Domestic Bliss Report

Motherhood is hard work. If we don't stick together, we'll all fall apart.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Bardic ponderings

I'll soon be doing something I've never done before and, while I think I can do it, I'm just not quite sure how I should go about it.

I'll be teaching Madeleine about Shakespeare.

Before I go any further, I want to put your mind at ease, Dear Reader. While I'm not impressed by a whole lot, and I question all kinds of "But you have to! For the sake of the children!" thinking, I have no misconceptions about Bill. I acknowledge that he is, if not The, certainly among The Greatest Writers of the English Language. Plays and poetry that still speak to us four centuries later, that withstand repeated readings, viewings, performances. Yeah, he's got it going on. Please don't waste anyone's time and energy justifying the study; you're preaching to the choir.

That said, how to teach him? I balk at having him up on a pedestal, gazing starry-eyed at him like I'm some kind of groupie. I admit I'd probably squeal if I met him; either he'd be a zombie or I'd be that excited, but he's not here. So no squealing.

But on the "four hundred years" fact. Aside from Moses and the New Testament writers, has any writer imagined their work outliving them? Who? I'd argue that some of the folks who wrote in Biblical times had fantasies like that, but their writings haven't survived. Homer? The author of Gilgamesh?  Yeah, it's been millennia, but the fact that we still have that stuff is part of what makes it so remarkable.

When Shakespeare was alive, his works weren't performed only for the cultural elite. I'm sure it was a big deal for some to go to the theater, but it wasn't a Long Gloves and Opera Glasses Only kind of trip. He put some of his jokes in there to keep the riffraff in the cheap seats quiet--that way they'd hear them. Was he regarded as the Best English Has to Offer? I doubt it. That we regard him as such in our own time is on us, not him.

Did he mean for us to contrive some meaning from Desdemona's veil? What did he really mean when Hamlet tells Ophelia to get to a nunnery? I'm certain he wasn't trying to comment on Third Wave feminism with either "Much Ado About Nothing" or "Taming of the Shrew" and I get quite irritated when others lay that on Shakespeare. Comparing him to another writer, Tolkien may have set out telling his children a story but it morphed into the great work it's become--on purpose. He did tweak things to give it the spiritual aspect it has, and had the talent to disguise them to appeal to everyone. We know that from Tolkien's own notes and commentary. But what of the Bard?  Not so much.

To compare the two, Van Gogh sold a single painting in his lifetime. And he gets this.

The significance of this scene is that Vincent never dreamed of this level of recognition. That's why he has tears, that's why I have tears just about every time I watch it. The more I think about it, the fact that Bill was NOT a college professor, or one of the great movers and shakers of his time, makes him all the more remarkable.

I'm not going to teach that he's an inaccessible Great One. He was meant for everyone then, and he's meant for everyone now. That's what makes him great.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Academic rambling

I have realized I am an academic nonconformist. I don't think I'm alone; generally, the term is "eclectic homeschooler." I don't fit into any particular camp.
I love the idea of a Classical Education. Familiarity with the roots of Western civilization from the roots--the Jews in Israel, the Greeks, the Romans, how Christendom came about... It's fascinating and worthwhile, and not nearly well-known enough. I look back on my own K-12 public school education and have flashes of, "So THAT is what they were trying to do!" I wanted that for my own kids when Madeleine was five.
I've reconsidered since. The amount of time needed for such an education is considerable, not just on the student but also on the teacher. Even if you buy course plans or syllabi, checking over the work and answering questions isn't done instantly. Discussions are supposed to be had to flesh out what's going on, to give that material meaning. So if a student is spending 6-7 hours a day just doing the work independently, when are these profound conversations supposed to be had? Around the dinner table with small children, or en route to extracurriculars? Exactly how many kids are supposed to be having these discussions?
I also chafe at being wedded to a particular curriculum. At least a couple providers tout how flexible they are, but for high school there are parameters or requirements. Course plans or syllabi must be followed exactly to get their diploma and the college track is presumed. And of course that's what you want for your child; her opinion on it is irrelevant anyway, because she's just a teenager and doesn't know what she wants. Mother knows best, after all.
Money question: What's the difference between sending your kids to a brick-and-mortar school where you have little (if any) say about the curriculum, and using a purchased curriculum arranged by someone else who's never met your kid?
I feel countercultural for admitting the following, so I'll just come out with it: I don't know how many of my children will go to college, and I'm not going to force them to. Neither will I feel like a failure as a homeschooler if they don't. There are other barometers of success besides letters after one's name, and I've heard of too many college graduates unable to find jobs where they can support themselves and their college debts. A college diploma is still a ticket for success, but it's changed from comparable to a train to more like the lottery.
Then I swing over to the unschooling mindset. Why not follow the kid's lead? Trust and pray, pay attention and strew. I can't give myself over to that completely because, as one of my children put it, "To go full unschooler would probably result in a whole lot more studying of the Wii." But the idea of the student having some say in what they're studying pulls me too hard to ignore. It just makes sense at an inchoate level that they'll do better when they're doing what they want to do.
The revelation of my nonconformity has become undeniable as Madeleine, her father, and I investigate ninth grade. One school studies the Greeks, one does both Greeks and Romans, another nonclassical has a more-familiar "college prep" feel; I even looked at my and Husband's high schools. After a few hours of dizzying variety, I realized that there are fewer terms more generic and meaningless than "English 9." Sure, it's a required class for graduation, but what exactly is covered in that class is so varied as to render the term useless.
So, I'm scattered. We'll be using one school's Earth Science course for science, continuing with our current textbook series for math, and using a tenth grade course for history and literature because that's where her interest lay. She'll continue her weekly study of Latin as she has for two years now (according to some guidelines, she's already in tenth grade for that), and for her sixth class she wants to study Shakespeare. That should keep us busy and happy for ninth grade. No, I don't want to discuss tenth or Dale coming along in a year or two.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

