Archive for November, 2010

Girls, Carrots and Motivation

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

I miss my boys since they started school this year, early on-set of the empty nest syndrome I suspect after eight years of unschooling.  It is a real adjustment I must admit.  But, watching Riley and Casey take charge of their lives is pretty amazing.

Going to school each day is their choice.  They do not have to go, but they crawl out of bed every day, put on their thinking caps and go anyway.  A typical day for them looks something like this:

  • 6:15 am wake-up, 6:20 am second wake-up, 6:25 last call
  • Long ass-commute for Casey, Riley drives himself
  • Deal with a really annoying football player in English class
  • Sit through a Math class with a teacher that treats them like Kindergartners
  • Lunch, flirt with girls
  • Casey conservatory, fall asleep
  • Riley home at 3:00
  • Casey home at 6:00
  • Hang’n and chill’n time, texting girls, video games, Facebook, jamming, and dinner
  • Get down to homework
  • Hi Ho Hi Ho off to work Riley goes delicately swirling yogurt into Styrofoam cups at Golden Spoon, Casey has basketball practice
  • Bedtime anywhere between 10:00 pm to 2:00 am.
  • Get up and do it all over again the next day

I am truly impressed with their enthusiasm and drive.  What makes them get up every morning at 6:00 am and go to school when they don’t have to?  What motivates them?  Besides girls that is.

It seems that unschoolers have known all along what M.I.T. professors are just figuring out.  For better performance and personal satisfaction whether in the work place, at school, or at home, true motivation comes from autonomy, mastery of skills and purpose.  Check out the youtube link to, “Drive:  The surprising truth about what motivates us.”

The big surprise:  external motives such as money, grades and dangling golden carrots do not truly motivate us.  It may work for simple mechanical task as shown in the studies, but when it comes to more conceptual and creative ways of thinking, motivation runs deeper than that.  It is intrinsic.  It is funny that they call it “the surprising truth”.  It is not surprising to me.  I see it firsthand with my kids every day. 

And it is even less surprising to me that one of the motivating factors that lead us to better performance and happiness is autonomy! Everyone wants the right to direct their own lives and make choices that are best for them.  This is true freedom.  To school or not to school, it is my kid’s choice.  Most kids don’t have that choice.  They just do what they are told.  This freedom of choice, this self-determination and independence is a huge driving factor that truly motivates all of us to do things we don’t have to do.          

Second is mastery, or the desire to get better at stuff.  Riley and Casey want to be good at something and they are willing to work hard.  Casey wants to be a better writer.  He also wants to learn another language, master the drums and make the perfect jump shot.  He felt school is a good place to learn some of these skills.  Riley plans to go to college soon and he knows he needs to learn algebra and trigonometry to pass the SAT’s.  They both know that they can learn all of this without school but prefer some guidance and structure right now in their lives from an outside source. High school is their source of choice.  It is free and yes, there are lots of girls.

Third is the desire for purpose and meaning in their lives.  Having a goal in one’s life and working towards that goal gives you a reason to get up in the morning.  Some people believe that if you let a teenager, especially a male teenager, decide what they can do with their day, they would simply choose to play video games and text girls all day long.  I can assure you that this is not the case.  They will get bored fast (at least with the video games not the girls).  They may choose to play “Call of Duty, Black-Ops” for an entire weekend, don’t get me wrong, they have this amazing stamina to play for hours on end, but eventually that intrinsic drive to achieve something more purposeful and meaningful will take over.  My kids are living proof.

John Holt, the father of unschooling and author of many books including “How Children Learn” and “How Children Fail” believed, “Next to the right to life itself, the most fundamental of all human rights is the right to control our own minds and thoughts. That means, the right to decide for ourselves how we will explore the world around us, think about our own and other persons’ experiences, and find and make the meaning of our own lives.”  It’s funny that so called experts need to perform studies, gather statistics and conduct experiments to understand what we all know in our hearts.  Autonomy, mastery and purpose are at the heart of motivation, performance and satisfaction.  Not a carrot.  Not money.  Not that “A” on a math test.  It’s not a difficult concept.   Maybe that is the problem.  It’s too easy.  We expect that true learning and outstanding job performance is based on some complicated secret formula when in actuality, motivation to perform is ingrained in all of us if the parents, teachers and bosses of the world just step aside and let freedom reign.  If that doesn’t work, there are always girls.

The Gift of Gab

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

It has been two weeks since I last posted on my blog.  I chalk it up to the fact that I have been so busy talking I haven’t had time to write.  I like to talk.  I actually love to talk especially when I’m involved in a deep stimulating conversation.

I have been quite lucky these past two weeks to have some perfect opportunities for meaningful conversations. Friday night was a fabulous happy hour that almost extended into the midnight hour.   We talked about everything from Trader Joe’s wines and the perfect paring of cheeses, to retro chic home décor and what makes a long lasting marriage.  Saturday was a warm evening with intelligent creative women at a poetry workshop where we shared our stories and of course, our drama, for without the drama there would be no material for our art.  Sunday was spent with several families that I have never met before from many different cultures sharing food, drink and laughter on a 75 ft. sail boat about to leave for a trip around the world, an entire weekend full of brilliant, inspirational, meaningful conversation with friends.  Yeehaw! 

Not all my weekends are so fulfilling.   Sometimes they are quite boring and mundane where the highlight of my Saturday night is cleaning up cat throw up off the carpet.  And as much as I love my family, conversations with my husband and my kids are not the same as a conversation with my girlfriends.  I just read a book, “Hand Wash Cold”, Care instructions for an Ordinary Life, by a Zen priestess, Karen Maezen Miller.  She said that her husband is not her best friend he is her husband.  Her best friend, a woman, lives in Texas.  I love this perspective.  Husbands play an important role for sure but women need women.  And, when it comes to gabbing, women do it best.  

