Achtung, Baby Review

American moves abroad and raises children has become a genre unto itself nowadays. This is unfortunate because it means that by the time I get around to moving abroad, the market will already be saturated. I read Bringing Up Bebe when it came out in 2011 (it was instrumental in encouraging me to give up attachment parenting) and now I read Achtung, Baby, about an American woman who spent about 5 years living in Berlin.

As soon as I heard about the book, I bought it. I’ve observed a lot o German parenting and wanted to see others’ observations. What I didn’t expect was for the book to leave me feeling pretty depressed.

The fact that Americans are a bit….intense (other words: dedicated, single-minded, hovering, helicoptering, etc) when it comes to their parenting isn’t new. Lenore Skenazy has been writing about it since I became a parent. But few are the authors who spell it out quite as clearly as Sara Zaske: Americans are very controlling of their children. Even when trying to be permissive parents, we manage to do so in an authoritarian way. Our children are supervised pretty much all day long. They move from highly supervised classrooms with little time for free play to highly structured and supervised after-school activities and then head home to be supervised by their parents. In a country where people think kids shouldn’t play in their own front yard until they’re 13, don’t expect to see a lot of kids playing in their neighborhoods or with neighbor kids.

I’ve known this, but I’ve never heard it spelled out as being controlling and authoritarian. And it has me wondering how on earth we can expect children who have never been allowed to be free to grow up and respect the concept of freedom and participate in maintaining a liberal democracy.

Part of my goal with homeschooling was to give my children more freedom than they would have at school. More free time, more time to explore their own interests, more time to play outside and less supervision. But I can only do this sort of thing at home. Outside the house, they are subject to the prevalent cultural norms. No, they can’t go to the park by themselves because I don’t want the cops called on me or CPS. No, they can’t run into the shop and grab some milk or me run into the shop while they wait outside. And I have had the cops called on me for leaving my kids in the car when I ran into pick up a fast food order I’d already placed, so it’s not like this is an exaggeration. I came out with the food to see an angry man standing outside my car yelling into his phone. I spoke in German to my kids to make sure they were okay and he yelled at me to “Go home.” I did just that (though he was probably not referring to my house) and the cops came by to do a welfare check on the kids (I suppose to make sure I didn’t have them locked in the car still?).

Reading her book and seeing it jive with what I’ve witnessed in Germany made me feel a deep sadness. Granted, German norms have changed over the years. When my host sister was little, she used to walk to school in first grade. Now they do it in second. But these feel like minor quibbles when you consider that American kids can’t even be trusted to walk to their houses from a school bus stop. Instead, the school bus stops five times in the space of a half-mile to deposits each dickes Quarkbällchen in front of their very own house. Even if they’re in high school.

Zaske also dedicates a portion of the book about Einschülung to the fact that homeschooling is illegal. Being a homeschooler, this is a major sticking point with me. While I can understand the arguments behind forbidding homeschooling and the fact that even children have the right to be away from their parents, I think it overlooks the fact that some children simply do not do well in a school environment. While Berliner parents may protest against things they dislike against their schools and advocate for change, they lack the most significant form of protest: the ability to vote with their feet. American parents have this ability and it’s one I’ve opted to take. I dislike the prevailing culture in American schools and I don’t want my kids to experience its negative aspects and lose their initiative and joy of learning. German parents who find themselves unable to affect change in their schools have very few options, aside from providing emotional support for their miserable children and assurance that it will end eventually. But that’s a sucky way to spend 12 years of your life.

Notably in this book, Zaske includes a chapter detailing their family’s adjustment after returning to the US from Germany. This helps give them perspective about the things they like in the US compared to Germany, but there really doesn’t seem to be a whole lot. Zaske seems determined to effect some sort of change in her California neighborhood, but quite frankly I’m not holding my breath. Compared to Bringing Up Bebe, she dedicates part of each chapter to suggestions on how Americans could change how things are done in the US to improve it or make it more like the Germans do. I can see this rubbing a lot of Americans the wrong way, especially if they’re convinced that the way Americans do things is just fine and they’re sick of being told they need to do things the way foreigners do. A certain segment of the American population shows a disturbing lack of curiosity about the outside world.

