The Dreaded Words and the Public Bathroom

There we were in this beautiful place.

Beautiful Beach Before the boy spoke the dreaded words, we were examining the latest development the ocean had churned up for us. It is something so intricate it looks manmade, and therefore has a manmade name: The blue button jellyfish. I’d never seen one before, and from a distance thought it was a piece of trash.

JellyfishAnyway, we were wondering around the beach when the boy spoke the dreaded words:

“I have to go poop.”

Urinating at the beach is so wonderfully convenient. The ocean doesn’t mind. She is too busy churning up red-flag warning waves and currents to worry about a little urine insult. Poop, on the other hand, is very inconvenient.

We made our way to the public restrooms, which felt something like walking across the desert with the mid-day sun beaming down on that long stretch of sand between ocean and civilization. And all the longer dragging along a tot that got distracted every ten feet. Onto the weather beaten deck, to the faux cocina walls of the men’s room.

“You go on in, I’ll wait here,” I said, “I didn’t bring my shoes.” The boy hesitantly moved forward, into the wide open door, and located a stall within sight. The tot scampered about the deck, dancing to her own music.

“Do I need to flush?” The boy called out, as a preliminary.

“Yes.”

“Lift me! Lift me!” The tot squealed with joy as she spotted a water fountain. I propped her up on my thigh as she proceeded to dribble water all down her chest, down the side of the machine, down her arm, down everywhere but its intended destination.

Indistinct words from the boy floated over to me.

“What?”

Repeat times five; finally a translation was made: “What if I can’t get all the poop off my butt?”

“Just do your best,” I said in a hurried fashion, craning my neck around to see that he was still standing behind the stall door, making no progress. I looked around me—the coast was still clear. Apparently no other men in the vicinity needed to relieve themselves.

“Why did that light flicker?” The boy shouted.

“Poop, child, just poop.”

Having managed to drink about a teaspoon full of water, and soaking herself with about a gallon, the tot was satisfied to continue her dance about the deck. She kindly offered to assist me by holding our beach hats, and promptly arranged them in a row on the deck. “Which one do you want, mama? Big, big, or big?” She looked up at me with that patronizing smile. It wasn’t really a question, it was a toddler demand. It meant: You will take a hat.

Hats“I want mine,” I said, wondering how many poop particles and urine splashes my hat was collecting there on the floor of the bathroom entrance.

Her eyebrows furrowed. “Big, big, or big?”

“Big.”

She handed me a hat with great satisfaction; one that wasn’t mine. You have to pick your battles, I thought. Dealing with the pooping boy was enough for the time being.

“It’s diarrhea poop!” The boy shouted toward me, not going to make the mistake of needing to repeat his statement five times again.

I looked back toward the stall, and could see that the boy had taken off his shoes and pants, piled them haphazardly all over the floor, and had either disappeared within the stall, or was squatting over the toilet. I imagined the later, with hands touching all kinds of disgusting surfaces. Oh, the germs. The shoes and trunks were now vectors of multiple intestinal viruses. I shook my head. Five minutes passed.

Beautiful Beach “How’s it going?” I called out, glad to see signs of legs again…standing barefoot on the floor. How do germophobes survive parenthood?

“I got poop on my leg!” It was really not an exclamation of distress, it was just a loud announcement.

“Just wipe it off.”

“It dried!”

How long have you had poop on your leg for?! “Just wipe it and hurry up!” I said instead.

“There’s poop on my trunks!”

Lord help us. “Just do the best you can.”

There was a shuffling sound for about two more minutes, and then the glorious sound of the stall opening. The boy started walking toward me.

“Wash your hands!” I held up my own as the international body language for ‘stop’, or more accurately, like I thought the poop germs were coming like a swarm of bees toward me. The boy headed for the sink.

“I can’t reach the soap!”

“Climb up there!” I have seen the child scale any manner of complicated playground equipment, and yet he is helpless at a public bathroom sink.

“I can’t!”

