Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Learning Notes Slacker Edition

Although this blog found its beginnings largely in an envious desire to participate in Melanie's Learning Notes link-ups, I have fallen off the wagon.  Most of this lapse can be attributed to our more hectic schedule due to the burgeoning real estate career. Mealtime chats have revolved around establishing tomorrow's schedule and discussing the day's work events. As a result, the children have not been as involved in the conversation as much as I might like. They find discussing the number of successful client phone calls boring. The nerve! It also means that the discussions about school and subjects and little side tangents of related topics have also fallen to sadly low levels so there isn't a whole lot to report. It is a side effect of relinquishing the majority of their academics to the school system. When things get hectic at home, they carry on, but I don't know much about it. It shifts us into separate spheres which I do not like. But, you know, transitions.

The other half of the problem is two-fold. First, when conversations of enlightenment happen, I forget what we were talking about and how we got there. Even if I were to try to relay it back, it is an incoherent mess in my mind except for that killer line which has no set up. I have complained bitterly to Dave about this problem. He has suggested that I take notes at supper. He is only halfway joking. Secondly, I have fallen out of the habit of typing out what I do remember. My previous routine was to take ten or fifteen minutes at work to write about yesterday. It seems with the stop again, start again nature of our nonbusiness conversation, I don't always remember to write it up while it is fresh and then it is gone, gone, gone. Or I only have time to do one thing, either the learning notes or the post that is eating at me and I have been choosing my own instead the children.

We have, however, had a solid development. After the general advice from this post about homeschooling was to start exploring options now instead of waiting until the stars align, I signed up both girls for Khan Academy to work on their math. Wow, do they love it?! They are both math lovers to start with, but I never thought they would take to this program in the way that they have. They beg to be allowed to work at it. They argue over whose turn it is and who gets more time. They love unlocking new avatars and backgrounds. They strive for the green check marks and the rewarding little songs when they get correct answers and complete sections. They watch their percentage number creep upwards and lament if it isn't moving quickly enough. When they struggle, we have impromptu math lessons. I feel all mothery. It's fabulous.

There are a few pitfalls we have discovered. They definitely need a time limit to keep fresh. They will work and work and work and surpass any ability to think. Olivia spent over an hour clicking away the other day in a session that ended with her screaming at the computer. I'm not sure where she learned to scream at a computer. I think 30-45 minutes at a time is plenty long enough. They will see progress but not become counterproductive. We will have to learn to set the timer.

Olivia was upset about her percentage not advancing as quickly as Grace's so I had to explain that Grace's lessons cover one year of fourth grade math, but her lessons cover Kindergarten, first, and second grade which is three whole years. She was okay with this explanation, but she is definitely competing to keep up with Grace.

The first major hiccup was last night when I went upstairs to find that Olivia's completion percentage jumped 25 points in about twenty minutes worth of work. Of course, Grace was "helping." I have no idea what Olivia actually did and what Grace did for her. I can only hope in the algorithm to double check mastery and return to previous subjects when necessary. We had a talk about how important it was to do your own work because it only hurts the other person. They weren't intentionally trying to game the system; it's only they are not quite clear on the difference between real help and "help."

The most endearing thing about this new program is that Olivia calls it K-H-A-N. Not Khan, but she spells it out every time. When she is angry, when she is begging, when she is happy, any time she mentions this program, she calls it K-H-A-N. I am not exactly sure why except that when I first showed it to her, I spelled it out and showed her how to google search it and click over to the page to log-in. I thought about correcting her, but I decided I liked it too much.

So that's what is going on educationally around here. Not much and a bunch.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

This Blog Is Ugly

I have decided that this blog is ugly. That is not exactly right. I have decided it is very plain. When I began several months ago, I choose a standard theme out of the available defaults and just started typing.  I prefer simple formats over themes that are all tricked out, but mine is too simple. I think over the next few months (or whatever), I'll try to make it a little homier. Or at least try to make it look a little less generic.

So what do you like in a blog format?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Things That Annoy Me #3

As I mentioned, we have been dealing with aftermath of a significant ice storm here. It is sleeting again right now. (Well it was last night when I started typing. Now it's just raining. Hard. Yay flood watch!) We don't get snow every year and we only get significant snow a few times a decade. As a result our governmental response to snow events is not what you would find in, say, Michigan. This seems obvious and reasonable to me, but this bit of knowledge seems to elude others.

