Archive for January, 2011

Good Memoirs

“Most good memoirs turn out not to be about the memoirist at all. But always, the reader becomes a stand-in for the I, and the life of the I becomes the life of the reader, so no matter who is speaking, the successful true story is always the reader’s story on some level.”

– Bill Roorbach, Writing Life Stories


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We had a great time at the LA Zoo yesterday with Nana; we spent the better part of four hours exploring the grounds and meeting all sorts of interesting creatures. Although you wouldn’t know it from my pictures, we did see animals far more exotic (although not necessarily cuter) than meerkats and prairie dogs.

The littlest mastered saying “zoo” just in time and proclaimed this three-letter word with great inflection throughout our day. She also fell deeply in love with the paper map and was passionately opposed to her big sister borrowing it for even a moment; thankfully, we had two.

I’ve found that the day after field trips I often have a less than motivated student on my hands. Mostly, I’ve concluded that this is a result of the aforementioned pupil running her legs off the day before. Still, I struggle to not take this behavior personally at times – believing that somehow my seven year-old’s appreciation ought to translate into direct enthusiasm for mastering grammar the following morning.

Regardless, we made it through and as always found happiness in several good books (once the subtraction part was over). My parenting conclusions of the day are as follows:

1. I need to expect that some days Hannah will complain about her school work. While I would love to believe that my child would be forever grateful for all my efforts, that is of course not reality. Accepting this keeps me from being internally shocked and undone when we face one of those days.

Having said this, I’d also add that accepting this doesn’t mean I need to tolerate the heavy sighs, eye rolling or flopping one’s body on the ground. Today she had the opportunity to spend a bit more time on her own, considering whether or not such outward expressions move her any closer to having her work completed.

2. I have a people-pleasing perfectionist on my hands. This poses some interesting challenges within our educational and behavioral environments. This past weekend Phil and I were able to attend a screening of A Race to Nowhere. This only further solidified my desire to help equip Hannah to set realistic standards for herself and to learn how to work through those inevitable bumps she’ll hit along the way. 

Today we spent a fair amount of time talking through the idea that in life we will make mistakes and we will at times intentionally make a bad choice. We talked about there being a fork in this road – how some people choose to let these moments swallow them up. 

Then we talked about another route – the one that involves both remorse and grace. Here one owns up to the mistake or choice and then decidedly moves toward the best resolve possible, because often there is something that can be done to at least partially rectify the situation. I used smaller words of course; I also used Crocs as props to demonstrate the proverbial fork.

There were tears, some fidgeting and several quiet declarations of just how hot she was feeling; that’s all part of these discussions, at least in our house. Still, I think this day – zoo hangover and all – left us a bit more educated not only in the realm of pronouns and word problems but also in the area of  life.


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We’ve been on the homeschooling path for nearly five months now. We took our winter break last week and are back at it. I intended to write my first term summary last week. Instead I spent my best blogging hours coughing. So now, in no particular order, here are my thoughts for this evening.

1. Color coded spreadsheets designed to order your entire life as a homeschooling family look really, really great! I made one, put it in a sheet protector in my master binder and referred to it for approximately four days.  My littlest rapidly set me straight on this one.

2. Having said this, I would add that a well-defined plan is in fact critical for a person like me. I just have to add a large dose of flexibility to the mix each day as well.

3. As parents our natural inclinations and giftedness lead us in how and what we teach our children. I do best when I lean into this truth and work literature and words into every subject possible. I can also rapidly lose sight of this outlook and panic when I stare down the pages of  third grade math and realize that I will be educating myself as I teach my daughter…at least the first one.


4. I have a new love for Friends of the Library bookstores. They are an amazing resource for good quality used books. I’ve procured spotless Usborne titles, some great classics that I’ve identified in my books about books and a good showing of the American Girl series. I’ve never spent more than $2.00 on a single item. This can still add up if you walk off with 18 books. Next time I’ll take a ten-dollar bill and leave my checkbook in the car.

