The Calamity of Educational Gaps.

Sometimes people ask me how I know what all my kids need to learn in their homeschool education. “How do you make sure there’s not a gap in their learning, or be assured that you didn’t forget anything?”

Since I was homeschooled, and know very little about the pre-college group education scene myself, I suppose I could ask the same thing back – how do you know your kids don’t have gaps? My Dad was sick a lot in the fifth grade and totally missed fractions – but was an absolute genius in the construction, mechanical, and art genres without them. (Fractions are totally redundant, apparently.)

But, if we’re being honest, there were gaps in my education.

For instance, I somehow made it to the ripe age of 17 before I had ever heard the word “turd”. It’s not that I didn’t know much worse stuff, but somehow that particular word had slipped through the cracks. When my boyfriend/future-husband used it for the first time in my presence, I actually had to inquire as to its definition, and it took me more years than you would think to find where it went in the order of profanity – somewhere between “silly” and “butthole”, I think – but I could be wrong. I believe that being able to line up all the words in order of badness is one of those developmental processes that once the age passes that you’re supposed to perform that cognitive task, you can’t get it back. Like learning to skip. Or speaking eight languages.

So yes, sometimes there are gaps.

Thankfully, sometimes other kids fill those gaps in for your kids, and it’s always amusing when you find out, via another kid, where your kid’s gaps were.

Last Wednesday was one of those gap-filling days.

We took one of Noah’s friends, Levi, home with us between events for a little while, and in the car on the way home, Ali, who incidentally was in the process of turning thirteen that very day, was delightfully narrating a made-up choose-your-own-adventure for the two boys. Ali was choosing Day One of Thirteen to prove that teenagers were amazing and she wasn’t done enjoying entertaining her brother and his friends yet.

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So it went something like this.

Ali: “Levi. You just came up to a bridge over a river or a normal path. Do you choose to walk across the bridge, or the plain path?”

Levi: “I choose to walk across the bridge.”

Ali: “You got to the middle of the bridge, but there was a troll under it. He just jumped up onto the bridge and is blocking you. What are you going to do?”

Levi: “Kick ‘im in the nuts!”

Noah. Lost. It.

He started screaming with cackles and repeatedly saying the phrase over and over. Like me at 17, he knows much worse things – he knows all the biggie words and we’ve had The Birds and the Bees talk. But the melodic beauty of “kick ‘im in the nuts” was clearly a first-time experience for him, and I as his mother was nearly as happy to get to witness this developmental milestone as I was his first steps. Except oh yeah – I wasn’t responsible for Noah or Ali’s first steps so I didn’t see either of them. But at least I got kick ‘im in the nuts.

Fifteen minutes later, while in line at Chick-Fil-A, this was the toned down version of his ongoing mirth over this amazing phrase:

(Note A: We were also behind a car with a BUTS sticker on it, which is the name of our local trail running club – Birmingham Ultra Trail Society. Hence the “butt” in front of us.)

(Note B: That was newly thirteen-year-old Ali trying to calm them down. While her much more mature mother was sneakily recording the entire thing.)

I cannot explain to you the level of joy that Levi gifted my son with that day by teaching him such a useful tool, and I will be eternally grateful for his filling in the gaps of my educational system.

And, on the way home, Noah offered in-kind information to Levi, because we in the homeschool community work together to help each other.

Noah: “Do you know about the Wright Brothers?”

Levi: “What were they right about?”

Noah: “No, their name was WRIGHT. With a W.”

Levi: “Oh. No. I haven’t met them yet.”

Noah: “No, they’re dead. You can’t meet them. But they invented the airplane.”

Levi: “Oh! Cool.”

Although I’m sure that Levi would have learned about the Wright Brothers soon enough on his own, I feel like this was a completely even informational gap-filling trade. But in Noah’s mind, Levi definitely brought more to the table.

Epilogue: Kicking the troll in the nuts did not work. The troll told Levi a riddle, which he got wrong, so the troll ate Levi. But thankfully, trolls eat humans whole, and Levi caused a bit of trolly indigestion, and so the troll threw Levi up and Levi was able to make an escape, albeit a bit covered in Troll Bile. The moral of this story is: trolls don’t have nuts. Or it was a girl troll. Or I guess we don’t really know enough about this particular troll situation to accurately draw out the moral.

Meant for Making.

A mind meant for making things never finds peace for long. The ache always comes back. But that’s nothing to worry about. The worry is that one day it will go for good. – “The Left-Handed Fate”, Kate Milford

2019 was a creatively quiet year for me. I started the year still mourning my Dad’s death, finding myself depressed and quiet. Happy and funny times and things made me sadder, because I was painfully aware of the happy and funny that I wasn’t actually feeling. I middled the year being with Chris’ Uncle as he passed away. From July on, I found myself withdrawn from art and from sharing. I stepped back from almost all creating and I dove deeply into finding satisfaction and consolation in my decade-ago former self – in numbers and accounting, spreadsheets and analysis. I shrunk away from who I am now – the person who has been creating through words and pictures, taking joy in nature and beauty, and connecting with other people through those creations.

