“Dissent is democratic,” but what does that have to do with school?

This quote was posted above an inner door in the main office of a school I subbed in last year. It struck me like a breath of fresh air, but also like a sparrow in a big box hardware store, beautiful and free in essence but trapped and doomed unless it could escape to the open air.

What could it mean? Sounded cool–so democratic, you know. I liked it–thought someone might have the best interests of students at heart there, even of teachers too, if he or she thought democracy was important and not just cooperation and conformity. Who posted it there? I wondered.

But dissent is not, in itself, democratic. What’s democratic is everyone having a say,  based on, I would like to think, the higher human faculties of adequate knowledge, reason, forethought, and good will, as above mere interest, passion, instinct, tradition, and social conditioning. Thjat’s all off the top of my own head, however–not a very democratic definition. But I never went in much for those–words have to have a good deal of gravity for there to be any continuity of sense to them, in my opinion.

And what about democracy in school, anyway? What role did it play in your schooling,? Did your teacher consent to let your math class work on the lawn outside when the weather got warm in the spring? Decide on test dates, content, classroom rules? Okay, so maybe not in the younger grades, but I guess we all at least got to vote on class president and so on then, and as we got older, there was more participation, right? Or, wait a second, was it…it was…less participation. Required courses, minimum GPA, mandated tests, approved texts, sign-in, sign-out, tight schedule, thirty-six weeks, no choice of teachers, classmates, venue. Even a snow day, an intervention of God himself, has to be made up at the end of the year. Not that the teachers were monopolizing the authority, either. So much of it is taken out of their hands, let alone the part that they can hand back to students in trust, as they grow into maturity.

What about the biggie, that decision most people never even think about, the decision of whether to go to school at all? It being legal in the U.S. to build an education outside the system, with more or less freedom and oversight, depending on the state.

But what about that sign on the wall? What did it mean? Was it for teachers, meaning that they should disagree with administrative decrees, district agendas, testing protocol? Should they say no to another staff meeting, no to the accepted way of teaching certain controversial subjects, no to grades? Was it for students? Should they refuse to do certain tasks they found a waste of time, choose their own books apart from the list, their own way of learning? Not follow the seating plan?

Or was it really an underhanded way of saying democracy does not work here? Because, after all, democracy often means dissent, and we can’t have that here.

Harrowing adventures for your summer entertainment

Don’t know if I can write in this state of mind, but as usual a visit to a fellow writer’s page makes me want to try. No caffeine in my system, as I try to cut back. A scare last night providing the needed impetus, and the miraculous absence of a withdrawal headache providing an unexpected grace.

Yesterday after supper I downed the last little bit of espresso with some soy milk, having already had two strong ones earlier in the day–or was it three? Finished painting a bedroom and a few chores, then went off to bed, expecting to sleep until it was time for a morning swim. Instead I was awakened from deep sleep by the distinct feeling of a small something crawling under my back. Instincts brought me up, trying to roll off the spot to I could brush off the bug. My muscles all loose and my blood pressure low, I crashed over the side of the bed instead, bringing my wrist down hard on the edge of a metal trash can. First thought as I rose onto hands and knees was to get ice on it for the swelling, along with a feeling of wonder that I’d been so out of it to fall out of bed.

