Browse and Seek

Not another dime in the jukebox

A couple of weeks ago I found myself at the doctor’s office, having my first physical since 2010. I’d had great prenatal care and always felt like my health was just as important as the children I carried, but this was my first appointment for just me in five years. That last one was at UCSF with a new practice, this one was with the doctor I was assigned when I joined Kaiser in 2003. Quick catch-up, quick check-up, and a scroll through my medical records. “How are you doing?”

“Well, I don’t get enough sleep or exercise or time to myself or with other grown-ups. And I probably eat too much sugar and other crap.”

“And are you feeling any depression?”

“Um, some. It’s been better this last month, but things have been pretty hard.”

“You were on Prozac before. Did that work for you?” I nod. “Do you want to try it again?”

“Um, I would, but I know I have to have a psychiatrist and therapist assigned to me, and I don’t have a lot of time for appointments-“

“Actually, I can give them to you after we do the initial screen. Would you like them?”


Fifteen minutes later I had a three-month supply in my hand and a capsule in my mouth.

A week later I realized it had gotten very quiet inside my head. Depression, for me, is a discordant, agitating song that flows through all of my waking moments. Imagine a constantly blaring car horn that emits despair and self-hate and defensiveness and anxiety just loudly enough to distract you from your creative, loving, empathetic pieces. You go through your days disconnected from your best self, and it keeps you from seeing the best selves of others. And since you’re a stay-at-home parent, the others you see the most are your partner and children.

The Prozac has shut that off. I’ve been hearing it for years, probably since I got pregnant with Tristan, and it’s just gone. No external silence sounds as good as this.



This morning over breakfast, I asked Seamus if he’d had his coffee. I got the sad puppy look he enjoys offering up when he doesn’t want to do something. “Well, it’s just…”

“If you want something, ask for it.”

“I don’t want to drink my coffee today.”

Now, for school days a small cup of coffee is non-negotiable. He hates it, but it curbs some of his impulsiveness and increases his focus. Not a lot, but enough that he can get through the day if given a low-sugar diet, no screen time, and two hours of recess, lunch not included.

I looked at him. He spent yesterday and last night congested and snuffly, and really only interested in finishing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It’s the penultimate week of our school year, with Tristan’s school year and all the fall activities starting up while he’s on break, so he really won’t get much of one. And the kid has worked his butt off. In addition to the year’s worth of math I had planned, he worked through a year’s worth of remedial math in less than half that time. He read picture book versions of The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Aeneid, along with a ton of other myths, historical and scientific readings. His current reading work is a year ahead…and it’s easy for him.

So I decided to relax the last two weeks. He has math to finish, and some readings, but everything else can wait a little bit. Third grade will be rigorous, and we’ll have a lot going on. I think this is a good time to give him a break. He’s recovering today and playing with Tristan, while I gather up Tristan’s school supplies and make his preschool blankie. We’ll spend lots of time outside in the next few weeks, and lots of time getting ready for next year -I have much reading and a lot of organizing to do, and hopefully the breadcrumb trail to school’s end and the breather will do him good.


No thanks, we're good. Really.

I always feel a bit like a jerk for not signing the boys up for the library’s summer reading programs (the one for pre-readers is for the parents to read to them). I often take the forms home in June, but when I’m asked later if we’re doing it, I say no. I’m not rude, and I try to mention that we homeschool year round, so there’s plenty of reading taking place. In the end I feel like I’ve irked the librarians because I’m denying my children some reward for reading, and I’ve irked Seamus because there are treats! For him to have! Just for reading! This summer I decided Seamus could go to the children’s reference desk on his own while Tristan and I hunted down picture books.

I have no issue with the program, and if ice cream and stickers and baseball tickets entice kids to read, well, hey, great. But my kids love books already. Seamus was sick for most of last week, and still polished off all of his history, science, and language arts reading, on top of some library books. Tristan is only motionless when you read to him, and he will sit still for at least an hour if you keep it up. More importantly, they see the rewards within the books, and pursue those with as much excitement as they do trips to Tucker’s for ice cream.