There are two things you need to understand about snow in the South. The first is that most of the time our snow comes with a hefty serving of ice. A typical Southern snowstorm goes something like this: the temperatures are in the mid-30s when it starts raining, the temperatures drop and the rain turns to freezing rain which turns to sleet which turns to snow. We almost always have ice accumulation underneath whatever snow we get. Driving on ice is always much trickier than driving on snow no matter where you are.

The second thing about snow in the South is that the vast majority of the time snow today is gone by lunch tomorrow and years can pass without significant accumulation. Since this is true, we do not invest a lot of money into making our world functional with snow. The standard response is to brine the roads, hope the rain doesn't wash it all way, hope the temperature doesn't drop below the freezing point of the brine, and wait it out.  Most of the time, this approach works just fine. Then there are weeks like this one. Weeks where it would be really useful to have snowplows and snow chains. Nashville has some plows and the state has some plows, but most smaller cities and towns do not. Even the plows that are available cannot cover the streets affected. The state and the city work to clear the interstates and that is about it.


My town is a slightly odd kind of place. There are a ton of people who come from other places. In fact I would be willing to say that the population of non-native Tennesseans is significantly higher than natives. Why is this? Twenty something years ago, GM built a plant here and brought with them huge numbers of people from Michigan. This has been a mixed blessing. It's great to have the plant in town, but when the deal was struck all those years ago, GM promised to hire a certain percentage of locals into their workforce and then, mostly, didn't. The locals felt like GM had been given a sweetheart deal on land and taxes and in exchange, the locals received a large influx of people from a different area of the country with different cultural habits making wages they could only dream about at jobs they were locked out of. The stated reason the plant never got around to hiring the locals had something to do with the UAW contract. The price of real estate skyrocketed while the newly-moved Michiganers clucked about how cheap the housing was. The locals, understandably, were very resentful. The new arrivals didn't understand why their arrival was met with such frigidity. The reason they didn't understand was because the imported UAW workers mostly had no idea the plant was built on the assumption that the locals would be hired to work in it. While this is a bit of old history, it is the basis of an undercurrent of hostility that runs through here. After twenty-something years I suppose it is safe to say that the transplants are now locals and the promised economic development eventually came, but the way it all unfolded is not the way it was anticipated. And you would be surprised how many GM workers still consider themselves on a temporary assignment in an exotic locale.


So we had an ice storm this week. It was forecast well in advance so people had time to stock up and prepare. We knew that once it started it would likely be several days before we could leave the house again.

Our neighbors from the North lost few opportunities to tell how we were doing it all wrong. It was staggering the number of people who complained about the lack of snow plows and the fact that the local governments didn't do a whole lot to clear the roads.

"Up North, they would have had this cleared in an afternoon."
You aren't up North.

"You know, if you plowed the streets in the afternoon when the ice is slushier, it wouldn't refreeze overnight."
Really? Who would have thought plowing the streets would clear them?

"If you had snow chains, you'd have better traction."
What an interesting idea that is. Why, I never would have thought of that if you hadn't told me.

Why should municipalities spend the money for all the required equipment to clear a storm such as this when they only come our way about twice a decade? It's folly and a misappropriation of funds. We do not have snow tires or chains. I am not sure I have ever seen chains on a car in real life. Why should we buy them for the once-off chance to use them?

It's not that we don't know that plows and chains would make dealing with snow and ice easier. We know. It is the assumption that they need to bestow this knowledge on our poor benighted souls that is so grating. Contrary to popular belief, we aren't all stupid. It isn't that we have never thought of these grand ideas. It's that it is silly to spend the money on it around here.

Then there were boasts where people would claim, "I'm from the North, I know how to drive in this weather," as if being from a certain location magically gives you the ability to navigate on ice. Guess what? If all four of your tires are on a solid sheet of ice, it doesn't matter where you are from, you are going nowhere unless you are driving a Zamboni. Not to mention our hills. Is it even possible to drive up and down hills with no road traction?

And there are the condescending reassurances. "I'm from the North and if I say the roads are bad, they're bad!" Like the stupid Southerners could not figure out it is impossible to drive on ice. Or more likely signalling to fellow Northerners that it's not just the panicky Southerners who are having trouble.

But most annoying of all is the blase tut-tutting of the excitement snow generates around here. They roll their eyes and yuk it up at how the locals get excited over the snow. As if snow is a big deal or something. "You know up North, we got this much snow every week and nobody cared, nothing closed over it, and we went to work and school on a regular schedule." Whoopie for you.