My mind was clear enough for what I needed to do, and I remembered that I’d just stowed a wrappable ice pack in the freezer, found it and held it to the back side of my wrist. My feet somehow took me back to bed, but I was becoming more aware of the pain, and curiosity made me take a look–a purple bruise was already forming. My mind, usually calm and collected in cases of blood or trauma, went all soft and my blood pressure started to sink. I knew I had to lie down and get my feet up or else, having had a few similar experiences. I tried to shove some pillows under my feet but they kept getting caught in the bed sheet. My heart was trying to pump as usual but there wasn’t enough volume, and I could feel a sort of sucked-in feeling on some of its contractions, which I’d felt before when my heart would throw in an early followup beat with not enough blood to push along. I’d gone to the doctorabout it and been reassured that it was not usually a problem. But now my heart was doing a lot of that. My thought was, here it is the middle of the night and no one knows, and I don’t know whether I’ll pull out of this awake. So I picked up bedside phone and after a few fumbles with the unlock code (mental note, put more numbers on emergency dialer), I dialed my son, asleep across the hall, who is a calm person with first aid training. He answered on the second try and came over; I mumbled what was going on, and got me a drink of water and a throw up bucket, and waited with me, resting on the wood floor. I wondered if he’d fall asleep, and then what? Would he check on me in ten minutes and find me unconscious and know what to do? Mental note: go over emergency procedures with the kids. But I slowly pulled away from the edge opf unconsciousness, was able to move and talk normally, and sent him back to bed.

On a trans-continental flight ten years ago a similar thing happened–I almost slipped into unconsciousness due to fatigue, dehydration from breastfeeding, sleeping in a sitting position, and my naturally low blood pressure. Maybe the low after a cup of coffee too. I woke up feeling not right and called the flight attendant, said I needed to get my head down, and she took my one year old son to the back where another of the flight crew kept him happy with Cheerios. I could feel that draining, nauseating feeling and the ragged edges to a black border closing in on my sight. They helped me lie in the aisle and found a medical person, who monitored my pulse and blood pressure as I heard voices and drifted helplessly on the borders of unconsciousness. Someone fed me water with a straw. I slowly returned to full awareness and when I was ready, was helped back into my seat. The person next to me was not the nurturing or talkative type–she looked tense and uncomfortable, as if what I had was catching. I ate, drank, and did stretches to keep the blood flowing for the rest of the flight.

The coolest fainting episode, since I’m sharing this with you in the spirit of late night harrowing tales around the campfire, was after I got stung by a jellyfish. I was up to my waist in the Mediterranean Sea cooling off with my son, my friend Tina, and her three kids. Someone was pointing at the water near us and saying something when I felt a flash of pain across my upper left leg. “Meduse” had been the word, surely Hebrew for jellyfish. There it was, floating away, not even sticking around to to eat me. No big deal, I thought, looking at my leg, where the skin was beginning to redden. Stinging pain which would soon fade, right? But it got worse. The stung area extended eight inches down my leg and five inches across, and angry red tentacle-shaped welts were appearing. I let the wavelets wash over it, but that made it sting even more. I started to have trouble putting weight on the leg, and decided to go sit on my towel on the beach. Still no relief in any position, and the pain was getting worse. I limped up to have the lifeguard spray it with vinegar solution kept on hand for the purpose, but it was no good. Should have gone in the first few minutes, someone said. It was time to go home and see what could be done.

By the time we’d gathered the kids and got everyone to the parking lot, I was anxious, faint, and nauseous, and lay down beside the van while Tina bucked the kids in. She gave me water and hard candy, stayed calm and helped me climb in and get positioned with my feet on the dash. She chatted with me on the half hour drive to keep me alert and out of shock. We arrived home and she and my husband, much concerned, helped me in and put me to bed with an ice pack for my leg, water to drink, and pain medication. The faintness and nausea eased and I slept, a large mixing bowl inverted over the sting to keep anything from touching it. By 8 pm I was able to get up and wolf down a big dinner, and we admired my red, swollen leg, glad the wort was over. I took photos of the sting over the next several weeks as it went through the stages of healing. The jellyfish was Rhopilema nomadica Galil. Did you know that the stinging cells of the Cnidaria phylum have the fastest cellular mechanism in the world?

The day after yesterday’s fainting spell, I slept in instead of swimming. Low energy all day, easily tired by the usual chores. Caffeine withdrawal, or body recovery from the state I was in, I don’t know. But I’m content enough for now to putter around and do simple tasks, having been reminded how tenuous this hold on the conscious life, on life itself, can be.


