How Having a Disabled Child Has Made Me Closer to Jesus

If you’ve ever read the Gospels, you will probably agree that Jesus is one confusing dude.

(If you disagree, and think his message is actually quite simple . . . then you and I must not be reading the same book.)

The guy speaks in riddles, answers questions with questions, and tells bizarre parables. At times he seems to contradict himself, the Old Testament, and other authors of the New Testament. You can read the same words twelve times over twelve years and get something different every time. Folks have been debating the meaning of his words for centuries.

But to me, one thing seems clear about Jesus: he really loves losers and is not a fan of winners.

Think about it. Think about the people he chose as disciples, the people he chose to hang out with. Think of the people he healed. And then think about who he criticized.

It is clear to me that Jesus loves outcasts and weirdos, sinners and sick people. His favourite people appear to be the weak, the vulnerable, the poor, and the desperate. He hung out with snot-nosed children and actual prostitutes, and showed compassion to the disabled and the chronically ill.

And he was downright vicious to the wealthy religious elites.

As he famously said, the first shall be last and the last shall be first (Matt 20:16).

He tells his followers that the Kingdom belongs to children, the most vulnerable class of humans (Matt 19:14). He told a rich man to become poor in order to follow him (Matt 19:21). In his most famous sermon, he said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit… Blessed are those who mourn… the meek… those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…  the merciful… the pure in heart… the peacemakers… those who are persecuted because of righteousness.”

Watching and listening to Jesus, I get the sense that the gospel is good news for the marginalized and it is bad news for the rich and powerful.

In Jesus’s crazy, backwards world, the losers are already on top, and the winners have a lot to learn.

And guys, here’s where Jesus gets complicated for me: I have been a winner all my life.

I’ve lived my life covered and surrounded by privilege. I’m white, I’m straight, I’m abled, I’m educated . . . the list goes on. My family is privileged. My friends are all privileged. My church is all privileged.

So it’s no wonder to me now that the gospel has never really clicked in my life. How could I — a member of the privileged class — really understand a gospel that was meant for the desperately poor, oppressed and broken?

It only really started to make sense to me when I gave birth to a medically fragile/disabled child. The experience slowly opened up my eyes and ears to the experiences of the marginalized, and I’m only now feeling like I’m starting to connect with Jesus.

I was given responsibility for a child who was completely vulnerable and dependent on others simply to survive.

This little person who required tubes in his stomach and IV’s in his body to survive? Who would never learn to articulate his needs verbally, or use a bathroom independently, or or even feed himself without help? This was the kind of person I knew Jesus was drawn to. This little boy was counted among the blessed. He was the kind of person Jesus died for, who was already first in line for blessings.

Jesus tells us we ought to become poor, becoming vulnerable like children, if we want to be blessed. And here was a person who already was those things.

And I began to realize that the reason I had never really understood the gospel before was because I’d never really been in a position to receive it. I always already had everything I needed — love, health, security, esteem. Jesus is the King of Losers. He didn’t really have anything to offer someone like me.

But here in my arms was a child who had almost none of the things I was born with.

Jesus came into the world bearing gifts for those who have nothing.  For the rich and powerful, Jesus mostly has severe warnings.

That’s why he famously said that it’s harder for a rope to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom.*

Caring for my disabled son has forced me to recognize my own privilege, which in turn is forcing me to acknowledge the lack of privilege many others experience. I have had to take some long, painful looks in the mirror, and face the fact that I am among those for whom Jesus mostly had scathing words of condemnation.

By contrast, I have had to come to terms with the belovedness of those whom I’ve ignored, judged, or scorned — people who seemed weak, pathetic, or uninteresting. I realized I was overlooking Jesus’s absolute favourite people. It’s a hard thing to admit.

Again: Jesus. Loves. Losers. So if I want to get to know and understand Jesus, I need to get to know the folks most deemed losers by the powerful.

I have been discovering, over the last four years, that I need to learn from my son and others like him. The people Jesus called “the least of these.” The people we might call “the marginalized.” The poor, the neglected, the devalued and dehumanized. The sick, the dying, the lonely, the outcast.

In our society, this tends to include:

  • sex workers
  • people of colour
  • LGBTQ+ folks
  • disabled folks
  • people with chronic and/or mental illness
  • incarcerated people
  • folks experiencing homelessness
  • folks struggling with addiction
  • single mothers
  • children.

They are already favoured by God. They hold the key to Jesus’ Kingdom.

So for those of us who are privileged? We need to get closer to the marginalized. We need to listen to them and learn from them. We need to elevate and emulate them. I need to sit at the feet of these people and just soak in their wisdom.

I may be a mother to a disabled child, but I’m still totally privileged; so I still don’t think I can really grasp Jesus’ Good News. But I’m starting to look to Jesus’ favourite people to see what I can learn from them.

I would like to invite you to join me.

If you are privileged, you need to listen to marginalized people. If you’re only learning about God from other privileged (*ahem* — white, male, straight, middle-class, abled people), you are not getting at the heart of Jesus.

