Wearing whatever I wanted

I was interested in fashion as a kid. When I was ten, my favorite outfit was tights, a giant bright green shirt with a ballet company logo (I think it belonged to my mom), and a hot pink shiny plastic belt. One of the reasons why this was by far the best outfit ever was that the belt had come from a floral-print dress I had worn on my sixth birthday, which meant that I was really shaking things up.

My dad and I had this little tradition. Every year around or on my birthday, he’d take me shopping for a birthday dress. It was the only time I got dresses, and I always picked a really girly one, with flowers and frills. The 6th year dress was especially significant, because we got it on the day I had three cavities filled. THREE. I have never had a cavity since then, which is awesome, because it was a very traumatic experience.

But the afterwards was great. I got a milkshake and a new dress with a shiny hot pink belt.

And when I matched the belt with the green shirt, I felt really creative, and like I was continuing the legacy of the dress. It was a badge of strength. And general awesomeness.

Continue reading Wearing whatever I wanted

Hick town unschooled kid

I grew up in a hick town. Well, not entirely. Until I was twelve or so, my family lived in a part of New Jersey that wasn’t at all the way I imagine people imagine New Jersey. There were cornfields at both ends of the street, with big farms to tend them. There were horses everywhere. People parked big, fat gleaming pick-up trucks in front of aluminum sided ranch houses with browning lawns.  There were hunters in the woods. We didn’t worry too much about getting shot, though. We knew exactly where they were allowed to go and where they had to stop. We knew the borders of everyone’s property. We only followed the stream so far. We were covered in ticks.

Really. Everyone in my family has had Lyme Disease. I thought the pink medicine was delicious.

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A few reasons why homeschooling my eventual kids will rock

When I think about homeschooling my eventual children, here are some of the nice things that occur to me:

1) We can live anywhere. And then we can move and not worry about the new schools.

2) We won’t have to have the public/private debate and end up worrying that our kids aren’t in the most advantageous environment if we choose public or that we don’t have any more money if we choose private.

3) We can travel as a family, and it can count as schooling. Maybe we can do this on a boat. Boats sound nice in my fantasies. There was that family a while back who sailed around together for a year, and the mom wrote a book about it (of course). I can’t imagine this working very well when I was a kid, because of my brothers. They chased each other around the house a lot. And then the house felt small, even though it was a house. But maybe I’ll have quieter kids. Bear is pretty quiet. And calm. And low key. I’m really, really hoping our kids turn out just like him and practically nothing like me. I also hope they get his nose, because it’s adorable.

(I googled “boat” and got this. Amazing. source)

Continue reading A few reasons why homeschooling my eventual kids will rock

Avoiding the sorting bins

I’m reading David Brooks’ “The Social Animal.” He spends a lot of time strolling along the meandering  life-paths of his purposefully uninteresting characters. The characters lie flat– tables upon which Brooks places a generous buffet of juicy social psychology theories, layers and layers of glistening cultural psych experiments conducted on college students, tart, textured neurology research pertaining to love, baskets of plump education theories, and a few perky sprigs of common conclusions about sexual selection and beauty.

This is the bit that inspired me to write this post:

The people in the executive suites believed that the school existed to fulfill some socially productive process of information transmission– usually involving science projects on poster boards. But in reality, of course, high school is a machine for social sorting. The purpose of high school is to give young people a sense of where they fit into the social structure.

Wow, block quote. I’m feeling this enormous urge to put a citation in a parenthetical below. I’m resisting. Resisting….Resisted.

I like how David Brooks almost always writes with authority. If people are going to have opinions and write them down for other people to read, they might as well believe in what they say. And then they might as well make it clear that they think they’re right. It’s much more fun that way.

Am I the artsy one?

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The college test: does homeschooling work?

Daniel Petter-Lipstein’s guest post from this blog got featured on Forbes! How cool is that? I feel famous by proxy.


“I don’t think homeschooling was great,” my brother Jake was saying. He’s twenty-one, at conservatory, about to audition for a major orchestral position (I’m sorry, I can’t help it. I brag every time I talk about either one of my brothers).

“You get used to knowing things.”

He was talking about college courses.

He said, “You come in knowing the basics, and then you don’t listen in class, because it’s boring. And then later, they get to the hard stuff, and the school kids were following along the whole time, but you weren’t.”

It was honestly the first time I’d heard anything like that. It’s supposed to be homeschoolers who don’t learn the basics, right? That’s what everyone is afraid of, anyway.

“You don’t learn how to memorize things,” he said. “You learn to learn things. It’s different. It’s a problem. That’s why homeschooling doesn’t work.”

Continue reading The college test: does homeschooling work?


I started tutoring twelve-year-olds when I was fifteen. I took it very, very seriously. I spent a lot of time thinking about my technique, methodology, and effectiveness. I wrote in my journal about whether or not I thought my students were learning everything I wanted them to learn. I was nervous. I was afraid I might fail them. Around my seventeenth birthday, I had an epiphany. It felt big, at the time, like all of my seventeen year old epiphanies did.

