“Ugh, I know, I know.” My mother sighs, on her recent trip here for the New Year. “I was a horrible mother, and I didn’t protect you. I think I’m ready for some tequila now.”
She was, kind of, being dramatic.
And also kind of not.
It is true that she didn’t protect me from my stepfather. He came into my life when I was seven years old. I was willful, strong, confident, and sure of what I wanted. My mother was young and lost in love, stars in her eyes over the high school sweetheart that had returned to her.
He was macho, all bluster and ball swinging.
“You want me to take care of it?” He turned to my mother and asked one night. I was fighting bedtime again, as I always did. He had just moved in with us. I was eight.
And she let him. Continue reading…
Easily one of the most important jobs I take on as a mother is to see life through the eyes of my child. I don’t know that I ever tried to walk in anyone else’s shoes before I met my husband. I’m not saying I was a bad person per se; I did a lot of good for a lot of people. I just didn’t spend a lot of time looking at things from other people’s perspectives. My idea of what was right and what was wrong was clear. I didn’t need to see through someone else’s eyes.
When I met Carlos, he was always soothing my self righteousness.
“I can’t believe she would do that!” I would say about some coworker or family member.
“Well,” he would begin calmly. “Imagine if you were her.”
And he would walk me down a road of deep empathy, the like I had never seen.Continue reading…
Remembering that the kids are the heroes is, today, the only thing that has returned hope to my weary soul.
I am tired. The tiredness I feel goes deep down into my bones. At my core I am tired.
A week of finals tutoring always does this to me. It is especially difficult in December when I am also shopping, baking, and crafting with little ones.
I have four hour sessions, broken into two two hour sessions, with my students, to cover the first half of a history or government class. Tutoring history and government is emotionally draining. I teach what I teach because I want to change the world. I tell my students the history of their country and the structure of their government so that they know their rights, so that they understand where we came from.
So we can make it better.
I am invested in this process, deeply.
All the time. I get this all the time.Continue reading…
Every single finals week for the past five years, Celaya, an already emotional child, becomes high strung and irrational. Her eyes well up with tears, her voice begins to crack, and her head will hang down at the unlikeliest of slights. I know quite well that I am raising an empath. I have seen her sensitive, serious observational personality from the very beginning. And it is one major reason I am homeschooling.
“That’s it Celaya! You got it!” Says my mom friend Dennie, in the park today. She had been showing Celaya how to swing on her own, the same way she taught her twin boys, two of Celaya’s best friends.
She pushed Celaya forward, then back, showing her how to angle her body.
I was pushing Matilda in the baby swing, a couple of swings away.
I was watching this all unfold, knowing what was coming, watching as the change came over Celaya, but I also knew there was nothing I could do to prevent it, and that, really, it wasn’t my job to prevent it.
Celaya learned quite successfully how to swing on her own, how to angle her body, how to build momentum. And as she learned this from a trusted adult, she became quieter, her head bent forward, thick mop of hair covering her face. By the time Dennie celebrated what she had just watched Celaya learn, Celaya had gone completely quiet.
And then she started bawling. Continue reading…
A solid educational system should include teaching kids critical thinking skills. Educated kids should be challenging authority. Well educated kids would question everything. Everything. Well educated kids would be pissed, furious at what the grown ups in the room are doing to the country they will inherit. Part of my mission in life, in my work, in my writing, is to educate people. Why? Well educated people would not have voted for Donald Trump.
I have had countless students ask me this.
I get it. Their teachers are burned out, disenchanted with the system, apathetic, and some are just plain bored. Most teachers start with the best intentions, and then they get into these thankless, exhausting jobs that we have created for them – teach 35 kids every hour for 6 hours with a half an hour break during which you will meet with students who need you; then after school prepare lessons and grade tests all afternoon into the evening.
And for all that? We’ll pay you barely a living wage, you’ll be lucky to get health benefits, and really lucky to get tenure. Security in this overworked and undervalued job.Continue reading…
I learned very early on that I would have to read outside the box if I wanted to get outside of my small world. Sandra Cisneros, in The House on Mango Street, talks about the confining feeling of her city streets. Escape was unheard of. The scrawny trees stretched their branches toward the sky, desperate, as she was, for open space.
