Friday, December 10, 2010
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
I like order. I especially like it when it comes to the holidays. Tradition trumps chaos as a theme of comfort to me during this season.
I think that’s why singing the 12 days of Christmas song is so much fun. I know what comes next and I enjoy putting things in their perfect rightful order. Partridges before Turtle Doves and so on.
Yet I hate order. Especially when it comes to my siblings. As the youngest of five, order means I will forever be the baby. Always the one that was last to do anything, always the one who needs constant advice and care from the olders. Or so they think.
Despite the fact that I am 41, a mom, a wife and responsible grown up, the minute I return to my hometown, I somehow morph back to being seen as the baby. For the moment, I’ll call it “birth order disorder” to sound cool.
I love going home – there is a comfort in returning to my youth and remembering all the places and spaces of those days. Yet the recycled youth trips send me returning to my most awkward days.
It’s probably because my siblings are there to remind me of every stupid mistake I ever made, like the time I set the house on fire (not my fault), putting the cat in the dryer (total accident) and driving the car into ditches (bad tires). Despite the fact that I should be able to enjoy the emotional pinata of joking – the truth remains that pinata parties are only fun for the whackers, not the piñata.
So as I return to my current home, relief sets in as I leave all the inadequate days and times behind. I return to the comfort of the life I have now, despite my past. My perfect order – no piñatas allowed.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Monday, August 23, 2010
One Mom’s Adventure into the Wilds of Homeschooling
Homeschoolers are weird. They are the people who make meals out of dryer lint, wear clothes from hemp seed and study the sonar tracking of bats. Or so I thought. Until I became one of them.
This week, I read that according to the United States Department of Education, an estimated 1.5 million children in grades K-12 were home educated in 2007. This number grows by almost 10 percent every year. The real kick for me was reading this week’s New York Times Sunday Magazine calling homeschooling “suddenly chic.”
As I read that line, I got a huge smile on my face. I even had to say it out loud -- “I am now chic! The New York Times says so!”
This adventure began when it dawned on me that no one “got” my son. All the things I felt were his assets were considered “problems” at school. We had tried it all -- public school, private school, tutoring, testing, extra work and support at home to constantly help our son succeed. But no amount of shaping tooled his square peg self in the round hole of traditional education.
Day by day, I watched him come home from school and the gregarious, creative, joyous boy slowly began to fade away. As the months wore on, I noticed he began to shuffle like an old man, burdened by school. He had trouble sleeping at nights, having unsettling dreams about school. This began to evolve into uncharacteristic behavior like cheating, hiding his work and sabotaging his efforts by throwing work away before it could ever be graded. He was in a downward spiral and nothing helped right his course. This was no life for an 8 year-old boy – to be this burdened by school at such a young age.
I began to look at other options – there had to be somewhere, some place that my son would thrive. I began to imagine my dream school – I wanted my son to first learn about his faith, I wanted him to love learning and see it as a joy and delight. I wanted dynamic learning for him – not to sit at a desk all day, only to speak when he perfectly raised his hand. I wanted him to learn outside, at a museum, at a garden or a café. I wanted to be able touch, explore, see, and experience life as a learning lab – not as simply a worksheet to fill out, another checklist to complete.
I wanted to take him places, teach him life skills like how to cook, how to be a supportive young man for our family and community. I wanted him to have a service project that was more than about selling something or collecting pop tabs. I wanted him to spend time helping in a real way where he could experience the joy of making a difference. I wanted him to speak the language of my Spanish heritage.
Where could I find such an amazing place? Home.
Homeschooling became an easy choice when I began to look at all the research. Simple things like the fact that most kids only get about three minutes of individual attention for instruction per day. Surely I could do better than three minutes. The fact that pure academics only took up about 2 hours of the day – the rest was busy time, waiting in line, going to the bathroom, playground, library, art, computer – things that I could easily do on my own. I was spending more than that on my commute alone. Not to mention all the extra hours of volunteering, hours of homework after school, hunting down a project doo-bob or a colonial costume. Before there simply wasn’t time to do all that I wanted for him as a family. Now I could design his education to make it our own, based on the priorities we had and what he was passionate about learning.
