Domestic Bliss Report

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

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Final thoughts

I'll admit the title is a lie; there will be more thoughts on homeschooling. But for now, these will have to do.
With apologies to faithful non-Catholic Christians who visit (and homeschoolers, too), I once compared homeschoolers to the original Protestants. Instead of getting involved and fixing what they saw as wrong, they withdrew from the system. They were the kind of intelligent, caring, involved, motivated parents our public schools needed! How could they deprive my child of such a classmate, or me of such a student?
I've since realized that, while superficially they may seem to have things in common, homeschooling and withdrawing from the Church are not the same animal. Jesus Himself said, "On this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it" (Mt 16:18), as well as "I will be with you until the end of the age" (Mt 28:20).
No such promises have been given to any public education system.


Monday, September 25, 2006

Holy Spirit, Conclusion

So, we decided to homeschool. Our oldest was to begin kindergarten, giving us lots of options. I figured I could cobble together my own kindergarten curriculum based on the age-old template: reading, writing, arithmetic, and religion. I wondered about science, though; Dale has a history/poli-sci background and my major was French with a teaching minor in Humanities. I had enough credits to legally teach Spanish, but it wasn't quite a minor. (We've since overcompensated for that, book-wise. I'll explain.) I was leaning toward buying the lesson plans from Mother of Divine Grace for the classical curriculum and filling in the blanks as I saw fit.
He didn't see the point of reinventing the wheel, though--he wanted her registered in an accredited school for the sake of breaking the news. That wasn't asking much.
So what worked for both of us? Kolbe Academy, the one I had fallen in love with at first perusal. A bit more looking, evaluating, and praying and we sent in the registration check.
We'd already broken the news to my family, greeted with either indifference or support. My mother admits that she always imagined me surrounded by little kids teaching them to read; it's her grandchildren instead of some strangers'.

We had started giving my mother-in-law hints that we were thinking about it, but we were still very apprehensive about coming clean. I felt it was his family, his responsibility; I would do it, but only with him physically present.

My mother-in-law is a smart woman. She guessed. It was easy after he emailed her "we have something to discuss about Maddie's schooling when you come down for the girls' birthday party." That afternoon, we got this (it doesn't get much better):
I was so relieved I couldn't speak. I knew there wouldn't be a screaming match type Jerry Springer scene, but I didn't want underlying tension and regular queries of the "Are you over it yet?" genre either. Today we sent our first "letter" to Neema and I think she'll be impressed.

I suppose I'd been destined to homeschool; now that we're actually doing it, it seems so natural. Others (Zach and Shelly) have said, "I always knew you would." Even my sister, who asked two short years ago if I would even consider it and got a staunch "Nooo," is giving me her "I told you so" smirk.

Once upon a time, I wondered about those families who didn't have TV. How would those kids make friends if they didn't have the same cultural reference points, like Elmo or Dora? Wouldn't they be weird? I've come to the conclusion that our culture doesn't offer many common reference points anymore. Sure, you have most kindergarteners knowing Big Bird is an example of yellow, but how many will come up with pimp using the short I sound? I know a kid in 8th grade (now in 9th) whose mother had to prescreen The Passion of the Christ for the violence, but she didn't have the same concern about Saw. These are not the common values I want my children to assimilate.

So now that we've been at it for a few weeks For Real, how is it going? Very well, thank you. Madeleine is starting to understand subtraction (addition was a snap), her sight words are easy and her phonics are starting to make sense to her. We're reviewing the short vowel sounds this week; I want those to be solid before we tackle the long ones. Science experiments are all of their favorite--blowing up a balloon with vinegar and baking soda was a hit, as was floating an egg in sugar and salt water.

I started this series to help others find their way. My mother says she's glad her kids are all grown; the options now are just dizzying, and all of her kids have made different choices. She thinks, though, that all of us have made the best choice for our respective families.
I agree.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Holy Spirit, continued...

To recap: I, a former public schoolteacher and defender, am meeting all of these homeschoolers. None of them seem isolationist and their kids seem normal, even more polite and self-motivated than I'd seen as a teacher. They were all involved in a variety of activities and not a one was moving to a mountain cabin in Montana without plumbing or electricity.

