Postcrossing

I recently started sending international postcards to random people through a website called postcrossing.com. It’s a way for people to connect with others in a more personal way through postcards. Some people enjoy getting homemade cards or enjoy cards with stamps on it so here are cards I made for them.

This is a self portrait I did with the California golden hills in the background.

Letting go of fear

This pandemic has taken a toll on me. I have a constant ache in my chest that consists of lots of fear and worry and a longing to connect. I find myself lonely a lot, despite being surrounded by a million people in the California Bay Area and living in close contact with my immediate family with friends and family near and far.

Overall, my main interaction with people onside my home has been limited since this pandemic began with outings (often solo) consisting mainly of walks around my neighborhood, errands, various small outings and occasional trips over to the Santa Cruz beaches or to hike in the Redwoods. It’s opened up for us more since my son was able to get vaccinated in late November and even more this month since my son’s Little League team started practicing. Many Bay Area people have been out and about for awhile now but since I tend to be more risk adverse than most my circle that I involve myself with is pretty small.

Three times now in the last two years my family of three ventured out of the state: once in our cross country trip in our van, once driving to Oregon and more recently flying to Florida. Upon exiting California it became very clear that much of the country is not carrying on as many people are here in the Bay Area. On our trip to Florida last month to visit my family it was hard to even know that Omicron was surging and as far as I could tell the deaths rates and case rate of Covid in Florida and California were not far different from each other. All the confusion of what to do about masking or not masking and distancing or not distancing is just so very confusing.

My husband and I had a long discussion (OK rather a fight turned into a discussion) a couple of nights ago over an upcoming trip he is planning with his group of friends to Las Vegas. I’m having trouble with it and in a not so loving way let him hear it. He in turn accused me of keeping him from his friends which was not at all my intention. After much back and forth we were able to see each other for what was really going on which is that we are both in different comfort zones with all of this and he is ready to begin living again and proceeding as usual and I’m…well…not quite there yet.

To try to alleviate the fear and loneliness I’ve been doing my best to meditate daily since the start of the year which has me regularly observing my feelings. They are so BIG and painful and sit in my chest surrounding my heart. It’s hard to not want to wish the feelings away like I want to do but I know I need to accept them for what they are and observe them. It aches so badly! I somewhat jokingly asked one of my friends the other day if anyone ever DIED from meditation?

I realize in the end how I choose to react to anything going on in life is my choice and my choice only. So I’ve made a conscience decision to really work on letting go of my fear. It is not an easy thing for me to do as I’ve always been a cautious person by nature. I’ve had trouble having faith, unlike another friend of mine, my so called “atheist” friend who somehow has a ton of it. I wish I too were that way. I am doing what I can to actively try to change.

The other day I took a hike with a friend into the green hills of California. We both basically willed each other to go out exploring beyond the safety of our small worlds. After catching up a bit in the beginning of our hike we decided to try an experiment with a silent hike together for the remainder of our hike. We’d be walking alone but together silently, and so began our mini retreat.

The thing both of us noticed right away in our silence was that we were noticing our surroundings whereas moments before we were caught up in our chatter and blind to our world. It was interesting and at times uncomfortable walking with her for so long in silence. We noticed our heart rates and footsteps (she walks faster than me going downhill, I walk faster than her going uphill); we observed the sounds in nature and saw animals at a farm; we waited patiently while a wild turkey we saw crossed onto our trail moved out of the way; we hiked while breathing in fresh air. It was a nice calm transition from feeling so alone to spending quality time with a friend who knows and supports me yet isn’t afraid to be with me without talking. Silent together.

When our hike had us pass through a working farm we saw many animals and I realized, like my friend and I, the animals were also together but silent. They were near each other but not communicating. In fact the only sounds I heard at all from all of them was noise over chickens fighting for food. They say that what separates us from some animals is that we are social creatures who need each other socially. But being social isn’t only talking with each other. Perhaps talking with each other is not even the most important part of socialization but rather having another person who cares in close proximity. I believe that’s what I’ve been lacking most over these last two years – the closeness of people. Being near my friend without talking was just as healing (if not more so) than chatting with her because I could still be near her, feel her support, and notice what was going on around me.

Getting out on hikes like this with a friend is definitely a step toward helping me move forward past my loneliness and fear. It was peaceful and beautiful, just what I needed. The heaviness that is sitting on my chest feels a little less achy today, less lonely and less raw.

