Hijacking your Kids’ Education… But No Pressure

I came across this excellent TEDx talk.  It’s about a mom who recommends “hijacking” your kids’ education.  To get it out of the way early, this does NOT mean homeschooling.  Or interfering with the curriculum and practices of the school.  What it means is, leave the school to do what they do and then take charge of their learning after school.  I’m embedding it here.

I find this interesting because I’ve been hijacking my kids’ learning in one way or another since they started school.  At first in Jordan, I found that based on decades-long approaches to education (including early education), I needed to work with them on creativity and individualism.  At home we would do arts and crafts projects every week in which there were no lines, no right answers, no required colors… Basically, I was giving them not just permission but the requirement to be creative.  If they asked a question about what color they should use or should a feather go here, I always told them that I was certain they’d make the best choice.  At school, bunnies were brown and snow men’s coats had to be put on properly (so yes ButterBean’s cape was “fixed” by the art teacher!).  At home, bunnies were just as likely to be rainbow polka-dot and snow would have capes, or bikinis, or sandals, or swim trunks.

The thing is, what this mom suggests is hard to do.  Helping your child find their “passion,” a new-age catch word that college applications are rife with and admissions reps expect to see, is hard work.  And it strikes me as kind of odd that we’re placing so much focus on it anyway.  When I was in college, it was a time of exploration.  Because at home your mom and dad would NOT have been expected to expose you to every possible interest.  Listening to this mom’s exhaustive list of steps they took to find the passion was, well, exhausting.  So, I think I’ll probably look toward taking only some of what she suggests.  The watching closely to see where they are showing interests is a definite possibility.  Also finding opportunities for them to explore those areas is a possibility.  But me personally trying to determine every possible area of interest and then explore it… not likely to happen.

But I do like this idea of finding the areas of weakness and owning our role in supplementing them.  Between giving our kids time to play and enjoy themselves and continuing their learning, we will need to find a balance.  Because I do want my kids to be able to write a coherent essay with an outline.  And I do want them to spend some time seeing what happens when food is dropped and ants come and carry it off, and I do want them to try out an instrument.  But I also want to know that I’m not going it alone.  It’s interesting to see where this journey will lead us…

Happy Hijacking

Americans in Yemen: Owning Up

So, a friend of mine posted this article a couple of days ago on Facebook.  I read the article with much interest.  But I found myself quite troubled.  My friend’s point of view was that it was despicable that the US government isn’t hastening to bring these folks home.  Normally I might agree.  However, there are two primary things that stop me from jumping on this particular band wagon.  Before I get to them, perhaps I should set the stage a bit.  Back in 2006, El 3atal, the Beans, and I packed up or sold all of our worldly possessions and moved to Jordan.  That’s right, everything either was shipped to us or sold on to someone else.  We didn’t know how long we would be in the middle east, but we were settling in for a long stay.  Then, about 3 years ago, we moved to the Arabian Gulf.  So, we’ve been in the region quite some time now.  We’ve lived in two very different countries during that time.  We watched with trepidation as the events of the Arab Spring unfolded.  While listening to the trickle of other foreigners heading out of Egypt at the time, we were told of the six flights per day that Jordan was able to bring out.  That number reflects both the large number of Jordanians in Egypt and the infrastructure that was available due to a regional air carrier that could simply repurpose flights.

As an American, I grew up thinking that anywhere in the world, an American just has to get to the embassy and they would be safe.  The scene in the movie The Saint where Elizabeth Shue’s character is running for the gates of the US embassy in Moscow while being chased by Russian hoodlums encapsulates what I think every American thinks.  And yet, living abroad the reality is very different.  There are categories and levels of Americans.  In Jordan, I was less likely to be invited to the embassy’s Fourth of July celebration than well-placed Jordanians.  For all that I’m American, we weren’t affiliated with the embassy, so we weren’t the important Americans.  As one of the non-privy Americans, when the situation becomes tense, I always watch the friends I have who ARE the important Americans.  You know the families.  You begin to see that when the embassy evacuates families, it’s time to get out.  Once they’ve begun to evacuate all but non-essential personnel, you’ve waited a bit long.  And if, God forbid, you wait until they evacuate the essential staff, you’re either foolish or you have a death wish.  I’ve had reason, in the last 3 years, to reassure friends in other countries that should the situation suddenly turn they only need to board a plane here and we’ll have a room ready for them.  Note, I didn’t say they need only wait for evacuation.

