Are You Pale Enough?

Oh, man. I’ve been sitting up in this house for three days straight (partly because our homeschool co-op is out for the summer and partly because of minor sickness), and it feels like it’s been three days of reading article after article after blog post about this week’s Time Magazine cover. You know – the “Are You Mom Enough?” one.

My poor husband. He’s the one who has had to listen to me about it all. One minute I’m going on about how homeschooling has made me less and less concerned about how other moms raise their kids. (Short of buying them cigarettes for Christmas, right Judd Nelson?) The next minute I’m taking up arms against the lies we are told about being a woman – screaming at us from the grocery store checkout line, in our “mommy groups”, at work, even at church. I have all these great opinions about it, but I don’t feel any better after three days of voicing them. I think I know why.

I haven’t been out in the sun in three days. THREE DAYS. I am pale enough. I’m going out into the sun tomorrow.


On our way to a friend’s house last weekend we saw a carnival being assembled off the side of the highway. We were going to visit with a dear family friend – no blood relation, but we call him “Uncle Glenn” because of how he interacts with the kids. (He’s the kind of man who knows how to be with kids even though he’s never had any of his own. Everyone should have an Uncle Glenn.) During the conversations, Uncle Glenn asked, “April, what would you say is the number one difference between your two boys?” (Jacob, my eight-year-old, and Jackson, my three-year-old.)

I didn’t have to think very long before I replied that my Jacob is a rule-follower by nature, and my Jackson is a born rule-breaker.

On the way home we saw the same carnival, but this time it was lighted up and gyrating like carnivals do after dark. The kids were wowed. I was wowed. No matter how you feel about the actual experience of a carnival, you can’t deny the power of all that incandescence. Jacob asked us, “What is at a carnival?”

“It has roller coasters and stuff,” Jeremiah answered.

Jackson squealed with delight. Jacob said, flatly, “Oh.”

Roller coasters. You either love them or you don’t. I think this holds true even if you hated roller coasters when you first experienced one and then grew to appreciate their shock value. Or if you loved roller coasters when you were younger and then as you got older you just couldn’t handle the adrenaline and motion sickness. You may have changed your mind about roller coasters at some point, but there was an original reaction that was either fer ‘em or agin ‘em.

So, Uncle Glenn, there’s your difference, and it’s probably more accurate than the answer I gave at dinner. Jackson loves roller coasters. Jacob does not. And, I don’t know which one scares me more.

Most likely at some point in the future I’ll find myself encouraging a reluctant Jacob to try out a coaster. “This one is not that bad,” I’ll say. “It only has a few drops.”

Likewise, at some point I’ll say to Jackson, “Honey, slow down. You’re going to make yourself hurl.” It’s just who they are.

It would be gratifying to see Jacob excitedly climbing into a roller coaster car or to hear Jackson say he’ll take a pass on that sixth consecutive ride. I think it’s good to try to overcome your natural tendencies. But, even if my kids do change their minds about roller coasters someday, Jacob will still be my thinker, and Jackson will still be my daredevil. I like it that way.

The Governess

Can I get a show of hands? Who among you is a mother who feels richly blessed to be able to stay home full-time with your children? Who feels like it was the best decision you ever made? Who cannot imagine life any other way than being with those little miracles every single day of your life? Who is living her dream?

Great. Now put your stinkin’ hands down.

I’m jealous of you. I’m bowled over, smothered in a ditch, GREEN with envy. I want it to have been my dream to be a wife and mother. I want to go back and re-align all my childhood hopes to be centered around domesticity. I wish could read myself being abbreviated into a SAHM (stay-at-home-mom) and not barf a little. But, my deficiency in that arena started a long time ago.

While other little girls were changing tiny, plastic doll diapers and thinking to themselves, “Someday I am going to be the most important person in the entire world to some small humans, and it’s going to be GRAND” I was in my bathroom painstakingly growing cupric sulfate crystals in baby food jars under the sink. I was carefully slicing off pieces of insect wings, mounting them to microscope slides, and cataloging the particular part of which species in my lab journal. I was going to be a SCIENTIST.

Sure, I played with dolls some and assumed I’d get married and have kids. (And, can I get a “What, What” from my single ladies who know how hard this assumption can be – both from a personal and a social perspective?) I am glad I did get married and have kids, but it was not what I dreamed about. At the age of ten, there was almost nothing I was more sure of than becoming a scientist.

And I was one! Did you know that? I was an actual scientist.