Our journey to homeschool

We decided to homeschool our 5th grade son partially because of the pandemic but primarily after trying other options over the years and exploring both public and private alternatives around us we realized that a hybrid homeschool program is the best schooling option for him. After looking into several schools my husband and I felt that only one school in our area of San Jose, CA was a reasonable fit for our son. Let me repeat that: only one school near us was fit for our son. It is a public charter school that you get in by lottery. The school has a hybrid homeschool program where kids are in school just 2 days a week with a teacher and homeschooling 3 days.

You might ask, “What is wrong with your son that other schools weren’t a fit for him?” but that’s the wrong question to be asking. The question we all need to start asking is, “What is wrong with our schools that a boy like my son doesn’t belong in most of them?”

Let me tell you about my boy. He like many kids today that I’ve seen at our public schools has ADHD and struggles with anxiety. He does best in a class that is well controlled and structured. In school he doesn’t thrive in the core subjects (math & writing) but he manages slightly below grade level and does well with one-on-one tutoring or small groups of kids with similar needs. He is a really great reader, better than most with outstanding reading comprehension. In his writing he has a lot to say on certain subjects and his stories are incredibly creative, however his organizational skills are sometimes lacking and he might possibly be dyslexic, but our school district doesn’t test for dyslexia so I’m not certain. He knows an amazing amount of history, particularly WWII history (all self taught.) He enjoys learning about other countries, and doing hands on science experiments. He has a HUGE imagination and learns best through role play and creative play. At home he often draws and he makes stop animations of actual WWII battles using his Lego mini figures and doing his own voice overs. He learned to do all of this primarily on his own. He is driven to learn about things that he is interested about, yet most schools around us don’t support him.

Why is that? As an active parent volunteer in the public school system I have witnessed some things over the past six years and I have some theories on this.

Public schools in San Jose, CA cater to kids who are average in math, reading and writing, the subjects that they push really hard at school due to Common Core testing. Creative kids and active ADHD kids aren’t average since they often fall behind in these subjects. Kids who excel in those subjects aren’t average either and often end up bored in public school; they might thrive in a private school where academic standards in these subject are often higher but private schools like that would be a nightmare for our son. Class sizes in the public elementary classrooms are too big for any one teacher at 25 kids or higher. The schools that allow parent volunteers to come into the classrooms to help manage kids do better, however many schools don’t have enough parent involvement. Common Core State Standards were implemented to strive to get all kids to the same academic level at the same time but this goal is unrealistic. Richer districts with more parent participation have a greater chance at success since teachers are getting help in the classroom but regardless of how much parents do or don’t do, all kids (rich or poor) learn differently and develop at different rates and no amount of parent participation addresses that.

Last year during the Covid school shutdown I got an even clearer view of what was expected of kids inside the classroom. Because my son was having such a hard time I sat with him and helped him while he was online from 9:05-3:15 which was the required time on Zoom calls these kids were asked to endure. His anxiety was triggered daily due to the teacher giving lessons that were far too long for kids with ADHD to follow and assigning work that with unrealistic expectations. So great was the focus on math and writing there was little time left over for science, social studies or the arts. The teacher seemed to have little choice in this as she was constantly having to prep the kids for the next math and writing assessments. My son’s IEP small groups were not very helpful either as the kids in those groups had a widely diverse set of needs and many times the needs being catered to them were not what my son needed. The only benefits in those IEP small groups were that occasionally he got individualized help from his teacher and he got regular interaction with his peers. Had I not seen first hand what was going on last year I wouldn’t have known what a poor fit this school environment was for my son and I wouldn’t have switched to a homeschool program.

His new hybrid homeschool is a much better fit for him for many reasons. The class size is smaller with only 19 kids. The work he gets now in school is at an appropriate level for him so he isn’t overwhelmed by it and learning is led by the students’ interests. Kids don’t have to participate in regular math and writing assessments, therefore, being slightly below grade level in some areas is acceptable so long as he is continually learning and moving forward in those areas. Writing work is geared toward his interests not topics strictly assigned by the teacher. There is a lot of play based learning and little to no worksheets given for kids to do as they do mostly hands on exercises.  He is given time in school to interact with classmates and have a snack. There is no homework given which leaves time for more play outside of school. Quiet reading time is given in the classroom after recess to ease in transitioning back to learning time. At home my lessons with him are catered to his needs and are way more effective than his group IEP ever was. The focus is more evenly distributed between math, reading/writing, science, art, social studies and P.E. Due to all of these things I am not seeing the anxiety at school that I saw last year, or in previous years for that matter, nor am I’m getting push back from him in the writing or math assignments that I am giving him at home since they are now at an appropriate level for him. It’s a complete turn around from last year. My son loves school now and he’s learning a lot!

