Wednesday, April 29, 2009

PreTeen Drama Queen

A couple weeks ago my daughter stormed into the kitchen around breakfast time. She is often grumpier in the morning than the rest of the day, but this was different. She was mad at the world.

“I just feel like hitting something!”

She went on to rail against every personal and global injustice and then argued with me about her assigned chores. She complained about her brother. She announced that she wanted her own room.

When she stormed off stage Kip looked at me.

“Were you EVER like that? I don’t think I was ever like that to my parents.”

I stopped loading the dishwasher to make appropriate eye contact.

“Hell NO.”

I only mouthed the word “Hell” because I believe that I am still a good girl. Besides it is true, I was a very good little girl and I would have never been so rude to my parents, especially at 10.

Later that day I began to remember being 10 and 11.

I remembered a lot.

It was probably a God thing, because I remembered things I had forgotten for a long time, like arguing constantly with my mom and my siblings.

In a house already full of verbal females, I might not have “mouthed off” as much as my little drama queen, but I got physical. I actually kicked my mom in the shin – at least once. One day I gave my big sister a bloody nose and my little sister a black eye in the same day! (Well, she was stupid enough to be standing behind the door when I yanked it open. Too bad she was so small that her eye was at doorknob level.) Poor thing, she must have only been three!

I must have fought constantly with my older sister because I remember my visiting grandmother sitting us down, opening the Bible and telling us a story about a group of people who didn’t get along and how they worked out their differences.

My parents had a very low tolerance for any kind of physical fighting, so I am sure my sudden surge of outbursts must have been frustrating for them. But I never thought about it until now.

Around this age I also became a vagabond in our house. I moved out of my sisters’ room with the homemade Barbie house and into my little brother’s room. That didn’t work out too well because I had to clean up after him. So I moved into the study for awhile.

I got my last spanking from my mom about this time too. I was bigger than her by then, and one morning I decided not to get spanked any more. I grabbed the wooden paddle in mid swing, ran out the back door and up my favorite tree. After a few hours, under solemn promises of amnesty, I dropped the paddle and agreed to come down.

I remember telling another adult that I hated it when my mom was mad at me. We were really close, so I'm sure this part of growing up, growing apart must have been difficult for both of us.

And now that I am on the other side of it, I think I understand how she felt. She was probably just frustrated. I know I am . Disappointed too. I just can't help but feel personally insulted by every complaint, every sassy remark, every unkind word.

Yesterday, after a classic confrontation, I found myself on the verge of swatting my daughter. I couldn’t believe the angry back talk and defensiveness that was coming out of her little mouth. After I had more than I could tolerate, I ordered her to leave. I would finish cleaning up the kitchen alone. She fled to her bunk bed.

I finished the dishes, calmed down and went to sit on the end of her bed. She was curled up in a ball, hugging her teddy bear.

Oh, Jesus, she is just a little kid. I forgot.

“I’m sorry,” she said first. Her eyes were glistening with unshed tears.

I hugged her.

“Me too.”

I need a huge dose of extra grace and wisdom these days.

I know that the way we deal with conflict now will set the stage for the next decade, and I want to have a great relationship with her. I want to give her the space to grow and become the beautiful, independent woman that she was created to be. I want to be friends.

But somehow, I know that right now I need to be her mom.

And I know that I am going to have to expect respect, but not take it personally when she doesn’t give it. And I am going to have to “roll with the punches.” It should help to remember that I had my turn throwing them.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

How I Homeschool

The kids took a break from "school" today to build a car for Brown Bear out of masking tape, used CDs, pencils and the place mats off our kitchen table.

When I tell people that we homeschool, I get a variety of responses -- everything from a concerned glance at my children accompanied by an awkward pause to open admiration.

“You are amazing, I could never do that!”

As much as I enjoy being praised, it makes me uncomfortable. I love homeschooling and I don’t want anyone to discount such a rich experience because they imagine it to be out of their reach.

So if the situation allows, I usually tell the admirer how easy it is to homeschool, how little I actually do that resembles “school;” which is then followed by a quiet “oh,” and a concerned glance at my children accompanied by an awkward pause.

I don’t think it takes a trained teacher to take on homeschooling. In fact, I wonder if teachers are at a disadvantage when it comes to teaching outside the classroom. Much of their training has been about engaging an entire class of diverse learners – something I would rather not do.

Homeschoolers focus on kids one at a time, building on the luxury of time and an uninhibited relationship. Learning becomes a lifestyle, an activity so integrated in our life that there is no real barrier between “school time,” and everything else. We all learn -- all the time. We learn together.

Kip and our son fixing the van.

Kip explaining how engines work. I was listening too.

Science instruction is just as likely to happen on Saturday when Dad explains to the 6-year-old how an engine works and later pulls out the science encyclopedia so they can share that information with the 10-year-old.