Because, for those who may not be aware, evacuation should be your very last resort.  This is true for a number of reasons.  First, as mentioned above, if you’re being evacuated, you weren’t paying close enough attention to the signs around you.  Second, it’s a costly business.  Contrary to the expectations of most Americans, the embassy evacuates you to a nearby country.  You then must find (and fund) a flight home.  Oh, and after you’ve been removed to the nearby safe country, you will receive a bill for the privilege.  That’s right, it’s not a free service.  Although we pay taxes on income and receive no benefits, we still pay for evacuation.  So, the business of getting out can be very costly.  And, if you’ve waited long enough for evacuation, then you’ve placed yourself in significant danger.  As the US pulls out of a location, your protections as an American become fewer and their ability to help you are negatively impacted.  So, waiting for evacuation is a foolhardy move.

In reading the article, I was struck by two separate things.  First, one example they use of someone “stuck” is a wife whose husband is Syria with no visa or other legal standing in the US.  She has had the opportunity to leave, but has chosen to remain with her husband. I get it. I might even make the same choice.  But I don’t think I’d rush off to join a lawsuit against the US.  Should the US mount an evacuation, the husband still wouldn’t be allowed on the boat/plane.  He has no legal standing.  And while you might wish the US could expedite some sort of status for him, with the embassy closed in Yemen, it’s beyond unlikely.  The second was the complaint that it could cost up to $700 to get out.  I’m wondering if the issue is that they need cash up front or if it’s purely the cost.  If it’s just the cost, see above, the US government would be sending you a bill (I expect that would be far higher) if they evacuated you.  So, somehow I’m hard-pressed to understand how this is a viable complaint.

All in all, those of us raised in the US are taught to take ownership of our lives.  We make decisions.  If they are good ones, excellent.  If they are poor ones, it’s a shame.  Either way, we controlled our choices and live with the consequences of the decisions once made.  So, if you decided to ignore the evacuation of the embassy families and embassy personnel, to some extent you are living with the consequences of your actions.  While airplane tickets are costly, isn’t it worth cobbling together the necessary money to get out of Dodge BEFORE the shelling starts?  I know there will be other sides to this and would love to understand better the mindset, but somehow I think suing the US government is simply proving the worst of our overly litigious nature…

Happy Denial!

Writing 101: Take Me Away…

My writing assignment today is to blog about a place.  It can be any place to which I’d like to be instantly transported… Each summer, we head back home to Alabama to give the kids and me a bit of a refresher in the forests and green grass.  It’s an amazing blessing (and luxury) afforded by living in the desert for the rest of the year.  For the last two years, I’ve had the further blessing of sending my kids to the summer camp I attended.  Most Americans probably attended one of these once.  You know the camp, where horseback riding, lanyard making, canoeing, swimming, hiking, and eating “family style” are the order of the day… every day.  It’s that sort of camp and I loved it growing up.  I’m pretty jealous of my kids, to be honest.  I want to go to camp too.  I’m wondering when my camp will catch on and offer a parents week (or even weekend) when we can relive our youth.  At any rate, as the summer approaches, notes from the camp building excitement pick up.  So, when the charge is to write about a place, camp comes to mind.  The challenge… I’m pretty sure that I won’t even come close to doing it justice…  But, I’m game to give it a try, so here we go.

My lovely camp is nestled in the foothills of the Appalachians.  Those from farther north have assured me that these aren’t the proper foothills.  Those, they tell me, are much higher peaks.  But camp is situated amongst the rolling foothills before the broaden out into the plain that approaches the Alabama coastline.  Getting there requires heading out-of-town and knowing just the right tiny exit to take.  No signs are left to guide you on your way.  You follow a semi-major back road through winding valleys and then turn onto a very small back road to find your way to the camp gates.  It was along that back road (the tiny one) that I remember stopping to pick fresh blackberries and wild strawberries on my way to or from camp as a child.  It’s funny that now I always think of fruits as being fresh-from-the-fridge cold but back then the best fruit ever was the warm one just picked off the vine.  There was no fixation on washing the fruit.  There was no thought of what could be on it.  We plucked them from their tenacious perch on the vine and plopped them directly into our mouths.  Often we were shooing bees aside to get our turn.  Houses along the road were few and far between.  Years of winding along the same route meant you built a sense for how far it was.  Just around this sharp curve (the ones with the blackberries on the left) and then up this hill.  Just ahead on the right and… yes! Finally, you’ve arrived.