If that seems like an overwhelmingly huge task to take on, start here: commit to following one or two people who belong to marginalized groups on social media. Someone from the LGBTQ+ community, maybe, or a disabled person. Seek a few out and just start listening to their stories. (They absolutely do not have to be Christian.)

Or if you don’t really do social media, commit to reading at least one book by an author who belongs to a marginalized group. Like an immigrant, perhaps, or a Muslim.

(Of course, befriend these people in real life, too. I’m just wary of making a concerted effort to befriend a marginalized person as you risk tokenizing them. Perhaps start by listening so that you will know how to be a good friend when the opportunity arises.)

I have just begun to do this in the last two years and it has been utterly transformative. I finally feel like I’m starting to see the face of Jesus. (In ways I never did going to white Evangelical church.)

I know I have lots of work to do. The first person I am going to look to is one who is already in my life: my son.

He already belongs to Jesus, wholly and fully. I need to become more like him.

* (Yeah, I know you’ve heard it translated “camel” rather than “rope.” That’s probably wrong.)

playing in pool

8 Things I Learned This Summer

I’m taking a cue from Emily P. Freeman and sharing what I learned over the last season.

(I’m increasingly a fan of this type of post. Join me in reflecting on what I’ve learned over the last three months!)

1. I am AMAZING when I’m able to sleep.

20180813_143916_resizedJust taking a nap at 7am, like a normal person

During the month of July, Felix beat his all-time record by sleeping through about 80% of the nights. And I couldn’t believe the difference in myself. For the first time in almost four years I was

  • productive!
  • creative!
  • patient!
  • optimistic!
  • efficient!

By August he’d gone back to his old shenanigans of sleeping through about 0% of the nights, and I hate everyone and everything. It’s a struggle to keep everyone fed and clothed. It makes me wonder how much more I would accomplish in life if I was consistently able to sleep at night. We may never know.

(I wrote almost this whole post in July.)

2. All about broody hens and hatching chicks.
broody hen

In late May we noticed that one of our four laying hens wouldn’t leave her nest. We were worried she was sick. But when we went to take a look at her, she growled and pecked at us. Since I grew up around chickens, I was pretty sure I knew what was going on: we had our first broody hen.

(For those not familiar with chicken husbandry, “going broody” is what a hen does when she wants to hatch chicks. Normally, she’ll just lay her daily egg in one of the nests and then go on with her day, scratching and pecking the ground with her gal pals. Many hens go their whole lives satisfied with this arrangement. But sometimes a hen will decide she wants babies. She will stop eating and drinking and just stay in her nest, growing her clutch of eggs and acting aggressive towards intruders, with the intent to hatch out a little flock of chicks.)

Since we don’t have any roosters in our flock, our girl was unfortunately wasting her time with infertile eggs. We could have tried to “break” her of her broodiness, but we decided to try to set her up with some fertile eggs and see if she could hatch some.

We created a safe, comfortable nest for her and put a dozen eggs from my parents’ co-ed flock in it, setting her on top. (We did this at night, when chickens basically let you do anything you want to them.)

sitting hen

She sat there for 22 days, only leaving her nest once a day to eat, drink, and take a quick dust bath.

Just when we thought we weren’t going to see any chicks, we heard some peeping. Over the next 24 hours, we got six baby chicks! (Of the remaining eggs, two died in the process of hatching. The rest were duds.)

chicks(If you look closely, you can see two chicks peeking out from under her.)

It was a wonderful experience. It has been so fun watching our hen turn into a mama, protectively guiding her chicks all over the run, showing them where to find food. It’s been a treat!

mother hen and chicks

3. I guess I prefer loose and flowy clothes now?

clothes collage

For the last number of years, my “uniform” has been skinny jeans and a button-down shirt. My closet was almost exclusively filled with these items. Lots of navy blue, kelly green, and stripes. It made things easy. I could look put-together with minimal effort. (I don’t do layers and I don’t do accessories. I am truly a minimalist when it comes to getting dressed.)

But this year I got money from both sets of parents for my birthday, and I decided to go on a shopping trip for clothes — my old jeans and shirts were all several years old, and looked worn out. And I came back with soft pants and loose, flowy tops. Florals and neutrals and deep reds. (Still lots of stripes).

Wait, when did that happen? I wondered. I hadn’t made a conscious decision to recreate my wardrobe. These were just the things that felt “me” right now.

4. That Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is considered the first science fiction novel.

I read and studied this book three times during my undergraduate in literature, and I don’t think anyone ever told me this tidbit. It took watching this short history of sci-fi to realize it.

I was a bit embarrassed to realize I hadn’t known this fact, as I consider myself a fan of sci-fi and fantasy literature. I decided I needed to brush up on my sci-fi history, and watched this whole fascinating series.

5. A backyard sandbox is a pretty zen place even for an adult.

sandbox

We recently designed and built a sandbox in the back yard for Felix, who looooves the sensory experience of sand. We’ve been spending a lot more time in our back yard as a family as a result.

And you know what? Sitting in and playing with sand is actually quite soothing, even for me. It’s very grounding. Just digging and raking around the sand absent-mindedly is a great way to unwind at the end of a busy day. I highly recommend it.