The book could have used a bit more editing. Zaske definitely suffered from a lack of German knowledge. She states her the bakers called her daughter “Prinzesschen” when she went to the bakery by herself for the first time and that means “little princess.” It doesn’t. As far as I can tell, it’s not even a word. But the word for princess is “Prinzessin,” so I”m guessing that’s what they said. It would be easy to mix up the two. I also hope to god she stopped yelling “Achtung!” at some point in time. No one says “Achtung.” If someone needs to watch out, you say “Pass auf!” Achtung is like “Attention!” in the military sense. Or in the “Achtung! Achtung! Hier spricht die Polizei!” (Attention! Attention! This is the police!). I feel acutely embarrassed thinking she ran around yelling Achtung for five years in Germany. It reminds me of how I thought the correct response to “Schön Tag noch” at shops was “Jedenfalls” (Cashier: Have a nice day. Me: In any case!) I misheard “ebenfalls” (you too). Cringe.

She gets bonus points from me for including a whole section on how much attachment parenting sucks. Granted, she doesn’t say it like that, but it does suck. It makes parents miserable and turns their children into clingy little parasites who will suck the life out of you if given the opportunity. I’m actually surprised to learn Dr. Sears’ Baby Book has been translated into German considering the fact it advocates mothers quitting their jobs and staying home with their children (NOT the fathers!), even to the point of going into debt and financial ruin. Because, as we all know, only mothers are able to bond with their children. Fathers can’t. Grandparents can’t. And trained Kita Erzieher certainly can’t. According to Sears’ beliefs, all of former East Germany should be a complete basket case full of sociopaths thanks to generations of damn near all kids being in daycare there. Wait! I may have found the origins of Pegida!

At any rate, this has me more determined to move to Finland and Germany in order to give my kids a real taste of freedom. I want them to be able to explore without being warned to be careful, or other parents giving me major side eye because I am not living up to cultural norms.

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Reading the Grocery Store Novel

In the last few days of my senior year of high school, my English teacher gave us a choice for our last reading assignment. We could either read Dante’s The Inferno or After the First Death, which she described as a grocery store novel. Years later, I began to suspect she used that as a sort of litmus test to find out what kind of adults we would turn out to be.

This incident came to mind numerous times while I read Brian Caplan’s The Case Against Education, which I recently finished reading. He argues persuasively that education is 80% signaling instead of human capital development. It’s about letting people know you’re competent by getting the right papers. Look! I graduated high school! I’m not a complete fuck-up! Look! I graduated from Prestigious University! I’m competent! Look! I have a masters degree! I am tenacious and enjoy suffering! Look! I have a PhD! I don’t know how to stop working on something once I start! Pls hire!

This signaling theory neatly explains why my husband has 2 masters degrees and a fistful of bachelors. Education in Finland is highly subsidized; they pay you to study. As a result, my husband knows people with masters degrees in philosophy who are working as cleaners. When everyone has a master’s, showing you’re not a fuck-up gets a lot more challenging.

The easiest solution to this problem is fairly obvious: stop subsidizing education and stop trying to force everyone into the college track. The problem is convincing people this is a good thing to do. Let’s look at my nephew, for example.

My oldest nephew is now 22. He’s been out of high school for damn near 5 years (he graduated at 17). He was an average student, but like everyone else from a middle class family, was placed firmly on a college track. He took the ACT and scored a 19. He had good extracurricular activities, though. He was on swim team and worked as a lifeguard at the Y. He was a decent viola player. With the encouragement of his parents’ and guidance counselor, he checked off all the high school graduation requirements and college application requirements one by one.

Then he graduated and went to community college. He didn’t have any idea what he wanted to study, but he had to do something and knocking out some gen ed requirements seemed like the thing to do.

It was too much for him; he dropped out. He complained he needed to brush up on his math. I told him about Khan Academy and had him start taking the math placement test there. I think he started it, but never finished. He spent the next 4 years bumming around, working various minimum wage, entry level jobs while all the adults in his life took turns telling him what he should do. I told him about how wind turbine technicians was a growing field, how VoTech had a training program he could enroll in and it would pay well.
After hemming and hawing, he enrolled back into community college to knock out those gen ed requirements before he enrolled in VoTech to learn a trade. He’s following my advice about taking one class at a time while working full-time instead of quitting work and going back to school full-time while living off of student loans. If nothing else, I’ve managed to bash the fact that student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy and will follow you around until the day you die (or flee the country never to return again) firmly into his brain. This semester he took music, English 102 and fitness.