What does it mean to be a Little Boy?

     My fearless adventurer, my Kamikaze Kid. My heart-healer from the first miscarriage. The brother for the first son, my perpetual motion machine, the penny swallower. The treasure I was terrified I'd lose when I had that episode of costochondritis when I was about 7 weeks pregnant with him.
     He wears out the knees of every pair of pants that come his way despite manufacturer's guarantees otherwise. It is virtually impossible for him to stay clean outdoors unless it is a direct line from door to vehicle. Even then, detours to dirt or puddles happen.

     He laughs, he forgives, he never stops moving. He asked his 15-year-old cousin, "Do you know who you're going to marry?" It wouldn't have surprised me if his next question had been, "If you could have a dinosaur as a pet, which one would you choose?" followed by, "What is your favorite kind of ice cream?"

     This is the little boy who hated, was terrified of, the swings. His whole body would go rigid and he'd scream until taken out. He would panic whenever he'd see his baby sister in one--not because he wanted it but because he was afraid for her. Now, though, he helps her in and out and even will push her.
     He takes her bug-hunting in the back yard and once stepped in when a game of "chase" got too rowdy for his taste. Never mind his sister's playmate was within a month and pound of her; he still felt it necessary to put himself between them, fists on his hips to say, "That's MY little sister." His tone implied that this interloper had better not take liberties--he was being watched.

     He is exhiliarated on his bicycle (now that the training wheels are securely attached, of course). He wanted to join his big brother, 5 years his senior, on the soccer field. He wants to play baseball and maybe he will.
     There is no "middle ground" with Louis, no "second gear." It's full-tilt. I've said that it's either Seal Team Six or 25 to life for him; he'll grow up to do something death-defying and noble or, well, he'll end up incarcerated in the effort. A desk job, architect, attorney, engineer? No way. Not enough adrenaline there. Fire fighter? Absolutely.
     This is the child who made me understand those backpacks with leashes. He is my "picnic bathroomer" even when he's in his own back yard, or the park full of other families, or at the soccer field. No shame or modesty in that one. This is the one who, when he goes missing somewhere like a park or museum, I just throw up my hands and pray for. To panic is useless.

     He exhausts me, charms me, entertains and infuriates me. Like all my children, I love him more with every breath.

     And he's signed up for kindergarten at a Montessori school this fall. He can already read, so why do I feel the need to send him? And why him instead of anyone else? Am I sending my "problem child" off for someone else to deal with? Is that why I feel guilty? Or is it because I feel like I haven't tried hard enough to figure him out, to provide what he needs? Or am I just tired, or lazy, and can't bear to do kindergarten again? Am I misjudging things, putting academic expectations on him too early, seeing a problem where none exists that would be solved simply by time regardless of location?
    While I realize millions of children start kindergarten every fall, and both they and their mothers live to tell the tale, I am agonized over this. He, on the other hand, is excited. He gets a backpack! And lunchbox! He can't wait to go every day! I'll have to be sure he doesn't see my tears on his way out the door.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Poverty, chastity, and... what?

During one of those endless tedious chores that occupies a minimal part of the active brain, I found myself thinking about those three virtues espoused, to a greater or lesser degree, by vowed religious. I'm trying to work out a Rule of Life for myself; yeah, I know, there's the one by a more famous Catholic homeschooling moms but... I'm not there. I heard her speak at a conference and I don't recall her having much more advice for those with littles than "Try to teach while they're napping." The reviews for her book weren't inspiring enough for me to actually purchase it, so I'm working it out on my own.

