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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

I FOUND THE CANDY and other updates

James says he didn't mess with my candy, but I'm thinking someone did. It's where I vaguely remember putting it, but I LOOKED THERE MULTIPLE TIMES. Like, even with a stepladder to make sure I wasn't missing something in the back. I'm not a man. If it had been there, I certainly would have seen it, right? *sigh* Anyway, I'm too full from dinner to enjoy it, but I might be having Reese's for breakfast in the morning.

The gym is an interesting place, and one of my pastimes is to try to figure out people's relationships with the kid(s) they bring to the gym. Because I'm an older mom, probably, I don't assume grandparentage. I have friends to whom this has happened, and I don't want to do it to anyone (nor do I want it to happen to me!). I don't assume kids with different-colored skin from their caregiver aren't their children, because I know too many adoptive families (in fact, just the other day when Mal and I were at the pool with the younger Brownies - a family name, this isn't racism! - the lifeguard was concernedly looking for "these boys' mother" as my sister stood right there). There are quite a few nannies who bring their charges.

It's an interesting melting pot, more so than I've seen anywhere else in Austin at large. Frankly, I was surprised at how white Austin is. The first place I saw black people, and the only place at first, was Walmart. Then when I moved closer to the campus, I saw more... still not many. It seems like a lot of black people work at the airport. Anyway, I expected Austin to be this freaky rainbow, but not so much. At the gym, there are not only families of all colors, there are at least seven different languages I've heard spoken.

A friend asked me once if I see the same moms and therefore connect a bit there, but that really hasn't happened. There ARE about five or six moms I see on a regular basis. Their kids are all a bit older than Mal, and most of them are quite a bit younger than I am. After a year of going, we're chatting more... but none of us is asking the others to tea (unless they are, and they're just not asking me).

One lady, I thought she was just super stuck up for the longest time. Then I heard her talking to another mom and realized she's not American. She's from I'd guess somewhere in Eastern Europe. And so the "eye contact and a smile" is probably still super foreign to her. She pack the tidiest Bento boxes of fruit, vegetables, and rice pudding for her daughter. I want to steal that kid's snacks.

Another thing that runs the gamut there is parenting styles. Some parents sit down, shoo their kids off, and read a book or play with their phone the whole time. Some parents won't let their kid play on one thing for too long before they're encouraging them, "Let's go do this now! Let's try this one!" like the kid needs circuit training. Some are very (overly?) conscientious about whether their kid is sharing, and others don't look at their kid at all because they're there to chat with their other mother friend, meanwhile their kids together monopolize an area and won't let other kids play.

A couple of times, I've seen occupational therapists working with kids, and, honestly, I wish they'd do that somewhere else. One kid screamed in terror with everything, and wanted his mom to hold him, and I know the lady was going for the end goal of helping him, but seeing a kid sobbing and wailing, chasing his mom around the gym while the OT encourages her to "laugh and keep running like it's a game!" is excruciating to watch. I seriously almost picked that kid up and hugged him.

One nanny (who is older than my mom) is so on top of Brianna (bree-AH-nuh; I know because she calls her name a bazillion times an hour) that I feel sorry for THAT kid. "Brianna, your shoe fell out of the cubby. Can you come put it back? Brianna, back here. Thank you. Oh, it fell out again. Can you put it back farther, Brianna? Brianna, that kid said 'hi' to you. Can you say 'hi' to him? Can you wave back, Brianna? Brianna, we can't play until you tell him hi, Brianna." Ad infinitum.

Then there was the day James was with me and only two other families were there. A four/five-year-old-boy had opened the bathroom door with his foot in the way, and had scraped off the entire inside of his toe. It was a wreck, and he was reasonably hysterical. I can't even go into how his mom handled it, because it was so dumbfounding and senseless that it will make my butt hurt for an hour. I like to pretend that SHIELD gave him a cybernetic toe so now he's glad it happened.

(Memo to self: In a health and safety situation where a kid might be in shock, please never EVER say, "I know it hurts, but I need you to calm down for just a minute.")

We've had a fun year and are going to keep it up. As long as we live somewhere this hot, it's nice to have an indoor place for Mal to burn off energy and be mostly safe. He's gotten a few bumps and bruises there, but has grown so much, in terms of balance and motor skills.

