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Heart on edge

Drove back in my small car with the large windows that admitted in the light of the blazing stars between the dark trees. Had just dropped my son off with his luggage at the team rendezvous for the training trip to the sunny south. For less than a week this time, but what came into my mind was that soon I will be saying goodbye and good luck and I hope you have everything you need for college.

I am not a worrier, nor do I long to keep my children tethered and comfortingly local if such is not their path. Lately I have been happily dreaming about the exciting world of possibilities ahead of them, the joys of advanced study and building their own communities and life paths. I’ve been remembering my own happy college days. But as I drove back home, the stars pinpoints millions of miles away yet able to pierce the weak yellow glow of the streetlights, I remembered the mistakes I made, the painful parts of discovery, and my dark nights of the soul.

It’s not whether he eats right or remembers to separate light laundry from dark, buys in bulk or keeps his grades up that puts my heart on edge for him. It’s the narrow, rocky, dangerous path of wrestling with painful self awareness and essential solitude, the search for fellowship and true friendship, the struggle to master the self in learning personal discipline, the need to deny the self to put others first, the grounding in self acceptance, personal humility, and reasonable confidence wherein the most risk lies. Real risk, of more than life and limb. I hope that he will have guardian angels to remind him not to go it alone, that he is not alone, to whisper hope in the dark like the light of those stars.

 
 

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I don’t have a title for this one

Ever trying to be a voice of reason. Choosing stocks for our retirement portfolio like Spock, as one is supposed to. Spock used to be my nickname, due to a habit I had of underfunctioning in the emotional expression department when others seem to be going over the top. I’d go all logical and try to work things out that way. I’ve learned that that just drives upset people nuts, and leaves my own emotions not dealt with–exhausting.

In other reasonable efforts, I’m trying to help with sibling conflicts related to one driving and picking up another on time or not, messes in said car, how much should one expect and give in a relationship of duty and dependence? As I offer suggestions to one and then the other, I realize my lack of good example has not been helpful. I say, give more than you feel like giving, when you have a chance to show love, make someone feel taken care of, do it, rather than constantly hashing out minimum expectations and boundaries, taking offense, feeling put upon. As for myself, I am so intent on cutting down on carbon dioxide emissions that I don’t do those little extra dropoffs and pickups that could be a way of showing maternal love, going the extra mile. Offers of walking down the hill to meet my child, or biking together to the bus stop, not received the same way. Offers to fix lunches often turned down on the grounds that I don’t use the right foods. Still, there’s always the nightly opportunity to give back rubs to one sore kid or another, and now and then to type out or proofread a paper.

In the long, quiet hours of the day I try to catch up on house cleaning, which I hate (except laundry), and soon gravitate to refinishing cabinets and furniture (creates a finished product, unlike housework). Satisfying to work the sander out in the wind, see the grain emerge, brush on the finish. Then some writing–not much I can think of blogging about, but I’m researching the issues around the Common Core State Standards and testing, getting the No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top timelines nailed down, identifying the players, formulating a letter of response, waiting for my copy of A Chronicle of Echoes by Mercedes Schneider (review here). Gotta channel Spock in that work too, as it’s pretty alarming stuff. If it gets too gnarly I get back to woodworking, or go dig up some weeds, wash the mud off the pumpkins, look for the last strawberries.

Then it’s off to take my daughter to the horse barn, and back to pick up my son from track and field. He’s down, really down, exhausted, he says, from running three miles, but of more concern, says he’s a weirdo, crazy, not normal like everyone else, hates life. He said similar things when I picked him up two days ago. I want to encourage him–I know he is different, does have some habits others make fun of, but I want him to know that’s okay, he doesn’t have to  be like anyone else. Or, does he want to try to be like those people? Yes! He tries, he says. But no, he doesn’t really want to be like them. I start to ask him what in particular has happened, he says he doesn’t want to talk about it any more. At home I fix him hot chocolate, he turns on an audiobook, plays some piano, all calm and cheerful apparently moved on. I come by in a quiet moment, tell him to remember his home, his friends, remember the people who love his personality and uniqueness. I tell him that if he’s around kids who aren’t kind, who don’t appreciate him as he is, he shouldn’t share anything special with them–save it for the people he trusts, who will understand. He says he will.

