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In this box were dogeared photos of youth wearing unfashionably outdated clothing that were complimented with similarly unforgiving hairdos.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.

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Defining Family


Exif JPEGMy parents separated when I was 12 years old. Eventually as my father drifted out of my life so did his relatives. In turn my mothers side of the family was reasonably involved in my day to day life. They were and still are a rather eccentric bunch but I can proudly say that they are some of the most interesting people I know.

They do however have problems just like any other family. Though it is unfair to solely focus on their negatives as they do have a number of positive traits it is those negatives that tend to have the deepest claws and seem to take forever to remove from deep within ourselves as maturing adults.

The extended family reminded me of the clans from the old country. Constantly at war with one another. Creating alliances out of a mutual dislike rather than genuine friendship and then when illness or serious cause for alarm would arise everyone would rally against the common enemy only to fall back into rituals of bad behavior as soon as the storm had passed.

I remember very vividly sitting around a campfire with my cousins and my own brother and sister discussing the sad state of affairs within our family and finding it difficult to relate to such behavior. Fast forward twenty years and here I am in the same turbulent waters.

My goal with this piece is not to specifically call anyone out because truth is I am far from perfect myself. But rather to define what family truly is and how I am attempting to remedy this situation.

“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under one roof.” Richard Bach ~Illusions~  

As a single person I was far more willingly to put up with the bad behavior of others. As a parent of three young children I am far less willingly to do so. The delicate balance, that which Somerset referred to as the “razors edge”, is the ability to discern ones own prejudice in comparison with that which is truly harmful. We all have conflict or arguments among family members. Overreacting to naturally arising frustrations is a negative in and of itself. But eventually when bad habits are displayed for years, decades even, and they begin to affect the mental health of ones household it is time to put the false notion of family aside.

The difficulty that I am experiencing is that as a homeschooling family the family structure is extremely important. I have lost count of all the homeschooling books that I have read that speak of having a grandparent share a hobby or an aunt spend a day with your children. For some of us that is simply not a reality.

Though children should not be involved in the direct confrontation of adults for any reason they do recognize something is wrong when Grandma or Grandpa no longer stops by. When aunts and uncles no longer visit. When their birthday is ignored while other children in the family have very public celebrations. They quickly catch on when conversation is cut short in regards to missing relatives. They recognize the awkward hostility when relatives meet in public places. They are sensitive to the sadness that develops when adults feel the need to remove toxic relationships from their own lives.

So how do we define family when our family is broken? If we continue to nurture negative relationships we are teaching our own children a very unhealthy lesson, are we not? We are teaching them that abuse and disrespect are acceptable ways for family to treat one another when resurrecting the notion that blood outweighs all else. This is simply not true.

It is painful and even frightening to admit that ones family does not provide a solid foundation in their own lives. But when one begins to recognize the bond that exist among families with similar values a level of strength, understanding and true appreciation begins to bloom.

Within family structures there is a tendency for familiarity to breed contempt. I would hope that it is obvious that I am not addressing the trivial frustrations that exist within every family structure but rather the deep rooted multi-generational behaviors that destroy trust and most importantly love. Your family , your children , are at the mercy of your decisions to a certain extent. When it comes to creating a supportive , nurturing , caring and loving network one must make the right decision, not the easy one.

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 .  

 

An Often Overlooked Solution


Social networks are ablaze with conversation revolving around “Common Core Curriculum” especially since testing took place yesterday. My goal is not to negotiate the pros and cons of the newest canned educational format but rather to talk about parents following their instincts. Admittedly I may slip and give an example or two dealing with the cons from my perspective if only to make a point.

I think that it is obviously very important to gather as much information as humanly possible in regards to subjects that have a direct impact on your life or the lives of those you care about. With that said I tend to be a person who allows my instincts to merge with knowledge and in turn set the pace for decision making. I am an elected official (please don’t hold that against me). After taking into account the “facts” I attempt to blend my decision with what my gut is telling me to do. I am a passionate gardener. When working in the dirt I allow instinct to direct my decision making. The point being it is a voice that speaks not only to me but to all of us if only we are willing to listen.

Now when you take that into consideration and you read direct comments from parents, teachers, school board members and state level officials who express great reserve over common core you begin to question why so few of them look toward legitimate alternatives. People , as we all know, get very touchy when you address their politics or their religion. Since education in some unique fashion actually serves both of those notions it is no wonder folks get so bent out of shape when it is discussed. It has now become bad etiquette to bring up education with guest at the dinner table.