My favorite place, at this camp, was a lovely large rock overlooking its requisite waterfall.  In the early morning, we’d be sent off to spend some quiet time with God.  You could alone or in pairs, but silence was the key.  I always liked to go off alone and, quite early in my camp career had found my special spot.  It wasn’t on any path.  Instead, to reach my rock, you’d need to brush aside prickly buses and climb amongst the trees.  You’d wind your way until you were just above the waterfall.  With a rustic wooden bridge to your right and the stone stadium for evening song on your right, you were nestled into just the right spot to commune with nature, with God, with your own thoughts, well, with anyone.

To come to my spot, I always like to go around to the side nearest the hillside platform.  You could slip between the trees there more readily.  Every morning, I’d push my way through the sticky, filament-thin spider webs that had appeared during the previous afternoon or evening.  It always had that slightly grabby nature that meant that once you had made it through, you continued to try and remove the web for several minutes.  I’d wind my way through the trees, lush with leaves above but quiet and fairly sparse at ground level.  The uneven ground required sure-footedness and more attention than is usually paid to walking.  The pine needles would crunch under my feet with that sound that was part crunch and part squeak.  If one should change its trajectory, it would poke up and into my leg just above the line of my sock.  It felt like a toothpick being stuck in me.  After picking my way toward the sound of the water tripping over the fall, occasionally rushing after a large rain, I’d find myself breaking beyond the trees tot he edge of the bank.  At just this point, the rocks of the fall were far below, probably 20-30 feet.  I’d stride over to my rock and head out on it to sit just at the edge.  The rock was a large grey, rounded rock.  Its top surface was quite smooth, weather by thousands of years of rains.  Owing to its location above the falls, green lichen grew on it.  As I’d approach, I’d see the steely green of the lichen in patches.  I’d find myself a spot that looked comfortable and sit down.  The rock was always cool to the touch and rough, like medium grain sandpaper.  I’d plop down on the rock with my journal and my thoughts as my only companions and I’d pray, or think, or watch.  Usually, I’d do a little of all three.  The babbling of the water over the falls usually sounded like whispering little girls a small distance off.  After a large rain, though, the creek water would be high flowing fast over the rocks and the sound was more the dull roar of a large crowd at a distance.  It would overtake all other sounds around.  Most days there would be shouts from one camper to another, the sound of a far distant car on a road headed back into civilization, or the buzzing of bees and wasps.  But when the creek was high, the only sound was the water rushing in its haste to meet up with friends downstream.  On those days, I would sit and watch the bees buzz knowing they were buzzing, but unable to hear even a whisper of sound.  I’d see campers at a distance stopping to chat, but no sounds would intrude on my solitude and enjoyment of the dappled sunshine streaming in through the trees into me, my rock, and my silence.

Happy Calgon Moments!

Writing 101: Unlocking the Mind…

Disciplining kids is hard work. The Beans reminded me today of days when they were young. JuniorBean was very, very funny. When he would get in trouble and get a time out, he would go into his timeout for two minutes. At the end of the time, he’d come out pouting and mad and say, in his mad little boy voice, “You hurt my feelings!” These days, they rarely need discipline in a way like that. Occasionally they have their electronics taken away, but mostly they listen the first time and do as asked.

We were talking about the old days because they had observed parents with a different parenting style and had been treated to a full on tantrum. The tantrum was coming from a 5 year old who, they thought, ought to know better. They then asked whether at the same age they had exhibited the same types of behavior. I assured them that by that age, we were beyond tantrums to get our way and none of them would have hit their Baba because they didn’t win a game. But it did lead them to think about that and how the discipline process works.

I expressed to JujuBean that with pets (which they don’t understand because we don’t have one), you aren’t training the pet as much as you’re training yourself. Kids are a lot like that. It’s really about training yourself as much as training the kids. She didn’t really catch my meaning, but I’m certain we’ll have further conversations about it.

We’re currently visiting our other home, Jordan, for a week. It has been interesting seeing what things have remained the same and what things have changed. We’ve gotten to see lots of friends and spend quality time with some very special friends. Each of the Beans got at least a couple of hours alone with one of their closest friends here. It’s been so lovely to see them have fun with their long-time friends and see that several years of sporadic visits haven’t pulled apart the bonds of friendship.

It sort of makes me think about friendship. How is it that with some friends, we have the ability to pick up each time we see them as if no time has gone by. With other friends, it’s more like strangers who remember each other fondly. And I find that I can’t predict which friends will be which. I do find that friends made as an adult are more likely to “stick”. At least close friends. Which leads me to the idea of close friends.