We had tried a class when we first went, but he just wasn't ready. This summer, they're offering free unlimited classes to people who are already members. We tried one today, and guess what? Still not ready. :)

That pool picture is from yesterday. We'd been meaning to pick up a cheap plastic pool so Mal could enjoy being outside, and he really dug it! I only put about 6 gallons of water in it, and will dump it out tomorrow. So, for under $8 including water, it's been a great deal.

Mal's having some weird sleep regression where he's just not firing on all cylinders, though sleep has never been his strong suit. But he went all of the three-day weekend without napping, though he was exhausted and overtired the whole time. So he was going to sleep between 7 and 8:30, and waking steadily every few minutes from about 5 AM until we usually get up around 7.

Saturday night, he woke up sobbing. He was just so, so sad. He was too sad to nurse, even. I think maybe he had a bad dream. At first, I was trying just to hold him but finally I said, "What's wrong, baby? Can you tell Mama?" and when he heard my voice, he got quiet and eventually fell back to sleep.

And whereas a few weeks ago, he had started sleeping 3-4 hours before his initial wake-up, now it's back to being at most two hours, and wake-ups every hour or so throughout the night.

Last night, he woke up while I was in D's room helping with something, and James tried to calm him. He would have zero of that, and I ended up coming back into the bedroom because I heard him yelling and crying from the other side of the apartment. People have said that they left their kids to be night-weaned by their fathers, and it was so much easier than they'd imagined... but I don't see that happening with us. Mal knows what he wants, and it's me. Surely we're approaching half way done, right?

That reminds me: I had thought about posting on Facebook a few weeks ago something like, "I hope when I see this on my memories next year that we're done with diapers!" And I realized it seems more likely to me that Mal will be potty-trained by three than weaned by then. I'm not forcing either, so we'll see what happens.

I just realized it's almost 11. It feels like Mal just went to sleep, but it's been nearly 2 hours. I should go to sleep, too. I'm pretty exhausted from the day, which included three loads of laundry, vacuuming the whole apartment, cleaning D's room, taking Mal to the gym, preparing three meals, and Mal trying to sit in my lap while I was eating dinner and instead flipping my plate into the floor... so a carpet cleaning to get rid of the carrot salad stains and the tuna salad smells.

Parenting this boy is an adventure! I love him so much, and he's such a sweetie, I honestly don't think I'd change a thing if I could. One day we'll be on the other side of the baby/toddler "tough" and I am certain that we'll have such a strong relationship borne of it. I really look forward to watching him grow up.

EDITED TO ADD: One last note! Today, we were at a stop light, and Mal looked over at the Golden Arches and said, "deedah!" (his word for "soda") I told him we had soda at home, so we weren't going to stop, but I thought it was funny. THEN when we passed the Sonic a mile down the road, he said, "deedah!" again. I might have a caffeine problem.

Friday, June 24, 2016

This is not a funny blog post, so please don't laugh at my pathetic reality

My elder child requested something a few months ago and I, ever the attentive mother, have been diligent in my compliance. Somehow, she didn't inherit any of the stalwart willpower I possess in astonishing amounts (as long as negative amounts count; which means that's sarcasm, for those of you who are new to this game).

Anyhoo, she said that if she knows we have junk food around, she will eat through it until it is gone. Now, personally, I see nothing wrong with that, except if she eats it all and then I want to eat it all, too. But other than that... Anyway, apparently she doesn't want to locust her way through the snack aisle of the grocery store the way that I do. So I've been buying less, and trying to make it super low key when I do.

About four weeks ago, Walgreens had a good sale on regular candy bars. I bought (yes, I remember exactly from my purchase a month ago. Shut up) a Heath Bar, white chocolate Kit Kat, Reese's big cup, and then noticed a flirty little 5th Avenue that I had to have. When I got home, I ate the 5th Avenue, then I set about trying to find a place to put the other three bars.

Do you see where this is going?

So... a week or so after my purchase, I decided I was in the mood for maybe a Kit Kat with smooth white chocolate coating. Sounds good, right? So I looked up in the place where I keep my spices, because I remembered putting the brown paper bag, carefully folded over to be compact and surreptitious, up there... But it wasn't there.

Then something buzzed in my brain about how that was right above the Instant Pot, and when I release the steam, it might affect the chocolate, so I *didn't* put it there. Had I put it in the regular pantry? That seemed kind of douchey, but I looked there, anyway.