001So I tread lightly. Knowing most people already have their guard up. But I feel it is important to tell parents, trust your instincts. If you feel there is something wrong with public education, maybe there is. This does not mean there is something wrong with teachers but rather the system they are being swept up in just like the students. I will use my local school district as an example (told you I would slip up and give you one). My local school does not teach social studies or science to early elementary aged children. This is done to focus on math and language in preparation for the test that will occur. That is startling and concerning to say the least. We all know the statistics in relation to the U.S. when compared to the global community. That is the sort of thing that should bother parents and it does. But just as important is the reality that school is not a place of interest and learning but instead seems to foster a number of unhealthy physical and mental responses to the institution and its core curriculum. How many of you know a parent who has commented on the horrible stomach aches or anxiety their young child is experiencing attempting to prep for exams? It is creating a culture in which we are signaling to our youth it acceptable for you to feel that way and if you do simply take medication to alleviate it. I suppose that is another topic for another day though.

My children are 3, 5 and 8 years old. Today for “school” we did not test, let me say that first. We started the day off writing fan letters to our favorite MLB teams (language and handwriting/computer skills). We walked in an old cemetery looking specifically for Civil War veterans (social studies/history). This lead to dialogue dealing with economic classes, “Why does that person have a larger headstone than that person?”. We then played at a public playground (recess!). We to the grocery store saw the friendly clerk who always greets the kids and bought items for lunch (math/health/economics). We then came home and prepared a chicken noodle soup with artisan bread (home ec. remember that archaic class?). We will be listening to PJ Harvey and Brown Bird on vinyl while finger painting in a few minutes because art is important contrary to what they say! There will be reading time and play time and so on and so forth. You get the picture. On occasion we are far more structured. Sometimes we use a curriculum of our own and use workbooks for reading, writing and arithmetic. The point I am trying to make is that homeschooling allows you to follow your gut instinct. It is flexible. Not always easy but geared for individual learning. That is why I find it a bit sad and curious as I watch from the side as families express utter frustration with the public education system and then try to bend the machine to fit their individual need. Public education is not about individual need. The answer exist beyond the scope of public education. It is homeschooling.

This is a solution that is often overlooked. People have been conditioned to believe that they lack the ability or time to educate their own children and that is simply not the case, for the most part. Homeschooling is a sacrifice, without a doubt. We live in a society that has a crippled economy which in turn has forced most families at the very least to rely on dual incomes. Financially speaking homeschooling has been a burden on our bank account, but as we all know somethings are worth way more than money. I am aware of and sensitive to a variety of reasons that cause people to hesitate when considering homeschooling. For some people it is simply not a reality. I do believe it is far more obtainable than most people would admit though. It is a lot of work. It requires a hands on investment in regards to your time as well as your children’s but that feeling deep in the pit of your stomach that something is wrong eventually disappears and is replaced by. . . .get ready for it! Learning!

I am friends with a number of public ed. teachers. I am friends with University professors who are educating the next crop of teachers. I’m friends with school board members. I have immense respect for them. They all went into the profession to touch lives and open minds and now are being faced with every obstacle imaginable. I sincerely hope that one day they are able to focus on their primary purpose rather than the distractions of test scores. But I am not willing to sacrifice my children’s education in the process. Truthfully you do not need to either. There are far more options available than taking the test or not taking the test but then spending the rest of the year preparing for it. Homeschooling is an umbrella term that in turn has as many options as there are families. But don’t take my word for it investigate it! Because that’s what homeschooling is all about, education!

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 .  

When Dad Homeschools


I was recently asked to write about being a father who homeschools his children. I have been rolling it over in my mind for days now. On some level there is little difference between myself and homeschooling mothers in regards to the daily struggle and success involved. We probably both find ourselves staring in bewilderment at the organized chaos taking place around us. All evidence would suggest we both survive on coffee and pray for the occasional opportunity to use the restroom without a child pleading their case with the door wide open. How is it that the bathroom in our home has turned into a Federal courtroom where accused toy and candy thieves try to stack the jury in their favor?