Death is both easier and harder than I thought it would be. It is easier because life moves on and therefore so must you. It is harder because death doesn’t move on – it sits heavily on your stomach, and your heart, and your soul.

On the outside, I don’t appear as affected by death. I’m a quiet, introverted mourner. I don’t want to talk to hardly anyone face to face about the inner workings of my grief. Instead, it stays quietly in my heart and it eats at my desire to do and see and relate and create.

But, although retreating into numbers and spreadsheets has been temporarily soothing, it didn’t feed my soul, and I found myself longing to create.

Despite not creating, I didn’t quit recording. I’m a recordkeeper at heart and I can’t just lay that down. In July, after being inspired by Chris’ Grandmother’s diaries, of which I pored over her ten years of daily entries with fascination and adoration, I started my own daily journal. Grandma’s life between the years of 1937 and 1946 were infinitely more interesting than mine – but more about her diaries in another post. However, as I began writing, and then periodically thumbing back through my diary, I realized how great my life is, and how much I have to be thankful for. Although it seems less writable than when the kids were young, we still have adventures, random happenings, and ridiculously crazy occurrences.

I wanted to write online again, but after being away for so long, I wondered why exactly I was still doing it. It’s been months since I’ve seen anyone share someone else’s blog post. Are bloggers even a thing anymore? Is there a such thing as a blog anymore? Am I still carving into stone tablets when everyone else has moved on to telepathy? I mean seriously – where DID all the writers go? Where do they create and share? And where did all the readers go? The biggest part of sharing online for me was always the connecting – the feeling of someone else’s heart saying “me too!!” and knowing I wasn’t alone in my weird, quirky way of looking at the world.

But then I finally got the first of my blog books in – three out of the twelve years of posts. I’ve been working with my website manager for a year and a half to get my blog in a state to which it could be printed, so we all were pretty excited. I watched my children as they gleefully flipped through the books, laughing at stories they’d forgotten or never knew, looking at pictures of themselves at earlier ages, and reading back their own toddler quotes to me with hilarity.

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It was beautiful. It was fulfilling to know that I had recorded our life in a way that they could access it, see it, read it, and know it. Since then, Noah has become obsessed with me reading the blog stories to him, and he’s so impatient to know them all that he has started reading them himself, then after laughing heartily and/or being amazed at WHAT AN ABSOLUTE HANDLE he was as a toddler, he’ll go find Ali and read her the story. “Ali. Wait till you hear this one about the time I pooped in the bathtub. Oh! And my potty training was awful!! And do you remember the time I stepped on the grasshopper and made Loulie cry??”

I’m enjoying them also – I’ve forgotten half the things I’ve written over the past 12 years. All of that life would have been lost had it not been for this blog – and for the readers that motivated me to share it. I was, and am, immensely grateful for all of your interaction, all of your words of affirmation and encouragement, all of your Christmas cards, all of your reaching out hands of friendship. I have a folder in my email account titled “Encouraging Blog Emails” where I have filed many of your emails and comments over the years, and occasionally when I’m feeling down or discouraged, I will go back and read them to remind myself of why I do this and the connections I’ve made because of it.

And so, as I start 2020, my main goal this year is to truly create again. I don’t know how often, but it must happen. It might be short snippets of life, or posts that read more like diary entries than well-crafted essays. I want to get back to writing, even if that writing isn’t perfectly polished. I need to create. For my soul, for my family’s history, and for healing.

191208 Village of Jance IMG_4595-H s“Wonder is great and important. And wonder at the visible – at what can be seen and shared, that requires no nationality or belief to experience – that is a special kind of phenomenon…A moment like this can be shared between strangers, as we share it now. It crosses all lines, makes them converge; turns enemies into wide-eyed children in the face of the miraculous. And for a moment, the battlefield stills. – “The Left-Handed Fate”, Kate Milford

Note about the quotes: I also read a lot over the past year, and my favorite author to dive deep with was Kate Milford. She has a series of books with different settings, genres, and time periods that all interact with one another beautifully and intricately. She has a LOT of ideas – sometimes overwhelmingly so, and it was a bit mind-blowing to try to keep up with the threads between the seemingly unrelated books, but I thrived on the challenge. I highly recommend all of her books, but I suggest you start with Greenglass House and go from there. In fact, if it’s cold or raining or snowy where you are, I find it to be the most cozy book I have ever read – it was meant to be read while curled into a quilt, in front of a fire, and/or with a hot beverage.

Introducing: Buddy The Snake.

We are a little over a month into being A Pet Family.

Meet Buddy the Snake, Noah’s much awaited ninth birthday present, a tiny baby Ball Python. 

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Buddy is an extrovert,

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always doing crazy things like hanging upside down to drink his water (show off),

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Fixing my hair in new and creative ways,

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Curling up with his gauges,

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And helping me edit pictures.