But the whole situation infuriates me. Why should he have to take gen ed requirements? Is it likely a music course in community college is going to round him out that necessary bit more than all the music courses he had in his previous 13 years of mandatory education? Is it likely he’s going to have to analyze a poem in order to figure out why said wind turbine is failing to turn properly? Maybe they think Don Quixote will hold the key to this mystery? Haha, just kidding. They don’t read Don Quixote at community college. What was the point of all that general education he got in high school if he can’t even get into a vocational program without MORE general education?

It’s completely useless and a waste of time. I completely agree with Caplan that we need a proper vocational training program in the US. He says not everyone can be Germany with its swell apprenticeship training program. The reality is that we don’t need to be, and even Germany’s highly praised apprenticeship program is suffering from rigid German formality. When I was there 5 years ago, I met up with a cousin of my host family and asked her what she was up to. “Oh, I’m an Azubi.” Cool, what in? “A dry cleaners,” she answered. Words failed me and so did a polite answer. “Oh, that’s interesting,” I tried to choke out. What I really wanted to say was “Is that really something that you need an entire apprenticeship to learn? Couldn’t you just learn it on the job?

The answer is no. In Germany, you can do an apprenticeship in pretty much anything. The plus side is you’ll end your secondary education with a skill so you can find a job. The downside is that is your skill. While you may switch skills, doing so shows a disturbing lack of ernsthaftigkeit [seriousness], which is decidedly unGerman. And good luck getting a job in a field where you don’t have a qualification. Foreigners (especially Americans) may be able to do that; they just aren’t serious about the things they do and every one knows it. The work these unqualified people do is probably shoddy as far as any vernünftig German is concerned.

There’s no reason we can’t have a similar system here–only better. Why not make vocational tracks that run along side the college track at school? No need to separate them out into different schools like they do in Germany –god knows that would only increase the amount of competition among parents to get their kids into The Good School (“you know, the one where the kids don’t just learn skills that result in gainful employment! I want my kids to go to college and then work in marketing!”). Instead, we can let the students themselves choose their classes. Those who feel more academically compelled (coughnerdscough) will naturally drift into the classes they belong. The ones who are mechanically inclined can find their rightful place. Teachers in the respective classes can become mentors to these students and help guide them to enroll in classes that will result them in either going to the college that’s right for them or the trade that they’re best at, along with any writing and math courses that are relevant to their fields.

The choice part is key here. In Germany, teachers and parents choose for the kid when they’re only 10 years old. My host sister’s teacher wanted to place her in the Hauptschule track, which leads to Berufschule, because her English and German skills were weak. My host parents protested and managed to get her into Gymnasium, where she did very well and later became a doctor. Take that, overly rigid system!

Kids need to be active participates in their education. It needs to be something they do and not something that is done to them. My nephew just drifted along through college. He kept playing viola because his mother insisted on it. The same with swimming, though I think he was a bit more passionate about that. As soon as he graduated, he stopped playing viola. He quit working at the Y after a while, too, and then stopped swimming. What was the point, then, of all the money and time invested into that viola playing? Did he enjoy it? I’m not sure. Did it make him a more rounded individual? Maybe? He seems to prefer metal to classical music, though, and even when he was in high school his preferred sheet music was HIM transcribed for viola. It certainly didn’t get him into college and it isn’t getting him into any sort of well-paying job.

I tried to encourage him to take his viola and a friend who also played an instrument and backpack around the safer parts of the world, playing on the street for money. He’d learn a lot, I told him. But he lacked the courage. It sounded too risky a pursuit and, after all, he had it pretty good at home.

So he’s puttering his way through community college a second time and I’m sitting here, biting my lip, hoping that he makes it through this time and learns a trade. For some reason, I’m a lot angrier than he is at the time he’s wasting. This is his springboard into his thirties. The more he does now, the more opportunities he takes, the more he’ll be able to achieve later, even if he starts from a low base.

