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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the safariRoosters

We’re reading Roald Dahl’s, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory right now and I haven’t been able to stop myself from using little Charlie as an example for Safari when she’s whining about a seed in her toast or refusing to eat an entire meal just prepared for her.  Granted this will only work up until Charlie is given a freaking chocolate factory, making him, I don’t know, the luckiest kid on the PLANET.  But for now, it goes something like this:

Safari: I don’t want that little green thing on the eggs (in whine language).

Me:  Don’t you think that Charlie would be SO happy just to have eggs?

Safari:  Yes (said in an air of defeat).

It seems to actually click in her brain; she seems to understand that she’s fortunate to have what she has.  To a certain extent.  A minimal extent.  Just barely.  But a little.

I just can’t get over how fortunate our children are.  Staying in 4/5 star hotels has become their norm (though they are just as at home in a 2 star hotel), amazing buffets present the hardest choice of their day:  choosing between brie and gouda cheese, and they get to go on awesome adventures in new places regularly.

My husband and I both grew up in families that had to watch every penny spent.  Staying at hotels was an absolute LUXURY, and we’re talking Motel 6.  Eating out at restaurants only happened on the most special occasions.

These are our roots and I believe that being brought up this way has given me very well-balanced values.  Values that I hope to give to my children.  Humble, modest values.  Values that make you appreciate the dinner you just ate when you pass someone pan-handling in the street.  Values that make you think about how the cost of that pair of sparkly pink Crocs you want could feed a family (including yours) for half a month.  Values that make you want to help others who don’t have as much as you do.  Thoughtful values.  Thinking values.

In terms of 5 star hotels, the problem is that the baby’s Daddy is a business traveler and so we accrue lots of Hyatt points, so we end up staying at lots of Hyatts.   It certainly isn’t because we can afford them (or would choose to spend our money in that way), it’s because they’re free.  And every time we do, I feel so grateful for the luxury we are able to indulge in; but for the kids, it’s just normal for them.  My fear is that they won’t grow up understanding and appreciating that luxury.   But they’re generally pretty AWESOME, so we keep on coming back.

In the end, I think that I trust that my values will be more influential than the type of hotel they’re used to frequenting in forming their values.  Oddly enough, reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory really has sparked this mindfulness in me and made me realize how important it is to me that my children develop humility, compassion, and gratitude to take with them through life.  Although, I can’t give Charlie all the credit, the timing happens to be such that the older one is just getting to an age where she can comprehend such things and really is starting to form her values.

Here’s to staying at the Motel 6’s and guesthouses of the world; that is the world I want my children to know (with a few Hyatt’s sprinkled in here and there – so mommy can relax in a sauna every once in a while).

Journey on!

Oh, I forgot to address the ridiculouness of the above photo.  Those are the safariRoosters themselves, soaking in a bathtub large enough to fit four adults, watching a Chinese cartoon, while the futuristic lights of Pudong, Shanghai glitter in the background.  Ridiculous, isn’t it?  Absurd, no?  Are they NOT the most fortunate little buggers you ever did see?  Pretty sure they had just eaten chocolate dipped sugar cookies that were waiting in our room for us upon arrival, oh boy.

My Child Appendages

Without further ado, I introduce to you, my right hand and my left foot.

Believe it or not, I find the idea of this quite liberating.  You can’t go anywhere without your appendages, right?

If I think of my children as extensions of myself, journeying around the world with them seems obvious.  OF COURSE I’m going to bring along my hands and feet.  And I don’t mean to say that my children and I are one being, with a murky, mushed together identity.  Realistically speaking, my right hand and my left foot are quite unique (just ask my mister, he’ll have you on the floor laughing) and most definitely have their distinguishing marks.  Same with my kids.  While we share similar genes and are most definitely a unit, we’re all our own people, which I believe is something that is of UTTER importance in keeping us all happy.