My childhood had a similar scope. We ran a few city blocks, but we rarely left our area. If I wanted to leave, it would have to be through books. I became a consumer of literature almost from the time I was born. I must have decided before conception, still suspended in an alternate reality, an alternate plane of existence, full of knowledge and wisdom, choosing my next life, that I would need to be born to a woman who would provide me with books.
My mother tells stories of how as a little girl, still a toddler, I would climb into the laps of visitors to our house with a book.
“Read.” I would implore any stranger who happened by.
And read I did. I read throughout elementary school, elevated to the “elite” status of GATE, gifted and talented education, not because I was so smart, I think, but because I read a lot.
I read about babysitters clubs and Nancy Drew’s adventures, Trixie Belden and vampire bunnies. As I got closer to middle school, which was then called Junior High, just for seventh and eighth graders, I began to read supernatural literature – witches, vampires, ghosts and goblins.
My mother had a general rule that as long as it was written and bound, I could read it. Nothing was off limits. My mom really only read romance novels. My name, Shanna, comes from the book, by romance novelist Kathleen Woodiwiss, of the same name. I absorbed her romance novels in the sixth grade.
Our education system is broken. Yes, broken. It is probably broken beyond repair. At this point, I think the only way to fix our education system is to completely scrap it and start over. I am an educator, I have been in education for more than ten years, longer than I have been a mother. I am a product of the American school system. And let me tell you: the system is broken. So, now you know the primary answer to why I homeschool, and why you should too. But oh, there’s so much more.
First, let me tell you who I am, so that you can erase and repaint the “homeschool mom” image you have probably already formed of me in your mind. I am liberal; I am an atheist; I am highly educated; I live in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, and I have all my life; I am a feminist.
You will be hard pressed to find a lot of homeschoolers that look like me, though we are a growing group. I am not homeschooling to shelter my child; we get outside virtually every day to parks, playgrounds, hikes, museums, indoor play places, and yes, even classes.
And I am not homeschooling to make sure she only learns my way of thinking; she has taken classes without me from several different teachers from all walks of life on a variety of subjects, and she will continue to do so.
Next, let me explain what broken means because you may misunderstand me. It does not mean that there are not excellent schools that extract excellent grades from excellent students. I am a humanities and test prep tutor in highly affluent areas; I work with the best of the best of the best.Continue reading…
As an SF Bay Area parent, I have a ton of options for what to do with my kids. Celaya, my five year old daughter, has spent her weekday mornings in Bay Area parks since she could walk. We have the Exploratorium in San Francisco, the Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose or Sausalito, the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland, and many more play places and museums to choose from. We also have hiking trails, lakes, the ocean only 30 miles west and the bay shoreline that we can access from many entry points. You can get anything you want in the Bay Area if you just know where to look. When you take your kids to CuriOdyssey, you get the best of all worlds.
The problem I am finding is that most of the parks in the mornings and early afternoons are empty except for very small children. School has begun, and I homeschool my children. This never mattered much until recently when Celaya reached “school age.” All of her friends and most other kids her age headed off to kindergarten. We now have to actively seek new groups of homeschoolers to meet with, and I have to actively seek ways to engage her growing mind.
Also, I don’t just homeschool, I unschool. I’ve got a whole separate piece coming on what that means, but for now just know that we do not sit down at a desk each day and do formal instruction for hours, not even for one hour. We do a lot of hands on learning. Somewhere around midmorning we head out into the world to engage with it. We meet new people, we enjoy nature, and we breathe fresh air. Or we hit a museum or play place where Celaya can socialize with other kids and learn about the world around her.
Museums cost money though, sometimes a lot of money. For most of them I buy annual memberships because they pay for themselves in two visits. For the rest, you’re looking at $20- $30 per person per visit. That’s a lot of money, and I only have one kid that costs. Once Matilda is old enough, that’s another kid to pay for, and ideally I’d like four kids. Game over. I can’t afford entrance fees for four kids at $25, plus parking, plus cafe snacks, plus plus plus.
What I have learned to do is find the public parks, museums, and zoos that charge minimal membership fees. The other trick is to take advantage of reciprocal entrance fees. Continue reading…