I looked at the ground, and my cleanly feet. To have feet carrying poop germs and possibly athlete’s foot, or little boy hands covered in germs that will then go into his mouth infecting himself, and eventually the whole family…

“Alright, I’m coming,” I gingerly tiptoed across the disgusting, wet, grainy, diseased floor.

But, all that drama aside, we did find this little collection of sea glass odds and ends, and likely enhanced our microbiomes. Overall, a successful trip.

Sea Glass

Homeschooling in the Woods

I parked the van next to a medicine man. I didn’t immediately see him, I just saw the large amount of stuff hanging out of his aging Ford Explorer. Turning off the engine of the homeschooling version of a school bus, I let the eighty-five degree heat of the afternoon smack into me. I looked around my surroundings. There was woods, woods, a distant mobile home, woods, and a large tractor mowing the grass in the ditches in the distance. Ten minutes out of town was essentially the middle of nowhere. Then I noticed the medicine man. I’ll admit, the title of Medicine Man may have been a leap of faith.

Homeschooling in the woodsHe was sitting in the back of his SUV, with the back window popped open. I could only make out his silhouette through the tint, but it was evident he was sitting perfectly still, staring out at the woods. A carved staff was in his hand, held out horizontally.

I went ahead and got the kids out of the van, starting to have second thoughts about the whole excursion. We walked around to the head of the trail, standing behind the large wooden sign that displayed the trail map a short distance from the SUV. I was busy thinking to myself: Where in the hell is the rest of the group? They need to get here before Medicine Man wakes up from his trance. 

The Schooling Begins

As luck would have it, they did. A group of friendly strangers unloaded from many vehicles approximately five minutes later. Children frolicked over to the head of the trail to join us. The group of fellow homeschoolers commenced their walk into the woods to achieve a particular goal for the week: Locate and learn about seeds.

Homeschooling in the woodsWhere Medicine Man left vibes of questionable intentions hanging in the air, these ladies all exuded kindness. I felt safe in my pack. Making it only a short distance into the woods, multiple cans of bug spray were whipped out. Clouds of bug poison wafted toward us, and my kids coughed, scampering to escape it. Someone was already complaining about the yellow flies.

City kids, I thought as the kids and I walked onward happily, swatting a yellow fly here or there. There is that saying, “We should be rigorous in judging ourselves, and gracious in judging others,” or “Judge not and you will not be judged.” But who takes advice from solid, time-tested sources, right?

It wasn’t long before it was decided that the walk was concluding due to bugs. It was to be relocated to a place about a ten minute drive back into town, to a little state park with well-maintained property. We didn’t mind too much—there might not be a medicine man there.

Homeschooling in the woodsThe kids spent a bit of time trotting about the mowed property, locating seeds that can be scattered by wind, animal poop, pod explosions, etc. It was a lovely afternoon near a nice heavy smell of salt water and steeped in late afternoon sun. It was then that I noticed some creepy-crawlies meandering across my hands and arms. Just a few stray seed ticks. I flicked them off, thinking how we would do a careful inspection at bath time.

The Great Tick Examination

A careful inspection indeed. It took an hour just to cleanse the tot. The wise thing would have been to immediately soap ourselves down all over once getting home. Unfortunately, wisdom often seems to be acquired by experience. Sometimes, itchy experience. The poor tot evidently got into a tick nest, and after bath time the six-legged arachnids had already attached themselves. All seventy-one of them.

Homeschooling in the woods
What is this crappy picture, you ask? It is the beasts in a bowl of alcohol.

The number of times I have said “hold still” in my lifetime was duplicated in that one hour span. The boy was the flashlight holder, shining down the best light for finding the pin-head sized little beasts. Asking the boy, being five, to hold the flashlight was kind of like asking a puppy to hold it. Every five seconds it was swiveling in another direction. Somehow, we got them off. The boy managed to only harbor one. I was a bit more popular, collecting approximately twenty.

Those city kids had the right idea. Thank goodness we didn’t go any further, I might have been picking ticks off all night. And who knows, maybe Medicine Man was the modern day Buddha, and I’ve missed out on obtaining enlightenment because I was too scared to approach his SUV/house. Who knows? I’m just fine keeping it that way.