Can I bore you for a minute with what I worked on in grad school? (Do yourself a favor and skip this paragraph. I am compelled to write it, but you should not be compelled to read it.) See, we were studying kidney epithelial cells – the kind that die easily when there is a large toxic insult and the kind that will eventually transform to cancer cells if they are given enough smaller, repeated toxic insults. I was looking at one type of protein in those cells – proteins called histones which help nuclear DNA coil up on itself to form the familiar X-shaped rods we know as chromosomal DNA. “My” histone was a variant of the histone H3, called H3.3, and it got modified in a unique way in those kidney cell nuclei when there was an acute toxic insult to the cell. I was working to identify the exact placement of that modification. The ultimate goal would be to attempt to prevent the modification and therefore modulate the consequences of that modification, one consequence being the death of the cell. That was a far-off goal, though, and we were just trying to identify the site of modification – a novel phosphorylation site. When I became pregnant with Jacob and had to cease using radioactive phosphorus in our experiments, we (my lab partners and I) were *this close* to finding this novel site that becomes phosphorylated in response to toxic insult and, interestingly, also during cell reproduction. The site (phosphorylation at Serine 31 on the histone variant H3.3) was finally identified by a group from Rockefeller University and published (You can read the full text here in the Journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science – PNAS – NOT a shabby journal) nearly two years after Jacob was born. I don’t think it’s sour grapes for me to point out that we could easily have identified this novel site before that time… had I not had a baby and decided to settle for a master’s degree. Though there was a group of us working on it, the project was mine, and without me the group’s interest in it waned. I’m proud of the work we did. I hope somehow that our work helped that other group. But, it was disappointing not to finish it.

I warned you to skip that paragraph. But, I wrote it to say: Science is what I had a passion for. Science is what I was really good at. Science is what I had envisioned for myself.

“Myself” is the key word here, though. I, myself, also wanted to have a family. And, after that it wasn’t just myself. At one time I believed I could have had a wonderful family AND a pretty cool career. But, I have grown to believe more strongly that my kids need me with them while they are little. The conviction that this is the right thing for me to do has grown into a belief that they need me with them for those first years of formal schooling. So, I homeschool. Suddenly I find myself one handmade scrapbook and a Mary Kay representative contract away from being the “full package” and floundering about who I am now. I used to be a scientist. Nowadays, I feel more like a scullery maid or a governess.

Please don’t think I’m ungrateful. I’m grateful! I’m grateful! I’m grateful that staying home is an option for me, and I’m grateful that I get to BE with my children. I really am. For all the joking about moms who are more contented with this life, I really, really respect you. My mom was like you, and I have benefited from it my whole life. She’s so like this that her greatest joy in life is now her grandchildren. (There she is on the birthday of my niece, Kate.)

And, I respect all the hard-working mamas and papas. I respect those of you who have to work to stay sane or to stay out of debt or are single moms or dads. So much respect.

But, allow me to mourn the loss of my other life. Allow me to reach out to another set of SAHMs (bluuaaaargh). To those of you who are doing this for your family but you’re gritting your teeth and you’re drowning a little in that identity. I want to encourage you. We’re in this together. You’re still mostly sane, and you’re doing what you said you would do. And, if that scale ever tips way over from “this is hard, but I’m still glad I’m doing it” to “I hate my life, and I need to go back to work right now” I will still respect you. I will still respect me.

In the meantime, let’s ride this thing out.

My Friend, Harry Potter

By about a quarter of the way through the last movie installment in the Harry Potter series, I was very glad I had opted to see it weeks after it hit the big screen – sitting next to my husband in a theater scattered with about ten other patrons, all strangers and all middle-aged. I had originally planned to see it with three of my girlfriends at midnight on its opening date as I had seen each of the four previous Harry Potter films. But, every year, with the kids and schedules, it has gotten harder to do those midnight screenings. Plus, Jeremiah really wanted to see it with me, and… I kind of knew it would be messy for me.

Almost as soon as the show began, I was crying at about the level I think most normal people shed tears at the end of a very touching film. Within one hour, I was sloppy, and by about 30 minutes from the end of the movie, I am sure I was worrying some of our fellow movie-goers with my sobbing. I think they must have thought something was very wrong – that I was in mourning for a close friend who had died and who happened to be one of the cast members or that my husband had chosen the middle of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 to tell me that he wanted a divorce. But, no. It was, is, more complex than that.

This summer, I have been reading the first book to Jacob, my almost-eight-year-old. We plan to read one book a year until he’s old enough to handle the darker parts, and then I’ll probably let him read what’s left of the seven-book series over a single weekend, as he is bound to want to do (at least I hope so). We’re about halfway through the first book, and Jacob is lukewarm. He thinks it’s neat and all, he’s just not bonkers about it. What weirds him out and what has taken me completely off guard is how often I burst into tears as I’m reading the book to him. I’m not a big re-reader of books, and even though I kept planning to read all of the books before each of the movies, I never actually ended up doing it. So, I am experiencing the whole story from the beginning for the first time since I picked The Sorcerer’s Stone off an end-cap at Hastings in Searcy, Arkansas in 1999 thinking to myself, “Huh. This looks interesting.”

As I read it again, I find myself getting choked up without any warning at unexpected parts. Remembering what a borderline abusive life Harry had living with the Dursleys. Reading about the first time Harry met the Weasley family. Hagrid. The parts where Ron and Harry realize that Hermione, who seemed so annoying to them, is brilliant and earnest. And, the latest part that has me so emotional: when the sorting hat took so long to decide which house Neville belonged in. I couldn’t have known how Neville would turn out when I first read the book. I couldn’t know that the sorting hat must have been wondering if Neville belonged in hard-working, loyal, and maybe a little dull Hufflepuff or if he belonged in brave, noble, and daring Gryffindor. Little Neville, who kept losing his toad. We all know now what we didn’t know then, but what the sorting hat DID know: that Neville most definitely belonged in Gryffindor.

