Tuesday, February 24, 2015

11 is heaven

Dear N,

Tomorrow you turn 11 years old.  Your Daddy and I remark all the time that we simply can't believe how old you are, how tall you are, and that you are our first baby.

I still remember bringing you home from the hospital on a Friday evening and thinking, "Now what?"  Feeling lost and overwhelmed and astounded that the hospital administrators would allow us to leave with you since we hadn't a clue as to what we were doing.

You may be surprised to know that, for the most part, I still feel that way.  "Now what?," I find myself thinking.  Kids think their parents know what they're doing, but we don't.  We spend your childhood just winging it and knowing that what worked with you probably isn't going to work for and on your brothers.

Somehow, despite all of our flaws and awkward decisions, you are turning out to be a wonderful person, a person that both Daddy and I think we'd like to be friends with one day when we aren't so much in the roll of being your parents.

I see so much of your Daddy in you.  You have his sense of humor.  You don't always say funny things, and you are often not funny when you try to be, but when you do it quietly and it is just a thoughtful remark that slips out I howl.

You are so good an entertaining yourself now and so creative in the paths you take to be entertained.  You are always making things for your American Girl dolls, which is lovely even if you steal my scissors and yarn and tape to do it (and never return them).

I know you are changing.  You have started to request privacy and no longer drop your clothes in front of anyone anymore.  I don't mind this, mostly because your little brothers are still firmly ensconced in the stage of running around half-naked.  It is normal; you are growing up before my eyes.

As hard as it is for me to remember the child you used to be, the child I used to know, it is even more hard to anticipate who you might be, what you might look like as you grow up.  As a result, I feel like I am pretty good at seeing you, enjoying you for who you are right this moment.

I am always, always grateful to have another female in the house, although I reserve the right to change my mind if we ever have our monthly cycles in sync.

I couldn't ask for a better daughter.

I hope you enjoy your birthday celebrations and that your 11th year is the best one yet of many, many more to come!

I love you sweet farty girl,

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Snow week, school being called off anticipation, cat poop, drudgery

I'm not sure where this post is gonna go, so hang on for the ride.

Let me begin by saying I know that there are many people out there who would be glad to only have the problem of being cooped up in their houses.  A girl I went to grade school with had emergency surgery yesterday for a brain aneurysm.  A former colleagues' boyfriend has terminal cancer.  I have been thinking about these people constantly, every time I think to myself, "I don't know how much longer I can stand this."  They are standing much worse.  If my thoughts of them are prayers, then they are being overloaded at present with wishes for their peace, their health.  

Let me follow by saying that I do like and love my children.  I do like and love my husband.  But inherent in my personhood is the need to be away from them.  I suspect that if I had been in my house with Jesus for this many days I would be sick of him.  It's not my kids or my husband or Jesus.  It is me.  This is who I am, for better or worse.  In order for me to function at my best, I need more structure than what I am currently getting.  

(I also don't think Jesus would ask for snacks constantly or complain about the food I give him, which tends to make me grouchy at my sons.)

Despite the frigid temperature and snow, I need an allergy shot.  For the past two days I have been dealing with vertigo.  Bedtime has been shortly after 9 pm both Friday and Saturday nights, which is fine because there is nothing else for me to do.  I am waiting for my next book club book to be delivered, which may never happen because the newspaper and mail haven't come in days.  My city has, more or less, shut the heck down.  

My sons are driving me insane.  They are loud.  They are annoying.  They are LOUD.  During the best of times, when normalcy reigns, I have a hard time being with them for extended periods of time. 

The aged cat in the basement keeps defecating everywhere, but he still eats and walks and isn't completely on death's doorstep, and I just can't euthanize him if he isn't there.  But my sons just a half-hour ago stepped in a pile of cat poop and then ran up not one but 2 flights of steps with cat poop smeared on their slippers, thereby tracking it all through my house.  

And based on the rain yesterday and the cold temperatures I'm afraid tomorrow doesn't look good for the resumption of school.  

I tell myself that these aren't "real" problems.  I have shelter, I have food, I (more or less) have my health, I have money in the bank.  I have many blessings, many good things in my life.  

But I have my brain, its anxieties, its tendency towards easily slipping into depression/despair, its struggle to rise above temporary uncertainty.  

