Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thankful 365 Days a Year

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I used to hate Thanksgiving.  And Christmas.
I'm not going to compete with you on this one or anything, just know that there were some really horrific holidays in there when I was about twelve through about twenty-five. Dickensian, even.

It wasn't until I met my husband and we started having kids that I lost my took Jerry another year or two after that. Instead of staying focused on negative history and crap I brilliantly started thinking Hey, let's make it fun for our family! and then I set out to do that.

My mother-in-law JoAnn really owns the holidays! She goes out of her way to make them wonderful and playful for her ten grandkids. Every year she has unique ideas of what to do special with the kids. One year JoAnn and the kids went into a private room and wrote a play with a song that they then put on for us!  LOL
You have not seen a Spectacular Holiday Skit if it doesn't include at least one martial arts Power Ranger, Wendy from Peter Pan, and one adorable holiday elf.

So Jerry and I figured it out...that we could create our own holidays, holidays that our kids will look forward to when they are grown ups instead of want to avoid, as we did! So everything we do is very family-focused and even though the kids are older they still love it. It might seem obvious, but I really had to figure that one out.

All of the kids, 2007
When Thanksgiving was a huge Christian Fest of nauseating, fake Thanks giving, I couldn't tolerate it. I have this thing about authenticity, being authentic, and I couldn't get past how false it all felt. My family was a bit of a nightmare, so any sort of celebrating was kind of put on. Once Jer and I moved ourselves into our own healthy family and started making our holidays real, we all started enjoying them. You know, having the kids be so happy helps!

So maybe I'm not giving credit where credit is due. Elizabeth and John so look forward to the holidays. They love the games and the people and the festive feel and the specialness of everything.  Maybe it is just as I started seeing the holidays through their eyes that I really started loving them and looking forward to them.  Heck, they brought back the FUN of decorating the Christmas tree.  I admit that Jer and I have to work our way into the festiveness of it all, but we eventually get there.
Also our extended family really stepped up to the plate and joined into the fun whenever they could.  I think that having kids in the family injected some goodwill into the mix.

My step-daughter Jessica and Grandma
Joanne with Elizabeth
Thanksgiving itself isn't a big deal for our family, though we do love creating family traditions. We have started having tacos for Thanksgiving. This makes everyone laugh and doesn't create that tryptophan downer of an afternoon. Throughout the year we often take a moment before dinner to give thanks and appreciate things in our lives, and on Thanksgiving we just make it a bit more elaborate by having each person speak directly to each other person at the table to thank them for something personal. You know, sometimes everyone teases me for this one, but they still do it.

And so, in the spirit of the holiday of Thanksgiving, and even though I am thankful 365 days a year, I offer these thoughts of THANKS and GRATITUDE.
  1. I'm not clever or surprising so I'll just say it:  I am SO THANKFUL to my husband for so many things, but mostly for being my best best friend.
  2. To Elizabeth I am thankful for her late night chats with me when I feel like we connect or reconnect as the case may be. It is during these times that I feel so loved.
  3. To John John I am thankful for his very personal hugs and words of love through out the day. His way of moving through the world give me hope for mankind.                                                                                                                                                                                        
  4. To my Mom I am always thankful for every single effort she makes to make our relationship a good one. I know that she struggles with me being an atheist. I also know that she makes every possible effort to respect my choices and my lifestyle.
  5. To my sister Linda I am so thankful for her friendship and for staying in my life when others left it or when I left them. It leaves her in the middle and she handles it with grace.
  6. To my bestest of friends, of whom I am so fortunate to have several, I remember a time when I thought I would never connect with another woman because I was damaged inside or something. My friends have gently supported me, have laughed with me, have talked long into the dark, and have been the sisters I have always wanted.                                                                    
  7. I am thankful beyond all expectations for the time that we have gotten to spend here in this beautiful country, in this beautiful city. It has changed us. My kids have been here in Brisbane during their teen years! They each have experienced a metamorphosis of sorts and I will always think of this time in Australia as a time when each of them made great strides towards becoming more honest versions of themselves.                                                                                                    
  8. For the fact that our family is fortunate enough to be able to enjoy holidays and travel while being here in Australia, I am so thankful.  Jerry's profession/skills make it possible for our family to get a bit extravagant when it has come to making the most of our time here. We have been to places and done things that most people only dream of; we know what a gift that is.
  9. I am truly thankful for a freethinking mind.
  10. I am truly thankful for the unschool lifestyle that we have chosen. We do have lessons and projects, so we are not hardcore unschoolers, but our natural learning lifestyle is something that I will always look back on as the perfect choice for our family.
I recently was asked by a Christian to whom I am thankful for the good things in my life.  WHO do I thank?
I replied that I am thankful to the people in my life who bring such goodness. I also told both he and his daughter that I can be full of gratitude for those very things that are good. No middle man necessary.