6. What a Snoezelen Room is.

snoezelen

snoezelen room 2

The children’s center Felix attends for therapy recently added a Snoezelen room, and his OT has taken him in there for a few sessions. I’d never heard of one before, so in addition to experiencing it firsthand, I did some research online.

It’s pretty great, and Felix adores it. It’s pronounced “snooze-lin” (it was developed in the Netherlands), and it’s a controlled multisensory environment for people with autism and other developmental disabilities. Its use is meant to be self-directed, and is used both to stimulate and soothe, using lighting effects, color, sounds, music, scents, etc.

From my experience, they’re generally padded and darkened, with different sources of soothing lights, music, and other sensory tools. The room Felix enjoys has a ball pit filled with transparent balls and glowing lights; a sensory board; a tall bubble tube; and fiber optic lights. There are vibrating pads to lay on, and you can turn on classical music and calming projector scenes. He absolutely loves it. I’m considering recreating a similar environment in our own basement.

7. How to do fair isle knitting!

This one is just a brag. I’m very proud to have added this skill to my repertoire. I can now do literally anything in knitting.

fair isle

8. All about monarch butterflies.

monarch life cycle collageWe got some monarch eggs and caterpillars from my sister, and got to watch the whole life cycle several times over. It was an incredible experience! I feel like a monarch expert now! (I wrote a whole post about this.)

***

That’s probably more than you wanted to read! Thanks for sticking through it! What did you learn this season?

Raising Monarch Butterflies: Our Experience

holding monarch butterfly

This year we had an awesome opportunity to watch the monarch caterpillar life cycle, when my sister found some eggs and caterpillars on the milkweed plants in her back yard and offered to let us have a few.

We got to watch each stage a number of times over, so we didn’t miss a thing. I thought I’d share a few pictures of our magical experience, just for fun!

Egg Stage

This is how a our monarch eggs first looked under a microscope:

monarch egg 1

After a few days, the egg turned dark, and under the microscope I was amazed that I could see the unborn caterpillar squirming around inside the transparent shell! A darkened egg is a sign that it’s about to hatch.

monarch egg 2

To get a sense of the size, you can see the egg as a tiny black dot on this piece of leaf:

egg3

Later that day, we saw the caterpillar just out of its shell:

monarch caterpillar just hatchedSo cool!

Larva Stage

Over the next two weeks the caterpillars grew and grew and grew, doubling in size almost every day:

monarch caterpillarsWhenever I was out in the car, I was constantly pulling over to pick fresh milkweed from the ditches to feed my hungry brood of caterpillars.

As they grow, monarch caterpillars shed their skins four times during this stage. I never got to witness the molting, but I did see a caterpillar shortly after it lost its skin.

molting

We could tell a caterpillar was getting ready to pupate when it started to spend a lot of time on the lid of its home. It was looking for a place to make its chrysalis! We knew the deal was sealed when it started to make a silk button to hang from (seen below, circled).

monarch caterpillar silk buttonThen it would attach its rear end to the button and hang upside down in a J-shape.

monarch caterpillar pupatingIt would hang like this for over 12 hours, hardly moving. Beneath the skin, crazy changes were happening.

When the hanging caterpillar started to get a bit more active, we knew the transformation was close at hand.

Pupa Stage

The actual change to a chrysalis takes less than two minutes after the skin first splits, so you have to watch long and carefully if you want to catch it. I started to notice that the skin begins to pulsate just before that happened. I got to witness this magical event three times, with lots of obsessive watching.

monarch pupating

The skin cracks along the back, and the caterpillar “unzips” its skin by doing its “pupa dance,” revealing the wet green chrysalis underneath. It dries and hardens over the next hour or so. By the next day, it looks like a magical jewel.

monarch chrysalis

It’s hard to believe there’s something alive in what looks like a hanging jade stone. Then all of a sudden, after about 10 days, it starts to darken, and by nighttime the chrysalis is transparent, revealing the wing patterns inside.

monarch chrysalis clear

Adult Stage!

The next morning, the butterfly emerges! It starts with damp, crumpled, wings, that quickly dry and flatten out.

monarch butterfly eclosing

adult monarch

After about two hours –when it starts pumping its wings — it’s ready to climb onto your hand. This was my favourite part. It felt incredible to have this delicate little insect walk along my hand.

We learned that you can quite easily distinguish between the sexes by looking at the wing patterns.

The male monarch has dark spots on its hind wings:

male monarch

The female has darker, thicker veins on its wings, and the spots are absent:

female monarchAfter I had fully appreciated the butterfly’s beauty, I let it walk onto a flower (they feed off of nectar).

monarch on flower

One morning we found a dead monarch butterfly in our yard that had been killed by a predator. We took the opportunity to look at its wings under a microscope (we have this one). It was so interesting to see the scales.

butterfly microscope

monarch wings under microscope

butterfly wings under miscroscope

There you have it! I highly recommend it as a wonderful learning experience!

If you live in Canada or the Northern US, you can start looking for eggs or caterpillars on milkweed plants in mid-July. I found them surprisingly abundant and easy to find this year — almost every time I grabbed some milkweed to feed my caterpillars, I found another stowaway or two, until I was swimming in caterpillars and had to give a bunch away.

