We're not in Kansas anymore. Or Texas, for that matter

I've lived in Austin almost seven years -- longer than I have ever lived anywhere else in my entire life.

I've lived in California and Texas three times times each, New York twice, Connecticut, Virginia and Oregon once each, and until now, never stayed in one place more than two years.

The short version of the story: When I was ten, my father left and my mother went crazy, taking my three younger sisters and me on a ten-year, five-state, manic quest to run away from unhappiness and toward "home."

We never found home. What we did, instead, was move. A lot.

We had rules: We never got rid of our animals. So we always had one dog, maybe two along for the ride, and some cats, and occasional smaller creatures.

My mother wanted us to be "normal." This meant no trailer parks, apartments, condos or anything "less" than a full-fledged house with a real yard.

We took everything with us, every time, or made a bizarre attempt at it. Whatever we could fit in the back of the U-Haul came along.

So, we left Los Angeles when I was ten, and went to a house in upstate New York. My mother decided that was too cold and miserable, and she needed cash, so she burned down the house for the insurance check, and we were off to Texas, where it was warmer.

One year in Houston and three houses later, she decided Houston wasn't quite right for us, either. Clothes in black plastic garbage bags. Empty the junk drawer into a box, seal it up, put it on the back of a U-Haul.

Off to Los Angeles again. House after house after house. Big houses on a hill. Smaller houses on a different hill. Flat houses with a pool. Garbage bags, boxes and U-Hauls.

When she won big on a game show, it was a really big house with a pool. When that money was gone, so was Los Angeles. 

Off to Oregon. Two houses. More moves. More boxes, more clothes in black plastic garbage bags. More stuff to be shipped/U-Hauled/packed/unpacked.

Six months later, back to Los Angeles. A different house, for nine months this time.

Back to the East Coast. Connecticut. Two houses in a year. Still not quite right. 

Maybe upstate New York again, this time without the house fire?

This is where I bowed out of the dance, and went to college on my own, and moved, later, on my own to Texas.

I moved to a dorm room in the University of Houston, and I lived in one dorm room for two years.

A record for me.

I know how to move. I know how to sort things into boxes, to make runs to Goodwill, to put clothes into bags, to sort things into your car that you hope you won't lose, to keep running lists in your head of everything you own.

I know how to start over. How to make new friends. How to break into tight-knit social groups. How to make snap decisions about sentimental stuff and move on.

What I don't know is how to stay put. I like Austin. I'm happy here, and have good friends, a great house, and my kids love it.

And yet, it doesn't feel like "home."

I don't know where "home" is. I still don't know what to say when people ask me where I'm from.

I can imagine the perfect house, though. An amalgam of all the best parts of the houses I loved that we lived in. A big front porch, no mosquitos, a kitchen with a window over the sink. Plenty of bookshelves. A great garden. A big fireplace. A brook, perhaps, or a stream. Maybe a basement.

But I know I'm fooling myself even as I write this. I'll never find "home." 

Because the big difference between my mother and me is that I know I don't need to keep searching for it.

I have my home, right here, with Mark and my kids. My family is all I need, and the rest is just noise. It's stuff that can be put in boxes, squished into black garbage bags. It's stuff that can be lost in fires, turned over in a U-Haul truck, ruined in a flood. It's all temporary and ephermal.

I won't say that I'm not a little nauseated and twitchy by the sight of garbage bags, boxes and Sharpies I have in my living room. Moving again is not easy for me.

But perhaps the best thing I learned from all of the moving, from all of the searching for home, is that perhaps Dorothy was right. You have what you need to go home all along. Your red slippers are always on your feet.

If only my mother could have learned that lesson earlier.

Off to go pack...


The last time I moved to the Pacific Northwest

 This is an excerpt from the book I'm working on (very much a work in progress.)

This is a reminder that no matter how bad this move gets, I've certainly survived worse.

The setting -- summer, 1985. I had turned 16 four months before, I was going into my senior year of high school, I lived in Los Angeles and went to North Hollywood High School, which I loved. I went to Houston to spend a month with my aunt and uncle and get a summer job.