I ended up looking in all of the cabinets and couldn't find it. I just gave up and decided that it might hit me where I put them later.

It didn't hit me, and over the next few days, I'd relook in all of the places I'd already looked when I was in the kitchen cooking, cleaning, or emptying the dishwasher. Seriously. Where were they?

In the ensuing weeks, I've looked in my bedroom drawers, bookshelves, and pretty much everywhere except under the counters anywhere because I wouldn't put them low enough for Mal to get to them, and I haven't looked in the laundry room or bathroom because they get hot and humid, and plus, gross: people and cats use it in there.


It was less than $2.50, but the contents of that bag represent a lot more to me in terms of memory and holding it together and my hope that at least a few of my brain cells still function!

So, there it is. This is my life now. Forever searching my home for my lost candies. Do you realize that the universe has trusted me with the care and well-being of TWO HUMAN CHILDREN? I cannot keep track of tiny bricks of chocolate, unable to move under their own volition, and yet I am supposedly competent to make sure that these kids survive until adulthood? Who's in charge around here?

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Advice to Me in the Past (before I was married)

First things first. Remember Laura Hannah from high school? Of course you do. Look her up. Seriously. She's even more awesome than you remember (I's hard to imagine, but trust me on this one).

Secondly: those people who tell you that "raising kids is the most difficult thing ever, but it's also the most rewarding" haven't had very difficult lives. They were pretty spot-on about the "most rewarding" part, though.

I have a strong suspicion that the actual difficulty may have a lot to do with how much time/energy you, as a parent, have available. I think the kid probably stretches that envelope until it starts to unravel. And then they ride on that ragged edge until you throw them out of the nest.

I base this judgment on my own boundless experience as an insufferable whippersnapper and a little time observing frazzled parents.

It's certainly *easier* to cut a switch and try to teach the little snot to stay out of the medicine cabinet with a few gentle swats. I have my doubts about its actual long-term effectiveness. I think mouse traps would probably work much better.

But the little tykes have such sensitive fingers. And it's different when it's *your* little tyke. Not at all like the squalling little brat at the supermarket who won't shut up (actually, you'll start rejoicing when you hear some other kid crying just because it isn't your problem...but it'll be okay to let your heart bleed a little and try to help. I can see the appeal to the idea of some politician who knows how to make things better).

So maybe you'll let the baby examine your razor (under very close supervision, of course). And maybe Mommy will let the baby watch the mixer create cookie dough (ditto). And maybe the tyke will do his best to inspect the inside of the oven fan while that cookie dough's baking.

Try to remember that time that Dad came home and found you taking apart the lawn mower to see how all the parts fit together.

And think really hard about his "I'll give you a reason to cry" shtick. If the kid's crying, he's probably torn up over something. And it probably makes sense, if you can figure out what it is. Yeah, you wouldn't collapse into a little lump of jelly because your favorite source of candy is closed. That's because you've learned how to cope. Man up and show your kid how to deal with such catastrophes (somehow, "They'll be open tomorrow" rings a little hollow).

I know the empathy thing's tough for you. But it's just another skill. Sooner or later you'll have to man up and figure it out. (Or at least start working on it...the sooner you do, the sooner I have a prayer of finally reaping the benefits. So maybe my future self should start sending me notes like this).

Honestly, the biggest drain on your life will be time, exhaustion, and boredom.

Time will be golden. You just think that time by yourself is valuable now. You have no idea. If you choose wisely, you just may be lucky enough to find a wife who appreciates alone-time enough to truly respect yours.

This means she needs hers too, you Nimrod!!

Make sure she gets it.

We won't even talk about exhaustion. You've lived with that your whole life. You're used to it, right?

Actually, the kid drove me to reasonable sleep hours recently. It was frustrating, because I really had tons of things that I wanted to accomplish. And yet I felt refreshed for the first time in years.

There may be something to this.

But really. Boredom. I can't believe I'm listening to this song *again*!

They little tyke's learning and experiencing at a rate that you can't possibly remember.

His brain's doing crazy things right now. It's forming loop-the-loops and roller-coasters and Patterns and wedges and growing rain forests of synapses that are just going to be thrown away because they weren't worth the effort.

So don't make it easy. Make it fun. Share. Laugh, and don't judge.

Most of all, above all, love.

Huh. I thought I was writing this to some hypothetical past version of myself, for the benefit of some hypothetical reader who might care about the wisdom I've gained over the years.