I want him to get through this, learn from these difficulties, but I don’t want him to be wounded. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, sometimes, but it can also kill you. The desire to homeschool again comes–would that be the right thing to do? But I’m working now, maybe I shouldn’t consider it, maybe I won’t bring it up with my husband. Those days are gone, aren’t they? Yet his siblings were all homeschooled at his age, and in some ways he makes a great homeschool kid–loves to learn, experiment, write, read, make videos, and I sure could challenge him more in the math department. He’d get back to memorizing poetry, which he loves, could set up a business, which he’s now too busy to do, and we still have tons of good curriculum.  Truth is, I’m not sure I’m up for it. Do I have the energy, the willingness to put off my daytime goals and projects? There’s so much that Spock can’t answer for me here.

 

 

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Just because we gardeners all have too many zucchinis doesn’t mean there aren’t people who want them

Just because we gardeners all have too many zucchinis doesn’t mean there aren’t people who want them

I went to “add new post” again, despite working on a dozen other post drafts off and on, desiring some kind of completion. But it’s a process, not just about products, right? And it’s for my own growth, to be able to understanding my inner and outer word, so as to determine my direction for the next fifty years and ten minutes.

Been thinking about the nature of freedom, and the layers of small but firm constraints on acting as a free agent from moment to moment. What is the difference between socially valuable inhibitions and constraints, and those which merely strangle individuality and maintain conformity? When does charging ahead with one’s own unique choices, despite barriers from the realm of fashion, habit, or cultural norms, enrich and delight, boldly knock aside meaningless or harmful mini-traditions of dubious origin, and when does it merely fizzle, or worse, hurt others?

For example, last week I set aside a zucchini and a cucumber to pass on to my daughter’s riding instructor, CB. I’d asked her what veggies she liked, since she ought to have some return from the manure I was taking each week. Not that she wasn’t grateful–wished I could take more, if only I had a truck. She asked if I had any zucchinis, and of course I did, brought her one a few days later. Now I was about to give her another one, since I had, as one does, too many. Mentioned it to my daughter as she was getting ready to go to the barn, and she reacted very negatively (she thought I was giving three zucchinis, if that clarifies things). It was as if I was about to do a shameful thing, something that would reveal me to be the pathetic not-to-be-associated with parent I really was. She tried to forbid me from bringing the stuff–three zucchinis? Just because she said she liked them? Implication: the instructor was only trying to be nice, but there was no way she actually wanted more than that first zucchini, if even that. My daughter’s distress really was of the sort that cries, “Don’t embarrass me, please!”

Stepping back from some of the responding feelings in myself, of the child-to-child type of transaction, of maybe truly being pathetic, maybe tending to do dumb things about which knowing people rolled their eyes in private, I stepped up as parent instead, and asked her to explain. In the spirit of a teachable moment. She couldn’t calm down enough, couldn’t articulate, and resorted to muttering, “Oh my God! You just don’t do that!” under her breath. I said in my most level-headed manner, “Are you saying you don’t trust CB and me to be adults about this, for her to be capable of saying she has no need for more zucchini, or maybe next week, for us to joke about having too much zucchini and trading recipes just to get rid of it? That would be fine–whatever. But she told me she likes zucchini. And why would it reflect on you anyway? Why are you concerned at all?” I felt the need to teach her that its okay to act on one’s own despite pressure, as well as have her be unsuccessful, not rewarded, for pressuring another person is such a way. But I also felt her genuine distress and wanted to be compassionate and put her interests before my own, or that of anyone who might be desperate for a zucchini.