Just last night, we found a black swallowtail caterpillar, and I’m looking forward to seeing how things are different.

Thanks for joining me on this little adventure!

Posts I’d love to write if only I had the chance to sleep at night

snails on a boat(A gratuitous picture of snails on a toy boat. You’re welcome.)

This is a list of titles of blog posts I’ve been wanting to explore, but currently do not have the mental capacity or time to actually write. For some of them, I’ve gotten as far as sketching out a rough draft. That’s about it.

Blame the a three-year-old who has got his nights and days mixed up again.

If one of these titles REALLLLLLY stands out to a number of readers, I might make it a priority if we ever get back to a normal sleep schedule.

: : :

Why We Homeschool

When Virtues Turn Out to Be Privileges (e.g. things like spontaneity; having a sophisticated palate; being able to live zero-waste; etc)

Why We Stopped Going to Church (And Don’t Miss It or Feel Guilty About It, Not Even a Tiny Bit)

How Having a Disabled Child Has Brought Me Closer to Jesus

How I’m Getting Schooled by Twitter / Twitter is Making Me a Better Person

Let’s Talk About Ableism and Capitalism

In Defense of Picky Eaters

Why Are We Drawn to Alternative Healing Practices? + My Journey To and Away From the Crunchy Community

Our Favourite Read-Alouds for 4-6-Year-Olds

: : :

Hope you’re having a restful, low-pain summer!

Sometimes I feel sad that I don’t make any money.

sourdough bread

I’m doing something different today: I just opened up my laptop and wrote what was on my mind, and am publishing it with minimal editing. Even though I recently said I prefer works that are heavily edited. Hey, it’s my blog, I can break my own rules. Sometimes it feels good to just share my feelings, knowing that some of you will be able to relate. I’m not asking for sympathy or advice or — heaven forbid — money. I just felt like being honest about my feelings.

This morning I woke up sad that I don’t make any money.

It doesn’t happen often. I understand how I got here, and it’s largely by choice. I chose to get a degree in the humanities, knowing full well that it wouldn’t make me marketable. I chose to stay home with my kids and to educate them myself. I chose to nurture skills that aren’t traditionally profitable: cooking, homemaking, writing, painting, fiber arts. I recently added to my Instagram profile description — with a tiny hint of pride — “Maker of zero dollars.”

In fact, I’ve spent most of my adult life actively resisting a capitalist-centered life, favouring self-sufficiency and time with family over earning an income. I would rather learn to DIY everything than work at a job to pay for those same things. “Our home is a unit of production, not consumption!” my husband and I routinely remind ourselves.

And for the most part, I’m happy with my life choices. I believe that my work is meaningful and important. I don’t feel especially deprived most of the time: on my husband’s small income, we can afford to cover all our basic needs, plus a little extra to cover my hobbies (i.e. blogging, painting and knitting), the occasional dinner out, and clothes that I feel good in.

So it’s not that I wish I had more money — not really. I just sometimes crave the validation that an income would provide.

Sometimes I long for the knowledge that someone out there values my labour enough to want to give me money for it. Possibly even — and this is totally wild — a living wage. Like, I can’t even fathom the thought of someone wanting to give me enough money that we were officially living above the poverty line. How luxurious that seems!

Can you imagine walking around, knowing that your skills, time, and effort are worth actual money? Like, that your labour is so coveted that an employer or a client would be willing to part with actual cash in exchange for it? Man. What a dream. I can hardly even picture it. And I know some people get to experience that feeling, and sometimes I feel just a little bit resentful.

At my last three jobs, I was paid minimum wage, and even then I felt like a burden on my employers. Like I was barely worth the amount of money they were dishing out. Like they’d replace me in a heartbeat if they could just find someone else willing to drive out to their remote location and do the work.

I have been working SO HARD my entire life. I worked so hard to get straight A’s in high school while working on weekends to support my family. I worked so hard to get straight A’s in university while paying for my own tuition plus room and board. I worked so hard at my first minimum-wage jobs. And I have worked harder than ever, around the clock, as a mother. I don’t feel like I’ve had adequate leisure time since I was in elementary school.

And sometimes I just can’t believe that all this hard work has not resulted in any kind of capital. I am 33 years old with a master’s degree and I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to make enough money to pay for my own root canal.

I bet a lot of you can relate, especially if you are a millennial mother or an artist. It is hard to find someone willing to pay us for our work. We are expected to provide so much of our labour for free.

I’m not even sure I want any other life. But in a capitalist society, where our value comes from how much we earn and spend, sometimes it just feels sucky to not make any money.

Related: a few years ago I wrote about post entitled, “I Am Rich,” about how my family is rich in other resources.

I Think I Want to be a Disability Advocate (But I Have a Lot of Work to Do)

josh-appel-423804-unsplashPhoto by Josh Appel on Unsplash

(Trigger warning: I express some really ableist shit early on. It embodies previous attitudes that I’m working to dismantle.)

As longtime readers know, I don’t get pregnant easily. So when we were ready to start having kids, I had months (and months and months) to think about what I did and didn’t want in life.