Why I write, with an introduction involving soil

A lightness came as I shook soil out of those sods, thumping them against my spading fork as night fell. Cool of the evening balanced by the heat of work, air still, I wiggled my glove into the pile, grasped a body of dry sod, knocked loose soil down, watched it rain down. Tossed the remaining fibrous roots on the new pile beside the sprawling berry canes, layered in with warm gray-green grass clippings. The mound of soil cone-shaped like an ant hill erupting between concrete slabs. Not an efficient industrial process, hands directly massaging the soil, repetitive small movements, mixing and planting as if in a slow cooker under coals on the beach. When the pile is complete, I’ll moisten it, cover with a tarp and let it cook down to a rich mixture that will heal the place where the earth moving equipment gouged the back of the garden last year, shattering the orderly structure of the soil and bringing concrete-like subsoil to the surface. Now rocky and almost  impenetrable, it will be transformed into something soft and earthwormy, ready for seeding.

Today my husband and I cleared away some of the chaos if the patio–the pile of old door frames split into kindling, chunks of this years’ cherry tree and last years’ birch and gum tree, toy swords of wood, PVC pipe, and duct tape, plant flats, tools, and ongoing wood finishing projects. My daughter swept the surface clean and helped put up the big rust red canopy bought on  sale last fall. Now we have a refuge from summer heat raining from the open sky and bouncing up from the concrete. The neighbors’ cedars, willows and grapevines are framed into view from what feels like a special room now inviting us to sit and visit, read, take a break. Turned a corner for me in my desire to make this place more of a home, a welcoming place not always under construction and in transition. Now to complete the sanding and finishing of the outdoor furniture, maybe add some mini lights to the canopy rafters, and what might come to pass here, sun or rain. Let your little light shine.

My husband and I reopened a dialogue the other day about my writing habit, in which I tried to explain why it was not a “hobby.” I might have time for it now, he said, but would I be able to fit it in when I went back to teach, when my duties would have to be more tightly scheduled and excesses culled? For once I stayed calm about it instead of turning inward, stayed realistic instead of taking offense, accepting the fact that we do have a hard time understanding one another, we humans, despite the things we share in common, how intimate we may be in some ways, we are always in a sense on the outside looking in, so no sense taking it personally. Since he’d asked a fair question, he deserved a fair answer. I answered over several days, will still be answering, since it’s not easy to explain, and I have to check my thinking for selfishness, defensiveness, snobbery, impracticality, elitism, and so on.

I said I write to understand and process–can’t do without it when I have important questions or am troubled. I said I write to create, it’s human nature, image of the Creator, and everyone has to discover their channels for that. I said I write to unwind, to relax, for enjoyment, and that’s important for everyone. I said I write to grow–have to keep challenging myself, accepting challenges from others, getting better if I can, asking questions, finding out what other people think and have experienced. I said I write to be useful–maybe I can help someone else, clarify, get at something others can’t see, connect in a meaningful way. By the way,thanks for reading this, for caring. I write because you are there.




No stone unturned, but please set them all back in place when you’re done

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Had a whale of a time mucking around on the beach at low tide that morning with my son’s fifth grade class a few weeks ago. All up to the gills in neat things to look and, smell and feel, deep in concentration, ebb and flow of kids between water line and rocky shore. And kudos to the leader the facilitating non profit environmental education group, who reeled all the parent volunteers in and specifically gave permission for the kids in each of our “groups” to drift off down the beach and not be called back to stay with the group. “Just wave and say, ‘see ya!'” was her wise advice. I like to see that prioritization of learning over control. There weren’t any cliffs or dangerous undertow currents, after all.

A good hour or so of free exploration, a few optional tools and field guides, parents to carry heavy stuff and bandage fingers sliced by shells. The field guides went by the wayside, the shovels got whisked off for use on the sandy part of the beach, and the pan filled up with things to look at and show off: purple sea stars, sun stars, limpets, clams, mussels, hermit and rock crabs, red, green, and brown algae, sand worms, and small fish. One find let to another: as we were lowering a rock after we’d finished admiring the mass of golden eggs stuck to its underside, the water in its muddy footprint swirled and revealed a mud-colored fish keeping guard. Later I found a post with a good photo of the fish.

