This Fight Just Started

The struggle with parenting young is that your fight with life is far from over. The dust on your definition is far from settled. Motherhood can become your entire identity at any stage in your life came. Being unsettled isn't only for the young. I wish I knew that when I was 20. I wish I knew how bad ass I was at 20, walking around campus with books and baby. I wish knew I was radical and beautiful, I wish I saw my revolution in its full glory but honestly, I thought I was just surviving. I wish I knew that who I was then was enough, to refine instead of redefining. In some ways, surviving is what it was but it was on my own terms. My independent study in black feminist thought had me realizing my fight with life had just begun. Do you know how many fights women have fought with babies on their backs? Motherhood did not give me purpose but it did narrow my path options enough to help me make a choice.

That's what I thought until sitting with the creative limits I put on myself. Does a single mom have the right to follow her dreams? Yes of course but the devil is in the pursuit. Resources are limited and a woman that tells you she can do it all at the same time is a lier. I am not always comfortable the give and take of big dreams. All these chips are not my own anymore but this fight just started.

This fight was just easier when my son was younger. When what is said was the unquestioned norm and he couldn't fight sleep. This fight just started but I'm getting hammered by the growing independence of a young man on the brink of an increasingly fucked up world. I haven't seen a blue-print for juggling all these balls and nothing I have created seems to stick but my fight just started and I'm not ready to give up.

The rules of my fight are simple:

1. I can't get into the ring unless my son is working toward his goals simultaneously.

This was really easy when his goals were things like crawl, walk, read, make friends. Before he had projects, beefs, and serious opinions. A schedule and a preference for pizza and TV. His is the fight that just started and I have to be ringside and engaged in ways the stages before this just didn't require. I used to read him my assigned reading as bedtime stories. I used to listen to recordings of my lectures while I made dinner or walked through the grocery store. There was a time when he didn't ask open-ended questions. 

I know if I didn't homeschool I would at least have school hours to myself push toward my personal goals but that's just not the best option for him. So there it is, now what is best for each creates a bumpy grueling road.

But you know what, that's ok. I may not have a blueprint but I know it can be done and Imma at least have some best practices to show for it when I get to the teenage stage.

 

Flamin’ Hot orange + Ultrasheen blue

The museum is the backdrop of some of my most cherished moments. Saturday, my 30th birthday, E and I met up with the kids at the Museum of Contemporary Art for family day. Museums with a toddler, anything with a toddler really, isn't easy. I  appreciate how often the library and the museum provide the backdrop of the stories she recounts about her daughter.

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Pointing your maternal bravery in the direction of libraries and museums, dance performances and theater shows is something I didn't do consciously until the recent past. In so many ways I marvel at the vision and intention E puts into mothering. The things she knows and considers.

We came specifically to take part in the awesomeness that is the creative mind of Amanda Williams. We had seen her exhibit before so it was wonderful for us to meet her in the flesh with a tag reading "ARTIST" slug around her neck. To hear him say, "Wait, so that's the artist with the exhibit downstairs?". To say "Yup." An artist as a human, a woman, melaninated. The type to speak to you, to smile at you. To help you peel the back of a sticker. To accomplish things that feel out of reach while staying within it.

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On the logistics for parents, they had a break room with free snacks and water/juice for kids and I saw adults eating too. The room was designated specifically for family day participants. This really stretches the amount of time you can be there, especially if you pack sandwich.  All of the activities took place in open areas were kids could focus fully on the task at hand.

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The Distance Between US

Sometimes when we encounter art at museums I want to run and hide. I want to believe he still lives in a perfect childhood bubble. That bubble doesn't exist for him and my angst around art is reminder that I am still mourning a partial lose of childhood. Partial because he is, still a kid. New to the world and unsure how to make space for himself.  

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We have been going to art galleries since I was an undergrad at Indiana Univerisity. It's our thing but I approach art with new agnst as he gets older. 

He was born in 2008, I have a picture of him in my Obama shirt. Socially the world is different but he also feels foreign to me. That independence. That difference stands out most in a gallery. The unexpected questions from an increasingly unpredictable young person.

