It’s one of the earliest signs of Spring; Big Girl’s skirts and dresses are suddenly all way too short! Before I break down and buy her a new Spring/Summer wardrobe I decided to see how we might creatively fill some of the holes.  This skirt is an awesome solution; it’s warm enough for cooler spring days, super cute, it was free and it only took about an hour to make.

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We began by looking through some of the older clothes I have in storage; things that don’t quite fit right or are in a color I like better on the hanger than on myself.  Among those clothes we found a very cute kelly green sweater that I never wear because of the awkward arm length.  sweater skirt 1

We began our project by having Big Girl cut the sleeves and collar off the sweater.

She wanted an A-line skirt with as much drapy-ness as possible so we then folded the remaining sweater in in half and drew a line from the former-neck-now-waist to the bottom corner.  I ran those sides through the sewing machine, cut off the remainder and reinforced the hem by hand-sewing with embroidery floss.

My preference for the skirt would have been to make it a pencil skirt.  To do that I would have made a line perpendicular to the waist, cut and re-seamed along those lines.

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I cut elastic to fit her waist, sewed it into a loop, and then attached it with a loose running stitch along the top of the sweater neckline. sweater skirt 4

I was concerned about the sweater fraying so I used embroidery floss to fold the hem over the elastic and then secured it by whip-stiching the entire waist.

The final skirt is super cute and just in time for her to wear to school on St. Patrick’s Day this week!

I only wish I had a way too big sweater that I could use to make one of these for myself.

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Remember those cute blackboards I made for the kitchen?  Perfect for my countdown of teaching days…  18… 17… 16 days to go.

I decided back in January to submit my resignation right away and to use this semester to wrap things up and say my goodbyes.  For the past several weeks, that’s what I’ve been doing during my work days… slowly but surely packing up my office and saying goodbyes. (Tell me, do I really have to keep paper files? The paper copy of my dissertation?  My M.A.?  No, embrace the digital world, right?)

One thing I’ve noticed is that while the sr. faculty are fully in the know (but decline to address the issue with me) everyone jr. to me is shocked to learn I didn’t get tenure.  I don’t just mean shocked on my behalf in the sense of that’s so unfair (although I get a lot of that too).  I mean, they had no idea; the news had not reached them.

I don’t know why this surprises me or bothers me so much.  I know that my department and university are profoundly hierarchical and that decision-making is completely opaque.  But, maybe since I am slowly extricating myself from this soul-sucking atomistic culture I see more clearly how information is tightly controlled in order to control people and maintain the social order.  Since I’m on my way out, I can’t change the system, but I can break the silence by refusing to let the fact that I was denied tenure a secret.  So, I have been telling all the instructors, non-tenure track people, grad students and undergrads that I am leaving because I was denied tenure.  I’m not complaining or griping, but I am making sure it’s not a secret.

While I’ve been tying up the ends of my academic career, I’ve also been making plans for the future and making space at home.  This has mainly meant two big things: thinking hard about how we use our house and reconfiguring that space to make it fit our family in this new stage, and figuring out how to cut expenses and save money so we can afford for me not to work.

Some of the saving has been easy and fun.  We’ve been making cute hair ties instead of buying more, we have plans to upcycle one of my old sweaters into a new skirt for Big Girl, and to make floor pillows created from old pillow cases and baby blankets (posts on these activities soon!).

Other saving has been more challenging… since January I’ve been trying to cook all of the food from our freezers and pantry to use up older things and decrease our food waste.  We’ve definitely done that to some extent… but we had to eat a couple of yucky dinners in the process and we still have some odd mystery ingredients to go… including two kugels that I don’t want to eat…  The upside is that I have been doing so much cooking and baking that the girls can make banana bread, cookies, and gougieres pretty much on their own!  (Maybe a few baking posts to follow soon too?)

This week its all about our new home library!  I’ve been working hard on it and can’t wait to share pictures of the gorgeous color scheme, built-in bookshelves and fabulous floor pillows in some future posts.

Epson_02262016141119 (1).jpg Last week my kids had a day off from school but were too tired and cranky to go to a museum or out for a hike or even to the library.  They also couldn’t just have “alone time” (seriously do anyone’s kids both want alone time at the same time, ever?).  Just as the pitch of their bickering reached a dangerous level, I happened upon a super fun idea.  I told them that we were each going to draw a creature and then we were going to do a series of art projects using those creatures.

Thus, Sparkle the Unicorn, Bluebell the Bluejay and Fran the Faun were born.   This project worked really well for a few reasons.  First, we could each do parts of an animal but we found that we liked having someone else do another part.  So, I sketched a unicorn, Little Girl made it rainbow, Big Girl added the purple, I outlined it, and Little Girl covered it in glitter glue.  Same process for Bluebell and Fran too (though minus the glitter!).

Doing it that way meant that we were working IMG_3194together… which means there was no competition.  (A dramatic improvement from how our day had been shaping up before that.)

This approach also  had the benefit of getting us all thinking about how we might want to use our creatures.  What sorts of scene they should be in and how they fit together.

We decided to create a water color scene for the original animals but also to create alternate versions to fit with our bigger story.  For one picture, Big Girl had the idea that we should trace the creatures so we could make multiples.  I loved that idea and proposed that maybe we could use scraps of colored paper to make it work.  For another version, I thought it would be fun to scan our coloring creations to resize, reprint and reuse.

Tracing and cutting for art projecttrace

We wrapped up our day by putting our creatures into scenes, a few of which I hope to frame and hang in the house.