When I was boo-hooing tonight as that revelation kept washing over me, as scenes of that final battle at Hogwarts kept flashing in my head, and as I thought about what was in store for the little kids in this first book whom we all “watched” grow up in our heads, Jacob said to me,

“Mom, you’re crying like these people are real. Like they’re your friends or something.”

Oh, dear. I feel so silly to admit it: they are! Not since Little Women and The Phantom of the Opera have characters in a book felt so real to me and so dear to my heart. As I sniffled my way through the final movie of the series, I was not only feeling what was happening on the screen, I was knowing the characters – remembering what they had given up – realizing where they were ending up. They may as well have been real! Real people I once knew whose story I carry around in my head with me for always. Isn’t that what it’s like with real people’s stories? You think back on what was, knowing what will be, wondering what comes next… it’s emotional. It’s the magic of any very good story.

I know not everyone responds to the Harry Potter series like I have, but I know I am not alone. I’m looking forward to finding out if Jacob, my own little Harry Potter, will feel it like I do. I think he will – and we will have camaraderie in it. (And, if he doesn’t, I’ll just move on to Jackson. Ha ha!)

Twelve Years

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A sophomore college student and a junior were pretty much living in the physical science building at Harding University in the fall of 1997, and yet they never actually met until…

You’re actually stopping me? I didn’t mean it; it’s a classic joke construct. How rude.

Anyway, they never actually met until one day when the sophomore, a skinny but dashing young man with coal black hair and an ever-present 20 ounce Dr. Pepper in his hand, was sitting, cross-legged on a table at the head of the Analytical Science classroom. There were a few underclasswomen sitting in student desks and exclaiming in high-pitched voices, “Jeremiah, please come to the Physical Science cookout tonight!” The junior, an intelligent young woman with no time for nonsense, stood in the doorway in slack-jawed disgust at her feminine comrades. Silly, weak, stereotypical flirting – en masse! Without thinking the young woman in the doorway blurted out, in her most farcically girlie tone, “Yes, Jeremiah! PLEASE come to the Physical Science cookout tonight!” He turned, surprised but unflappable. The young woman felt his surprise and also the hot stares of every other woman in the room and immediately regretted her exclamation. So, she added, much subdued, “Seems like you are… pretty popular with the ladies.” With no pause, the young man replied, “I’d be pretty popular with you, too, if I got the chance.”

Over the next few weeks, Jeremiah and I kept bumping into each other. I was a little hard to convince, but he just kept popping up, and he kept being funny, and he kept being good-looking. Within a month of meeting him, and after hanging out more than a few times, it was I who had to push for a formal date. That’s how smooth he was – or maybe that’s how intimidated he was. Who knows? Either way, it worked.

This is what we looked like about three weeks after we started dating.

Notice the periodic chart in the background. Science brought us together. *Sigh*

It was all flowers and sausages* from there. I think we both knew we would be marrying each other after about three months. But, we didn’t really talk about it until we’d been dating about a year.

This is what we looked like after a year of dating. Well, what we looked like with the top of Jeremiah’s head cut off.

By then, I was just waiting for a ring. During that period of time, Jeremiah, always the joke-maker, would suddenly stop our conversation and tell me he had something important to ask me. Then, he would ask me something like, “Do you like chicken-fried steak?” Once he even suddenly stopped walking next to me and got down on one knee. He looked up at me and said, “Sorry. I have to tie my shoe.”

Finally, though, on October 29th, 1998, we hiked to a rocky stream in front of a short waterfall at Blanchard Springs Caverns, and he asked me to marry him. I was so happy, I cried projectile tears. (Ask my family and friends – anytime I cry suddenly the tears actually squirt out).

I also threw up. Not right away but out the door of the car on our way back to school. (Ask my family and friends – I almost always vomit on really important occasions.)

This is what we looked like right after that fateful hike (and, I’m pretty sure, right after I threw up):

About nine months later, we were married. We were pretty crazy in love. A lot has happened since then. We’ve had a Jacob:

And, we’ve had a Jackson:

And, we’ve had an all-around good time. But, it’s different from those first few years of meeting, dating, and marrying – different from first falling in love. You won’t think me very romantic when I say that those feelings don’t last. Those crazy, wanting-to-spend-every-waking-minute-with-each-other, dramatically unstable feelings. I don’t know any long-term relationship in which those feelings stick around for more than a few years. In a way, it’s sad. Falling in love with a person for the first time feels good. And, when you’re dating, you have the chance to feel that way over and over again with many different people. But, when you’re married, well, that first time to fall in love with your spouse has come and gone.

I’m not saying there is no passion anymore. Of course there is. But, because of the stresses of everyday life (money, kids, television, office parties…) the passion comes mostly in fits and starts. A marriage can have this kind of passion for decades and decades. And, those who have that are very blessed. But, I have even more. Though it’s not constant, and it’s not for long periods of time, I can still close my eyes and feel it wash over me – that crazy love feeling. And, I know it’s not just a memory, because the crazy love I have for him now is different. It’s more grateful, more relaxing, more… knowledgeable. It’s a realization that I love him a little more in that moment than I did the moment before – and a lot more than I did all those years ago.