I have an ongoing annoyance with Facebook that it’s a little difficult to define people into categories. By close friends, really I think I’d classify them as sisters of my heart. These are the people who go beyond people I’d grab coffee with and extend all the way to people I’d drive hundreds of miles to help.   These are people whose children I would take in no questions asked for a day or a year or a lifetime. And, clearly, there aren’t many of those. I also have dear friends who haven’t quite reached that level of friendship. They’re people that I adore spending time with, but they aren’t family. They’re friends. And then there are people with whom I’m friendly, but they don’t approach the true friend category. My kids also have trouble with this idea. They think that any of the moms I say Hi to must be my friends. They marvel that I have “so many friends.” I struggle with how to explain the idea of multiple levels of friendship to them. Perhaps I should just use Shrek’s onion analogy… At any rate, the mind wanders when you let it, doesn’t it? It ranges from disciplining kids all the way to the depth of friendship…

This is my first assignment to create a better blog. It’s a challenge to write every week day of the month of April. So, we’ll see how it goes!

Happy Stream of Consciousness!

Adventures of Discovery… Geocaching Fun

So, last week was out first week of Spring Break.  Before heading in to Jordan this week (woohooo!), a friend and I went for another geocaching round of fun.  She took me out the first time, helping me find a few caches.  If not for her, I’m not sure I’d have found any ;).  So, I thought I’d spend a little time showing another side of my home city…

For those who aren’t familiar with geocaching, it’s kind of like an adult scavenger hunt.  All around the world, people have hidden caches (some sort of small container with a log you sign).  Using geographical coordinates (or simply an app), you find the cache and sign the log.  Some logs are larger and have travel bugs (an article with a tracking number that has some sort of goal, like visit a specific number of caches or make its way through multiple countries) or trade items (little trinkets that you can take if you leave something of equal value). But some are really clever tiny caches with only enough room for the log.

I will say that I think understanding geocaching can have a cultural component.  I have tried to explain the fun in doing it to El 3atal’s family members.  Their reaction to geocaching has been much like their reaction to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), but why do you do it?  The idea of doing something just to do it, because you can, to prove to yourself that you can, seems to be hard.  The idea that I’d trek about finding out of the way spots to write my name in a log and get a smiley face on the app was far beyond comprehension ;).

But that’s the thing, it’s about finding those spots, figuring out where it’s hidden, getting that sense of accomplishment.  And, it is fun.  After hard slogs through sand that took me to see Arabian Oryx and flamingos, how can you argue with that?  I’d never have seen them otherwise… So, now for a few pictures…

Standing at an in-town cache and taking in the city view...

Standing at an in-town cache and taking in the city view…

The side of an abandoned boat... Neat one.  We didn't find this, the cache owner thought it had fallen. Have to try again later.

The side of an abandoned boat… Neat one. We didn’t find this, the cache owner thought it had fallen. Have to try again later.

Water tripping down a lovely little fountain...

Water tripping down a lovely little fountain…

Mangrove shoots... Hope they grow into full-sized trees.

Mangrove shoots… Hope they grow into full-sized trees.

Algae and small shells near the mangroves

Algae and small shells near the mangroves

Lovely view with flamingos in the distance

Lovely view with flamingos in the distance

Flamingos... who'd have thought it?

Flamingos… who’d have thought it?

Pretty much all of these are viewpoints or perspectives of the city that I normally wouldn’t see.  Some of them are quite unique.   We’ve also found fun new parks and other sites a bit off-the-beaten-path.  If you haven’t, you might want to give geocaching a try.  It’s a fun way to spend an afternoon. I’m looking forward to logging a few more caches here in Jordan, as well…

Happy scavenging!

Are you Ready? The Challenging in Deciding What Movies Your Kids Are Ready For…

So, lately I’ve been struggling to find a balance relating to movies.  There are so many movies that I remember from my childhood.  They made huge impressions on me and I loved them.  Some of them were appropriately rated for me… some most likely were not.  So, deciding what to introduce to the Beans has brought new challenges.  In part, my kids are not like I was.  I was raised on Star Wars.  The first one came out when I was about 6 and I loved it.  I didn’t feel scary parts of such movies were too intense and they didn’t give me bad dreams.  At least two of the Beans feel the build-up parts very intensely.  So, balancing age-appropriate movies has been a bit of a challenge.  This is especially true when some of their friends watch movies about which I’m fairly skeptical.