Madeleine started preschool in my old district, primarily because it's familiar. We decided she would go to my former elementary school after that, as we hoped to move into that district. The matter was resolved.
In Advent, I started going to daily Mass after dropping Madeleine off at preschool. I noticed a family of eight on a regular basis; given the time of Mass (9AM), I figured they must be homeschoolers. I wondered what they did to their preschool age daughter to have her so quiet. At least the baby made some noise, which helped.
So, we happened to be at Mass on Paczki Day (everyone's Irish on St. Patrick's; in metro Detroit, everyone's Polish on Paczki Day) and I was talking to (yet another) homeschooling friend. We were discussing parish CCD programs. I admitted I was unsure about having my kids go through the program and was thinking about teaching it myself. She said, "Yep. If your kids don't learn their times tables, they'll never be an engineer. So what. If they don't learn their Faith, that's something you'll have to explain to your Maker."
That was some serious food for thought. We still did the public school kindergarten prep with the parents' orientation and all, but the trickle through the dam was becoming a flow.
I kept worrying at it, like a loose tooth. I thought about drive times, subjects covered, books read, pedophile teachers. I thought about bus rides, cruel classmates, science labs, peer pressure. Finally at the end of March I said it out loud, on a Wednesday afternoon phone call to my husband.
"Honey... I need to tell you something and I don't want you to freak out."
"Heather, that's a lousy way to keep me calm."
"I'm really starting to think about homeschooling."
Remarkably, he didn't freak out. He made supportive, nonjudgemental statements about discernment and researching options, and we hung up. That evening, though, he came in with information about Kimberly Hahn's book. I mentioned asking the Neighbor at her son's birthday party that weekend, and he gave his endorsement.
So that Saturday, I asked her. "What got you started in homeschooling?" I asked when the party was starting to wind down. It was her first son and the problems they'd had in Kentucky. "Why?" she asked pointedly. Shelly's many things--stupid ain't on the list.
I explained all my reservations and even ran home to get my stack of workbooks I'd ordered from Madeleine's book orders. She laughed at me. "You're not thinking about homeschooling; you're in denial," she said through her chuckles. The stack I already had was taller than her six-year-old's whole curriculum.
I asked the mother of the homeschooling family from church if they used the same program as Lucy. "We use Colby," she managed rather breathlessly; she was wrestling the baby-turning-toddler.
Colby? I wondered. Then I looked online, and realized it wasn't Colby, but Kolbe. Wow. This was the education I wish I'd had. Sigh...
Then we got the "results" from Madeleine's kindergarten readiness test. I had been looking for some kind of sign short of a burning bush, and this was it. I told my mother and she maintains that the school screwed up with that. When I said, "Shelly thinks we should homeschool," she made her "I've heard crazier ideas" face. Yippee! I got out my books, my plans, started talking curriculum choices...
With my husband's okay, we decided to try it on. I settled on reading, writing, arithmetic, and religion for our curriculum, and just used off-the-shelf books. I made four-day plans and tried to run with it. And it worked.
Dale wasn't sold yet, though. We went to the conference in June, where we ran into Andrea. We'd met at the Latin Mass and had briefly discussed homeschooling; it was back in the day when I thought they were all nuts. She was thrilled to see us and was brimful of advice and enthusiasm and we talked for an hour about getting started, teaching reading, self-designed curriculum...

The conference did it for Dale, which left us with another batch of questions. Which curriculum, or do-it-ourselves? Enroll or not? Where? And the most important: how do we tell my mother-in-law, who had worked for the public schools for years and had seen the bad side of homeschooling?


Monday, September 11, 2006

Sine nomine

I can't post much about today. I know about the lists of names, the images, the rest of it, but I can't deal with it. I go right back to where I was--our first child was five days old. I was still recovering physically, still hormonal, still trying to get my feet under me maternally. I just go back to how vulnerable that five-year-old child was, and I try in vain to convince myself that she's less so now, that I am as well.

The conclusion is coming. Just not today.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

I'm stealing the meme.

The fictional characters one, that is. I'll separate them into two categories: books and TV/film.

The five fictional characters with whom I'd like to have a deep conversation from books are:

1. Jean Valjean
2. Lestat's mom, Gabrielle
3. Rhett Butler
4. Sam Yeager
5. Galadriel

Those from film/TV are:
1. Chris Knight
2. Connor MacLeod
3. Andy Sipowicz
4. Vivian Ward
5. Ferris Bueller

And whoever wants it, since I stole the meme, can have it.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Holy Spirit moves slowly.

I worked for a year at a Catholic high school. At the Open House (which is in the spring, for prospective students), a principal from a school where I'd subbed attended with his wife and daughter. What a hypocrite, I thought. He works in the public school, but he's considering Catholic school for his own? No wonder he was so unpopular with the staff.
I was certain my own kids would attend public school. I wasn't going to be a hypocrite; work in a system that wasn't good enough for my kids? Not me. My sister, though, was committed to homeschooling of all things. I thought she was completely off her rocker. She maintained her view until the summer after her son turned 5, when he started asking to attend school. Then she found a charter school that she loves, and she sings its praises at every opportunity.
I stuck with my "public school" pretty unwaveringly for more than three years. (Remember the first time we met, Zach?) Then the first cracks started to form.
What about religious education? I wanted better than I'd had, that's for sure. An hour a week plus mass on Sundays ain't enough. I asked a friend who had pulled her kids from Catholic school if their program allowed for just one subject. "Of course. Are you thinking religious ed?" she guessed promptly.
But I kept thinking. If she were going to school for six hours a day, how would she handle another half hour or so of additional class when she got home? How would I? It didn't make sense.
Somewhere in there I met my neighbor. She introduced her family as, "Your friendly neighborhood homeschooling family." They certainly seemed normal, going so far as to let me keep my teaching chops the year I took off after Dale was born by teaching her oldest son some French. [The longtime reader will remember that I got pregnant with Rachel halfway through said year, which was the death knell for my public school career.] They never lacked for neighborhood kids in their yard, either.
Last in chronological order is another Heather, who has used the term "mega-Catholic" to describe me and I think it more applies to her. It came out that they were going to homeschool at a parish book fair where she purchased Lives of the Saints #1-8 or so. We get along like a house aflame (as do our kids, which is nice), so when I asked, "Are you going to homeschool?" and she said, "Oh, yeah," I wondered. What was I missing? We seem to have so much else in common, including leather jackets.
And those other folks in Ann Arbor were so normal and friendly, too...



Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Happy birthday, Angel Baby.

Five years ago today, we found out our first child was a girl. She was born, you see, and we hadn't found out beforehand per my request. Okay, mandate.
She started preschool with a burgundy hand-me-down backpack, but had to have "a pretty one" by October. They were on sale anyway. She's learned the sounds the letters make and how to spell her name. She can count up to 100 by ones and tens, and can do some addition in her head (sums to 8). She sacrificed the last night on the top bunk to her little brother and has shared countless cookies with her little sister.
Today her favorite things were eating her cupcakes, the little beanie dog her dad got on the emergency dog food/milk/gift run to the grocery store, and the trip to the park.
She left the Backyardigans to help me get the laundry off the line, then later set the table without being asked. She knows chores need to get done, even on birthdays.

Happy birthday, Madeleine.