I have my own share of regrets when it comes to the education system, though I can’t say they relate much to signaling or mal-investment. I was college material. I belonged to the groupd of nerds that rolled their eyes at pep rallies and used the time to do homework instead. I read to the end of my world history book over Thanksgiving break to find out how the world ends (with the fall of the Berlin Wall, in case any one wonders. We now live in post-world.) I worked my way to an IB Diploma and entered college as a second semester sophomore. Granted, I went to an easy college, but honestly after the stressful experience that was high school, I was burnt out and needed a break.

When my senior English teacher gave us a choice between Dante and the grocery store novel, I picked the grocery store novel. My friends who have gone on to achieve masters degrees, MDs and PhDs and beyond? They chose Dante.

“When else am I going to have the opportunity to read it?” one of them responded when I asked why.

The accurate answer to this question is, of course, whenever they want. It’s in the public domain. But the realistic answer is…some things no one reads unless they’re forced to in school.

[I have a lot more to say about the Case Against Education, especially as it relates to homeschooling, but that will be another post]

The Perfect Recipe

– 2 pounds boneless chicken tenders
– 1/4 tsp. sea salt
– 1/8 tsp. ground pepper
– 1/8 tsp. garlic powder
– 2 packages bacon (2lbs total)
– 1/3 cup honey
– 1/2 cup mustard
– 3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
– Dash cayenne (optional)

Sprinkle chicken with spices, wrap with bacon, coat with mustard mixture. Place on wire racks over cookie sheets and bake at 400F for 12-15 min. Then flip and bake for another 12-15 min.

Finding recipes that everyone at my house can eat and will eat is a never ending challenge. My husband can’t eat anything with a lot of carbs in it because of his diabetes. Gamma can’t eat anything with dairy in it because of his diabetes. Beta complains we always eat meat. By this she means our dinners consist of some sort of meat dish, like steak or roast beef or carnitas or something. It’s not accurate; sometimes we also eat stews.

For a while, stew was our go-to dish because everyone would eat it, it was low carb, no dairy, and I could easily scale it up. Then Alpha suddenly decided he didn’t like stew, so he stopped eating it. Then Beta decided to start crying every time we had any sort of meat dish. So some of us would eat soup, some of us would eat meat; rarely did we all sit down and eat the same meal.

Until these bacon wrapped chicken tenders. I first ate this at my sister’s house. I helped her with the preparation, which was a bit finicky to make as they required covering each chicken tender completely with bacon. After noting how eagerly everyone at the table ate those, I got the recipe from her and brought it home with me. It would be the perfect addition to my collection of low-carb diabetic friendly recipes. My husband loved it and, even more miraculously, so did the kids. They devoured them with gusto. To make things easier one me, I stopped wrapping every bit of the chicken tender with bacon, using only one piece of bacon per tender. I still got good coverage, though perhaps not as complete as my sister’s. They also didn’t taste as good upon reheating, which was a problem since I always quadrupled the recipe to minimize how much I cooked.

But the family ate them. The first time I made them, we sat outside in the summer, under the evening sun, the kids exclaiming how good they were, how we should eat these every night. They must have had 4 pieces each, more than they usually did.

And here, with this happy tableau, I should stop. Because if I kept going, I’d have to tell you that after a few months Alpha remembered that he doesn’t like bacon and stopped eating the bacon, peeling it off instead and giving it to his dad to finish off. Gamma, for some reason, decided to stop eating bacon as well. Then Beta suddenly realized there’s mustard in this and she doesn’t like mustard. So she started refusing to eat the chicken completely unless I made special mustardless batches for her. Which is what I did, as I was determined not to let this perfect recipe go.

My husband, meanwhile, was getting overwhelmed with bacon. “I can’t keep eating this much bacon every night!” he protested. “Can’t you make some batches without bacon for Gamma and Alpha?” I sighed, but agreed. At least it’d save bacon. I did this a few times, but getting the proportions right was tricky. I had to figure out how much of each chicken each person would eat. The properly made chicken would get consumed pretty rapidly since my husband and I both ate it. Then the baconless mustard chicken, being eaten by the boys, though that often varied depending on how hungry Gamma was feeling. Last was the mustardless bacon chicken. Get the proportions wrong and listen to whichever unfortunate child is stuck eating their personalized chicken for a week complain about it.