All very nice, all very good. The kids gently return all the creatures and habitat samples back to the wild as instructed, and toddle back to the school in time to ride the diesel-powered buses, parental hybrid vehicles, SUVs, and minivans lined up on three sides of the school. Today they learned how neat nature is, and did what children way back to Adam and Eve’s got to do with their morning hours, messing around with real things God placed on this Earth. What now? …I’m fishing for possibilities, plumbing depths for implications, diving for pearls. How about this: instead of merely poking and prodding, then gathering up at the park shelter for pizza and drink boxes, why not then gather firewood, pull out the nets and rods, and catch dinner? Och, it’s a park, girl, and what if everybody did that? And I say, what if–let’s explore the idea in theory, anyway–what if a lot of folks really did? Not all in the park, but spread out, like, along the coast, up and down. If all the current inhabitants of the coast had to go locovore and forage with their young and old ‘uns, go out and fish, and never venture back to the grocers’ in the petro-powered vehicle at all? Would the impact really be net destructive? That’s what I want to know. I mean, if the contents of those intertidal zones and pelagic fields weren’t contaminated by mercury and whatnot from the other more modern ways of pursing  a livelihood, if they were still edible like in the old days?

Next time, I want to take the kids up to the Lummi shoreline for a lesson in survival from the elders who still know how to make that kind of living. Just in case California really does dry up in the next few years and not send us any more off season fruits and veggies, let alone lunchables and go-gurt.


Diagnosis, prognosis, prescription, payback?

In the back bedroom my husband is catching up on the Mariners game on his laptop. I tune in only when the name Michael Saunders comes up, since he’s a relation, which makes me a fan. But this isn’t about baseball, or even sports. An advertisement for a surgery center is deftly inserted into the game commentary. Advertising surgery clinics? Seems inappropriate, unprofessional somehow. Can’t that money go somewhere more useful in the field, like maybe gas money for carless sick people to get to the hospital? Must those surgeons compete for customers–ahem, patients? Used to be only chiropractors who did that, even offered discount coupons in those envelopes along with DQ and lube shops. Hence the hard time I had accepting these practitioners as legitimate. Now surgeons are doing the same. Can a woman hold out for a two-for one mastectomy sale offered by the new surgeon in town? And isn’t it so cute to see those ads and brochures with the white coated doc surrounded by his team of subordinates? Am I supposed to gain confidence from the existence of so many well-groomed female assistants? Better than including the doctor’s spouse and children in the feature, like so many local businesses. “Oh, that’s S____ from my daughter’s class. Her father does carpet cleaning? Lets’ hire him!” “What a nice looking family! I’ll call the company about our lighting needs!” Apparently the leap of logic from “I know him” or “I like his appearance” to “He’s the best choice of doctor” is still too great for most people. With the current trend away from teaching logical thinking, we’ll get there before long.

Then there’s the medical product trade. My optometrist, one I followed from his debut at Costco to his own practice because I liked his professionalism and thoroughness, now escorts me out front  after my appointment to deliver me to the optician in his spectacle shop as if the transformation from patient to consumer is the most natural thing in the world. I stiffen, politely browse, and say thanks, I’ll be shopping around. Will the surgeons come out with a special line of proprietary bandages next, on contract with Disney? Or maybe certain medical groups will take out stock in certain pharmaceutical companies and then, well, why not–write preferential prescriptions. Oh, I forgot–isn’t something like that already happening? Or am I thinking of auto dealer service departments?