Yes. Southerners get excited over snow. It is an event here. It isn't something we can count on seeing every year. We cancel school and close offices and go play in the snow while we wait for it to melt. I'm glad to live in a place where snow is exciting and not a daily drudgery. No, we don't remove it very effectively or efficiently. We also *know* the removal is not very efficient. It would be silly to spend our money in that way.

So if you live in the North and someday decide to move to the South, please do not regale your new neighbors with tales of how the North handles their snow. And I promise if I ever move to the North, I will not roll my eyes when my new neighbors start telling me that 80 degrees is hot.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Mortification of the Flesh

On Monday, our area was hit with a significant ice storm and everyone was basically frozen in place until the roads thawed enough for travel. Some people still can't leave their homes. I spent the first three days of this week working from home. This is a perk that I have long craved and being able to do it for a few days has been a welcome reprieve. 

It also gave me a window into myself that wasn't quite so cheery. I have made a realization: I have terrible work habits. I will indulge in a little rationalization and say many of these habits are defense mechanisms. There are only so many tasks to complete in a month and once they are done, they are done. Working diligently straight-through might leave me with two solid weeks with nothing to do. While that might be fun every once in awhile, it is pretty harsh month in and month out. I have long recognized my behavior and why I do it. What I didn't expect was how hard is was to break out of that long established habit. I was surprised how a different work environment didn't really change how I approach my work.

I had extended time at home where the commute involved walking up the stairs. Oh, the things I would get done! Except I didn't. I continually fell back into the habit of working for a minute, clicking away, thinking about a problem while I scrolled through feeds, having conversations, working another few minutes, clicking away, et cetera, et cetera. All the time I should have had to accomplish housework evaporated as I acted as if I were sitting at my office computer with a butt-in-chair requirement.

I was frustrated with the kids making noise and Marian wanting attention because they were interrupting my workflow. This is accurate but not exactly true. They *were* interrupting my workflow but I was frustrated because of all the time I had wasted doing my normal routine. They spent plenty of time being quiet and letting me work and I used that time to amuse myself. When I would finally buckle down to accomplish a task, they would sometimes interrupt which made me cross, but it was my own stupid fault. I wasted the quiet and fumed at the noise. I wanted to adapt, to adjust to working at home, but I failed over and over.

Bearing is blogging with St. Francis de Sales over Lent. I find him so practical. I don't know if I will ever be holy, but I can take concrete steps in that direction and he is all about laying out baby steps.

In a reflection on mortification where St Francis says work can subdue the flesh as well as fasting, Bearing observes that many overthink fasting and become scrupulous about it. I can count myself among these. I am always worried about following the rules, being caught short, rationalizing why this particular infraction is okay, having a ready excuse for why I failed again. I can be very scrupulous about rules in general. I try to follow the very exact letter of the law and usually have an excuse for why I didn't.  Part of this is from my nature as a perfectionist. Part is from my upbringing. Overthinking and trying to earn every last bit is a thing with me. Almost nothing I do ever lives up to the expectation that has been created in my mind.

So while I obsessed a bit on whether or not a graham cracker broke the fast and whether or not nursing a 20 month old qualified for a fast exemption, I also wasted abundant time which could have been used diligently working instead of half-working, half-surfing. I lost the opportunity to serve my household for the glory of God and continued in my lazy office ways and yelled at my children in service to my frustration.

I have chafed at my working situation for awhile, wondering why exactly I am still here. Bearing says, "Laborers in other occupations may find it harder to see the channel by which their labor may be made useful to God's glory, but ... there is some good to be harnessed in even the smallest and most menial tasks, if we can only put our hearts in the right place." I think I can use these (hopefully) last few months of working to harness my will into working more diligently instead of haphazardly. To put my heart in the right place instead of worrying how work done now will affect my schedule next week. To choose to work straight through instead of stretching. I can't say I'll disappear from the Internet during the first half of every month because I won't. Instead I will make a more conscious effort to choose the work over the play when I feel the urge to waste time.  Of course succeeding at this task will mean unbridled Internet time at the end of the month. Talk to me then, won't you? Help make it worth my while.

This week that began with such high hopes of accomplishment does not have to be lost in vanities. While the laundry is still unfolded and unput away and there is still Vaseline on the girls' wall, toys everywhere, and paperwork to be sorted--all of which would have been grand to fix--I did gain an insight into the habits my working conditions have laid down in me.  Have exacerbated in me. I will mortify my flesh through my daily work in these last months and hopefully lay up good treasure for the months that come after.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Lenten Activities

It's that time of year again where we wrack our brains trying to decide what our Lenten sacrifices will be.