But apparently I was just writing this to myself.

Fire up those axons and dendrites. Learn!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Out Mal's Window: A Year in the Life of a Tree

We have been at Vogelfutter for a year now, and have really enjoyed the nature aspect of these apartments. Besides the road runners and other birds, rabbits, and coyotes, we've appreciated the greenbelt surrounding the complex.

Most of the trees immediately around the buildings are evergreens. But looking out Mal's window, you can see (to the far right) one taller tree that I believe is an oak. You can't tell from this angle, but we've walked out to it and it's in the middle of almost half an acre, all by itself.

I took this picture one evening soon after we'd moved in last year. (That building in the distance is ACC.)

By September of that year, the tree was thinning out from extreme heat and the onset of fall. One afternoon, under overcast skies, I took the picture below. The tree is at the very far right, almost out of the frame.

Austin doesn't have a fall season, per se. But one December as the sun was sinking in the west, it lit up the yellowing leaves remaining on the sole oak tree.

A few short weeks later, after the new year had started, the tree was bare for whatever winter we might have had.

So now the tree has come full circle, filling back out during the spring and ready to face the sauna of the summer that started in its strength a couple of weeks ago. I took this final picture out Mal's window today.

We've had a lot of rain, so everything is super thick and lush. It's such a tease, though. You look out that window and think, "Gosh, how beautiful! I should go out there." Then you open the door and feel that wet heat roll in, and you slam the door and swear not to leave again until Halloween.

So there you have it: a tree looks at 2015 and 2016. And we look at the tree. Happy summer, you guys. Hopefully it's more comfortable wherever you are.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

A Good Saturday

We had a low key family day today. First, I was able to catch Mal doing what I described in yesterday's post. Here it is, in all of its "what the heck?" glory.

Then this evening, Mal and I took James out for an early Father's Day meal (Sundays are difficult for us, time-wise, between church, Mal's nap, and the fact that James doesn't like to leave the house after noon on Sunday because of introvert, powering-up-for-Monday stuff) at Hecho en Mexico. They were pretty busy, and it took quite some time for our food to come out. Fortunately, Mal was pretty chill until the last six minutes or so before his beans arrived. Although I don't love breastfeeding in public at his age and stage, it was actually a relief when he climbed up in my lap and wanted to nurse, because it meant I wasn't going to have to get up and chase him around the small dining room. I happened to be wearing a nursing shirt and was able to be what I thought was very discreet.

When we got done, though, I glanced over to see the family at the next table all looking at me. The mom elbowed the son, who was about 8 or 9 years old, and he said, very pleasantly, "I was just saying that I am kind of jealous of him because he gets to have mama's milk, and I sometimes want mama's milk."

I said, "Yeah, he's a fan. I guess we'll stop someday, but I don't see it happening soon.

His mom told me, "He was almost four."

I said to the boy, "Well, I'm glad you have happy memories of it. I hope this one does."

His mom said, "I honestly had no idea."

So it was an all-around positive exchange. I hope that my boy is as poised and articulate when he's older.

Happy Father's Day to this guy, who loves our kids well and who is the best partner in the world. I can't imagine doing any of this without him. <3

Friday, June 17, 2016

Stuff around Vogelfutter

Our patio is awesome. It's really hot at the moment, in more ways than one. For the past week or so, the temperature has been in the high/mid-90s with heat indexes in the 105-area, due to humidity and general awfulness. Also, two pigeons just tried to make babies. It was noisy, both in terms of their vocalization and the fact that they kept running into the bars, so it sounded like someone playing a giant xylophone. Badly.

James' mom visited last weekend, and she and Mal had a great time together. I told James that's what we need to raise a toddler: three adults. There's one to take care of the income, one to take care of the house and primary care of the kid, then an alternate who can jump in and play with the kid during meal preparation and errands.

Patsy got to visit Mal's gym a couple of times (once with Mal's cousin, Tian, in tow), meet Mal's friend Luna while visiting our church, eat at a couple of our favorite places (Kerbey Lane on the patio was such a perfect breakfast for Mal... there was even a 17-month-old who wouldn't sit still except to nurse sitting right beside us!), and see a lot of Mal's nakedness. That's kind of our life right now. That kid hates wearing clothes.