Finally, thought, I had enough. “You know what?” I told my husband. “I’m done making three separate versions of the same chicken recipe. If they don’t want to eat it how it’s supposed to be made, they can have stew!”

For, by this time, Alpha had decided he liked stew again. And I am through dealing with alterations to what should have been, and once was, the perfect recipe.

 

Schooling, unschooling, homeschooling

One thing that really annoys me about unschoolers is their need to take every little thing they do with their kids and turn it into Who Unschooling is Awesome. “I went to the science museum with our kids today! #unschooling”

Wow. I take my kids to the science museum, too. Does that mean I’m unschooling? Am I an unschooler now? Bob Blow takes his kids to the science museum, too. Does that make him an unschooler, too?

Then again, this is something regular, run of the mill homeschoolers do, too. “The great thing about homeschooling is that you can just go on field trips to learn about things. Like we’ve been learning about animals, so we went to the zoo! It’s so hands on! Homeschooling is awesome.”

Non-homeschooler can then reply, “Oh! I take my kids to the zoo, too! So I guess I’m homeschooling, too! Hahaa.”
And the homeschooler frowns. This was not what they meant at all. “No no no, you send your kids to school, so you’re not homeschooling when you take them to the zoo. You’re just…going to the zoo.”

It’s a matter of definitions, but also a territorial issue, too. Homeschoolers want people who send their kids to school to know how awesome they are as homeschoolers. They want them to know that yes, they, too, could homeschool. But as soon as the non-homeschooler points out that the things they do are hardly exclusive to homeschoolers, the homeschoolers immediately get defensive and try to mark out boundaries as to what makes them special. And more importantly, what makes them better.

It’s the same with unschoolers. They know that on the surface it looks like they aren’t doing a whole lot with their kids. So they end up pointing out every little thing that happens as the learning that must be going on in that moment. And, boy, does it get annoying. “Outside splashing in the puddles! Kids are learning physics! #unschooling.” Wow I wonder how long until they use that to derive the Pythagorean theorem all by themselves! My kids splash outside too! The difference is…I just call it playing. Sure, they might be learning something, too, but they’re also having fun. No need to dress it up.

I’ve started having fun with the labels. Whenever I hear someone talking about unschool this, homeschool that, or how they could never do either of the above, I like to tell them I couldn’t either.
Because I couldn’t. There’s no way I could structure my childrearing around just one of those things. We have our structured learning times (“homeschool”), sure, but I also give my kids lots of time to follow their own interests (“unschooling”). My kids also go to German school, Finnish school, PE class and art (“school”). We divide our time between all of those because all three of them have merits. Parents teach their kids, whether they want to or not. And you’d probably have to tie them up and leave them in a darkened room to prevent them from learning things on their own.

Which brings me to those “homeschoolers” in California who did just that to 12 of their 13 kids. “We need more homeschooling regulation!” people are now screaming. “Homeschooling should be illegal!” Except…well, California is actually quite strict when it comes to homeschooling. Except…they weren’t homeschooling when the abuse started. Their oldest kids went to public school in Texas and former classmates remember them being thin and smelling bad. They were dirty. And still, no one did anything. They fell through the cracks simply because there are so many cracks for children in abusive families to fall into. They’re so lucky one of them worked up the nerve to save themselves because, in the end, you’re the only who can.

But…on the other hand, there has been discussion among homeschoolers I know as to what level of regulation they would deem acceptable in order to prevent homeschoolers from falling through those cracks. In order to prevent educational neglect from occurring. The short of it was…there is none. Homeschoolers want to regulate themselves. They don’t trust the state to educate their children, why on earth would they trust the state to make sure they are actually educating their children themselves? It doesn’t help that the government spent so much time trying to keep homeschooling illegal or that they see homeschooling as competition or one way they lose money (state funds are distributed according to pupils enrolled). Nor does it help that homeschoolers watch the amount of their property taxes flowing into the public schools, which they benefit from and can’t opt out of.

But I’ve noticed whenever people are left to regulate themselves or self-police, they usually don’t. We excuse things in ourselves that we would never tolerate from others and that is a problem.

The Travails of Homeschooling

Homeschooling has been going pretty well. It’s my first year homeschooling two kids, so things have been a bit different. The biggest change has been the fact that it takes about an hour longer to get things done on a good day. On a not-so-good day, things can take several hours longer.

