It took a trip to the wilderness to parent like I wanted to.

My four-year-old collapsed in a field of daisies, his face contorted in anger: “This is the WORST DAY EVER!” His baby brother clutched my leg, howling, “Big bear ding-dong! Big bear ding-dong!”

Songbirds scattered from the trees around us.

I stood in the middle of the trail, toddler attached to one leg, four-year-old prone in the field beside me. The kids’ wails rose into the cloudless sky. We were in a wilderness paradise full of meandering paths, tree swings, stick forts, and an off-the-grid school bus I had rented for our weekend camping trip. On my own. And six months pregnant besides.

There was no one for miles to witness this parenting fail.

When Matt went off on his annual guys-only canoe trip, I decided to take the kids on a camping trip of our own. I had everything figured out. The best food and plenty of it. The right gear but nothing complicated. I even prepared the kids for the tricky parts of our stay, like how our host asked us not to push the buttons or play with the steering wheel inside the bus. Gus and Henry had no problems with that.

I was Super Mom, I told myself, hoisting the cooler above my third-trimester belly and lugging it up to the bus.

What I couldn’t control, however, were the kids’ emotions. Including how many they had. Or how loud they were.

Who could have predicted that the moment we stepped into the woods, the toddler would become terrified that a big bear was coming to ring our doorbell? Or that the four-year-old would have an endless (it seemed) case of the blahs?

Not me, obviously.

I was helpless in every sense of the word.

I had snacks and water in my backpack, but the kids weren’t hungry or thirsty.

A nap? Who was I kidding? Who would fall asleep in the middle of a hiking trail?

Bribery? I suspected not even a bucket of ice cream would please the four-year-old in that moment. I certainly had nothing comparable in my pack.

Distraction? Can’t really distract a toddler from his fear of the woods… when you’re in the middle of the woods.

And while we parent without threats or punishment (to the best of our fallible ability), neither would have helped the situation I was in.

It no longer was about what would “work.”

It had to be about what they needed.

Somewhere on that trail, in the middle of the woods, with no one watching, I began to parent the way I had been striving to for months. I didn’t shush their voices because there was no one to hear them yelling. I didn’t rush them because there was nowhere we needed to go. I didn’t bribe, distract, or manipulate them because… honestly, at the end of it all, we’d still be out in the middle of the woods, and it made a lot more sense to help them rather than cajole their problems away.

I realized that I was a better parent when no one was watching.

And that I spend too much time worrying about what other people think.

Instead, I sat down on the path, held Henry, and read to Gus from My Father’s Dragon (because that’s what he asked me to do). Yes, I thought things like “we could be reading this book at home” and “is anyone going to have fun this weekend?” and “my butt is falling asleep,” but I kept those thoughts to myself.

After awhile, the kids started to relax.

It wasn’t long before they began to have a good time.

I did, too.

My son went to the perfect preschool. It was totally unnecessary.

Gus finished preschool last week.

As I walked into his classroom on the last day, I took in the giant windows that overlooked the woodland playground. The school’s pet chickens were squawking around outside. A group of children in rain boots raced across the yard with their teacher, starting off the daily hike across the wildflower prairie, to visit the animals at the farm, or to hunt for frogs in the rocky creek. The classroom was spotless, as always, with a new rotation of open-ended toys displayed on the wooden shelves. A few of his classmates had arrived already and were reading picture books in a wooden loft draped with silk cloths and twinkle lights.

It really was a lovely school, I reminded myself.

He just didn’t need it.

But maybe we parents did.

Throughout the year, I noticed that when I made small talk in the lobby at drop-off and pick-up, my conversation with other parents often returned to: “Isn’t this place amazing? I wish I could be a kid here!”

The nostalgia was drenching. I know I felt it. It was that feeling, that longing for an idyllic childhood, that led us to enroll Gus in The Perfect Preschool last fall for two afternoons per week.

By Thanksgiving, the glamor wore off.

The preschool was still as perfect as it had seemed in the beginning. The teachers were just as kind. The activities were just as magical. It was just that… maybe we didn’t need perfect after all.

I know Gus didn’t.

If you had asked him what his perfect school would be, he’d probably say a place with stuff to climb on, a bunch of books about wolves and the Revolutionary War, and a handful of friends who like to pretend to rescue animals and appreciate a good potty joke.

Sounds like our house. And the friends he has in our homeschool group and in the neighborhood.

But all year long, we’d leave those places – setting aside whatever book or project he’d been immersed in at home, bailing out of playgroup before the game had really ended – and go to preschool, where he would do exactly what he would have been doing at home. Building with blocks. Digging in the sand. Listening to a story. Except this time he’d be in a room with abundant windows, pet chickens, and twinkle lights, and we were paying an arm and a leg for it. (Because, as early childhood educators agree, The Perfect Preschool should focus on play, exploration, and curiosity. The value of teaching kids to read, write, and add when they are very young has been thoroughly disproven.)

