City As Community

I talk a lot about the strong sense of community we feel in the city. For outsiders, cities may appear to be cold and unwelcoming places, but I find it is exactly the opposite. Sure there are lots of strangers and dangers, but for the most part the compactness and diversity of urban living cultivate interdependence and community.

Nowhere is this multi-faceted mingling more apparent than at our local neighborhood association's annual ice cream social on the nearby library grounds. Friends and neighbors and city representatives arrived in droves yesterday to enjoy a beautiful summer evening together, making the city even more welcoming and the unfamiliar neighbors a bit less unknown.

City Parenting

Here are my Top 10 reasons why I love city parenting. What would you add to the list?

1. A dozen parks and playgrounds within a one-mile radius of our house (most with sprinklers!)
2. Museums, universities, and libraries steps from our front door
3. Interesting neighbors
4. Frequent city festivals and cultural events
5. Walking more than driving
6. Coffee shops everywhere for my caffeine fix
7. Lots of independent bookstores, retailers, and restaurants
8. Strong sense of community in the city
9. Variety and abundance of class offerings and resources for kids
10. Spontaneous learning moments fueled by the vibrancy of the city

Swim Lessons

When we first committed to homeschooling when M was not quite three-years-old and all of her friends were enrolling in the city's preschools, I felt the need to make sure that we had structured activities and classes planned almost every day of the week.

Apparently this is a common pitfall for novice homeschoolers, according to the veteran homeschoolers I talk to. At some point we learn to trust our children and realize that although some formal classes and activities are valuable, kids need a bounty of unstructured, open time in which to explore and discover. We have dramatically reduced the amount of structured classes in which the kids participate compared to when we started, and our weekly homeschool rhythms feel much saner as a result.

One class, however, that Daddy and I feel is very important is swimming. We spend a lot of our summer time in or near the water and so the ability to swim is critical. In the city, we have lots of different options for swim lessons. We chose a small class just a quick bus ride down the road at MIT that a neighborhood friend of M's is also taking.

While M and Daddy have done parent-child swim classes in the past, yesterday was M's first class without a parent in the water (though I was sitting nearby on a bench). I wondered how she would do. She enjoyed it so much in fact, that it wasn't until about 20 minutes into the class that she finally turned around, realized I was there, and said enthusiastically: "Look Mommy I'm learning to swim!"

As Dr. Sears says, attached kids grow up to be confident and independent:

"They grow up learning that it is safe to trust others, that the world is a warm and responsive place to be, that their needs will be appropriately identified and consistently met. The trust they have in caregivers translates into trust in themselves."

Knowing that your loved ones are always nearby makes it easier to plunge eagerly into uncharted waters.

Sprinkler Park Days

The only thing better than our weekly homeschool group's park day is park day with the sprinklers on!

All around the city, the playground sprinklers are now on in full-force which makes summer in the city much more tolerable and fun!

City Festivals

City festivals greatly enhance our homeschooling. Their sheer variety and abundance create many learning opportunities for city homeschoolers.

This weekend, for instance, our city hosted a food festival on the banks of the Charles River, complete with cooking demonstrations by well-known local chefs; kiosks with information on everything from beekeeping, to canning, to city farming; and, of course, lots of yummy food to taste along the way.

The goal of this festival was to highlight healthy eating and sustainable agriculture, but each city festival has its own focus and associated learning opportunities. In our city alone, we could create a robust multi-disciplinary curriculum centered around the arts and sciences using our city festivals as guideposts.

City homeschoolers are fortunate to have an enormous variety of resources available to augment their learning, and city festivals are among the most diverse and engaging of them.

Attachment Parenting

One day when M was about six months old, I stumbled upon the Dr. Sears website. Suddenly I realized that all the things I had been doing naturally as a new mother (on-demand breastfeeding, co-sleeping, babywearing, no cry-it-out tactics), were part of an actual parenting philosophy called Attachment Parenting. How validating. It was great to discover that many other moms shared my parenting perspective.

As M got older and along came J and then A, I realized that while I believe passionately in Attachment Parenting as an overall philosophy and lifestyle, the real benefit is how easy it is. I think it would take way more effort to parent in another fashion. My babies sleep better and more peacefully snuggled next to me, so we co-sleep. I find infant strollers to be clunky and awkward, so I wear my babies. If my babies are fussy, nursing stops them from fussing. If they wake up too early from a nap, nursing them back keeps them sleeping longer. If they're crying, holding them stops them from crying. If I need to get tasks done around the house, wearing my babies makes that possible. It's really the lazy mom's approach to parenting.

But of course it's so much more.