Why would I mess with that?


Year Two, and One

Hello from the other side of a long, fallow stretch. I spent the last couple of months grinding along in our routine, not making much, doing much, cooking much, or going anywhere. Just getting the boys through their days and schedules was more than enough, and I’ve spent my evenings trying to find some quiet so I could regroup, and failing. And then The Sad came and hung around for a while, and I was too goddamn tired to fight it. It’s still here, and I’m still tired, but I have a home to make for my kids, and educations to plan and guide for them, and all that other stuff they need-food and clothing and loving attention and consistency. I sometimes go through my photos so I can remember the cool stuff I’ve done with them at certain ages and seasons, and I do those things with the boys. We’ve picked cherries, blackberries, and peaches, and they are getting out on their bikes. We go to the library and out for ice cream, and we walked through the July 4th parade line-up and looked at the floats. We grill and have movie nights. It helps, even when I don’t think it does and I feel upset at all I’m not doing anything well, or at all.

The new school year is coming soon, and like all good professional students and wanabes like myself, I pick up some momentum midsummer and start preparing. While we don’t have a long summer break, I do enjoy marking the first official day of school, which for 2015-2016 will be on September 21st. Should Tristan attend preschool, which is dependent entirely upon his using the toilet on his own, his first day will come earlier, as Montessori Option #1 (remember them?) follows the school district calendar. Whether it’s there or here at home, this is his preschool year, which is about as surreal as Seamus entering third grade. Where the hell are my babies?

Our schedule is up in the air, due the potty training and not-yet-selected extracurriculars, but most of our materials are in place. Here’s what’s on deck.


Practical Life- I would like Tristan to continue with his new job (feeding the pets), to start pooping in the toilet, and to dress himself with less assistance. I have dressing frames and a rice bin with scoopers, plus other works for other tasks, but those three are the big ones for this coming year.

Numeracy- This is entirely Tristan-led. Right now we play with puzzles, shape stencils, counting blocks, and some exercises from Family Math for Young Children.

Literacy- Lots and lots and lots of storytime,, alphabet cards. Tristan will sit in my lap for up to 90 minutes and listen to books.

Art and Music- The boys have open access to their art supplies, and I help facilitate whatever Tris wants to do, with occasional introductions to things. I’m hoping that he figures out his handedness, and stops cutting his hair while I’m in the bathroom. I still have the Hoffman Academy materials, and the music classes vis BBC School Radio, and we listen to them once in a while, as his interpretation of music class is to pound on all the instruments.

Physical Education- He’s in a swim class once a week, a tumbling class once a week, and he’s getting the hang of the balance bike.

If he goes to MO#1, I’ll “home-preschool” twice a week, if not, four times.


Practical Life- Laundry, dishes, and vacuuming. The big one will be the fourth task, putting away his toys and books.

Math- MEP Years 2 and 3, Miquon Books 3 and 4, Zaccarro’s Primary Grade Challenge Math, Logic Countdown, Family Math: Equals, puzzles and games.

Language Arts- Mosdos Opal and Ruby, All About Spelling 1 and 2, Brave Writer’s Jot It Down. I’m dropping grammar this year so we can focus on spelling and writing. He’ll read out loud to us and memorize a short poem every week, and we’ll read to him.

Social Studies- History Odyssey Middle Ages Level 1, altered to be more project-based. I’ve pulled the state objectives for social science for third grade, and we’ll incorporate them into a homemade approach. We’ll read the local papers, and start to travel more in-state, discussing state history as we go.

Science- Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding, grades 3-5. Once we’ve finished this book, Seamus should have a solid foundation of scientific laws and theories, and be familiar with the scientific method. At which point we’ll discuss his taking a class elsewhere.

Interest-led Subjects- I’m keeping a runing list of all the things Seamus says he wants to try, and the things he has tried. This quarter we started letting him pick a few and then run with them with just some guidance and a lot of support. Right now it’s visual art, industrial art, computer science, and sewing.