Alpha is doing really well. We had him tested through our school district last year to see how he was doing and how much his ADHD and Dyslexia were affecting him. The results showed that his dyslexia wasn’t affecting him at all. He was performing right at grade level in every subject except for writing. While he still had some issues with reversals and forming letters backwards, he did well even with decoding nonsense words. It’s a sure sign that switching up our phonics program in first grade worked.
His ADHD, on the other hand, was still hindering him. He tested as very distracted and would definitely need some interventions to help him manage his ADHD if he were in a classroom setting.

We gave him the option of going to school, but since he was exactly where he needed to be, we didn’t see the point in forcing the issue. He remains happily homeschooled and has insisted that he never wants to go to school. I told him that eventually he is going to have to go to school. He can’t stay home forever.

His favorite subject is history and this year we’re covering the modern times era, using history odyssey from pandia press. I love pandia press’ materials so much, I wonder why anyone would use anything else. Then I remember not everyone likes a very structured and detailed program that requires a lot of work. Not even me, at times.

Beta is a more reluctant homeschooler. She’s very social, but decided after being in school last year, she wanted to stay home this year. So we let her. But she quickly started complaining about how she wished she were in school. When she would get frustrated about her work, she would start complaining that she wished she were dead, she hated her life. All very dramatic.

I panicked and found myself wondering if she was suffering severe psychological damage from homeschooling or something. I was used to my son getting frustrated and yelling or throwing his work, but not this. So I had her tour a local montessori school to see if she wanted to go there. I was so sure she would that I had the paperwork printed and filled out before she toured it.

Afterwards, she said, “It wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.” That was the most positive thing she had to say. Aside from that, she said she didn’t want to have be there five days a week and the days were too long. She would miss the homeschooling groups we go to and the art class.

I was surprised, but I slowly realized that her dramatic statements of self-hate was just her venting her frustrations, similar to how Alpha’s yelling and throwing his books were his. It’s not that she hates homeschooling or that I’m damaging her. It’s that she hates it when she doesn’t get things immediately. Since then, I’ve changed my tactics with her. When she declares herself stupid, I ask her why she thinks she’s stupid. I force her to question her statements until she reaches the conclusion that she doesn’t reaaaaaly mean them. She’s just frustrated.

So that’s getting easier.

Harder is the fact that she’s learning physics and modern times history in fourth grade when these subjects are basically too advanced for her. But I didn’t want to start off teaching two kids at two differen’t subjects and levels in history and science, which would make my day very complicated. So Beta is basically auditing Physics and Modern Times history. When she complains about it being too hard, I just remind her that this material is meant for an older child and next year, she’ll do Ancients 1 and Life (Biology 1) and things will be much easier for her.

Because I don’t have enough to do, I’ve decided to try and organize a science and history co-op so I can have other homeschoolers to hang out with and help teach these subjects to our mutual kids. In other words, friends. Unfortunately, I’m realizing this means I’m going to most of the work while the other people just show up. But that’s pretty much how all these things go. I’m trying to finagle it so that I’m only teaching one of the subjects and other parents do the other three. So I would teach, say, Biology 2 and then three other women would do Ancients I, Ancients II and Life. Or we would alternate which subjects we teach so everyone teaches or doesn’t teach based on how things work. I don’t know. It’s a work in progress.

But so far I’m the only doing anything, so I don’t know. And I want to make sure things are taught well, so there’s a distinct possibility i will be too much of a control freak to be able to hand over any of the control to anybody else and have a successful co-op.

We’ll see. We’re halfway through this year and we’re doing well and that makes me happy.

A day of rest

Every time the kids have Finnish school, I make plans for what I’m going to do with my day off. These include some firm things I really must do (make food for the week ahead, clean out the chicken coop, go through the baby clothes) and things I would really like to do (take a bath! Exercise! Calisthenics! Thorough stretching! Foam rolling! Watch a movie! Write! Read a book!), but I rarely manage to adequately gauge the time available to the amount of things I aim to get done.