Most likely we both stare at the dark ceiling of our bedroom in the early morning hours wondering where the immediate energy of youth comes from as we hear distant sounds of children leaping from one piece of furniture to another in the yawning light of dawn. I feel pretty confident that we both find crayon murals on our window sills, balance dishes and laundry between mathematics and wonder where the time went as we stare at the aftermath of a long day cleverly disguised as piles of toys, pencils and socks.

On the other hand I do believe there may be some slight differences worth writing about. Just as homeschooling mothers face obstacles I lack the experience to address there are circumstances unique to my situation. Truthfully they may even be results of a homeschooling father living in a rural area because I do wonder if fathers teaching their children at home who happen to live in a city have the same experiences as I do.

There are positives and negatives. Let us start with one of the perceived negatives though so that we can end on a good note. For me personally the feeling of isolation is a major obstacle both creatively and emotionally. Now the interesting thing is that my isolation has not really had an impact on my kids socialization and I say this for those of you considering homeschooling or who are new to it and still buy into that myth.  I will give you a recent example. My two oldest children recently started taking ice-skating lessons. I took my kids to the first two lessons. Though I smiled and attempted to engage the mothers who would approach my kids I was largely ignored. On the third lesson my wife took the morning off of work and joined us. She was in turn approached by other mothers wanting to know which child was hers. Conversation was easy. Interaction was safe. Now of course these were the same children I had been showing up with for two weeks but there is some sort of social taboo in my neck of the woods that does not allow married male/female interaction to take place as readily. Now I realize that that may seem like a very small and insignificant situation to some but when you multiply this by every social situation whether the library, kids sporting events, dance classes, or any number of organized homeschool field trips it leaves one feeling isolated. That is not to say no one speaks to me or avoids me altogether  but there are no real relationships being developed. Luckily my children do just fine. They laugh and play and learn but I spend a lot of time alone.

The really interesting thing is that some of my strongest relationships and most trusted support networks have developed over the internet. In an attempt to find pen pals for my two oldest children I eventually found a wonderful family from southern Australia whom we interact with somewhat regularly. The friend who asked me to write this is from the U.K. I have even had the good fortune to interact with a homeschooling author who really inspires me. Although not in my immediate vicinity these are very important relationships to me. A network of support is important in any aspect of life especially when it comes to the education of ones children. I suppose the positive twist is that those relationships really expose the true value of homeschooling not only for the children but for the parent as well. Though barriers exist in my own community globally speaking I have been able to find individuals and families who are more interested in the pursuit of truth than social taboos. Further I realize those same minds must exist locally it is just a matter of locating them.

Now with that said I have always been comfortable with myself. I can spend large amounts of time reading and meditating simply put daydreaming. But it is always nice to know that if you need to interact with someone you can and that has been my biggest obstacle as a homeschooling dad.

My life is far from gloomy though. It is too hectic and too entertaining to be anything but wonderful. Though I go weeks without a haircut or shave and I rarely know what day of the month it is I do have the amazing opportunity to watch my children grow on a daily basis. I am so blessed to see the spark behind their eyes as knowledge from the days lesson takes root. I imagine what it would be like to be an astronaut or a dinosaur with young minds. I wipe tears and put Band-Aids on cuts too small to see. I dig in muddy creek beds in search of crayfish and salamanders. I comb hair and put in crooked ponytails. I color with crayons and introduce Neil Young on vinyl to my kids. I have barrettes put in my beard while I work on social studies activities. Most importantly I listen when they ask the serious questions in life,

“Where do we go when we die?”

“Why was that man yelling?”

“Why are your teeth so yellow dad? Don’t you brush?”

Though some aspects of a homeschooling father are unique overall I would humbly suggest that it is an extension of parenting which finds its common ground in the bizarre, unscripted situations that can only arise with the developing curiosity of youth. Though my family and I are no different from any other family in that facet we are entirely unique because of that fact.

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 .  

The Etiquette of Violence


Solid Left Hook
Solid Left Hook

“In violence, we forget who we are” Mary McCarthy

We had a very busy schedule this morning. First we were stopping by the dump. Then we had to go to the post office to mail letters to pen pals in Australia. Afterwards we had a trip down the local interstate to gather paperwork that had to be handed back in to our local school district to wrap up this homeschooling year. . . .as though homeschooling ever stops.