I’m not liking that cynical tone, are you? Okay, I’ll back up, and ask, in a neutral tone, like a good CBC journalist:

  • What is the role of the business model in the medical field?
  • How can medical professionals and facilities inform the public about their services and qualifications in an accessible, truthful and balanced way, so that prospective consumers–ahem, patients–can make informed choices?
  • Is there a role for market competition in the provision of medical services?
  • What are the most effective structures of accountability for medical providers marketing their services, or selling products related to their own medical advice?
  • What business-related activities could constitute conflict of interest for a medical provider?


Jumping to conclusions on my new trampoline

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We splurged on a big one, hoping it would help us all center somewhere in the home landscape, be a spot of choice for our teens, fun for the younger ones, and an attraction for all their friends. They are all using it, for exercise, for fun, for a dry place to lie and chat while scanning the sky and fir tree silhouettes as the dark falls, and for sleepovers after that.

It took me about a week to get up on it myself. Just didn’t get around to it until then. I was surprised how good it felt, how uplifting. And a good workout. Keeps one accountable in the area of remembering to do one’s Kegel exercises, too, which one occasionally neglects, doesn’t one? It’s kind of modeled after a pelvic floor itself, in a way. I remember the feeling of my son trampolining on mine in utero.

The city children’s hospital has a vegetable patch in the picnic area by the cafeteria. We looked at growing chard, tomatoes, peas, strawberries, and ate fish and chips. My son expressed the hope that some of it would be served in the cafeteria. Been thinking a lot about food lately, since starting listening to the audiobook Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Carefully researched, clearly articulated, gently communicated, and illustrated with stories from their family’s year of eating food produced as locally as possible. I understand better now the true cost of the low prices I’ve been paying for food, the ways I’ve participated in the system that drives small farmers into bankruptcy.  Time to be more proactive in my food choices for the family. And to try to take the author’s gentle approach at attempting to coax themy into better purchasing and eating habits. We use our share of processed foods, feedlot meat, and vegetables from megafarms which destroy living ecosystems, impoverish soils and guzzle fossil fuels, all subsidized by us, the taxpayers. Time for me to research what to cut out and ways to replace those things, or not.

There’s the garden, of course, containing the most local food of all. We are blessed with a sunny, fenced back yard which is now graced with a large, organized, productive vegetable patch, complete with greenhouse (formerly a large, muddy, productive garden that needed a lot of upkeep). I’m recording the expenses and inputs (labor aside–that’s a pleasure and free exercise anyway), as well as outputs in the form of seedling and food production. So far, though we started late, we’ve had abundant salad greens, onions, beets, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, herbs, and a few berries. As soon as we use our store bought potatoes I’ll dig some of our own reds, yellows and bakers, which always mature before I expect them to. The tomatoes are just starting to produce little green balls, and in a month or so there will be cucumbers, squash, beans, cherries, aronia berries, and eventually peppers and apples. My goal is to have the family eat and preserve all we can use, as well as save seeds, and give away all the rest. I’m also planning to be more insistent that the children participate in this, so they can learn at least the basics of harvesting food. That’s the fun part, which I hope will help interest them in the planting and cultivation aspects later on. Not much time now to refine the seed-to-table techniques of my oldest, and to expand their healthy meals recipe repertoire.

Now I shall jump to my conclusion, leaving you with the link to the site related to the book, with seasonal recipes for your garden or local farm produce: http://www.animalvegetablemiracle.com/

Bon appetit!




Coach Mom

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It’s too hot and sweaty for my brain in this indoor pool, as I wait for my son to finish workout.

