not something I think about very often. Once she started asking questions, I realized I do have some pretty strong beliefs in this area.

In order to teach our children about sex (or about anything), we need to understand what our beliefs are, remind ourselves of our own history and how it has affected our beliefs, and provide information that is age-appropriate and also appropriate for a particular child’s disposition and emotional capabilities. We can think back to our own childhood and determine what our parents did to help us – what things we want to continue and what we want to do differently.

We discussed so many topics, that it would be hard to cover here, but they varied from young kids discovering their body parts, naming body parts appropriately, masturbation, the extremely important idea of consent, puberty, gender roles, different types of families, and sex in the media (by the way, once I know where and when this workshop is offered, I will let you know – I highly recommend it for any parent).

Consent is something that I am really interested in teaching my son. One thing the presenter mentioned that really stuck with me is that children need to be able to say no to adults in certain situations and that is okay. Whether it is giving grandma a kiss, having their picture taken, or hugging an uncle good night. To make children feel like they have to provide these kinds of affection because otherwise it might “make someone feel bad” may give a child the message that they cannot say no to adults or to their peers. I’ve always allowed my child to choose whether he wants his picture taken or hug or even say hi to an adult, but I always felt a bit of guilt due to social pressure. This piece of advice reminded me that there are other reasons for allowing kids to choose. The idea of consent becomes so important in relationships down the road.

Another aspect of the talk that resonated with me was the idea of secrets vs surprises. Secrets are something you keep from someone forever and surprises are eventually revealed. This helps me explain to my son why secrets are not a good thing for adults and children to have (which is how sexual predators often operate).

Finally, an important question was asked. What are your goals for your kids? By considering this end goal, conversations about sex and sexuality become more positive and focused.

What struck me most about this workshop (besides the fact that this very important topic is rarely discussed) is how gathering together as a community and having these difficult, yet important conversations, makes us feel united and empowered. It allows us to discuss particular scenarios in a comfortable setting, it gives us people to continue conversations with in the future, and it brings about varying types of people with different kinds of families points of view. It was a lot of fun – we ate good food, laughed a lot, and taught each other so many things.

No matter what the subject matter, whether it is money or sex or even the most mundane of topics, having conversations in a small group setting (perhaps with a leader to help focus and provide guidance) is something I want to try and do more often. It was sort of like my own mini 4-hour Chautauqua.

I’d love to see a similar workshop on discussing finances with kids. This is another topic that is confusing for parents to navigate. Perhaps I’ll even feel motivated enough to create one myself.

Using Your Addictions for Good

in Blog, Life, Retirement

Oh hi there… I had kind of forgotten I had a blog. I was considering not posting anymore, but now I see that people have actually been visiting. Sadly, there hasn’t been much for them to read.

You see, I am a starter. I get excited, I start things, and then they die. Everything is always so fantastic in my own head. I’m sure it’s a pretty common occurrence among humans. I also have a bit of an addictive personality. I need focus and outside influence.

I’m learning this about myself in my so-called Retirement. I’m learning about my habits. I’m learning that my addictive personality is most likely just the fact that I’m a creature of habit. I can ignore most everything around me and just keep doing what I’m doing. This makes me fairly adaptable, which can be a good thing, but it can also make me lazy.

In a way, these simple habits turn into addictions: I have a hard time walking past my office without stopping at my computer. I have a hard time not checking my e-mail on my phone every morning. I have difficulty keeping my office clean. I could get used to something (like a broken toilet, for example) and never bother to get it fixed. When I clean, which is rare, I do it compulsively. I sometimes do the same things over and over.

MMM is the exact opposite. Not working is easy for him. He has goals, dreams, things to do, places to go, people to see! Yeah, he gets in a funk sometimes like we all do, but he does something about it right away. I would happily sit around all day not getting anything accomplished. I like being alone. It makes me happy. Or does it?

Nope. It turns out it doesn’t make me happy at all.

If you’re the same way as me, the solution is simple: use your addictions for good. It takes a little while to figure out, but it works. I quickly became addicted to Crossfit. I now have a lifetime of fitness ahead of me. I can learn things quickly, because I become so engrossed in them – using my addictive personality for good, I can get through a ton of Spanish duolingo courses or obsessively learn the guitar. I can learn to make a Thesis theme or learn Sketch Up from scratch. I can get engrossed in the most minute details of learning until I perfect something. I can become a master of anything if I apply the right focus over time.