I’m learning too. Understanding the concept of a keel, that counterweight under our sailboat which should prevent the sailboat from capsizing, was a very helpful bit of information for me. It gave me a lot more peace about sailing. My 10-year-old was the one who explained it to me after spending the morning in a science workshop.

Math is not only a half hour daily lesson, but an ongoing conversation at our house. We talk about math in the kitchen, in the grocery store, in the car.

A few days ago my son figured out that he was approximately 2540 days old. We had just learned about adding equal sums, as in multiplication, and he figured that if he was almost 7 he could multiply 365 times 7 and subtract the days until his birthday. Of course, I helped him with the multiplication, and we didn’t worry too much about leap years, but he came up with the strategy. And understanding strategy in math is more than half the battle.

History at this point in my childrens' lives, is about stories, particularly stories of people. We read biographies together. We listen to books on CD when we are in the car. We read historical fiction, both me reading out loud and my 10-year-old reading on her own. Right now we are enjoying Johnny Tremain, a very exciting story about an apprentice in Boston during the American Revolution. We are all enjoying it.

And the really exciting thing about this learning together is how it expands. I introduce certain ideas to whet our appetites. A few months ago I gave my daughter a simple biography of Hellen Keller. It captured her fascination, so we took the whole family to see a live production of The Miracle Worker. She came home more in love with Anne Sullivan than Hellen Keller.
learning at LACMA

Because I don’t have a particularly strong background in art, music or drama, I take advantage of the many opportunities offered by the urban homeschooling community. We go to art museums and history museums as often as possible. Next month we are going to see Julius Caesar. It will be my kids’ fifth full-length Shakespeare play. The first one I saw was in 10th grade on a school field trip.

I’m not particularly an “unschooler,” those in the homeschooling community will recognize that term. But I do understand that there is a balance between organized academic lessons and giving space to let children explore and learn of their own volition.

Last week, during a particular hot day, I gave up on my intention to “do school,” and let the kids play in the pool all afternoon. After a couple hours of romping around, my daughter grabbed a ball and tried floating on it. She looked kind of like a sea otter playing, but she was staring off into space.



“I’ve been thinking ….

Oh boy

“I know a way people can create electricity without burning stuff.”

She means without creating pollution by burring fossil fuels. We had been learning about electricity, thanks to my 6-year-old's constant questions. We had just read Magic School Bus – The Electric Field Trip, because that is about my level of understanding.


I have told her before that this is one of the great scientific questions of her day, just like the days of Wilbur and Orville Wright when several different inventors were racing to be the first to figure out flight.

“Yeah … and it would solve the homeless problem too because you could give them jobs.”


“You could make this machine, I’ll have to draw it for you later, and people could peddle, like a bicycle and that would create energy.”

She slides into the pool and floats for a minute, and then comes back for the rest of the conversation.

“It would take a lot of people. You could hire homeless people. It would give them jobs.”

She thought for another minute.

“But it would make your arms hurt at the end of the day…. I don’t know if people would want to do it.”

She swam off to swim and think some more.

The conversation made me smile. I love this kid. I love to hear her think.

How much time do kids in school with a zillion extra curricular activities get to think … really think about whatever they want to? I decided we should “skip” school more often. Or at least I should feel less guilty about not “doing school.”

So how difficult is all this really? Reading to your kids? Playing together? Listening to their questions? Going to museums and plays together? Asking questions together? I think the biggest thing you need is just time. And I know that can be expensive. But for me, that is just how homeschooling works.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Not Just Running

My dearest "Row-me-o."

Kip said I should write about something other than running. He is right. It’s just that training for the marathon has been a big new challenge for me, so I have found myself writing mostly about that. Maybe I also tend to have thinking time while I’m running, which translates into thinking-about-the-blog time.

So here is a quick RUN-down of the past weekend.

Friday night was date night. I toured the Venice canals with my romantic husband and then went to see The Soloist, an inspiring movie based on a true story. I highly recommend it. Jamie Foxx is amazing, as usual. Robert Downey, Jr. portrays a very relatable, burned-out LA Times journalist, not unlike many of my writer friends from the old days.

More significantly for me, Kip and I found Steve Lopez’s struggle painfully familiar on many levels. I won’t analyze it too much except to say that it is a must see for anyone who has ever been involved in urban ministry or thought they could change the world by helping “fix” someone.

Then early Saturday morning I ran 20 miles with my marathon-training buddy Jon. I love to say that, 20 miles! Not 20 minutes, but 20 MILES. It’s shy of the marathon’s daunting 26.2, but it’s still the longest run I have ever attempted.

It took us about 3 hours and 40 minutes and when it was over I was not completely wiped out. It made me begin to hope that I might be able to finish the marathon in less than 5 hours. Dare I think that is possible? Of course this was on a flat trail along the beach in 60 degree weather. I’m still bracing myself for the possibility of a 90 degree scorcher on May 25th.

