Category Archives: Parenting

In It for the Long Haul

We’re cleaning off the shelves as part of our break, filing work away and updating portfolios. I told Mushroom and BalletBoy that if they wanted to consider high school, that this was it; they needed to speak up now.

It’s never really been entirely up to them. I wouldn’t have allowed them to go to middle school barring a very good reason. And I’ve been pretty sure we were going to go all the way through for awhile. However, they’re about to be teenagers. I think they should have more of a say at this point.

It’s not that high school would be impossible down the road if our circumstances changed. I know that in some states, once you start down one path for high school, it’s almost impossible to switch, but in the District, there are flexible options for high school credits. However, once the deadlines for applications to charter and selective public school programs have passed in the winter, a lot of doors will close. If we were going to even consider that, I explained, I needed time to get things in order, let them tour schools and research options, and create applications. This is eighth grade, I said. Tell me now.

BalletBoy, no surprise, answered immediately. No way. He wants to homeschool. It’s an easy answer when you know it’s enabling your passion. His ballet moves to six classes this year. I can’t imagine managing that plus school, much less more classes and high school.

Mushroom dithered. Would missing out on high school close off any job options or college options down the line, he wanted to know. That’s my long term thinker. I reassured him. No, absolutely not. I couldn’t promise that he absolutely would never run into a hassle because he was homeschooled, but it is pretty unlikely overall.

The thing is, I am almost positive at this point that I can give them a better, richer experience for high school than school can. I used to teach high school and I’ve never found it as intimidating as some people seem to. I know many people get nervous about high school, but right now, I’m in the midst of planning our eighth grade year and looking ahead to future possibilities and I’m not nervous, I’m excited. Neither of my kids are ever going to be the sort of kids who pull in high test scores and piles of AP exams and honor roll awards. They would just be mediocre in school. Mediocre and worn out by the long days and heavy amount of busy work. But at home, we can do targeted work and make time for passion projects and intense extracurriculars where they really do get to show their best selves.

Mushroom has a real interest in design and I tried to explain how excited I am to push him to do certain programs and internships in high school, how he can really pick and choose the sort of university he wants to attend. How doing high school at home won’t hold him back from that. In fact, the opposite, it might enable it.

“I don’t really want to go to school,” he admitted. “Then don’t!” I said. So we’re decided for sure.

Whew. And with that off my plate, now to focus on being in the moment and getting the most out of the end of middle school. After vacation, that is.

It’s Okay to Be Out of Sync

Playing pool at the grandparents’ on the second day of school for kids here.

One of the things I have to remind myself of every single year is that it’s okay that we’re out of sync with everyone else.

You’d think that this would be obvious. When you homeschool, you step off the beaten path to make your own trail. We all know we’re not in sync with the goals, curriculum, or style of brick and mortar schools. And we’re often in while they’re having teacher workdays or other random days off, and out and about while they’re in class.

However, a lot of homeschoolers loosely follow the school calendar for a whole host of good reasons. That’s why, in the last week, my social media feeds and my friends have all been talking about starting back to school.

The thing is, we did school most of the summer and we’re taking our break now. It’ll be another month until we start properly. And it hits me on some level every year that we’re really far off from everyone else, including our fellow homeschoolers. There’s a sort of discomfort and defensiveness, which is silly, but it’s there.

So every year, I have to remind myself that it’s fine. And that we can do things our own way. If you’re also way off from everyone else’s school year, remind yourself that having your own schedule is one of the benefits of this homeschool gig. I don’t know about you, but I need to tell myself that I wasn’t a meanie for making the kids do math in July and that I’m not lazy for letting them relax through most of September. There’s nothing special about math that it needs to be done only from September through May and nothing special about vacations that says they need to happen in the summer months.

Short But Meaty: Middle School Books for Less Prolific Readers

You may dream of reading thick classics of literature, long YA historical novels, and piles of other great works in middle school. But not all kids are up for those choices. Some kids read fine but rebel at required literature. Others have reading issues. Others excel at nonfiction and want to keep their required books as short as possible. Basically, there are lots of reasons that the dream of starting in on the canon of Western lit may not be happening at your house like you anticipated.