I told myself, “If I know even a little bit more about something than someone else, I have something to offer that person.”

I didn’t have to be brilliant, or masterful, or even totally thorough. I just had to know something, and be able to convey it to someone else. And I had to be nice while I was conveying it. Otherwise everyone had a lot less fun.

Continue reading One-on-one

Homeschool unit studies

In case you missed it here for feel like reading it there, here’s my story about learning disabilities on HuffPo.  Also, I’m talking about virginity over at Eat the Damn Cake today, and there’s a bit about being homeschooled.

The kids in Hebrew School were learning about the Revolutionary War. They had a unit on it. That meant they’d spend a long time, months even, on the topic.

My brother Jake heard about it, and he wanted to study the Revolutionary War, too. Mom was excited. She loved learning about, well, everything. Little Gabe seemed fine with it. I was less excited, because I knew I was going to have to look at a lot of old guns.

And I was. And I did.

Every day, we all got together and read about the war. No, not just the war. What was going on before the war. Historical fiction about and from the perspective of just about everyone who was there at the time. Generals, spies, Native Americans, hog farmers, small-time clergy members, shopkeepers, black kids, white kids, British kids, the Hessians, the people who were terrified of the Hessians, indentured servants, Quakers. I’m going to stop now. We had a few text books that we referenced, a bunch of maps, several cookbooks, and a calendar full of trips to Philadelphia, historic sections of Boston, where the streets had real cobblestones, and nearby Trenton, where the old barracks were preserved. There were a lot of rusted, heavy muskets there. Jake was happy.

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Are homeschooling parents qualified to teach their children?

It’s a question that likes to jump out of the bushes and ambush unsuspecting homeschoolers on their way to the Shoprite or the library. I’m kidding. We’re always “suspecting” it. I got it a lot as a kid. People always asked me if my mother had a teaching degree. Actually, my mother didn’t go to college, but I usually didn’t say that. I was afraid someone’s brain might explode if I did. Sometimes I told the asker that she’d studied child psychology. Well, she had. On her own. When I got a little older I said things like, “She doesn’t really teach us. That’s not how it works.”

At which point I was either asked to solve a math equation on the spot or greeted with a completely uncomprehending look and a quick, anxious nod. Did that child just tell me that she doesn’t have to be taught? Dear Lord, what have they done to her?

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Learning Disability

I believe in disabilities. I mean, I don’t think they’re an invention of a cruel, capitalistic, oppressive system. People are all different, and some of them have a lot more trouble with things that are basic for the majority of other people. But a lot of learning disabilities make me suspicious. And sometimes they just make me really sad.

When kids aren’t learning to read on time, for example, there’s a lot of panic. And there shouldn’t be, because kids learn to read at very different points. Some kids don’t learn to read until they’re fourteen, and then they read like everyone else. And no one can tell that they were a kid who didn’t read until they were fourteen.

Kids are like that with learning in general. Not every eight-year-old brain is ready to absorb the information that a nationally approved 3rd grade curriculum demands it process. And then what happens when they don’t learn it on time? They learn that they are “slow.” They might get left behind.

I remember in Hebrew School when I was twelve there was this funny kid named Seth who was nice to everyone. He made everyone laugh with his antics. He was good at making ridiculous faces. He was good at people. And one day the teacher said, “We’re going to go around the room and each take a paragraph.” We were reading a story about the biblical Jacob and his very large family.

I showed off, because I was an obnoxious little kid and I was really good at reading aloud. The teacher smiled at me and everyone else silently hated me with all their brief, concentrated might. And then it was Seth’s turn. He was haltingly trying to sound out the first word. “Is-ra-el-leets.”

We all knew it was wrong. And there was a long, stunned pause. How could he not know that?

Continue reading Learning Disability

Being friends with older people

I’m not going to lie– I think it’s weird to hang out with a bunch of people exactly the same age as you all the time. And I think it’s weird because I didn’t have to do that. Most people think it’s normal. And they think it’s weird to hang out with people who aren’t exactly the same age as you. Especially if you’re a kid.

When I was sixteen, my circle of close friends included a woman in her fifties, a woman in her forties, a woman in her eighties, and a girl who was ten. It also included some sixteen and fifteen and seventeen-year-olds. It also included my brothers. But I was careful not to call the ten-year-old my “friend” in mixed company. Or the eighty-two-year-old. Because then I might have to explain my life to everyone. And that gets annoying.

(my youngest friend and I. I think she’s 13 or so here. Kaila– you owe me a guest post!)

And then sometimes I called them both my friends in public anyway, defiantly, just because I could. That’ll show them! That show the whole world. Yeah, I was a rebel.

Continue reading Being friends with older people


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