Thursday, June 30, 2011

Planning School

I've been trying to decide what to teach my son next year.  There are so many things to learn, and so many ways to teach them.  It's a difficult decision.  Today it occurred to me that I'm going about the thing all wrong.

I'm seeking, as usual, a good match between his interests, his learning style, and what he needs to know to fulfill state standards.

What I should be assessing are areas of strength and weakness, and areas that require growth and change.

This was a difficult year.  The first semester was spent unschooling, as much as anyone in a highly regulated state can do that.  By the end of the semester, he realized that self-directed learning wasn't really getting him anywhere, and asked for books.  I happily complied.  He excelled at first, but after a month or so, his enthusiasm waned, and so did his character.  He became lazy, deceptive, and occasionally defiant.  These issues were much more easily treated when he was younger; compounded by approaching teen-hood, they fixed themselves firmly as a part of his personality.

I don't know how far any curriculum can go toward goals that are more character-oriented than standards driven, but I need to try to pursue strategies that will encourage the character growth as well as the knowledge.

As a reminder to myself, these are areas I need to focus on in the coming year:

  • Partnership learning - he and I need to work together in one subject area, not so much as authority and subordinate, but as partners.  Goal: relationship building through shared experience.
  • Independent work - he needs to be able to read and comprehend lessons without my intervention in at least one subject area.  Goal: building confidence and self-reliance.
  • Planning and strategizing - he needs to better plan and prioritize his work.  Goal: base his expectations on a realistic understanding of the work involved.
  • Honesty/integrity - he needs to mean what he says with intention to fulfill his word.
  • Social skills - he needs to catch up a bit in terms of social maturity. 
  • Get my husband involved - Tween needs to have more of a connection and mentorship with his strong Christian father.  He also needs the pressure to excel that closer interaction with his dad will build. Not sure how to implement this one, given my husband's erratic schedule.
Often, when I type things like this, I feel like I've set my Christianity aside.  Please understand that these thoughts presuppose God's guidance and help.  The ultimate goal is always to become conformed more to the image of Christ, for him and for me.

Friday, June 24, 2011


I did a little gardening today.  Been trying to spruce up the front flower beds.  I'm not a garden artist; I plant and hope for the best.

My front flower bed needed a little border around it (and the bed on the other side of the door needed a pick-me-up), so I added some impatiens.  Meaning no offense to any gardener who might be reading, planting impatiens feels, to me, like serving TV dinners.  I bought them ready-made, dug a hole, and called them mine.

We had a little garden in our back yard when I was growing up.  It was about 20 x 10 feet, and each of the four of us had a section to plant.  We grew vegetables - tomatoes, corn, carrots, and a little lettuce.  There was also the famous Radish Year, which was the year we each planted a gazillion radishes, then realized we all hated them.  My father, who grew up during the Great Depression and couldn't bear to waste food, ate radishes at every meal and then some.  Gardening, when I was a kid, was about digging, planting seeds, nurturing tiny seedlings, and a long, work-heavy process before fresh veggies were served for dinner.

I planted my impatiens and considered how life has changed.  I've always dreamed of raising vegetables and flowers from seeds with my kids.  We've tried a number of times, but have never been successful.  The poison of neglect always kills any chance of a crop.  The one exception has been cherry tomatoes, and those were grown from plants purchased at a store.  To be honest, I lack the wherewithall to prepare peat pots, care for tiny seedlings, turn the soil, plant, water, weed, and stake.  It's a faster-paced life, at least for me, and I lack the determination to slow it down enough to watch the plants grow.

I'm glad for my impatiens, but sorry for my impatience.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


I figured out why my kids talk so much and so early.  Not sure why it didn't occur to me before.

Now that I have a toddler, I spend a lot of time with others who also have them.  And I've noticed that I differ from other moms in one important way:  I talk to my kid.  A lot.  A way lot!

Most moms talk to their babies, but after some observation, I'm convinced that I go overboard.  One mom tells her son to sit.  I tell my daughter to climb carefully into the green chair.  Another mom tells her little girl that it's time to go.  I explain where we're going, how we'll get there, and what we'll do when we arrive.