Back when we started homeschooling, I went with "Reading, Writing, 'Rithmetic, and Religion." That was our framework as we tried it on. Pretty basic and it worked for kindergarten. It's expanded since then, but on a gradual basis that I could follow.

So, I'm going pretty basic on my Rule: Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. Okay, then. That's the easy part. What do each of these mean in my vocation?

Poverty I think I get. For me, it doesn't mean starve yourself and let your clothes have holes until you may as well be wrapped in newspaper. I have children to consider, one of whom is an 11-year-old daughter who would be mortified if I wore ill-fitting or obviously well-worn items in public with her. So it means keep costs and value in perspective, and remember what's truly valuable. Don't purchase Every New Novel Item advertised for homeschooling; consider whether you'll actually use the item (do I really need more math manipulatives for the little ones to scatter on the floor and feel like LEGOs when stepped on? Can't I use the Little People animals in discussing classifying instead of ordering fancy-schmancy photo cards, guaranteed to get destroyed by the toddler before the second use?). I have tried to spend my life in that mindset, so it's not difficult.

Chastity. It's not the same thing as abstinence, people. I'm a happily married woman and I aim to stay that way. I did my share of romance-novel (and worse) reading long ago, and frankly, I'd rather live the tale than read it. That's all I'm going to discuss the topic outside of a Tim Horton's after 11 PM, and if you don't get that reference I'm not explaining it.

Obedience is the hardest one I've got. Whom do I obey? I'm the mother, the matriarch of my household, queen of the castle. I don't have a "mother superior" to obey; I didn't say "obey" in my wedding vows. If I start "obeying" my children, we'll eat nothing more than macaroni and cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on a table littered with Play-doh and paper towels, left behind after yet another milk spill with a medley of Spongebob, Phineas & Ferb, and Dora the Explorer blaring in the background. Down that road lay madness.

If I just follow chores and do what needs doing from minute to minute, I'll run from one metaphorical fire to the next, washing dishes minutes before I need to start dinner and hoping everyone will be able to find clean underwear in the morning. Exactly the opposite of what I'm hoping a Rule will bring about, which is order from chaos.

Not the kids and not the chores, then. My husband isn't one of those knuckle-dragging types I hear so much about; many's the time I bring an idea to him about the kids, the home, or the like and I get a "That sounds good. Okay, go for it." He'd probably say something about a dog needing to be obedient, not his wife. Not exactly a big help.

 If Poverty is a correct ordering of material goods, and Chastity is a correct ordering of *myself* (ahem), it follows that Obedience is a correct ordering of Time and Effort. More reflection on this next time I'm pairing socks, washing dishes, scrubbing floors...

Labels: , ,

Friday, February 22, 2013

St. Joseph, pray for us.

I watch my children and revel in their individuality. I teach them, read to them, figure out what makes them tick. I talk with my children's friends, or at least their parents on what they do, discipline techniques, hobbies, activities. My own children are not the first ones I've observed; between substitute teaching, summer programs, and full-time teaching, I had almost a decade of experience before my first was even born.
I've noticed some trends in all of this. It's going to drive the gender deconstructionists nuts, but I've lived it. Here's what I've come up with: Boys and girls are different.
There. I said it.
Boys have more energy and require more direction. They are paradoxically more easily distracted and more tunnel-visioned; have you ever tried to talk to a male of any age while there's a screen in the room? Extremely focused on the screen, less so on the person. Sitting at a table or desk with a book? Not so focused.
Girls, on the other hand, will sit and follow printed directions. We will color, or decorate, or scrapbook for hours without leaving our seat. Hence the depiction of women tatting lace, or quilting, or doing needlework. I haven't quilted but frankly, I can't imagine it's a terribly strenuous activity until you're putting all of your squares together to finalize the project.
"Boys need something to muck," states a friend of mine with six sons. "Boys need something useful and physical, and if it's not useful then competitive," say I. If they don't have that, they get... squirrelly. Random examples that have stuck with me are Edward Lewis' (that's Richard Gere's character) observation in Pretty Woman: "We don't build anything. We don't make anything." All of the work Almanzo does in Farmer Boy. The prevalence of men who have come to my house to fix the furnace, the washing machine, the electrical system; those who fix my car, tear up and rebuild our street, resod the lawn.
Where did this come from? Well, I'm reading Matthew Crawford's book and it just makes sense. So many occupations now involve marketing in ideas; it reminds me of Douglas Adams and his comments about moving "little green pieces of paper"--"on the whole, it wasn't the little green pieces of paper that were unhappy." Or something like. Even books now can exist entirely electronically--typed on the computer, emailed to an editor, published and downloaded to one's Kindle or Nook or phone app. There's something vaguely wrong about that, not having a product you can hold in your hands.
Boys, and by virtue men, when they make something it has to be useful. They're goal-oriented. They'll make you a bench, and while it may be beautifully painted or have artistic carving on the side, you'd better be able to actually sit on it. The shelf better be able to hold something when it goes on the wall. Even the art they make must have some greater purpose than decoration--it must tell a story, symbolize some greater event or idea.
They want to do something they can hold in their hands.
Girls will put a vase of flowers on the table for no reason besides to make it look pretty. We will cross-stitch a sampler of the alphabet, put it in a frame, and hang it on the wall. Everyone who sees it will already know the alphabet; it will not be covering a hole in the wall. Its sole purpose is to look pretty. Men rarely will do such a thing.
Sure, men buy flowers for women, but if you think it's just because they think the flowers will look pretty on the table, and have nothing to do with the woman's attitude, you're kidding yourself. Like I said, goal-oriented.
I believe this trend away from such activities, for all of us, is a loss. And yes, I do believe it is happening.  How it is affecting our culture, my children's education, and what to do about it is another entry.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Lenten observance?