And so I give you an alternative to giving up: the short but meaty middle school novel. Middle grades and young adult novels started becoming tomes in the wake of Harry Potter two decades ago. But many older classics are shorter. What follows is a list of twenty books that are all about 200 pages or less (page counts can vary greatly by edition, obviously). All of them have rich themes, language, or both.

2839

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Pages: 143
Difficulty: This book is fairly easy to understand.
What it’s about: A boy becomes friends with a new girl who lives nearby and they invent an imaginary world together, where she encourages his love of art and imagination.
Why it’s worth the read: This book tends to starkly divide readers, which is interesting in and of itself. The very jarring, sudden death of one of the main characters causes some readers to feel betrayed by the quiet narrative up to that point. However, the author wrote the book that way on purpose to try and reflect her own child’s experience of a friend’s death. There are class and economic themes as well as family relationships all worth discussion, but the main theme of grief is the reason to read this story.

47281Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Pages: 137
Difficulty: This is a very easy read in language and style.
What it’s about: This is the story of how a Danish girl and her family help their Jewish friends escape to safety on the eve of being rounded up by the Nazis. It’s one of the gentlest Holocaust related novels you’ll find.
Why is it worth the read: The writing isn’t a standout, but the themes around the Holocaust are really important ones and discussion of the true story of how the people of Denmark saved so many Jews from the Nazis is a really inspiring story. It’s told with such a child’s innocence and exploring how that innocence changes during the novel is an interesting topic of discussion.

22232Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Pages: 186
Difficulty: This is a fairly easy read.
What it’s about: A formerly homeschooled girl begins attending a suburban high school and really shakes things up. The narrator slowly develops a crush on her but has to figure out how important fitting in is to him.
Why is it worth the read: The tension between conformity and individuality is basically the tension for all middle schoolers. Discussing Stargirl and Leo’s various choices is one of the meatiest discussions you’re likely to get at this age for many kids.

3636The Giver by Lois Lowry
Pages: 208
Difficulty: This book is very much on the easy end.
What it’s about: A boy grows up in a seemingly perfect society and is chosen to become the next Giver. However, as he acquires knowledge his peers and even parents lack, he may never fit in again.
Why is it worth the read: The ideas and themes that are thought provoking and discussion worthy in this dystopian novel. Imagining a world without color and passion can spark discussion, as can the costs of living in a utopia where everything is orderly. What are we willing to give up for such a world? What is the value of conformity? The ending of the book is nebulous (there are sequels, though they don’t pick up the story right away) and talking about why the book ends where it does is also worth the time.

18131A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Pages: 211
Difficulty: It’s not a hard read, but for a novel that has a great deal of plot, it also has a lot of discussion of ideas, which may not carry all readers forward very easily.
What it’s about: This book is difficult to describe. In a nutshell, Meg, her brother, Charles Wallace, and her new friend Calvin, are taken by three mysterious alien women to help save Meg and Charles Wallace’s father, who is being held captive on a strange, evil planet.
Why is it worth the read: There’s an amazing looking film adaptation coming soon! If that’s not enough, the ideas about good and evil are thought provoking and worth discussing. Readers may identify with how Meg often feels like she’s not the special one. Exactly what makes IT so evil, and what makes the darkness so pervasive and how we see it in our own world are all wonderful discussion topics. The science tie ins to dimensional theory and hyperspace may also hook some readers.

598117Sounder by William Armstrong
Pages: 116
Difficulty: The language in this is pretty simple, but the fact that it’s slow moving in places as well as a small amount of colloquialisms and dialect can make it a little harder for some readers.
What it’s about: This is a coming of age novel about a black boy in a sharecropping family. He and his dog, Sounder, survive hardships after his father is imprisoned.
Why is it worth the read: This Newbery gem isn’t read like it used to be. However, its depiction of racial issues and poverty in the Jim Crow south still have a lot of resonance. Reading this book and pairing it with some modern discussion of how small tickets and fines can keep poor people always under water would be a good way to bring the issues even more to the forefront. The language is stark but beautiful, so it’s also worth a read for the writing. There are many other great books by African American authors that are commonly read in middle school, but most of them are a lot longer. This is one of the shortest books on this list.

