Monday, June 28, 2021

Progress is a spiral, but it does happen

I'm a math nerd, in case that wasn't clear before. So when someone said that progress was like a spiral that felt like a circle and showed me a picture, I squinted and said, oh hey, that actually looks like a "screw", which is one of the Simple Machines that makes work easier (you move up not in a straight line but at a more gradual incline; it's slower but it makes it more doable). A fantastic poetic insight, if I do say so myself, but it still doesn't always make it possible to recognize when you're moving up and not just around.

Fortunately, even spirals sometimes have milestone markers.


It only looks like you're going around in a circle

I homeschool my sons. That feels like a confession every time I say it, because I grew up believing in institutional education (even if I always felt like an alien in those environments). I was so earnest, it took me years to realize something was off. Actually, it took the suffering of one of my children, and then the incredible boredom of another. Schools failed my children in one way, but they fail other children in other ways. Not all children, perhaps, but enough that my conscience doesn't ping me as much as it used to about my decision to pull my children out.

I tried very hard to replicate "school" for my younger children, but it took me less than two years to realize that wasn't what they needed. We prioritized play, and I tried to focus on what they did well rather than what they didn't, with the theory that when they were older everything would basically even out. I wanted them to enjoy their childhoods as much as possible, even when I could feel other adults glaring at me because I was doing it wrong, and even when I could hear in their voices the concern that I was somehow ruining my children. Sometimes that made me dig in deeper, sometimes that filled me with anxiety that maybe I was using my kids as a social experiment and not being their mother. But every time I thought of changing course, the cues I got from my kids indicated that they wouldn't do better with more of a regimen.

Mind you: this did not mean that they loved homeschooling with me every step of the way. They rolled their eyes at me so many times they must have pulled some ligaments, and every mistake I made I was called out on. There's a rightful concern that parents can be the harshest teachers of all and make their kids feel stupid; not too many people talk about the ways in which our kids make us feel stupid (but, you know, maybe they should).

It had always been the plan to send them to community college at about this time. "About this time" because I would have ideally done it last year, but that wasn't much of an option given the pandemic. So we plugged along, with the normal attendant dramas along the way. Finally, we got to the point where they were ready to register for classes at one of the community colleges in Boston, but first they needed to take a math assessment test.

Long story short: they both did really well, in spite of the fact that they had never taken a standardized test before and one of them has significant anxiety around math. That one tested into Pre-Calculus, and the one who likes math better tested into Calculus.

I was overjoyed -- one of them will never have to take math again, and the other *might* be able to get out of a Statistics requirement, but if not, that's the only math class he'll ever need. More importantly, they both know that 1) they can handle standardized tests, and 2) that they can handle math. And we did it without "drilling", year after year, something they didn't like into their minds in a way that would make them dislike it even more.

There was no guarantee this approach would "work" if working means performing intelligence for anyone. But that was never what I wanted for them. I wanted -- and still want -- for them to explore the topics that they are interested in and find the things subjects that thrill their minds. Letting them "play" in different ways with what they liked helped foster that, I'm convinced.

It only looked like we were faltering in place...right?

Deb in the City

Friday, June 18, 2021

How I survived the Year of Hell - a story in Tarot

I'm so grateful for my posse of bloggers (Caroline, Jami, and Kerrie) who join me on these fun blog hops. I spent a lot of last year looking forward to talking about "the end" with them, and once again they came through.

I feel like a lot of people slowed down in some way during the pandemic, because they didn't have a choice. Lockdown meant being locked down, so most people were home a lot more, and since most people's lives were "out", that was a big adjustment.

That's not what happened to me.

