rivka: (her majesty)
If you're still out there - and why would you be? - I am currently migrating my journal to Dreamwidth, same username. Then I'll be deleting the LJ version.
rivka: (her majesty)
I am alone in a hotel room. Except for the steady hiss of the climate control and the hum of the mini fridge, it's very quiet.

The last time I was alone in a hotel room, it was part of a last-ditch effort to feel like an academic career was meaningful. I went to an HIV conference in Miami Beach. On the one hand, it was stimulating; on the other hand, I felt like a poseur. I had not been working well, or connecting with academic life well, for a long time by then. In my hotel room, in the evenings, I felt scared.

Now I am just bone tired. I drove from Baltimore to Richmond VA today, in weather that progressed from "wintery mix" to driving rain as I headed southward. I was late. So I arrived with not a single particle of transition time, changed into business clothes in a stall of the ladies' room, and then stood at a table promoting myself for six hours straight.

I'm here for the VA Homeschoolers convention, which draws about a thousand homeschoolers from Virginia, DC, and Maryland. I have a vendor table for my homeschool-focused psychology practice. This weekend, about a hundred of them will come up to my table and listen to my pitch:
"As far as I know, I'm the only psychologist in the country who focuses on homeschooling families. I do that because I homeschool my own kids, and I know that for homeschoolers, when you feel that something is not quite right about your child, it can be very uncomfortable to go to a mainstream professional. Because you don't even know if they're going to get it."
Sixty or so people will take my brochure or my card. Thirty will tell me a story about their kid or ask me questions. Perhaps twenty will fill out a consultation card asking me to call or e-mail them after the conference. I need to eventually book three hours of work to break even. (I paid a table fee, rented a car and a hotel room, bought gas and food, and hired a babysitter.) Three hours of work equals one IQ test for giftedness and one consultation, or 30% of a learning disability evaluation.

At 7:00 this evening, twelve hours after my day started, vendors were allowed to leave the exhibit hall. I found my hotel. I had a couple of tasty enchiladas verdes and a couple of Negro Modelos at the Mexican restaurant next door. I walked back to my room. Now I have about twelve hours to be quiet and alone before another eight hours of solid self-promotion.

I often fantasize about staying alone in a hotel, actually - the quiet, the cleanliness, the lack of responsibilities to other people. In my fantasies, though, I don't start out this depleted.
rivka: (her majesty)
The awkward thing about being a psychologist is that sooo many people feel like qualified experts based on their common sense, personal experience, or reading of pop psychology books. Double that when you're a child psychologist, because practically everyone feels qualified to give parenting advice. And homeschoolers, of course, have essentially constructed their lives around a belief that they can do as good a job as trained professionals.

So someone will post a dilemma online, and potentially dozens of people will chime in with recommendations, advice, and - yes - diagnoses, based on what they feel is sound lay experience. And I'm sitting there saying, "I don't have enough information to comment. Yes, I know that everyone else posting here has enough information to comment, but not me." Or even more explosively: "I know everyone else here is dispensing advice freely, but my advice is worth money."

Somebody messaged me on Facebook - a complete stranger, contacting my professional page - asking for advice. She included, no kidding, a .jpg of her kid's test scores. It isn't the first time that someone has done that.

I sent back a message:
Thanks for contacting me. Your situation certainly sounds frustrating, and I can see how you'd be at a loss for what to do next. But for ethical reasons, I really can't give advice outside of an established therapist-client relationship with proper boundaries. It's also hard for me to give advice that's truly helpful unless I have more background context than I can get through a Facebook message.

As you may or may not know, I'm located in Maryland, which is probably a little further than you'd like to travel for an appointment. However, your state is one of the places where an out-of-state psychologist is allowed to consult on a limited basis. I'd be happy to set up a consultation relationship, where you can send me all of the testing data you have and we can have a full conversation about your concerns over the phone. Then I could put the test data and our conversation together and give you constructive advice based on my professional expertise. That kind of service usually runs about $300 to $450, depending on how much background material there is for me to review. Let me know if you'd like to schedule something like that.