1852Call of the Wild by Jack London
Pages: 172
Difficulty: The vocabulary level and excellent descriptions make this a difficult read for many kids. It’s a good stretch book for middle schoolers.
What it’s about: Buck is a well cared for city dog who is sent to the Alaskan wilderness and must learn to survive.
Why is it worth the read: Obviously, this book is worth a read for its status as a classic. It’s a good choice for nature lovers since the power and cruelty of nature are major themes. The descriptions of the landscape are excellent, as well as Buck’s transformation as the story goes on. The whole theme of survival of the fittest is one that’s full of meaty discussion potential.

84981Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
Pages: 132
Difficulty: This book is fairly easy.
What it’s about: The Tuck family has the ability to live forever. A young girl, Winnie, joins them, but learns that their lives are not all others might imagine.
Why is it worth the read: Babbitt is just a great storyteller and created a very good fable in this book. The language is easy to read but rich with metaphors. The book begs the reader to consider immortality for themselves and what they would do in Winnie’s place.

231804The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Pages: 192
Difficulty: Some of the bygone language may throw kids off, but overall it’s not a very difficult book.
What it’s about: This is a story of 1950’s era teenage gangs. When a fight leads to a death of a rival gang member, the main characters have to deal with consequences of their actions.
Why is it worth the read: The themes of violence and youth are still ones that resonate today, especially with class overtones like in the novel. The extent to which people are a product of their environment and to which they can change their fates is also a theme. It’s also still just a compelling read for many kids.

4381Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Pages: 158
Difficulty: The language is somewhat old fashioned and may be difficult for some readers. The themes are definitely more adult than some other books on this list.
What it’s about: In a future dystopia, the main character has the job of burning books. However, as the story goes on, he begins to question whether or not that’s right.
Why is it worth the read: The themes definitely hit you over the head in this one. There’s nothing subtle about book burning as the story’s central plot. Even the melodrama in the characters’ personal lives is over the top. However, sometimes over the top is good for readers this age. And no one does over the top but thought provoking like Bradbury.

13642A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin
Pages: 183
Difficulty: The language in this is definitely a stretch for some readers.
What it’s about: This is a coming of age story about a young man named Ged who becomes a wizard. He must grow up and undertake a quest to defeat a mysterious dark force that’s after him.
Why is it worth the read: This story is so dripping with archetypal plots and characters that it nearly bursts at the seams with them. It’s incredibly well-crafted and the writing is strong. However, introducing students to these recurring archetypes in writing is a must and this book is one of the best for doing that. Reading it will enhance any fantasy reader or movie watcher’s enjoyment of the genre by deepening their understanding of it.

18553The Cay by Theodore Taylor
Pages: 105
Difficulty: The old fashioned style of this book and the dialogue written in dialect may make it a slight stretch for some readers.
What it’s about: A boy is shipwrecked and blinded and must turn to an impoverished West Indian man to help him survive.
Why it’s worth the read: I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of this novel, but some people really love it. Taylor does a great job of building up the adventure and survival elements of the story and those are things that many students love. The racial and class issues at the heart of the story are obviously worthy of discussion. In some ways, the story feels a little pat by today’s standards, so that’s definitely something to bring up in thinking about the book as well.

87226Crash by Jerry Spinelli
Pages: 176
Difficulty: This is a pretty easy read.
What it’s about: Crash and Penn, two seventh grade students, are opposites in almost every way. A series of events bring them together and force Crash to change his bullying attitudes.
Why it’s worth the read: This book covers a great deal of ground in short time. There are references to literature, history, and religion. There is a lot about friendships and bullying as well as family relationships. Penn’s religious beliefs are worth a discussion. It’s also just a very identifiable “everyday kid” novel for most middle schoolers.