The story begins in August, when I got home from Houston:



When I got off the plane in Los Angeles, my friend Kenny met me at the airport with my sister Katie.

 "Where's mom?" I asked, looking around for her, and for my younger sisters, Morgain and Nora.

 He grimaced, and said, "Things have changed. There's a LOT going on."

Yep. She'd sold the house. She'd moved out. And she'd found a place for us to live. In Oregon.

So Kenny, Katie, and my best friend Susie and I went to the old house, and there wasn't much left; my mother had a moving truck come while I was gone, and they'd packed everything up, and all that was left was the animals.

Stupid Sugar, of course, Katie's dog, who wouldn't go anywhere without her, and our doberman mutt, Toby, and a couple of cats, one a mother cat with kittens, and two chickens that had survived our care.

My mother had left, along with Morgain and Nora, in our van.

The plan she had left behind was this: Kenny and Katie were going to go up in Kenny's truck, with a bunch of odds and ends, and they could take Sugar with them, because Sugar didn't go anywhere without Katie, and vice versa.

Katie's friend Tyra could go up for a while and visit and see the new house, too. And Kenny's friend Lenny was going to go visit. So Susie might as well come on up, too.

At this point, Susie was my lifeline. She was the only person outside my family, and I clung to her -- she was the connection to school, to our friends, to the world that I wanted to be in instead of the one my mother was dragging me to. And since she considered herself to be a part of our family, and wanted nothing to do with her own, she packed up a couple of books, grabbed her pet gerbils and headed up to Oregon with me.

We went by her house to get her things. Her mother and aunt barely grunted at her and didn't acknowledge me at all. She'd been staying at our house for most of the past two years, she was only just turned 16 and was a senior in high school and got almost all As and had never been in any sort of trouble, and they just didn't want her around. When I saw they couldn't care less if she disappeared to Oregon for a week or for months, I felt bad being angry with my mother for moving. That lasted about five minutes, until we were back on the road to Oregon.

Then I was furious and betrayed again.

I was livid.

  Up until this point, I had some say in what happened to the family. I was the favorite, and my mother leaned on me for advice and moral support. If said I wasn't going to do something, and I pushed hard enough, my mother would usually change her mind.

 I felt betrayed and hurt and ready to kill someone when I thought about my senior year.

Susie was as strange as I was, and the two of us had somehow found a home at North Hollywood High School. There were 34 people in our graduating class. We were friends with all of them. Senior year, the year we were 16, was going to be the year we finally got Josh and Chris to notice us as girls instead of friends. We were going to go to concerts. We were going to apply to college! We had SATs to take!

  Instead, we were headed to a town called Jacksonville, near Medford. These names meant nothing to me.

We were driving my Peugeot, a tiny car I'd bought with money I'd made from selling a scooter my mother won on the game show. It was August, and I'd had my license for four months, but I'd been driving for almost a year; as soon as I turned 15, my mother let me start doing errands and driving my sisters to school.

 So Susie, a boy named Lenny and I headed out, with a chicken named Belina, the dog named Toby, two gerbils, the cats and as much stuff as we could fit in the trunk. It was a long trip.

I'd never driven anywhere besides Los Angeles, and I'd never been on a long trip by myself. I'd never stayed in a hotel on my own. And I'd never taken care of a lot of animals at once. Going 700 miles with just an envelope full of cash scared me. My mom didn't have a phone at the new house. I only had an address -- no directions. I had an atlas, but the street the house was on wasn't listed. And I hated Lenny with a passion, and I'm sure he felt the same way about Susie and me.

Lenny was a strange kid, a little older than I was, 17 or so, going in to his senior year, too.

He had a family, and there was a story about his family having money, but they had disowned him, or he'd left, or something.

Here's the thing, though. Susie and I were SMART. That was our thing. Other people could be cooler than we were, other people could be funny or rich or could dress nice or could be cheerleaders, but we were smart, and we wanted to be around people like us.

Lenny was as stupid as they come. He used to say this stupid, idiotic, moronic, fucking annoying catchphrase: "Beisbol been bery bery good to me," over and over and over again until we'd want to wring his neck.