Today is our twelfth wedding anniversary. When I look over at him now, I can see him again as if I were seeing him the first time: this not-so-skinny, yet dashing man with salted black hair and an ever-present cup of coffee in his hand. And, it feels a lot like falling in love.

Happy Anniversary, Love.

* “It’s not all flowers and sausages” is something an angry little fat kid said on a television show one time. It cracked Jeremiah and me up, so we’ve been saying it ever since.

Kung Fu Panda 2

Jacob and I went on a little date today to see Kung Fu Panda 2. All of our family were big fans of the first movie, me especially, which surprised me. I was initially impressed with the way the movie did not “speak down” to kids or give in to gross-out jokes or crass language. It didn’t need to; it was hilarious and mature without any of the typical, sell-out, kid movie devices. But what was really top drawer about the first movie was the message: that heroes don’t always come in the packages we expect and that our bodies do not necessarily define our abilities. As you can imagine, this speaks to me.

So, we went into Kung Fu Panda 2 with high expectations. This is often the kiss of death for a movie for me – rarely does anything live up to (or down to) to my imaginary expectations. I am well aware of the general (presumably unintentional) rule of movie trilogies: the first one is great, leaving us wanting more, the second is either disappointing or just plain terrible, leaving us hoping for better, and the third one either somewhat or completely redeems the second. So far, Kung Fu Panda has broken that formula, because this second one has, in my opinion, surpassed the first.

Kung Fu Panda 2 had all of the great qualities of the first: true humor, zero vulgarity, and a solid message. There will be no spoilers here. The plot is simple: bad guy wants to rule the world; the furious five must stop him, and our hero, Po, must overcome his personal issues to succeed. One of the things I really love about this movie is the general element of team work. While there is some focus on Po’s personal struggle, the major fight sequences all rely heavily on team work. I love this. There are also some great lines from the soothsayer, who was the nanny of Shen, the bad guy peacock, when he was growing up. She is the one who has predicted that Shen would be defeated by a “hero of black and white.” This information drove Shen to seek out and kill every Panda in China. As Shen has grown, he has continued to check with the soothsayer to find out if he has been able to change his destiny. Once, as he asks her to read his future and she declares it unchanged, he exclaims, “One living Panda” [meaning Po] “does not make you right!” The soothsayer responds, “No. Being right makes me right.” Also, later on, when the soothsayer is begging Shen to turn away from his path of world domination, which is fueled by pain and vengeance toward the parents who rejected him, she says, “The cup you choose to fill has no bottom.”

But, like the first movie, the really wonderful thing about Kung Fu Panda 2 is the message. This may come as a surprise to you, but I am slobberingly sentimental, and this movie made me cry like a baby. My seven-year-old son who was sitting next to me admitted to tearing up, which I believe is the response most normal people will have to this movie. But, all joking aside, I think the message of this second installment of the Kung Fu Panda movies will touch anyone who understands the pain of past experiences which threaten to destroy our current and future happiness – for themselves or for others – which is to say, all of us. The thesis can be summed up in yet another quote from the soothsayer: “Your story may not have such a happy beginning, but look how it turned out.” The expanded version is this: your past does not define you. It is what you decide to be that does. And, even in the revelation of these deep truths, there is humor. As the hero and the bad guy face each other at the very end of the movie, Po tells Shen, “Scars heal.” Shen hisses in response, “Wounds heal.” and Po responds, “Well, scars do what? I guess, well, scars fade, right?”

All in all, it was a great movie, which made me laugh out loud more than a few times and also touched me deeply. I may be overly affected by sentimental movies, but even so, I think it would also touch “regular” folk. And, I can, without reservation, recommend the movie as safe and appropriate for your children to see.

*Plenty of trilogies live in this formula: the original Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, Ghostbusters (projected), Austin Powers. The formula often applies even to movies which live sad, wasting half-lives past their rightful trilogy destinies: Planet of the Apes, Star Wars, A Nightmare on Elm Street. And, then there are those movies which break the rule that the second movie must be kind of awful for the third to be great. Often the second and third switch places, with the third one being a steaming pile of poo and the second one possibly even exceeding the excellence of the first: Mad Max: The Road Warrior, Superman II, Aliens, Spiderman 2, and, of course, The Godfather Part II. Of course, there are many examples where only the first movie is good: Rambo, Poltergeist, Die Hard, The Matrix, Pirates of the Caribbean. And there are also exceptions where all of the movies in the trilogy are good: The Man with No Name, Three Colors, Toy Story, The Lord of the Rings. So, whether or not the evidence supports it, the general consensus among film buffs seems to be that trilogies follow the formula – one: great, two: bad, three: good.

You’ve Just Been HOMESCHOOLED!

More than a few people have lately asked me about our homeschool experience. Most of these people are moms who are considering homeschooling their child[ren] and want to know if they can do it and still retain their sanity. If you fall into this category, please allow me to tell you: YOU CAN! You really, really can. Ask anyone who knows me well. If anybody were to go completely bat-poo insane because of being with her kids all day, every day and also being responsible for their ENTIRE EDUCATION that person would be me. If I can handle it, so can you. Sure, as I told one mom, there are days when I want to quietly walk out with all the cash in my house (about thirteen dollars), get in my car, and roll on down to Mexico. Only, I’ve had to change my destination to Canada, because driving in Mexico has gotten super-dangerous, what with the drug cartels and all.