And while Gus was outside with his preschool class, digging in the mud and climbing trees, Henry and I were on the other side of the preschool grounds… digging in the mud and climbing trees. It seemed redundant. Why weren’t we all together? We certainly wanted to be.

Around the time that Matt and I were talking about calling it quits, a new student enrolled in Gus’s class. He would quickly become the first friend Gus ever made on his own. Happily, he’s also part of our homeschool group (small world), but the friendship didn’t develop there – it developed at preschool – and that, to Gus, made the world of a difference. And because he was so excited to go to preschool to see his friend, we decided to finish the school year.

After all, I remember my first real friend. (Ah, the nostalgia!)

It turns out, we didn’t need handcrafted wooden blocks or biweekly naturalist-led nature walks to give Gus an idyllic childhood experience.

If I had realized that his favorite parts of preschool would be playing spaceship with his friend and attending the ice cream party on the last day of class, we could have bought a tub of Blue Bunny, scheduled a bunch of playdates, and called it done.

That’s what we’ll be doing from now on.

And as for learning? Well, if the best schools inspire play, exploration, and curiosity, I’m pretty sure Gus has that covered on his own.

30 days of Zero Waste Grocery Shopping

We made it through our first month of zero waste grocery shopping.

To be honest, if you had told me at the beginning of the month that we could do it, I wouldn’t have believed you.

It was daunting.

But we did it. (And we didn’t even have to give up ice cream.)

I first heard about zero waste living ten years ago with No Impact Man. I was especially struck by how the family brought their own reusable containers to take-out restaurants to avoid single-use plastics. That’s cool, I thought, but pretty weird.

A lot has changed in ten years. Zero waste living isn’t on the fringe anymore. Now, I’m one of those “weird” people bringing containers to the take-out counter. Most people I talk to want to reduce the amount of trash they produce.

The question we all are wondering is… how?

I spent the last month trying to figure that out.

The picture up top shows my first zero-waste grocery run from a couple months ago. I’ve learned a lot since then. Now, when I look at that stash I see:

  • Throw-away tag on the carrots (boo, so far unavoidable)
  • Throw-away sticker on the meat (boo, so far also unavoidable)
  • Those chip bags are NOT recyclable after all (boo, greenwashing)
  • I could have brought my own container for bulk honey

But it was a light year of improvement from the plastic-heavy Trader Joe’s runs I’d been making before.

Here’s how we made it through the month (and why it will be easy for us to continue):

  1. We set aside a place to stash our reusable containers. 

There’s a designated drawer in the kitchen for what I’ve found are our essentials:

  • Reusable produce bags
  • Plastic two-dozen egg carton (saved from a previous Costco purchased and reused)
  • Reusable linen bag for bread and baked goods
  • Reusable cotton drawstring bags for bulk foods section (to fill with rice, beans, pasta, dried fruit, nuts, flour, sugar, and so on)
  • Reusable mason jars for bulk liquids (honey, olive oil, peanut butter)
  • Cloth grocery bagsWhen I’m going grocery shopping, I just grab what I need and go.2. We started saying no.

We had certainly heard of reduce, reuse, and recycle – but for us the big game-changer was refuse.

It made all the difference.

To my son at the grocery store: “We can get snacks from the bulk foods section. We don’t need to buy anything that comes in packaging.” 

To the clerk at the deli: “Can you wrap our meat and cheese in paper and skip the plastic bag?”

To the barista at the coffee shop: “Go ahead and just hand us the muffins. We have our own bag, and we don’t need a paper napkin.”

3. We planned a lot at first – but then we got used to it. 

The first few times I went zero waste shopping, I left the kids at home. It was hard enough to juggle the meal plan list and the grocery list, figure out the tares for my reusable containers, find where all of the zero waste options were in the store, AND keep the four-year-old’s hands out of the bulk chocolate chip container (why do they keep that at ground level?!).

By the end of the month, I was cruising through the aisles, (reusable) coffee cup in hand, while the toddler banged on the cart and the four-year-old moon-walked down the aisle ahead of me.

(Dance moves in action.)

Like any new skill, zero waste shopping has a learning curve. But it is not difficult forever.

4. We found new favorites, and we learned how to keep the foods we love.

Zero waste shopping won’t work for us if we can’t eat ice cream. But instead of buying a carton (with a throw-away plastic wrapper) to satisfy our craving, we went to the ice cream shop for handmade cones.

When I didn’t want to cook, we ordered pizza and asked them to hold the dipping sauce (no plastic cups). Then we composted the box.