I don't even know where to begin.
Facebook and its immediacy and consequent, constant novelty took some of the luster away from blogging, as did Elizabeth. She's now 3 and decided, after much coaxing on my part and contrariness on hers, that she'll use the toilet.
She has not had an accident, and has had very few false alarms. I suppose waiting the additional year was worth it if she's going to make it that easy.

Since I was regularly blogging, we've added Thomas to the mix. As you, Gentle Reader, probably read my husband's blog as well, you know he's 16 months old and just a riot. He's a sweet kid who if we're not careful will end up quite spoiled; with 5 older siblings, some of whom dote on him, it's a wonder he walks and talks. He knows the easy mark, that's for sure. Elizabeth being closest to his age is immune to his tricks. She's no fool.

I'm not sure what to do for Lent this year. I can't bear to give up Facebook. Yeah, yeah, it's supposed to be a time of sacrifice and penance and I did survive for most of my life without it, but now that it's there, it's akin to giving up flush toilets. It's just too useful, too practical. I use it to keep in touch with friends who are far away, those I don't see often enough, or those whose children get along with my own. I would not be the only one making a sacrifice, so it just doesn't seem fair to them.

So instead, I'm going to try to limit how much time I spend on it. I tried last to have a cleaner, more organized house. From Ash Wednesday until the first Sunday I did pretty well. Then the kids got sick, five trips to the pediatrician in six days, several on antibiotics, one on a nebulizer, really nice weather giving the recovering a healthy dose of spring fever... That would take a week or two to recover from, and then we were at Palm Sunday and it was over.

I'm going to try to get back to blogging instead. Longer thoughts, revisions of writing process, opinions on the state of things on the micro (read: my own kids) and the macro level. I have some thoughts on the books I'm reading, what I see in modern society, my own personal understanding of things.

So I'm still here, and I'm going to try to be more so. I'm interested in participating more in what's been called the Great Conversation.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Keeping my head above water

I started this Lent with lots of enthusiasm. If that makes sense, that is. I had the schedule I was going to work on, I'd figured out some adaptations for my own household, it was gonna be great. I'd have the house clean(er) and (more) organized come Easter--yay!
Then five visits to the pediatrician in six days; nebulizing ever three, then four, then six hours; four kids going on antibiotics twice daily and two of them with eardrops four times daily; unseasonably warm weather making everyone want to be outside (and thus slack off on chores); so we got behind and haven't caught up.
I'm feeling overwhelmed by STUFF. We have more books than we'll ever read, more movies than we'll ever watch, more toys than they'll ever play with, more clothes than we'll ever wear out... I don't think we'll have more food than we'll ever eat but that's only because we regularly consume quantities of that. Maybe it's because I watched an episode of Hoarders last night but I'm really feeling this glut of abundance that can only happen in First World countries.
Like forgoing vaccinations, by the way. Here in the US, we can debate shots versus ill effects, government conspiracies and autism risks, mercury poisoning and ethical production. In places where children still die from polio, they don't have that luxury.
Back to my original thought, such as it was. I look around my house and think of so many things I want to do, and wish could happen, and even could get rid of and simplify... then the baby cries, or a diaper needs changing or bickering needs refereeing or someone needs help with their school. Repeat ad infinitum until the end of the day when I just want to crawl in bed.
Even on my Kindle where entire collections of classics can be found for free, I still feel that in my head. Carrying it around. Perhaps that's my own little neurosis as they don't take up any physical space.
Purging doesn't take any money, just time and effort. And the motivation to do it.

So today is a fresh morning. Perhaps I will be one bag of donations lighter at the end of it.