Today I:

  • Made 11 quarts of sausage stew
  • sanded the cubby holes in the boys’ room, which have been unsanded and unpainted since we installed them 6 years ago. So it’s probably time to finish that so we can cross it off our damn list.
  • Cleaned up the sanding mess.
  • cleaned out the chicken coop. It really needed it because I’ve been avoiding it like the plague during the horribly cold weather we’ve had since Christmas. My presence also forced the chickens out into the snow and I’m hoping their discovery of bare ground will encourage them to leave it more often. They’ve been staying in the coop since the first snow, the big wimps.
  • brought in Christmas lights that the snow finally melted enough to uncover. It’s a limited time opportunity since more snow is on the forecast.
  • Put away diapers.
  • Had lunch
  • Pumped. Omega went to Finnish school for the first time today, so this was necessary.
  • Watched more Anthony Bourdain on Netflix. I loved No Reservations. Parts Unknown is a bit different in tone. Less adventurous, less behind the scenes in front of the camera. More polished. I’m buying No Reservations so I can get more of that and forget that Tony has actually aged because it’s kind of bumming me out.
  • Showered. Sanding is an awful, awful activity and I was covered from head to toe.
  • Brought in the mail.

Then the rest of the family came home and I nursed Omega, who had drunken about half the bottle I sent with her. She was thrilled to see me, thrilled to be back home among her usual toys. With the kids home, I:

  • Started the laundry
  • Sorted through Omega’s clothes, getting rid of all the clothes under 6 months since they no longer fit.
  • Sat down on the couch and read. I’ve been on a reading kick this year and right now I’m reading Postcards from the Edge by Carrie Fisher. She has a very distinct style.
  • Cleaned up the mess in the kitchen.
  • Front plank and side planks. Got to strengthen the core for my back pain.
  • Ate dinner.
  • Dealt with the kids
  • Made 5 lbs of taco meat for the week

The end. Now I’m chilling and I’m tired. I should probably have one Finnish school day were I don’t really do anything, but I enjoy getting things done too much. I like progress. I like crossing things off my list and there is almost an endless number of things on it that I could cross off if only I get around to doing them.

Comparative Insecurities

A few years ago, I flew cross-country to attend the wedding of one of my close friends from high school. At the reception, an older woman approached me and two other high school friends. “So, you guys went to school with Samantha?” We answered yes. “And you’re still friends?” We answered affirmatively again. “Wow that’s so neat! So what are you guys up to these days?”
The first friend answered. “I’m in the final year of my surgical residency.” Positive comments followed.
The second friend answered. “I have two years left on my MD/Ph.D.” Very, very impressive.
Then it was my turn. The set up could not have been better, I thought with internal mirth before replying cheerfully, “I stay at home with my two kids.” A moment of awkwardness followed before the woman embraced me with a warm hug and congratulated me on my choice and told me how wonderful it was. Not being a huge hugger, I accepted her hug as best I could. The four of us chatted a bit longer: her son had recently graduated from our old high school, was attending college in Washington, D.C., they lived on the same cul de sac as Samantha. Upon parting, she gave me another hug and told me, “I feel like we’ve formed a real connection!” My friends slightly avoided my gaze.

The whole situation made me feel unexpectedly awkward. I felt like I was being pitied and for the first time since becoming a stay-at-home mom, the thought occurred to me that my position in life might be something worth pitying.

Truth to be told, my group of friends from high school was a very high achieving one. I’m the only one among us who doesn’t have a master’s degree. Among our ranks, there are 3 medical doctors (and is the aforementioned MD/PhD), one PhD in Biology who is now a professor at a college, a masters in geophysics working for a large oil company, a social worker, and a CPA with a master’s degree and probably some other degrees as well. She likes to collect them. I’m proud to know them and I love to tell people what all my high school friends are up to and I know that they’re always down for interesting conversations.
Not only am I the only one without a master’s degree, but I’m also the only one who has more than one kid. I have exactly one friend with one kid…and then I have four. I’m the outlier in that respect. I’m also the only one who graduated with her Mrs. degree, which I didn’t even know was a thing until I heard the term in a movie. I got married when I was 22 and my husband was 24. If we hadn’t needed a visa in order to live in the same country, maybe we wouldn’t have gotten married so young, but we we were sure enough of our relationship for it to seem like a good bet. I had my first kid at 24 when most of my friends were still working on their master’s degree, and I’ve been a stay at home mom ever since. T

One day when I was puttering around doing my normal stay-at-home-mom-with-four-kids-who-homeschools routine, I found myself wondering what one of my former middle school friends, Jessica, was doing. We had been pretty good friends through freshman year, but we grew apart in sophomore year and didn’t really talk much the rest of high school. I remember when I went over to her house once freshman year and we spent time leafing through various girly magazines like Seventeen. It was boring. I remember looking up at her and being surprised at seeing her completely engrossed in her magazine. How could she find it so interesting? I can even remember one of the articles/ads I saw in it: a shampoo for people who’s hair was always at its best two days after washing that you could use every day to get that every other day effect. But…why?