So, yes, you can do it. Now, what’s stopping you? Crippling fear. Which curriculum will I choose? How do I avoid the truancy police?! If I don’t do everything perfectly, will my kid turn into some kind of socially inept mole person??!! The answer is yes. Ha ha. Just kidding. You don’t have to do everything perfectly AT ALL! Kids, especially young ones, learn surprisingly well with very little intervention. In my experience, exposure to information is the most important thing. The question is: what information do you expose to them?? This is where curriculum comes in.

First, a little disclaimer: LAWS ABOUT HOMESCHOOLING vary pretty widely by state. The Home School Legal Defense League has put together an easy reference of the homeschool laws by state, and that’s some required reading before anyone begins homeschooling. From my research, the variation in state to state laws centers mostly around hours of required schooling and documentation that must be sent to your district school board about your intent to homeschool and about your child’s progress. Texas happens to be one of the easiest states in which to homeschool. The current laws regarding homeschooling in the state of Texas were largely established by a judge’s ruling in the 1991 case of the Texas Education Agency v. Leeper. Here is a summary of that ruling given by Houston attorney, Allan Hollan:

The parents of school-age children in Texas need only home school “in a bona fide manner” (not a sham or subterfuge), have a curriculum “consisting of books, workbooks, other written materials, including that which appears on a computer screen or video tape monitor, . . . developed or obtained from any source”, and the curriculum must be “designed to meet basic education goals of reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics and a study of good citizenship.”

That’s it. Period. In Texas, home schools are dealt with as if they were private schools, and, as such, are under zero legal scrutiny from the public school disctricts. There are no minimum education requirements for homeschool teachers, no minimum number of hours of schooling, and no written notice of your intent to homeschool is required. Though, it is a good idea to let the school district know that you intend to homeschool your legally school-aged child, especially if you are removing him from previous enrollment in public school. The Austin Area Homeschoolers group has a lot of good information about legally homeschooling in Texas. They even have a sample letter of intent to the school district to guide you. But, back to curriculum.

CURRICULUM is nothing to stress over. In Texas, you don’t even have to have a purchased curriculum just a curriculum. I even perused the laws in several other states, including a couple of states that were marked as having high homeschool regulations, and I never saw much about what kind of curriculum had to be used. It is my opinion that, in homeschooling, the particular curriculum you choose matters just about as much as the color of the pencils you use. More than anything, a curriculum is a safety net. It staunches the panic of not knowing what to teach. I used the curriculum I purchased for about two months while I was getting my bearings. After that, I sorta scrapped it.

Since I was bored with my first-grade curriculum, and so were my boys, we started WINGING IT. If prickly pears were on sale at HEB, I’d buy one do a unit on cacti. I was given a few books on at-home science experiments, so I’d center the science lesson around that. For math, we’d do worksheets. I’d just give them the worksheets and explain the directions. If they had trouble, then I’d teach the concept. Usually they just figured it out. For reading, we’d pick what seemed to be a fun book, then I’d read a page and Jacob would read the next, and so on. We’re now reading the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series. For writing, we’d think up an interesting subject and have the boys draw a picture and then write a paragraph about it. Every school session included some worksheets from review books made for first and second graders. Some days, I said, “Forget school! We’re making COOKIES!” and then I’d sneak in some volume and measuring lessons. You don’t have to think up the lessons, either. A Google search of any subject of interest plus “lesson plan” will bring up everything you might need. And, if you feel like you may not be covering everything your child would learn in public school…

Look up your state’s KNOWLEDGE REQUIREMENTS. In Texas, it’s called the TEKS, and if you click on that link and scroll to the bottom of the page, you can click on the TEKS for each grade level. If you are not in Texas, check out this list of State Departments of Education. On your state’s education department website, you can usually find what you need by searching for phrases like “course requirements” and “performance standards”. The knowledge requirements for your state, much like your curriculum, may provide you with a sense of security. Your child will not fall helplessly behind his state-schooled peers. Let me encourage you, however, to feel very free to go past those requirements. The TEKS here in Texas describe such rudimentary knowledge and skills that they seem to be written for high-functioning chimpanzees, for which, granted, many elementary students could be mistaken. But, your and my kids are a lot smarter than monkeys, and one of the things that homeschool allows us to do is go beyond the state’s education requirements.

Having a plan for your curriculum is a big step, but you also need to think about how you will GET PLUGGED IN with other homeschoolers in your area. I will admit that I have dragged my feet in getting us plugged into social homeschool groups this first year of our homeschooling. Partly it is because I have my own little mini-co-op with my friend. Our sons are the same grade (we actually met in our sons’ public school kindergarten class), so we each teach the boys two days a week. It’s been great fun. But, it has taught my friend and me both that the boys need access to more kids their age. Austin and the surrounding areas have many homeschool organizations. Austin Area Homeschoolers is a good place to start. In particular, AAH has a Yahoo group e-mail list geared specifically toward activities and field trips. We are taking our first field trip with this group on May 23rd.