Speaking of that, Mal has had what I've come to believe is a heat rash for like two months now. It started out as what I thought were ant bites, but now it's all over his abdomen, upper legs, and some on his upper arms. I was just reading about it here, and they recommend staying out of the heat and humidity. Okay, thanks. That's really helpful advice here in Austin. The rash doesn't seem to bother him, so we're just putting some Gold Bond on it when it looks red, and waiting it out otherwise.

Mal is trying to talk more, repeating words we say in his own way. One word that he has down pat is "die." Like when he wants to climb up on the cabinet, and I say, "Be careful, Mal. I don't want you to die." Or, "Get down from there or you're going to fall and die!" So now, while he's climbing, he gleefully repeats, "Die die die!" over and over again.

When Patsy was here, Mal started interjecting every time I'd say "James." He'd respond with, "Daddy! Daddy!" and the sign. I guess he knows his dad's name. He still won't say "Mommy," though. 

For some reason, I'm famished like all of the time. I don't know if it's because Mal is still nursing so much or because I'm just trained from the past two years of eating to, well, eat. But I am trying to hold out until dinner (which might be at 6:30 and might be at 8:45; we never really know until James texts that he's on his way home). I had a good breakfast, a snack, a great lunch, an afternoon snack, and, honestly... It's like I've lost the ability to sustain a hungry feeling. I go from mild stomach growl to beginning hypoglycemic occurrence really quickly. 

D recently bought herself a MacBook Pro. She was wanting to write more, and said that she felt like writing sitting on her bed or a comfy chair would be nice. She was also able to hook her drawing pad up to the Mac, so she can do that from the mattress, too. She is rarely on her desktop anymore, except for when her cousin TJ comes over to game. She also just read almost entirely through the Harry Potter series. She's toward the middle of book seven, but the book light I lent her has dead batteries, and she has been consuming the books at night. I need to get her a headboard-mounted lamp.

Done. Gosh, I love the internet.

Today, I was cleaning up my email folders. I actually moved the "writing" folder to my archive. It's kind of sad, but it's a season. I'm sure when Mal is 5 or 8 or 12 or 19, I'll get to write again. For now, the blog is the thing, and I'm really fortunate that I get to watch yet another amazing kid grow up.

Making  friends at Mozart's.
Now that he's older, I think we're ready to try story time at the Bee Cave library again. Maybe we'll hit it next week. This week got away from me, plus I have been so tired. I told James the other day that I didn't feel motivated to do anything, but once I mentally listed everything I'd done that day, I'd done quite a lot! I guess I just didn't feel like it. Anyway, last year, Mal couldn't sit at all to listen to the stories, but I feel like now maybe he would. He doesn't sit to listen to the 5-minute children's message in church, though, so I could be wrong. If all else fails, there is a splash pad right across the street from the Bee Cave library, so we'll have a nice morning, regardless.

One final thing Mal is really into right now: bringing everything from somewhere to somewhere (usually someone) else. It started one night when I was trying to get Mal to go to bed. He had gotten up and gone into the living room where James was hanging out. I stayed in bed. A few minutes later, Mal brought me one of the blocks from the set we keep in an ottoman storage thing. I said, "Thanks, but I don't want a block." However, he sat it on the side of the bed and ran back into the living room. A few moments later, he came back with another block. He set it on the bed, then sped back into the living room. This happened over and over again. 

Eventually, I asked James, "Is he going to bring every block in here?" James said, "It looks like it." I opened my eyes and saw that he'd laid each side by side, so that the to open sides of the bed (the foot and one side) were both bordered with nearly 40 blocks. When there were about 5 blocks left, Mal decided to drag the ottoman into the bedroom instead.

When his grandma was here, he pulled everything out of his kitchen and put it on her bed for her. Last night, while Mal's dad was in the restroom and I was in bed, Mal brought me my brush, then my comb, then some leave-in conditioner, then my pick, etc. He just zooms from one place to the other, then back and again. I think it's his way of running off some excess energy? He's not as big on putting everything back, but it's pretty entertaining to watch, anyway.

Friday, June 10, 2016

One of these things is not like the other

Sunday morning, I had Mal in the cry room at church, and he did something for the first time... He went over to the big wooden rocker and pointed to it. I said, "Chair," and did the sign. Then he pointed at the 70's wrap-around mint green cushioned rocker. "Chair," and the sign. Then he walked over to the chair that's part of a set you link together to form rows. "Chair," sign. He pointed to the leather office chair I was sitting in. "Chair," sign. Then he went to the little plastic kid's chair. "Chair," sign." Then he came back to where I was sitting, pointed to the table between my chair and the row chair, and shook his head, "No." I said, "You're right! That is NOT a chair!"