I’ve been working with this son, the eleven-year-old, on things I could loosely define as “attitude.” He’s a kid that currently resists almost every suggestion for involvement in extra activity, maybe because as a younger boy I didn’t have time and he got used to a pretty open schedule, and with homeschooling, so as long as lessons got done, there was a lot of flex. Suddenly I realized how little outside activity he’d had the opportunity to do–at most he was tagging along with a pile of books while I drove one of his siblings or did errands. For one thing, he’s a high energy guy and he wasn’t getting enough exercise. Last year he expressed interest in karate, so I got recommendations, and as it  happened forgot them all at home and went with a different studio, the one closest to the YMCA so pickup would work out for a sibling involved there. It was a good choice–a traditional dojo with very experienced couple as sensei. Deep understanding of the process of adjustment for today’s kids to a quiet, focused, rigorous practice. Standards of excellence, the opportunity to observe and work with older students, good communication with students and parents, a vision I shared and opportunity for me to learn more, periodic individual instruction for young students. My son was motivated, worked hard, looked forward to each session, and enjoyed working on his moves at home. But this couple then retired, and the transition to new dojo and instructors was too rocky, the new sensei not really ready to teach the young ones. My son was really not able to connect and did not enjoy sessions. So we moved on.

Off to the swim team prep squad it was, like it or not. With a moan and much dragging of the feet, but only until he got into the building. He participates fully and works hard once he’s in the water. So the fitness and technique is improving, and he’s made friends, but I get to hear all the complaints–how he’s extra tired because of sleeping poorly, feeling sort of sick, hates–absolutely hates–swim team. I’m experimenting with various ways of responding, the goal being to help him do his best and see the value of this, maybe even get pumped to learn and improve. He accuses me of wanting him to be a great swimmer just like his two siblings, which isn’t it–though I know he has equal athletic potential, for me it’s about the fitness and life lessons–how to work hard, be a team, respond well to coaching, push oneself, gain confidence, and so on. Also swimming is a survival skill–the stronger the better. Plus I know the team, and don’t have the time right now to figure out something new.

I’ve also required the boy to work on his land skills at the city-run track meets this summer, so he’ll have familiarity once he hits middle school. At these meets, I’m the coach, and I think we’re making progress. First, I used bribery. I told him if he enters five events with a good attitude, he gets a treat, and if in future he enters all possible events for his age, he gets a full meal deal, with dessert. That will serve for some motivation for now, to get him through the “I suck at everything!” hurdle. Can you believe it? Where did he pick that up? From being the slowest runner and least experienced sports kid in fifth grade, he claims. Yet Grampa, a track former coach, saw him run and said he has natural talent. That was a year ago, and something has happened between then and now so the boy just doesn’t use what he has–I see it in his body language. Tried to get him to warm up with me for his runs, and he’d take off as if he wanted to best me, then just sag, as if his brain was crying, “You can’t do this! If you do this, you’ll suck!” I told him I don’t care what place he comes in, just that he needs to do his best, etc., etc., and he’ll see improvement. Told him it’s rude to put people down, including himself; even if they actually do suck, it’s hard to get better by being told so. Told him his body needed encouragement, not criticism. The more he plays this psych-out game, the more resolved am I to help him overcome. I need wisdom. Anyway, he raced twice and did all the field events, and has already improved over his first meet, and  knew it. Heck, the kid more than tripled his discus throw on the third try with  help from the college volunteer! And he was a close fourth in his 50m hurdle heat instead of dead last. At this point he doesn’t seem interested in practicing during the week, but I’ll coax him, and he’ll see how it helps

We’d just got back from his Seattle eye appointment, involving two plus hours of driving and almost two and two hours of waiting. We were back in time for swim team, so I decided he’d do his workout, so he could get in his three this week. He gave the usual moan and rolled over to take a nap right there in the car. I went into the house and did some chores until it was time to go, packed his stuff and woke him up at the pool. He may as well come quiet.

Tomorrow is the beginning of the summer team season at the pool down the street, with workouts four mornings a week. I’ve decided he can do only that starting in a week and take the summer off the club. I’m risking the coach’s displeasure there, for sure. Coach expects a high level of commitment from everyone from beginner on up, no exceptions. I feel that double teaming would burn us both out, and exceptions have their place in pedagogy. As for me, I need to cut down on driving, and have more fun with my parental duties. Summer meets are like community parties. I love seeing all the families come out, the little kids making it across the pool for the first time, their parents’ faces as they lean in and cheer, so proud. The big high school swimmers tearing up the pool and impressing the heck out of everyone, the friendly but intense competition. This year I’ll have three kids on the team and one to sit with and cheer. Lots of new faces, a few familiar, a good chance to connect. Since I’m such a home body when I’m not driving by necessity, and my husband is away working so much, we need that.