This year the fasting requirement applies to me again. Two years ago, I was pregnant so it was a no go. Last year on Ash Wednesday I attempted it, but Marian was still nursing vigorously and I nearly collapsed in the try. I ended up shoving whatever food I could find into my face about mid afternoon and took a pass on Good Friday altogether. This year, Marian is still nursing but I think it has lessened enough to fast. We shall see.

In recent times a popular sacrifice has been to give up Facebook or blogging or all forms of electronic entertainment/communication. I do not ever intend to totally give up any of these. My life would take on the proportions of a hermit were I to give up online communication.

In previous years, I have given up political blogs which did me a world of good. It served to disenthrall me from the political vortex which can suck you in and not let go. It's all a passin' away anyway. I still enjoy a good political argument, but it doesn't have the same sway it did in the past.

This year my Lenten discipline will be to get in bed earlier than I have been. I have really let this fall by the wayside. I have developed the habit of getting up early enough and Marian is sleeping better at night so I am able to gut through not quite getting as much sleep as I should. If I put a little more effort into it, I could be getting to work exactly when I desire and leaving work earlier and it would all around be better.

What keeps me from this? The deadly last check of Facebook. I love to take one last gander at the world before bedtime. It only takes 10 minutes, right? 10 or 15. Maybe 20. If there is a good conversation in the works, sometimes 30. You see how this snowballs. It is especially hard to walk away when everyone comes out to play after getting their own kids in bed. So the first hard stop of Lent will be: No computer after the kids are in bed.

About eighteen months ago, quite by accident, I developed a weekly Starbucks habit. Starbucks is not the best coffee there is by a long shot, but I received a gift card and decided to use it during our weekly shopping trip at the store inside the grocery. I decided I liked this little ritual and kept it up. I ask for gift cards at holiday times to subsidize it. Last year, I gave up my grocery coffee and thought it a fitting sacrifice. Weekly I had to pass this store and remember. The only hangup is that we grocery shop on Sunday mornings. Is it theologically appropriate to fast on Sunday? I suppose the real question is whether it is theologically appropriate to grocery shop on Sunday. It is the best use of our time, but I am ambivalent about it. Be that as it may. The second hard stop of Lent will be: I will give up the Sunday Starbucks habit. I suppose as a penance for the shopping, we should pick up items for the local pantry more often than we do. This inspiration arrived as I typed all this so perhaps the third hard stop of Lent will be: Buy food for the food pantry weekly. What should we buy? Something good and useful and not dreadful.

The last project I would like to attempt is to work through St Francis de Sales Introduction to the Devout Life again. I started this last Lent and did fine with it until I got to the General Confession. First I had to figure out what a General Confession was. Oh....And then I spun my wheels trying to decide what to do about it until the end of Lent. I want to try again this year. I do not intend to make a general confession mostly because I do not see what there is to be gained by it if I am not also in regular spiritual direction which I am not. Since I have a game plan for the confession, I see things going much smoother this year. And guess where the best time for me to read might be? That's right, the time gained from the foresaken bedtime Facebook.

So there it is, the Lenten project for the year. Honestly it looks almost exactly the same as last year's, but I don't think I am ready to move on yet.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Alone on Valentine's

I am spending most of today alone with the children. Dave had to leave first thing this morning and I am not sure when he will be back. My parents offered to babysit all the grandchildren for Valentine's Day so the parents could go out by themselves. Soon I will pack everyone up to go visit them at my sister's house, but I doubt I will actually leave the children with them. Where would I go?

Dave saw the opportunity for a working morning at the real estate office over a month ago. He asked if I minded if he worked on Valentine's Day morning.  I told him to go ahead so he signed himself up to work the whole morning.

After he signed up, some clients asked if he could evaluate their home today. He again asked if I minded and I gave leave. He scheduled it after his morning is shift is over.

After he scheduled the evaluation, another client with a tight time schedule asked if Dave could take him today to see a house that just came on the market. This house is underpriced and will sell quickly so today is probably the only day to get a look at it. Dave again came to me, this time very concerned because scheduling this appointment basically eliminated any evening plans we might make. I told him not to give me a second thought and do what he needed to do. He is now scheduled to spend the evening with a client.