Why was he in the car with us?  He'd met Kenny, somehow, through work or school. But Kenny wasn't really friends with him; Kenny was older, 22 or 23 at this point, and Lenny was from a white middle-class family and didn't have much in common with Lenny. I think Lenny's family must have been so awful, or he must have been so lonesome, that he just needed somewhere to go. He came over once, with Kenny, to smoke some dope or get something to eat, and he saw that there were a bunch of teenage girls there, and lots of food, and that no one would turn him away, and he just kept coming back.

We had a lot of people like that. Katie's friend Tyra, who had a mother with an abusive boyfriend. Susie. Another friend of Kenny's, who had the misfortunes of being young, black, very gay in mannerisms, and named Lester.

All of them ended up with us in Oregon.

  And somehow, we got stuck with Lenny for the ride up, "Beisbol" and all.

Packing the car was like doing a logic puzzle: Putting a doberman and a momma cat and kittens into a car with two gerbils and a chicken simply doesn't work.

So we kept the gerbils in a cage up front on Susie's lap, put the doberman in back on Lester's lap, and put the cats shut up tight in a box, with the chicken in another one, and tried to ignore the noises they all made as they lunged for each other.

  About two hours into the trip, we made our first stop and tried to get out to go to McDonald's for a drink. The dog got out, letting the chicken out into the parking lot, which we chased for fifteen minutes. Then I checked on the cats and had my first real inkling that I was in over my head and didn't know what the fuck I was doing.

The cats, a mama cat and her four kittens, were soaking wet and shaking. The tiny box was way too small for all of them, and they'd had no air and were slowly suffocating. The mama cat was gasping for breath and barely mewling at me.

I started shaking, realizing I'd almost killed a bunch of animals simply because I was overwhelmed and wasn't thinking. After some water and some air, though, and some towel-drying, all of the cats seemed to recover pretty quickly, and we got back on the road.

Somehow, we made it to a hotel for the first night, where all three of us fell into bed, in our clothes, after securing the chicken in a drawer, the dog in the bathroom, the gerbils in the trunk and the cats in the car with the windows cracked.

The next day, despite getting a ticket going 88 miles an hour (the cop gave me a stern lecture for going 33 miles over the speed limit, for having so many animals in the car, for being so young, for driving so fast, for having bald tires, for having the music so loud, but finally had to let us go,) we made it to Oregon, and it was beautiful.

First we hit Medford, and we thought we could be OK with this. Medford was a decent sized-town, and Oregon had to be better than Texas, and I'd always heard that cool people lived in Oregon. I didn't know anything about the state, really, except that it rained a lot.

Medford looked great -- artsy and on a river and with lots of mountains and green trees. And then to Jacksonville, which was a smaller town, but on a roaring river, and we had to drive through some of the most beautiful valleys and mountains I'd ever seen.

I was convinced the Adirondacks were the most beautiful place I'd even been, but this place was competing.

Tall mountains, rushing water, lots of open spaces and curving streets that went in and out of valleys with farm stands and cute shops by the side of the road.

And the drawback to the Adirondacks was that it was so far from the ocean -- on the map, it looked like the Pacific was only an hour or two away.

In Jacksonville, we stopped and got out the directions we had to get to the house: Drive north to Medford. Hang a left to Jacksonville. Ask someone how to get to the small town of Ruch, nearby. Follow signs to the new house.

Not much to go on, but off we went.

  Lenny was driving us crazy -- he was narrating from the back seat, as if the trip was a baseball game. I still didn't know why he was there, and he was instantly irritating. The worst part was that he was sort of good-looking, in a vacuous, white-bread sort of way, and when we stopped for a bite to eat, the waitress would always be nice to him and assume he was in charge and we were just his girlfriends.

Nothing made me more pissy than someone assuming that a stupid man was in charge.

We'd stop to ask for directions, and they'd start explaining where to Lenny where to go. And he'd nod his head, sagely, though he probably didn't know what state we were in, and I'd just elbow him out of the way, and say, "I'm driving, so I should probably listen, too."

We asked how to get to Ruch and got a map, and I started to get worried.