For me, this is a ring of hell.  My brain doesn't turn off.  It doesn't "rest."  It doesn't "relax."  It keeps churning with the same relentless fury it always does, and I cannot keep my life running alongside it at the moment because of factors beyond my control.  

Everyone has their own particular struggles.  This is mine.  Being snow- and icebound makes it much harder to bear.  

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The sounds of a snow week (4th of 5 days)

I'm ready to get up. 
(5:30 am.  Repeat every day)

Will you play video games with me?  
(Um, wait until I'm done with this.)

What is there to eat? 
(You forgot the word LEFT.  What is there LEFT to eat....because all you've done for the past 4 days is eat every 30 minutes cause you are bored, bored, bored.)

Can I have a snack?
(The one you ate 3 minutes ago has already digested?)

Will you play video games with me?
(Do I have to?)

Want to hear all my American Girl dolls' birthdays?
(Not really but go ahead)

Is it lunch time yet?
(Seriously, are you a Hobbit?  How much food can you eat in one day?)

Today's all burnt toast, running late and dad jokes, Has anybody seen my left shoe....
(AGAIN?  This show is on again.  I.hate.Netflix.)

Can you make hot chocolate?
(I can, but I don't want to. Again.)

Can I have a treat?
(You are gonna weigh 300 lbs by the time you go back to school.)

Want to hear all my American Girl dolls' full names?
(Are they different from yesterday?)

What's for supper?
(I have no idea.)

Will you play a video game with me?
(Sigh.  Ok.....for 2 minutes and one that doesn't make me feel pukey.)

Can we stay up late?
(Are you kidding?)

Do we have school tomorrow?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The mothering stage I'm in

M and I take a music class every Wednesday.  This past week during a moment of transition the conversation amongst the moms turned to the the things I've got on my plate right now--the cottage school teaching, the magazine freelancing, and the graduate school.  One of them said, "Oh my gosh, you're so busy."

It's funny, but there are moments when I don't feel particularly busy.  Right now, I don't have an article I'm working on, and I've planned all my lessons for the rest of the year, so if I have already completed my class work then I'm just sorta sitting around.

Sure, I could clean, but I don't believe in cleaning stuff that isn't downright filthy.

And I have a difficult time reading when the kids are around because I need quiet to concentrate on what I'm reading.  The last thing I experience in this house with the boys is quiet.

I'm waiting on D to redo the speaker wiring in the basement, so I'm unable to hang up any of my wall decor since we painted and had the new flooring installed.

I guess I could bake or cook, but I don't enjoy doing those things.  Those are chores more boring than cleaning the toilets.

In terms of the kids, we are at that stage where I have to be here, in the house, available when and if they need me, but they generally don't need me much.  That is why I am pretty ok with having the teaching job and the freelancing stuff and the graduate gives me something purposeful and interesting to do in the lags, which are frequent.

It is a weird place to be, a limbo of sorts, and though I am glad to be out of the decade of "mothering itty bitty kids stage" where I have to watch their every move, I am trying to wrap my head around my entry into this new stage of "available as needed," which will last another decade.

Well, really I guess this stage lasts the rest of my life.  To this day, my mom and dad are "available as needed" when I have a question or need them to watch the grandkids or listen to me vent.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A post about literature, teaching, religion, frustration, and philosophical parenting differences

I put a lot of time, effort and energy into selecting books for my cottage school students.  They have to be classics, first of all.  I check Sonlight, a homeschooling curriculum to see if it uses these texts.  I check Common Sense Media to see what it says.  I run it by the directors of the cottage school.

Originally, I had suggested Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck for my freshmen/sophomore English class.  What would an American Literature class be if it didn't include Steinbeck, the Nobel Prize Winner in Literature in 1962?  One of the directors said she would prefer The Grapes of Wrath, which was fine by me.

I read it and planned lessons around it.  Of all the books I've taught in the cottage school these two years, this is one of the most Jesus-y ones.  The whole book is strewn with biblical allusions and demands that readers consider how Jesus treated the poor, the destitute, the uneducated, the "unsavories" and, therefore, how we should treat these people.  All of my journaling questions are asking students to consider what Steinbeck is suggesting about how society treats these people.  I never, ever in a zillion years thought parents would find it problematic because it is very much Christian in terms of content.

But a couple did and do have problems with the book, and they complained, asking if I could select an alternative book for their kids.