Usually we think of Valentine's Day as a time to show love through dinners at fancy restaurants, chocolates, flowers, and cards. There are other ways to demonstrate our love. Today, I will barely see my husband. He is working. Every day he works with clients is one day closer to me coming home full time. That he is working all day today is a full demonstration of his love, of what he is willing to do for me.

Today I am spending most of Valentine's Day alone and it is the best present I have received in years.

Friday, February 13, 2015


A couple of weeks ago I decided to add the Google Analytics code to the blog on a lark. I love seeing where people are and the list of visiting cities is fascinating. Of course I am a little blog with a small audience and I mostly write for the amusement of people I know, so they can know me better, and to vent. I definitely vent sometimes.

I am discouraged to learn that over 10% of my traffic comes from two click farms in Russia. That's a little unnerving.

There are many cities that pop up and I know who lives there. It's fun to see a friend come visit. There are other cities which appear once and never again. A stranger stopping by for an instant and moving on to bigger and better things. Then there are the cities that arrive regularly and I have no idea who it might be.

It's a new experience having total strangers reading your thoughts about your life. There are people out there who now know quite a bit about me and I know nothing about them. Lurkers. This feels odd and yet I feel ridiculous to feel odd about it. I spent years lurking, reading and never commenting. Why shouldn't the shoe be on the other foot?

So if you read, but I don't know you, say hello sometime and tell me where you are. I'd love to know! And there is someone out there--I have no idea who it might be--who lives in one of the same small towns where my husband grew up. Isn't that a funny coincidence? I'll tell you where if the right person stands up.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Divine House

I have a nice list of complaints about my house. I'm sure they are not much different than the complaints a lot of people have about their own houses. The features of my house which irk me include a small eating area, not enough countertop space, no entry area (the front door dumps you right into the living room), a living room which can barely contain a full sized sofa, most of the rooms are glorified hallways, narrow bedrooms upstairs while the master is down, and lamentably nowhere to put a piano.

We decided to move back to Middle Tennessee after I graduated with my MS because we wanted to be closer to family. Both sets of parents lived in the Greater Nashville area and the two and a half hour drive back over the plateau was getting old fast. The reality was that even though the timing in our personal life couldn't have been better, the timing in the overall housing market was terrible. The housing bubble was fully inflated with just the first cracks in the market beginning to show. We had a down payment saved, but between a teacher's salary and graduate school, it wasn't as large as we would have liked. We also had a problem.

Since we were moving to be closer to our parents, we wanted to live in a location where we were close enough to actually see them. It seemed pointless to move and end up living in an area where we would still be over an hour driving to visit. We wanted to be within an easy distance from at least one set of parents, but they both lived in fairly upper middle class areas. Areas in which we could not afford to live. It was a real problem.

We looked and looked through the real estate listings and even the smallest, oldest, most broken down houses in these areas were well above our price cap of 150K. It was upsetting. What was especially upsetting was the lack of understanding from many sources about our predicament. Family members who did not understand why we were not looking closer or did not believe the houses just weren't there. Coworkers who did not understand why we didn't just live in town or move to the other side of town which would be a couple of hours away from at least one set of parents. The bottom line was money, the lack of it, and the absurd prices of the housing market.

After looking for several months, we found a house in foreclosure about five minutes from Dave's parents. The lot was more than I ever thought we would have at over an acre. Dave loved the yard. The house was not my dream house. The eating area was small. There was not enough countertop space in the kitchen. The living room, which the front door opened right into, was small where it would be hard to arrange furniture. The bedrooms were split on different levels. There was a lot of cosmetic work to be done. It had previously been a rental and looked it. I guess the previous owners got tired of being landlords and just let it go back to the bank. There was dog mess on the floor. The paint was horrifically bad. But the price! The price was within our budget. Here was a house we could fix up a little, live five minutes away from one set of grandparents and an easy hour from the other, and we could afford it. We stretched as far as we could and still stayed under our cap. It seemed so unlikely for this house to be in this location and sell for this price. It came with the serious trade off of the commute, but truthfully the commute was going to be part of my life no matter where we lived. We could not afford to live closer to town and still be on the same side of the city as our parents.

Several months after we bought our house, the housing market collapsed. People panicked, but since we had just bought our house out of foreclosure, the market value of our house never dipped below what we paid for it. I was always grateful for that mercy. After we lived in our house for a few years, Dave's father was diagnosed with cancer and died with a year. Dave was so grateful to have had those years with his father so close. The strain of having a mortgage payment at the top of what we could afford eased first with a refinancing and then with my eventual raise.

