Full Circle


I used to have a battered cardboard box that contained the evidence of my youth. A period that not only seems a lifetime ago but a span of years that as an adult I have tried hard, with limited success, to distance myself from.

bury my heart
Seemed like a good idea at the time.

In this box were dogeared photos of youth wearing unfashionably outdated clothing that were complimented with similarly unforgiving hairdos. There were report cards tattooed with the red ink of numerous teachers swift pens. Awkward drawings of dinosaurs and athletes as well as the scattered seeds of a future poet written on double lined paper. There was video footage of my father in Thailand during the Vietnam war and a much younger version of myself in diapers on the Air Force base back in the States just to name a few of the items.

Just before discarding the artifacts I took one last look through the box. I discovered a graduation card from my father that I had overlooked upon first glance.  By the time the card had been written my parents had been separated for nearly six years.

“You’re the man of the house now,” he told me one sunny afternoon while my siblings and I cried and pleaded. From our perspective it came out of the blue but in hindsight it was a rather obvious destination for my young parents marriage.

I opened the card and read it.

My advice to you is to find a job you enjoy doing because you will be working for the rest of your life.

Sage advice from a man who spent the better part of his life working in factories in Sidney and Harrisburg.

I realized today while folding laundry that I have in fact taken his advice. For the last five years I have been a stay at-home father. It is similar to other occupations in that there are good days and bad days. But it is different from most occupations in regards to a number of aspects.

034To begin with I love the people I work for. I mean that more than words can express. It’s perfectly alright that my 10 year finds it necessary to thread chewing gum around her fingers which are dangerously close to her long curly hair while I write this. That does not diminish my love. Nor does my screaming 1 year old who is hollering simply to see how much volume her little body can produce. I swear I saw a potted plant start to vibrate off a book shelf when she started yelling.

Another thing that may be a bit different is that I spend my sick days and vacation time with the people I work for. They see me early in the morning with sleep still in my eyes and late at night when even a cup of coffee can not prop open my drooping eye lids.

They see me twist like a pretzel and breath while I do my morning yoga routine. They hear me exhale loudly when my favorite team loses, again. They see the twinkle in my eye when I flirt with their mother and I can’t help but chuckle when I see them want to melt from embarrassment.

I chase the people I work for with a vacuum cleaner during chores because I think their reactions are funny. I recoil at the amount of earwax that is harpooned from their ears after a bath. I teach them how to cook and how to stand in the batters box and face a fastball. I tell them jokes that sounded funnier in my head and laugh at their jokes though at times they lack a good punch line. I give them advice they don’t want when they need it least and simply hug them when they need it most. 040

I have begun to realize of late that I have been very fortunate in this journey through existence. I met and married an amazing woman who values having a parent at home while our children grow up. As an individual who has never enjoyed clocking in for an orthodox 8 hours I have been very lucky to have the ability to be on call 24/7 instead.

It has not been an easy path, but then again, what road is not filled with obstacles at some point? The true blessing I suppose is that this is a route of my own design.

The Calm Within The Storm


There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm” ~Willa Cather~

070A shower is a rare commodity in my world. The children are regularly cleaned of course with a bit of saliva on the end of my thumb or in a bathtub full of dirty water. . . .how do they get so dirty!? As a parent of four young children a hot shower is an oasis of calm. A sanctuary in which I get to take a moment for myse. . . . oh, who am I kidding? I scrub like a madman, half asleep, hoping that the house is in one piece by the time I get out, that is if I shower at all!

Luckily for me my children have the foresight to document their berserk behavior while I am out of the room. Thus the photos that accompany this piece. I found them days later when downloading pictures.