And now I will be spending the rest of my evening itching and scratching.

Planning: A Homeschooling Endorphin Release

“Wh-wh-wh wh-wh-wh wh-when does…” My sweet five year old sometimes stutters when he is trying to explain something he has built up in his head. I failed to hear the second part of the sentence, because while I sat staring patiently at him I was also scratching records in time with his stutter in my imaginary DJ booth.

“Sorry, I don’t understand the question.”

“Wh-wh-when does the street sweeper dump the stuff it picks up?”

“Street sweepers pick up things?” I sat for a few seconds thinking about some of the disgusting things that a street sweeper could pick up. Once I finished staring off into space I said, “I have no idea.”

The boy immediately began whistling a tune, as this was a run-of-the-mill answer he could expect. Silly mama, doesn’t know something again. And here we are, a homeschooling family. I don’t know lots of things. But, I have the internet, and lots of texts.

Homeschooling has been a heavy topic on my mind lately. Earlier in the month I finally got around to facing my fears, and filing our Notice of Intent to Homeschool. For years I’ve been building it up in my head. We are safe until we file. Then there would be no hiding it from the greater powers—we could be put on that list of alternative-lifestyle families that are considered troublemakers. I was pleasantly surprised, when I finally faced my fears.

I anticipated finding the state’s websites on homeschooling to be evasive. I thought they would provide a bare minimum of information with lots of caveats. In actuality they were very clear-cut, and not bullying. I had a specific question for my local county office, and I received a prompt answer from the director, who was almost…friendly. It was an enormous relief. I don’t mean to suggest I have my guard down. I still think there is a chance the school board is out to get me. Government officials that seem to do their job efficiently and are pleasant—very suspicious.

Planning Homeschooling

Public school starts here in early August. We will be considering that our official date as well, although we’ve been doing “school” for a while now. That means I have about a week to put together exactly what our plans are for the upcoming year. This is an exciting time. I have bookcases full of materials that I have been collecting from yard sales and thrifts stores for years and finally—FINALLY—I get to start using them! My moment of glory as a profoundly cheap homeschooling mother has come. I love to run my hands across the spines of those books, like I am absorbing their knowledge through my skin. I can’t wait for my son to start absorbing it too.

I’ve got my big calendar out. I’ve got illegible scribbles on a piece of notebook paper, breaking down which lessons will take x number of weeks. And a glass of water, because I am not an exciting person. Stacks of books are around me. Two digit subtraction. Endorphin release. Art projects. I’ve got chills.

I’ve got to go.  I’m a little drunk on education.

The Voice of a Scout Leader

I have finally found a proper use for my God-given talent. That’s all we want, isn’t it? The artist in all of us wants our talents to shine. My talent has been underappreciated or misunderstood for years. What is my talent, you ask? I am loud.

Loud Dinosaur
A fellow loud creature.

Mind you I can be very soft spoken should the mood inspire it, but I prefer to exercise my full volume. For what I lack in physical size, I make up for in noise. Should I ever be attacked, I could probably reserve the finger-breaks and throat-bites for last resort self-defense, and instead deafen my attacker with one well projected scream.

Putting a Voice to Use

Today at my first official scouting meeting as leader, I discovered my voice’s purpose. Do you know how hard it is to wrangle seven kids under the age of seven? And just imagine all of those kids very excited to see each other. It is challenging—for someone less loud than me.

We got to test run our opening ceremony today. I wrangled the children into a circle, all silent eyes on me, as I passed around some rocks painted with the elements. “Air is for new knowledge,” I began with the yellow stone with the air symbol drawn on, and the kids artfully worked together to pass it around. The rock passing went so smoothly I’m suspicious that this little ritual will collapse into chaos at the next meeting. Once we passed around fire, water, earth, and spirit, I handed out one fat round stone that represented our group. All the kids had to say their “vow” as it was passed, and of course none of the kids had memorized it yet. I’m proud to say I memorized the vow in one sitting, despite my thirty-two year old brain.

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A golden raindrop, before all the excited energy turned her to hail.

“I make this vow,
To remind me now,
To be kind and good,
Like a Raindrop should.”