If she posted what she sent me on a message board, dozens of people would give her authoritative advice for free. It's part of the culture of parenting/homeschooling message boards. So even though, on the one hand, it's ridiculous to have to explain to someone that you don't do your job for free, on the other hand it feels transgressive to set those boundaries.
rivka: (her majesty)
Twelve years ago I posted about how important it is for therapists to learn the specific language used by their clients. Back then I saw clients in an inner-city HIV clinic. I needed to know phrases like dope-sick and ready rock, and understand the difference between hustling and tricking, not because my clients didn't understand the more formal language I was trained to use but because

They can tell that I'm not part of their culture, but I still owe it to them to at least show intelligent familiarity with that culture. They can tell I haven't been there, but at least I can convey that I know where there is.


I called that post to mind today. My client population has changed entirely, of course, but the principle is still the same:

"So there's this term, 'off the derech'-"
"Ah, right, and these kids are off the derech."
"Yeah, and they..."

Or, watching a perfectly cheerful baby who was nonetheless repeatedly bouncing his mouth off the front of his mother's shoulder:

"If you need to feed him, go right ahead."
"Well, he ate before we came, so he shouldn't need to..."
"Okay, I just thought he kind of looked like he wanted to nurse. I remember those days."
[Relief spreads across the mother's face. She pulls her breast out of the top of her shirt and then goes back to telling me about her older child's learning issues.]

Very few people go to see a psychologist for specific techniques, or for particular expertise - although those things are also important. You go to a psychologist to feel understood. And so your psychologist should speak your language.
rivka: (her majesty)
(1) Drove Michael to work, because we have only one car and I almost always need it.
(2) Had a meeting with the "learning specialist" at a ritzy private school. I had written to her pitching my professional services in various capacities, and she wrote back asking for an in-person meeting. It went swimmingly. She kept saying things like, "Oh, you phrase that so beautifully." She's putting me on the (short) list of psychologists she recommends to parents, and it seems very likely that the school will also be hiring me to do some parent workshops on topics like, "How not to let your hugely pressured, wealthy, achievement-oriented life turn your child into a big bucket of stress."
(3) Read a chapter of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to the kids.
(4) Did intensive prep for my world religion class, including mixing up cookie dough, making templates for the kids to use to cut things out, and assembling a massive array of craft supplies.
(5) Ran to the grocery store because we were out of vanilla for the cookies for religion class.
(6) Drove to the homeschool center. Set up my classroom. Taught my world religion class about the holiday of the week: St. Lucia Day. We made Lucia cat cookies, the girls made St. Lucia candle crowns, and the boys made St. Lucia "star boy" hats. We learned to sing one verse of the carol, and then we paraded through the homeschool center in our headgear, singing the carol and serving people little cakes.
(7) Cleaned up the massively messy classroom. Snippets of posterboard, gold paper, pine garland, and craft foam were everywhere, and that's not even mentioning the powdered sugar and bits of cookie dough.
(8) Ran to the bagel shop to get lunch for Alex and myself. (Colin went home with his best friend for lunch and playtime.)
(9) Prepped for my math class. We start each class with a few questions on last week's topic, which I collect and grade. I checked their pre-Thanksgiving work, made a new one for this week, and ran off twelve copies.
(10) A client came in while I was prepping my math class, and we had a quick on-the-fly consultation. She's thinking of enrolling her child in a private school for kids with language-based disabilities, and wanted to make sure that the evaluation I'm doing is going to meet their entrance requirements.
(11) Taught my math class how to multiply and divide mixed numbers.
(12) Came home from the homeschool center with Alex and her friend Lily. They walked the dog while I prepped a biology lesson. Then I gave them a snack and taught them how to use a microscope. They were thrilled.
(13) Attempted to put the kitchen back in order, including running the dishwasher and hand-washing quite a few additional dishes as well. Why were there still dishes from last night's dinner? That is totally not my responsibility.
(14) Listened to Colin read from The Elephant Family Book and fielded his complaints that "Elephants are so sexist." (Because they're matriarchal, that's why.)
(15) Picked Michael up from the light rail stop, in the rain.