My suspicion, my concern is the distance between us. Undeserved, circumstantial. 2017 has brought a lot of ugly stuff to the surface and I'm not sure about much of anything these days. 

He was much more concerned that these women were outside then anything else. It reminded me of the time I thought I lost my wallet in the airport and tore my bag to shreds. Throwing out just about everything including a ziploc with my nicely folded bras and undies. He almost cried. I should be embarrassed. How could I be so careless. EVERYONE would see my undies! At the time I was trying to tell him that if I lost my wallet that would be much worse. We don't even know them. He was having none of it. His little face twisted in shame. Pleading eyes. Eventually I found my wallet and restored our virtue.   But then I considered his concern for thier safety or thier virtue, Im never really sure. I think the two can bleed into each other for some people.  I'm not sure what I'm trying to say except that the world is different and he knows it. Seems that once just were have context I can't always predict so ever trip to a museum means confronting my increased lack of control. I think that's it put plainly. There are so many BIG ISSUES to think and talk about and he is doing so and sometimes I dred it. 

He was much more concerned that these women were outside then anything else. It reminded me of the time I thought I lost my wallet in the airport and tore my bag to shreds. Throwing out just about everything including a ziploc with my nicely folded bras and undies. He almost cried. I should be embarrassed. How could I be so careless. EVERYONE would see my undies! At the time I was trying to tell him that if I lost my wallet that would be much worse. We don't even know them. He was having none of it. His little face twisted in shame. Pleading eyes. Eventually I found my wallet and restored our virtue.  

But then I considered his concern for thier safety or thier virtue, Im never really sure. I think the two can bleed into each other for some people. 

I'm not sure what I'm trying to say except that the world is different and he knows it. Seems that once just were have context I can't always predict so ever trip to a museum means confronting my increased lack of control. I think that's it put plainly. There are so many BIG ISSUES to think and talk about and he is doing so and sometimes I dred it. 

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Sonlight

I am ready to have a daughter. When I looked at a positive pregnancy test a few months after my 20th birthday I knew I needed the child to be a boy. I wasn't ready to have a girl. I knew I wasn't ready to raise a girl. I'm ready now, I understand my myself and the world in a way that I didn't then.  

Sonlight helps to illuminate the night. "Helps" because it's not the only way. A girl can be her own sun or a flame. I'm sure I can model that for my daughter. 

Only Child(ish)

My son is never going to experience what it's  like to grow up with a sibling. He is nine, since I am single. It looks like he will be into his teens before I have another child. If I have another child at all. I'm not sure why it hit me but I found myself writing a letter explaining this to him. I feel bad, Im sorry. I didn't intend for him to be an only child but I also didn't intend to have other children. I still can't say I'm sending a strong signal to the universe. I am at the "under these conditions" I could point in the journey. 

I know that he could still have a sibling but since the age gap is so large it would be different. I imagine it like having a cousin but I'm sure that's  a terrible analogy. I have a friend from Serbia who said that large gaps are common. Maybe so you can focus on one child at a time. Big age gaps mean totally different sets of demands.  Still I feel like I have deprived him of something. That will always be the case I guess. 

Race Relations over Tacos

We had our neighbor over for dinner. I made tacos. He brought pie and ice cream. My son has never made, friends with the neighbor and I have never had neighbors over for dinner. . We talked about race most of the night. As soon as the kids finished their food, they ran from the table, to hide in the corner with the iPad and that's when the conversation started. I could have guested this put I wasn't fully prepared.

More conversations like this are necessary, and they are gentle reminders of how much some white people are bothered. I wouldn't invite hardly any white people to come to my house and talk about race. That's stress I don't need in my life, but I do think it's important to understand where my son's friends parent's stand on such an important issue. I certainly don't make these types of discussions a practice, put parenting often takes you

Let's be clear about where you stand before our kids spend time together. If your child thinks Christopher Columbus discovered America my son would call bullshit. This oversight call into question what else you choose not to dismantle. I'm not giving the benefit of the doubt, that's basic and here's why  

Adolescence is four blinks away and he will be navigating the city alone, and I need those friends to have a basic understand of privilege and politics. I refuse for my son the become a casualty in someone else's journey; he has his whole life to navigate -isms. For now, we vet friends. I know my vetting will not completely shield him, but to me, that seems like all the more reason to try.