Naeily , Ami. “The Hanged Man.” Cute Magick, 5 Apr. 2021,
I got this brilliant idea at the beginning of 2020 that the climate action group I was working with should have an arm that focused on the connections between climate change and agriculture, and I got people to agree with me. The pandemic meant that we could do all of our programming online, so between April 2020 and February 2021 we did the following:

  • Four webinars on topics including victory gardening, compost, "foodprints", and bringing Jewish values to the garden as we fight climate change
  • A film series
  • A three-part class on trees
  • A two-part webinar on the importance of native plants
Oh yeah, between September of 2020 and April of 2021, I was also working on a conference for said environmental action group, including not only organizing sessions around agriculture but also making sure planning got...done for the rest of it. (I guess you could call me the project manager?)
Naeily , Ami. “Knight of Pentacles.” Cute Magick, 5 Apr. 2021,
This was as exhausting as it sounded, but in the middle of that, I also decided that I should put together a learning circle on Self-Care with my friend Jordan. I thought it would be really easy, but it took several months to finalize. I'm pretty proud of the way it turned out -- hope you agree.
Naeily , Ami. “Queen of Cups.” Cute Magick, 5 Apr. 2021,
During this time, I continued to homeschool my sons, albeit at the pace I've always used (let's call it "relaxed"). We managed to cover a bunch of material, including physics, calculus, chemistry, some biology, history (boy, was this a good time to re-read Stamped From The Beginning with them, as well as America for Americans), and "random" stuff like computer science and some classic literature. Oh yes, I also started a correspondence with the author of their physics and calculus book, and gave him a few suggestions for answers to two of the physics problems (after I spent three days figuring one out). The seventeen year old in me who did NOT do well in physics senior year was a little chuffed, I admit it.
Naeily , Ami. “Page of Swords.” Cute Magick, 5 Apr. 2021,
It wasn't all drudgery. I had a lot of fun getting into Tarot with a friend of mine and sharing our spreads daily. No, please don't worry, I am not going to start talking about messages from beyond or anything like that. I see Tarot as a much prettier Rorschach Test: each card has so many meanings, though only a few "speak" to you. The question is why. That's been what I enjoyed most about it, and I enjoyed tapping into that intuitive part of myself that I was told to shelve years ago.
Naeily , Ami. “The World.” Cute Magick, 5 Apr. 2021,
I also enjoyed deepening my friendships with two people while we worked on the learning circle and getting closer to two others as we shared some of our writing. (This made up for having to abruptly walk away from a critique group that, to put it mildly, wasn't working out for me.) Yes, of course we talked about the pandemic every time we met, but we also talked about the things that were, literally, giving us life. I'm truly grateful for those connections. And it would not be fair to talk about 2020 without also mentioning how much I loved the fact that I was already in a gardening community that has been putting up the good fight in the community for decades now. I got a lot out of working in the soil, and I'm so glad we're back at it. (And, oh yes, I made a project out of that as well; didn't my daughter do a great job on this video?) 

Naeily , Ami. “Four of Wands.” Cute Magick, 5 Apr. 2021,

Mostly though, I was busy, so busy that I felt kind of empty and dried up, and looked forward to life returning to a new and better normal in May. That included getting back to my writing, which had to take a back seat because, well, there are only so many hours in a day and days in a year.

But life did not become a better normal. I had to come to terms with the fact that I felt empty even when I wasn't hustling, and it wasn't because of my activities. Something was *wrong*. And mid-May I realized what that was: I was living with addiction again, and I don't mean my own.

Naeily , Ami. “The Devil.” Cute Magick, 5 Apr. 2021,
I'm not going to go into the details, because as anyone who has ever been in this situation will tell you, after a while they don't matter (but I will tell you this: there's a fine line between a "healthy hobby" and an addiction). Hell is not just the substance, it's everything that goes with it: the lying, the rationalizations, the inability to plan for a future because there is no future past the next fix, and, as I said, that feeling of emptiness. Addiction is the fun house mirror version of "living in the present".

Someone else is on a path toward rehabilitation...perhaps. I am trying to plan for my future. Normal? No clue. But definitely happy.
Naeily , Ami. “The Sun.” Cute Magick, 5 Apr. 2021,
Come at me 2021 and 2022; if I was fortunate enough to live through the last 15 months, I can get through anything.

Naeily , Ami. “The Fool.” Cute Magick, 5 Apr. 2021,
Deb in the City