Don’t hate our scouting group because the little scouts are called Raindrops.  I didn’t make it up. These kids are far from gentle, silent rain. We should call them hail—loud, tough, but still beautiful, hail. But guess what is louder than hail? The scout leader that ushered them all into the dining room to begin work on our cooking badge.

Loud Activities 

As per the outline of the badge, these kids had to learn about kitchen safety. My co-leader led them in to stand near the stove, while I self-consciously looked around at my “lived-in” kitchen. He began the discussion on safety, taking in the input from the kids. The most noteworthy idea brought up by a child was the topic of houseflies. “They poop on your food,” the boy said. I don’t think that is quite what happens, but I didn’t want to dissuade the boy from his disgust. Who knows, maybe he finds fly poop more disgusting than fly eggs, or the bacteria of roadkill transferred from fly foot to human food. Once they were done, I clapped my hands, and as the designated Loud Scout Leader, I brought the children to my part of the activities.

I had set up little cups with mystery foods inside. The first set was composed of the tastes sweet, salty, sour and bitter; the second set was the textures hard, soft, chewy, and slimy. I had the children close their eyes while their parents fed them the mystery foods, and the children guessed what the taste or texture each food had. I might have a mean streak, because I could have probably found some sort of candy to cover “sour”, but I decided to use lemon juice. I did warn them to take a small sip, and then in good humor took in all the puckered, sour expressions on the kids’ faces. They were unsuspecting after having been fed sweet chocolate and salty pretzels, but they plowed onto the next one—such good sports.

Grasshopper
The invertebrate scout, participating through the window.

Then it was time for the closing ritual, and everything fell into chaos. No amount of loudness was going to contain the energy those kids had after completing their first scout meeting. They ran circles around the rooms, a tornado of hail/raindrops exploding toy order, but not fully defiling my house. It was a success.

My voice was exercised. I feel vital and fresh. I think this scout leader role might just suit me and my voice.

 

Wearing Lots of Hats/Adult Metamorphosis

“If you are good through this meeting, I will let you watch a lot of Magic School Bus,” I said to the boy this afternoon. He doesn’t get free range of Magic School Bus. It is a coveted bus. I had just finished talking to him in my most scolding voice—acting in my role of Strict Mother—about how he was terrorizing the household. I needed good behavior today.

image-2018-07-01.jpgSwitching roles: from raindrop to diamond.
The thing most likely to make a homeschooled family roll their eyes is the word “socialization”. I know, because I sometimes tie my hair up in a tight bun, pick up a ruler, and take on a role as Homeschool Teacher. “Socialization” is such a popular topic among those that haven’t thought homeschooling through. For a naturally outgoing kid, meeting friends and interacting in society is ridiculously easy while homeschooled. There are endless opportunities. For a child that is a little shy but warms up easily, it is still not a concern. For the child that is hardcore shy—that clings to a parent’s leg and takes more than one meeting with a new friend to actually interact—is where things get a little more difficult. This fall my son will be joining a lot of activities for the sole purpose of getting a bit more comfy interacting with the outside world. The first of which we started today.

Oh the things a parent will do for a child. I will put on a forest green polo shirt, rummage through the closet to find a pair of khaki pants, and smile while I open my door to some strangers, all for my newest role: Scout Leader.

image-2018-07-01 (1).jpgTransformation from princess to mermaid.
I decided to start up a local chapter of Spiral Scouts, acting as co-leader. The boy needed a scouting program to join that was not too big—something low key; something that could grow with us. In addition, I really like to teach my children the rhythms of nature. The rhythms of nature are a lot of what Spiral Scouts is about, because it was started by a pagan church. So here I am, living in what I consider the southernmost tip of the Bible Belt, starting up a scouting program that reeks of pagan undertones. Although we are not actually pagans and the group is run secularly, I have a strong feeling that we are going to have some interesting interactions around town. It is so easy for people to judge what they don’t understand. That said, I always see value in showing the kids the world without the rose colored glasses of “normal” life.

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The well mannered scout and the driveway pool.