So far so good. #SundayDinner

 

Missed Connections

"What do we want from our mothers when we are children? Complete submission. Oh, it's very nice and rational and respectable to say that a woman has every right to her life, to her ambitions, to her needs and so on. That's what I've always demanded myself, but as a child, no. The truth is it's a war of attrition. Rationality doesn't come into it, not one bit. What you want from your mother is that she once and for all admit that she is your mother and only your mother and that battle with the rest of life is over."      Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Thelma Golden came to Chicago, and I missed it because I was deep in mothering. Deep in the fatigue of thinking about somebody else hard because you are not them and you are trying to decide what is best for them. I have missed several events this week because of the juggle, the mental acrobatics. It's not always like this, but sometimes it is. simple and clumsy. You can have it all but not at the same time. I long for the days when in ways I couldn't see clearly that my days were my own. When a child's protest was loud cries, not a silent disappointment. Toddlers scream, but tweens don't forget. Days when his developmental needs didn't rub against my social/professional needs like sandpaper.

I did not always feel like I was missing out. The spaces I feel are professional. Creative. Motherhood rubs at you like sandpaper, brushing of layers of dead skin in places and leaving you raw and exposed in others. Better than you started. More tender. Eroded. Rounded. Smooth but uneven.

I missed this opportunity and others because of motherhood and it does frustrate me. In an alternate universe, I may have missed them for another reason, and that would have frustrated me too. In this universe it was motherhood. I know there can be more synergy but doing it all takes all of me so who will enjoy the spoils. Alright, so that is a little dramatic. There are some weeks where I do manage to do everything we both wanted and need; they are always followed by one full day in bed. Sometimes this trade is worth is and sometimes it's not. The trade off sometimes reduces me to tears, momentarily.

As I approach 30, my concerns are not about aging or relationship status but these missed opportunities to grow myself as an individual.  The quote from Swing Time is accurate, so I missed the event, laying in bed for "read together" time, listening, being still and together. Surrendering to the demands of motherhood at least for the moment. 

50 Book Challenge/Two Must Have Resources

We spent the last hours of 2016 making goals. BlerdHero decided he wanted to read fifty books, all over 150 pages in 2017. That's about a book a week; I feel like it's an attainable but challenging goal. So far keeping him on task has been a challenge. There haven't been mainly goals that I have been able to help him achieve. Goal setting is a skill, learning to achieve your goals is a practice. I have been working on how to help him understand that doing a little bit every day is an effective way to reach a target and I think this will be a year-long exercise in that. Today is the 15th, and he has read one and a half books.

I have increased my search for books to accommodate his need because #yougonreachthisgoal.  I am deeply invested because I know his success is going to depend in part to me helping him find books that he WANTS to read. I also need to help him push past the hump for books he's not as interested in reading.

I want him to gain the confidence of succeeding. I could tell him how great he is from sunrise to sunset but unless I help him get some wins under his belt we will have issues with his confidence, that is the kind of kid I have. On the other hand, I take pleasure in helping him find books he enjoys. I am sure I am not the only one so, I thought I'd share some of my favorite literacy websites and bookstores .

Bookstores:

1. Unabridged Books (Chicago)

The North-sides best bookstore. This place has everything. I often go there and browse the shelves to see what I discover. During a recent trip, I found, X: A novel by Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon. I had no idea that this existed and I am very excited to read it with my son. There are some great discussion questions in the back as well. Kekla Magoon also wrote, The Rock and The River, which BlerdHero read last year. The book was incredibly powerful and left a lasting impression on him. Aside from having a broad range of books, the staff atUnabridged are extremely helpful. The bookstore is also in the midst of a beautiful neighborhood with lots to enjoy. There is an excellent pastry shop named Vanille next door with spectacular macaroons. It is always my next stop after getting some books. There are also some great restaurants, mainly sushi, in walking distance.