Will we do this forever? I don’t know. Will I be any good at it? Will it rain a year from today? Who knows. What I know is that this is the right choice for our family right now and I will continue to evaluate my son based on his love of learning, the life and faith skills he is building.
I know homeschooling isn’t for the faint at heart. I like to think of it as “going off the grid.” Saying it that way, it has sort of a cool, James Bond mission style sound to it. It certainly sounds better than we have decided to give up all we know about traditional schooling and do it on our own.
Coming home to school is not for everyone, but for our family it was the only choice. Going off the grid gives us the freedom to encourage our child in a loving, enriching way. In our hearts, there could be no higher calling.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
When I hear the word “gap” I think of Leon Spinks and fourth grade.
If you don’t remember Leon – he was the heavyweight champion of the world, amazingly defeating Muhammad Ali in 1978, exactly when I was 9. You probably remember him as the unlikely winner with the huge gap in his front teeth – not a slight gap, more akin to a Grand Canyon-size spacer. In the peak of Spinks fame, timed with the cusp of my awkward pre-teen years, I also had a funny-looking gap.
Thank heavens it was nowhere near Spinks size. But all the same, it might as well have been. It was the most embarrassing thing ever to be compared to a heavyweight boxer. I don’t think I smiled once after Spinks won the title. I never forgot the humiliation of the ugly “gap."
Recently I was reminded of gaps again at a writer’s conference. In a field of 600 other women writers, it was easy to start the comparison game. In my head are all the gaps screaming out at me “her shoes are nicer than yours” or “she looks more professional than you, she probably is a better writer” to the ultimate take down “what are you doing here thinking you can write?”
Even though my teeth have since grown together (thank God), I still am constantly reminded of my gaps. The places in the heart that no matter how hard I try, never get filled in. No amount of compensating, positive thinking or smart wardrobing covers their places.
The very first speaker of the writer's conference must have picked up on the “gap vibe” as she immediately talked about how all of us feel inadequate. She reminded us that everyone has gaps and it is only our Creator that can fill them perfectly. She reminded us how wonderfully made our Maker designed us. Yes, despite our gaps, we are perfect in His eyes. My soul breathed a sigh of relief with a “thank you for reminding me.”
As we prepare for the fall season and school year ahead, it’s a great time to remember we all have gaps. Our kids have gaps, our families have gaps, our friends and teachers have gaps. But divine love fills in perfectly. So next time we start focusing on our spaces, we can breathe a deep sigh of relief. With that breath, we can remember gap-filling grace.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
Loving hockey is like loving that misfit family member that demands all of you and smells bad.
This blazing hot Southern week has been spent in the confines of an ice rink. Despite the bad fluorescent lighting and high stink factor of the locker rooms, I have counted myself blessed to freeze my hockey mom buns off. Rather, more blessed to see my son in love with something like hockey.
Now I have had my share of “discussions” with other friends about the violence of hockey, how it teaches kids to fight, how the injuries are beyond belief. But I can see more violence on their video game shelves and the TV shows they watch. I understand that hockey requires a great deal of aggression to be any good. But so does life.
The thing about hockey is it’s really hard. Not only is it physically demanding, but it requires strategy, discipline and serious teamwork. It has become a metaphor for all the tough things in life. For us, the lesson of hockey is that to get really good at something, you have to work. Not only work hard, you have to work your buns off and be good to your team along the way.
Hockey has become the teachable reference for math, for learning something new, for doing the difficult things. It teaches them at an early age that team is everything --- if you’re a jerk to your team, no one’s going to give you the puck. For a kid to know early on what it’s like to work through something hard as a team means they have a true appreciation for when they succeed, win or fail.
Watching my son circle around and around on the frozen rink is really boring, and stinky. But he loves it and he shows up every day with a good attitude, ready to work hard – because hockey is something he loves. I adore that he is gaining a valuable life lesson that he can carry with him the rest of his life. This lesson will go with him to his future job, perhaps his marriage and putting his talents to work. For that great reward, I can handle a little stink along the way.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
The Summer Day
By Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Monday, June 14, 2010
Friday, May 21, 2010
Monday, May 10, 2010
Have you ever time travelled? I tried it out this week during my morning walk.