The Magic School Bus promise kept things smooth. My clean living room internally exploded with craft supply rubble as the eight children entertained themselves. I was busy in the dining room with the adults, pamphlets spread out neat across my table, while I transformed into Scout Woman.

I wonder if most people transform like I do, or if it is a unique feature of my personality. I fill whatever void is left in a relationship. If I am with robust personalities, I fill in the role of shy listener. If my companions are taciturn, I become outgoing. Standing in my dining room surrounded by the staring eyes of adults all waiting to hear my presentation, I am suddenly an organized, dependable scout leader.

The boy was making crafts with the lot of them, not outright socializing, but not hiding either. Progress. Once we really start to get our hands dirty, friendships with his fellow giggling kindergarteners are inevitable. Meanwhile, I’ll be Strict Mother-Homeschool Teacher-Scout Woman, among other things.

After all the stress of metamorphosis, we unwound before dark in the pool of the driveway. We all unwind in our own ways. The boy kicked the water to see how far he could make it splash. The tot crawled, rolled, and frolicked. What a strange lot we are. For my final role of the day, I walked lazily barefoot through warm puddles, and stared up at the sky to think about life, as Philosopher Woman.

Those Pretty Sparks Don’t Stay Lit in the Sky Long

I woke up bright and early because there was a toddler sitting on my chest. “Read books, Mama,” she said with enthusiasm, her bright blue eye gleaming. Good god it’s too early for this. I read one book and persuaded her away from the other by saying: “Today is the fourth of July! It’s a holiday.” I slipped out of bed while she was still thinking that over.

image-2018-07-05.jpgFirework flowers that drop sparks into the pool.
The boy had already updated his calendar, glad to finally be able to use the little “Independence Day” magnet. Like a doting homeschool mother, I allowed him to nix our schooling activities for the day and replaced it with a five minute discussion while holding the globe. I explained how tiny little England, way over in Europe, owned the USA, and already I felt us falling down the rabbit hole. Explaining history to kindergarteners is complicated. The United Kingdom does not even accurately appear on my preschool-appropriate homemade globe of only the basic shapes of the continents. Explaining how the tiny mystery island had control over the enormous piece of land that is the USA is confusing. “Well, back then there were only 13 colonies – like states…” I said. We escaped the rabbit hole with the knowledge that it is officially time to get out the real globe. I gave the boy a stack of American themed mazes and slipped out of there.

image-2018-07-05 (1).jpgNature’s fireworks
I went into the kitchen. I needed to knock out a couple things before the guests arrived. I started a peanut butter pie—one meant to be uncooked and kept in the fridge. I proceeded to make a beautiful crust—every piece of butter was blended smoothly into a beautifully textured dough. The edges were scalloped to perfection. The peanut butter filling was fluffy as whipped cream; the chocolate layer atop gleaming gloss. I went to put it in the fridge, and then it hit me. I never baked the crust. Shit.

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So then the guests arrived. Children poured into the house like water bursting out of a busted hose. Similar to being soaked by that hose water, joyous noises saturated the house. Covered dishes and bottles of alcohol, bags spilling over with bathing suits and towels came in too. The French doors clip-clapped against each other with a steady rhythm throughout the afternoon. The stack of fireworks on the buffet was continually visited by children.When is it time? They knew the answer to that question, but the sun was so lazily moving through the sky. Stories, jokes, vodka and sprite cluttered in around the dining room. A good friend set the tarot cards on the table, for the seasonal reading. Gold light trickled in through the thin curtains, setting the mood despite the background revelers. Three mysterious looking cards were flipped upward onto the table, and the interpretations began.

Children burst in again. Still not time to do fireworks. Paper crafts and glue hit the table, and four new Statutes of Liberty dawned the dining room with their crowns. The statues paraded through the house in one quick swoop, before returning to ask about the fireworks. The peanut butter pie was set on the table and good news! Baked peanut butter pie tastes just like one enormous Reese’s cup. Success.