As I was wandering down the pass-through clicks on an interesting article I read about the Chicago Teens who ran off to join ISIS (which opened up a very good conversation with ButterBean about internet usage and self-esteem), I saw a link to the influence that The Breakfast Club had on filmmakers and screen writers.  I was reading this and felt compelled to go out and check the rating of the movie.  After all, I remember the impact it had on me.  The movie came out when I was 14 and I don’t remember that I had to wait to see it.  But again, I was a different child.  ButterBean has been a bit reluctant to give up cartoon movies and join the world populated by real people.  She’s seen a few, but they haven’t been plentiful.  But it got me thinking about ratings.  Of the movies that hang in my mind as much-loved movies, TBC (R) is joined by Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (PG-13), Pretty in Pink (PG-13), Sixteen Candles (R), and the like.  I don’t distinguish much between them in my mind, although there is a rating mix there.

A couple of days ago JujuBean had a friend over.  They wanted to watch a movie, so I reached down into days gone by and found Jumanji (PG).  This movie with its pulled into a real-life game fantasy is a fun, action-packed adventure.  I didn’t invite either JuniorBean or ButterBean because both would likely find the movie too scary.  JuniorBean came in at the final climax and JujuBean (also recognizing he wouldn’t enjoy it) sent him out of the room. I didn’t actually think about whether it was an appropriate rating (whew!).  Both girls are mature and the friend has seen most movies before.  I was struggling to find a new one ;).

But it has me thinking about whether, if rated today, these movies would still be given the ratings they once were.  When I look at songs, things that would never have mad it in the past due to inappropriate language play regularly on radio stations across America.  I realize it each summer when we arrive and find ourselves singing along to the unscrubbed versions of songs, so used to clean versions we have grown.  And I think about what movies I have introduced my children to and which ones I will introduce them to next…  I’d love thoughts of anyone out there.

Happy Screening!

Lunch Time at School, what’s in a school lunch?

Recently I bumped into some photo series about school lunches around the world kind of like this one.  They had interesting pictures of what is included in school lunches in other countries.  Since my kids have never been in school in the US< I have idea what the state of school lunches these days is.  I do know that even when I was in school (and processed foods were a tad harder to come by), they weren’t bastions of nutritional greatness.  Then today a friend who teaches at a school in town posted a picture of her lunch.  It was a rice dish with some lovely meat and potato sauce, coupled with stir fry.  She also posted a picture of the lunch line.  It got me thinking about school lunches.

In Jordan, schools don’t typically have cafeterias in the American sense.  They have open courtyards.  The kids either bring lunch or purchase a sandwich from a kiosk.  To be fair, though, most kids actually eat lunch at home.  My kids were the odd balls because they weren’t having breakfast (at 10 am like the rest of their classmates).  They ate breakfast before heading to school.  And the later break (usually 11:30 or so) was lunch for them.  So, instead of kiosk-driven food or a small snack, my kids took PB&J sandwiches, and grape leaves, and mansaf.  The looks they got (and the conversations I had with a particular teacher who seemed to think that she should direct my daughter on what she could/could not bring (no string cheese, no macaroni and cheese, etc.) were legendary.  And then we moved.

Here, peanut butter is outlawed due to children with nut allergies.  Sigh.  So they take other things.  Now they also have a cafeteria that prepares lovely food fresh daily.  Still they typically take their lunches, but they do clamor to buy lunch on fish days.  This is especially true on the days they’re serving grilled fish.  For a snapshot into these lunches, here’s the menu for three of the days this week:

Day One

Tomato Soup

Chicken Shawarma (live cooking)

Creamy mac n cheese

Baked potato

Roast vegetables

Orange

Bread roll

Day Two

Minestrone Soup

Fish tagine

Freshly made hamburger

Potato wedges

Sauteed cabbage

Watermelon

Bread roll

Day Three

Lentil Soup

Butter chicken

Stir friend beef

Vegetable rice

Broccoli & Carrot

Banana Custard

Bread roll

Now I don’t know about you, but we never had soup served at school.  And choice for main wasn’t between butter chicken or stir-fried beef, it was between pizza and burgers.  None of it was freshly prepared.  We were always happy on spaghetti day.  And vegetables were definitely from a very large can.  The other thing that I really like about the school is that they offer a salad bar.  So, if the kids aren’t into the meals, they can always get either a side salad or a lunch salad.  How awesome is that?  So, although my kids rarely eat the prepared food in the cafeteria (we’re much more likely to send left-overs to be warmed in the bank of microwaves (again, hot food from home!), if they do need to eat at school I know the choices will be healthy, tasty, and a relatively inexpensive $4.10.  It makes me wonder, what would they be having if we were in the US?