Trudging along my typical path, I got this overwhelming hit of honeysuckle, now blooming like crazy in North Carolina. All of the recent rains and quick humid weather have flushed out this tropical gem.
Inhaling deeply I was transported back to the 1980s. There I am, 10 years old and watching my older sister getting ready for prom. She wore a heavy perfume that was all the rage back then, Jungle Gardenia – which happens to smell just like our honeysuckle. I watched her in awe, donning makeup, putting on her amazing dress and wondering if I would ever look that beautiful or go to the prom.
That honeysuckle whiff sent me tumbling back to childhood – I am 12 and stealing mists of my mom’s perfume. Then transported again to visiting family in Puerto Rico -- exotic flower blooms mingled with my aunt’s rice and beans. Next, I’m in high school at my brother’s wedding – listening to my mother’s too loud laugh as she donned a corsage of tropical flowers. So much emotion and wonder and dreams and delight wrapped up in the power of smell.
People always talk of stopping to smell the roses. But if you ever cared for anything beyond a shrub rose, you know it’s complicated. You know about the endless rounds of chemicals and fertilizers and pruning and fuss fuss. On top of all that, most roses don’t really smell all that much.
For me, honeysuckle is the true beauty. It grows naturally on it’s own without much trouble. You come around a bend and it surprises you. Just as summer begins to unfurl in full dramatic stride, honeysuckles demands your notice. With it’s heady lushness, you close your eyes, breathe deep and are transported again.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
I was a bad mommy this week. I actually sent my son to school without lunch, without snack and without his schoolwork. Why? Because it’s his responsibility, not mine.
I know, I know, he’s only a child, he can’t keep up with all these things all the time. But my thought is, why not? I think he should be able to remember without 16 reminders. Furthermore, am I doing him any favors by giving him 16 reminders?
The “mommy to the rescue” approach was not building any worthwhile qualities in myself or my son. After all, the school years are truly about teaching children preparedness for life. Planning ahead, problem solving and the consequences of forgetting your backpack are also part of the learning.
Lately I have been noticing all the little ways I have made myself a slave to my child’s needs. I was doing things for him that he can very well do himself. The greater mommy lesson is I was robbing my child a learning opportunity by doing everything for him. Snowplowing my child’s path wasn’t contributing to his sense of confidence or independence.
As I dropped my son off empty handed and he tried bravely to wipe away his tears, my heart broke for him. To face a full day without his schoolwork, without a snack and lunch might seem pretty scary to him. But I was confident that it would take only take one time of forgetting for this lesson to take hold.
I knew the school wouldn’t let him go hungry. I knew his teachers would help him along. But I wanted him to know certain things are up to him. If it takes the bad mommy to show my son how capable and smart and wise he is, so be it. Because I know he is. And now he does too.
Monday, April 19, 2010
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
It’s been casserole season lately.
Winter’s final exhale has brought a mixture of bittersweet to my circle of friends. There’s been a layoff, a cancer diagnosis, a divorce, a heart scare and a new baby. Along with these changes, comes the ever-present casserole. It is simply the right thing to do. There is something wonderful about a square of comfort delivered by loving hands.
The casserole once was an important reassurance for me. When I was in middle school, my dad was in a life-threatening car accident. My days were filled with school, followed by the long drive to the hospital and back home again. Exhausted, worried and scared, I remember coming home and seeing the casseroles spread out on our kitchen table. Their well wishes brought kind relief and warmth that is hard to explain.
Miraculously, beautifully -- the casseroles kept showing up on our kitchen table. Sweet encouragement from friends, neighbors, church ladies, people I didn’t even know. I have never been more grateful for such kindness.
When you are beat up by life, a casserole might be the best thing you can imagine. It is a glimmer of hope when none can be found. More than food, casseroles say “hang in there, you’re gonna be okay, kid.” It is a high honor to give someone that kind of hope, even if it’s only a casserole.