A Monumental Day For Our Nation

Our National Monuments are under review and there is only a couple more days left for our voices to be heard. These places are more than just landscapes. They are our future.

Looking back at my life, one of my fondest memories was around the age of nine. My mother and step-dad loaded my sister, grandmother and I up in a bright blue rental van and took us for a road trip. I remember the van being cramped and my sister and I fighting most of the time we were awake on the drive. The trip took us west from Denver, into Utah. North into Idaho. East into Wyoming and South Dakota and finally back home. It was a long two weeks in the van, but reflecting on the trip, the experience opened my eyes to see a different world and helped shape me to be the person I am today.

In those two weeks we were on the road, I was able to experience some of America’s greatest National Monuments and National Parks. We drove through the Garden of the Gods, Canyon of the Ancients, and though beautiful arches. We floated in the Great Salt Lake in Utah and stared up in dismay at Devil’s Tower in Wyoming as my mother told me the story about the sisters who escaped the great bear and were lifted into the heavens. We took a helicopter ride over the Badlands in South Dakota and learned about Crazy Horse and the Presidents that were carved on the huge mountain. We explored Yellowstone and watched Old Faithful erupt with such force that taught us the magnitude of the Earth’s power. In short, we discovered that America was full of amazing features, lessons, and beauty.

That trip has entered my mind more and more now that I am grown with children of my own. I have never taken them to Disneyland. I don’t take them to places where everything is commercialized. I take them to places that open their eyes, widen their imagination and let them experience the natural beauty of the world; not just the commercialized points of interests aimed at getting richer.

In just the past two months, we have been places that I will hold onto forever. We have explored the Lehman Caves in the Great Basin of Nevada, leaned over the cliffs of Cedar Breaks in Utah. Ridden our bikes through Bryce National Park and hiked Zion. We sat on a cliff in the Grand Canyon, Arizona and took in the beauty that only water, rock and a lot of time can create. We camped in Joshua Tree, both in the Colorado and Mojave Deserts and discovered a hidden waterfall in the Toiyabe National Forest. Along the way, we learned about the land, animals and one another. We laughed over campfires and hot coco. We had snowball fights and jumped in rivers. The memories we made were our own without costing us massive entrance fees and long lines.

IMG_9785.jpg

Today is the anniversary of the American Antiquities Act. This act gives the President of the United States the power to designate national monuments. It protects the public land that hold so many memories, wildlife and hidden treasures. Without this protection, our children and their children may lose the right to see these great places.

While I have many political views, I am not one to post them publicly. This blog is not about my views on politics, but my views on protecting this great country of ours so we can enjoy it for years to come. All national monuments are currently being reviewed to determine whether or not they should indeed continue with the protection they currently have. It is up to the American people to do their part in this. The administration needs to know why the monuments are so important to us. They need to remember how it feels as a child, standing at the base of an enormous mountain, under a beautifully sculpted rock, or in the middle of a fossil bed. These monuments not only need to be protected to keep history alive, but they also need to be there to encourage  children to be active and promote fields of study such as geology, ecology, biology, wildlife conservation, paleontology, seismology, anthropology and many others.

Please take the time to tell your representatives what these places mean to you. Take the time to let your voice be heard. Go see these monuments and witness the truly spectacular beauty and history they hold. Get out and be a part of something greater than yourself. We have until June 10 to be heard. Don’t wait and hope that someone else will do it. We may not get another chance.

IMG_9649

 

Advertisement

Hiking with Children

While the trail is not tranquil when kids are involved, it can still be magical.

Traveling across the country has been quite an adventure. It is filled with exploration, discovery and adventure. Hiking with our children is an adventure of it’s own. It is a different experience than you would have without children; a different perspective.

When hiking solo or with other adults, the conversation is generally limited. There is a peaceful connection to your surroundings. You become part of the landscape. You go at your own pace, tackle your own obstacles and find a deep inner peace within yourself.

This is not the case when you have children, at least young children. Evelyn is four and Alexander is seven. Alexander is old enough to keep up and be adventurous, but hasn’t quite hit that age where he absorbs the quiet energy of the trail. Instead, he is powered by the excitement of the adventure and the challenge of jumping off big rocks, climbing hills and jumping in every stream or puddle along the way. Evelyn goes at her own pace. Sometimes she runs along enthusiastic bout being a trail leader. Other times, she barely moves at a snail’s pace, secretly hoping we will offer a piggy back ride. Generally, her hand is intertwined with mine as she floats along the trail giddily telling me everything that comes to mind. She talks about the butterflies, fairies, rocks, flowers and just about anything that she sees, touches, hears or feels. Those are the moments that I hold onto as much as possible.