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We also ended the day happy, relaxed and feeling like friends.  It is so tempting to think that when kids are cranky we need to get them out of the house to provide some stimulation.  Of course, we can all end up stir crazy so sometimes getting out of the house is what is needed.  But, sometimes, staying in, working together and building closeness is what we really need.

One of the best parenting books I ever read (Raising Your Spirited Child) proposed that when your kid is most monstrous and infuriating and you are most tempted to yell at him/her, the best thing you can do is give them a hug and try to reconnect instead of letting anger take over.  This project did that for us.

My husband and I recently made a parenting decision that surprised us: we signed the opt-out form to remove Big Girl from a health unit on “personal safety.”  This section “safety” discusses what to do if you encounter a gun (don’t touch), how to deal with knives and fire (don’t touch) and “inappropriate” touching (tell a grown-up).  My husband and I realized that we did not want her to learn about any of this as part of her second grade class at school.

Turns out, that my husband and I are the only ones who felt that way, or at least the only ones who acted on our feeling; Big Girl is the only one in her second grade class not participating.  After the first class (when she had free reading time in the classroom while the rest of the class went to health) her friend asked her, “Why doesn’t your mom want you to be safe?”

To her credit, she knew both how to respond to her friend and the reason for our decision.  It’s not that we don’t want her to be safe.  It’s that we don’t want her to be scared.

By teaching my daughter that there are all these things out there that are a risk to her I think we end up making her worry about encountering them.  I think we end up cultivating a culture of fear.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I know that guns, knives, fire and child abuse are all real things with disastrous effects but I also know that the chances of any kid actually being at risk from one of these threats is small.  I know too that for my daughter, a kid who is cautious by nature, but also has had real life (and safe) experiences with fire (while camping) and knives (while cooking and camping too), learning about how to “stay safe” in the abstract is not necessary.

So, I’m not dismissing the fact that there are risks out there.  Nor am I proposing wrapping my kids in bubble wrap and never letting them out of my sight.

But, I am suggesting that by prioritizing safety has a cost.

Part of my reason for opposing this health unit is my own childhood memories.  I can recall, vividly, in the early 80s sitting through D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Program) program and learning EVERY possible detail about every imaginable street drug.  I can remember being warned to never talk to strangers, to never get in a strangers car, to watch out for crazy people because they might be on drugs and might try to give me drugs, to not cross the street without the help of a grown-up, to never eat anything homemade without my parents’ permission because it might be poisoned (or laced with drugs), to never accept a gift from a stranger, and, of course, to watch out for razor blades in apples at Halloween.

Taken together, the message was clear:  the world is a scary and dangerous place.  You should be afraid, you should not trust neighbors or passers-by, you should not trust people who are a little odd or different, you should not trust homemade food items.  You can only trust your school, the police, and your parents.

It worked.  I was afraid.  And, that is what I don’t want to do to my kids.  I don’t want them to see a threat lurking around each corner.  I don’t want them to distrust well-meaning passers-by.  I don’t want them to fear the world.  I want them to embrace it.   I don’t want them to be “safe” at the expense of being free.

When I mention this to my students or talk about it with fellow parents, one of the common refrains I hear is that, “things are more dangerous today than when we were kids.”  That is just not true. 

There isn’t as much to fear as we might think.  Gun violence is down—49% lower in 2010 than in 1993 (http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/05/07/gun-homicide-rate-down-49-since-1993-peak-public-unaware/).

Death or injury by accident has also generally declined over time in the U.S.: 334 kids died from fire in 2013, compared to almost twice as many 703 in 1999.  (https://www.safekids.org/fact-sheet/burns-and-fire-safety-fact-sheet-2015-pdf)  Again, it’s a tragedy when it does happen, but it’s not really something for kids to worry about in advance.  In fact, that’s because most deaths by fire have nothing to do with kids playing with fire.  Deaths from fire happen when kids are inside buildings that catch fire.  So, yeah, they should learn stop, drop and roll and to touch the doorknob to see if it’s hot before they exit a room when there’s a fire.  Even more important, parents should install smoke detectors and change those damn batteries twice a year!

Similarly, all that stranger danger rhetoric is totally overblown.  The number of kids who were abducted by strangers in 2015?  About 100 which is less than 1% of total reports of missing and abducted children.  (https://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/crimestats)

And, this is the cincher.  There is no record of any kid, anywhere getting poisoned Halloween candy.  (http://www.snopes.com/horrors/poison/halloween.asp)

So, these are not things to be worrying about.

Still, I get why the school is doing this unit. Parents and schools want courses on safety because they too are scared.  It’s often hard not to be scared.  Turn on the news or scroll through the headlines on your phone and you are greeted with one horrible atrocity after another…  never mind that millions of not horrible things happened that day too.  Those aren’t newsworthy!

Clearly this culture of fear goes way beyond school curriculums.  Read a parenting website and see ads for baby gates, baby leashes, and finger printing kits.  See promotions for alarm systems, self-defense classes, and countless other products that promise security and safety.   Many argue in fact, that this is intentional marketing—and it obviously is not limited to parents and kids.

My objections to this breeding of fear run deep.  I don’t want my kids to be frightened.  In fact, I think I have a responsibility to keep the culture of fear at bay.  The responsibility of parents is to prepare their children to have the skills they need to make choices, develop connections, solve problems, and live a meaningful life.  I think that when we inculcate children in a culture of fear we teach them to second guess their choices, short-circuit their ability to develop connections and solve problems and make it harder for them to live a meaningful life.

So, despite our love of schooling and commitment to education, we opted out.  I have a feeling it’s only the first time of many.