I am a natural introvert. I prefer some semblance of order and schedule. That is not my life though. The landing gear was torn off this jumbo jet when I became a parent! I say this tongue in cheek of course. Being the father of four healthy, creative and hilarious children has been one of the best things to happen to me as a person. Their inquisitive nature has forced me out of my comfort zone, on an hourly basis! Their gentle nature and warm smiles have forced me to exam my own lack of patience at times. Their whirlwind energy has forced me to recognize that on occasion the calm within the storm is simply knowing it will pass.072

I have to admit that recently I have learned more, as a parent, about myself than at any other time in my life. Not all of it has been pleasant. I have had to confront some very difficult aspects of my personality and then have had to decide whether I am going to address them or not. I have chosen the more difficult road of engaging my bad behavior in an effort to be a better parent. I can only thank my children and the relentless energy they bring into my life for this self-examination. Oddly enough I have come to the conclusion that though they are constantly on the move physically and emotionally that they are actually the calm within the storm.

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I have to remind myself at times that we are fully able to switch roles on occasion as student and teacher if I am humble enough to learn the lesson.

 

 

Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .  

Co-Sleeping


liam and the bearA few years ago my family was on the Today Show. They had published a question online in regards to co-sleeping and my wife had responded to it. Within 48 hours there was a camera crew at our house doing an interview. If you do happen to watch the video that is indeed my family. It was a few years before I began staying home full time.

I decided to dig up this little family gem because every so often someone I know will ask me about the pros and cons of co-sleeping. It has been nearly three years since the interview so we have had the opportunity on some level to see how it has played out, at least in the short term.

For us personally it was never a conscious decision. To be honest I think that it initially was the result of our oldest baby having colic. Pure exhaustion set in and thus the baby slept with us. Deep down it never really seemed like an issue in our household and we were rather surprised to find that it was such a hot topic with people at large. At one point my wife worked for Public Health while they were waging their propaganda against co-sleeping and a number of the nurses contacted her privately after viewing our interview telling her they in fact did the same thing and admired us for speaking about the subject.

All three of our children slept in our bed as infants and toddlers. All three of our children now sleep in their own bedroom. None of our children made a fuss over the transition to their own bed. And though the “expert” on the interview would like you to believe otherwise my wife and I enjoyed all the perks of a loving relationship. . . . did (do) we ever!

Our two youngest who are 3 and 5 years old still occasionally stumble into our room at the most obscene hour of the morning but once again it really is not an issue. Sometimes we do not sleep comfortably due to it but our children are seeking us out for a reason. Whether bad dream or simply wanting to snuggle we are there for them and I believe that it is important for a child to know their parent is available for them.

I can only imagine that the whole issue is rooted in some sort of long forgotten puritan past. Why else would it seem logical to anyone to put an infant or toddler in a lonely crib so that they can cry themselves to sleep? There is a bizarre notion in our cultures fabric that affection and massive amounts of love are in some way harmful. I do not think that one would need to read a report or study to come to the conclusion that it may be setting the early foundation for many of society’s ills. It may not be farfetched to acknowledge that the apathy we have toward our own children may in turn be visited upon us a country when they reach adulthood.

It is important to love and hug. To take naps together. We are mammals and it is normal as a species to sleep in close vicinity to one another. Our children are all healthy independent types and yet are never afraid to seek us out if needed.

I look back on that time period and realize that I had some fantastic moments with my children as the crickets chirped outside of our window. My son and I developed an ongoing story about a young boy and his flying lawnmower. This young child, who happened to have my sons first name, and his flying mower visited a giant in the sky, a massive bear in a blueberry patche and my son was always the hero of the story. (See the amazing art attached to this article, wink wink).

It also seemed that all the big questions arose as we settled down to sleep.

“Why does bigfoot sound like a woman screaming?”

“How does Santa get in the house if we don’t have a chimney?”

“I can smell ice cream on your breath, how come I didn’t get any?”

That is not to say that we did not have a scary moment or two. With my oldest daughter I did think that I had rolled over onto her one night but it turned out she was just a really heavy sleeper. She still is. Good luck moving her from the couch to her top bunk. Personally I find that when one becomes a parent you experience a different type of sleep anyway. In some peculiar way you are completely aware of your surroundings even though you are tip toeing through the daisies.

My desire is not to convert you one way or another but simply point out that social norms come and go but deep inside you know whether or not you are doing the right thing for your child. For your family.