I can also shed my addictions very quickly. Two weeks away from my computer and I’m cured – I never need to look at another screen again. On the flipside, two weeks away from Crossfit and I never need to do another deadlift again.

Because of my addictions (ie. electronic devices), I’ve learned that I need to start my day off with an outdoor activity in order to have a productive day. That resets my rhythm away from technology and towards nature and exercise.

I need a daily schedule. I know exactly what it should look like. I haven’t yet gotten to the point where I follow it, but some good things are happening:

– I exercise regularly
– I eat healthy, even though I am still a lazy cook
– I make my bed every morning
– I never use my phone when I’m out (thanks Airvoice! lack of data plan is just what I needed)

It’s a work in progress… our lives are a work in progress. But taking the time to figure this stuff out is important. I may never figure it out completely, but knowing myself is important to me and to my relationships with others.

Don’t know what to do when you retire? Can’t imagine life without a 9-5 job? You may need to go through this exercise too. Give yourself some time off and see what happens – you may learn that you’re more interesting and complex than you think.

Reveling in Negativity

in Blog, Life

It’s a magic carpet on a rail…

Shortly before our son turned three, we took him on the Polar Express train ride in Williams, Arizona.  Upon boarding the train, we took our seats opposite a family all dressed in the exact same red Christmas pajamas:  mom, dad, and 3 little blonde children.  The kids were all wide-eyed with excitement and the mom was particularly enthusiastic.  She was so enthusiastic that I sat there fascinated at this super-mom, as she excitedly talked to her kids about the train ride and Santa’s impending arrival.  My mind started instantly criticizing her: Is she always this happy? Is she putting on a show for the rest of the train passengers?  What does her husband think about making them all wear matching PJs?  She’s probably not normally such an awesome and enthusiastic mom… how can she be so happy?

The entire scene seemed odd to me, like it was from a movie.  The mom seemed fake.  How could she be that happy with three kids?  I mean, kids are hard work and she has three!  Was she always like this?  The only answer I could come up with in my mind is that she must be faking it.

Now, several years later, as I read negative comments about the MMM blog and listen to many wise and wonderful men and women complaining to each other on a regular basis, I realize what I was doing on that train ride.  I was unhappy with my own situation and therefore reasoned that the woman on the train must be a fake.  I was also participating, albeit in my own mind, in a seemingly common problem in our culture: Reveling in Negativity.

At the time, I was going through a difficult time emotionally.  As a mom with an almost 3-year old, I realized that I wasn’t the mom I wanted to be.  I was not happy like this other mom.  Instead of coming to terms with this, I ended up criticizing her in my head.  It was probably some kind of natural defense mechanism.

A year later, I finally decided to confront my problem.  It took nearly a year of investigating, but I eventually found out I was gluten intolerant, which was causing my mood to be quite volatile at times.  I often felt angry for no reason, I had low energy, I woke up with morning headaches every day, and I generally had no control over many of my emotions.  Strangely this intolerance manifested itself after a traumatic event (in my case giving birth and having a c-section), as has been known to happen.  I’ve now been gluten free for over three years and feel completely different.

If I saw that same woman today, I’d like to think that I would be more positive.  I would probably still notice her and maybe even chuckle a little at the matching pajamas.  But, I would watch her and perhaps make a note to myself to be happier around my own child.  To be enthusiastic about the things he’s enthusiastic about and to see things through his eyes.  To be happy and carefree, without worrying about what onlookers will think.  I can’t be sure what I would think, but the fact that I am more confident about my own parenting makes me more open to new suggestions.

I recently read a thread about Mr. Money Mustache on a forum, I watched the comments quickly downgrade until they became downright nasty.  Even the original poster, who had posted because she loved the blog, started saying negative things about it.  I realized that being in agreement is often very important to people.  It’s hard to be the odd one out while everyone else is nodding.  Being united and feeling sympathy for each other is important in our culture.  Everyone wants to be accepted.

So how do we overcome this and start thinking more positively about our own situations and about life in general?  How do we stop venting and start problem solving?  I guess the answer is to look at yourself and your situation with a new perspective.  Don’t make assumptions about how things should be; think about the goal and figure out how to get there.  There’s always a way, but it may take a while to find the right path.  People may even resent you as you push to get there, but don’t get caught up in their negative energy.  Seek out those that are different: the entrepreneurs, the rule-breakers, the visionaries.  Find those people and ride their wave of optimism and you’ll soon start to see the world through their eyes.