Jacksonville was cute, but tiny. There was a grocery store and a gas station, but not much else. And Medford, the big town, hadn't looked far on the map, but it had taken 30 minutes at least to get here, with winding, mountainous, two-lane roads, and I'd never done that kind of driving before.

  And the guy at the gas station said Ruch was another twenty minutes down the road.

  I asked about where the high school was, and it was in Medford. I asked how far it was, and it was at least a 30-minute drive from here. Add on another 20 minutes to get to Ruch, and it was starting to look ugly.

But we found our way to Ruch, which was  really just a gas station and a crossroads, and in the middle of the intersection was a big fluorescent sign that said, "MEAGAN, KATIE, KENNY and SUSIE, THIS WAY ------>>>>>>," and so we followed it. We went down another winding road, with a mountain on one side and painful death by chasm on the other, and a couple of mile later, we saw another sign, this time on a paper plate with highlighters: "TURN HERE!!!!"

After a couple more of these, we finally saw a driveway, a long, unpaved road with four or five smaller roads forking off from it, and at every turn, there was a paper plate with a fluorescent pink "Turn here, Kenny and Meagan!"

It was dark, so we stopped at the bottom of the driveway to figure out which turnoff was ours, and one of the cats jumped out and streaked off into the woods, and we never saw him again. We'd traveled with the damned thing for 700 miles and figured how to keep him alive, and now we couldn't find him, despite searching and yelling and looking. We finally gave up and went up the driveway, which was at least three-quarters of a mile up a narrow, rutted, gravel and dirt road, completely dark and hemmed in both sides by tall, overgrown pine woods.

When we reached the clearing at the end, the house was lit up, and I could see why my mother had chosen it. It was like something off the cover of Architectural Digest: A huge, three story wooden cabin, with huge triangular windows, set up on a hill in a clearing, looking out at miles of forest and woods.

My mother was standing on a huge balcony on the top floor, under sharply angled log roof, and she was grinning and waving and yelling, "Isn't it GORGEOUS??? Don't you just LOVE IT!!"

  She was so excited that it was hard to be grumpy, and even Susie and Lenny started to grin and laugh, and we unloaded the animals and told her I got a speeding ticket. I was afraid that she'd be furious -- I knew that 90 miles an hour was completely unsafe, and I had friends who'd had their licenses taken away for going over 70. But she just said, "Well, at least you made here safely," and wanted to show us the house. It was older inside, very 1970s hippie chic, and it looked like there should be macrame planters and ferns sprinkled all over the inside of it, and there were orange tile countertops and green appliances. But it was big, and open and beautiful, and we were all together again -- Kenny and Katie had gotten here the night before.

The biggest drawback to the house was that I hadn't been there to call dibs on a bedroom. We had a long-standing tradition that I got the best bedroom. It was as simple as that -- I was the oldest, I read a lot and was home a lot, and I was willing to fight for it. I got the best bedroom.

But when I got there, Morgain and Nora had one of the bedrooms, and Katie and Tyra had one of the bedrooms, and mom had the master. So I got a basement bedroom, strange and musty with dark paneling and windows at the top of the walls, and Susie fashioned a bedroom in a partition of the garage, and Lenny took the actual garage.


Why I homeschool

On a homeschool list recently, someone asked parents to explain why they homeschool, and how long they've done it.

Her husband doesn't want her to homeschool, and she wants information to persuade him.

Honestly, I can't imagine having to persuade my husband into doing what's best for our kids -- I have a long history of doing research, laying out the groundwork for why we're doing something, and by the time it comes along, my husband is on board and can't imagine doing it any other way.

This, of course, bites me in the ass when I change my mind because it gets hard and it sucks and I plan on going an easier route. Because then I have Mark in the background, who's lived with years of my propaganda, selling him on this, saying, "Wait. We agreed this is the best thing for our kids. You told me, X, X and Y about how this has to happen or they'll be screwed up for life. And what about this book you made me read, and these kids you pointed out who are screwed up? Nope, you have to keep going."


So, why do I homeschool?