Obviously, my kids think it's very normal to verbalize every little thing, and perhaps they even think it's important to include as much detail as possible.  They also probably have some genetic tendency to run at the mouth, and would have obtained that from both sides, as my husband is verbose even by my standards.

Perhaps you think it sounds quaint - all the descriptions we trade with each other, all the little baby-talk conversations we have.  Maybe you wonder if it prepares them for a life of literary interest or even a vocation in writing.

I haven't raised one to adulthood yet, but I can assure you of one outcome:  parental insanity.  When you teach your child to talk about absolutely anything, that's exactly what you'll get.  Teen stays up late into the night telling me all about the girl at school who stole her pencil; Tween talks all the livelong day about everything and nothing.  Toddler, in her endearing baby accent, talks about what Toddler wants, what Toddler doesn't want, how Toddler feels, and more about what Toddler wants.  And she talks to her toys.  And sings.  Constantly.  By the time the evening rolls around, my ears are ready for a break.  Who am I kidding?  By the time noon rolls around!

The truly ironic thing is that I value peace and quiet very highly.  I rarely work with music on; I can't converse with the TV playing in the background.  My favorite moment of the day is that half-second at bedtime just after I turn out the light when all the world is dark and silent.

Why, oh why, did I start down this road of teaching my kids to talk by example?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Day In The Real Life Of...

Recently I purposed to spend a day IRL. I have a vibrant online life, but things are pretty stale away from the computer. We planned a trip to the zoo, a run into the library, a friend over for dinner, and baseball practice in the evening. If I'm going to do a real day, it's going to be as chock-full of life as possible.

The first hitch came when the friend, a mutual pal of Teen and Tween, was unable to come over. Her parents had a stomach virus, and while I love my kids' friends, I don't love them that much! Her absence simplified matters, however, as it meant I did not need to clean the house. That kind of disappointment carries a bit of gratification, as well.

Tween, Toddler and I dropped Teen at school. The school is only 10 minutes from the zoo, while it is 30 minutes from home. We planned to have a Dunkin Donuts breakfast, then head to the zoo, but my planning skills are almost as poor as my cooking, and we ended up with a 2 1/2 hour lag before the zoo would open. Even the best toddler can't spend 2 1/2 hours over a bagel (and mine is far from the best toddler), so an hour later we arrived home, having made a quick stop to eat.

After a little down time (if there ever is such a thing with an under-two), we climbed back into the car and began the trip toward the zoo. As we got within a few blocks, the traffic came to a standstill. I casually looked around and counted, in a single block span, twelve school buses ahead of us. Aggravation rose in me; I detest crowds. I shared the number of buses with Tween. He must have even more optimism than I, because he immediately looked behind us and remarked that at least we were ahead of two other buses. Sigh.

We slowly inched closer to the entrance. When we were within sight of the gate, three cars back, in fact, the parking lot workers began to wave people away. Incredibly, there were no more parking spaces available in the lot!

Our zoo is surrounded by a large public park. We decided to circle the park and find a spot there. There were no parking spaces in the park, either! Well, to be absolutely truthful, there was one. It required backing down a one-way drive on a hill (did I mention that I drive stick?). Its location was less than ideal. In fact, I didn't know its location. My sense of direction is almost as poor as my planning ability. I had no idea where the zoo was in relation to the parking spot, and I was unwilling to walk an unknown distance to the zoo where I would walk all day and then have to walk back to the car.

I shared the disappointing news with my son, and we rounded the park to its exit. We followed our carefully Mapquested directions until we reached a street that was closed. No detour - just orange cones and confusion. My poor sense of direction kicked in, and soon we were hopelessly lost.

As I frantically searched for any familiar landmark, my son enjoyed the view from his window. Suddenly he saw a sign. The <Local> History Museum And Library was just ahead. He wondered if we could go there instead. "Sounds really, really boring," I thought. My optimism had abandoned me somewhere in the traffic for the parking lot. When trying to enjoy real life, though, it's best not to depress the folks you're spending it with. I dutifully followed the signs and we were soon parked in front of a small building designed to resemble the Parthenon (only smaller, of course). I noted, regretfully, that the museum was open, so we climbed the steps and entered.