It's about forming a deep connection with your child based on trust, responsiveness, and close contact. I don't think it's any coincidence that as more parents gravitate toward Attachment Parenting, more parents are also gravitating toward homeschooling. The idea of closely bonding with your child and using gentle tactics to parent them as babies and toddlers leads to a desire to guide them through childhood and adolescence without schooling.

It just feels natural.

Learning As We Go

We escorted Daddy to his downtown office building this morning and then headed across the street to the aquarium. I thought that with school out around here it would be a quiet, crowd-free morning. I was wrong, but we still had a nice time, especially in the aquarium's toddler/preschool area where M colored a turtle while listening to a staff member read a detailed story about turtle habitat and behavior.

These spontaneous learning moments centered around our outschooling approach to homeschooling are so rewarding. The kids receive varied and relevant instruction from many different teachers and subject-matter experts who are passionate about their work -- all within our community and part of our everyday living. This is why we homeschool. Learning is integrated into our daily experiences of living in the city.

As the kids get older and develop stronger interests in certain topics, the city offers plentiful resources to help them learn more about those topics. Our museums, libraries, universities, cultural and civic events, knowledgeable neighbors and community members, community classes and lessons already contribute so much to their education.

So while we didn't set out to the aquarium today with an agenda to learn more about turtles (other than to spot Myrtle the giant sea turtle), we welcome these spontaneous learning moments which lead to new discussions, new questions, and new explorations. And the best part is that we were home by lunch.

Mom vs. Machine

It turns out you don't have to live in Vermont to eat like a Vermonter. We recently created an account with Farmers To You, a cooperative of small, mostly organic Vermont farms that offers weekly deliveries of fresh dairy products, pure honey and maple syrup, and lots of in-season produce to Boston-area residents. I had been investigating milk delivery for awhile, but what really hooked me on this company is the ability to get farm-fresh produce in addition to organic, small batch, non-homogenized milk. I'm not ready to take the plunge into raw milk yet, so this is a great alternative. And it's delicious.

I told my mom that we are now drinking whole, non-homogenized milk from a glass bottle, and it reminded her of the times when she was a child and my grandmother would serve the same milk from the milk man in the days before heavy processing and homogenization. My grandmother would skim some of the cream off the top for her coffee and shake the rest for the kids.

It got me to thinking. While I value so much of what technology has offered us moms--like dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, and coffee makers to name a few of my favorites--many of the simple acts of motherhood that my grandmother performed, like shaking her kids' milk, have been replaced by machines.

As I mentioned in my earlier post about city homemaking, I think many of today's modern conveniences and cultural mores make it too easy for us to outsource our mothering and homemaking. It's easier to send our kids to school rather than teach them at home. It's easier to have an epidural than a natural birth. It's easier to buy a loaf of bread at the store rather than bake it at home. It's easier to buy a box of diapers rather than wash them at home. It's easier to buy herbs and vegetables rather than grow them at home.

But is it better?

Now, I am far from being a Neo-Luddite and I greatly value the role of technology in our homes and cities. And I do rely on machines to make my mothering easier, like when the kids watch a DVD or play computer games. But I am trying lately to be more mindful of technology's presence and invasiveness in our lives.

And I'm shaking my kids' milk.

Home Sweet Home

Our kitchen renovation is finally over and so too is our extended stay at the lake house. While it was incredibly fun to enjoy several weeks in the country, it feels so nice to be back in the city to reconnect with friends and neighbors and visit our favorite spots. It's also especially nice to leave the car parked and not even think of driving it anywhere for days to come.

I was thinking about the concept of "third places," as defined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his book, The Great Good Place. He argues that our first two "places" are home and work, but that "third places" are vital community-building spots that foster neighborhood interaction and personal well-being. Oldenburg describes such places as accessible, generally free or low-cost, walkable, and frequented by lots of "regulars." Coffee shops, pubs, and bookstores could be defined as "third places." I would also add city playgrounds to the list. Returning to the city for us also means returning to our local playgrounds and to the friends and neighbors we run into there who enhance the strong sense of community we feel in the city.

So as much as we cherish our summer getaways to the country, there's no place like home in the city.

Avoiding Plastic

Part of my burgeoning commitment to city homemaking and sustainability is trying to dramatically reduce our consumption of plastics. This would seem a fairly easy and straightforward process, but it is remarkable how seductive and ubiquitous plastics can be. When the kids and I go shopping and they ask for various trinkets, I tell them that we try not to be wasteful and avoid buying a lot of unnecessary, plastic-laden items. Still, we sometimes succumb to temptation, as Daddy and M did yesterday when they returned from the store with a plastic bag filled with plastic containers of chalk and bubbles. We'll keep working at it, though, and try as much as possible to make our own bubbles and leave the plastics at the store.