But suddenly I was questioning myself. All I wanted to do was share something, the fruit of my labors, a gesture of appreciation and consideration, but I might, in fact, actually be about to annoy or embarrass someone else, as well as look pathetic. Which then makes me angry–why should there be judgment on acts purely personal and creative, not harmful and not in the ethical realm? Why should it matter whether someone does what “people just don’t do”? And why, furthermore, could some people, the cool, self-confidently unique, socially cutting edge people, pull off such things while the rest of us get laughed at?

What came up in connection with these thoughts was the time my mother bought me a new pink plaid parka which I regretted picking out, didn’t like after all, was embarrassed to wear to school. My friend RR complimented me on it, and assured me, against my skepticism, that it was very nice. So I offered it to her. After all, she seemed to like it more than I. There was an awkward pause. She haltingly explained that she was only saying she liked it to be nice, that she didn’t really want the coat. I had completely misunderstood, committed a faux pas, not cool.

Another incident, of wanting to do something to specially acknowledge an education professor I respected, went better: I dropped in to his office with two homemade scones to share, a sort of breaking of bread together. He got it, this bearded, peace-emanating Christian professor, who shared Krishnamurti quotes for our consideration in Philosophy of Ed class, who used spontaneous role-playing  to explore questions of ethics, culture, practice in teaching. Said thank you, and quietly ate with me, listening to what was up in my learning process. No judgment.

I guess this reveals my level of insecurity and fear of social exclusion, of being misunderstood and judged. And the thread, in my life, of that conflict between being myself and being “normal.” Between fitting in and breaking out, playing it safe and taking those from-the-gut risks. Maybe it’s because this process in still alive in me that I feel prepared to help teens walk that road, desire to support those like myself whose special contribution to the world is in danger of being stifled. The process of facing social pressure from my own children, who, after all, I see as not having legitimate authority over my choices, is a learning process for me, as well as a chance to draw out some principles for them to consider in their own growth.

 

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True Colors by Cindi Lauper

I’ll put this out for you beautifully unique humans. Drink it in:

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2014 in Arts, Poetry and Music

 

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Aren’t we all just basically like me?

While a student delegate to a leadership conference, I heard a talk by one of the senior staff, also senior pastor at a large church, who in the course of his talk, said something like, “We have to admit that we all want to be in control. Let’s face it–that’s why we’re here, why we are in the positions we are.” It didn’t sit right with me, and I thought, even if it’s true for some in the room (all top level national student ministry leaders, almost all men in their forties through sixties), it seemed disrespectful, invasive somehow to make such assumptions about everyone based on the speaker’s own personality or inclination. Was I supposed to recognize that at the base of my interest in being a leader was necessarily a controlling personality? So I, we, could confess it, choose to “let go and let God” and so on. But that shoe just didn’t fit. I don’t really want to be a leader. I don’t like being in charge, and the more influence I may have over people, the more trepidation and sense of burdensome responsibility I feel. Sure I want to influence, but because of principle, and in the way I would want to be influenced–through education, reason, relationship, example, for my own good and willing usefulness to others. Not through any kind of control, however subtle.

Now I have a mental antenna for such statements, in speeches, books, sermons, advertisements, and conversation. When I read on a book overleaf that “Every educated person must read this” or “no one can fail to conclude…” or some such, I shake my head. It’s just another form of “Do this, and you’ll fit in with the group.” Again, it overlooks individuality, appeals to the herd instinct, that desire to be moving along with the crowd. I suppose some people want to be influenced that way–in a sense they don’t feel comfortable believing or doing things that aren’t already accepted by a critical mass of others, or seem to be.

We have all succumbed to the temptation to make choices based on majority choices. Which MP3 player to buy? You ask the guy working on the floor. He shows you the “best seller.” As if that’s necessarily the best choice. No intelligent person would think so. See, now I’m doing it to you–did you notice? “We have all…”, “No intelligent person would think…” making assumptions about you and inviting you to believe them in order to move you on to accept my next idea. Watch out.