Since then, he's done it with several things. He will point to James' chin and James will say, "Beard." Then he'll point to his own chin and shake his head, "No." Same with me (for now, anyway; menopause is calling).

When we went to the airport to pick up his Grandma yesterday, Mal pointed to her black shoes and made the sign for "shoes" himself. Then he pointed to my shoes and did the same thing. Then his own. THEN he got to the stuffed dinosaur Grandma had brought. He pointed to the dino's feet and shook his head. "Right, the dinosaur does not have shoes."

He's also taken to hugging randos. Fortunately, they've all been kids, but we're trying to figure out a good way to teach him boundaries. Today at the gym, he put his arm around a little girl in a kind of side hug that would have been cute if they'd been facing the same direction. As it was, she was facing opposite him, and it kind of looked like he was trying to choke her. After the "hug," he leaned in for her to kiss his head. She had no idea what to do with that.

I was going to write more, but Mal's nap lasted about 20.5 seconds today.

Oh! Speaking of which... I didn't want to say anything earlier, but it might be a thing now. Mal's been sleeping 4-6 hours at night before his first wake-up! He's been sleeping until just after 2 or just before 4 the past 4 nights. This gives me hope that I might be able to have more time to chat with D at night, not having to listen for Mal to wake up so I can put him back to sleep.

I really thought that when he slept more, I'd sleep more and be more well-rested. What's happened instead is that he has A LOT MORE ENERGY. This is not fair. A trade-off, I guess.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

A final word on the "no poo" experiment...

Since my last post, I've been using the Kevin Murphy angel.wash and angel.rinse. I love them! First, there are no "lathering" agents in them, so my hair doesn't get hugely sudsy. But, goodness, it's light and CLEAN!

I've realized that my hair didn't fall out when I "washed" it and was using only water, though I didn't notice it at the time. Maybe that's because it all just glopped together and none was able to escape? The first time I used shampoo in six weeks, it was very noticeable. It's not excessive; it just made me note that I hadn't had hair fall out during the experiment.

Fortunately, I think that, if nothing else, the "experiment" kind of got my scalp out of the over-production of sebum. I went one week between washes the first time I used the shampoo. Now that it's getting hotter and so muggy, I'm washing it every three days or so, but I recently washed it the second day after I'd sanded some furniture and felt disgusting.

Perhaps most interesting is this: My husband, when I first told him what I was planning to do, immediately stopped using shampoo. It took me about a week to gather the supplies I needed, but he just went cold turkey. He has a very dry scalp and typically used dandruff shampoo.

His hair has thrived on the water-washing regimen. He washes it every two to four days, and it did go through an oily time at the beginning. But now, man, it looks (and smells!) great. He said his scalp itches less, too. I'm glad it worked out for him, so I'm glad I decided to try it.

Actually, it benefited both of us, as I'm really loving the feel of my hair with this shampoo I'd not have tried if I hadn't been doing so much research.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Unschooling Preschool

Whole-life unschooling wasn't a philosophy that was on my radar when D was small, but I realize now that a lot of its tenets came naturally to me. Now, with Mal, I use them with intention, going even further to eschew the sort of "teachy/educational" videos aimed at littles. I mean, he likes the Starfall website, and many of the "Little Baby Bum" videos talk about colors and shapes and stuff, but I don't make him watch anything he doesn't want to. Often, we forward through the videos that start out with an over-enthusiastic, "Want to count from 1 to 100 by tens?! Let's go!!" No. Shut it.

Anyway, one thing that is consistent (more or less, as much as can be with a toddler) between when D was little and now with Mal is that we have "morning sessions" and "afternoon sessions" in their rooms. I mean, I go in there with them, sit down, and let them set the tone for what we do.

Mal might pull out a book for me to read, I might get four pages in, and then he might decide that he wants to go pretend to cook on his stove. I never insist that we finish the book we started; I just let him do what he wants and help him when he needs help.

Full disclosure: For me, it's a discipline thing, but I try very hard not to take my phone in his room during these times unless I'm expecting a time-sensitive message (like from my Instacart shopper or a visitor). I want to be present for these particular times.