15595The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman
Pages: 128
Difficulty: The language is very sparse and easy, however, some of the style and historical terms might throw off some readers.
What it’s about: A young, homeless girl in the middle ages is taken in by a midwife and trained, but she may lose her confidence before she ever delivers a baby.
Why it’s worth the read: This book has one of the most amazing, beautiful passages in a children’s book about confidence and the loss of it. While the story is from the middle ages and the details are true to life then, the author does an amazing job of making the themes feel very contemporary and very much something middle schoolers will identify with, especially girls.

139253The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Pages: 110
Difficulty: This is a surprisingly easy read, though the style is probably different from what most students are used to and smatterings of Spanish may throw some students off.
What it’s about: This book is a series of short tales about a Latina girl growing up in Chicago.
Why it’s worth the read: The writing is often lyrical and compelling. The story looks at coming of age issues like identity through a different lens than most other novels. Racial identity and immigration are both strong themes of the book as well as women’s roles. It’s very short, but it packs in a lot of worthwhile topics to consider.

39963A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck
Pages: 160
Difficulty: The language isn’t too difficult, but it’s not a breeze either.
What it’s about: These are short tales about a brother and sister and how they spend summers with their grandmother during the Depression.
Why it’s worth the read: This is a hilarious book. I can’t think of many books better for looking at characterization and humor in writing. The writing makes a great creative writing model as well.

24780The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
Pages: 190
Difficulty: The old fashioned language is denser than some students may expect, though the plot is straightforward.
What it’s about: Taran is an assistant pig-keeper who gets swept up in a quest and a fight against an invading bad guy with a prince when his magical pig is kidnapped.
What it’s worth the read: Like A Wizard of Earthsea, this book is a classic of fantasy and reading it brings a better understanding of the conventions of the genre as well as archetypes in literatures. It’s also just a very well crafted, well-written, classic quest story. It’s a good book to read for sense of place as the writing vividly brings to life a world that only exists in imagination.

24783Westmark by Lloyd Alexander
Pages: 184
Difficulty: The language is slightly dense. Some students may struggle with it.
What it’s about: This is a fantasy story without magic. In Westmark, Theo becomes a wanted man through a mistake and ends up traveling with a con man and a homeless girl who is more than she seems.
Why it’s worth the read: This series explores ideas related to the Enlightenment in a sort of fake European country of the 1800’s. It especially looks at what makes good governance, why freedom of the press is important, and how power corrupts. What people can morally do to survive when hunted by the law unjustly is also explored. This first volume of a series just touches on those issues, but it does it within a lively story and a short page count.

Homeless BirdHomeless Bird by Gloria Whelan
Pages: 192
Difficulty: The writing is pretty easy in this book.
What it’s about: A young girl is sent to an arranged marriage in India, but when she becomes a widow, she has to figure out how to make her own way, even though she’s still only a child.
Why it’s worth the read: Whelan is really good at conveying complex historical and contemporary themes in a simple way through a straightforward story. This is no exception. Gender, religion, and tradition are all strong themes in this book. The symbolism of the title and the various homes that Koly finds are good ways to look at symbolism. It’s excellent for learning about one side of contemporary Indian life (it would be wise to pair it with something else, such as a film, that shows other aspects). There are literary allusions to the great writer Tagore and reading some of his poetry would be a good tie in for the novel.

165149The Year of Impossible Goodbyes by Sook Nyul Choi
Pages: 176
Difficulty: The language is fairly simple in this plot driven story.
What it’s about: A Korean family struggles with what to do as World War II ends and their country is divided, with them on the wrong side of the line. It’s written like a novel, but it’s actually a memoir of the author’s childhood.
Why it’s worth the read: This is a great look at history that has deep connections with current events today. It’s also a good story of political oppression and how individuals deal with it.

 

 

 

I’m No Mama Bear… And That’s a Good Thing

I want to explain about a parenting pet peeve of mine. The whole “Mama Bear” thing makes me a little insane.

You probably know what I’m talking about. When a parent perceives that their child is threatened, they claim that they’ll go all “Mama Bear” on the threatener. Sometimes the language is different. I’ve seen parents say things like, “Don’t mess with my kid!” or even, “Come after my kid and I’ll cut you!”

I’ll cut you? Are we parents or stereotyped 90’s gangsters?