On the other hand, maybe there’s a lesson here. It’s true, apparently, that influencing people, whole bunches of people, is about convincing a few, a laborious and seemingly fruitless process at times, but who then make the masses believe it’s the new normal, by a kind of cultural diffusion. It’s the scientifically tested ten percent rule. Essentially, once ideas are accepted by a critical mass of ten percent of folks, the majority will accept the same ideas. Read more here: http://news.rpi.edu/luwakkey/2902

Gives me hope that maybe soon we’ll reach the tipping point for ideas about peak oil, global climate change, the need to power down and transition to a low energy lifestyle and resilient local economies. A little late, because of the tipping point of the changes themselves, but still, maybe we can survive them better, lighten the blow on the most vulnerable, share the burdens, and eventually thrive in some new way.

That ten percent will be a hard-won accomplishment, a labor of generations, even. A constant telling and retelling. Talked to my dad on the phone the other night about that, how he had to tell us over and over to turn off the lights when we left rooms, close the door and keep the heat in, put on a sweater instead of asking to turn up the heat. We just want our kids to get it, understand the whys, and be motivated to do what’s right on their own, but instead there’s a need to remind over and over and at least help them form the necessary habits. I thanked him for not giving up, for telling and retelling us. He knew way back that our over consumption would come back to bite us, and in his writings, lifestyle and conversations chipped away at the erroneous majority opinion.

So press on, prophets, preachers, workers, writers, artists, parents, leaders, all. As the apostle Paul said, ‘let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2013 in Culture & Society, Parenting & Family

 

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Mother Tutor

Several evenings a week now I help my three teens with their homework. I get to see how smart and thoughtful and hardworking they are, and they get to have me help them focus, plan, lay out, think through and support their ideas, or recall and get their mind around science and math concepts. I’m thankful that my evening schedule is unencumbered and I can let the dirty dishes wait so I can be available. I love being involved, making myself useful, and enjoying a new sense of being respected for my experience and knowledge.

My fifteen-year-old daughter had spent a day at home sick and was stressing about a creative English assignment and an essay on Lord of the Flies that were due the next day. Instead of hitting the books and family computer, she was distracting herself by listening to music, texting, checking friends’ social media posts, and periodically panicking at how much work she had to do. I literally had to take her smart phone away (she had not yet developed cyborgian links with it, but oh, what squeals!), send the younger ones to their rooms, sit her down and have her show me the assignments. We worked out a plan for the first one that she was satisfied with, though I was inwardly shaking my head at what more could have been attempted had she started it the week before. She sprang into action and had it ready for completion in study class within an hour. She had reinserted her earbuds, but her older brother backed me up on the no music approach, which surprised me, as he’d balked on that in the past, despite my assuring him my views were research-based. He now told her in no uncertain terms that it was bad for concentration. He also went on to offer help with writing her essay, and sympathized with her plight as a mere high school student plodding through the generic and shallow world of 10th grade English. He offered her a hopeful vision of deep and meaningful English studies next year at community college (through Washington State’s Running Start program). He’d learned so much about writing, he said, and could help her. But she said Mom’s help was enough, so we went to the computer and I had her read aloud her chosen essay prompt. After getting some help sketching out ideas on paper, she got started writing. I slipped out to clean up the kitchen and do a load of laundry, but she kept calling me back,wanting me to sit by her the whole time so she wouldn’t get distracted–a mood she was in, she said. I read over what she had written, suggested some rearrangements, asked some questions, and showed her how to keep moving but make working notes about missing elements along the way. I told her more about the Cold War, discussed aspects of human nature, reminded her to keep connecting with the book’s content, even presented her with some phrases and ideas which she couldn’t articulate on her own, but understood and agreed with. Fortunately the essay prompt was interesting, well thought out, and flexible. And on she went, gaining momentum, and even coming to see the value of this analytical process–the beginning of digging deeper into literature. This is a daughter who had been reacting a bit to all the lively philosophical, theological, political and other conversations overheard at home and when we were out with friends. She decided it was pleasanter to focus on simpler things, I think, and avoid too much stating and discussing of viewpoints. Now she’s moving into that realm, and I can see the development of good values she can own. This sort of writing facilitates that process.

