One of those days

Yesterday was one of those days.

It was one of those days that made me think, “Hey, maybe this was a good idea.”  What was a good idea, you ask?  Well, primarily the decision to homeschool.  But also everything that came with it that got us here, to this point–a homesick Wisconsin family living in the suburban desert of West Texas. Because yesterday was one of those days when it was really good to be a family, together, in the middle of nowhere.

Felix has been busy making movies lately.  Well, mostly movie trailers (I think the trailers outnumber the actual movies 3 to 1.)  We recently downloaded the iMovie app onto the boys’ iPads, and while Alfred finds iMovie to be a snarl-inducing frustration, Felix LOVES it.  He’s been a movie maker for a while, but his early work was done with a digital camera and a laptop running Windows Live Movie Maker.  Switching to iMovie on the iPad (with its own built-in camera) has had quite an impact on his productivity.

Even without it, though, Felix is one of those people who can maintain concentration on a project for a really sustained amount of time.  If he wants to make a movie, he makes a movie, no matter if friends come knocking on the door or his mother is yelling at him to get dressed/eat something/clean up/get ready for bed/etc.  It takes him hours.  Days.

He is driven, persistent, creative, and a really good storyteller.

These are some of the qualities that make me lean toward what the folks call “unschooling” as I continue trying to figure out how to make homeschooling work for us.  Unschooling is theorized (and ideally practiced) as a learner-driven approach to education, where the kids follow their own interests and parents/teachers serve as guides on their journey.  It means that the parent’s attention is focused differently–less on curriculum development (or curriculum-purchasing) and more on how to support what the child is interested in learning about.

This is a pretty basic definition, one that doesn’t do unschooling justice, really, and one that will no doubt get more traditional homeschoolers irritated with me for making it seem as though they’re not interested in what their children are interested in learning.  That’s not what I’m saying.  What I’m really getting at, I guess, is that there is a different kind of attention paid to children’s interests, and that it demands a different kind of structure to our “school.”

Yesterday, “structure” meant packing up the majority of the boys’ stuffed animals, some Lego characters, and some Cars cars, along with the model T-Rex skeleton (named “T-Dex,” in case you’re interested), and driving two hours to shoot the photos necessary to make several Felix productions.  Guess who made this happen?


The boys have been wanting to go back to White Sands National Monument since the last time we went (1 year ago?  2?).  If you’ve never been, we’ll take you there when you come to visit.  What is super-fun about White Sands is that you can go sledding.  On the white sand.  That looks and, more or less, acts like snow (that never melts).  Except that yesterday, for example, it was 80 degrees out and everyone was barefoot and in shorts and t-shirts.  So, we had been planning to go to White Sands on Saturday anyway for some sledding and hiking, but after a few days last week of Daddy coming home from work to the screening of yet another Felix production (I think it’s Toymaster Films, officially), he asked Felix if he wanted to shoot on location.  Then, together, the night before last, they gathered everything Felix would need to complete several of his filmic visions.  And yesterday morning, we headed out “on location.”

Here are the boys, post-sledding, scouting the best location (the biggest boy is Daddy, “assistant to the director,” which means he carries all the gear):


Felix has never been an “easy” child.  It’s what comes along with being driven, creative, persistent.  So, to create events, situations, entire days, when he is thoroughly engaged and … happy–no, happy is not the right word, even though he was definitely that; he was in what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls a state of “flow”–is a challenge.  Yesterday, he was fully himself and thoroughly enjoying it, even though it was hard work.  And witnessing it was pure joy for me.

And key to his happiness, his state of flow, was his father’s role in it.  They did it all together.  Alfred and I amused ourselves as best we could and stayed out of the way.

Here are Felix and his dad, shooting some scenes in the sunlight.IMG_0196

While they set up, photographed, took down, and started the process all over again, Alfred and I doodled in the sand.  Without Grandma living nearby, there’s been a sad lack of art-making in Alfred’s life, so we were both happy to have this chance.  IMG_0198

And I got a whole bunch of love notes out of the deal.

   IMG_0200 IMG_0211 IMG_0213

It was a perfect day.  And it would have been perfect even if almost all of Alfred’s artwork hadn’t been love notes to his mother.  It would have been perfect even if one of Felix’s movie projects hadn’t turned out to be “Lost In the Dunes: A Father-Son Story,” which though not fully made yet, promises to be a beautiful tribute to this time he had with his dad.

Our days with them as children are already so numbered.  Felix will be 10 in two weeks, and I know he feels himself to be turning a corner of childhood. To have this one day was such a gift.  And it couldn’t have happened any other way.  We had to have made these terrifying changes to get to this point, and (for today, at least) I am so grateful we did.


El Paso observation

When the weather is cloudy and in the 60s (with a scattering of raindrops, no less), people around here bundle up in scarves, jackets with hoods, and gloves.  I think it’s adorable.  It’s probably why, unlike me, they don’t all want to commit murder when the temperature rises above 80.

getting up

I woke up this morning thinking about how I don’t really have any real reason to get out of bed.  No job to go to, no friends to meet, and the kids can pretty much fend for themselves (prefer to, actually, because when Mom gets up and pays attention, she makes them do boring stuff like write and learn and do math).  This is why I decided that today is the day I would start “the blog.”  Maybe it’ll give me a reason to get out of bed.  You might say, “But Melissa, you can write a blog in bed.”  Indeed.  But still, metaphorically, I need to get out of bed.

I’ve actually been thinking about writing this for a while, thinking about the title for a while, because so many things have happened lately to make me feel “unmoored.”  I quit my job (not all the way, but enough to mean a significant change in my sense of professional self), took the kids out of school to become homeschoolers (what was I thinking?!), lost my sweet dog (she died), sold the one and only house we’ve ever owned in a neighborhood and city I love, and moved away from my friends and family (this last one is so much of a heartache that I can’t make its phrasing pretty or interesting).  I left the water of Lake Michigan behind, where my ship has been moored for the great majority of my life, to come to this strange place in the desert, where the water, I’m convinced, literally makes me sick.

There’s a heady sense of freedom that comes when you leave behind what you are moored to and “head West” where the only things to moor yourself to seem about as substantial as a tumbleweed.   But since I’ve never been particularly interested in seeking out adventure or being an explorer on a quest for “freedom”–mostly, I’ve always wanted to stay home–this heady sense of freedom just makes me feel dizzy.  And, let’s face it, sad.

Hence, the not feeling very much like getting out of bed.  At least there, if I’m feeling dizzy, I have a soft place to land when I fall.