Still to come:
(16) Put away all my teaching stuff.
(17) Make dinner - stir-fried chicken and mushrooms in ginger sauce, a raw veggie platter, rice.
(18) Return a client phone call. This one won't be fun.
(19) Prep for tomorrow's testing client.
(20) Have a drink and go to bed early. Although by that point it will probably be more like "early," in quotes.
rivka: (her majesty)
It's 10:30pm on a Thursday. I'm sitting cross-legged on the couch with my laptop, a glass of wine on the coffee table in front of me. To my right, in easy petting range, is a sleeping beagle. To my left is a copy of Creative Problem Solving in School Mathematics, which arrived in the mail today for Alex's delectation. Since I read Alex her bedtime Eva Ibbotson chapter about an hour ago, I've been making a series of small changes to my professional website while chatting with my friends on Facebook and occasionally peeking into the math book.

This is the way my life goes, these days. It's less about "work/life balance" than it is about work and life woven together into a seamless fabric. Which has its ups and downs... but honestly, so many more ups. It used to be such a strain to maintain separate work and home lives, attempting to give the impression in each setting that it was the only one that really mattered to me.

I have a babysitter for one afternoon a week, and she called me this afternoon to cancel for tomorrow. She's sick. That's the sort of thing that used to throw me into a panic. Whether I was strictly needed at work (sometimes I was, sometimes I wasn't) was immaterial - it was necessary that I be perceived as someone whose children didn't interfere with her career responsibilities.

Now? I see clients out of an office in the Baltimore Homeschool Community Center. My kids usually come to work with me. It's a shame that they'll have to be there all afternoon tomorrow - I'm solidly booked with clients from 12 to 430ish - but it's only a shame because they'll have to occupy themselves all afternoon instead of having Lauren lead them in fabulous art projects. Since the homeschool center is officially closed on Fridays, we can even bring Moxie with us tomorrow.

There was a day that happened this summer: We were planning to go to a picnic/park day, but I hadn't quite finished a report that was due that afternoon. So I brought my laptop with me to the park. The kids scooped up water squirters from a pile someone had brought and went running off to join in an epic Teens vs. Little Kids water war. I sat down in the picnic shelter, fastened Moxie's tie-out cable to the bench under me, and finished my report right there. Our friends greeted me cheerfully and then left me in peace to work. No one made me feel like a weirdo - or worse, an inadequate mother - for bringing work to the park. When I finished, I stowed my laptop in my backpack and slipped right into the conversation circles. We all went wading in the creek and the kids caught some crawdads.

Later that afternoon came the interpretive interview in which I explained my evaluation findings to my teenaged client and his family. They really wanted me to come to their house for the session, so they set up LEGOS and other toys in their living room for my kids and sat with me at the dining room table, on the other side of a set of glass doors. I taught them about what I'd learned and what they should do about it - my client's mother said later, in a letter, that "it was like a whole factory of candles lit up at once." And the kids and I stopped off for ice cream on the way home.

This is the life I've wanted, and didn't know that it was okay to ask for. Instead of a juggling act to perfectly balance a thousand things, it feels more like many facets of one thing. I don't worry even a tenth as much about how I seem... I just am. And it's good.
rivka: (her majesty)
Of all our homeschooling practices, writing instruction is where I've differed most from the modern educational standard. As I understand it, in a standard elementary school children are expected to produce large quantities of expressive writing, starting in kindergarten with "journals" composed with inventive spelling. One local parent told me that children in her son's kindergarten class were writing full paragraphs by the end of the year. The reams of writing continue, most of it on the topic of personal experiences. The five paragraph essay format, which I learned in seventh grade, is now apparently expected beginning in third grade.