Too much helping? I don’t think so any more. Andrew Pudewa helped me see the light on that. He’s a writing teacher and teacher trainer, and insists that if a student needs help expressing something or with spelling or grammar, offer as much help is needed, and they will eventually say, okay, that’s enough help–I can do this. I see that’s true. The tutoring process is about helping the student get the work done, but with the proper help in the beginning, modelling the process, supplying ideas and so on, the student will be able to become independent. I’m just glad they are asking–that’s smart learning strategy.

Helping my daughter write under pressure was good for me too. I had hated language arts and English classes in school, but loved to write and read, so somehow muddled through essays and report writing without internalizing the formal process of brainstorming, outlining, paragraph layout and structure, and the series of drafts. I never had anyone review and comment on my work, either, besides the teacher-grader. I would just write, and rewrite, and eventually the finished piece would emerge, but because I had such a roundabout approach, sometimes I ran out of time and a good finished piece eluded me. I often procrastinated, waiting for the feeling, the sense of urgency. Then I’d hand it in to the system and later read the grade and comments, then it was on to the next paper. Helping my daughter and son with the process has taught me the value of these steps of the writing process in a way I did not, or would not, see though writing my school essays. Not that I’m using it, still. Here I am just writing sentence after sentence, hoping some sort of meaning will emerge. Hence the Forster quote on the sidebar. A reaction against my four years of immersion in the scientific method, where the format was prescribed?

The other aspect of the evening was hearing that my oldest son is finding his groove at community college. He’s the same busy, tired young man as he was in high school his first two years, struggling to fit everything in and do his best, but he’s got the basics down and is now excited about developing his mind in new ways, exploring interests, seeing how they connect, working out a long term plan. The informal way he was homeschooled, with plenty of reading and discussion but little formal curriculum, then his being immersed in Hebrew in middle school (and therefore going easy on the actual content) left gaps in the scope and sequence, to be sure, but it’s turning out to have been a good grounding for his future, I think. As other homeschool parents have assured us, he’ll fill in any truly essential learning on a need-to-know basis, using his independent thinking, relational and study skills, and the values we instilled in him along the way. He’s happy about what he’s doing, and that’s so much of what we as parents want for him. And being happy makes you smarter.

My youngest daughter is in middle school, and though she occasionally pushes back at me being involved in her affairs or even too physically near her when among peers, she loves to have me sit beside her as she does math in case she gets stuck, or read through her science and social studies notebooks (and sign off–part of the prescribed parent engagement initiated by the school, a nudge some young teens need to share their work with family). I’m impressed at how she’s taken to the organization schemes of several of her teachers. Also refreshing that her social studies teacher is helping them learn about Islam and universal cultural themes, instead of the usual American history overemphasis. She’s making connections with her experiences from living in Israel and putting lots of thought into her assignments, not just breezing through. Still, some of her classes, she says, would be better done independently at home, and she’s discussing the possibility of homeschooling part time next year. She loves to write, but her language arts teacher, she says, is really nice, but overteaches and moves too slow.

My older daughter is thinking homeschooling part time, too, even as early as second semester–says her high school English teacher overemphasizes dark lit, and is too lazy to do much meaningful work with the class (he actually admitted to us parents at open house night that he is lazy–been at it too long?). She’s only written one essay so far, and it’s already almost Christmas break. She actually wishes she was in the tougher but better teacher’s class. I’m proud of her for that.

When these three first started formal school (at various ages), I sort of lost touch with them for a while. From managing all their subject learning I went to lunch maker and paper signer. It’s taken a year in each case for us to get a good groove going, a balance between their being independent and getting extra help from me for greater success. It looks a bit different for each kid, not just in the type of content they’re dealing with, but also in the kind of help they need. Eventually, I suppose, once the college application and travel plans are arranged and finances figured out, I’ll mainly just be cheering them on and praying for them from afar, and taking on a more mentoring and friendship role. I look forward to that, too.

 

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Suli Breaks..through

What a joy to see someone using their voice in such a way! Amazing.

 

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