As we were leaving the dump we had to travel a few miles to the post office. Upon pulling up to the final red light I started telling my kids some of the places we planned on going this summer, the Smokey Mountains, St. Augustine and so on. As I was talking I heard a car horn blast two or three times behind me. Looking in the rearview mirror I found that the fellow behind me along with his teenage daughter were so close to my rear bumper I could see the lines on their faces. I thought maybe I had missed the light while talking and looking up saw that it was still red and the flow of traffic would not allow a right-hand turn anyway so I went back to my conversation. Again the horn, this time when I looked up in the mirror he was angrily signaling for me to turn. I responded with a bit of frustration waving him around the vehicle. His first reaction to my hospitality was to give me the middle finger.

Allow me to provide a little background to this story before I go any further. I grew up in a violent household. My family before me grew up in violence, it was multi-generational. I am neither intimidated by it nor impressed by it. In fact I have very little patience for it and I have worked very hard to channel my energy properly and believe me at times it is work. As a young man I was consumed by my anger due to my upbringing and allowed it devour my youth simply because I had not been provided the tools or opportunity to move down another path. I chose a number of negative influences before I found boxing and believe it or not that eventually led me to yoga.

So with that said back to our story. When the traffic slowed I turned right. As I was driving I glanced in my mirror and saw my tailgater tight on my bumper. I started thinking that he was following me. In an attempt to test my theory I waited until the last second to choose one of a number of left hand turns, he followed. In order to make sure I was not being paranoid I chose to take a random right hand turn that is rarely ever used and he followed. At this point my mind began to race. My uncles were all champion pugilist and trainers. I spent a lot of time around them as a kid and recently as an adult spent countless hours in gyms following in the family business training a local heavyweight. My point is I am in pretty good shape for a 40 year old and know how to throw a serious punch. I also recognize the responsibility that arises with this knowledge and lucky for this fellow nowadays I prefer to do yoga more than hit the heavy bag. I prefer to center on the calm rather than the violent.

My main concern was exposing my children to this sort of behavior but I knew that he would continue to follow until I stopped so I did. I pulled into a parking space at the grocery store that allowed me to drive forward if need be. I did not like the idea of backing over someone I had just flattened with a solid left hook. Before I even had my vehicle in park this fellow was out of his truck. In a split second I digested my surroundings, his body language and type.

Though he got out quickly he did not take more than a step toward my vehicle which told me that he really was not interested in getting physical. He had not shown a weapon and his daughter was staring straight ahead obviously embarrassed. I also noticed his huge beer belly and gathered he probably is not doing the amount of pushups I do in a day thus if it came to blows he would be winded in a moments time. I do not say this to brag or impress simply to let you know what was running through my mind.

As I stepped out of my vehicle he started screaming at me dropping the f-bomb every other word. I calmly walked toward him which he did not expect and stopped about three feet from him. I casually told him I had three young children in the vehicle and for lack of a better phrase told him he needed to gather himself. At this point he tried blaming me for the confrontation claiming I had been aggressive with him which was not the case. I started rolling my arms slowly the way I do when I am warming up to strike a heavy bag without realizing I was doing it. I only realized it when he looked at my arms moving and slowed his speech grabbing his car door to get in quickly. I smiled politely and stopped and told him I was signaling him to go around me and he said I should not have done that and then proceeded to get into his car. He should have gotten a speeding ticket in the process of leaving.

I got back into my vehicle and my kids were wide eyed. I said everything was alright and we went to the post office. They still seemed a little shell shocked afterwards. So I began explaining what road rage was. I also took the opportunity to explain that I could have chosen to escalate the situation by screaming back or I could have done what I did which was allow him to blow off some steam. I tried to relate it to other experiences where one may have to allow their instincts to guide them to a safe resolution rather than resorting to violence.

Some people do not like boxing. Some do not understand the violent ballet. I told my children that though I know how to fight I do not like to do it because people get hurt and I do not like hurting people. But I wanted them to understand the confidence that one has knowing they can defend themselves and those that they love. We talked about the philosophy that surrounds a solid yoga routine which we tend to do as a family. I tried to relate this higher understanding of suffering and empathy and explained to them that I chose to remain peaceful rather than engaging his violence.

It was a strange day, one that parents and children unfortunately have to deal with on occasion. I hope that my children walked away feeling safe and secure and may have gained some on the job training in conflict resolution.  

It Goes Without Saying. . . .


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Parenthood offers a scope of the world rarely glimpsed by those without children. Certain day to day rituals become major productions testing the boundaries of nurture verses nature. One does not even have to leave their own home to experience the bliss of raising children.

