Nashville Cherry Blossom Festival

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When I took my oldest to the Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival in Nashville this weekend, I didn’t spend as much time with her as I thought I would. We were there for less than five minutes before she ran into a friend from JSL (Japanese Second Language). I quickly felt like a fifth wheel, so I told her to keep her phone close and I walked off.

Wow. It was so natural and easy I almost missed it.

My daughter just ditched me for her friends for the first time.

I am so proud! Take that all you homeschool doubters who believe homeschooled children will grow up to be socially awkward teens who have no friends!

IMG_3655And it didn’t stop there. It wasn’t long before I ran into some of the Nashville Kendo Club members. I asked them where and when they needed to meet up for the demonstration they had scheduled so I could find Gillian to make sure she got there on time. They told me not to worry. They had already seen Gillian and she was getting ready in the changing rooms. She would be out in a minute.

You could have knocked me over with a feather.

She was already getting ready. On her own. Without being told.

Soon she was back out and texting me that a friend and his mother had arrived who wanted to see her kendo group in action. It meant so much to her that her friend would come and see what she is so passionate about (I wrote about that here). I met up with them and we joined the crowd to watch. When she went backstage, she ran into yet another friend. She was completely surprised and delighted to run into one of her best friends from church who was there with her own dojo. Small world!

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The kendo group was great, of course.

IMG_3653Afterwards, we had lunch with her friend and his mom before we headed out and milled around the booths. The food choices seemed endless. We chose a bento box, but I regret missing out on the noodle bowls. There was so much to see; everything from manga to origami, bonsai trees to kimonos. We listened to the music from the stage and soaked up the culture before heading home from one of the best afternoons I’ve had in a very long time.

Homeschool families are always hearing other people’s fears about their children being socially awkward. I would argue that children growing up in forced social situations where all the kids are all one age, would find themselves at a greater disadvantage than those who move in and out of many diverse groups in their real communities. At least, that’s what has been working for us so far.

 

Featured on Hip Homeschool Blog Hop.

 

 

 

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Riding

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Jumping cross-rails on Cowboy

It took me about one month to realize there is nothing, and I mean nothing, easy about horseback riding. My daughter had been begging for riding lessons for two years before I relented. In my mind riding was a fun sport that gave people a good excuse to be around horses at best; an expensive, elitist hobby at worst. I put off letting her have lessons for years thinking it was just a phase that lots of little girls went through. When I finally relented, I had a real eye-opening experience.

Things I have learned about riding:

  • Horses are not big dogs. Okay, that should be obvious, but I had only been around horses a handful of times in my life. I was more than a little afraid of them and rightly so, they can kick, bite and step on your feet. But the gentle, patient lesson horses at CRA Equestrian won me over quickly.
  • Riding gear is sports equipment. Yes, it is expensive, but so are leotards and dance costumes, football cleats and golf clubs, bikes and running gear. When I look at it this way, and the fact that I don’t have buy gear often, it helps justify the cost.
  • Riding is a workout. I never realized that riders aren’t holding on with their hands. Those reigns are used for steering only. At the other end of the reigns is a bit in the horse’s mouth that the rider needs to be gentle with. There is no emergency handle. You keep your balance, or you fall off! Everything is in the legs and core body. You know that up-and-down posting trot that they make look so easy? It’s like doing squats. No wonder riders have awesome legs!
  • It takes a lot of focus. There is so much to remember when on a horse. There are things they have to remember about their form: Look straight ahead! check your diagonal! Heels down! Thumbs up! Shoulders Back! There are things they have to remember about the horse: Keep the horse centered to the jump! Ride out straight to the rail! Pick up the correct lead in cantering! And there are things you need to remember about tacking the horse: Picking hooves and curry combs.  How to wash the horse down on warm days and how to put its blanket on on cool ones. The bridle, the girth, the martingale!
  • It is expensive, but there are ways to manage thisFor now, my child rides the lesson horses once a week. We also enter the in-house shows that are small and affordable. If she continues in this sport, we will cross the other more expensive bridges later such as away shows and leasing a horse. There are students that work at the barn to help with expenses once they are old enough. I’ve told my daughter that we will talk about increasing our commitment when she can work.