I begged God to give me children. But I always had one caveat: But please don’t give me a disabled child. If I’m going to get a disabled child, I’d rather just stay childless. I was thinking of autism in particular, because my husband has autistic relatives; but I objected to any really serious disability.

I didn’t fully realize just how horrifically ableist I was.

My first child was born 29 months later, perfectly healthy. I was able to be the hippie mom I’d dreamed of being: I breastfed, I co-slept, I baby-wore. Motherhood was everything I hoped it would be and more.

It took another 19 months of trying to get pregnant with my second. My prayer was the same throughout: Just let me have another healthy and normal child.

As you also know, things did not go as planned the second time around.

Not only was my second child quickly diagnosed with a life-threatening disease that had him hospitalized for most of his first year, but he showed signs early on of having developmental disabilities.

He was late to hold up his head. Late to smile. Very late to roll over. Very very late to sit up on his own.

Not only was I in constant anxiety about his health in his first year, I was in agony over the thought of having to mother a disabled child.

I hoped and prayed that he would eventually catch up with his peers. Maybe it was just the extended hospitalization and isolation that was holding him back. I researched and hoped and prayed that we could find a treatment. Maybe with the right diet and therapies, we could fix him.

At the very least, I hoped that his disabilities would turn out to be “mild” — maybe he’d learn things a little slower than his peers, but he’d basically be able to live a “normal” life — he’d still be able to make same-aged friends, take swimming lessons, learn to ride a bike, etc.

But as he got older, his delays only became more and more pronounced. He slipped further and further and further behind his peers.

The day he turned three, I wept. We didn’t even throw him a birthday party. The truth was now completely undeniable. At three years old he was still nowhere near walking; he showed no evidence of understanding speech (much less being able to speak); and he still relied primarily on infant formula for nourishment.

He was never going to be “normal.”

The thing I had most dreaded had become my reality.

I knew even then that my thoughts and feelings were horrible. I vaguely understood that my attitude betrayed some very deep and hideous ableism. I didn’t value a disabled child the same way I valued an abled child.

I knew I had a lot of work to do to become the mother that my son deserved.

But that shit is hard, and I was so tired. I had already lived through the trial of keeping him alive through SCID. Now I had to begin a whole new journey of learning how to parent a disabled child?

I felt like I just couldn’t get a break.

Again: I did not realize how incredibly ableist I was.

:::

I had always resisted the idea of being a disability advocate.

I realize that it took an incredible amount of privilege and entitlement to be able to avoid it. Disabled people obviously don’t have that luxury. I just didn’t care enough.

Disability advocacy just seemed too . . . depressing. And . . . unglamourous.

Racial justice and poverty advocacy at least seemed to have a bit of hipster trendyness to it. But anything having to do with disability seemed like an unequivocal bummer.

But around the time that my son turned three and I spent his birthday sobbing, I realized that I was going to have to come to terms with a few things. Now that disability was obviously an unavoidable part of my life, I knew I needed to change some things.

I needed to change myself.

From the get-go, I knew two things for certain:

  • I knew I needed to start by listening to actual disabled people. I needed to better understand their experiences, to learn how to respectfully talk about disability, etc.
  • If I did talk publicly about disability, I did not want to be another beleaguered “disability mom,” adding to the noise.

Too much of what I was coming across online from “disability moms” (most often “autism moms”) I instinctively KNEW was harmful. I knew this because when I read it, I felt nothing but fear and horror and dread. Oh shit, is that my future? was my emotional response.

No. These were not the emotions I wanted to elicit when talking about my son.

If I was going to write about disabilities, it was not going to be about how difficult and stressful it is to parent a disabled child. I knew instinctively that this only further stigmatized disability, perpetuating fear among abled folks and self-hatred among disabled folks.

We need to center disabled people, not their caregivers.

Yes, it can be challenging to care for a disabled child; but ultimately the caregivers still have levels of privilege that their children do not.

“Disability moms” are not the vulnerable ones. Disabled folks are. Their voices are the ones that matter, not ours.

Writing about disability will remain tricky for me because I am a caregiver, speaking from a place of unrecognized privilege.

I’m scared of making things worse by saying the wrong things. Yet I do not want to remain silent about something that is increasingly important to me.

I cannot pretend to be a victim. I must not act like I’m marginalized because I have a disabled child.

I feel compelled to share my journey as I work towards being less ableist, but I worry that I will do it poorly and do more damage.

I am going to do my best.

So far, I have taken the tiniest little step forward by trying to fill my social media feeds with the voices of disabled writers. (I am trying to do the same with people of colour, LGBTQ+ folks, etc). I am starting to learn.

As I move forward, I want to get a few things out of the way.

To the disabled community, I want to say: I am SO SORRY for the ways I’ve failed to be an ally, for the ways I’ve perpetuated ableism, and I want to work towards anti-ableism. I may need correction at times. I know I will still make mistakes. I will do my best to learn from you.

To my dear, sweet Felix, who may never be able to understand any of this in words: I am SO SORRY I was so wrong about you. I was so wrong to fear having you in my life. You are an incredible blessing to me and I hope I never stop learning from you.

felix happy

A Very Quick Thanks

morvanic-lee-355170-unsplashPhoto by Morvanic Lee on Unsplash

Dearest readers:

Wow. I was stunned by the encouragement I got after my last post. You really showed up to let me know you’re still here!