Mother Nature began her fireworks just prior to dusk. The clouds were lit with delicate pink and gold. The preparations began: Hosing the children down with bug spray made of something fancy, finding eight misplaced little shoes. Flashlight? Check. Does anyone have a lighter? Scramble, shuffle. The dogs started to pace nervously—Old Man Dog ready for the excitement, Big Dog stressed by the anticipation. Outside, blue light had fallen on everything. There were loud pops and giggles. Finally, a lighter was located with stern instructions. Point the sparkler away from everyone! Pictures and pictures and more pictures of the obligatory child-with-sparkler pose.

image-2018-07-05 (3).jpgA grainy picture still preserves a moment…
Us folks in the quasi-country like fireworks, so much so that observing a show requires not a lot of effort on our part. The neighbors lit the sky in every direction with out-of-state fireworks to rival the professional show downtown. We did our part with a few spinning UFOs, and a couple sparkly fountains. The night grew lazy with all those stars; the mosquitos grew ambitious. One more sparkler? Can I do one more? One adult was left in charge of a box of matches and the Sparkler Children. The adults went inside to the fake light of the sleepy dining room. Yawning adults started to collect their wet bags of bathing suits and towels and empty casserole dishes.

I tinkered around the house, picking up a few things, but not really making an effort. Holidays aren’t for cleaning. I tucked exhausted children into bed under a fan on high speed and the very distant booms of parties still partying. Another beautiful summer holiday on the books. Time just keeps moving forward—got to enjoy it. Those pretty sparks don’t stay lit in the sky long.

Firefly Magic (for any age)

 

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Beautiful lace.

Gleaming neon butts blinking away to the dark night are completely fascinating to Floridians. I can’t say with certainty that Florida does not have fireflies, but we only see them once in a blue moon. My three favorite things about coming up north to visit my grandmother are Queen Anne’s lace, fireflies, and rocks—in that order.

 

We were all tinkering around my grandmother’s porch as dusk approached this evening. My grandmother was sitting on the porch-swing telling me a story about her high school days.  She once had to ride on a logging truck while wearing an evening gown, in order to attend a special event for her graduation. During this story, the tot found a miniature version of a mop and was scraping it haphazardly across the boards. The boy was counting cars, shouting out with enthusiasm what the models were. It was then I caught the first glimmer of the blinking neon butts.

The boy ran down the porch steps with his little glass jar and aluminum foil top. He is far from a bug catching novice. He knows the importance of speed and dexterity—gentle but not too gentle. He is very effective at what he does. But soon he was back, imploring me to assist with controlling the captives while new captives were shuffled in. I walked down to the dry green grass, dotted all over with clover. The woods was painted with odd shadowy shapes, having taken in night before everywhere else. The fireflies looked like happy little nightlights gleaming on and off against it. They looked like pure magic. I had been wanting to catch them in a jar—like I’d seen in books and on TV when I was a kid—but until recently I had no real excuse to do so. Finally, the boy could be the excuse to get those little blinkers in one place for a proper examination.

image-2018-06-20 (3).jpgWonderful, useful rocks.
It should be pointed out here that “firefly” is not the correct terminology for where I am visiting. Apparently “firefly” is a northern term. In the dialect of my location, they are “lightening bugs”.

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The tot, intrigued with the fireflies lightening bugs but lacking the concentration stamina of the boy, ran around the grass carrying a paintbrush she’d picked up somewhere while yelling out random things. I was busy manning the aluminum foil. The boy kept catching them, and I kept tapping on the top saying to them “Back, beasts! Back!” as I resealed the aluminum foil. Calling them beasts was maybe a little harsh. They are so lovely, they deserved better.

“Come up here and let me see what size jar you’ve got,” my grandmother called from the porch steps—cane in one hand, hammer in the other. A proper sizing and holing of the top was done, and we were prepared to take on the lot of them with our new, efficient equipment.

The tot ran up to me, putting her face within two inches of mine, and with wide eyes declared “Fireflies!” Toddler excitement is so contagious.

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The best I could do.

The boy beckoned me down toward the deep, dark woods where they were plentiful and magical like a gathering of fairies. Who should a female lightening bug pick? The one that flashes the most frequently, or the one that flashes a millisecond longer than the other? Or just the first flasher she comes along? Decisions, decisions.