Now, if one of my kids were actually threatened with imminent danger, perhaps with a real weapon or in the midst of a natural disaster or the like, I’d like to believe that adrenaline and super strength would kick in and I’d move heaven and earth to come to the rescue. Picture the zombies coming, and picture me suddenly gaining the ability to lift two half grown people and whisk them to safety with my bare hands.

But let’s get real. Most of the times I see this sort of language used, there are no zombies. There are no weapons, no dire situations, not even any real bullies. It’s more like, another toddler took my kid’s toys on the playground and then threw dirt at him. The teacher unfairly penalized and singled out my kid. The crazy stranger yelled at us because she thought I cut in line while my kid was there.

Sure, none of these situations are awesome. But do they really require violence? If you storm onto the playground and make a strange toddler cry for throwing dirt or begin yelling at the parent, have you actually solved anything? If you consistently make your interactions with teachers confrontational, will that help? If you engage in a threatening way with a stranger in a crowd, is that likely to end well? And what do those things demonstrate to your children?

A lot of the interactions that I see people say they’re going to go after other kids for (and pause for a moment with that, knowing that we’re talking about a grown up feeling justified for threatening children) seem so biased that I don’t even know how to unpack them. When a kid is genuinely bullied, that’s a pretty scary, scarring, and horrible thing that requires your intervention. But your kid being excluded from a group? Your kid being called names a few times? It’s hard when our kids are hurt to realize that the perpetrators are just as socially inept and inexperienced as your kids. I’ve seen my kids and others unintentionally exclude a newcomer many times. It’s not helping anyone’s social skills to have a parent storm in and blame them for something they didn’t even know they were doing. They don’t need to be threatened. They need guidance and help through these interactions. A good check yourself guide is in this article: Rude vs. Mean vs. Bullying.

Some people will probably think that the whole “Mama Bear” routine is metaphorical. It’s a joke, not meant to be taken seriously, despite any “I’ll hunt you down” style comments on social media. I would say that if it’s a joke, it’s really not funny, just because violence isn’t that funny. And pretending to threaten people isn’t that funny. It’s not funny when fathers threaten their daughter’s dates and it’s not funny when parents threaten people we see around our kids.

Of course, sometimes we have to fight for our kids. Sometimes the world is unfair and our kids are mistreated. And while I don’t step in every time I see other kids being rude or every time I see minor injustices because I want my kids to slowly learn to deal with those things, I don’t think kids should have to deal with serious problems on their own. They deserve to know we’re in their corner and on their side, not just to be an ear or take care of them afterward, but to step in and help make things right. However, when we do that, we don’t need to do it emotionally and irrationally, lashing out at others. We should be measured and researched. If a child is being discriminated against, we should go in armed with information and determination. And if a child is being mistreated by their peers, arm them with strategies and figure out how to create boundaries.

When it’s not called for, back off and just be a decent person. Not every hurt requires anyone to step in. But when it’s called for, don’t be a “Mama Bear,” become a “Mama Lawyer.”

Raising Kids Who Will Do Better

img_2266

We live in a racist, sexist, classist, generally prejudiced world.

I grew up in that world, like we all do, in the south specifically. And while I was taught to value equality by my mother and by many teachers, I was also taught to see people of color as “other” or less in a million little ways and men as the ones in charge, by family members and by the culture around me. As I grew up, I tried to fight against those cultural lessons and for understanding racism, sexism, and intolerance. And I was lucky enough to have experiences attending diverse schools and traveling that helped me better understand other perspectives than my own. And as better language about privilege and implicit bias and consent has come into being, I’ve adopted it the best I can and tried to apply it to my little corner of the world.

But I’m not a native speaker of that language. And I never will be.

Here is a funny thing I’ve come to realize in the last year or so. My kids have internalized critiques of sexism and racism much more clearly than I can ever hope to. They are native speakers of the language that has evolved to talk about bias and oppression.

Let’s be clear. I have two privileged, middle class, white boys. And none of us are perfect by any stretch of the imagination. While I’m about to sing my kids’ praises here, I’ve also seen them slip up and say ignorant things about other people. All of us are works in progress. All of us are beneficiaries of a system that favors us. And while I would love it if our homeschooling circles were more diverse, they’re not, so that’s something we deal with.