At any rate, I decided to look her up and see what she was up to these days. Thanks to Facebook, I quickly found her. She’s married. Cool. She has two kids. Neat. Still living in the Bible Belt. Better her than me. She’s a stay at home mom, too. She has a blog. I clicked on the link immediately and started reading.
Her blog had unfortunately been defunct for about a year, but it was pretty successful when it was going on. She had nearly 800 followers. But as I read it I became more disappointed. It was a mommy blog.

Pot calling the kettle black? I know. But it wasn’t my type of mommy blog. It was that type of mommy blog where many of the posts are pinterest-esque craft ideas or start out with “I was given this product to try out for free, but received nothing else and was not required to write a positive review.” Where they have guest bloggers from other related blogs who offer their advice. One such post featured her friend with four kids (Hey! Me too!) and how she manages to keep control of the dishes. Disappointingly, her post did not consist of:

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How I manage my dishes

Instead, she discussed how with four kids, she served a lot of dishes from one big platter and did this and that. Oh. Okay. I just shove mine in the dishwasher and start it. Beta cleans out the dishes and Gamma cleans out the silverwear. I load.

There were a few posts about her daily life, but most of it was of the style that was meant to increase readership and, presumably money. It was so boring. And I was disappointed. No interesting discussions, thoughts or observations. Just “make these paper bags into cute reindeer for a teacher’s gift!” Seriously, just give the teacher a $50 gift card to Amazon. He or she will appreciate that more.

But that’s probably her idea of boring. I guess I don’t have to wonder why we grew apart in high school, and I realized that she wasn’t just reading those teen magazines because she felt that’s what she was expected to be interested in. She really thought they were interesting.
Out of curiosity, I poked around a bit more on her Facebook and found a whole bunch of other people we went to high school with. And to a large extent, they were all living lives similar to mine: stay at home moms (one former cheerleader listed her job as “CEO at home. That’s right! I’m a stay-at-home mom.” My husband: “why do American women always list staying at home with the kids as their jobs? In Finland if they stay home with the kids, they just put, ‘unemployed. Taking care of kids.'”). Or they had jobs, but they were normal jobs. As far as I know, not a single person I went to high school with is a hollywood A-lister, or member of a famous rock band. One is doing post-doctoral studies at Stanford, which is pretty cool. Another helped discover some new type of LED or something. But even in our high achieving set of students, we’re all relatively normal 15 years on.

I told my husband about my realizations and he thought for a moment. “I don’t think your life is lame. You homeschool. You work from home. You travel. You garden. You do a whole lot!” I guess it’s true. But it’s not a high status life, and maybe that’s what I was sensing at that wedding. While I had the family, my friends had the status. They were the ones our former teachers would be proud to have taught, as though they were personally responsible for their achievements.
I could lie to myself and say I could have been a doctor, but the reality is I could not have. Not only do I lack to the aptitude, I lack the desire. I’ve never been passionate about having a career or trying to amass any sort of status. But I have been passionate about kids ever since my first nephew was born when I was 11. I’ve always enjoyed working with them. And I’ve been passionate about languages since I was at least 7 and have spent time trying to learn at least a dozen and even made up my own (I didn’t get very far designing its grammar though. The verbs were very regular). And now I’ve living my normal, everyday life combining both of these.
I’m still extremely proud of my high school friends. I’m really proud of how smart and hardworking they are and just like our teachers must, I like to tell people about what they’ve accomplished. But I’m also proud of my life. I’m proud of the way I’m raising my kids and how much they’re learning.

All in all, I have a pretty good life.

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Google search result for “Stay-at-home-mom.” How the hell is her kitchen floor so clean? The look on her face is on point, though.