Let us start with the bathroom. The calming warm showers that prepare us for the day ahead suddenly become ice cold waterfalls. Many a parent has felt the last warm drop of water fade as they peer out of the curtain with a head full of conditioner, one eye shut tight from its stinging blindness as a child presents their case. Problem is their speech is inaudible due to the water hissing upon the clammy shower curtain. A rushed exchange takes place and the child of course runs away leaving the door wide open and all the cold air in the house comes rushing in.

Keeping with the bathroom theme, there are few acts that leaves us as vulnerable as using the bathroom. Sit down with a bare bottom and suddenly your bathroom becomes a scene from “Night Of The Living Dead” as children pound zombie like on the bathroom door. In a frail attempt to reassert your authority you bark orders from your porcelain throne but it is in vain. No one listens to a king with their pants around their ankles. Worse yet is when you realize the roll of toilet paper is soaking wet in the bathtub from some failed experiment and you are forced to summon your child with increased volume and urgency as your cries are met with deafening silence, hoping against all hope that they will awaken from the hypnotic glare of the television on the other side of the house and rescue you with a fresh roll. Time is of the essence in these situations.

Moving along to the kitchen where your shoe will randomly stick to the linoleum due to hours old orange juice on the floor. Scissors will be covered in honey, cakes will be stripped of their icing like iron ore from the earth and delicately put back as though nothing occurred, cereal boxes will be put back in place with a single cheerio in the bottom of the box and plastic eggs from your childrens kitchen set will replace fresh eggs in the fridge (luckily fresh eggs were accidentally found in parents sneakers under the bed). Cookies miraculously disappear from cupboards at alarming rates while dinner plates of healthy food are found in the garbage.

This of course leads into breakfast, lunch or dinner taking place in the dining room, a room where children hang from their chairs like performers from Circus du Soleil. Entire cups of juice are guzzled before the table is set or better yet simply spilled across its entirety. Bargains are struck for dessert or desertion whichever comes first and inappropriate jokes rule the meal.

How about the living room you say? The room where children leap from couch to chair in a single bound, where hockey pucks sail dangerously close to windows and the deep creases of furniture hide the wrappers from Halloween candy and smuggled goodies in the wee hours of the morning. The room where the Lawrence Welk show eerily plays in the background while children wrestle and fight over a toy neither of them really wants.

Then there is of course the bedroom, where tears flow as though youth are being condemned to an eternity of hard labor. Deals are struck to stay up a little later only to be renegotiated when the lights finally go off. Pajamas are the straitjacket of the wild naked child, a Tarzan like character that leaps from dresser to bed declaring independence from all things parental. Like a scene from the Shawshank Redemption the older children stand vigil while the youngest commandos free of their bedroom chamber and sneaks to the bottom of the stairs blending with the shadows only to emerge while the most inappropriate portion of the movie boldly displays itself upon the television. Horrified eyes of parent and child meet.

I know what some of you are thinking. You are making this up. You are embellishing. Others are thinking why not step out of the house and allow that youthful energy to burn off. I will explain why. Your children will color the insides of their nostrils green and black with markers, they will soil themselves, they will argue to wear t-shirts in the winter and jackets in the summer; they will hide your car keys and quickly forget where they were stashed.

Where else in life can one find such lovable characters?  These are by far the most interesting and entertaining years of my life.

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 .  

Book Review (Free Range Learning by Laura Grace Weldon)


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I am a parent who homeschools. In an effort to provide the best education possible for my children I have developed a ravenous appetite for literature promoting this particular lifestyle. There are a number of fantastic books out there on the subject, some better than others of course. One book has really taken center stage and become the foundation for my philosophy and approach. I am speaking about Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything by Laura Grace Weldon. Free Range was published by Hohm Press in Prescott, Arizona.

I am going to cut straight to the chase on this one. This book is hands down the best book I have read in regards to homeschooling. It is difficult for me to imagine a more comprehensive collection of work on the subject. This 304 page book is arranged in two distinct portions. The first section of the book delves into the philosophy and benefits of homeschooling. I suppose this description is extremely general in nature. Free Range covers everything from an overview of natural learning to the importance of play. For me personally when I stumble in confidence or approach this section tends to be incredibly uplifting and inspirational. It reminds me why our family chose this particular path and to embrace the entire journey as a success. It helps me recognize the positive results in all of our actions.