It seems that curriculum/legal issues, socialization, and losing an already tenuous grip on reality are the main sources of fear when a parent is considering homeschooling. But, let’s step away from those boogeymen and allow me to tell you my top REASONS FOR CHOOSING HOMESCHOOLING.

  1. I make my own SCHEDULE. Public school attendance requirements can be such a ball and chain when the kids can only miss some small number of days without having to repeat the grade. Vacations outside of summer are basically out. Start times as early as 7:30 am? Many kids (and parents!) just weren’t made for that. Plus, the amount of time spent in actual instruction is so much less than the typical six-plus hours in a school day. I’d been feeling guilty when we would get through in 45 minutes a lesson plan that was estimated to take two hours. Then, a fellow homeschooling friend told me of the unofficial homeschoolers rule: 30 minutes of instruction per grade. And, that leaves so much time to do other fun, played-based, physical learning.
  2. I can PERSONALIZE THE INSTRUCTION. Jacob is really into math and numbers. Go figure. The math force emanating from his father runs strong. In kindergarten, Jacob asked his teacher if he could please add double digit numbers and was told he would “have to wait for first grade for that”. I’m not saying Jacob’s a math wiz (though, in honesty, he probably is – like his father). I’m saying the kid should be able to add double digit numbers whenever the heydoodle he wants to! My friend’s boy loves science, so I let him do science experiments no public school kindergarten teacher in her right mind would allow a student to do. Experiments that involve real mud, slime, fire, acid – you know, all the things that little kids love.
  3. I am IN CHARGE. What was once one of my biggest fears about homeschooling is now one of my favorite things about it. I get to shape my son’s school experience. More importantly, my son gets to help shape his school experience. And, I get to avoid some of the weird things that go on in public schools sometimes. Like the Winter Solstice party at Jacob’s old school in which the kids silently walked the school’s labyrinth by candlelight – a Pagan-inspired celebration of a specific holiday, because what? Paganism is not a religion? No religion in schools, indeed. Or the time one of his teachers taught an entire unit on how we were killing the oceans. Not that it’s a fundamentally wrong topic, but that the focus was on the child’s personal responsibility in said oceanic homicide. Jacob wouldn’t fish even in a lake for months. And, my friend’s boy had nightmares. They were even told not to eat Cheerios, because the use of palm oil in the cereal was destroying the rain forests. These are values to be taught at home, according to each family’s personal philosophies. This is not public school fare.

    Ok, I’ve kind of “fallen off my stool” on this one, so let me finish by saying that homeschooling has provided me with a form of meaningful occupation that has been eluding me ever since I quit my old profession. Being successful at homeschooling makes my brain happy, and my happy brain makes me a better mother.

My final piece of advice is to be sure to get buy-in from both parents in the house. My husband has his own set of pros and cons for homeschooling, and he’d like me to share them with you:

    Jeremiah’s Pros

  • no end of the year teacher presents
  • no tissue box donations
  • Jacob can have recess “in his underdrawers” [editor's addition: only if recess is inside our house]
  • snack time anytime
    Jeremiah’s Cons

  • increased home toilet usage
  • never a quiet house
  • decrease in availability of Doritos for Daddy

There you have it. Of course, most of what I have written is my opinion, and there will be many differing ones on this topic. But, I can wholeheartedly and without reservation recommend homeschooling. And, if you have any questions or rants, please feel free to contact me. I can take it.

How to End a Very Nearly Perfect Day

Today was slated to be a Thursday, but it didn’t act like a Thursday.

See, at the beginning of the school year, my friend and I decided to share home school and childcare responsibilities. She was to have my seven-year-old son on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but that still left me alone with at least one young kid (my two-year-old son) for over 50 hours per week and at most three young boys (mine two and my friend’s) for over 30 hours per week. So, my husband and I decided to put our two-year-old in “preschool”. My youngest son would be lovingly cared for by not me from 9:30 am until 1:30 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I imagined leisurely strolls through art museums, long, amusing lunches with friends, and trips to Sally Beauty to browse new fingernail polish colors. What I’ve mostly gotten are quick Taco Bell lunches between doctor appointments and long grocery trips. I still love the time, because I am eating a burrito alone, and I am pushing the grocery cart alone. But, there is far too little time in which I have spent those mornings talking with adult friends or lounging in a park. Today, I was to do both!

Only my friend stood me up. < "wah wah" > Oh, don’t worry about my friend feeling “called out” in my blog. This friend doesn’t read my blog. < sucka punch! > But, it was still great, because I had committed to sitting in a new park with nothing but a gas station ham and cheese sandwich (Don’t you judge me! It’s good memories from childhood!) some little oranges, and my phone. I got some sun and some shade, took in some bird noises, and chatted with a couple of friends on my phone. It turned out to be really nice!