We have lived comfortably in this house.

What brings this topic to the forefront of my mind is Dave's recent access to the backend of the MLS. In our town, there are zero houses listed for what we could have afforded when we bought our house. Zero. In the current market, there are few houses we could afford even now, measured by the handful. It is so unlikely that we live where we do, but we do live here. It is our own small measure of divine intervention, our own divine house.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Random Observations

Procrastination is the fear of boredom or the fear of running out of something to do.

Why or why not?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Resolution Redux

A few weeks ago, I decided to make a New Year's Resolution of doing one small task a night after work in order to break the inertia of housework. I started out like gangbusters and then predictably, it all fell flat. It is easy to write this off as the standard resolution failure, but I wasn't ready to give up yet.

I thought for a few days about what had changed, why had I lost momentum, and then I realized that at the beginning of the year, I had made a long list of small tasks that needed done. I was not physically using that list to decide which nightly task to complete, but I was mentally working off the list! I don't know why it did not immediately occur to me to make another list when the first one was complete, but it didn't. Probably because I didn't quite realize I was working off the list.

So. I have now created a new list. The new list has a variety of tasks, some of which are quite small and others of which will be multi-day adventures. I am a little dubious that some these listed tasks will actually rise to the status of having been done, but they are there just in case I have some extra time. Or something.

Another new habit I am trying to develop is reading out of my Magnificat magazine every morning. Back when I was pumping--thank God I'm not doing that anymore--I had a nice routine of reading morning prayer during my first pump session. When I stopped pumping, that habit fell right away. I intended to get to it during the work day. I have time for it, goodness knows, but somehow it just never happened. It has been several months of randomly reading through a day and then not again for most of the week and then flipping past the pages of shame.

I decided that leaving it to the vague time of "at some point today" just wasn't working so I fixed it to the time I am most likely to actually do it: right when my behind first hits my seat in the morning. I open my email to make sure nothing is on fire and then open Magnificat for the day's morning prayer. I like this routine and it has been working for the last week or so. What's odd is almost everyday I feel the strain of wanting to jump ahead, to procrastinate until later in the morning, and to boot up all my normal processes. I have to resist this urge every morning. I am always glad to have prayed it, but in the decisive moment of doing it, I always feel the slightest "ugh" about it. I take this as a good sign that I have picked the right battle.

Saturday, February 7, 2015


I saw this article on Facebook and started to write snarky comments about it, but it was just too much so it gets its own post.

The author writes that as a SAHM, she is entitled to downtime away from her children and thus schedules a vacation for herself, and only herself, once a year. She refuses to feel guilty about it and sets out to explain why she needs such a vacation.

First I need to say I agree with the premise of the article that everyone needs to get away sometimes. That everyone needs to have the ability to recharge in a way that works for them. If taking a yearly solo vacation works for her and her family, I say more power to her. It probably isn't what I would do, but whatever.

She has four children and her oldest is nine. Why, I have four children and my oldest is nine! I think I have a pretty good perspective on what life is like with this type of household.

That being said, this article makes my head explode. How myopic can one person be?

The first half of the article she discusses why taking time away is important and the cultural landmines around vacationing without your children. This all well and good. Then she just runs right off the rails.
(T)he current climate of parenting tells us that enjoying extended time away from our offspring is indulgence at best, neglect at worst. 
Is this more or less true for a stay-at-home mom? On the one hand, because I am with my kids for so much of the year, I probably feel less guilty than a working mother about taking the occasional break from them.
Ya think? This has to be the understatement of the year.
On the other hand, young children tend to be very dependent on their primary caregivers, usually in a way that is unbalanced vis-a-vis the other parent.
No. There is no on the other hand here. Young children are very dependent on their mothers. Period. The End. Not their "primary caregivers." Babies don't cry for Miss Lulu from daycare when their mothers are available. Not their fathers. Sorry. As much as fathers can love and care for their children, babies prefer their mothers. Life is not fair that way. And do you know what makes young children cross? Not seeing their mothers at night after not seeing them all day.
The average worker’s holiday lasts just over four days. Don’t stay-at-home parents need a comparably unbroken period of annual leave?
Well, well. I guess that's probably true unless you have had four kids in under ten years. Like she has or like I have. And then the greatest likelihood is that you have spent every last vacation day you have on maternity leave. I wonder if she thinks recovery from childbirth is a vacation? I wonder if she has ever spoken to one of her employed peers to know how little time she would have had off if she had had a job all these years?  Does it even occur to her?
The point of a vacation generally is to offer a sustained respite from the stress of the activity that takes up the majority of your time—so that you can return to it with the potential to do better. Such respite is even more crucial to one’s overall well-being when the work is of an intense, round-the-clock caliber, as parenting undoubtedly is.
Isn't that worded carefully?  You need a respite from the activity that takes up the majority of your time. Is this her way of explaining why she needs a vacation away from the children, but her employed husband does not? Maybe his business trips are his vacation in her mind. Obviously since she parents around the clock, she is even more deserving of a vacation. As if parents with jobs do not parent at night. I wonder if she would like my schedule for a few weeks.