Physical Education- Swimming and riding his bike and scooter right now, with the possibility of more physical extracurriculars to come.

Extracurriculars- He will resume theater in the fall, and we’ll discuss the rest soon.


Looking at the final lap

So now that I know Squarespace works better in Safari, I can update more frequently (yay!). I have no idea how bring this sad little blog of mine up to date any more than I know how I’ll tackle the eight inches of non-junk mail sitting on our family room coffee table in the twenty minutes left to me before Patrick and the lads all come bombing home from Costco, so I’ll try to hit most of the highlights of the past few months.

Tonight, Seamus is in a play! He enrolled in a class through Bay Area Children’s Theater back in February, and tonight and tomorrow afternoon they perform the Disney version of The Jungle Book. Seamus is playing Baloo, which he’s worked really hard at doing well. Parent’s aren’t allowed to lurk about during rehearsals, so tonight is the first night we’ll see him perform. We’ve also started to support some of his friends’ pursuits by attending one friend’s play two weeks ago, and another’s baseball game in another week, as part of his desire to keep in touch with them. I like this a lot better than trying to coordinate mutual enrollment in camps and activities, since it lets the kids maintain their own interests. I also think it’s good for kids to see their friends do other things It gives context for those stretches between playdates, and maybe helps with the early awkward moments when they reunite. I hope.

School has really evolved for us. Patrick’s folks visited in late March and noticed that Seamus was having trouble with mental/verbal math. I spent some time putting together some of the resources I have here and poking through Ronit Bird’s website, and came up with a plan. We play games involving math (black jack, dominoes, and Yahtzee) a few times a week, and during our walks in the morning I ask him to either do simple algorithms (addition and subtraction), or we work on number sequences. Doing the work orally slows him down enough to think about it, and this seems to help his working memory, which can use the workout. We began working through the first year MEP materials, and the multiple approaches toward learning a math fact have been fantastic for a kid who loves variety and novelty, but still needed practice. We’re halfway through the book now, and we’ll finish it by the end of this quarter/beginning of summer. We’ll begin the second year materials over the summer and slow the pace down. Since we still use Miquon, he’s currently being exposed to math materials spanning first through fourth grade, so we can take our time with MEP. I love MEP. It’s our primary math material now, and it complements Miquon and GEMS Family Math nicely. Seamus still loves reading Life of Fred, but has no love of doing the exercises, so I’m contemplating selling the books and looking at Beast Academy once we complete Miquon.

Putting together all of this math made me realize I needed to devote less mental bandwidth to our humanities works, so I asked around and looked at three different language arts curricula. I had been borrowing heavily from one called Classical House of Learning Literature, which was okay, but not quite challenging enough, plus I had to customize it to the books I found in the library. Since Seamus is still writing averse, I went with Mosdos, which is structured around reading really good short stories, poems, plays, and novellas and teaching kids to analyze the work. It’s a lot of incremental learning in units with mostly workbook work and a couple of paragraphs per reading assignment. This lets me shift the lit he was reading into his history units, and then incorporate art as well into more projects and cutural study. This should serve us pretty well as we discuss some pretty big civilizations next quarter (Mayans, Han Empire Chinese, Romans) as well as next year, when we cover a mere thousand years. 

Tristan is three now! He is our bright chatterbox and deeply in love with all vehicles, much more so than Seamus was at this age. I took him to his first preschooler naturalist class this week and he could not stop exclaiming about the school buses next to the education center, where we were planting wlidflowers. He climbs EVERYTHING, so we’ve enrolled him in a tumbling class. Like Seamus, he’s been memorizing his favorite books for a while now, so we’ve begun letting him play with Starfall, and I’m more conciously introducing phonograms whenever we read one of his ABC books. It’s not yet time to teach him how to read, but IT’S COMING, FOLKS.

He is potty training and will use the potty if he’s bottomless, but has not made the transition to pulling his pants down. I’m not sure how to tackle that yet. but it needs doing, to be sure. Right now I’m working on other aspects of self-reliance, and just letting him be half-naked at home.

I need to help Shay get ready, more soon.