We paid the very small admission fee to the clerk at the gift shop and made our way into the main part of the museum.Tween immediately spied a sign that said "Trains Downstairs." My son is a huge railway fan, and has been since he was 18 months old, so we headed down. I expected a cheesy replica of a train station and a disappointed son. Instead we hit pay dirt - a full HO scale layout built to represent various sites of local history, complete with explanatory text and black and white photos. Tween was in heaven! As we walked around the table, a young man entered and offered to turn the track on for us. We examined the steam engines and their cars, and chatted excitedly about the detailed layout.

After nearly an hour, we thanked the man and left the room. I cautioned my son to be careful - no other patrons had been in the train room with us, and he'd gotten a little frisky with all the excitement, so I wanted to make him aware that there would be others in the museum and that he should be courteous.

I was mistaken, though. There were no other patrons. The entire museum (small though it was) was ours for the day. We looked at displays, read plaques, let Toddler run around. We did what we wanted when we wanted to, without worrying about squeezing between strangers or taking too long at something. Take that, crowded zoo!

We spent a little more than three hours at the museum, then asked for directions and made our way to Teen's school in time to pick her up. We ran to the library, had dinner, and went to baseball practice as planned.

Real life was more disappointing, aggravating, surprising, and satisfying than I expected!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Lesson Learned

I suffered a birthday recently.  As birthdays go, this one was pretty good - a nice quiet day without a lot of fuss.

There is a dear old saint at church.  She's been attending for longer than I've been alive.  She's seen pastors come and go.  She's served pastor's wives who are far better than I; in her economy, the pastor's wife ranks right up there with the angelic host.  I am the antithesis of a typical pastor's wife.  I am reserved and introverted.  As sweet and saintly as she is, because I am much younger than her and don't meet her expectations of a pastor's wife, she shows in small ways that I don't quite measure up.  She often calls me "our little precious."  If a meeting is starting late, she sends a look my direction.  When I give an announcement, she looks away as I speak.  She's utterly respectful in word, but the undercurrent seems to send another message.

Every year, this woman presents me with a birthday gift.  They are often items I would never use - a fancy scarf, a tiny pillbox-size jewelry box, a wind-up trinket that plays a hymn.  While I have appreciated the thought, I have often felt that she was giving me items she'd quickly picked up somewhere, or even that others had given her.  She's the type who gives a gift because it is the appropriate thing to do, and knowing that she doesn't think very highly of me, it was easy to assume the gifts didn't reflect much thought.

This year she presented me with a long, thin box.  Without unwrapping it, I knew it was a necklace.  I took it home and opened it with my kids.  As I lifted the lid of the box, we all gasped.  Then the kids began to laugh.  Loudly.  I struggled not to join them.

It was a necklace, but what a necklace it was!  Nine beads - very LARGE beads - were connected by knots on a ribbon.  The beads were ultra-fake - a peachy beige with a pearlescent glow.  Wow.  She'd outdone herself.

Should I wear the necklace?  I've worn a few of her gifts before (another necklace, a pin) and she'd never seemed to notice.  Then again, this necklace was beyond noticeable.  Surely she would realize it if I didn't wear it.  But how could I?

I made up my mind.  If I wore it once, I would have fulfilled any obligation to her.   I decided to wear it to church the very next Sunday.  The color was neutral enough to be easy to match, so at least I had some confidence that it would coordinate with my outfit.

That Sunday, I dressed, styled my hair, applied my makeup, then placed the necklace around my neck.  Interesting.  It didn't look nearly so bad as I thought it would.  It matched my coloring well (I am fair skinned), so didn't stand out as I had supposed.

I gathered the kids and my supplies and went to church.  As I walked in the door, a friend greeted me.  "Love the necklace!" she exclaimed.  In fact, several people admired it.  But most notable was the response of the dear saint who'd gifted me with it.  She was absolutely joyous.  "It looks lovely on you!  I was afraid it would be too bold, but no, it looks just perfect!"  Over and over she declared how wonderful the necklace was for me, and how delighted she was that I appreciated it.  She was far more thankful that I'd worn her gift than I'd been to receive it!

I wonder what changed.  She has never taken an interest in my response to her gifts before.  Maybe she considered this one long and hard.  Then again, maybe she always has.  Maybe she feels as if she finally selected something I like.

Makes me think, long and hard, about my response to gifts and about being a gracious recipient.