What I have left to learn about riding can fill a library full of books! Even though I was reluctant to try this, I am glad we did. Just when I start to think that I have done so much in life, this homeschooling and parenting journey opens my eyes to new and wonderful things.

Finding a Passion: Kendo

kendo

ken·do ˈkendō/ noun
  1. a Japanese form of fencing with two-handed bamboo swords, originally developed as a safe form of sword training for samurai.

My fifteen year old daughter has a passion for kendo. Kendo is the Japanese martial art of sword fighting. She began studying kendo six years ago when we decided to homeschool. One of her closest friends and academic rivals took kendo and we parents thought it might be a great way for them to stay in touch. The first time we visited these armor clad, stick swinging, screaming kenshi, I thought there would be no way in hell my daughter would would go for it. But I was wrong. She loved it!

For the first few years she was mainly excited about seeing her friend. It wasn’t until she was twelve that she made the decision to keep studying kendo for herself. Until that point she had progressed through the ranks steadily and easily. My daughter has a natural poise that was praised by the instructors. But at twelve she and her friend tested for the rank of 1 kyu (brown belt). Her friend passed but she didn’t and rightly so. She wasn’t taking the test seriously and only went through the motions. The judges didn’t pass her and she was heart broken. To her, it was as if they didn’t like her.

As for me, I saw it coming that day. I stood at the side lines suspecting the worst. I braced myself for how to respond. I didn’t tell her she did fine. I didn’t tell her it was okay. I told her that she can work harder and try again next time. She wasn’t so sure it was worth it. She was embarrassed.

We went home and she became ‘sick’ on kendo days. I told her to be honest with herself and to take a break if she needed one, but I wasn’t going to lie for her or make excuses to the senseis for her. She needed to tell them she was going to take the summer off to decide if she wanted to continue. She did. It was hard, but she talked to the instructors and told them she needed some time off. They knew. Then something amazing happened. The senseis, one by one told her stories of how they had failed and continued. How she was so good and shouldn’t ever give kendo up completely. They asked her to come back once a month to make sure she didn’t leave for good. She left that day feeling loved and supported in a way I alone could never make her feel. These were adults who had known her for years and genuinely wanted her to stay. She thought about everything they said that week and by the next class, she had decided for herself that she really loved kendo not because she had friends there, but because she really loved the sport and the group she worked with.

Since then, Gillian has advanced steadily. When she was fourteen she was finally old enough to test for shodan, a first degree black belt. She passed this test and went on to pass her nidan, a second degree black belt at 15. These are the highest ranks they allow for kids of this age. Last month she placed third in the women’s division at a regional tournament where she was one of the youngest in the division and had to beat women of higher ranking. Her attitude toward the sport is amazing. When she wins a match, she is gracious, and when she loses a match, she sees it as a chance to improve.

This passion for kendo has motivated her to study Japanese too. She tried on her own for a few years but really began to make progress when she enrolled in a Japanese Second Language (JSL) class at a Saturday Japanese school. She goes for hours every Saturday where she has met other motivated teens who share her passion for learning.

Every parent hopes their kids will find a passion and nurture it. We place them in group after group and pay for lessons after lessons looking for something to spark their interest. We do it because we want them to have every opportunity to be happy and successful.  I’m lucky that Gillian has found something she loves, but it didn’t have to turn out this way. If she had walked away from kendo at the age of twelve, I’d have been fine with it. She would have gone on with life and not been any the worse for having tried it. I don’t think children need to be pushed into events in order to make them well rounded or to look interesting on college applications. I think extra curricular activities should be something they do because they love it.