I have many and mixed feelings about this.

On one hand, it makes me angry.  We posted this year's reading list in May 2014, so parents have had months and months to research, read, investigate.  I suspect some of their anger is not with me or the directors but with themselves for not being as diligent as they want to be.  It also makes me angry because I have already done all the planning, and asking me to select another book when I've already begun teaching The Grapes of Wrath is asking me to do more work without any warning, without any extra pay, and honestly, without any guarantee that they wouldn't take issue with another book, another classic, I selected.

I am also frustrated because while I respect the parents' choice on what their children read, it makes it difficult for me to teach a novel if 2 out of 5 students aren't reading the book.  I feel I am doing a disservice to the students who are reading the book if I tiptoe around topics because some parents object to the book.

(I am not, however, nor would I, nor did I ever intend to discuss masturbation in class, which one parent thought I might do. Apparently, there is a reference to masturbation in the novel, which I don't even remember.)

I am also sad because I work really, really hard to make my classes challenging, appealing and about finding morals, meaning, and God within secular texts.  Even if the parents are unhappy with the book and not me personally because I am teaching the book it makes me feel like they are unhappy with me.

On the other hand, I can understand the parents' dilemma.  I personally think that by the time a kid is in high school, parents should be allowing them certain freedoms, and one of the biggest and safest, in my opinion, is the freedom to read widely.  However, if the parent is not doing this, then reading The Grapes of Wrath probably does feel like sending their kids into a den of iniquity.  There is profanity, there are allusions to sexuality, there is violence.

I shelter my own children so I get it. We do not watch television news of any kind, but we do get the newspaper.  I am ok with my children reading about world events, many of which are cruel and scary, but I am not okay with the sensationalized spin and constant repetition that televised news media puts on the cruel and scary.

Even though I am frustrated, I am trying to look at this situation as a learning experience for me.  I am finding that there are groups of parents who claim they want their children to read classics but haven't read the classics themselves and really have a much narrower view of what constitutes a classic than I do (and what the College Board does and what virtually any university in the country has).

In order for a book to be a classic, it has to be many things.  It has to be extremely authentic to the time-frame about which it is written and be chock full of themes and concerns that can resonate with readers forever.  In order for something to resonate it is often controversial.  There has to be something there with which people can relate, can grapple.

There is a segment of homeschooling families who hold very tightly to this idea from Phillipians 4:8:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

They do not want their children reading content that is unGodly.  I have heard people say they only want their children to read things that "strengthen the heart, mind and soul toward Spiritual thinking."

At its essence, I do not disagree with them.  I, too, want my children to read things that strengthen their hearts and minds, feeds their souls, and help them to be the kind of loving people who live compassionately with the Golden Rule guiding them.

But I can think of few things that could strengthen a person's heart, mind and soul toward spiritual thinking than a novel that struggles in its entirety, although indirectly through symbolism and theme, with what Jesus would make of the 1930s Depression and treatment of Okies and others who traveled to California seeking work, many of whom starved to death due to economic and environmental forces beyond their control.

If I try to emulate a Jesus who ate with tax-collectors and forgave prostitutes, who was revolutionary in his thinking that the poor and unsavory have dignity and value, then I feel there is much that is honorable, commendable and excellent in reading classics like The Grapes of Wrath.

Even if it has profanity or sexual reference or violence.  The novel, whether we find it distasteful, is true.  People are profane, are sexual, are violent.  It is a fact of living in this world.

It is funny that this debate hasn't anything to do with Jesus or God but in how widely or narrowly people read Jesus/God and the Bible.

Finally, and perhaps the cherry on top of this whole cake, is that in this particular case it has resulted in one group of people questioning how good or bad of Christians other groups of people are because of their book selections.

Now this doesn't bother me personally.  I was raised Catholic and consider myself a Catholic-in-recovery even though I attend and participate in a Christian church.  I don't really care if someone thinks I'm not a certain kind of Christian because I've never claimed to be a certain kind of Christian.
But it bothers me that people I like and trust who try to be good, kind thoughtful Christians are getting their feelings hurt by other Christians who seem to be suggesting that selecting these type of readings makes one a crappy Christian.  It seems rather un-Christ-like to me.

As I mull over and muddle through all this, I am constantly wondering, "What would Jesus think of all this rigamarole and what would he think of The Grapes of Wrath?"