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He’s definitely a people snake, loving to cuddle with us and crawl around, stealing our heat. And our heart.

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But he is opinionated. He will sniff a visitor (with his tongue) and turn around and scamper up my arm if he deems the visitor unsavory.

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And he will camp out on Chris, because he is always emanating heat. (I’m not saying that Chris does lift his shirt to allow Buddy to curl up on him like a heat rock, but I’m not saying he doesn’t.) 

He is also a bit like a Look ‘N Find book, with all sorts of fun patterns and shapes.

We call this his row of Bunnies,

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This is his keyhole,

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This is his Monsters Inc. tattoo,

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And this is E.T.

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The first three weeks of Buddy ownership were a delight. He was always willing to play, a super easy pet to own (Only feed once a week! Play with him if you feel like it! No hair on the furniture!)

But then.

It Came to Pass that it was time for Buddy’s first shed. Turns out, baby snakes shed a lot – every 4-12 weeks, whereas adult snakes can shed as little as once a year. I did not know that the shedding process is a long, ugly, stressful one. And when you’re a baby snake whose mother abandoned you in the egg, nobody is there to explain the facts of life. Nobody is there to answer your snakey questions.

“Why is my skin so itchy?”

“Why don’t I have fingers to scratch my itches?”

“Why am I suddenly blind?”

“How to I remove this outer layer from my body?”

“Is this how I’m going to feel from now on?”

And so, Buddy entered into a severe season of Man Flu. Gone was his quirky personality and high activity. He was now a mopey, hormonal teenager who didn’t know what was happening to his body. 

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He spent a day in his hide. Then he spent two days in his water bowl, as if he were in a hot tub, chillin’, waiting for the ladies to show up.

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His coloring changed dramatically, dulling and becoming gray.

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He spent another two days in his hide.

Then finally, he began to shed. We woke up in the morning and there were a couple scraps of shed in his cage. Which isn’t how it’s supposed to happen – it’s supposed to come off in one long un-holey sock, including the eye caps, which was what had been making him blind for the better part of a week – because yes, they shed the outer layer of their eyes as well.

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Now. The first thing that the Google tells you about your snake not fully shedding is that it’s definitely somehow your fault. OF COURSE. Your tank isn’t humid enough, pet owner. But alas, Google, we have a humidity and temperature gauge on both sides of the tank, and it IS humid enough. The second explanation is that perhaps he just doesn’t know what he’s doing, and this too shall pass as he gets older and more familiar with his body. 

So then I started reading about what one must do to help when their snake struggles to shed. Even though shedding should be a five minute process, you don’t interfere for the first 24 hours. After that, the internet resoundingly agrees that the best way to help your snake is to put them in a sauna – a bowl with a lid and warm water and placed under their heat lamp, then peel them with a wet, warm washcloth.

Oh my goodness I get to peel my snake. Like a freakin’ banana.

(I mean Noah’s snake. Obviously Buddy is Noah’s snake.)

So that’s what I did.

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It took three days of Sauna-then-Peeling to get all of the skin off of his body, but his head (and eyes) were still covered because of course he couldn’t soak those as easily.

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But on the fourth day of his Spa Treatment, the skin lifted up from his head enough that I was able to grasp ahold of it and slowly pull and …. Yes. I peeled Buddy’s eyes off.

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He wasn’t excited about the concept, but he never once, in all of this or for any other reason, snapped at me. If I May Say So Myself, pretty much any dog would have snapped at me if I peeled his eyes off. But our snake is a kind, loving, trusting, pacifist sort who has no interest in hurting me, his loving owner.

(I mean his loving owner’s mother. Because of course Buddy is Noah’s snake.)

So I peeled his eyes off (which was a much less violent solution than one thing the internet suggested, which was sticking a piece of scotch tape on their eyes and ripping them off – DO NOT always do what the internet tells you, people), and immediately, it was as if the scales fell from his eyes (oh wait they did) and he was the happiest, most excited snake I’ve ever seen. He crawled all around me and hugged my arm with love and appreciation for de-blinding him. I’m pretty sure he was singing the first verse of Amazing Grace repeatedly in his tiny snakey head. We bonded that day, Buddy and I.

So Buddy has continued his happy residency with us, enjoying cuddling and smelling us with his tongue and making slo-mo videos of said smelling. 

He’s pretty much the best pet I’ve ever had.

(I mean he’s the best pet Noah ever had. Because of course Buddy is Noah’s snake.)

Yesterday was Noah’s actual ninth birthday (he got lucky and got his present six weeks early), so while we were remaking this important birthday photo,

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Back Camera

We went ahead and had a photoshoot with Buddy. So that we could always remember what he was like when he was just a wee little precious puppy snake.
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Merry First Christmas, Buddy.

After this Christmas Photoshoot, Buddy has requested a Buddy The Elf Costume for Christmas, but we’ve yet to find one that fits a small creature with no limbs. Hoping that since he KNOWS Santa, his Christmas dreams will come true.