2. 57th Street Books (Chicago)

The southside's best bookstore. I love this place for all the same reasons I love unabridged. I have found more great kids reads here than any other place in the city. This bookstore has the added benefit of being near the University of Chicago, The Dusable Museum, and Museum of Science and Industry. The University of Chicago has a few museums that are ideal for exploration. During the summer, we wonder to one of the nearby parks, which has more grassy areas than the northside and relax.

Websites:

Lexile.com: Ths website helps you look up the Lexile level of just about any book and search for books by Lexile level. Lexile.com is my go to for determining how challenging a book will be for BlerdHero. I find myself on it about once every two weeks.

Usborne: Usborne books were my first love as a homeschooler. Their website is ideal for exploring books for a broad range of age levels and interest areas. I like this publishing company because they are not afraid to tackle complex science topics for young readers. The website includes links to online resources by subject area. You can even take quizzes and watch videos, all of this gave me a little insight into what education is like in England, where the company is located.

 

Code.org Review and Coding Resources

A few seasons ago I attended a coding event hosted at the local Apple store. There wasn't a whole lot to the event, Apple employees helped participants work thru a Hour of Code module while in the store. It was well attended and organized, every participant received headphones and a certificate of completion. Overall, I thought the event was very successful and provided my first introduction to Code.org.

I all started with my absurdly early arrival to the Apple Store for a kids Coding Event. We had a full HOUR to spare while we waited for our time slot. I wondered around aimlessly for half the time of course because the store is magical but eventually of found myself on the Code.org website. Jackpot: I found a list of free workshops for educators that welcomed home educators. The SIX HOUR workshop I would attend later that week isdesigned to help educators understandhow to teach coding and how the website can help.

I wasshocked the event was even open to home educators. Usually they are not. And it was free. A FREE SIX HOUR TRAINING. Can't beat that. I walked in already impressed I will admit but the training itself was absolutely spectacular.

 I can not say enough about how knowledgeable and professional our trainer was. I learned a lot about the resources the site makes available for teachers. There are complete lesson plansand what's called "mat/floor activities". These activities are designed to teach basic coding principles AWAY from the screen. We practiced teaching a concept to the group, then discussed the challenges we faced.

I felt very supported as an educator in the training and fully capable of teaching coding when I left the room, a far cry for the worried momma I was when I signed up. I am not unfamiliar with coding and I have tried teaching my son to code with a few coding websites and one great book but nothing has worked as well as Code.org because of the additional support the website makes available. The videos that are incorporated into modules are also great conversations starters because they showcase what real people do with their knowledge of coding, even if they end up becomingsomething else like a professional basketball player.

So far we have done exactly four floor activity andall have beensplendid. They felt like a little game the two of us were playing. We laughed and talked, it was slightly enchanted.

Some other benefits of the training: goodies and some Code.org pride. I am very much Team Code.org after the training.  Participants spoke very highly of the organization and the founder. There was even a teacher there sporting Code.org gear he ordered. Yes, I was very impressed that he liked the organization enough to go and buy gear.  

At this point in our coding journey Code.org is the right program for us because it is the most engaging for my son and supports me as an instructor because truth be told I had no idea how to teach this subject to him.  I have tried other great programs that just haven't worked for us as well. Here is a list of a few programs (and two books) that we have tried. I put the books first because I like them both. The first book, I one I recently found at Barnes and Noble, is a workbook and I am currently obsessed it,  I wish it was much bigger. Writing out code is invaluable especially for kids that are easily distracted once computers come on.  The second it one that I liked and may return to in the future but it's not suitable for us right now.  

DK Workbooks: Computer Coding (HIGHLY RECOMMEND)


Python for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Programming

RoboMind Academy
 

Scratch

If you are not interested in a semi-formal/formal coding course there are about a zillion apps and webpages that have activities.  Apartment Therapy has a great list. I am excited to see Sphero made this list. I have been wanting to test this out as a learning tool since the first time I saw it. That desire only intensified after checking out the webpage. Process with caution, this will jump on your must have list and if your anything like me that list is already long.
 