I haven’t been able to find a fully-recyclable tortilla chip bag, but I’ve been making homemade tortillas instead. It’s surprising easy (and cheap).

The kids are satisfied with homemade popcorn, nuts, dried fruit, and the occasional (okay, maybe not so occasional) handful of chocolate chips instead of the boxed crackers and snacks we used to purchase.

The four-year-old embraced the idea of zero waste shopping from the get go. “Ugh, plastic,” I heard him whisper under his breath as he walked by a slice of chocolate cake in a single-serving container in the bakery. A month ago, he would have been clamoring to buy it.

And the toddler ate an entire raw bell pepper this weekend.

I’m not sure he would have done that a month ago.

So will we keep zero waste shopping?

Yep.

But we’re going to take it to the next level.

This month, we’re going to see if all our trash can fit in here.

 

6 ways to raise feminist boys (all year long)

A vicious 24-hour stomach bug steamrolled through our house yesterday. We all spent today in recovery doing what I call couchschooling.

It is exactly what you think it is.

Some time after breakfast (my first full meal in 24 hours), I logged onto my phone and learned it was March 8.

International Women’s Day.

Somewhere in the haze of late-night bedding changes and semiconscious debates with Matt about which one of us was the least nauseous parent (and thus obligated to clean the carpet), I didn’t plan any special activities for today.

But on second thought, I justified to myself, stumbling my way from the bed to the couch, maybe it’s better this way.

Maybe it’s better to teach the important things – like feminism, or environmentalism, or racial justice – a little bit, all of the time.

And so that is what we did today.

We read a few of our favorite feminist biographies (while I still had the voice enough to read).

Then Gus chose one woman to learn more about. He picked Harriet Tubman.

We watched a few Youtube videos on Tubman’s life. (Which also meant that I could stop talking. Yay.)

Did you know that after guiding 300 slaves to freedom, she became the U.S.’s first black female spy (during the Civil War)? And that her most famous quote is, “Move or die”? And she never went anywhere without her gun?

Gus thinks she was incredible.

Me too.

He made a drawing of Tubman’s escape route (from the crops at the plantation to the northern part of his piece of paper). In his drawing, she makes her way through swamps and narrowly avoids alligators. He made sure to include her walking stick and gun.

And the words he used to describe what women can do? Be brave, navigate, rescue, spy. 

And that’s it, folks.

After that, I had enough energy to lay motionless, occasionally refilling the kids’ bowls of dried Cheerios.

(They were well-fed, supervised, and busy putting together alphabet puzzles. Don’t worry.)

We try to teach feminism year-round over here. Which makes me feel better about the minimal amount of effort I put into homeschooling today.

Here are my 6 Ways to Raise Feminist Boys (All Year Long): 

  1. Stock your shelves with books that feature bold, unstoppable female characters.

    Boys should be reading books about girls. There are lots of fantastic children’s books written about brave, clever, and creative girls – but it’s a problem if only girls are reading them. Boys need to read books about gender equality and girl empowerment, too.

    Curious about some of our favorites?

  2. Include the perspectives of women from diverse backgrounds. 

    Scour the library shelves for books about bold, unstoppable female characters, but don’t stop there. Make sure your collection includes the perspectives and voices of women of color, women from countries outside of the United States, women with disabilities, working-class women, and bisexual, lesbian, and trans women.

    Unfortunately, this isn’t easy. But there are book lists out there that can help.

  3. Learn about famous women from history…
  4. … but don’t forget about the amazing things young women and girls are doing today.

    Ted talks are a great way to introduce your kids to the young women who are changing the world today. Gus especially liked the talks featuring:

    Jade Hameister, who at 14 years old became the youngest person to ski to the North Pole.

    Adora Svitak, who published her first book at 6 and now, at age 12, is a educator, public speaker, and children’s rights advocate.

    Lauren Hodge, Shree Bose and Naomi Shah, award-winning teenage scientists.

    At 4.5, Gus is just barely old enough for TED Talks. If I pause the videos frequently enough to explain and answer his questions, however, he can follow along pretty well.

    And even if he doesn’t understand every detail of the talk, he’s seeing images of young women in positions of authority, accomplishment and leadership. This will make a lasting impression.

  5. Give your son female role models…

    Have a future pilot in the house? Learn about Amelia Earhart. A budding computer programmer? Read books about Ada Lovelace.

    Gus was already interested in spies when he discovered that Harriet Tubman had been a spy for the Union Army. That fact made him want to learn everything I could find about her.

  6. … as well as male. 

Boys need to learn that girls can do anything. But they also must learn that boys can too.

Boys can be sensitive. Boys can cry. Boys can play with dolls and wear pink. Boys can grow to become nurses, preschool teachers, and stay-at-home parents.