If I look at my children as being extensions of myself, it makes living the life I (yes, I) dream of, feel simple.  The way I see it, and I’ve said it many times before, my journey can be their journey.  The universe/God/whatever larger force your faith names, put these unique beings in my life and I trust that the decisions that I make will be right for us all (as long as I’m observant and open enough to see the signs).  Don’t get my wrong, 100% of these decisions are and will always be, made with the interests of our children first and foremost (I believe this is just inherently part of the process).  I’ve learned that young children are extremely adaptable and flexible and oh-so-open to new experiences, so at least for the foreseeable future, my idea of life works well for them.

If I see my children as being extensions of myself, all it takes is a simple recalibration, and the challenges that come along with traveling with young kids is base zero and rather than being challenging, is just normal.  Sure, sometimes my right hand feels like its getting osteoarthritis and my left foot is going numb, but who said life was without growing pains?

We recently went away for two nights, ALONE, sans children.  While, yes, it was everything wonderful I had hoped, it also made me realize that the things you find to be so burdensome in the moment (i.e. bedtime routines, pee stops just as you’ve embarked, the fact that you can’t go ANYWHERE without snacks stashed), are never the memories you’re left with and at the end of the day, aren’t really that annoying after all.

Being able to experience new cultures, foods, geographies, people, and places with my children, is nothing short of amazing.  More than that, being able to experience these things through my children, is unlike anything else in this world.

We often wonder which, if any, of their travel experiences, will be pivotal in their lives.  Will there be a hike up a desolate mountain that will inspire Denali to be mountain climber?  An acrobatic show that will spark a fire in Safari to become an acrobat?  Will there be a street performance that will incite a love of music?  What will those moments be that will shape the adults they will become?

People often question travel with young kids because they won’t retain the memories anyway (which I’ve never vibed with – I believe, concrete memories or not – experiences impart themselves into our beings).   Safari is four and a half.  We took a trip through New Zealand almost exactly a year ago and just yesterday, totally unprovoked, she recalled memories of seeing two dead possums on our trip.  So although I think she was subconsciously gathering information long before she stored it in her long-term memory, it’s still exciting to know that what she experiences now will be backed up by real, raw, solid memories… for a lifetime.  Though, I’m not so sure what the memory of two dead possums adds up to?

My greatest hope is that their travel experiences will leave them as more balanced, open-minded, confident children and eventually, adults.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.  Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”  Mark Twain

*All the my’s and I’s should be read as us’s and we’s, to include the mister, who most definitely completes our unit.


Public, Private, Home, and Un… Which SCHOOL is for you?

School has long been on my mind.  As our oldest is nearing her school years, this question has become more and more prominent in my thoughts.  Applying for preschool felt like college, mostly due to the fact that we were living in San Francisco, where preschool is EXTREMELY competitive.  But, also because all of a sudden, I was confronted by SOOOOOOO many different educational philosophies/choices.  Thus, I did what I (and millions of other moms) do, I researched.  I learned about Waldorf, and Maria Montessori, the roots of Reggio Emilio, and coops.  I read Beyond the Rainbow Bridge, The Montessori Method (by Maria Montessori), and all about Rudolph Steiner.  We started at an amazing coop in the city that wove together bits and pieces of all of these philosophies, which the little gal just couldn’t hang with… 35 kids somewhat chaotically owning the place was too much for her to handle.  And we also moved.  So then, after moving to a smaller town with fewer choices (thank goodness), we settled on a Montessori preschool that was very nature based.  At the time, it was between this school and a Waldorf based preschool, and even though I was more drawn to the Waldorf school, I felt that the Montessori environment was best for her.  With that said, I’m still not sure I totally believe this or whether either choice would have really been more beneficial for her.

And that’s JUST preschool.

On we’re trooping through her toddler years.  She’s now at her second Montessori school (another move – to China no less), and LOVES it, mostly.  Which I’m now using as the gauge of success – if she’s excited to go, it must be a good fit, right?  And even though she occasionally gets separation anxiety and it takes multiple rounds of 4 hugs and 4 kisses, teary eyes included, to get her through the door, she’s happy when we pick her up.  Our focus, honestly, right now, is the language exposure she’s getting through school.  Yup, we’re sending her to a Chinese kindergarten [preschool].  Before you say, woah, I should qualify that by telling you that her main teacher speaks very good English.  So yea, that’s preschool.  And I think we’re all content with how this portion of her education is/has progressing/ed.