We know that we are lucky for so many reasons, the primary one being that we can afford for me to not work and that I have the ability to teach my son and give him this kind of education. We are also fortunate that we got a good number in this school’s lottery! It would be nice if everybody who wanted to homeschool their child could do it. But my wish is this: I wish that all schools got rid of Common Core Standards and more schools offered 5 day a week in school programs using the model that my son’s current school does. I would love to send my kid to in person school 5 days a week but the types of schools like the one I’m looking for are rare or nonexistent in most areas.

Our plan is to continue to either homeschool our son at the school he’s at or find some other non-traditional teaching solutions for his middle and high school years for as long as we are able to. If anyone knows of a middle or high school in their city or town similar to the ideal one that I was describing please let me know about it as we would consider relocating!

Letting go of expectations

Yesterday I turned 51. This was the second birthday I celebrated since Covid began in the U.S. I feel as though I’ve been through several marathons and aged about 20 years since last year. A year ago on my birthday I wanted to surround myself virtually with family and friends via multiple Zoom video calls. This year was different. After a very tough year of dealing with Covid and everything else surrounding it my husband and I also dealt with (and are still dealing with) behavioral issues from my 9-year-old son which resulted in countless multi-hour, meltdowns throughout the year. I had no energy or patience left for Zoom. Instead I chose to spend my day solely with my husband and son and opted to go out for a hike in nature instead – something that I love to do.

I had a great birthday morning at home. My husband and son made me feel special by decorating the house for me and had gifts for me to open. They treated me well. I also enjoyed getting various phone calls and messages from friends and family throughout the day. Yet, the afternoon of my birthday did not go as I’d hoped it would as my son had a big meltdown which disrupted our afternoon and my vision of a perfect birthday. These expectations of how I feel things ‘should’ go are a problem as things rarely ever go as planned for anyone – especially for those living with a willful, defiant child. There is a simple equation for this: Expectations = Disappointment = Unhappiness.

During this past year this simple equation has become more and more in my face as I’ve told myself countless times that I would benefit greatly by letting go of my expectations. But my brain can not help but remain hopeful. I somehow think that if I just try hard enough I’ll be able to figure things out and control the outcome. Whether it be the problem of my son’s behavior or anything else. I’ll try to fix it, to make everything alright, but I am slowly learning that that this kind of thinking is not at all realistic and perhaps the most important thing for me to do right now is to let go of any expectations of how the outcome of something is going to turn out and to be OK with whatever it is now and whatever it becomes in the future. When I am able to successfully do this, I notice that I free myself from possible disappointment and in the end I am happier.

Yesterday, on my birthday, I WAS able to let go of my expectations. Instead of getting upset as I often do when my child blows up (in this case right when we were getting into the car to leave the house for our hike), instead of reacting as I might have done in the past, I stepped away and let my husband handle the meltdown and I took my cellphone to our backyard. I laid down on the grass and looked up toward the big walnut tree in our backyard and basked in the sunshine and talked on the phone with my sister. Sure there was some yelling and screaming happening in the background of our phone call at times. Sure I was annoyed that we weren’t leaving for the hike when we planned to leave for it and we actually left much later than I would have liked. However there was nothing to really do about any of it and in that moment in the grass talking with my sister I was as present and as real as I could get. I simply let it all go – and was fine with it – even slightly blissful if I dare say.

No Expectations = Fulfillment = Joy

If 2020 was a year of survival and of hanging on to unrealistic expectations that couldn’t possibly come to fruition; perhaps 2021 can be a more realistic and accepting year. May this be a year of letting go of dreams that didn’t happen just as we wanted them to. Let this be a year of whatever we end up with in the end is still alright and that we can grieve our losses but still be grateful for what we’ve got now. It might not be a year that we envisioned or as pretty looking on the outside as we’d want it to be, but it will be one that is a lot more freeing, realistic and real.

California condor

When we were on the rim of the Grand Canyon a couple of years ago we saw this most amazing California condor giving a show to a massive crowd slightly above it. It stood on that rock fanning it’s wings the entire time we stood there. I swear it loved having an audience. I took this picture and wanted to do an art piece of it. I finally got around to it this year.