When I wrote that post, I honestly thought there weren’t many people out there still reading, who would really notice or care if I quit. Believe it or not, the average post takes me about four hours to complete (between drafting, writing, editing, formatting photos, etc), and I worried I was wasting my time.

Since the comments sections of blogs don’t generally see much action these days, and Facebook doesn’t want anyone to see what I share unless I give them *the cash money,* I often felt like I was writing into the void.

I SO SO appreciate all of you who spoke up to let me know you still care! I got so many surprising words of encouragement in the comments section of the post, on Facebook, and via email. I started out trying to respond to each comment individually but soon became overwhelmed. So I thought I’d send out one big, general THANK YOU. I read every comment and treasured every one.

I have a couple of hard posts in the works right now, and your encouragement gave me the burst of energy I needed to keep moving forward.

Thanks, friends. I guess I’ll keep posting here, even if it’s only every couple of months. I am so incredibly grateful for this wonderful online community. You people are the absolute best.

If Blogging is Dying, What is a Blogger To Do?

sidewalk chalkI have self-identified as a writer ever since I was six years old, when my first-grade teacher told me I was one.

During my elementary school years, I wrote stories. During my university years, I wrote academic papers. And in my mid-twenties, I started blogging.

By my late twenties, I felt like I was finally getting some momentum with my writing. I thought I might be heading towards a career as a writer. I thought I knew what direction I was taking, and could see a possible book in my future.

Then Felix was born. And everything fell apart, including my identity.

Our family has slowly been putting our lives back together since then. But my identity has been a bit harder to piece back together.

Who am I, now that being a “crunchy mom” isn’t central to my identity? And how can I call myself a writer when I can only manage to publish a blog post once every couple of months?

And while I’ve been struggling to figure out where blogging fits into my life, I’ve seen the blogging world change so much that I hardly recognize it.

Many people are saying that blogging (in the form I know and love) is dying. And I worry that it’s true. And I’m not sure where to take it from here.

Many of my old blogging peers have shifted to new formats: email newsletters, podcasts, book deals. (SO MANY BOOK DEALS.)

I can’t seem to find my place with any of these new and different platforms. They all seem to involve learning about and buying all new hardware and software . . . I just don’t think I’m in a place to go in any of these new directions.

The following is mostly just for me to sort out my own thoughts and feelings. But if you feel like coming along for the ride, here goes:

1. Email Newsletters

I’m sorry, but. . . I just cannot get on board with this format. I would like to. It’s the most like blogging. I just . . . hate it.

The main problem is: in my brain, email is for business. My email account is where I go to get notifications from my library that my books are due, or from Amazon that a package has shipped, or to set an appointment with a therapist. It is not for reading about how my friend’s week is going. I’m sorry! That’s just not the mindset I’m in when I open up my email.

(How about you?? Is this just a weird thing about me that I need to get over?)

I have optimistically signed up for a few newsletters from people I love and adore, and . . . I always just delete them when they pop up in my email, until I finally unsubscribe. They just don’t belong in my email inbox!

When I want to know how my bloggy friends are doing, I go to their websites, or to social media (Facebook* and Instagram). And I still keep up with blogs via Feedly like an old person.

Email and blogs just don’t mix in my mind.

(I can’t be the only person who feels this way. Am I?)

*I have used less and less Facebook in recent years since they decided to be stupid with their algorithms and make it almost impossible for blog and business pages to get seen unless the owner “boosts” their posts (with cash). It’s so incredibly lame.

2. Instagram

I’ve noticed some people writing short essays as their Instagram captions as a sort of alternative to blogging. But I just don’t feel there’s enough space here to really delve deeply into a subject. You can maybe introduce an idea, but you can’t go much further than that. Plus, the type is way too tiny, and it’s difficult to create paragraphs.

I tend to skim over long blocks of tiny text on Instragram.

I go to Instagram for the pretty pictures (especially of knitting and bread).

3. Podcasting

It seems that all the bloggers who started around the same time as me (or earlier) now have a podcast. So far, I’m not totally sold on the medium. For one, I’ve always preferred writing over talking. I’m a writer. I’m in love with the written word.

And second, I’m more of an essay girl than a conversation girl. I prefer to consume works that are stylized and edited rather than “authentic.” I personally listen to only one podcasts devotedly (The Liturgists); most others are too chatty for me. If I wanted to hear women chatting I would call up my girlfriends.

Plus I would have to learn a LOT of new technology to go this route, and I don’t know how I would even start.

4. Youtube/Vlogging

This shares many of the problems that podcasting has, including the tech issue — I have no freaking idea how it even works. Plus I have very blinky eyes that would be very distracting. (I’m serious. It’s a problem.)

5. Books

Writing a book has always been the dream and the goal. But not only do I not have a publisher, I don’t even have a book in me right now. The experience of Felix’s extended hospitalization hollowed me out so that I don’t know who I am or what I believe anymore. I wrote a whole post on why I’m not writing a book last year.