We captured what I thought was ten, but got confused because there were many escapees, and many additions, and too much movement to get a proper count. We carried them up to the porch where I kept telling the boy to startle the jar to make them flash. I was bent on getting a flashing picture. After all, I’d been waiting for this opportunity for years.

Eventually we went in to eat homemade chocolate chess pie. Now I sit awake in bed with a jar of lightening bugs on the night stand.

The stinkers are not flashing though.

The Creatures of Nightmares, a Field-trip.

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“Where’s that food shipment for the T-Rex? He’s getting pretty grouchy,” a woman’s voice chirped out from a radio overhead. “On its way,” a man said. “What about the Velociraptor issue? There’s a lot of noise over here.”

A camouflage colored fabric surrounded the corridor, keeping us on track. We passed the four foot long skull of a creature lying abandoned in the sand just outside of our hallway. The boy eyed it, squinting. I could feel the adrenaline rising in his little four-year-old self. The radio continued with its alarming rattle of static and voices squawking out concerns. We passed a nest the size of a sandbox, tall as the boy’s chin. He strained himself to see the large eggs inside. He looked cautiously. Anything could be in there. Anything could be coming out of there at any moment. The tension was mounting.

We rounded a corner and there was the entrance into the danger. A large map told us we had entered Pangea. The boy didn’t look at it – he’s always wanted to see Pangea, but now that he was there he must keep his wits about him. Pangea made a gentle transition. The first creature in sight was small and looked like it could be the boy’s pet. It shook its tail back and forth, shuffling along the ground. This did not calm the anxieties from the distant rumbles and groans pounding through the woods. We rounded the next corner and saw a Protoceratops. A swamp surrounded the trail on one side with thick tangles of vines and low hanging plants. More humans crowded in behind us. There was no escape, only forward.

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The sister, only two years wise, walked at his side. She did not know fear. She did not know dinosaurs, either. I awaited a change in heart. She stopped in front of a grouchy looking fellow, as tall as her papa. It spat at her and she did not flinch. She looked him square in the eye and said in firm toddler words, “He have water.” This little tot had proved herself. She was then our guide.

Onward ho, past the freakish Archaeopteryx, around the angry pounding on a shed marked “velociraptor”, next to the formidable Dakotaraptor.

Things took a sudden alarming turn. Out of nowhere stood the story-tall Spinosaurus. He nodded his thin face back and forth, his mouth open wide displaying his sharp teeth and his tongue flicking back and forth. He towered over our guide and the boy. The boy stared on with trepidation, declining a photograph with the beast, but no doubt absorbing his monstrous proportions. The Spinosaurus never again would be an inch tall orange plastic model bought from the dime bin at the thrift store. It would now have new life.

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We continued past the mild triceratops and a freakish looking tractor-sized reptile coated in white hair. The boy was growing more comfortable; the guide was walking with complete confidence. We reached the finale. Peeking through the tree branches, sneakily watching until we approached, and then letting out an almighty roar with a shake of its massive head and barred teeth, was the inevitable Tyrannosaurus Rex. He roared on, and fool-hardy tourists took pictures beneath him. The boy stood still briefly for one, because he knew the others would be the first to go should the T-Rex attack.

The guide earned a two dollar tip, the equivalent of a carousel ride.

This is a homeschooling fieldtrip: learning about dinosaurs, and scaring the tarnation out of your student at the same time.

Our Lamborghini is the Shop. Homeschooling is a house full of car parts.

“Some days are diamonds, some days are rocks.” Yesterday was a diamond kind of day, or at least some sort of gem stone. Today was a rock. Or not even a true rock—a block of concrete.

Yesterday, we stayed home and took it easy. The boy spent his free time working on his extracurricular pursuits. He has high hopes of being a toy vehicle mechanic. First, he figured out how to properly put in AA batteries into his electronic trucks. Then, he had to figure out how to remove screws from them, and before I knew it, the boy was taking them all to pieces. We have a truck graveyard on the kitchen counter—six inch long bumpers, colored plastic headlight squares, and screws rolling all over. He learned an important lesson: When taking something apart, it may never fully go back together. This knowledge hasn’t slowed him down in the least.