I know we don't really do anything super unique or special. And that's OK.
What is important is that we do it together.

Just a quick reminder to visitors and readers, you can also find my writing on:

If you enjoyed this post you might also read: 

Or you might enjoy:  Gratitude   (again, apparently!) 
Or this one:  A Little Home Made Love

Friday, November 29, 2013

Blog Carnival of Atheist Parenting is UP!

atheist parenting, raising skeptics, freethinking humanist parenting
The current blog Carnival of Atheist Parenting is UP!
Give it a read!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Tape on the Wall

You know that edge of the door jam where you mark your child's height year after year? Or do you keep those marks on a poster? I'm talking about that height momento that we start out keeping because we are measuring where they are going but we end up keeping with a feeling that they are getting there too fast... 
that thing.

When we moved down here to Australia I made some marks on some handy duct tape and put that tape up on the back of my bedroom door as soon as we settled into our Australia rental home.  I put it right in a spot where I see it every single day.

When we arrived here in August of last year my son's height marks were about four inches below the line that indicates my own height.  Elizabeth's were already about three inches above mine!  She has continued to reach for the sky, but her growth has finally slowed down a bit.

About a month ago I marked John's first mark above my own height line.  He has grown about five inches in twelve months.  His vertical growth is accelerating. His voice is changing hourly.  His emotional maturity continues to astound me.

This morning as we were driving a long way out to a friend's house he was talking about the idea of a utopian society.  A utopian society is really a dystopian society because if you never know hardship you won't recognize the good times as good, only as 'average' is those times that are challenging that lets us know when the good times come, He said.  

Seriously?  Where does he come up with this stuff?  
Nice, I responded, you just aced sophomore literature.

On our drive he sat in the grey seat next to me, his brand of stream-of-consciousness type talk roaming everywhere from plans for a computer game he is planning on designing to how he, as a father, will have decisions to make, along with his wife, as to how they will pass along the fun of Santa Claus or not to their future children to a satirical song about Voltaire he is writing in his head to what he would do if he was God for ten minutes to how much he wants to see the Louvre to plans for an upcoming video blogging session to what he wants to do when we get back to America to what kind of a thinker he is. 

In retrospect I must admit that I was driving a fairly treacherous mountain road and could, unfortunately, only half listen.  But lucky for me this kids loves telling me his plans, so there will be another talk tomorrow...

But how quickly they grow. How many more talks will we have? How that tape on the back of my door catches my eye each morning, reminding me to share their struggles, look deeper into their eyes, hold hands, laugh out loud, listen to their unspoken concerns, offer them the freedom that they enjoy, celebrate that freedom, be their port.

He will be thirteen years old in just two days... 

Time flies, you know? It moves breathtakingly fast and I, in my resentment of its speed, just hold on for the ride. 

As I type this, Elizabeth is on her phone and making plans with a friend.  She holds her phone at eye level, her eyes sparkle, laughter tumbles from her lips, her pen scrambles across the calendar.  She catches my eye and holds it for just a second...