I’ve been searching for books that show boys and men in non-traditional gender roles.

One of my favorite books that teaches a broad, inclusive definition of masculinity is called Real Cowboys by Kate Hoelfer.

Real cowboys are gentle. They know all of the songs that keep cattle calm..

This book is amazing. I’ve never read another quite like it. Hoelfer does a fantastic job of illustrating how a person can be strong and sensitive, tough and tender at the very same time. Because, as she points out in the book, real cowboys are girls, too.

Real cowboys want peace…

Real cowboys are good to the earth…

There is so much good in this book. And so many good resources out there.

But there’s not enough.

I want more children’s books to feature stay-at-home dads. (There is this one, however, that we plan to read).

I want to read a book that tells boys and girls that they can become a scientist, the president, or a stay-at-home parent – and that all of those choices have value. All too often, female empowerment in children’s books looks like success in the workplace. We need to recognize and value the unpaid work of full-time parenting (regardless of which parent is staying at home) and present it as a legitimate, valuable role for children to aspire to.

I want more books that teach children how to speak out and stand up to injustice.

It’s one thing to learn that injustice exists, but it’s another thing completely to learn how to stop it.

 

Alice’s homeschool day in the life (with a 1- and 4-year old)

I wanted to homeschool my kids long before I ever had any. Homeschooling was never a question of why for me. It was more of a question of how. How would I implement child-led learning? How would I unschool and still have my kids learn math? How would my kids learn to read?

I didn’t want curriculum or a schedule. I needed to find a lifestyle that worked for us – a way to live together that would give my kids what they needed to learn and grow.

I found some of my best inspiration for this lifestyle from other homeschooling moms.

My favorite place for inspiration has been the Homeschool Day In the Life series at Simple Homeschool. Every February, the website’s contributors share a typical day in the life of their family’s homeschool.

It’s from these posts that I’ve learned about gameschooling, nature journals, and the Brave Writer lifestyle, three elements I predict will be important to our homeschool going forward. I’ve also learned to relax, focus on the big picture, and realize that no day is ever perfect (nor does it need to be).

This year, I’m adding my own day in the life post to the Simple Homeschool link-up.

They’re tiny, but I call them homeschoolers.

Though neither of my kids are yet school-age, I’m going to lay claim to the title of Homeschool Mom because 1). We officially missed the deadline to register Gus for kindergarten in the fall (it feels like a big deal!) and 2). He’s beginning to read, write, and sum at a kindergarten level.

Here goes our first day in the life post. As it turns out, it was a fairly typical day – and a good example of how life works around here.

Early Morning

I wake up around 7:00 AM to a pair of tiny feet digging into the small of my back.

Gus, our 4-year-old, crept downstairs sometime in the early morning with a stuffed wolf under each arm and burrowed between Matt and I in bed.

“Mom,” Gus says, “what are we doing today?”

I blink at the sunlight streaming through the windows and strive for consciousness. Morning person I am not. “It’s a home day,” I finally answer.

Gus cheers.

A home day is what we call a day without any scheduled plans (though we rarely stay home). In general, we’re all happiest if we have three unplanned days a week, but I usually have to struggle to reign in our calendar that much.

There’s a common misconception that homeschooling creates isolated, unsocialized kids – but I’ve found the opposite to be true. We’re lucky to be part of a large, active community of eclectic homeschoolers and unschoolers. My kids could be involved in a class, field trip, or play date with our group every day of the week if we wanted to.

As it is, we participate Spanish class and go on weekly field trips with the group. Theater class begins when Spanish ends, and there will be a community service/activism group forming this summer. Gus also goes to a play-based nature preschool program two afternoons per week – and one of his best friends from homeschool group is in his class.

Today, however, we have nothing planned.

I love it.

Generously, Matt gets up with Gus and Henry (our 1-year-old) and lets me stay in bed a little while longer. He’s leaving for a business trip in a few hours and has more time at home this morning than usual. I hear the boys rustling through the entryway for their boots and snow pants, and before long they’re all outside throwing snowballs in the front yard.

Relishing the thought of being alone in a quiet house (for at least a few minutes), I quickly pull myself out of bed, make a cup of coffee, and start on breakfast. We eat an epic meal – eggs, French toast, oatmeal, yogurt, fruit – (everyone is always famished in the morning), say goodbye to Matt, and then get down to the business of the day.

The business is books.

We start every morning in the playroom, curled up on the couch with a stack of books. The boys would have me read to them all day to them if I could.

Gus tends to gravitate towards nonfiction, especially books about animal biology and environmentalism – so read aloud time often doubles as science.