In contrast, we did... none of that. Alex copied well-formed sentences, and later took dictation from them. She listened to passages of material and summarized them verbally. She studied spelling and the formal grammar of sentences. And above all else, she was exposed to well-written books. She read them herself, and I read aloud from books that were more complex. It was a complete departure from how her friends in public school were learning to write, and it made me very, very nervous at times. In third grade, supposedly five-paragraph-essay time, Alex began writing the occasional short paragraph. Very occasional. They were short and excruciating for her to write. I tried my best to keep trusting the method.

Now she's in fourth grade. She just turned in this essay:

IMG_20141118_105731097

So I'm feeling vindicated in our writing methods. Yes, there's a lot that could be done to improve this essay - but I don't think that four years' experience producing reams and reams of (realistically speaking) poor-quality material would fall into that category. I just don't think it's necessary to introduce higher academic skills earlier and earlier and earlier. You can just wait until those skills are developmentally appropriate, and start then - in the meantime, filling a child's time with activities which are developmentally appropriate, such as listening to increasingly complex literature.
rivka: (her majesty)
Thanks to everyone who offered suggestions for celebrating Samhain with my World Religions students. I've put my full script for the lesson under the cut, if anyone is interested. Read more... )
rivka: (her majesty)
This year I'm teaching a world religions class for 8-12 year olds at the Baltimore Homeschool Community Center. The class is organized as a "festival tour" of religious holidays from around the world. Every week, we learn about a holiday and its role in a religion and culture through experiential participation in holiday traditions. Last week, for example, we celebrated the Jewish holiday of Sukkot by making lulavs and then building and decorating a sukkah. The week before we celebrated the Hindu holiday Dussehra by putting on a puppet play of the Ramayana (condensed). The kids adore this class.

I'm adapting a UU religious education curriculum called "Holidays and Holy Days" to remove the UU content (and some wince-worthy "it was a well-meaning product of its time" elements like "Africa Day"). I'm also adding a few holidays where there was inadequate coverage.

For example, there wasn't anything Wiccan or neo-Pagan, so I'm putting together a class celebration of Samhain. That's where I could really benefit from the supervising eye of a practicing Pagan, if some of you don't mind weighing in.

My plan is to mention the idea that Halloween is a night that ghosts and spirits walk the earth, and that a lot of Halloween customs were originally connected to the idea of needing protection from spirits. "People in the United States who practice earth-based religions like Wicca also believe that the separation between earth and the spirit world becomes thinner, but they don't see that as a time to be scared of monsters. They see the holiday they call Samhain as a time to connect with, and honor, the spirits of people who have died."

I'm planning to have an ancestor altar and encourage the kids to bring in pictures or mementos of people who have died - either relatives, or famous people they admire. We'll have a seasonal snack (donuts and cider?) and put a portion on the altar for the spirits, and we'll take turns sharing a memory of the dead or talking about why we want to honor them.

My first question for Wiccans and/or Pagans is whether there are any ritual words or (especially) actions that it would be appropriate for us to include. The experiential stuff really seems to help the kids connect to the lesson, and yet at the same time we want to be respectful of the fact that these religions do not belong to us.

I'd also like to be able to explain just a sentence or two about how Samhain fits into the larger context of Pagan religious belief. I was thinking of something about being closely connected to the earth and the cycles of nature, and seeing death as a natural part of the cycle rather than something bad or scary. But (a) I don't know if that's entirely right, and (b) I don't know if there's more.

Thoughts?
rivka: (her majesty)
So, it's been... three years? Since I posted anything about my life. I'm kind of at a loss to answer the "how have you been?" question, but here's a start:

Read more... )
rivka: (her majesty)
Hi. Is anybody still out there?
rivka: (boundin')
Three years ago, my life changed forever. Happy birthday to my darling boy!

the year in pictures )colin_bike
rivka: (Baltimore)
Look, here are some pictures of our new house!

(The same ones that were on Facebook, if you already saw those.) Read more... )
rivka: (her majesty)
I just made a sign on a post-it note and taped it to the bottom of my monitor.