Say Whaaa?: A lesson on Questions

Given our political climate I decided to make a strong commitment to focus on critical thinking and research skills this year in order to raise a strong independent thinker.  We are doing a year long themester on narratives. 

Vocabulary Words

Open-ended Questions - questions that will solicit additional information.

Closed-ended Questions - questions that result in "yes" or "no" responses.

Assumption/Assuming - an assuming that something is true

Imply - to express (something) in an indirect way : to suggest (something) without saying or showing it plainly

Bias - an inclination of temperament or outlook; especially :  a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment :  prejudice c :  an instance of such prejudice d (1) :  deviation of the expected value of a statistical estimate from the quantity it estimates (2) :  systematic error introduced into sampling or testing by selecting or encouraging one outcome or answer over others

I recently taught a few lessons on questions as part of our unit on research. I decided to start here so he has the tools for critical analysis and the vocabulary for discussion and writing. First, we listened to the Big Universe, Big Questions episode of Brains On!. I choose this episode because many of our science lessons last year focused on space and because interviews are a form of research.

I used the Socratic method of teaching for things like this because I have found it to be the most effective method for fostering critical thinking. Each lesson has vocabulary words. He is required to write the vocabulary words and be able to use them in written and verbal responses.

Conversation Questions:

  • We have learned about two types of questions, Open-ended & Closed; Which type of question was used most often during the podcast?
  • If you met a friend at the park what type of questions would you ask? Why that type of question? Can you give me two examples of questions you might ask?
  • Why is it important to do research before conducting an interview?
  • Do you think assumptions are always bad?
  • How can assumptions influence the questions you create?
  • Do you think bias is always bad?
  • How can bias influence the questions you create?
  • Bias is a systematic error introduced into sampling or testing by selecting or encouraging one outcome or answer over others. What do you think that means? 

Tasks

Listen to the podcast again. This time stop to talk about new observations using the new vocabulary.

Write each vocabulary word and a definition in your own words.

Write 5 interview questions, examine your questions for assumptions and bias. Are they closed or open? Do they imply anything, if so examine what they imply and how it may effect the interview.
 

Our minds are great at filling in the spaces others leave behind, but do we have the critical thinking skills to really examine what we are being told and the purpose the narrative serves?

 

 

That Never Ends

Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold. A circle of friends that never ends.....

I have very strong feelings about friendship. Growing up the only black girl besides my sister in Indiana meant I didn't have many. I remember telling my mother, I wanted one. Just one, one friend who would be like a sister. I thought this was a reasonable request. As a mother, I haven't forgot my childhood request or helplessness around maintaining friendships outside the proximity of school.

This weekend I drove to see my son. I was determined bordering on possessed. Duty had taken hold of me. It has been almost two years since we moved to Chicago. In that time my son has relentlessly made the same request: to see his close friend again. I honestly was not sure if his friends mom would be interested in maintaining their friendship and building ours, I wasn't sure how he would handle it if I tried and failed. I thought in time he would forget. He didn't. If anything with each passing month his resolve grew. No new friends could replace the old. 

He doesn't have a cell phone or a car. He can't follow thru on plans. It is my job to help him maintain his friendships. And so I drove to help them reunite. They played happily for four hours, time and distance are no match for true friendships. As for his friends mom and I, we talked the entire time. We took pictures of our smiling boys and set the intention of meeting again. I felt such an intense amount of relief and joy.

I drove a total for 10 hours in a 26 hours period so I could ensure that interaction. As a drove my son back to his dads, where he spends a portion of his summer, we sat in silence. He could barely keep his eyes open after a full day of play. He told me stories about their adventures between trips to slumberland.

He has a circle of good friends and I am excited to watch it grow.

 

 

A Whimsical Science Wonderland

I have been thinking a lot about updating my son's room with the theme: whimsical science wonderland. The space is really important because since we home-school he spends a great deal of time snuggled with good books especially in the wintertime. Growing up my room reflected none of my personal style and I always resented it. I think a kids room should look and feel like a kids place. It has endless possibility for facilitating healthy mental development.

Here is a little inspiration board I put together for the room update:

BUGS by James Barker Illustration

DosFamily - This link also contains really helpful information about decorating a kids room.