Sacred Weekends

Given the amount of work and travel that Daddy does during the week, our weekends are sacred. Many kids participate in various sports and extracurricular activities on the weekends, but for us those classes would interfere with precious weekend family time. This morning we took a hike to a rocky beach and then visited an organic farm near the lake, while this afternoon we'll all be swimming and kayaking.

There may come a time when Saturday morning soccer games seem more important than hiking and swimming, but for now we are committed to keeping our weekends free and clear of structured activities. And we're not alone. Fellow homeschool blogger, LakeMom, wrote about retaining pure, unstructured weekend family time in the post, "Thou Shalt Not Kill the Weekend."

I love this quote from Richard Louv's book, Last Child In The Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, which reminds me to be ever-vigilant about how we allocate our time:

"IT TAKES TIME -- loose, unstructured dreamtime-- to experience nature in a meaningful way. Unless parents are vigilant, such time becomes a scarce resource, not because they intend it to shrink, but because time is consumed by multiple, invisible forces; because our culture currently places so little value on natural play." (p.117).

Learning from Moms

So much of mothering today is done in isolation. That is why I find it refreshing to enjoy time with other moms and learn from their child-rearing strategies. Mostly I learn about patience, which my homeschooling-mom friends seem to have in abundance and which, I am growing to believe, may just be the most essential ingredient of successful--and happy--parenting.

One homeschooling-mom friend of mine who appears to have boundless amounts of patience visited us for a few days at the lake this week with her kids. Patience is a trait that I do not naturally exude. I work at it constantly and deliberately, with varying degrees of success. But my friend who visited is innately calm and patient and it was enlightening to watch her interact with her kids and observe her various mothering tactics.

Back in my pre-motherhood corporate days, I discovered that the most surprising and rewarding aspect of professional services was how much I learned from my clients. These days, I am equally surprised and rewarded learning from my kids and my mom friends.

Eating Real Food

I am making progress in my quest to feed my family only "real" food, as defined by Michael Pollan in his book, In Defense of Food. I'd say I'm probably about 80 percent there, as I still rely on some white flour, white sugar, and the occasional box of Cheerios, among other "edible foodlike substances," (as Pollan coins them), but for the most part it's been very enlightening-- and empowering-- to focus on eating real food.

I felt like I was in a bit of a rut with real food recipes lately until I stumbled upon a fabulous website/blogsite, 100 Days of Real Food. This resource is especially helpful for those of us beginning the conversion to real food, with useful tips and delicious recipes. Today M and I made the whole wheat banana bread recipe and it was very yummy.

M is also enjoying our commitment to cooking and eating real, wholesome foods, and is hopefully gaining a greater appreciation, as am I, of where our food comes from and what's in it.

Surrendering to Motherhood

I find myself frequently thinking about this Boston Globe article from February 2010 about "surrendering" to motherhood. There is so much truth to this article and it reaffirms that the more we let go and try not to let the little frustrations of parenthood get to us, the more we will enjoy the experience. Easier said than done for sure, but a goal worth aspiring to nonetheless.

Along these lines, I was recently inspired by a blog post by Patti at Jazzy Mama. A homeschooling mother of four little ones in Toronto, Patti wrote about offering a wide assortment of dinner options to satisfy the divergent tastes of her family members. I was really struck by her approach. I often get frustrated, particularly at dinnertime, if the kids don't eat what I prepare. Patti's approach is so refreshing in simply "surrendering" to our picky ones by offering a broad array of healthy food choices and hoping that at least one is appealing to each eater. She admits that even this approach doesn't always work, but I am incorporating her idea of being more flexible with meal options and it is making everyone, but especially me, much happier.

I think the key thing to remember, as the Globe article reminds us, is that childhood is temporary. Kids grow up, gain independence, and eventually widen their food preferences. In the meantime, surrendering to parenthood and its vicissitudes can create a much more peaceful household-- especially at dinnertime.

More Plimoth Plantation

The thing I like most about museum memberships is that they provide the flexibility to visit on a whim and stay as long or as little as we like. I consider our many museum memberships to be our homeschooling "tuition" and a pivotal part of our homeschooling experience.

We purchased a Plimoth Plantation membership and have found it to be a great spot for the kids. Today was rainy, but we headed back to the plantation anyway and bought some herbs and plants from their horticultural area and then visited the Family Discovery Station, which has many Colonial toys and props and dress-up clothes for pretend play. We managed to get outside onto the nature trails in between raindrops. The heavy rains came after we were there for a couple of hours, which is about as much time as little attention spans can endure anyway.

Our learning continued into the afternoon, however, when we found a 17th century Wampanoag recipe on the Plimoth Plantation website and cooked up a delicious cornmeal porridge while listening to some classic 17th century music on Pandora. It hit the spot on this cool and rainy Saturday!