So I still dream of writing a book someday; but it’s not going to happen anytime soon.

***

So what do you think? Do you think blogging actually is dying?

What’s your favourite way to consume content?

Is there a form of sharing content that I’m missing from my list?

Should I just get over myself and pursue one of the forms I’m discussed above? Am I totally wrong about them?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Our Second Year of Unschooling, In Review

homeschooling

The end of June marks the end of the school year for Canadians.

If Lydia would have been in traditional school, she’d be finishing up first grade right now. As most of you know, we unschool, so we just live life and learn along the way, allowing her to follow her interests and facilitating her education by providing a rich learning environment.

I thought I’d take some time to reflect on what we did over the last school year. I’ve divided things up into rough subject categories, though of course learning doesn’t happen like that in real life. (I did the same thing last year, if you’d like to read what we did during her “kindergarten” year).

We continued to mostly avoid anything particularly “academic,” since she simply wasn’t interested in it, and because my research has led me to feel it’s unnecessary at best (and harmful at worst) to push academics before the age of seven. We’ll see what we do next year.

(Psst: You can follow our homeschooling adventures on a regular basis by following my Instagram account. If you’re not interested in seeing my knitting/homesteading/sourdough-baking posts, the hashtag #quiringhomeschool will take you directly to all my homeschooling posts.)

Social Skills

homeschool group

I like to cover this one first, since this topic is one that folks seem to worry about most when it comes to homeschooled kids.

Lydia typically spent at least four days a week with at least one other kid besides her baby brother. Mondays were spent at her grandma’s with her younger boy cousin; Tuesdays and Wednesdays were shared with her best girl friend; and Friday mornings were spent with our large and diverse homeschool group. The kids got a chance to swim at the beach, play at different parks, and visit back yards and farms.

She also went to forest school and swim lessons at various times throughout the year. We went on a ton of field trips with our homeschool group, and did a Valentine’s Day exchange in February. I am so thrilled with the group we’ve found this year, I couldn’t ask for better.

Field Trips

field trip pioneers

Speaking of field trips: I felt like these outings were terrific both for learning opportunities and to nurture a general sense of community.

We went to a pioneer homestead on multiple occasions to learn about how life was lived over a hundred years ago. We went to a local marsh to learn about wetland habitats. We visited the local Historical Aircraft Association to see and learn about WWII planes. Again: I am SO, SO GRATEFUL for our homeschooling community this year!

Math

Math mostly took the form of everyday addition and subtraction. It was mostly explored orally, in response to real-life scenarios. (This is a fancy way of saying that when numbers came up in real life, we worked through problems aloud.) We briefly visited the concept of multiplication a few times, and I bribed her with chewing gum to fill out a 1-100 chart, just to prove to both of us that she could do it.

We also spent a few hours on the Khan Academy website, just to learn about written formulas. I feel we probably caught up on a full year’s-worth of lessons in about three combined hours. It helped me feel more relaxed about her math situation. She didn’t love it, though, so I kept it to a minimum.

One resource she loved was the book Amazing Visual Math. She spent a lot of time poring over the geometric shapes and movable charts. I highly recommend it. I think it will be very educational when she can read.

Language and Literacy

Lydia was still not really interested in learning to read this year, which is fine.

However, I must mention that one week in May, I got her to try the free educational computer game Teach Your Monster to Read, and she played obsessively for about three days. The progress she made was astronomical. She went from barely being able to name the sounds of individual letters to being able to read short sentences in less than 48 hours. Demonstrating, once again, that learning does not naturally happen in a linear or evenly-paced fashion. Most kids can probably learn in a few hours or days — when they’re ready and self-motivated — what they would traditionally be taught over the span of weeks or months in school.

But even though she didn’t want reading lessons, that doesn’t mean her literacy education was completely ignored! We spent lots of time reading chapter books aloud. In this way she learned things like vocabulary, sentence structure, and story structure; and most importantly, she is learning to love stories and language.

Some of our favourite read-alouds this year included:

(Notice a theme here? While she can appreciate more realistic stories like The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street or the Ramona and Beezus books, she definitely has more passion for fantasy. Just like her parents.)

Visual Art

art museum

Lydia is a natural-born artist, so I don’t need to do much here but make sure she’s stocked with supplies. She literally spends hours every day drawing.

We loved two books that I highly recommend: The Art Book for Children and Get Into Art: People. Both books introduce kids to influential artists in an accessible way. She can now recognize the works of Picasso or Arcimboldo thanks to these books, and they’ve inspired her to try new methods and materials.

Science

daphnia microsope(This is a daphnia under a miscroscope)

Our microscope got lots of use this year (I wrote a whole post about it a few months ago). We especially enjoyed looking at bacteria and fungus colonies; microscopic pond creatures; and snowflakes.

We did a bit of nature journaling during the warmer months.

I set up some science demonstrations, like creating sugar crystals, and using red cabbage juice to test pH levels (so cool! I wrote about it here!) She was inspired to try some of her own science experiments.

Music

Ummm . . . we listened obsessively to The Greatest Showman soundtrack? And she watched hours and hours of Lindsey Stirling’s videos on Youtube?