I do not want to imply that men are not good conversationalists.  Every once in a while I run into a man with the gift of gab.  This is rare but great fun when the opportunity arises.  It isn’t every day that I get a peek into a man’s thoughts and ideas besides getting the score of today’s football game or getting a lesson in the best way to open a beer without a bottle opener.   Ok, I’m exaggerating a bit but generally speaking men don’t share their deepest feelings like women do. That’s why women have women friends and men have men friends.  

I thrive on conversations.  And I admit that I create as many opportunities as possible for conversations to erupt.  I go to park day every Tuesday afternoon where at least ten other homeschooling women and their children are guaranteed, a plethora of conversation possibility.  I plan chat dates at Starbucks, girls’ nights out, and today I went on a hike with my girlfriend, Raundi.  The hike was her idea so I know I’m not the only one out there with the same need.  We talked and hiked for two hours but it felt like 15 minutes, absolute conversational bliss.  

I don’t want to leave out the benefits of conversations with my kids, again, not the same as chatting with your girlfriends, but definitely worth it.  If you listen, kids have a lot to say.  I set the table for dinner at least five out of seven nights a week.  We turn off the T.V., light candles or not, and chat.  It’s a great time to find out about my kid’s day, or talk about politics, sports, religion, their latest love or gossip.  Sometimes our conversations resort to bodily noises, but it is conversation nonetheless.  I have learned quite a bit about my kids while eating meatloaf, maybe even some things I didn’t need to know but it was the most enlightening meatloaf I ever had.  Oprah says that families that  eat together stay together.   

A good conversation can be as delicious as chocolate cake, as exciting as sex on the beach and as fulfilling as a good book.  In fact, studies show that there is an endorphin release in women when we are active participants in girl chat, relieving stress and boosting the immune system.  But, honestly it does more than that.  Conversation brings us together.  It gives us a chance to bond, to realize we are not alone in this big and sometimes scary world and makes us feel alive.  It creates an opportunity to learn about each other and in turn, to learn about our self.  

Sometimes, I have some pretty interesting conversations when I am completely alone but that gets old fast.  We need feedback.   Nothing feeds my soul like a good meaningful conversation.  Without it I would wither and die.  As one woman stated in a book called “Women Talk” by Jennifer Coates, conversation with other women is “absolutely fundamental…the blood of life.”  Our bodies go into shock and die if we lose too much blood.  Need I say more?

Delicious, Sweet, Sticky Goodness

Monday, November 1st, 2010

“Hey Mom, I saved your favorite candy for you, a Kit Kat Bar,” Maggie yelled from the back seat of the car on our way home last night from our annual Halloween party at the Lemp’s house. The Lemps are part of our homeschooling village.  Every year an incredibly creative bunch floods their home wearing outrageous costumes and smiles on their faces ready for another fun-packed spooky Halloween night.  The kids and a few parents go trick or treating while the rest stay behind and wolf down delicious treats and imbibe mulled wine, hot apple cider and butter beer. The evening’s grand finale is a trip to a hair raising, bloodcurdling haunted house that leaves you with an adrenaline rush that makes you want to go back for more.    

Hippies, poodle skirts, Ninjas, surgeons, zombies and comic book heroes contributed to the macabre scene in the house.   Carolyn was a bag of flour, Megan was Ginny from Harry Potter, and Haley was “Pink I”.  She sewed a pink felt letter “I” on her shirt and handed out “pink I’s” to anyone that got close to her.  Pink eye is highly contagious you know.  By the end of the night everyone had a “pink I”.  Conner was a Christmas Caroler.  He looked like he walked right out of the pages of a Charles Dickens novel.  Sorry Conner for mistaking you as a hobo.  Nick wrote the word “book” across his face.  Can you guess?  He was Facebook.  Michael had the letter E glued to his shirt.  He was “E-male”. 

All of my girlfriends from the band dressed up as “Josie and the Pussycats” with black leather skirts, leopard print stockings and ears for hats.  A few years ago, Isis’ husband, Matt, a 6’6” retired professional basketball player dressed up as a prima ballerina with pink leotards and a tutu.  This year he joined the girls as one of the pussycats in black leotards and a leopard print skirt.

I love traditions.  Good fun traditions, customs and practices that bring people together and give you a sense of belonging and comfort.  Traditions seem to add meaning to one’s life and give you a feeling of continuity.  Not traditions like prearranged marriages as in “Fiddler on the Roof” or dad carving the turkey after mom spent the entire day preparing, stuffing and cooking it while he watched football.  Some traditions can go.  But many can stay like reading “The Night Before Christmas” and eating Chinese food on the floor around the coffee table on Christmas Eve and bringing in the New Year at my house with all our friends dancing to “Smack That” and “Soldier Boy”.  The beauty of traditions is that you can make them your own.   

Of course there is some disagreement about what traditions can go and what can stay.   I know that not everybody would enjoy Chinese food on Christmas Eve but it is something we started years ago and it just stuck.  Kevin loves his creamed peas and onions for Thanksgiving, Christmas and any other holiday he can squeeze them in.  In my opinion, they can go but compromise is essential in a marriage if one is to stay married.  I’m sure there are things I like that he would prefer to go as well. 

The good news is that there is always room for new traditions.  For the last few years, Raundi has been making homemade caramel apples, delicious, sweet, sticky goodness (just like her).  She usually makes them at our homeschooling park day.  This year there have been many changes and she wasn’t able to make them at park day.  But, apparently the tradition has been casted.  She brought all the makings to the Lemp’s Halloween party and made them for us.  This is one tradition that is now deeply ingrained in us.  Just like the caramel from the apples on the wax paper, this tradition will stick with us for a very long time.