He’s currently on a solar power kick. Today, we read Chandra’s Magic Light, a story about a Nepalese girl who earns enough money to buy her family a solar-powered lantern. I’m pleased that I was able to tie in one of Gus’s current interests with one of our homeschool’s overarching goals – to give our kids an education firmly grounded in social justice. One way I try to do this is try by choosing storybooks that feature protagonists from diverse backgrounds and cultures as much as possible.

After about an hour of reading, I turn on a Spanish music CD (Okee Dokee Brothers’ Excelente Fabuloso), and the kids play independently while I clean up the kitchen. I’ve been more intentional about speaking Spanish with the kids lately, and I try to turn on Spanish music or read a Spanish storybook with the kids every day.

From time to time I hear them singing along with the music. (Even Henry is saying “gato.”)

Mid-morning

After the kitchen is cleaned up, we start project time. If we’re anything, we’re project-based unschoolers, and project time is the core of all of our homeschooling. During project time, the kids do whatever they want – play, read, or create. I work alongside them as a helper or guide.

As they get older, project time will look more like research, creation, and presentation. Right now, project time is serious play.

Gus, who has been fascinated with wolves for the past 18 months and plans to become “a scientist who studies wolves in the wild,” chooses to spend project time focused on his favorite topic.

Usually he wants to play wolves or draw pictures of wolves, but today he decides to work on his messaging for Wolf Day at the Capitol. In a few weeks, we’ll be attending a rally at the Minnesota State Capitol to support federal protections for wolves. He’s taking the chance to speak up for wolves very seriously.

Meanwhile, Henry works at his favorite place on top of the playroom table.

The kids are both happy and engaged in their work. I hang out with them, help Gus spell the words he wants to write, answer his question about the difference between a lower-case h and a lower-case n, and try to scrub marker off of Henry’s face. He’ll remain pink-striped for the rest of the day.

Peace reigns until 11:30 AM, when the kids start pelting me with sock balls (so much for folding laundry). I decide it’s about time we get outside.

Afternoon

I was hoping to bike with the kids today, but the surprise snowfall last night will my plan back a few days. Instead, I load the kids up in the Burley for a walk to the library. We’re working on the #1000hoursoutside challenge, hoping to spend 1,000 hours ouside in 2017. Our walk to the library brings us to hour 51. We’ve got some work to do!

Within five minutes of being outside, Henry falls asleep. He sleeps throughout the walk and just long enough for me and Gus to grab our books off the reserve shelf and browse the non-fiction stacks. Then we head to the children’s section where we hang out for about an hour.

We take home books about wolves, a ninja baby, and a rabbit who won’t stop saying “poop-di-poop”, which is a decent summary of my boys’ current interests.

I add a few Spanish storybooks and books about environmentalism, including a picture book I’m really excited about called If You Spent a Day with Thoreau at Walden Pond.

Once we’re back home, we have a snack and pull out some board games. A few months ago I rearranged the playroom, clearing out a bunch of toys and filling the shelves with puzzles and board games instead. Gus’s math skills have exploded since then. So much of kindergarten math can be learned by playing board games – numeral recognition, counting, addition, subtraction, and estimating quantities and distances, to name a few.

We play a few rounds of Count Your Chickens, and then Gus decides he wants to practice parkour. Lots of jumping off the couch, somersaulting, and cartwheeling ensues.

Note to self: More outdoor time needed tomorrow.

Evening 

Since Matt is out of town on business tonight, the boys and I have special plans to order take-out. Gus chooses curry and samosas from our favorite East African restaurant, and the server surprises the kids by giving them free fresh mango juice when we pick up our meals.

After dinner, it’s bath and pajama time. Gus and I recently finished reading the Winnie the Pooh anthology, and as a special treat tonight, he gets to stay up late and watch The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh with me. This is the 1977 version, a movie I remember well from my own childhood, and I enjoy the nostalgia of watching as much as he enjoys seeing it for the first time.

By 8:30 PM, Henry is long asleep and Gus’s eyelids are heavy. I put him to bed, spend time catching up with Matt on the phone, and then dig out my current sci-fi novel (The Three Body problem by Cixin Liu) and read until I’m ready for sleep – which is much later than it should be, but the book is hard to put down.

And that’s it! A typical day in the life of our homeschool.

What I didn’t mention includes, but is not limited to: Epic negotiations required before any clothing change, tooth brushing, face washing, or other act of personal hygiene; more couch-jumping than you can possibly imagine; and potty talk. So much potty talk.

There’s no perfection here, but there is a lot of enjoyment. I am so grateful this how we spend our days together.

Sorting through the February slump

When something is wrong, I start moving the furniture.

There’s something about a rearranged room. It’s like throwing open the curtains and letting in some sunlight. Only bigger. And more permanent.