If you enjoyed this  post you might also read: 
This I Believe
Or you might try:  Mother, the Word
Or click here:  Seasons of Homeschooling

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

My Atheist Parenting Blog

Why do I have an atheist parenting blog? I mean, without the religion part, isn't it just... parenting?!

Why do I spend so much time getting atheist parenting information out there into the ether? Once a person finally let's go of the shackles of their religion, isn't that... enough?!

In that case, why do I feel the strong need to blog about atheism and atheist- or humanist- or skeptic-related issues? Isn't enough that I just AM?!

Isn't this just giving me a label: atheist?!

What is the point?!

Some people have asked me why I have an atheist parenting blog, why I blog about atheist parenting. For the people who feel this way about posts and blogs labeled atheist parenting, I appreciate your skepticism. Is it possible that my writing is offering simple basic rational parenting support? Yes, I guess that is very possible. At the same time, there are many parents out there who are new to living a secular life, new to raising children without the traditional ways, hidden and living in seclusion due to their secular choices, afraid to be open and yet determined to raise their children as skeptics and as happy people, and looking for those few voices out there who can offer them understanding, community, advice, or just a general feeling of being normal. Many first-generation parents are seeking in earnest and I am proud to be available and open and willing to offer my support. Not my advice or my expertise or my definition or my label! My support, my friendship, my small community.

Sometimes I am quite shocked by the vehement negativity that has come my way for my atheist parenting blog. Much of the criticism has come from other atheists! I view their condemnation with compassion and with an open mind. I'm quite certain that those who don't understand the place for an atheist/humanist/skeptical parenting blog are coming from the point of view that atheists can simply move forward into the world, parenting, working, forming relationships, living their lives in a wonderful world free of religion.

If only it was so easy.

Moving into the World as an Atheist Parent

Should we do Santa? How about the Easter Bunny? Is it inconsistent to do the fun part of Tooth Fairy? Is it damaging to pretend? How do we handle religion in the schools? How do we explain the religion that is so much a part of the world without being disrespectful? How do we teach our children to recognize indoctrination attempts? How do we handle family? What do we do with the friends of our children who tell the kids that they are going to Hell? How much openness is best for the kids with their peers? How about openness for us with adult friends? What about those who bully with their religion? How do we handle the Pledge of Allegiance in school each day? How should our family handle the very public religious rituals in our culture? The struggle for atheist parents who no longer accept handed-down rules.

The earnest questioning goes on and on. I, as an atheist parenting blogger, don't have the answers. But I do openly entertain the questions. I fearlessly use the words. In my opinion, what I offer on my atheist parenting blog: I encourage other parents to make their own decisions about how to address these issues. The loveliest part of what I do as an openly atheist/secular/humanist parent is I encourage parents to ask the questions, to explore the ideas themselves within the context of their own families, and to create their own family identity, rituals, practices, answers, and direction with confidence. Sometimes I even remind parents that not knowing the answers is absolutely OK.

Last Year:  Christmas in Australia
My blog is a place where people come with questions, with confusion, with timidity. If my blog existed in the real world, I'm sure I would serve tea and sandwiches and have a spot for a nice nap. And a fireplace.. I post what I post... things about holidays, discipline, education, friendships, daily experiences, playtime, the media, parenting questions, my own concerns. Readers who comment give me great feedback, feedback that helps me to see why they come to my blog when they have books available that they can read. Specifically, they are looking for another person with whom they can feel understood, valued, of like-mind, welcomed, and even entertained by with the humor of questionable taste.
Yes, now I see it.
Just like regular parenting.

Being a parent is the hardest thing that I have ever done; just between you and I, that is saying something! Most atheist/secular/freethinking parents that I know are extreme thinkers. These are people who voraciously read, question, wonder. I am proud to be on this parenting journey with other parents...just normal parents.

Welcome readers in Guatemala!

If you enjoyed this post you might also read: 
Atheists Believe in Nothing 
Or you might try:  You Were Never a Real Believer
Or click here:  Mind the Gap

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Good Job!

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I have found myself, at times, feeling like the warden of the jail.  Giving orders to my kids again and again and again, the SAME orders.  Remember to brush!  Please put your clothes away! Please get the table set. I'm getting tired of those words and I'm sure that the kids are tired of them too.  How to get the kids to perform these behaviors without my reminding them day after day is still a mystery to me.  I am consoled by the fact that I wasn't a normal kid at their age, my mom was out of the house and I was very adult-ish.  Maybe it's normal to remind teens to brush teeth, put clothes in the hamper, and closing the door.

When work gets done, besides cheering on the inside, instead of outward praise, I comment on the positive deed and how it shows maturity on their part.  I'm not really good at just saying positive stuff, or, as I say to the kids, I really don't blow sunshine up people's asses.  (Thanks Top Gun.)  I compliment, but I don't just gush.  I just don't think that sort of thing is believable nor does it really have meaning.  And I'm pretty sure that my kids are far too empathic to buy cotton candy compliments.

Instead the kids and I often comment on how it is that true words of appreciation and acknowledgement focus on the work or action done rather than on the kid doing it.  And, besides, it seems to me from my observations that my children are far more motivated by the internal rewards of these comments that point out their hard work, improvement, extra effort, initiative, or perseverance with something difficult.  

My daughter, specifically, responds to words like I appreciate you working with your brother on that lesson work, and your hard work in this room really shows, and I can see that you put time and thought into this work and I am so proud of your compassion with your friend, she really appreciated it.  Instead of that ubiquitous Good Job!, I comment on her actual effort, behavior, and choice of activity.  It feels more authentic to me and it hits her to the core.

One recent event that this reminds me of as I type this was just the other day when my daughter was feeling ill, yet it was her turn to do the dishes.   When I said to her You really tried hard to get your chores done even when you would rather lay down.  I appreciate that!  Her smile, her GLOW was amazing...and made it so obvious that she appreciated hearing this type of comment, a comment of her actual action, her actual behavior.  She was deeply touched by this.  She has, since, gotten those dishes done quite quickly after dinner.  Seems that she felt good about herself, hey.

I admit that I am a totally imperfect parent.  But when I remember to do this, I feel like quite a good mom...!

If you enjoyed this post you might also read: 
With Flaws and All
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Friday, November 22, 2013

Homeschooling at Tangalooma Island Resort

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Our family went on holiday with some family friends to a gorgeous resort called Tangalooma Island Resort.  There we got to do LOTS OF THINGS that people in St. Louis never really get to do in our hometown.

Dolphin feeding, fish tours, sand tobogganing, snorkeling The Wrecks, swimming in the sea with starfish, helicopter rides over the desert and the ocean, quad biking in the desert, feeding of the fishes and birds, para sailing, enjoying mind-blowing sunsets over the bay, or hanging out with Australia friends!

We had a positively amazing time and I took at least 900 pictures.  I will share only a few of the pics just to give you an idea of how spectacular it really was!

Getting onto the launch

Dolphins playing near the jetty

Elizabeth, Makaede, Tanaya, John

Gorgeous tropical trees, The Wrecks in the distance

Brisbane CBD in the distance, about an hour by launch

Feeding the dolphins!

After feeding the dolphins

This is a dugong.  I couldn't get a decent shot!

Sea Turtle

Snorkeling in The Wrecks

The Clarks helicoptered!

John and I Kayaked The Wrecks

Great birds out there!

Jer and John John went parasailing!

This is them parasailing in the distance!

Jer, John, and I went snorkeling

We are all mad for Brisbane and now we are also mad about Tangalooma.  As our time here is dwindling down to just a few months, we are considering all of the travel plans that we are hoping for.  It has made us to reconsider things that we have hoped to do.  It is possible that we will get back to St. Louis without ever seeing the Sydney Opera House.  But I'm pretty sure we will have a few other stories to tell!

Just a quick reminder to visitors and readers, you can also find my writing on:
If you enjoyed this post you might also read:  
A Perfectly Average Day
 Or click here:  On the Down Side