Adolescent Freedom: Giving My Children What I Never Had

Adolescent Freedom: Giving My Children What I Never Had

“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…    

A Mother’s Task: Life Through the Eyes of My Child

A Mother’s Task: Life Through the Eyes of My Child

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…    

The Kids Are The Heroes: How I Stay Hopeful

The Kids Are The Heroes: How I Stay Hopeful

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.

“Why Don’t You Move Out?”

All the time. I get this all the time.Continue reading…    

Homeschooling for the Emotionally Unleashed

Homeschooling for the Emotionally Unleashed

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.

Emotionally Unleashed

“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…    

Truth Teller: Wake Up and Shake Up

Truth Teller: Wake Up and Shake Up

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.

“Why can’t you be my History teacher?”

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…    

Read Outside the Box: Love More, Hate Less

Read Outside the Box: Love More, Hate Less

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.

Continue reading…    

Why I Homeschool and Why You Should Too

Why I Homeschool and Why You Should Too

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.

Not So Crazy

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.

Broken Education System

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…    

Paint Your Toes and Take a Knee: It’s the Little Things

Paint Your Toes and Take a Knee: It’s the Little Things

It’s the little things.
It’s sun filtering in through your bedroom window. It’s kisses from babies. It’s summer rain and lightning storms. It’s coffee on the nightstand brought to you by a loved one. It’s a heart emoji text. It’s an unexpected raise.
It’s doing one small thing toward your goal every day.
And yes, it’s taking a knee.


When Colin Kaepernick first took a knee last year during a football game, very few people supported him. Many called him out. Tomi Laren did a number on him. She wasn’t alone. They said he was being disrespectful to the flag. He was a rabble rouser. He was looking for personal attention. He was trying to draw attention away from the fact that he was not performing well. 
It was such a small thing, but it had such a huge backlash. And he could not possibly have known the impact it would have. The ripple effects are myriad. He said, of course, that if he had to give up his paycheck to do what was right, that he would still do what was right. He said that he couldn’t possibly stand in support of a country that was allowing black people to die in the streets.
But he could not know the nationwide news his kneeling would make. He could not know that he would be blackballed from the NFL the following season.
And he certainly could not know that little by little, player by player, from middle school students to white female soccer players to fellow football players who had previously spoken against him, would take a knee.
He could not know that Donald Trump would jump into the fray, making this a battle now between black people and a white supremacist apologist.

Continue reading…    

Why You Should Take Your Kids to CuriOdyssey

Why You Should Take Your Kids to CuriOdyssey

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.

It Comes Down to Money

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.

The Solution

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…    

A Twisty Take on Attachment Parenting

A Twisty Take on Attachment Parenting

“You spoil your babies!” My sister burst out, accusing and laughing at the same time.

She had tried, to no avail, to hold my seven month old. Matilda was having none of it. My baby will let you hold her for about 30 seconds until she erupts into full blown crying, wailing, tears and all. She wants her mama. As soon as she gets back into my arms, she calms down and looks at the offender with contempt and suspicion.

She’ll be your best friend, smiles, giggles, tons of babbling, as long as you don’t try to hold her. As long as she is in her mama’s arms, she adores you.

A friend of ours who speaks Spanish as her first language tried to hold Matilda recently. She thought she could walk away, out of my sight, and that Matilda would forget about me and calm down. No such luck.

“Mamitis severitis.” She said, as she handed her back to me. Continue reading…