Whenever I brought up any kind of voice or dance lessons, she would say, “I don’t need lessons. I’m already amazing!”

She recently became interested in playing the xylophone, and was very proud when she taught herself to play Twinkle Twinkle on it.

Even though she’s already an “amazing” dancer, I’m thinking about signing her up for tap lessons in the fall.

History

museum jars

We read and really enjoyed the first half of The Story of the World, where we covered early nomadic cultures, through the Egyptian, Persian, Greek and Roman empires. She particularly enjoyed learning about the Egyptians, and was excited to see the Egyptian displays the the Detroit Institute of Arts.

(In this photo she is sticking out her tongue because she knows what gets stored in canopic jars!)

Physical Education

yoga

In the warmer months, she got lots of time playing unsupervised in the back yard, swinging and climbing. We also walk as a family regularly to the library, local restaurants, etc.

During winter she really enjoyed Cosmic Kids Yoga on Youtube.

Well, I think that covers all the big stuff!

Thanks for sticking around, and I wish you a relaxing summer!

*This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for supporting Becoming Peculiar!

5 Things I Learned This Spring

Hi, friends! I’m joining with Emily P. Freeman and sharing a few things I learned this spring. I know there were many more things, but Felix hasn’t really let me sleep for the last two months and my brain is not totally functioning. Here are the things I could remember!

1. Red cabbage has magical properties!

red cabbage - natural dye

(I’m not talking about medicinal qualities, but fascinating scientific qualities!)

I learned this when we used red cabbage to dye our Easter eggs. Turns out, red cabbage (and the purple liquid you can boil out of it) change colour when introduced to different pH levels. Acids turn it a bright magenta; bases turn it a gorgeous turquoise. It’s quite stunning to witness.

red cabbage dye(These three glasses all contain cooked red cabbage liquid, but vinegar has been added to the cup on the far left and baking soda has been added to the cup on the far right. Magic!)

In fact, you can even make your own pH strips by soaking strips of coffee filters in the purple cabbage liquid and letting it dry. Then drip vinegar or baking soda onto the strips, and watch it change colour right before your eyes!

pH strips from reb cabbage(Both of these strips have been soaked in red cabbage water and dried, turning them purple. Then we dropped a few drops of vinegar [left] and baking soda water [right] onto the ends of bottom strip, creating these beautiful colours!)

We also had fun making little bowls of liquid change from one colour to the other and then back again, feeling like wizards in Potions class. (Check out this video I shared on Instagram to see it in action).

2. Knitting cables is not that hard!

knitting cables

I know they look fancy, but it turns out, cables are simple. If you know how to knit and purl, you can do cables, easy peasy. All you need is a cable needle to hold a few stitches to the front every so often, and the magic happens. I’m so glad I gave it a try!

If you’re a newbie knitter looking for a simple beginner cable pattern, I highly recommend this free one from Tin Can Knits.

3. Blocking covers over a multitude of sins.

blocking

Sorry that this is another knitting one, but I’ll make it quick.

“Blocking” refers to the very last step in knitting and crocheting, where you take your finished piece and shape it. There are a few ways to do it, but typically it involves soaking the piece in water, squeezing it out, and then stretching it into its proper shape and laying it flat to dry, generally held in place with pins.

Some people treat this step as optional, but I keep being surprised how important it is. I increasingly believe you should block absolutely everything. Not only does it make your piece look more tidy and professional, but you can adjust the size and shape. It helps to hide or even fix imperfections, too.

When I finished my first cabled hat, it was a little snug and tall, and many of my stitches were uneven. I was a bit disappointed. But during blocking I was able to stretch out the brim and flatten out the top, and as it dried the stitches evened out, to create a really nice-fitting, professional-looking piece! Another win for blocking!

blog

4. There’s such a thing as Messenger Lite.

I am eternally running out of space on my phone. (A natural consequence of always buying used/outdated phones). I am always needing to delete apps so that I can update the more important ones, which is a pain. (And I only use a handful of apps, mostly for listening to audiobooks and podcasts.)

When I had put off updating Facebook Messenger long enough that it no longer worked, I somehow discovered that there’s a “Lite” version that takes up much less space (and offers way less nonsense, like face filters and Facebook stories. Who even uses those??). I installed it and it works great, and I didn’t even have to delete the Weather Channel app from my phone.

5. Selfies get WAY more likes on Instagram.

sad selfie

I didn’t set out to figure out how to get more likes on Instagram. I just happened to post a few selfies within a short period of time, and I noticed the pattern (one that Laura Tremaine once described, but I hadn’t at that point experienced). Posts that include my face typically get way more attention than the rest!

And interestingly, the worse I look in them, the more positive the reaction (ha!). Okay, that’s not entirely true. I think folks just appreciate seeing an honest version of the people they follow on social media. One of my more popular posts is of my disheveled face and hair after a rough night. Another is the one I posted above, where I talk about my crappy Mother’s Day. BUT, folks also seem to like the nice ones, too, as long as it has an interesting caption.

So, selfie away! Your friends and followers want to see your face. Even (or especially) when it’s not perfectly polished and filtered.

That’s it for today! What interesting facts did you learn this season?

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