Plimoth Plantation

We spent this morning at Plimoth Plantation exploring the beautiful grounds and meandering paths, and learning more about the Pilgrims and Native Americans.

While it was a great introduction to colonial America, my mind is dancing with all of the lessons and activities we could create around this living museum as the kids get older. For now, we'll use our visits, the museum's online activities, and good children's books-- like The Thanksgiving Story by Alice Dalgliesh, and The Story of the Pilgrims by Katharine Ross--as our primary learning tools.

Homeschooling Friends

We feel very fortunate to have great homeschooling friends with whom we are lucky to spend our time, particularly on hot June days.

We had fun this week exploring tidal pools with our friends, swimming in the lake, building forts in the closet, reading books, and enjoying our time together.


In the city, I rarely drive my car, but here at the lake house we have to drive everywhere. I am currently reading, Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are The Keys to Sustainability, by David Owen. It talks about how the carbon output for the average city-dweller is significantly less than for those who live elsewhere, mainly because in the city we drive so infrequently and walk to everything. I love this quote from the book:

"City dwellers who fantasize about living in the country usually picture themselves hiking, kayaking, gathering eggs from their own chickens, and engaging in other robust outdoor activities, but what you actually do when you move out of the city is move into a car, because public transit is non-existent and most daily destinations are too widely separated to make walking or bicycling plausible as forms of transportation." (p. 5)

While we definitely do a lot of hiking and kayaking here in the country, I don't like that I have to drive 12 miles to the nearest bookstore compared to walking a half-mile to one in the city. I can feel my carbon footprint creeping upward, and have a greater appreciation for my pedestrian city life.


I love June. Long days, warmer winds, and the bursting desire to discover the outdoors after a snowy winter and capricious spring make June the ideal month for hiking with the kids.

We spent yesterday morning meandering along a curvy bike path at a nearby state forest. While in the city we have lots of rules and limitations on our walks along busy sidewalks, here in the country, quiet forests allow for unfettered exploration. J can linger by the ferns and pick up every rock, while M can ride her bike freely. The woods create so many organic learning moments for the kids and allow all of us to decompress and marvel at Mother Nature.

We switched from forest to seashore yesterday afternoon, and took a short hike to a rocky beach where Daddy and the kids investigated countless snails and crabs in the tidal pools, while A and I watched from the picnic blanket.

There is so much joy in hiking and exploring outdoors with the kids. Here is a great article on hiking with kids from the summer issue of Rhythm of the Home. Written by a homeschooling mom in Colorado, it has some great insights about maximizing family time in the woods. Happy hiking!

Country Homemaking

Other than needing to drive to the farm stand and supermarket, country homemaking has been strikingly similar to city homemaking. Since first writing about my city homemaking goals back in April, I haven't bought a loaf of bread and am spending most of my time in the produce section of the market. (For someone who, yes, always bought packaged, pre-cut carrots, this shift toward pure homemaking is a big deal.)

My husband said that while we're at the lake house, I should just relax my homemaking and buy a loaf of bread or a jar of pasta sauce. But as bizarre as it sounds, I find that focusing more on homemaking gives me additional energy and a greater sense of accomplishment throughout the day. It sounds counterintuitive, that somehow spending my toddler's naptime peeling vegetables instead of resting in front of the laptop gives me additional stamina; but I think staying constantly busy around the home really does lead to higher satisfaction levels.

The challenge, as I've discussed with several homeschooling homemakers lately, is striking a balance between homemaking and mothering. It's entirely possible to spend the whole day in the kitchen making food from scratch, so I try to do as much as I can while my toddler naps and during other quiet play times.

The rewards are the delicious smells from my kitchen and the hope that maybe-- just maybe-- my kids will actually eat something I cook for them.

It Takes A Village

Isn't parenting so much easier and more enjoyable when we have companions? My grandmother has been visiting us for a couple of days, and it's so nice to experience motherhood surrounded by grandmotherly warmth. Half the fun of parenting is being able to share the acts and expressions of these cute little people with someone else. It's also great for the kids to get a break from me. Today, M had fun reading and doing crossword puzzles with Nana, J had someone else to sing and chatter to, and A enjoyed a different shoulder to drool on.

Raising kids really does take a village. Mothering and homeschooling would be much more challenging and less gratifying without the help, devotion, and inspiration of my "villagers."

The Supermarket

In the city, we always walk to one of the small, local markets nearby for our groceries, but here at the lake we drive to the big supermarket.

The kids so infrequently visit large supermarkets that to them it's very exciting-- particularly the opportunity to ride in the big shopping cart and receive free cheese slices from the deli counter. They were having so much fun in their little car that we lingered at the supermarket... just long enough for me to get yet another "are they all yours" inquiry! Apparently shopping with three kids under age five is as eye-popping here in the country as in the city.