Myopic. That's the only word I can use to describe it. I agree with her general idea about time off, but, man, her reasoning could use some perspective.


As an aside, I mentioned that line about parenting around the clock to Dave. He objected saying that you were not actively parenting at night when the children were asleep, you were only on call. I laughed. I have taken the vast majority of the night duty over the years. I think most mothers do. It wasn't because Dave wouldn't do it, but because I thought I should. I justified it by saying he needed more rest because he had to spend his days with the children and I was just going to work. I'll bet SAHMs use the exact opposite reasoning: they have time to rest during the day and it is more important for their husband to be rested for work. My point is that mothers are very reluctant to give up the night duty. We might actually value it.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Christmas Inspirations

About a month ago I told you about the stress that Christmas brings to me in these recent years, but I didn't tell you what else happened on Christmas Eve. Amongst all the stress I had a moment of inspiration and consolation.

My faith is a pretty dry, intellectual faith. I believe because I choose to believe. It is more an act of the will than any particular feeling I may have. This is a facet of my personality. I am suspicious of overt displays of emotion. All those things that are supposed to make you cry usually don't. I accept and assent to the Church because it makes sense and logically hangs together beautifully and not because I have had an enduring emotional experience. Mostly I have not. Sometimes I step outside myself and think that this is all ridiculous and we are all just fooling ourselves because none of this means anything. In these moments, I remind myself that I believe because I want to believe and a mass delusion would not contain the keys to making sense out of the fallen nature of man. Lord, to whom shall we go? We would not feel so out of place if we actually belonged here.

I recognize my faith in its absence rather than its presence. When I am praying regularly and habitually, I do not feel much. I say the words and make private intentions, but many times it feels like I am only going through the motions. Sometimes I strain and grumble as I make a sacrifice of praise. It is only when I fall out of the habit and am flailing about that I see how much it carried me. I remember the peace I used to have that I never notice when it is present. And I begin again.

Sometimes I am little envious of people who have these more emotional experiences, who know the love of God as a feeling rather than a decision. It must be easier, I think, to feel as well as know belief, but I do not dwell on it. I figure if I am supposed to feel something, I'll feel it. Every now and again, I do.

What is meant by faith? It is to feel in good earnest that we are creatures of God; it is a practical perception of the unseen world; it is to understand that this world is not enough for our happiness, to look beyond it on towards God, to realize his Presence, to wait upon him, to endeavor to learn and to do his will, and to seek our good from him.

It is not a mere temporary strong act or impetuous feeling of the mind, an impression or a view coming upon it, but it is a habit, a state of mind, lasting and consistent. To have faith in God is to surrender one's self to God, humbly to put one's interests, or to wish to be allowed to put them into his hands who is the Sovereign Giver of all good.
                                                                                             John Henry Newman

After a stressful Christmas Eve day and before a promised stressful Christmas Eve night, we went to Mass at our parish. This was the Midnight Mass at 9pm. Our parish is currently in a temporary location in a strip mall. There is a dance studio on one side and a Bible church on the other. The ambiance is about what you would expect. The lights are high-powered fluorescents. They do not dim; they are either on or off. Mass offers a stark contrast from the outside environment as the lights shine brightly as from an office building at night. The Bible church next door has a band playing. Maybe they are having a party? The sound of their bass drums regularly punctuate our services, but this night is especially loud. The brass chalices set out on their table clang together from the rumble next door and we all vibrate along with them.