Then Saturday afternoon, after a quick shower and power breakfast/lunch, Kip and I took my visiting brother-in-law Dan on a whirlwind driving/walking tour of LA. We went to Venice Beach to see the crazies. Then we went on to Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive. We saw Joan Rivers there too and apparently I was the only one who didn’t recognize her. I thought, hmm, that old lady looks really familiar. So I guess she is still alive.

Me, Kip and the little man on Rodeo Drive.

A stop at the top of a parking garage was part of Kip's whirlwind tour of LA.

Then we drove up to Hollywood and Highland to see more crazies hanging around the Mann Theater. It should be somehow comforting to know that if the recession hits hard enough you can still dress up as your favorite character, anyone from Chuckie to Jesus, and stand along Hollywood Boulevard for tourist photo ops and tips. There was even an elderly Cinderella there. I guess her prince never showed up.

We finished our LA tour at the Farmer's Market. My dear little brother Timmy joined us.

Put down the camera and have some ice cream!

Sunday morning, after 12 hours of sweet sleep, I caught a little bit of my 6-year-old son’s T-ball game in between running my 10-year-old daughter to a GS workshop.

Then later in the afternoon Kip, my son and I went for a sail. The weather was gorgeous, and it could have been beautiful if my son wasn’t so terrified. Every time the boat pitched he screamed hysterically and clung to me for dear life. After about an hour he began to enjoy himself, but I found the whole experience to be exhausting. Between our son’s hysteria and my own apprehension about Kip depending on me to help guide and sail the little boat, I was miserable and ready to call it a day.

We got back to the boat slip just in time to drive out to Hollywood and make our Sunday evening church service. I was inclined to skip church after such a busy weekend, but I was really glad we went. It was deeply refreshing to focus on scripture, the story of our faith, and respond in worship with friends. I needed it.

So I didn’t fold a single load of laundry this weekend, or make any meals other than the Korean Barbeque we picked up in Korean Town on the way home from church. But I did get a late evening lesson on physics from Kip. He drew diagrams on the white board and explained again how sailing “works.” I actually found it helpful. That should calm my anxiety about being asked to “quick grab that rope and pull!” and “hey, can you take the tiller and steer for a minute while I fix this …”

So that was my weekend. I know I’m blessed to have so much excitement and so many wonderful people to share it with.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Hot, Hot, Hot

Los Angeles is baking in heat today and my swollen runner’s feet look like I’m seriously prego.

Like fat little baby feet,” my husband noted semi-affectionately.

What kind of seriously demented person takes pictures of their ugly feet and publishes them?

It all started when ...

A choir of predawn, chirping birds woke me up early this morning.

I loved it. I made coffee, read a little scripture, got ready to run and then happened to walk back through the bedroom. Kip was still passed out in bed. He looked so peaceful sleeping, like the last bit of weekend lingering, that I thought I’d try a little horizontal pre-run stretching. Of course, I fell asleep.

Big mistake.

By the time our 6-year-old son woke us with his wiggle-worm-in-bed routine the sun was up and it was already hot!

Having missed our Monday morning jump on the day, it took a full half an hour for us to talk each other into running. I taped up my ugly red blister and squeezed my feet back into their running shoes. We made it about five miles, around the park and down the hill and back.

I was glad we had run. It felt good to run again since I had taken the day off yesterday. But I really, really hope marathon day isn’t this hot!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Another Long Run

Saturday morning, bright and early, I ran about 17 or 18 miles along the beach.

It was a little tougher than last week. I ran at a faster pace and it was hotter outside. But I did it. I survived and walked away with a new appreciation for blisters or “hot spots,” as I have now come to understand that term.

About the time when I was getting really tired, and oddly cold, when I passed the place where just two weeks earlier I had given up and started walking, I kept running. Mostly because I was running with a friend and something about community makes it harder to give up. Ok, ok, ok … so it’s pride too. But it’s a good thing.

I took the kids to a birthday party in the afternoon and by the time I got home I just crashed. The cold that I had been holding off attacked full force and I went to bed at about 7 p.m., curled up in a pathetic little snot ball, enjoying the small luxuries of sheets and pillows.

Training for this marathon has been so much more than just running.

It has been about practicing – not just thinking about -- perseverance.

I like the feeling of flying fast, of feeling my legs moving. I think everyone who runs does. But it seems that for every “flying” moment there are so many persevering moments.

I’m resting today. Give me a few days and I’ll be looking forward to next week’s 20 mile run.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Short History of Running

One Sunday morning, five years ago, as I was driving to Hollywood, I saw a pack of marathoners steam down Crenshaw. As they crossed over the 10, their bodies filling the space cars usually dominate, I knew I wanted to run with them.