My Scandinavian Home

InsideCloset

ONE

To the Center of the Kids Bedding

Mini & Beau

halfpencedesign

Painted Sticks

Young

Black

&Gifted

Introducing Your Young Scientist to Physics with a Bang!

It's only once a year but it's well worth the wait. Last week we had the pleasure of attending the Physics with a Bang! program at the University of Chicago. The FREE program is designed to introduce physics to young children. It was a loud action packed show, full of explosions, makeshift rockets, and fire. 

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Homeschooling as a single parent.

When people imagine a homeschooling mom, the image is very rarely a black woman. Certainly not a single black woman. Yet we exist and as usual there is freedom in the margins. I recognize that I am fortunate enough to work from home; otherwise homeschooling would not be possible for us. 

One year in the game and I have learned some valuable lessons about how to balance work, education and family time. Self-care is certainly more of a work in progress. I certainly have not learned all there is to learn but I have come a long way. My three main takeaways have been:

Keyboarding Without Tears

Keyboarding Without Tears

Fraction Bingo

Fraction Bingo

  1. Teaching time is not always quality time.  I started my journey thinking the time I spent teaching him would be the vast majority of the quality time that we needed. Two birds with one stone. WRONG. Sure some activities can pass as quality time. Art and nature exploration mostly. Then there are the games that go along with learning. Fraction Bingo and Story Cubes were a tremendous success. But my personal philosophy about education means that I am intentional about not making every unit a game. I do a lot of instructing, this is the Distributive Property of Multiplication and this is how it works. This type of learning NEVER gets confused for quality time. 
  2. Work hours are for practice. I decided to fight the battle against electronics during work hours. Eight hours is just to long to sit in front of a screen. Two hours makes me feel nervous because my son defaults to watching shows on Youtube. I encourage him to find how-to videos for simple machines and experiments but he rarely listens. I have to work, which means I need to focus. Getting my son to understand that has been an uphill battle. We have instituted a system that works well for us. Work hours are for practicing/reviewing past lessons, reading and creation. I have seen tremendous improvements in his reading and math because that is what he spends most of his day doing on most school days. He is also much more engaged with his inventions and LEGO builds when there is a prompt/challenge. This inverted method makes our days more productive and our nights more focused. 
  3. A system for attention. There is no way a child is going to work independently for eight hours. I needed to create a system for giving him attention so he does not make up ways/reasons to get it or feel isolated when I am busy with a deadline. Here is what we have so far:
  • Unlimited hugs: at some point I realized that for my son this was VERY important. It seems like this is a check in for him. I can't say I fully understand why this works so well but it does. It's just what he needs. 
  • A thumbs up or funny face: same explanation as above. 
  • Timers: When I need undivided attention I put on a timer. This lets him know how long he has to wait to tell me whatever interesting fact he just learned or picture he drew. We are still getting used to this system but I like it. 
  • Set times for meals: He eats a lot and I get wrapped up in my tasks so this is big. I few prepping food a break not a chore intentionally so I don't get annoyed when I have to stop what I am doing and cook. It is a time for us to reconnect and relax. He often helps me make food or reads to me while I prepare the food. Honestly this is the time that means the most to me, no matter what we are doing. 

The only way I can manage to be centered enough is to make time to clean daily. That is certainly not always the case, which is the difficulty of being the only adult in a home. If you don't do it it's probably not going to get done. When I feel overwhelmed I rely on mindful meditation and gratitude to realign me. 

Ever once in a while someone will suggest that it would be easier for me if my son just went to a traditional school. Why take all that on when you are already a singe parent? First, I don't view single parenting as the great tragedy of my life and traditional school is a whole different type of stress that in Chicago I found unproductive and detrimental for both of us. I know some homeschoolers go into all this research to support their decision; I have decided to stop doing that for the most part because the bottom line is my decision is what works best for us at this time. Some days it's stressful and I am a mess but I never have to feel weird about it at pick-up. 

LEGO Zip-line in the old apartment set up.

LEGO Zip-line in the old apartment set up.

Funny Faces.

Funny Faces.