BUT, in the very not so far off future, we’re going to have to consider a whole new variety of education… her real school years.  Dun, dun, duuunnnn.  Here’s where our heads are at (no, I’m not a two headed monster, those heads would be that of mine and the Daddy-Man).  We BOTH were raised in fully conventional school systems and fully participated.  We both had lots of friends, good relationships with teachers, [I] participated in many group sports/activities (Dad spent most of his adolescence skateboarding and on the fringes of conventional extracurricular activities), and we both were on the honor roll.  HOWEVER, when we think of putting our own children through this system, we both begin to question.

And then we [I] analyze.  What is it about that school system that we don’t want for our children?  For starters, it’s the curriculum and the method of delivery.  Ask me about the American Civil War or what a possessive pronoun is… or don’t, I can’t remember.   I read a highly frustratingly polarized but totally credible book, Punished By Rewards, for a class I recently took.  While I could smirk until the cows come home about many of his examples, the basis of the book is refreshing: children don’t develop an innate desire to learn in conventional settings because they are more focused on the reward (the gold star, the grade, the praise) than on the learning.   And I certainly can identify.   I crammed, I memorized, I regurgitated, I got straight A’s, and then I forgot it all.  Then I went to college and although this type of learning did cut the mustard 60% of the time, it didn’t work 40% of the time and I ended up with sub-par grades that have been a great detriment to me in pursuing further educational and career goals.  Oops.  And while I don’t want to use anything or anybody as my excuse, I do feel like coming out of high school, I was not mentally or emotionally prepared to put in the energy required to pursue my career.  There are things that you don’t learn in a conventional school system.   I was also 17 and from a small town; I’m sure it was caused by both the chicken AND the egg.

At any rate, in addition to the actual education provided by the conventional system of schooling, is the socialization provided by the conventional system of schooling.  Like I said, I participated in many activities, had many friends,  and might even say I was part of the cool crowd [insert barf here].  Moreover, my closest friends now are the ones I’ve had since high school.  HOWEVER, I still had to deal with being a teenage girl living in a world of judgmental, fickle girls and I think we can all agree that THAT, is not a fun world.  Well, you may be thinking, that’s the real world hunny, and it develops skills that children are going to have to take with them through their lives.  Is that REALLY true, though.  First and fortunately, teenagers do grow up (most of the time) and lose their arrogant/entitled/insecure behaviors and while yes, it’s true that you’re always going to have to deal with a-holes in life, as an adult with puberty behind you, you’re naturally better equipped to handle said a-holes.  And I’d argue that an adult who didn’t have insecurity drilled into them through teenage socialization would be even more equipped, with natural self confidence, than one who had been beaten down by her peers in adolescence.  That was my experience and not something I’d like to do over again… which translates into not wanting my children to experience it, either.

Back to elementary education.  Conventional school systems are forced to use a one-size-fits-all approach, with no room for outliers.  Understandably so.  In the ever increasing world of budget cuts, teachers must perform more efficiently with less resources and more children.  But I don’t want my kids to develop the skill of cramming and regurgitating.  I don’t want them to grow up with a narrow perspective of the world.  I want my kids to be free thinkers, who are able to confidently trust themselves and their creative ability to solve problems.  I want them to think outside of the box.  I want them to change the world.

SO, if not conventional public school, then what?  Below are the options, in order from safe/known to radical/unknown.

Public Charter:  Based on an alternative educational model.  Dependent on location.

Private:  Expensive route (and 99.9% sure not the one for us).

Home:  Flexible yet structured.

Un:  Brave and somewhat unchartered route.

Much of the choice boils down to unique life circumstances (how are the bold letters working out for you, does it feel like I’m a game show host presenting the next prize?).  If, for instance, we were still living abroad and didn’t have access to an alternative public charter, we’d be more inclined to homeschool.  However, if we ended up in the US, close to a public Waldorf program, we most likely go that route.  And when I say homeschool, I say so with a lump in my throat.  I NEVER imagined that I would homeschool my children, for lack of gumption/energy/passion/general wherewithal to provide my children with quality education.  But, but, but, as life has progressed, having a certain amount of flexibility has become an important component in our lives and one that we’d like to maintain.