I have also discovered that children think about food more than I ever imagined was possible. We could be at a beautiful waterfall, and Evelyn will turn around and say, “This is a great place for a snack Mom!” It’s incredible how much the topic of food is on their brain. They do expend an inordinate amount of energy trekking through the forest, so we do make sure to bring lots of snacks that are both nutritious and delicious. IMG_1181

Hiking with kids is also interesting in the fact that you have to go at their pace and their level. Sometimes, this means taking an extra five minutes to get past an obstacle. Sometimes, it means going a different way because there is a really cool rock that they just have to climb on. You have to be alerted to everything and point out hazards in order to avoid more cuts and scrapes. In fact, you wind up with more scrapes trying to minimize the dangers of thorns, rocks, and branches as your body seems to be the perfect barrier between them and the danger. You also ration your water differently than you would if you were solo. You know how much your kids will guzzle down or spill or use to wash off a rock so you not only hide an extra bottle, but you enforce a hydrate but don’t gulp rule. It rarely works. IMG_1219

The biggest thing about hiking with kids is seeing the small stuff. The forest is a huge place that makes the biggest adult feel small. For a child, the forest becomes a magical, enchanted land. The trees are teaming with life. My kids watch the beetles that are hauling their food across the pine needle carpet. We stop at ant hills to observe their behavior and make hypotheses about what each of their roles are. We notice the different animal droppings along the way. We take a break to compare the tracks in the mud that we see. Nothing is done with efficiency or speed, but when it comes to raising children, those are not terms often used anyway.

While hiking with children is not the serene, healing experience that it can be when alone, it is worth every moment. Conquering a trail give the kids more confidence. It gives them a sense of accomplishment. It brings them back to nature and offers countless learning opportunities. Their senses are awakened as they get lost in the trees and their imagination is sparked. There are no computers. No iPads. No video games. Just Mother Nature and two children soaking in every moment. As a parent, this is the best thing you can offer: a place to thrive and become independent. It is worth every mile.IMG_1123

I Could Never Homeschool My Kids… Until I Did

I never thought I would be the parent who homeschooled her child. Now, I wish I would have done it sooner.

I could never homeschool my children. Not that I am not smart enough. I am certainly educated. It is more than that. While I think I am a pretty amazing mom, I just never found that patience that is born with teachers. Going over the same thing a hundred times with a frustrated child until they get it right. Not having the adult stimulation that my insanely nerdish brain craved. I tried doing the stay-at-home mom gig a couple of times. It was truly the hardest job I ever had. I am not the Martha Stewart, Betty Crocker kind of mom who organizes play dates, bakes fancy cupcakes and keeps the house meticulous. In fact, I think my kids spent more time at a CrossFit gym with me than at parks when I had them “full time”.

The truth is: I need to work in order to maintain sanity. I need a sense of individuality. A sense of professional accomplishment. A time away from the chaos of two children that ask for my attention more than is humanly healthy. I need that time away from my family to appreciate them that much more. Even to maintain a schedule. My brain loves being a night owl, but that isn’t quite conducive when you have small children.

Homeschooling was never on my mind. My kids needed to be in an institution where learning was the centerfold most important thing on the agenda. Not breakfast, dishes, lunch, dishes, vacuuming, taking the dog out, picking up toys, dinner, dishes, baths, etc. Get my point? Kids need to be in an environment where they are with their peers and have to learn how to adapt to other’s personalities and a structure that is provided by someone who did not have anything to do with their creation. The Teacher.

Teachers are these strange creatures that I admire, not want to be. They get paid pennies, yet still manage to instill wonder, magic and knowledge into the heads of the children in the classrooms. I have always been amazed at anyone who desired to be a teacher. It simply wasn’t something I possessed or even wanted. So I thought.

As Spring Break began this year, I embraced a new, exciting, terrifying adventure of being a teacher. Not a licensed one, but a homeschool teacher. Yes. I took my children out of school and made the decision to homeschool them.

The decision was not an easy one. However, it was the best decision for our family for many reasons. The first reason was that I was forced to stop working due to my health. While I would love to have sat around drinking wine all day while the kids went to school, it made no sense to keep paying for the preschool my daughter attended. Plus, I needed a new challenge in my life. Another huge factor was my son. He has pretty severe ADHD. Smart as hell when he is focused, but imagine trying to focus in a class of 24 first graders hopped up on sugar. It wasn’t working. We tried changing his diet. We tried meditation. We tried jui jitsu. We tried caffeine. We tried fidget gadgets and even counseling. Even the IEP that was established didn’t do anything. Pretty much anything and everything we read online, heard from friends or could imagine, we tried. Nothing seemed to help much. In fact, his academics and self-esteem seemed to be going on a downward spiral. He would come home crying saying he was dumb, overwhelmed, stupid.