Would you rather be as asset to the company or to future generations?

My two oldest apparently checked some box on their standardized tests, so we get junk mail from a bunch of colleges, all of which assure us that my children are “impressive” and “motivated” and of course a good fit to enter their institution. All based on the estimated GPAs my children gave. I was tempted to send notes back saying that an institution that presented itself in such a way, oozing such insincerity on such a quantity of paper, was certainly not a good fit for any children of mine. My daughter admitted it was flattering to receive such kudos and invitations. And the personality and claims of college reps made an impact on my son on college night. All so frivolous. Make way for me, the super-researcher, who sees through it all, compiles lists, cross-checks, takes notes, weighs the pros and cons, and writes a treatise, based on dreaming big and some of my own unmet academic needs. Meanwhile it’s my husband who maintains the practical view that if we can’t afford it, we can’t afford it, and how likely is a good job to come out of it? The part about them meeting their future spouses at college can work in my favor, though.

I’m checking out various library books on colleges, since one of our offspring one will be ready to go in a year and another in two (not that it’s a given). A real mixed bag, those books, from intelligent and insightful and full of useful information and thoughtful perspectives, to shallow and stupid– full of quotes like “Everyone is happy here–everywhere you go you see a smile!” Seriously, the Princeton Review included that in their severely edited pages for one college. The ranking -based books are in the go back pile. On the other hand, I get positively giddy reading books like Cool Colleges for the Hyper-Intelligent, Self-Directed, Late-Blooming, and Just Plain Different by Donald Asher, Colleges that Change Lives by Loren Pope, and The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education by Maya Frost. I get the way they think–looking beyond the Ivy League, the local options, even the national system. And the descriptions of these places, how they nurture the life of the mind and the development of vision leadership! I read excerpts to my kids to get them interested–even my thirteen year old, when I find colleges with equestrian programs.

At this point I’m advising my young adults to consider going straight to another country to broaden their cultural understanding and learn another language by working and/or studying–no need to go through a U.S. university at all (much more expensive, anyway). Plus you’re less likely to get shot by a crazy person with a semi-automatic weapon (I have a niece at SPU who recently escaped that fate by being in the right place at the right time. Maybe back to the Middle East for my son; he’s already bought Rosetta Stone Arabic on his own, and has a leg up knowing Modern Hebrew–both are Semitic languages. I’ve also compiled a list of colleges with a great liberal arts education, which I happen to believe is important for a good number of humans to have in order to be leaders and not just workers, to understand what the world is like and why, and its problems and possibilities. Moving toward a career, a way to get paid and support a family, yes, but meanwhile broadening and deepening understanding and developing life purpose. I hope to see more folks young and older address that disconnect between the call to keep up with “progress,” and a true understanding of from what and to what we are progressing, besides more complexity and a higher GNP.

Then there’s the up front cost of higher education to consider, and the possible future debt load; how does one weigh those against the projected take-home value of an education at various colleges? One side of my husband’s family gave a good deal of financial assistance to their children for college, with mixed and as yet undetermined results, and the other gave none, preferring to teach theirs the lesson of personal responsibility–with mixed and as yet undetermined results. All of them stayed in state–in fact just about everyone I’ve talked to has kept their kids in state. I’d been thinking getting farther afield would be a good idea, but I was reminded today by a friend whose sons are only an hour away of the value of considering travel costs, continued connection with family, including siblings, and the opportunity for parents to connect with their kids’ new college friends.

This is not a science. Lots to consider and prioritize, balance opinions, collect data and narratives, then, I guess, go with some combination of the heart in submitting applications, and the budget (loosely defined) in making the final decision.

It may be just a genetic expression, but free Willy and pass the predestination!