Mass begins as we sing our Christmas carols over the cacophony next door. I survey this somewhat ridiculous scene and am suddenly overcome with a feeling of joy and understanding. The meaning of Christmas presses down on me and I understand:

Why did God to come to us as an infant? Of course out of compassion--to suffer with us--but also to show us how to love Him. Who do we love with more abandon than an infant? An infant inspires reckless love. Love for its own sake and not out of any expectation of return. Love that inspires adoration. The ease with which we spend hours adoring the baby is how God wants us to adore Him. It is how He loves us, recklessly and with adoration. The desire to delight the baby, to care for the baby, to put the baby above all others is how we are to love God. How were we ever to understand this if God did not come to us as a very infant, the object of our most fundamental and instinctual experience of love?

For a moment, I understand and I feel delighted with joy. For a fleeting moment, I feel I can touch the eternal.

And then it's gone. The feelings evaporate. I poke and stir at the spot, but I cannot rekindle the flaming warmth. I am suddenly returned to this ghastly lit room with the pounding bass drums next door, but I am at peace with it.

I do not need to feel these emotions all the time to know that I have faith. While emotion can be a great consolation, it is not the rock on which I can rely. I remember that I once felt that joy, peace, understanding, delight even as I may not feel it now. To remember that I once felt it is enough.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

How Do You Tell The Family?

In the previous post where I talked about my belief that Olivia would do better with homeschooling than public schooling, I got a lot of feedback that I should start planning this transition now rather than in some nebulous, after the house is cleaned future. Who am I to argue with veterans? So I think over the next few months, even as I continue working, I will begin to put my vague ideas into concrete plans. 

The first thing that springs to mind after excitement and terror is that at some point you have tell other people what you are doing. I am lucky in that my town is a homeschooling Mecca. There is a lot of support to be found if I go looking. It is remarkable in a place known for its excellent schools that so many decide to strike out on their own anyway.

No, the point of anxiety is telling the family. I am already known as being odd for having four kids and for being the breadwinner, and maybe crazy, hello homebirth, so any announcement I might make about homeschooling wouldn't be shocking.

And yet, my mother is a school teacher. She thinks my opinions about the schools are too negative and overwrought. I don't know what she would have to say about such a decision. I have no fear about being disowned, but I don't think she would be supportive either. Or I might be surprised.

So my question is what is your experience with family who doesn't quite understand why you do the things you do? Any advice or experience to offer?

Monday, February 2, 2015

Discerning Homeschool

I have always been extremely interested in homeschooling.  I had conversations about homeschooling my nonexistent children years before they were even a possibility. I can't even tell you why or what prompted me to consider it, but I felt strongly about it when I was in college.

I only had two experiences with homeschooling growing up. The first was a girl in my neighborhood whose her parents regularly pulled her and her sister out of school to homeschool. They would periodically try school again and then pull them back out. I don't know what their reasons or rationale were, but I know the girl was considered strange and the neighborhood mothers didn't have nice things to say about her mother. They moved away when I was in middle school. The other experience was that when I was in high school I knew the younger, very bright brother of a friend of mine was being homeschooled through middle school. That's it. That's all I knew of it when for whatever reason in college I decided that homeschooling was a very good idea.

Even so my children go to public school. One of the bitter ironies of my life is that I have spoken extensively with certain people I know about the subject. People who thought homeschooling was crazy when we first began. These same people who are currently homeschooling their own children. And my children go to public school. Sigh.

When I think about homeschooling, it is a mix of excitement and terror. I know I have an idealized vision of homeschooling life. I also know that I fear it would all be a disaster. I think about housekeeping and the possibility of another pregnancy and whether the whole project would come crashing on my head.

I also worry if it would be the best choice for my children. I worry about Grace. She is a bit of a social butterfly. She loves going to school and seeing her friends. Would being home with her homebody mother stifle her over time? With Grace I do worry about socialization. Not because I think homeschooling is inherently isolating but because I know my own tendencies.

However, over these months of Olivia being in school, one thing is becoming abundantly clear to me: Olivia needs to be homeschooled. She doesn't like school. It is too much for her. It is too noisy and has too much going on and it upsets her. Her academics are excellent, but the entire environment makes her fairly unhappy. The hustle and bustle overwhelm. She does not misbehave at school. Oh no, quite the opposite, but her reserves are exhausted by the time she gets home. Going out to school is an extremely extroverted act and Olivia is a solid introvert.

I have been told that I need to be more positive about school with her in order to prop up her mood. I am not negative about school with her, but I also don't intend to be a false cheerleader. I know what it is like to be stuck in a place you would rather not be with little control over the situation. Pretending it isn't so doesn't help.

It is a helpless feeling knowing what your child needs, but being unable to deliver it. Right now we have no choice but to keep sending her to school. I hope one day we get to try something else.