Flexibility is the next major reason for steering away from a conventional school system.  This flexibility has played a central role in the fact that I haven’t worked since the first monster was born; I haven’t yet set in on something that was worth sacrificing it for  (have you ever seen Revolutionary Road?  Well, ending up in the suburbs with careers we don’t like and a life I’m not happy with makes me highly anxious- though I am not AT ALL implying that suburbs mean misery).  And YES, I am extremely grateful that I’m even able to think that way (i.e. being a single income family – clearly, I realize that many families do not have the luxury of this type of thinking).

So, school.  There is a pretty incredible network of both public Montessori schools AND public Waldorf schools in the US.  To me, the key behind both methods is enabling children to tap into their inherent desire to learn, on their own individual terms, in hopes of developing free thinking adults who are better equipped to confront their world, whatever that may be.

As for private schools, I don’t think we’ll ever have enough money to feel good about dropping 15-25K/year on elementary education, though if we were loaded, there are many schools I’d LOVE to support.

That brings us to homeschool.  To reiterate, a lump in my throat.  Doubt that I can actually teach my kids, fear that they won’t get what they need, anxiety that I might loose it in the process.  BUT, let’s assume we could achieve a wonderfully harmonious home schooling environment where the kids were thriving.  Where they could sleep in until 9, during growth spurts, when their body needed extra sleep.  Where we could take off for long weekends to participate in field studies and learn from the real world.  Where they wouldn’t be forced to learn at the same speed as the 30 other kids in their class.  Where we could dedicate a few hours per day on school and spend the rest getting dirty outside.  They’d still get the same type of knowledge learned in conventional school, but on their terms.  But what about their socialization, you ask?  This is, quite likely, the homeschooling skeptics number one ammo.  And one thing that actually doesn’t worry me about the prospect.  I trust that we’ll continue to be social enough people that our children will learn the ropes of how to be a human being in the world without us having to manifest or force it.  Furthermore, if we continue to travel, they’ll be exposed to far more social rhythms by the time they’re 10 than either of us did until well into our twenties.

Now, raise homeschooling to the tenth power and what you’ll get is unschooling.  A radical choice, indeed.  I’ve recently come across dozens of traveling families who have chosen to blaze their way through this path and I’ve got to say, they’re inspiring.  The idea behind unschooling is that by just actively being part of the world, with parents who are 100% engaged in the lives of their children, that kids will naturally learn.  Sure, it probably won’t be at the pace of a child who is learning through a conventional system, but by the time they’re 18, they’ll most likely have similar skills and knowledge under their belts and arguably, skills that the conventionally schooled child doesn’t possess.  Lee Stranahan, an unschooling Dad, wrote a great piece about his experience at the Huffington Post.  Another inspiring unschooling family can be found at Raising Miro.  I found this quote by unschooling advocate, Sandra Dodd, that I thought was simple and effective:

There is a Sesame Street book called Grover and the Everything in the Whole Wide World Museum.  There is a “things under the sea” room and a “things in the sky” room, but still each room is just a room in a museum, no windows, everything out of context.  Then he opens a big door marked “everything else in the whole wide world” and goes out into the sunshine.  There is unschooling.

At any rate, while I quite love the idea of unschooling, I think it may be too unstructured for our traditionally trained minds.  I also believe that this option very much depends on your lifestyle.  For traveling families who are constantly exploring and engaging with new places and cultures, for instance, I can see how unschooling could be a good fit.  I’m sure that I could find plenty of great examples of families who unschool in a multitude of environments and be plenty inspired.

As with much of our life at the moment, the destination is unknown and open.  At this point, the same goes for what type of learning environment will best suit us.  There are many options; more than one of which, I’m certain, can provide our children with just what they need.  And who knows, maybe they’ll end up in a traditional public school.  Life is constantly evolving, as am I, as are our children.  What is right in this moment, may not be right in the next and it’s the least I can do to stay flexible and open.

What are your thoughts on schooling?  Will your kids go to traditional schools?  Could you ever imagine homeschooling?  Tell, tell, tell!