I am very aware that this is the last full day of school for most of my children. It’s quiet, they are engaged elsewhere, and I am only emergency backup. I am ashamed to feel what I used to scorn in others–dread of summer vacation, of so much sudden family togetherness. Ashamed because for many years I was a homeschool mom–the kind of mom that wanted to be with her children, chose to spend almost all waking hours engaged with them, and missed them when they went to Grandma’s house or music camp. Who didn’t call, “Bye honey! Have a good day at school! I love you!” and rush off to work where she could do important things and get recognized and paid for it. Or off to zumba class, out to catch up with the ladies over coffee before the Bible study or empowerment group, or to get her hair done, while the house cleaner took care of the toilets and the landscapers edged the lawn.

I used to promote homeschooling as a rich and natural way of life, invite young mothers and doubting mothers of public school kids to consider it, lend them books, cite the research; my husband would point out that it is a choice of the privileged, and name the high-earning professions of all our close homeschooling friends–medicine, psychology, veterinary medicine, software, finance. But no, there were plenty of others, I’d argue, whom we didn’t see much because they lived out in the county. People who had chosen to live on a single income and struggle financially to maintain closeness with their children, pass on family values, and oversee a quality individualized education that included skills training and opportunities not available to the public school child. He’d point out that home schoolers were turning their backs on public school kids, who only suffered when families with a high value for education and the time and energy to facilitate it left the system. I’d argue that parents are first responsible for their own families and also that most of homeschooled kids I knew grew up serving other kids as sought after babysitters, active community members, world explorers, activists, scholars, and devoted family members, and would affect culture in new ways after having traveled a different, more independent path. He’d point out that school provided a healthy competition, schedules, structure, deadlines, just like the real world, as well as sports and recess. I said I didn’t want our children to depend on extrinsic motivation to want to learn, and we’d do sports and recess too.

Are you feeling uncomfortable with this portrayal of conflict? I’d like to insert some soothing words, a comforting story of how my husband and I always eventually came to consensus. We usually did, but not always with hugs and kisses. We agreed that for certain seasons of our family life, homeschooling was a good choice. We were definitely not smug. We had seasons of some kids in school, some at home, full time, part time, structured and unstructured learning, group and individual, tutors and community classes. Sometimes the kids’ main subject was stress management, as we left our friends, moved overseas, learned a new language, lived without a personal vehicle, ran out of money, and came home to take our youngest son to an eye surgeon and get jobs. That crazy decision is turning out well after all, with our kids wanting to travel, reaching out to international students, having something unique to list on their college applications.

An interviewee I heard on CBC Radio, can’t remember the field he was in, whether philosophy or psychotherapy or neurology, said humans do things entirely based on how their genes drive them, then the brain makes meaning of it, justifies, judges, and ultimately sees these actions as conscious choices, when they are not, as such. I’m driven to struggle in the direction of nurturing my family in this particular way, certain genes being turned on in response to my internal and external stimuli, I observe and follow those desires, then in hindsight construct a philosophy around what I have done and feel inclined to do. Not necessarily a self-satisfied one–like so many parents I construct a layer of self-doubt, perceive obstacles, generate convictions and confidence that drive me to overcome them, experience a sense of success or failure. The fact that others in seemingly similar circumstances make different choices and have different convictions is merely an expression of healthy diversity in the human gene pool, and the interactions of the sets of genes in each individual as they contact one another. I turn on (or off) your genes, and it’s mutual–don’t you feel it?

I say, whatever. Determinism in biology is like predestination in religion–I’m not determined or predestined to believe in either, it seems. Still, I’ll embrace the possibility that what I’m doing is only natural and relax a bit, but at other times accept the presence of angst and inner conflict as necessary precursors to growth and positive reorientation. I have no idea if we’ve done the right thing with our kids, but as my genes have determined, I’ll look on the bright side of life, with an abiding shadow of self doubt, some fear, some anticipation, and set the table for dinner.


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