Being Present

Jack Frost
Jack Frost

All is full of love. All around you.” ~Bjork~

Jack Frost paid a visit this morning. It is cold here. Near 0 degrees Fahrenheit. The trees, naked for lack of leaves, moan in protest as they sway in the winter wind. Aside from an occasional crow or vehicle sputtering by they are the only ones willing to break winters loud silence. The cold takes your breath away. My beard has frost in it and my fingers are red and numb after taking care of the animals with my oldest daughter. She is bright and beautiful as the morning sun. In truth she shines brighter than the sun who rarely shows itself during the long northern winters.

At night when it is time to lock the chickens in their coop I venture out by myself. I stop every night after they are safe behind their walls and I search the sky for the stars and moon while breathing in the cold winter air. Trying my hardest to be present and thankful for my life. By all accounts it is a beautiful existence.

My little sunshine
My little sunshine

The past year has been trying. A number of deaths, some close , some distant, all very painful. Chasms in the family tree that seem like the mouth of a great canyon opening to swallow logic. Bills to pay or more appropriately juggle and still through the rapids of life I find myself searching for the calm waters rather than enjoying where I am at. In fact as I write it reminds me of a Wendell Berry quote, a man and poet whom I respect very much, he said,”the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our feet and learn to be at home.”

Tomorrow is a reality for some yet an illusion for others and to think that we ourselves dictate the pace is purely the mythology of ego. I say this not as someone who is more enlightened than you the reader, because I am not. I say this as someone who is making a concerted effort to exist in the moment. I can see the great migration taking place all around me. Pushing onward toward the time clock to pay the bills, rushing in a frenzy from here to there, in all truth no where. Nose down we plow ahead forgetting the beauty that surrounds us every waking moment.

023 That is one of the things I find interesting about homeschooling and being a parent. It is also one of the things I find most difficult. I am speaking of providing a healthy day to day existence when stress and anxiety are at its peak. I have no real answer or solution I suppose. I find people rarely want to discuss this side of life. So, in an attempt to find a remedy, I am making an effort to be present. It is the best I can do for myself and my family.

I am trying to eat healthier to respect my fragile vehicle. I am focusing on my yoga routine and breathing. Just breathing. I am allowing myself to be vulnerable and wrapping myself in the warmth of my children’s laughter. It will pass me by far too quickly. It already has. I am sincerely trying to find the pleasure in their childish arguments and tantrums because someday I will miss those moments dearly. I meditate on their filtered voices as I hear them telling off color jokes to one another upstairs while I am downstairs, what I imagine must be the child’s equivalent of a Richard Pryor joke because someone dared to use the word “turd” out of ear shot of old Dad.

I am trying to capture photographs in my mind of each of my children at this very stage in life. My oldest daughter who is creative and forgetful. Possesses a humor far beyond her years and an empathy I would be proud to display. My son whom I wake with before the sun rises so that we can spend our weekends at hockey practice together. Both of us members of the gym rat clergy. Still, he is one of the gentlest young men I know and that makes me proud. My youngest daughter who speaks for all of us with her wide smile and sensitive eyes, her eternal youth and tiny hands, her desire to drink straight from the source of love. My wife, my lovely wife, eight months pregnant with our fourth child. On occasion through the chaos of life we are able to find a quiet space and look into each others eyes, her fluid and alluring brown eyes, and we hold one another hands. In this silence, this silence of winter, I am reminded of how much I love them all and that life is cyclical. All the pain of those around me will pass but so will the pleasure so I must try harder than ever to be present and inhale deeply the sweet scent of my beautiful life.

Kellen Thomas or Eloise Fey? We shall soon see!
Kellen Thomas or Eloise Fey? We shall soon see!

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 .  



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.

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 .  

Homeschooling, A Parents Perspective

At the LibraryHomeschooling. Where to begin? As I prepare to write this I realize that the subject itself cannot be confined to one paragraph, let alone one blog entry. Though I am naturally a cautious and slightly pessimistic person I tend to make an effort to focus on the positive, especially when communicating publicly. With that said I can honestly say that our family initially began homeschooling in an effort to remove our children from the perceived negatives of institutionalized schooling. Now we homeschool for the numerous positives associated with providing an education at home.

As any parent who educates their own children knows there are a number of stereotypes and myths that surround our chosen lifestyle. With most things in life that are misunderstood it usually comes down to education on any particular subject, ironically enough. In regards to homeschooling there are a couple of common questions that seem to come my way. Now of course there are the common “socialization” questions and such but the two I want to focus on for this particular piece are in response to when we homeschool. People seem to want to know if we take a summer vacation and how long our days are. These questions upon first glance seem harmless enough. Usually I respond rather briefly that we enjoy our summers or something along those lines. But as the years pass and I gain more experience in this particular lifestyle I realize the root of the question is buried well below the surface.Frog Pond Farm

Simply put if one is properly homeschooling it forces you to redefine your concept of education. Education is not something that takes place between the morning and afternoon bell. Education is existence. Knowledge, regardless of how subtle or profound, is gathered every moment of our life. Initially I wanted to say every waking moment but dreams are a whole other avenue worth exploring at a later date. Homeschooling shatters the rigid constraints presented by government run education. Which is nothing more than an “education” that prefers conformity, consumerism and competition.

When someone ask these seemingly harmless questions in essence they are asking you when your children stops learning. At what point during the day or season do they just float through life? It is kind of frightening to think that some people see learning as being so laborious. Something in which they simply ignore for hours or months at a time. If one takes a moment to think about it that is not case. Humans , especially children, are sponges. Information is constantly being presented and digested in a number of different ways. Filtering that information through specific time periods and seasons obviously creates more harm than good if ones goal is indeed education..