This month, I did more than a little rearranging. I flipped our entire house. We spent a few days with an armchair in the kitchen. Everything came out of every closet. And then it all sat in piles on the floor until it found its way into a new closet.

February has been a sorting-through-the-mess kind of month.

If I can just find a spot, the right spot, for these outgrown baby clothes that are sitting in the hallway.

(If I can just choose a cause, the right cause, from the overwhelm of issues that are flooding my newsfeed.)

I mean, it has to be the right spot. I don’t want to have to move all these clothes again in a few months.

You know, I can probably just step over the pile of baby clothes every time I walk down the hallway. It’s no big deal.

The right spot will turn up eventually.

(You hear me?)

Ugh, February.

It’s the longest-shortest month of the year. And this one has been especially long. All of the things we were excited about when winter began – baking, board games, playing outside in the snow – are getting old. Now it’s just another batter-crusted mixing bowl, a playroom strewn with game pieces, and soggy pile of snowpants by the front door.

I feel like all I’m doing is cleaning up messes.

(But some of them are pretty cute messes.)

Still, I’m beginning to see the light. I did find a spot for those baby clothes. And I’m starting a regular volunteer position at the crisis nursery next week. And in the past few weeks, Gus started reading, writing, and doing math sums in his head. The boys have been playing together like the best friends they are. And the temps hit 60 degrees a few days in a row.

What else has helped us sort through the slump?

Reading Winnie-the-Pooh.

Playing in the mud. (The before-the-clean-up part.)

Listening to music.

And Girl Scout cookies. Always Girl Scout cookies.

How are you getting through the February slump?

I was wrong about President Trump

My first reaction to President Trump was all wrong.

On November 9, the day after the election, I wrote an uplifting post about the hope I felt for our country. Yes, Trump had won, but democracy was awakening. People were changing. We were reaching out to each other. We were engaging politically. We were going to make a difference!

It sounds warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it?

My post reads differently to me today. There is something subtle, something insidious hiding between my lines. In the background of my post, a tiny voice is whispering: “It won’t be that bad. It won’t impact me. I am safe. I am protected.”

Can you hear it?

Less than 24 hours after Trump won the presidency, I was assuring myself that everything would be okay.

Because people were wink-winking “I didn’t vote for him either.” Because someone wore a vaguely political t-shirt in public. Because the coffee shop was playing ironic, pseudo-revolutionary music.

I can’t believe I was serious.

What I was really saying was that I would be okay.

Me.

My family.

This was my privilege speaking.

Many Trump voters chose him not because of his hateful rhetoric, but in spite of it. They were willing to look past his “flaws” to see the businessman and “strong leader.” (My quotations reference sentiments I’ve picked up from Trump voters. I would use different terms.) I hadn’t been able to understand how people brush off this hatred so easily, but now I see that I was doing it, too.

I wasn’t thinking about refugees when I said, “it won’t be that bad.”

I didn’t consider the rights of the LGBTQ community when I was embarrassed by Trump, but not outraged.

I wasn’t thinking of the assaults on the press and freedom of speech when I felt annoyed, but not angry.

I didn’t consider the environmental degradation we’re leaving for our children when I reassured myself, “it will be a long four years, but we can hold on until the next election.”

I didn’t care about the religious persecution of Muslims when I said, “let’s not talk about it, it is too depressing.”

I’ve been comforted by my privilege for a long, long time. Many of us have. It’s part of the reason why we find ourselves here.

It’s time to step away from that.

Let’s be comforted by each other, as we’re working, calling, and showing up… but let’s not be comfortable, lulled in a sense of personal security that disregards the real pain and oppression experienced by others.

Comfortable is dangerous.

Comfortable is compliant.

And when innocent travelers are detained at airports without access to lawyers for hours, when people are persecuted for their religion, race, and country of origin, when scientists are silenced, when freedom of speech is threatened, comfortable becomes culpable.

50 experience-based Christmas gifts (for millennials who don’t want anything)

It was our first moms’ group after Christmas, and believe me, we were hurting. We staggered into the classroom like zombies with a death grip on our coffee mugs and a vacant glaze to our eyes.

“I was up until midnight unpacking,” said Sara.

Becky nodded numbly. A flash of silver snapped my eyes into focus, and I noticed, blankly, the stray piece of tinsel stuck in her hair.

“I don’t know what to do,” Gina said in monotone, “with all of the toys.”


Have you been here? Even just a little bit?

If you’re a parent with young kids, I’ll hazard to say you have. Especially, I think, if you’re also a millennial.

Let me lay it out like I see it. We’re in the middle of a cultural shift when it comes to gift-giving. And millennial parents are leading the way.