But in the last few months, I’ve been seeing how Mushroom and BalletBoy call out incidents of sexism and racism and bias like it’s something they can’t not see. And they do it in a way that comes incredibly naturally to them. When we read aloud an older book where a boy plants an unwanted kiss on a girl’s cheek, BalletBoy stopped me practically mid-sentence and wanted to know, “Haven’t these people ever heard of consent?” When talking about “Sleeping Beauty” with the Husband, Mushroom observed, “The Prince basically assaults her in her sleep. Why is that supposed to be romantic?” When seeing a smiling slave in a picture book, Mushroom observed, “That’s not right. Would they really be smiling?” When told it would be okay if he was friends with someone who hated Muslims, BalletBoy fought back by being appalled at that notion. “No it wouldn’t! That person would be racist.”

When the boys were little, I really tried to take to heart the idea that the research says we have to be explicit with kids about race and that holding up colorblindness to kids as a value simply isn’t useful in combating racism. I’ve tried to keep the conversation about sexism in similarly clear terms, bringing up basic ideas about consent when they were very young with the idea that if it’s done naturally then that’s the best thing for raising kids.

And we’ve tried to read books and consume media that is diverse in many ways, with protagonists of different genders, races, and cultures. That has meant reading books like One Crazy Summer, that tackle racism head on in a very modern way (even if it’s a work of historical fiction) but also being willing to read quality older books and notice when race or gender isn’t dealt with well. One of the boys’ all time favorite series is The Great Brain, and it’s hardly a hateful series, but in books like that with older attitudes toward immigrants or First Nations peoples, we have tried to talk about how times have changed. And we’ve tried to read books and be willing to, in a kid appropriate way, study topics like the Civil Rights Movement or the Suffrage Movement or even tougher topics like the Holocaust or the legacy of Colonialism.

We haven’t had a unified curriculum or anything like that. And none of this has felt like a burden to me. Sometimes, I try to think, oh, have we been reading all male authors for awhile, maybe we should change things up, or vice versa, trying to loosely make sure we’re keeping a diversity of perspectives in our reading and media viewing. But mostly it’s been teachable moments, something that I think comes naturally to most homeschool families, and really to most thoughtful, engaged parents. However, part of doing this has meant being willing to have awkward conversations about race and gender even with young kids. The teachable moments are only obvious when you’re willing to have an uncomfortable conversation that acknowledges that things aren’t perfect or that racism isn’t over or that not everyone recognizes consent.

But the payoff is big. The payoff is kids who are native speakers of a new language. And for my kids, white males, it means they see privilege with acknowledgement and awareness but not resentment of the need to do that. They aren’t attached to some conception of masculinity that requires that they not express emotion. They don’t assume that a story about a Black girl or a Muslim boy or an Asian family isn’t for them so they’re open to listening.

Right now, my hope is that kids who were raised this way are our future.

 

September Vacations: The Best Homeschool Perk

Whoa! That's Chichen Itza! A great vacation this year.
Whoa! That’s Chichen Itza! A great vacation this year.

If you’re not taking your vacation in September, you’re missing out. I know not everyone can afford a vacation and that sometimes other commitments that have nothing to do with school can get in the way too, but if you can, I strongly suggest you take that vacation, whether near or far the week or even two weeks after Labor Day.

img_2107
We appreciate the raging waters near Niagara Falls two years ago. In September, of course.

I can promise you, less crowds, cheaper prices, and probably good weather. Yeah, I know, you start to risk Hurricane season in some quarters, but that’s what trip insurance is all about.

We haven’t had a huge vacation in a few years. Other than a drive to the in-laws and then on to scenic Niagara Falls, we haven’t managed to leave the country since our epic Africa vacation several years ago. But this September, we did the Yucatan. BalletBoy practiced his budding Spanish skills and we did a wonderful long unit ahead of time about Mayan history that made the boys sound so smart and informed while walking around the ancient ball courts and climbing the pyramids. Oh, and we chilled on the beach in Tulum a whole lot.