Here is the interview. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/21134540/vp/43984891#43984891

Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .  

Change of Direction


Parenting is not easy. Everyone from comedians to psychologist have covered the topic. When you add homeschooling to the mixture you increase the oddity of child rearing a hundred fold. There is little time away from one another and you are exposed to the positives and negatives of each other’s personalities on a regular basis.

Just like parenting there are as many methods of homeschooling as there are families. What works for one family, scratch that, what works for one child does not necessarily work for another. I have slowly come around to the fact that there are going to be failures just as there will be success and that one can only exist along side the other.

In my attempt to break the unhealthy cycles that have plagued my own family tree for a few generations I attempt to digest each and every situation in an effort to do the least amount of harm as a parent so that in turn my children feel loved and safe in their youth. In turn this will hopefully lay the foundation for happy and responsible adults. I have always found it odd that so much of youth is spent preparing for adulthood in the sense that happiness is overlooked for long term character. Being happy in ones youth is far more important than our culture is willing to acknowledge.

I have to admit that even in my own home I have dealt with my childrens feelings through humor rather than facing it head on. Recently we purchased a bunk bed. While putting the bed together I found some graffiti on the wall. “Bad Dad” it said. Actually my mother found it while helping and in some bizarre fashion she took great satisfaction in seeing me struggle to gain full credit with my kids. Of course we all had a good laugh over it. In fact my oldest daughter blamed it on my son who cannot write yet. This resulted in a deep belly laugh from everyone in the room.

I shared the story of when my oldest daughter was just learning to write and I found the word “Sophia” scribbled on our living room window sill. When confronted with the evidence she blamed it on her younger brother. Looking at the infant lying on the floor in his diaper I had a hard time buying the story. The next morning I found “Liam” written on the same sill. Turned out according to my daughter her brother had written that as well. I began to think I should try a different approach. I would meet fire with fire. I did what any other responsible father would do.  I wrote the word “Dad” on the window sill. My daughter found it and immediately ran into the kitchen and told my wife what I had done. Epic fail.

Those of us who homeschool know that there is no line between being a parent and being a teacher. It is a lifestyle that consumes every moment of our lives. When everyone is happy things run smoothly. When people are upset this is not necessarily the case. When people are distracted it can turn into a circus. As the parent it is our role to find what works best over the long haul. Though I initially made jokes about the “Bad Dad” graffiti I knew why it was there. I was not engaging my children in a manner that they were receptive to. I was allowing the imagined deadlines of curriculum to create tension in my relationship with my children. My deadlines with our local school system created a level of anxiety that I was in turn allowing to spill over onto them. My fears became their fears. My temper was short because I was blinded by my own fear. In short I was a bad dad.

The turning point came when I overheard my children saying that they were going to “fire” me. They wanted a dad who laughed more. I tried to laugh this off but realized all the issues were on my end. My children are perfect in their approach to life. I was falling short and needed to make a change. I went in and apologized to my kids. I explained why I had been acting the way that I had. Needless to say I was able to keep my job.  Though it turns out I won’t be getting a raise.

Since homeschooling is so intertwined with our daily approach to life I decided that I needed to change my method of instruction. For years we used a canned curriculum inspired by the Waldorf method. I still think Waldorf has so much to offer and that it is a beautiful and empathetic approach to life but I have known deep down inside for some time that it is causing more stress than it is worth. It is simply not for us. For a number of years I have been slowly incorporating elements of unschooling into our day to day learning and have found that this really seems to be when our entire family shines. The impromptu opportunities that arise tend to be the moments of enlightenment. I can only liken unschooling to jazz music. You rarely know which direction you are going but somehow you end up creating something lasting, something memorable.

It is a bit overwhelming to change direction mid-stream and to admit that as a parent that you may have had it wrong. But that is one of the most amazing aspects of homeschooling, the ability to slam on the breaks and make corrections. Homeschooling allows the privilege of putting your family first. Our entire family is involved in this journey and should have a voice in which avenues we pursue.

Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .