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Chandra's Blog


Entries in NYTimes Motherlode (3)


Monday Musing--What To Do With the Boys? Part 1

In this three part series, I will be examining our own microcosm of the traditional vs. home school debate. Part of me can't believe I am poking this hornet's nest again in a public forum, but based on emails I still receive eight months later from my article in NYTimes Motherlode column, I believe that it's one that is humming. When I meet new people, particularly mothers of boys, and they hear what we do, they want to know more, in a let-me-take-notes-and-get-your-email-address way. 


There is another reason I am doing this. Readers should know this is happening in real time--which gives me a deadline of two weeks to make a decision here, since hopefully Part Three will be the conclusion. I am weary of the indecision, and much like the trick of flipping a coin and checking your gut reaction to the outcome, I am hoping putting this out there will bring me to the answer. 



Spring is trying to poke its way out of the rain-soaked ground here in the Northeast, and the kids and I are enjoying the days that let us get out in it. We are polar-bear plunging in the pond, weeding the tufts of grass and dandelions out of the cherry tree garden, watching the ants relocate their accidentally unearthed larva, or discovering the half of a robin’s eggshell.Piper finds the first shell of a robin's egg


As always, it brings the smells, sounds and discoveries of new beginning, but there is also the sense of completion as we put together the boys’ portfolios to turn in to the state of Pennsylvania and our year of home schooling and expeditionary learning comes to an end.


At every gathering with our group of friends who have been on a similar journey this year, whether we are hanging around outside their Spanish, cooking, yoga or gymnastics class, or having an impromptu picnic, or fetching them from their writing seminar at the college, the conversation among the moms inevitably gravitates to the looming topic of September:


What are we going to do with our boys?


Unless I am standing befuddled in either of the two places that completely flummox me (in front of the meat counter at a grocery store or sent on a mission to purchase wine) I am not a normally indecisive person. And yet when this topic towers with importance and permanence and urgency in front of me, I am paralyzed.


First, I should say that our experience has been overwhelmingly positive, sometimes with the emphasis more on overwhelming, but mostly more on the positive.

(If you are interested, you can read some of the articles from the road here, here, and here.) 

Every time I think of all the adventures we had with our book tour travels in the fall and the rich experiences the boys reminisce about often, or of all the moments of quiet learning by the fireplace in the winter, or of the gift of being a part of so many of their ‘a-ha’ lightbulbs, I think what a wonderful year it has been. I wrote about some of this in an update for Lisa Belkin at the NY TIMES Motherlode column in December.  


And I think of all the unique learning opportunities they have had in part because of the great co-operative group that formed, where we have used resources of the parents and our community to put together a peppering of mini-courses. Some have been free, some have been paid, all have had measurable successes and provided the group (roughly 8-18 kids, mostly boys) with their favorite: time with friends.


But what about next year? Everyone agrees that this took a huge effort for us parents this year, and we have learned so much. Sometimes I feel like I am just really finding my home schooling style and groove. And sometimes I think as I have crushed to writing deadlines in the midst of continuing their education, how easy life could be if I just dropped them all off at 7:59 or let’s be honest, 8:03 or 8:04, every morning and settled down to write in solitude for six and a half hours?


I need to be clear here: I like the school where my kids could go. It’s the private school in my hometown that I attended and has a great group of families, caring teachers, good values and a medium-progressive attitude. I don’t love everything, of course. I hate the über-conservative dress-code—half the kids look like they’re off to play golf at the country club and the other half look like they’re ready to churn butter for homemade caramel corn with Mother. Per the handbook, anything of 'extreme color', including black, anything that attempts to be ‘fashionable’ or ‘stylish’ is not allowed. And yes, I’m still miffed about the way it was railroaded through two years ago. As a mom of GF kids, I’m not wild about the school’s lunch policies, and would like to see them move in an even more progressive direction in the areas of curriculum and homework. All that said, it’s an option we are lucky to have.


And then my mind drifts back to this 2006 article, clipped from an advice columnist in the Buffalo News and mailed to me inside a beautiful card by my late mother-in-law, in support of the fact that I was in the throes of raising two very active toddler boys. Please take a moment to read it. I'm going to give you the link again here:



I immediately photocopied and sent it to all my comrades in the trenches of raising boys so they could nod along. When my friend India wrote back, “I can’t believe we’re going to chain this to a desk for the next twelve years!”, my stomach sank.


Hayden, our oldest, had a rocky transition from a nature-friendly, Waldorf-inspired preschool with the policy ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothing’ to the elementary school’s Kindergarten. He quickly became ‘the wiggly kid’, was once referred to as ‘that Hayden’ and sometimes the teachers had him sit on a nubby rubber mat to help him control his need for constant movement. I watched as over the next two years, he continued to squirm and set himself on a fast track for the role of class clown, the boy who grinned and pantomimed nonchalance all the way to the principal’s office.