PROCRASTINATING MAKES ME FEEL:

- sluggish
- tired
- guilty
- anxious
- fraudulent
- hunted
- ashamed
- trapped


I've dug myself into a pretty deep procrastination/avoidance hole here at work. Today, for the first time in a while, I'm feeling as if I may be able to dig myself out. I'm trying a new strategy that involves a blank sheet of paper numbered 1 to 5. Making a to-do list is intensely anxiety-provoking because of the sheer weight of things to be done. This is a list that asks me to fill it up with things that are finished. That seems to be working better.

I'm trying not to think about what a drop in the bucket each set of five things is. Step by step.
rivka: (Alex at five)
My favorite moment of the Halloween party technically came afterward, when the remaining kids were all running around outside and the remaining parents were relaxing.

Alex and her friend Benji came in and strode over to the bookshelf.

"Let's look in the dictionary," I heard her say. "We'll check in the I's."

"Alex, what are you doing?"

She looked up from the page that she and Benji were studying. Both of their faces were serious and intent. "I say it's invulnerable, but Benji says it's invincible."

...So they looked it up. I love so much that Alex has found friends like herself.
rivka: (Default)
In a fit of madness - it did make sense at the time, I swear - I told Alex a while back that she could throw a Halloween party in the new house. I thought I was being clever, because it would force us to unpack.

Now, tomorrow, we have sixteen (!!!) of Alex's closest friends showing up for some Halloween fun. Or possibly eighteen. Holy cow, guys.

I am freaking out about whether we'll have enough food. I'm serving cupcakes, pumpkin spice cookies (mostly intended for the parents; they're flavored for adult palates), white chocolate-covered frozen bananas made up to look like ghosts, "goblin fingers" (baby carrots with sliced almond "fingernails") and dip, green slime punch, and hot cider. I guess I can put out pretzels and a big bowl of apples, too? I didn't want to get the kids maxed out on sugary junk right before Halloween.

IMAG0972

SIXTEEN KIDS NOT COUNTING MINE IN MY HOUSE OMG.

I have some party games, but I've never tried to run party games with SIXTEEN KIDS. And did I mention that thirteen of them are little boys? Not to be sexist.

I guess I don't need to worry anymore about homeschooling destroying all of Alex's opportunities for a social life, huh?
rivka: (forward momentum)
Ugh. I have the worst cold of all time.[1] Low-grade fever, sinus pressure, ear pain, congestion, scratchy sore throat, postnasal-drip-related heartburn and nausea, exhaustion, headache.

Let's look at the calendar, shall we? The movers will be here in LESS THAN FOUR DAYS.

I hesitate to say that we're "in good shape" with packing, because although on the one hand we seem to be making progress, I think the stuff must be multiplying when our backs are turned. We've done all the obvious packing - the books on the shelves, the contents of the china cabinet, puzzles and games, CDs and DVDs, linens, archived papers, the contents of our desks, small kitchen appliances, and, most magnificently, the full contents of the basement. I've even packed most of the food in the pantry and most of the utensils, pots, and pans. But there isn't a single room in the house, no matter how much packing we've done, that doesn't still have "extra" stuff that needs to be packed: current magazines, flyers for programs we're interested in, odd books that got overlooked in the packing, weird utensils, mail, nail clippers, flashlights, battery chargers, random extra game pieces or Cuisenaire rods that slipped behind the furniture... no matter how many boxes of that stuff get packed, there are still more to go. Endlessly.

We still have to pack most of the kids' toys and books, of course. You can't really pack those up while they're home and playing. Sneaking around after bedtime, I've packed up two big boxes of toys and one box of picture books, plus most of Alex's chapter books. (Although those, too, are turning up all over the house, in ones and twos.) I haven't been able to do more than that yet. So there are still plenty of kids' things, and the everyday dishes and glasses, and all the shoes, and some of our clothes, and... at some point, I guess, even the dirty laundry needs to be packed, and the half-full bag of frozen peas.