Mal likes to pull every bit of "food" out of his refrigerator and talk about it: What it is, what color it is, whether he likes it or not. I very rarely ask, "What color is that?" And if I ask but he doesn't answer or doesn't answer correctly, whatever. I'm mostly just making conversation. Sometimes he wants to pretend to cook stuff, and if I try to pretend to eat it before it's cool, he'll be shocked and remind me that it's hot. 

Sometimes, Mal wants to get the really big stuffed Pegasus or Hagrid and Fluffy out of his closet. Other times, he plays with his drill and screwdriver set. Or the Playmobil RV with the bicycles and the tiny flatware. He often "cuts himself" with the itty bitty knife, much to his own amusement.

There might be a time when I pull out a ball and ask him if he wants to catch it, but if that's not on his mind, I never make him do anything during these play times. They're his time, and I do what he wants. 

When I was in my 20s, I worked with a boy who had Autism, and his mom had tried everything, including painful shots. Her last best hope was this kind of Playtime Therapy that involved just sitting in the floor with her child and letting him pick what to do, then using those things to interact with him. It never occurred to me until recently that it's very close to what I'm doing with my own kid.

Obviously, there are times in the day when I need to do things: chores, personal care, errands, etc. Mal is usually right there beside me. He loves to sweep (really, Swiffer... but NEVER with the cloth on; it is an abomination unto him). He most of the time makes things more difficult when he "helps" this way, but it's important to let him learn and feel a part. He also likes to shake open trash bags, and is actually really great at bringing the liners from our bathroom trash cans out to the bigger trash can.

When we go out, there are times when we're on a schedule or in a hurry, and I have to get all bossy and demanding, but if we're not in a time crunch, I try to let him have the leisure to explore things. For instance, very often, when we go to the gym, he wants to go behind the building and look at the air conditioners. Or he'll want to sweep the snack area, which is not why we're paying $20 a month, but as long as no one's over there, I usually let him (if there are people, I don't, because concussions, and this usually results in much sadness from the boy).

"Yes, I know there's a playground over there,
but this dude outside is riding a loud monster that eats grass! It's AMAZING!"
A big part of the unschooling philosophy is just mindfulness and being in the moment. And this is what was intuitive for me when D was little. We might plan a trip to the zoo and spend three hours with the birds, an hour in front of the lions, another hour in the gift shop. and then go home. If there was something I especially wanted to do or see, we did. But otherwise, there was never an expectation of exactly what any experience needed to look like from the outset.

I'd feel sorry for the kids (we went to a lot of homeschool day events, and a LOT of homeschoolers are super married to curricula and timetables and wringing the dang educational value out of every second) who would amble up to the otter display, get to watch one cute thing and be totally enthralled, then have a parent bark at them, "Okay! Let's go! Come ON!" Even though it was clear they could have watched those things for fifteen minutes. Poor kids barely had the time to write down a note about the otters in their mandatory binder they had to carry to prove they were at school and not just having frivolous fun.

So, with Mal, it's more of the same, only we don't spend time "singing" the alphabet or purposefully "studying" colors or anything like that. What's neat is that, even without my introducing it, he wants to know, and he asks. And when he stops asking, I stop telling him.

Although we went from relaxed eclectic homeschoolers to unschoolers to radical unschoolers over the course of D's lifetime, it'll be interesting to see how it goes with Mal, doing this from the start. Of course, we'll probably change things up, tweaking them as we go, just like everyone does.

It's interesting: As we've looked at housing and considered leaving options open in regard to a Sudbury (un)school or a Waldorf school, something hit me in the feels the other day: When Mal brought me a book and sat down in my lap for me to read it. I just remembered all of the times D did this until she was 7 or 8, and really we only stopped my reading aloud much when she became voracious about wanting to hear literature to the tune of 4 hours per day or more, so we switched over to audiobooks. And I realized that no matter where we might send Mal, he probably won't have that luxury in any school environment (except maybe at the Sudbury school, he could get an older kid to read to him if he were charming enough), and it made me think we need to keep him home! Then it further occurred to me that if we are truly to unschool, his preferences play into it and he might WANT to go to school, so we need to be prepared for anything. Just like always.

These are pretty fun days, and I'm glad that I get to spend however many we have with Mal, watching and learning alongside of him.