Millennials (those of us born between 1980 and 1995, or 2004, depending on whose definition you’re following) are having babies – and we’re raising our kids under much different circumstances than the generation before us. Millennials have been described as a generation of lost innocence. We grew up in a period of economic prosperity and peace, but the Sept. 11 attacks and two successive recessions dashed the follow-your-dreams, you-can-do-whatever-you-put-your-heart-into mantra we believed as kids.

Our kids are growing up with more realistic view of the world. And as a millennial parent, I’m glad for it.

Still, many of us are caught in a gift-giving tradition that developed during a different time. Our cultural traditions emphasize making sure everyone has “enough to open,” regardless of if the gift recipients need anything new or not. We exchange “just something small” without acknowledging that that plastic toy we’re giving will still be lingering in a landfill 450 years from now.

Gift-giving, as our country currently practices it, is irresponsible and unsustainable. When Gus and Henry are adults, it is sure to be even more so. But as young parents starting our own holiday traditions, we can redefine gift-giving for our kids.

We can give experiences instead of gifts. We can give them to our kids, to our friends, to our families, to our neighbors. Anyone who has a stocked storage room and a garage bursting at the seams is scientifically-proven to be happier receiving an experience (and a donation made to a charity in their name). It’s true. Google it.

50 experiences to give at Christmas instead of more stuff.

Here is a list of 50 experience-based gifts you can give (or ask for!) this holiday season:

  • Passes to the art museum, children’s museum, history museum, science museum, or zoo.
  • Lessons. Swimming lessons are important for kids of all ages. Piano, violin, or ukulele lessons are great for music lovers. Horseback riding, martial arts, and rock climbing lessons make for memorable experiences – and they are activities most kids aren’t exposed to in the normal course of life and school.
  • Classes. In our city, there are several art studios and craft stores that offer weekly or individual classes on topics from pottery to pointillism. Music classes are also fun, and parent-child music classes make a great gift for a baby’s first Christmas. Community education classes usually have offerings for kids, with classes ranging from cooking to woodworking.
  • Sports leagues. Participating in athletics can be expensive, and gymnastic classes, enrollment in soccer leagues, or sign-up fees for the basketball team make great holiday gifts.
  • The great outdoors. The nature center near our house has dozens of classes for kids – animal tracking, campfire building, and bird watching, to name a few. What about renting outdoor gear for a holiday gift? Renting snowshoes, cross-country skis, paddle boards, or canoes are all great ways to get kids having fun outside. You could go further and give an outdoor experience – what about a dogsled excursion? A camping trip? Renting a yurt for a weekend at a state park?
  • Festival admissions or expenses. There are dozens of festivals and cultural events in Minneapolis year-round. The kite festival and Renaissance Festival are two of our favorites. Any local events calendar is sure to have listings for events in your area.
  • Excursions. What about a short road trip? An hour or two drive from our house takes us to several state parks, a giant water park, a ropes course, one of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s childhood homes, and a series of underground caves, to name just a few.
  • Everyday gifts. Many parents would be grateful to receive financial gifts to put towards their children’s college education – or daycare, preschool, or homeschooling expenses. Free babysitting is a welcome gift – and if the gift-givers live too far away to babysit regularly, Gus and Henry’s grandparents often read storybooks to the kids over Skype while Matt and I have a chance to talk or catch up on dishes in the next room. I love this one.
  • Give work. Most people have a few projects to do around the house, but need some extra help to get them done. We’ve received gifts of good work in the past, and working alongside the gift-givers have knocked a few of our projects off our list. Yard work, landscaping, and small household repair projects all could use an extra set or two of hands.
  • Give a meal. Choose the recipe, pick up part of the groceries, and help the gift-recipients cook a meal for a fun holiday experience to share together.
  • Charitable gifts. For the person who has everything and wants nothing more, consider giving charitable gifts at Christmas. Last year, I donated to Engineers Without Borders as part of Matt’s Christmas gift – a thoughtful choice, I hoped, as he’s an engineer who has considered volunteering with this organization in the future. You can donate to a non-profit that aligns with the gift recipient’s interests, or choose a small, local non-profit doing good in your own community.

What experiences have you given or received?

 

Slow down and say yes this Christmas

The holidays are about slowing down, coming together, and remembering what’s important.

But wait – there’s a handmade gift market on Saturday. And a Christmas concert on Sunday. The kids can pet live reindeer, and ride on a Christmas train, and eat a pancake breakfast with elves. Matt’s coworkers are throwing a holiday party, and so is our homeschool group, and the neighbors, and our high school friends, and our college friends, and the moms from that parenting class I took when Henry was first born, and no one wants to make a big thing about presents, but all of those $10-20 gifts sure add up fast.

(Deep breath.)

This Christmas, I’m trying to remember to slow down when it’s not important and say yes when it is.