“Hey kids, look runners!”

Then I’m sure I handed somebody a graham cracker, turned up the Veggie Tales, and forgot about such a ridiculous idea as running a marathon.

But I always kept it as a hypothetical possibility.

Could I?

Of course I had never run more than a mile or two. My time at the Y was more about a lonely transplant meeting other moms than actual exercising.

A few years and several gym memberships later, I realized that possessing a gym membership produced more guilt than pleasure. I just never made it inside the gym enough to justify the monthly expense. So I dropped it and promised myself I’d find less expensive means of exercise in our near-perfect weather climate. I started jogging, then running around our neighborhood park.

Over the years a few friends trained for the marathon, and I allowed myself to wonder if I could actually do it.

Then about a month ago I started training as if I were planning to run the marathon. That was a big step. I increased my morning runs. I made long weekend runs a priority. And then I actually registered for the marathon last week.

So you know this.

It has been a month since I started training, and I have had exhilarating top-of-the-world runs and near-death, crawling-back-to-my-car runs. And I have to say, I’m really glad I’m doing it. I still have 46 days of training to go.

I am learning something new every week. I just hope next week it’s not, “look
for cars!” Bad joke.

I think one of the biggest things I have learned so far is that it’s not nearly as much about huffing out the long run as being faithful to get up and go on the daily 60-minute morning runs.

It’s not just enduring the big events, but living out the every day, anyone-can-do routine. And that is why committing to running the marathon has had a ripple effect on my personal discipline and our family life this month. Our whole family is getting up earlier, studying more, eating better. I even started a blog, which means that I am writing more too.

I hope I’m still glad 47 days from now.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Love and Water for Life

old shoe, new shoe

Life requires at least two things: love and water.

I like to run light. I wear as little clothing as the weather allows. I tie a single car key to my shoe, and I don’t wear any of those dorky fanny-packs with bottles of water.

But I think I’m going to have to change my ways.

Sunday morning I went for the longest run of my life, 16 miles. The sun burned off the marine layer early, and by 9 a.m. I was wishing I had not worn my black athletic shirt. By 10 I was wishing Venice Beach had installed more working water fountains. And by 11 I was walking/limping the last mile back to my car, envious of the babies who passed by in their designer strollers. Imagine whizzing by in a stroller -- with a sippy cup!

But I survived -- like an illegal dashing through the desert, with a salt-caked shirt and new tell-tale freckles -- I made it. And after I hobble back to the car and downed a carton of my son’s warm chocolate milk and a warmer bottle of water, I realized, water is everything.

In my hurry out the door I had neglected to drink more than 8 oz. of water. And over the past three and a half hours of running along the hot beach I had consumed less than six mouthfuls of water.

Pretty stupid.

So I guess I’ll pick up one of those dorky belts this week. Or maybe I’ll talk my Saturday-morning-sleep-loving husband into hanging out along the route with a fresh bottle of water.

Actually, Kip did show up about two hours into my run. He and the kids decided to go for a bike ride and encourage their silly old mom. You might not think so, but the look of absolute pride on my daughter’s face when she saw me running toward them was enough to fuel the next few miles. That and the mouthful of water I got from one their bottles.

Which brings me to my other weekend epiphany.

It takes a lot of heart to run. Not just desire to get out and run, but perseverance to run hard and run long. Encouragement from my family goes along way. But nothing replaces my own heart telling me I can do it. I want to do it.

I had actually planned to run Saturday morning, bright and early, 16 miles. But late Friday night I said something stupid (honest, but better left unsaid) to my dear husband and lit a marital death match.

In the war of words we were flying high and shooting low and I crawled off to bed having debated well and lost everything. In all fairness, we both apologized before we went to bed, but I was hurt, deeply. It wasn’t what was said, it was the deep heart issues of identity and self worth that felt violated. It awoke the sleeping lies.

When my alarm went off at 6:30 the next morning, I couldn’t run. I was emotionally dehydrated.

My dear husband is like a starfish. Cut off his leg and it grows back quick. He spent the day cleaning the house, taking care of the kids, saying nice things to me.

Are you still upset about that? I’m sorry. I really shouldn’t have said …. I didn’t mean it like that. You know I love you.

I spent the day staring at the ceiling.

I am more like an ancient coral reef. Without an act of God it might take a century to grow back. This time it just took a good heart-to-heart with a dear friend.

By Saturday evening Kip and I were both humbled, both sorry. Neither of us actually wanted to win the original argument. We just wanted peace. We have been married long enough to know what it’s like to live with a wall of frustration separating us. We don’t want to go there again. It’s just too lonely.

After a good night sleep I woke up early Sunday morning with a heart to run, grateful for a new day. Now if only I had grabbed the water. …..