5. Snacks continue to be a very important part of our school day – the fancier the presentation, the happier the child.

6. Like so many aspects of life, the homeschooling crowd can tend to be an internally polarized bunch. It reminds me of my first years of motherhood when I dabbled in the various camps  – the natural vs medicated birth folks, breast-feeding verses bottle feeding ladies, stay-at-home vs working mothers – you get the idea. These topics are difficult and can in their worst moments start feeling like a bad religion. 

Now, enter the land of the proverbial jean jumper connoisseurs. There are those of us who are fiercely opposed to charter programs and others of us who see great value in them. One group thinks it is close to a crime to teach your child to read before they are at least seven or eight. The other side, encourages early exposure and swears by their results. There are those who live by boxed curriculum and others who abhor it. There are those who lead very traditional and conservative lives and others who seem better suited for life in a VW Vanagon.

I’m still finding my place. Another time I plan to explore the seemingly unrelated topic of being a vegetarian who is  coming to terms with the fact that I love bacon. Somehow I think my own journey of  living within such paradoxes could help me to forge positive relationships with the various subsets. We’ll see.

6a. I say all of this and would also immediately add that homeschooling families are incredibly creative, gracious and resourceful people. I have been given invaluable counsel, practical tools and even an inside view into several families’ homes as I put my own school house together. There is tremendous opportunity to collaborate and for that I am incredibly grateful.

7. The littlest is very industrious these days! She continually seeks out jobs and wants so much to be a part of things – big girl things, please! As she continues to nudge her way into the school house by way of exploring math manipulatives, coloring and looking at books, I want to welcome her with thought, patience and grace. While eating the crayons she was just moments ago drawing with or tossing the counting beans across the table feels disruptive and annoying, I am trying to remind myself that she is a real, live toddler – not a seven year-old. 

8. Outsourcing is a fabulous strategy. Most recently, I signed Hannah up for an art class taught by a woman who is herself an artist with a background in the Social Sciences. She is clearly gifted and passionate about what she does. My talents happen to fall in different areas. How thankful I am for these outside opportunities. I’m keeping my eyes out for a fun and brilliant math-inclined individual. The person I have in mind happens to be out of the country for the next four years.

9. It is okay to turn your kids loose on some school work while you attend other matters – like retrieving your toddler from the kitchen island or even grabbing a cup of tea. In our case independent work has built confidence, creativity and internal drive and oftentimes produces work beyond what would have occurred had I been standing over her. 

10. I have fallen in love with children’s chapter books and I’m also pretty sure I could never write one. Recent favorites include Caddie Woodlawn, Sarah Plain and Tall, Addy: American Girl Series,  George Muller: The Guardian of Bristol’s Orphans and Little House on Rocky Ridge.

10. By stepping outside of the norm, I need to accept that I get to explain myself and my daughter a lot. Presently, I’m working on refining my 5 second, 5 minute and more lengthy conversation points for why we decided to do this. On good days I see the encounters with our pastor, the mailman, the Trader Joes clerk, the acupuncturist as opportunities to share one of the many options available to our children. On my not so great days my emotional posture exudes something entirely different. 

11. As I look back over the past five months, I’m mostly encouraged and also pretty tired. I’ve learned a bit more about what I can and can’t do. I’d be toast without grandparents. We’ve relaxed into a flexible routine and our plan is to wrap things up by late June. I’ve come to see the value of taking time off through our not-long-enough winter break. I have since revised our schedule and our content so that we can enjoy a traditionally long summer. We all need it and I see this now. I would have never imagined this is where I’d be and yet it somehow feels entirely right for this season.

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Wisdom From the Sea

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“The bearing, rearing, feeding and educating of children; the running of a house with its thousand details; human relationships with their myriad pulls – woman’s normal occupations in general run counter to creative life or contemplative life or saintly life. The problem is not merely one of Woman and Career, Woman and the Home, Woman and Independence. It is more basically; how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull one off center; how to remain strong, no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crack the hub of the wheel.”

– Anne Morrow Lindbergh from Gift From the Sea

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