I have always homeschooled my three kids, and I homeschooled my nephew Matthew on and

off when he lived with us.
When most people ask why I homeschool, I give them the glib answer, "Oh, because
I like my kids and can't imagine sending them off somewhere else every day and
only having them around when they're cranky and tired."
That's partially true.
Why do I homeschool? Because I can travel when I want to, without being at the
mercy of someone else's calendar.
Because I don't ever want my kids to think that Columbus discovered America, and
because I want them to know that Columbus sold nine-year-old girls to old men as
sexual toys. i don't want them to celebrate him as a hero.
Because I want my kids to play a game of Risk, as they did today, and yell, "You
can be the Roman empire, I'll be the Ostrogaths, and you can be Alaric! Let's
see who wins the empire this time!"
Because I want the worst problem that we fight about to be that my son, who's
12, never, ever stops reading and we have to ask him to put it away at the
dinner table. To put it away to cross the street to get the mail. To stop
reading long enough to put on his shoes. And yes, this is the worst thing we
fight about.
Because we don't eat gluten, or dairy, and none of our friends think it's an
issue. Not one of them thinks we're weird or strange or has a problem with it.
Homeschooler just accept differences.
Because in my homeschool group we have friends who are lesbians who have adopted
children, and friends who are gay men who have adopted children, and friends who
are black, and friends who have autism, and friends who have dyslexia, and
they're all part of one big group and they play across lines of color and age
and gender and ability.
Because when someone asks my son who's 8 what grade he's in, he doesn't know.
Because it really doesn't matter to him.
Because my son can read 18 books about the platypus and keep going and no one
tells him that this week we're doing reptiles and he has to stop.
Because I really, really hate packing school lunches.
Because I really, really hate getting up at 6 a.m. and I hate dealing with
bureaucracy and I hate paperwork and following rules and I'll be damned if I
have to show an ID to go talk to my kid whenever I like.
Because I believe in education, not school, and in learning, not curriculum, and
in growth, not checkboxes.
Because my kids are oddballs and always have been. My older son is all over the
place. He's reading college level books. He writes at about a 4th grade level.
He's in pre-algebra. He's been taking violin for six years and still sucks. He
can't catch a ball but loves Ancient Rome.
Because I want more for them than the lowest common denominator.
I went to 29 schools in five states growing up. I have seen the good and the bad
of public school, and I was bored out of my mind most of the time. I learned
much more in between classes than in them.
But most of all, I DO homeschool because I love and enjoy my kids. I like
picnics and museums and zoos and sleeping late if we want to and travel and
giggles and being the one who gets to see my son learn to read.

I like to take days off when we want to, and double up on math, or triple it, when my son's in the groove and learning at warp speed. I like to back off when I can see them in over their head, and I love the look of, "Oh, NOW I've got it," when we revisit it a little later.

Some days, it really sucks. Days when you're sick and you have to get up and have a co-op anyway, because there are kids counting on you. Days when you're sick of your kids and you just want them to go away and stop that awful whining noise. Days and days and days where you realize that if your kids are screwed up, you can't blame anyone but yourself.

But most of the time?

It works, and we love it. And as long as it keeps working, we'll keep doing it.


The first week of school

We started the fall semester this week with Monday co-op, where I had a class teaching 11 children, all 7-9 years old.

Somehow, I survived the first class. 

Consensus among children as to what they wanted to learn about the middle ages? 

Unicorns, dragons, alchemy, princesses and knights.

 Not one of them said feudalism, the Crusades, the spread of Islam or Beowulf. Huh.

Sawyer took a chemistry class and a drama class, and Sander had a painting class as well as my middle ages one. Then we had Cub Scouts, then Boy Scouts. 
Today at home, we had three boys over for intense middle ages co-op for Sawyer, and four kids over for a really light, version of the same for Sander, plus an online British Literature class for Sawyer. 

Tomorrow there's fencing,  and later in the week is violin lessons and park day, plus another co-op. 
While trying to fit in Pre-Algebra, writing and Spanish.
And did I mention I have four chapters left to write on my book? 
And that I have a toddler?

And that Mark's going out of town for, oh, a month or so?
Homeschooling was a lot of fun up until about, oh, 7th grade.
Now, as they say in the vernacular, "It's about to get real." 

We'll see how long this will continue. A friend of mine suggested that we slow down and let them take it all at their own pace.