Right now there is a milk truck in my living room flipped upside down, exposing its underbelly and a missing battery cover. It looks as though it is waiting for anesthesia before surgery begins. A large Hess tractor trailer is taking up part of the free space on the couch next to me. It has a cracked flatbed. Half the screws have been removed and an intricate system of internal organ/wiring is exposed. This is a difficult case, but what the mechanic lacks in experience he makes up for with enthusiasm.

A Lamborghini has its top casing off, revealing an electronic board—the brain. I don’t know what is wrong with the Lamborghini that would require brain surgery. I just hope the mechanic remembers to count all his tools before sealing it back up this time. A Lamborghini with a rattle would be an embarrassment, especially for the Italian police. This is, for the record, a Lamborghini Polizia car. It says so on the side. I had no idea Italian police drove Lamborghini’s—you learn so much when you have children.

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There is a Hess Gasoline helicopter sitting at my feet. I have no idea why Hess needs helicopters, but apparently they do. At present it is missing the door to the cockpit, which looks exceedingly dangerous and likely the cause for it to end up in this repair shop. The first fix of tape did not work. The door was lost, hopefully without taking the pilot with it.

A random boom with a roller attached to it has been dropped in the middle of the living room. It is kind of like seeing a detached robot arm. I don’t know why it was removed from the tractor, or if it will be returned. Who knows, maybe it is going on the Hess helicopter – the Frankenstein of helicopters.

Today—concrete day—I accomplished nothing. I spun my wheels all day. While wasting time, I found screws and car pieces beginning to invade normal areas of the house. Stray screws were falling onto my clean dishes. There are car parts on my bed. I’ve begun to invent and enforce ordinances—no trucks in the kitchen, no screw drivers on the floor, no tune-ups during meal times, etc.

Last I heard, there was mention of making a “toy store” of truck parts. Tomorrow, all may be hauled off to the toy truck junk yard. They will be salvaged, for what mechanical research I do not know.

Learning While Not Learning: Skins, Wings, and Shells

I was up to my elbows in soap suds this afternoon, when my son came in to ask me to look at a snake he had found. I assumed it was one of two scenarios: he’d managed to find some discarded toy that was snake-like, or by the time he had meandered in and I meandered out any real-live snake would be long gone. Neither inspired me to drop what I was doing, but I went out anyway. Can’t be too careful with children and snakes. As it turned out, there was a snake. Or rather, part of one.

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This is a great specimen for our nature table. Unfortunately the snake managed to squeeze himself under a picket fence while shedding it, and it tore easily into multiple pieces. It now looks something like a strip of papery bubble wrap. At the moment that it was found I had a bit of indigestion, and the look of the tube on the inside of the skin made my weak stomach want to empty itself. Something about that tube, yuck. The stomach turning papery bubble wrap is now on display with our other odds and ends.

Here is our bug collection. Of course, looking at and handling a real specimen is a much better learning tool than any picture. Better still, having them all together for viewing the characteristics of an insect. Do they all have six legs? Yes. Exoskeletons? Check. Perhaps wings? Antennae?

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I am not too easily intimidated by bugs, unless they creep up on me. Since this bug collection was started, zombie bugs have managed to startle me. Mostly it has been by way of my son suddenly dancing them around in front of my face like a puppet on his finger.

The thing that catches my eye most about this collection is the cockroach. That is the only bug in the group that has a negative association with it as being a “dirty” insect. Not considering its habit of invading human homes, it does have a repulsive look to it. It is so shiny and such an unattractive brown. Poor, disgusting creature.

The nature table also sports a bit of ocean. I snuck some writing practice into my kindergartner’s examination of seashells. We both learned a lot of shell names and there were a lot of good questions. My son kept wanting to know more about how the shells once had creatures similar to a clam living inside them. It is hard for a four year old to grasp that the slimy, sluggish blob is a living creature.

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Sneaky homeschool teachers are always finding ways to push some learning into times outside of the teaching schedule.