In conferences with teachers, I thought of my middle child Max, a whirling dervish at home, and kept hearing the line to the troll in the Three Billy Goat’s Gruff, “Oh, no, wait for my brother; he’s much wilder and wigglier than I am!”


So for this, and reasons voiced here in a controversial journal entry that was picked up by Lisa Belkin’s Motherlode, I decided to homeschool my boys last year. (Their little sister Piper bakes pies, makes organic vegetable soup and goes on nature walks at the aforementioned preschool where she has one more year.)


But as the spring sunshine filters in, and my kids work at the dining room table, I weigh the odds and list pros and cons to my patiently-listening husband over morning coffee. The question of next September remains:


What are we going to do with the boys? 




* *** *




Stay tuned for Part Two next Monday...


An interesting debate...

Yesterday I was featured as a guest blogger on Lisa Belkin's NY Times column "Motherlode", a post I had drafted for our homeschooling blog called "One of the Reasons I am Homeschooling This Year." I wrote it as an expression of the growing feeling that in the increasing pace of life, my connection to my oldest son was being lost and the majority of our time together seemed to be spent with me in whip-cracking mode. I had also been reading a bit about the expeditionary learning model, and thinking this might be a good fit for the way my boys learn, but I hadn't thought of leading the expeditions myself. 


A little backstory...

My husband was the first person to suggest home schooling last spring after watching this TED talk from Sir Ken Robinson on schools and creativity. My initial reaction was that he was nuts--our youngest was about to turn three and go to the same Waldorf-inspired preschool we'd loved for the boys and I was launching my book career with an extensive book tour starting at the end of August. How could we consider this? Then I watched it. And I started reading. Linda Dobson, Sonia Haskins, John Holt, Laura Brodie... Something resonated in me and I thought, why not take the kids on tour with me this year, and make it part of a grand, homeschooling learning expedition adventure? 


The idea was met with immediate enthusiasm from the boys and as a family we have enjoyed the shift that comes when you start to think of the world as your classroom, looking for learning opportunities in everything from baking to a trip to the Arboretum. We are excited (and yes, a little nervous) about this adventure. J and I maintain that we will reevaluate each summer on a kid-by-kid, year-by-year basis--see how it goes. 


If you want to read the NY Times post that started the debate, click here

I was a little surprised by the extreme reactions this sparked in some readers, how quick they were to judge what I consider to be a brave, maybe a tiny bit crazy but ultimately loving choice for our family this year. It made me realize that writing anything to do with parenting is likely to strike a nerve. 

I did finally decide to step in around comment #104. (See here if you're interested.)


I am grateful to Lisa Belkin for hosting the forum for what is ultimately proving to be a very passionate and interesting debate on motherhood and education, two topics close to my heart. 


Happy reading!


ps and oh, only about six more days until CHOSEN!


a good day

I've been living in three worlds these days--an uncomfortable feeling. 

There's the real one, where I'm a mom shepherding my kids through the transition to summer (we brought forty-two books home from the library yesterday!) and their chores and their fun, and I'm a wife, a gardener, and when I can grab it, a reluctant runner.

Then there's the CHOSEN life, preparing for the promotion and release of this novel. Meetings with my publicists in New York, articles and essays swirling around, jotted down. 

Then there's my current writing life, my new novel, where I've been in the most painful part of the homestretch for the past few weeks. Wanting to wrap it up and get it to my agent by deadline, worrying that it's not done, not right, not quite good enough. I worry that I have made characters too real, too flawed to be followed. Ironic, since the working title is FOLLOWING. 

Plus I tried to do the caveman diet for a week. Dumb. Cheese helps me write, I swear.

Last night, my brother suggested we try this running route that I have been dreading, six and a half miles that ends with a brutal quarter mile uphill. He's an English teacher, a good writer, and though he keeps a better pace, he's kind enough to slow it down for me, my favorite running companion.

He let me talk, the whole time, about my book. About the ending. Huffing and puffing along, I wheezed about my ideas and worries, twists and reveals, Easter eggs and closure. (Thanks, B!) We tweaked, and debated, compared to other works.  Sucking wind up the final hill, I suddenly had it. The ending!

I came home and took the kids swimming, jotting down watery notes while I timed them holding their breaths, cheered their underwater summersaults. I wrote until my eyeballs were dry at midnight. I sat down this morning and dashed the rest off, a sprint to the finish. And I finished it. 

In my CHOSEN life, I learned that NY Times' Lisa Belkin wants to run my essay on Why I Choose Homeschooling--a favorite, heartfelt piece of mine. (I'll post link when it comes available.) Thanks, Jocelyn! 

And in my real life, my boys weeded the shade garden without argument, my daughter beamed when I picked her up from music class, and I found four Calvin and Hobbes books my son doesn't have to take with us to his all day annual craniofacial team appointment at CHOP on Thursday. 

A good day--off to the pool.