When your first grader thinks he is stupid, something needs to change.

That was the point when I took him to the psychiatrist. My heart was so heavy. I felt like the worst mother in the world. Why couldn’t I fix this problem and unlock the true potential that my child had in that amazing brain of his. The shrink made me feel better by acknowledging I had done everything I could and more. She said that the best thing for him would be medication.

I was going to be medicating my seven year old son so he would fit into an institution of learning that was not designed for him. It would help him focus. It would help him feel not so overwhelmed. It would make him excel. Medication was my last option.

As I sat in the pharmacy line at Walgreens, waiting for my turn to pick up the prescription, I began texting my husband about the plan. I told him the drug’s name and instantly received a response back: “WE ARE NOT GIVING HIM THAT DRUG!!!”. Wow. Turns out, my husband had  the same drug prescribed to him as a juvenile. He hated it. It made him feel so sick and not himself that he ended up refusing it all together. There was no way he would let someone put his child through that torture.

It turns out that most kids have to go through three or four different drugs before they find one that “works” for them. This is over the span of one to two years. I couldn’t agree to putting my son through hell for another couple of years until we found something that would work.

That is when my husband sat me down and talked to me about homeschooling. At first, I kept my old opinions that I could not do as good of a job that TRAINED teachers could. My kids needed that structure. They needed that establishment. However, my son was failing in that environment. We could always transfer him to a private school with very small class sizes but that would cost an arm and a leg. It wasn’t the answer. We made the decision that we needed a complete change in the way he learned. His brain was overly active. Why not teach him in an active environment? Teach him how his brain learns best. That idea was the key to solidifying our decision to homeschool.
The first month of “homeschooling” was more or less a relaxed time of getting to know one another on a more delicate level. I watched my kids play and taught them lessons based off what they should know. I analyzed how my son reacted to physical, emotional and mental stress. I discovered triggers that would make him shut down. I figured out tactics I could use to get him excited about learning. My kids became my test subjects in a fascinating and educational experiment.

One would think that when starting a homeschooling program that the best thing to do would be to sign up for a program. I’m not that kind of person. There are so many online schools out there that are great to use, but I don’t want my kids sitting in front of a computer. They need to learn by doing and I don’t want to use a program as a way-out for myself to sit around and drink wine. Instead, I have spent countless hours scouring various resources and developing a plan for what the kids will learn about based off their ages. Evelyn isn’t set to start Kindergarten until 2018, so she has a lot of leeway when it comes to what she has to know. We are still working more on the Kindergarten level, but at a slower and more playful speed. Alexander is actually already working on the second grade level for the most part. In less than two months, he went from struggling with first grade math to flying through his second-grade math assignments. It is a night and day difference.

My white board is an outline for what we should get done in a day. There are still worksheets, but also fun activities. Today we did Even/Odd assignment where I sent him on a bike ride to count various objects and determine whether they were even or odd. We play with hot wheels. We visit National Parks. Last week, we actually sat on a cliff in the Grand Canyon and did “schoolwork”. This week, we were in Joshua Tree National Park learning about desert plants and animals and how they survive. Our RV shows a map of the United States and both of the children can point out what states we have traveled as well as name their capitals.

I won’t lie and tell you that I don’t miss working. If I could go back, it would be hard to say no. However, I do have a new job that is exciting and just as challenging. I am nowthat strange creature I admire; just on a smaller scale. Homeschooling has given my son hope that he can thrive in the intellectual realm. I believe that one day the kids will go back to “school” and I will  find a new challenge. When they do return, they will have the skills to adapt to the environment, the knowledge that they have discovered while out of that environment and the patience and tolerance for others who struggle. Struggling doesn’t mean a kid is dumb or stupid; it just means that they learn differently than those that don’t struggle. Different can be good.

I never thought the day would come when I would say “I love homeschooling my children”. However, seeing the results and eagerness to learn has made me a true believer. Homeschooling isn’t the answer for all families or all kids. It isn’t an easy way out. It is hard work, lots of patience and should include a nice glass of wine at the end of the night (for the teachers…. not the kids). It saved my son from a low self-esteem, a hard struggle, and lots of tears. It raised his academic performance almost overnight. It enabled him to excel. Those results make me proud to say that I am his teacher or rather: HE is my student.