557324_4047961110797_548846505_n
Mushroom and BalletBoy do Epcot four years ago. In September, of course.

But if you’re not as adventurous, we got a great Great Wolf Lodge deal that week a couple of years ago. And our one grandparent fueled Disney trip was a second week of September affair and it was amazing. No lines, you guys. Well, almost no lines. Even if you’re just going to hit the local beach, the weather will probably still be great and the prices might be halved.

So next year, if you can, ditch the first week of soccer/dance/4-H/robotics club and head off for a few days to take your homeschool perk – travel without the masses.

In Praise of BalletBoy

IMG_0980

I just want to sing BalletBoy’s praises for a little bit. A couple of weeks ago, I talked about how Mushroom’s anxiety is tricky for all of us. He’s smart and insightful and intellectually curious, but he gets in his own way so often that it’s hard to see the forest for the trees and there are things I wish I could have him really working on that he can’t and amazing projects he’d like to do that he stops himself from finishing because of his perfectionism.

On the other hand, BalletBoy has really been blooming academically and it’s really exciting to be on the cusp of seeing him head into seventh grade next year and knowing that I get to plan for this kid who is suddenly, miraculously ready for a challenge.

We’ve really taken a pretty relaxed path for BalletBoy’s schooling overall. He’s on grade level for math. We don’t have a long list of required books. He does just a few serious pieces of writing every school year.

However, in the last several months, I’ve been so impressed by how he can suddenly sit down and work independently on schoolwork happily and competently. He doesn’t need me sitting there at his side any more. His reading has taken off. A couple of years ago, I dismayed about getting both my boys to read higher level nonfiction, but we worked on it and last week, I was able to hand BalletBoy a copy of Collapse by Jared Diamond (of Guns, Germs, and Steel fame) and have him read a lengthy section on his own. He used sticky notes to write notes all over the margins that included good summary notes, insightful questions, and connections to other readings he had done on the topic. He will read nearly anything I put before him (if it’s for school – he’s a picky reader in his own time). When I give him an open-ended assignment, like to write about an historical character, he takes the initiative to do some research on his own then cheerfully writes something pretty decent, typed, of course. He has deep questions about philosophy and history and science.

When I taught middle school, there was often a miraculous jump that kids experienced from sixth to seventh grade. They left for the summer looking and acting like little kids and suddenly came back ready to be so grown-up and insightful. BalletBoy is still so little in so many ways. He and Mushroom and their friends still enjoy imaginary games and cartoons and middle grade novels instead of more grown up YA books. However, in other ways, I see that he has suddenly grown up a little academically and is ready for more.

Sometimes Mushroom sucks all the air out of the room, which means that, when given the same assignment, BalletBoy finishes it fast and reasonably well while Mushroom demands that he keep working until it’s downright amazing. I’m trying to start calling BalletBoy on his “good enough” work a little more and push him a little more, give him a little of the oxygen in the room, so to speak. We’re slowly dividing up everything the boys do so that within the next few months, they probably won’t be studying any of the same things with any of the same materials. I think it’s going to benefit BalletBoy greatly.

For one thing, I’m looking forward to really making him dive in with more reading, at a higher level. I’m looking forward to seeing him define his own path for study and seeing where it goes. I’m especially excited to have a student who’s just ready for more. He still can get frustrated or stuck or try to get away with doing only a little. However, he’s ready for more.

He’s also ready for more ballet. He moves to four days a week next year and will probably add an extra fifth class as well. BalletBoy’s determination and dedication, both to ballet and to other projects he starts up, take me by surprise routinely. He’ll find a contest he wants to enter and suddenly he’ll set aside any his free time and screens to work on it for days until he reaches some sense of satisfaction. Ballet is a project that never reaches completion. He’s honest with himself about his failings (he’d never say he was the best in his level) and his successes. While I don’t think of him as a serious kid, people at ballet often tell me they think of him as such a “serious young man” which is amusing but also, when I think about it, so true.

Basically, right now, it’s a delight to see BalletBoy growing up, turning into the person he’s going to be.