For Sawyer, though, this IS his own pace. This is what he wants to learn. And so we're diving in, swimming as hard as we can, and seeing how far we get before we have to send for the rescue boats!


Team McStone

We try to have dinner together every night, at the table, together as a family.

It doesn't work out that way -- sometimes we end up eating oatmeal for dinner in front of the TV, sometimes it's scrounge night, and sometimes I give up altogether and we order gluten-free pizza with no cheese.

And yeah, I know the defintion of pizza is bread with cheese on it, so GF pizza with no cheese isn't pizza, but it's better than it sounds.

But we strive to eat dinner together, even if it's rushed, even if the kids don't like what I'm making, even if sometimes (often.... always....) they all forget to wait until eveyone has a drink and a napkin and a fork and by the time I sit down, two of them have finished eating.

I read an article a while back that quantified the results of eating together as a family and said how wonderful it was. Then, of course, other studies followed that said it wasn't all that important.,9171,1200760-1,00.html

I don't care -- I thought it was important, and so we do it. I never really thought about why, but one night, over dinner, I told Sawyer, who around nine, that kids who eat dinner with their family every night are less likely to do drugs or to get into trouble.

Sawyer then said something that has stuck with me and has become our family's mantra.

"Of course, they're less likely to get into trouble," he said. "It's because they're part of a team. If you have to cook as a team, set the table as a team, and then eat as a team, you're not going to let your team down by messing around with drugs! If your mom just serves you dinner or you just get it yourself from the fridge, you're not part of a team at all, and who cares if you mess up? Kids who have a family that's a team are always going to do better."


So, since then, we're all about the team. I am not a sports person. Neither is Sawyer. Mark could be. Sander could be. I know nothing about sports metaphors.

But we have come to function as a team, and we see ourselves as a team. Mark and I are the coaches. We know the rules, and we're teaching them to the kids. We try to set goals as a family and help each other through them. Sawyer wants to make Eagle Scout -- this will require teamwork of the highest order, from calendar planning to paperwork to buying camp gear to driving him to events. Sander wants to learn more about animals. We all work together to make it happen.

And this year, we tried something different this summer. Something new.

I'm not an outdoorsy persone when I live in Texas. I'm a red-headed Irish girl, and I live in the wrong climate. I should be somewhere cool and green and damp and breezy, snake-free with an occasional leprechaun. I live somewhere that is blistering hot, dry and covered in taratulas and scorpions with an occasional rattlesnake.

However, in the interest of teamwork, we signed up for the Texas Nature Challenge.

There were 15 challenges all over central Texas -- a day of birdwatching at a state park, a hike on a Saturday morning, a trip to a wildlife center and a botanical garden, a neat sculpture museum and a tour of a dinosaur park. All of the challenges were sort of close -- some were an hour or more away -- and all of them were worth visiting.

The best part? The kids really, really got into the whole teamwork thing. Sawyer helped map out and plan which days we'd go to what park. Some were only open certain days. Others you had to visit only on weekends. Some were tough to do with a toddler.

Sander was in charge of paperwork. There shouldn't be any paperwork involved in an outdoor challenge, but there was. And in order to complete the challenge, you had to make a scrapbook. That part almost killed us.

But you know what?

We were the only family out of more than 200 who registered who completed all 15 challenges, though it's entirely possible other families did and just couldn't stomach the thought of making a scrapbook about it.

So when we went to the closing ceremonies, there were six other families who had turned in a scrapbook, and we won prizes for completing the most challenges -- not grand, amazing things, but cool stuff, like a tent, a compass, and a water bottle. Sander was happy with the nature guides. Scout was happy with the stickers.

And Mark and I were very happy that the boys have a chance to see us as a team.

Will this keep them off drugs and get them into Harvard? I doubt it. I think it takes more than a summer of birdwatching and nature hikes to do that.

But will it remind them when they're pulled toward risky behavior when they get older that perhaps there's a whole team in place, ready to kick their ass should they screw it up, and who will cheer them on should they move forward instead?

I hope so.

Because otherwise I could have been serving up frozen dinners in front of the TV this whole time and saved myself a whole lot of trouble!