Next, I picked up my little one and headed home where he immediately went down for a nap. Then – here comes the good part – I puttered. I puttered around the house. I sent some e-mails, did a few dishes, ate a cookie – all with “Criminal Minds” playing in the background. Two hours later the little tyke was still asleep, so I turned my attention to dinner. Skip to dinner. We had a duo of grilled steaks (Thank you for the terminology, “Top Chef”!): Ahi tuna and T-bone with sides of stir fried broccoli and green onions in peanut sauce and Parmesan risotto-like rice stuff (true chef speak eludes me). We ate it outside on our patio in our swim suits. As the kids were gearing up for the pool – it’s a little 12-foot by 3-foot above-ground one – Jeremiah decided to give me my birthday present a little early…


And, oh yeah, it was on A KINDLE!

So, after a little swim, Jeremiah took the boys and the dishes inside, and I sat out to drip dry and read on my new toy.

Oh, wow. The Kindle is great and all (it IS!), but if you have not heard of this book or know anything about it – well, then I am honored to introduce it to you. It’s Tina Fey’s somewhat biographical book, and it is… it is… the thesaurus cannot give me a special enough word to describe this book’s level of funny. I sat outside reading in the dusk light and laughing so hard that it went flat beyond crying and straight into nausea. Even so, I couldn’t stop laughing. I laughed so hard and so loudly that the neighbor’s dog got very angry. The dog got so angry that it phantom-chased me into my house. I was afraid it would break through the fence and kill me – or worse: destroy my new Kindle.

I have now come into the house to three boys, one large, one medium, and one very small, pressed into our big recliner watching the original Superman movie. And, I get to share it with you, my very special readership of, well, tens of people!

This, brothers and sisters, is the how to end a very nearly perfect day.



Although His Height Be Taken

Recently, I was introduced to this very old verse, which is attributed to Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey:

The things that do attain
The happy life be these, I find:—
The richesse left, not got with pain;
The fruitful ground, the quiet mind;
The equal friend; no grudge, no strife;
No charge of rule, nor governance;
Without disease, the healthful life;
The household of continuance;
The mean diet, no delicate fare;
True wisdom join’d with simpleness;
The night dischargèd of all care,
Where wine the wit may not oppress.
The faithful wife, without debate;
Such sleeps as may beguile the night:
Contented with thine own estate
Ne wish for death, ne fear his might.


Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey

Henry Howard was an earl in the court of King Henry VIII, and he was the king’s last, and very probably innocent, victim. This unnumbered Earl of Surrey was executed only nine days before the death of King Henry himself. He was known as one of the “Fathers of the English Sonnet” because he introduced rhyming iambic pentameter, divided into quatrains, which was then made wildly popular by Shakespeare.


The poem is not actually the earl’s. It is simply his translation of one of Martial’s epigrams, specifically epigram X:47. This was a popular thing of the day. To take another writers work, translate it, putting your own mark upon it, and then publishing it. Everyone was doing it back then. ;-)
So, with British poetry on the brain, I always come back to my favorite Shakespearean sonnet:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

I love this poem so much. I think of it every time I hear of a love that has bent “with the remover to remove.” As much as I like romantic poetry, I find it almost never aligns with both my romantic and my spiritual sensibilities, but this one does.
So, I wanted to offer my own version – my own “translation”, if you will. To me, the first part seems to be pretty specifically about a failed relationship for the author, but then it becomes very spiritual – a testament to the kind of love that comes from God:
Far be it from me to separate two people
who seem to be so in love.
You never really loved me
if you do not love me when I am changed.
And your love was not true
if you could be pried away from me by another.
No, real love is firm.
It weathers life’s storms and doesn’t move.
It is like the North star
That guides every sailing ship at sea.
Love’s depth cannot be judged
based solely on its emotional highs.
Love is not subject
to all of what decays with time.
And, love will stay the same
although and as human beauty fades.
Love doesn’t change
no matter how little or much time is left.
Love will bear it all
unto and through the very face of death.
If this is not true, and you can show me how.
Then I am a monkey’s uncle.

On Church and Mumford and Sons

In my last post I was musing about how much I missed going to church today, and it led me to thinking about Mumford and Sons.
Mumford and Sons first hit my consciousness when my best friend, Holly, sent me a link to their song “Little Lion Man” back in February of last year. It’s a really nice song, but I find I have to listen to the radio edit, because the repeated use of “F-bomb” is jarring to me. It may have been said “bomb” that caused me to overlook Mumford and Sons until October 26. I know the very day, because I was listening to KGSR, and the DJ announced that the song had been released the day before. The song hit me from the very moment I heard it. I listened carefully after it was over, and found out the song was called “The Cave” and it was by Mumford and Sons. Color me surprised. Those guys who love the “F-word” so much? I went straight home (it was a Tuesday, and I had some kid-free time) and sat in the grass in my back yard with my computer and looked up the song on YouTube and listened to it and watched the video over and over and over again. I called Jeremiah and made him listen to it over the phone. I called Holly and left a blubbering message on her voice mail about how great that band she had introduced me to was. The next day I downloaded the album, and over the next week listened to it so often in the car that I think my kids know the songs by heart (except the one with the “F-word”, of course). A month or so later I introduced “The Cave” to my dad, who had a similar reaction to it as I did. And, then a month later, the band played the song at the Grammy’s and the bloomin’ thing exploded.
If you haven’t heard the song yet, do:

So, why today, particularly, am I thinking of Mumford and Sons?
By now you know about my foot situation. (Are you SO SICK of hearing about the FEET yet?!) In a lot of ways it really has been nice to have this period of slowing down in which other people are doing all of the care-taking that I would normally do. I am so very thankful that I have the kind of job for which I can take off this much time. And, I am even MORE grateful to those who have not only taken over my jobs but also who have been taking direct care of me. All that said, it can get kinda depressing. It’s been five full days since I left this house. So, what has been playing over and over again in my head today is that line from “The Cave” that goes “I can see widows and orphans through my tears.”
In general, I think that verse is an admonishment to oneself to remember those who are truly in need no matter how sad or hurt or disillusioned one may feel. A reminder that there is no cure for depression like service to the depressed. But, do you know what that song verse really is? It’s a direct reference to James 1:27 which says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (New International Version 2011). Surely everyone can see the beauty in that passage from the Bible. The book of James has some of the most down to earth representations in the Bible of the true religion of Christianity. The author is thought to be James, the brother of Jesus, who did not believe in Jesus as the Christ until after his resurrection and who later became one of the leaders of the church of Christians in Jerusalem. You should read the book of James – again, as the case may be! It’s very short, and very encouraging.
My point is this: wait, what’s my point? Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about Mumford and Sons. I’ve been thinking about how many references to God and Christianity they make in their music. In addition to the above, here are a few other direct references:
From their first full album Sigh No More*:

  • There are lyrics in “Awake My Soul” that seem pretty specific in terms of referencing God, namely the verse, “Awake my soul. You were made to meet your maker.” But also, the verse, “In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die. Where you invest your love, you invest your life” seems to me to be a reference to another Biblical passage. Matthew 6:19-21 says:

    Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (New International Version 2011).


  • The song “Winter Winds” has many references that can be taken as spiritual, but this little bridge verse is overt:

    Oh the shame that sent me off
    from the God that I once loved
    was the same that sent me into your arms.
    Oh, and pestilence has won
    When you are lost, and I am gone
    And no hope, no hope will overcome.

    Go ahead and give ‘er a listen as well:


  • In a more subtle reference: the song “Timshel” is titled after the Hebrew word meaning “Thou Mayest” and its meaning figures prominently in the Genesis account of the story of Cain and Abel. The meaning of the word itself is discussed pretty extensively and beautifully in Steinbeck’s East of Eden.****

In fact, a person who posted here on a blog on the internets (however reliable that is) writes, “Several of Mumford and Sons are Christians, actually. They go to Holy Trinity Brompton, a big Anglican church in London.”
I think that just about sums it up. Pretty direct references for such a mainstream UK band. I love it. I wish there were more bands like them.**
On to the reference section here, and then I’ll wrap up.
* The album’s title is quite probably a reference to one of my favorite Shakespearean poems from Much Ado About Nothing. And, instead of transcribing it here as I am wont to do, I will just thrust you over to another web page to read it. PLEASE read it. I say it is “quite probably” a reference to the play, because in the title song, the first line “Serve God love me and mend” and another line “Man is a giddy thing” are also from Much Ado About Nothing.
**If you like Mumford and Sons and have not yet heard of these other artists, check them out:

  • Laura Marling (who was, until recently, Marcus Mumford’s girlfriend and who, before that, the girlfriend of the lead singer of the next band…)
  • Noah and the Whale
  • The Avett Brothers

*** Ok, one more. Please just bear with one more. I absolutely must transcribe here for you the most salient part of the discussion of the word “timshel” from the book East of Eden. It is really, really great.

“Do you remember when you read us the sixteen verses of the fourth chapter of Genesis and we argued about them?”
“I do indeed. And that’s a long time ago.”
“Ten years nearly,” said Lee. “Well, the story bit deeply into me and I went into it word for word. The more I thought about the story, the more profound it became to me. Then I compared the translations we have—and they were fairly close. There was only one place that bothered me. The King James version says this—it is when Jehovah has asked Cain why he is angry. Jehovah says, ‘If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.’ It was the ‘thou shalt’ that struck me, because it was a promise that Cain would conquer sin.”
Samuel nodded. “And his children didn’t do it entirely,” he said.
Lee sipped his coffee. “Then I got a copy of the American Standard Bible. It was very new then. And it was different in this passage. It says, ‘Do thou rule over him.’ Now this is very different. This is not a promise, it is an order. And I began to stew about it. I wondered what the original word of the original writer had been that these very different translations could be made.”
Samuel put his palms down on the table and leaned forward and the old young light came into his eyes. “Lee,” he said, “don’t tell me you studied Hebrew!”
Lee goes on to tell a story as to how he came to study Hebrew, and the conversation continues:
Samuel said, “It’s a fantastic story. And I’ve tried to follow and maybe I’ve missed somewhere. Why is this word so important?”
Lee’s hand shook as he filled the delicate cups. He drank his down in one gulp. “Don’t you see?” he cried. “The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ Don’t you see?”

Oooo, I love John Steinbeck. You’ll be hearing more about Mumford and Sons from me. Jeremiah and I have tickets to their Austin performance on April 26th. I will try to share pics and stories soon after. WOO HOO!