The second section of the book deals primarily with breaking down specific avenues of education. Everything is covered from field trips to business and critical thinking, the arts and volunteerism. There are literally hundreds of hands on activities included as well. One of the aspects of the book that I really appreciated is that the vast majority of the ideas can be accomplished on a limited budget. Another real benefit is the author is able to find an educational moment in all aspects of daily living. Catch is she points out some things that I could have been doing that I simply overlooked on occasion due to the day to day hustle of life such as learning how to vote with your dollar or taking math to the store. Now our family does both.

I hope I am not painting this book as a dry educational manual because it is not. One beautiful aspect of this book are all the testimonials by homeschooling parents and their children which are delicatly woven through out the text. It displays a sense of humor and connection when you find yourself relating to some of the very specific issues presented by the families who provided their input. On some level it may be the most important contribution of the book, which says a lot since the entire book is a valuable tool.

I cannot say enough positive things about this book. It has really become the backbone of my technique. I read and reread Free Range Learning and every time I pick it up I find myself inspired to do more for my children. One of the hidden gems of homeschooling is the education of the adult working with the children and this book is a must have in that regard.

I purchased my copy on Amazon.com If you prefer to go directly to the publishers website you can find it at www.hohmpress.com Laura Grace Weldon also has an interactive facebook page called Free Range Learning that I highly recommend as well.

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 .  

Role Model


I thought yoga was relaxing!
I thought yoga was relaxing!

For well over a decade I worked with high risk youth within a three county radius of my home town. It provided invaluable insight into the lives of others. I witnessed tragedy and success among many of the families that I worked with on a daily basis for close to 12 years.

My small town has one very sad statistic. Nearly 70% of our children are in single parent households and the responsibility overwhelming falls on the shoulders of young single women. I was one of those children and to put it mildly my family was extremely dysfunctional. That was my catalyst. That was the foundation that pushed me into working with high risk youth. Somehow through all the bad decisions I had made I had arrived on the other side in one piece and wanted to reach out to kids who may be going through difficult circumstances themselves.

Ironically I had no idea at the time that this career path would be one of the early influences in my familys decision to homeschool. The role of the parent was evident to both my wife and myself.

I have often wondered how one can be a successful role model when one is constantly evolving as a human being themselves? We may argue that it is the choices we make and promote but as we all know there are a number of roads that lead to enlightenment.

I was around twelve when my parents separated so there was some opportunity for a male influence in my life but for the most part being a father, better yet being a good father, has required a lot of on the job training. I now know that proudly declaring a new tradition such as one night a year we will be eating cake and ice cream for supper is a bad idea. Truth be told I knew it was a bad idea after the third mouthful of sugar made their pupils dilate to the size of quarters and they went into a blood lust sugar frenzy. I have also learned that when you have three children under the age of seven that if things get really quiet chances are something really bad is happening. I have found that when you are changing a diaper whose contents have migrated up the back of your child that your cat and dog will simultaneously vomit on different areas of the carpet. (True story).

My biggest goal as a parent has been to show my children that I love them. Some just take that as par for the course but it is a rare gem these days. Take it from someone who has worked with troubled youth and their parents directly. I have this notion that if I provide them with enough encouragement and hugs that they will have the confidence to accomplish their hearts desire. That is the key, what they desire, not what I desire.

I am far from perfect. I raise my voice when it is unnecessary at times. I debate meaningless subjects with full conviction when I could just walk away. I am talking in particular about the great “M&M for breakfast debate” of 2011. But I am aware of my faults and yearn to be the best parent I can. I have a personal motto that I try to remember while weathering a storm of tears and permanent marker wall art, “I am the example.”

I try to remember that the way I react to a situation is going to leave a lasting impression. Whether that means turning the other cheek while I roll around in pain after stepping on a lego or complimenting the dedication involved in not changing ones underwear for days on end. Maybe this means pretending I don’t notice there seemed to be a mass exodus of jelly beans in the cupboard since the last time I looked, five minutes ago.

I’m careful not to take too much credit for my childrens behavior. I tend to think part of it is that they are just genuinely nice people. Another part of me realizes they have an amazing mother who leads by example in the home and in the community. There is a part of me that feels my own self realization is blooming simply from parenthood. Maybe at the end of the day they are the ones setting the example and I am open enough to listen to their monumental lectures delivered with the unrestrained passion of youth.

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 .