Yes to skipping nature school when Gus would rather cuddle up on the couch and watch the snow fall.

Yes to staying up late to decorate the tree.

Yes to an extra cookie.

Yes to a simple Christmas.

To make room for the extra activities that happen around the holidays, other things have to go.

Bedtime, first of all. We’re staying up late, playing outside with Matt when he comes home from work, decorating the Christmas tree before bed, lingering at dinner parties with family and friends. And so the boys are sleeping in late in the morning. We’re staying in our pajamas longer. We haven’t made it to every one of Gus’s swim lessons this session, and he skipped a few days of nature class. I’m way behind on the laundry.

I’m finding a place for slow in the midst of all the fast.

I’m looking for yes, too. Not necessarily yes to another so-called Christmas activity, but yes to an activity that the kids choose themselves. As fun as the holidays are for kids, all the schlepping around from place to place, the itineraries, the timelines, the posed pictures in front of the tree – that’s all adult-led. It can be refreshing to let the kids set the pace.

This weekend, I’m going out of town to visit my new niece, and the boys are having a daddycation. Gus and Matt have big plans, as you can see.

I'm going out of town this weekend. Looks like the boys are making big plans for their daddycation. #dadlife #dad #sahmlife

A post shared by Alice Christopherson (@aliceinwondermentblog) on

How are you finding calm this holiday season? 

Teach your kids the people’s history of the United States

Embarrassing confession: Someday I’d like to be a historical interpreter.

You know what I mean. Those people who dress in pioneer costumes and shuck corn at historical villages. I think I’d be pretty good at it. No matter how hard you tried to trip me up, I’d never reveal that the president was anyone but Ulysses S. Grant or that I got to the village any way other than horse and wagon.

I don’t know why, but the Little House on the Prairie series is wintertime to me. Maybe because weather was everything to them, they lived and died by it, and much of Wilder’s writing focused on the seasons. For whatever reason, I crave those books in December, but I can’t read them past March.

Last winter, when Gus was three, we started reading Little House in the Big Woods. We had tried chapter books before, with more or less luck. But when we started reading about homesteading, he was hooked.

A five-page description of how Pa dug a well? Detailed instructions of how Laura and Mary hung onions in the attic? Keep reading, Mom! He could not get enough of it. (Of course, neither could I.)

One of our favorite winter activities is learning about how people long ago survived (and celebrated in) the cold.

The Minnesota History Center has dozens of historical farms, historical mansions, and living history villages – and we’re slowly crossing each one off our list. Last year, we learned about Victorian-era Christmas traditions at a mansion in downtown St. Paul. We rode on a one-horse open sleigh at a pioneer village, and we learned how ice from Minnesota’s frozen lakes was harvested and shipped as far away as India at an ice harvesting festival. Today, we went to the History Center itself, and I was impressed to see how much of the exhibit was dedicated to Native American cultures and history.

I find it important to remember that the Wilder family’s story of “settling” the prairie was not one of claiming empty land. The places they built their homes were on land already occupied by the indigenous people who had lived there for generations.

If I’m going to enjoy the Little House series for it’s good parts, I feel a moral obligation not to gloss over it’s bad parts.

And so I point out these issues to Gus when we’re reading. At four, he’s had conversations about indigenous people’s land rights. We talked about the many times Native Americans were made to move, and move, and move again. We discussed how the European settlers hunted all the buffalo intentionally to cut off the indigenous people from their main food source. I credit reading the Little House series as a major reason for why Gus felt as compelled as he did this fall to support the Standing Rock Sioux.

As parents, we want to protect our children from negativity for as long as possible. However, there is a way to present this kind of information to young children without harming them. I preview all content first (watch videos alone first, scan books for photographs I’m not ready for my kids to see). Then, I give one or two basic facts in simplified language. “The colonists made the Native Americans move because they wanted to live on their land.” After that, I wait for the questions to come and answer them as they roll in, continuing to use short, simple answers.

Remember also that it’s okay not to answer right away. If you can’t think of the right response, or if you’re unsure if your child is ready to hear the truth, think about it. Come back to it later. “Hey, I remember you were asking me about the Trail of Tears. Well, I had a chance to read more about it. Are you still interested in talking about it?”

It’s important to me that my kids don’t grow up learning just a rich, white man’s perspective of history.

The historical sites in Minnesota, for the most part, do a good job telling the stories in the indigenous people who lived here first, as well as the stories of the various immigrant groups who settled (are settling) in Minnesota and made (are making) it what it is.

Here are some other resources I plan to use to teach history in our homeschool:

A Young Person’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

A Different Mirror for Young People: A History of Multicultural America by Rebecca Stefoff

Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years by Bill Bigelow

How are you teaching history to your kids?