I remember that when we moved out of our old house (next door to this one) we just didn't worry about getting all of the small stuff packed up before the movers arrived. It didn't seem significant. We'd say "oh yeah, this is basically all packed, there are just a couple of things." Sorting through and moving the "couple of things" per room took forever afterward. So this time I want to get it all, all into boxes. Now.

So, exhausted and with a head full of cotton candy and ground glass, I just. have. to. keep. going.

The movers will be here in less than four days.



[1] Possibly an exaggeration, I admit. But only a slight one.
rivka: (chalice)
I never mentioned this because it happened during my hiatus from LJ, but I've been appointed to the SUUSI Board of Trustees. My only Board activity so far has been attending the wrap-up meeting on the last day of SUUSI as a non-voting member-elect, but all of that's about to change! This Friday I'm getting on a plane and flying to Greensboro, NC for a joint meeting of the Board and the Core Staff. SUUSI will be paying for my ticket, picking me up at the airport, and feeding and housing me for the weekend.

When I'm talking to people who don't know anything about SUUSI, I say, "I'm on the Board of a volunteer organization, and I'm flying down for a Board meeting this weekend," with a secret grin because that sounds like something from a life that is so much more impressive and accomplished than mine. Except, you know, I am really doing it. Somebody cares enough about what I have to say to spend several hundred dollars' worth of SUUSI registration fees to hear me say it. That's so exciting! And a little daunting.
rivka: (WTF?!)
I got quotes from ten moving companies.

One was self-evidently a rogue mover. The quote was in plain text instead of on a quote form, only offered two workers, and required payment in cash. The Better Business Bureau has no record of the "company's" existence.

Six had ratings of D or F from the BBB.

Two had no rating available from the BBB, with a notation that the rating was "under review."

...I guess we're going with the tenth one?
rivka: (I love the world)
We won't move until October 15, but we're buying some new things and moving them in now. I am particularly happy about this lovely midcentury sectional:

IMAG0913

I'm not a hundred percent sure how all our living room furniture is going to wind up looking when we have it in there together. The space is designed as one big living-dining room, and instead we're going to use it as a living room-study. Our current living room contains one very nice two-year-old dark chocolate-colored couch, and two awful ancient armchairs I bought secondhand when I moved to Iowa in 1995. We won't be moving those. Instead we bought this nice sectional and - this is the part I'm nervous about - a bright lipstick-red armchair. My hope is that the pillows on the sectional will help bring the colors in the room together.

The other thing, of course, is that having our study in our living room will mean that we have to keep the study neater. That's part of my master plan. This house has such a rational layout that I'm hoping we can set things up in the first place in a way that will foster better organization. (For example: all the homeschooling materials (1) together, (2) next to my desk, (3) with a table that is not also our dinner table, and (4) with plenty of space for Colin to play nearby. All the toys downstairs in a confined space. A place to keep the cookbooks in the kitchen. And so on.)

In other news, Colin is going to have a big boy bed in the new house. He asked for one.

IMAG0912

We decided to forego a toddler bed this time and go straight to a twin. I'm a bit concerned about height (it's waist-high on Colin), but we can put a mat on the floor until he learns not to fall out. He's going to have transportation-themed bedding and also a wall border and, well, you see the rug. It's much more theme-y than anything we've ever done before, but we promised Alex that she could have her room painted and it only seemed fair to give Colin special decor too.

Alex has chosen aqua walls, and a beautiful sea-colored duvet and sheet set to replace the bright, cheery toddler bedding which now offends her sense of dignity. I think this new set will age with her nicely. We also got her a filmy tulle bed canopy and a fun, silly floor lamp from Ikea, because dignity or not the child is still six.

Oh, and Michael bought a self-propelled cordless electric lawnmower! Because we have a lawn now, and boy does it need cutting.

So our house is still almost empty, but it does have porch furniture (left by the sellers - we ordered new cushions, though, and we need to give it a good scrubbing), high captain's chairs at the kitchen bar, a sectional sofa with jazzy pillows, a couple of lamps, a lawnmower, rakes, and a big boy bed.

You know: the basics.

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