Once the process of redefining education takes place the world suddenly becomes your classroom. Libraries, grocery stores, fire departments and nature trails become your place of study. Socialization is conversation with the elderly gardener down the street, the other kids in your dance class, the chance meeting of a like mind at a local museum. It suddenly becomes obvious that you are not an isolated individual walking single file down a hallway from class to class but rather a vital part of your community. A community that is alive and breathing and can only function with the constant interaction of its members regardless of age. Barriers of fear and prejudice are taken down. Hands on education allows a level of learning to take place that could never be reproduced in the sterile petri dish of public education. Suddenly learning , education, wisdom, knowledge has no limits. No imaginary boundaries presented to create the illusion of control. Education is then a gift born of curiosity.  Homeschooling, if done properly, places that seed of curiosity in fertile soil and allows the childs mind to bloom and stretch toward the heavens unknown.

The true beauty of homeschooling may be hidden in the fact that it is not only the child who receives an education. Suddenly the parent is face to face with the boundaries presented by their own education as a youth and they must then make the choice of hiding in the shadows or redefining their own concept of education and stepping into the sun light for the benefit of those they love most.

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. . . .


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 .  

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 .  

The Grand Experiment

ImageI am a 40 year old male. In December of 2011 I left my job of three years and took over the role of primary caregiver in our family. It has been a wonderfully confusing and satisfying experience thus far and even on the slowest of days it is full of bizarre situations that can only arise within the company of young children.

As we all know every parenting situation is unique regardless of the sex of the parent who stays at home. What makes my position a bit uncommon is that I live in a rural town of approximately 7,000 people and our family homeschools. According to the National At-Home Dad Network ( the number of stay at-home fathers has nearly doubled in the last decade. There are roughly 189,000 fathers at home according to the 2012 census. A much smaller number of dads are the primary homeschooling parent and in our neck of the woods most families that homeschool are part of the religious right, which we are not. So it has become a bit of a running joke in our family that I am a minority within a minority.

Admittedly when one becomes the stay at-home parent there is a sense of freedom that exist. With that said though there are unique stresses and prejudice that seem to tie in with “reversing roles”.

Initially there seems to be a level of suspicion among relatives and friends as though the father is simply on hiatus and will be returning to the “real world” shortly. There is even an underlying current of being a lazy husband as though the female parent in the household now has one more child to take care of. Truth is, I am rather immature for my age but I am not looking to regress to my teenage years!  The whole thing is viewed as an experiment of sorts that is eventually doomed for failure because somewhere along the lines in the subconscious of our society gender roles have been clearly defined and a stay at-home father fails to represent the masculine archetype we have all come to fear and love.

On some level it is a bit of an experiment I suppose. I still have not figured out the alchemical formula that my wife had in which laundry, dishes, diapers and supper were all done by 5:30 each evening. My wife has been kind enough to ignore the half folded pile of laundry that looms like a mountain over the thousands of puzzle pieces scattered on the floor when she comes home from a long day of running a local nonprofit.  I still see her smirk sometimes when I have a pile of dishes not only in the sink but on the counter as I try to prepare the simplest of meals. I have been pooped on, puked on, peed on and cried on more times than I can count this winter. It was like being in college all over again! I don’t comb hair properly and have to disguise this by saying it was a “jedi haircut”. I don’t color coordinate. I did not realize that was so important when the potential for spaghetti sauce, mud or finger paints loom around every corner. Sometimes I act surprised when I hear my two year old swear and then realize that particular word is a foundation block of my own vocabulary. How long should naps be? For me or for the child? Why don’t birds have human ears? Did Jesus have a vagina? How come hockey players are missing so many teeth? Why don’t you like the Yankees? Why can’t you wear ice skates on your knees? The list goes on. One thing is for sure I now realize how much I do not know.

There are also the encounters outside of the home. Somewhat regularly I find myself confronted by an individual meaning well but falling way short in startup conversation;

“Mom is taking the day off today I see, “
or the more aggressive, “Why aren’t your kids in school today?”
To which I calmly reply, “We homeschool.”
Now maybe I am not helping my own cause by wearing an old jacket with a patch that says, “Cult Leader” on it but I can’t help but find myself amused as I see their eyes shift from my odd patch to the kids who are usually adorned in outfits that proudly defy any logic. One example would be my four year old son wearing his hockey jersey, his older sister’s polka dot rain boots, his fingernails painted multiple colors, topped off with a fireman’s helmet and a light saber.

With all of that said there are moments of positive reinforcement. Most recently while working in the garden with my son a neighbor of ours stopped by the fence near our driveway and told me that she really admired our family and that our children were extremely lucky. As I tried to politely respond she walked away leaving me speaking out loud to my empty garden. I just looked at my son and shrugged. He saw the humor in it. Old dad, coming up a little short again.

There have been other obstacles as well. As we all know it is extremely difficult to get by on a single income in this day and age. I do hold a seat in local politics but the money is nothing to write home about. But this was a sacrifice we have long been willing to make. There are things far more important than money. Believe me when I tell you that. We have been creative in getting around the problem. We grow a huge garden in the summer. We wear extra layers in the winter. Simply put, we stretch a dollar as many people have to.

I’ve always been comfortable with stepping outside of the boundaries. Though staying home and homeschooling were both choices that were not taken lightly looking back on it it was a no brainer. When I see my kids wear wacky outfits with no inclination toward the latest trends or listen to them laugh deep into the night when they should be sleeping I know it is worth it. As I watch them explore the world around them with the confidence that arises from having a parent near it fills my heart with joy. They are happy, healthy curious young children who are truly benefiting from this grand experiment. As I was sitting down to type this up my two year old daughter came up to me and said, “Dad, I’m glad you’re here.” That right there is reason enough to break the mold.

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 .