A Woman's Place Is In The Bookstore
Last week I had to go on the road to help out DH. While I was gone I spent my days far differently than I normally do... I had long blocks of time with nothing required of me, and then short bursts of intense and focused work. The nothing-required time gave me a rare opportunity: to hang out at the B&N like an unemployed IT guy! Wow, what fun!I think I read every home decorating magazine out there, a couple of business rags, and lots of bits and pieces, whatever seemed interesting at the time. I also reread Captivating, by John and Stasi Eldredge. It challenged me again to confront what it means to be female - not by examining the hats I wear but by examining my heart, who I am at my core. Fascinating and frightening. Then I came home and went to a marriage conference put on by Dan Allender, where he spent a good part of the weekend analyzing marriage issues in light of what it means to be a man or a woman. I feel like I could spend the next year working out these issues and still only scratch the surface.Back on the homeschool front, my kids got very little done while I was away. In fact, the amount accomplished follows the age of the kid in a direct and linear fashion: 13yo got almost everything done; 11yo did lots but little math and no grammar (argh!); and 7yo did n.o.t.h.i.n.g. It was a true test of self-control for me today when I discovered her complete lack of progress in anything. But I'm happy to report that there was no yelling, only matter-of-fact consequences. I consider this progress in me (and am happy that God does not yell at me for my lapses).
For the last week, my wonderful dh has been speechless. Literally. Last Tuesday he underwent surgery to have a node removed from his vocal cords, and a key part of his recovery was the requirement of "total vocal rest." No talking, whispering, humming, even whistling. Coughing only if he had to. How do you think you'd respond to a week of silence? I think it'd be very insightful. You know where dh found it most difficult? At the dinner table. Sitting around eating the evening meal, talking and laughing, the kids and I had no idea how hard it was for Dad to sit quietly. He wanted to participate! To joke with us! Typing his responses on his laptop was frustratingly slow.But he also found that, during the day, he was amazingly productive. He tackled all kinds of boring administrative work: Budgeting. Answering non-urgent emails. Researching. And he found that he could get a LOT done when no one was calling. (And we didn't call him - what would be the point? A phone is useless if you can't even whisper. Unless it has text messaging.)But today, the ban was lifted. The doc cleared dh to speak again... and his voice was music to my ears. It'll be a month or two, they say, before his voice is back to optimal clarity. That's okay with all of us, especially him. You don't have to have perfect vocal clarity to participate in family dinner again.
Time to Check Back In
Well, if you're reading this right now, then you either have RSS feed or you're really persistent. I know it's been a long time. Forever in Blogworld. For whatever reason I have not been able to write for months, trying but finding that my thoughts to be small and scattered. For the past few days, though, they've seemed more solid, almost visible when I close my eyes, so I'm venturing an attempt to capture them here.I guess a good place to begin would be to update you on what has happened with my father. My dad is much, much better, physically. He is not the person he used to be, and I've gradually come to realize (and grieve) that he will not be that person again. But releasing the old Dad has surprisingly opened my eyes to the new Dad. This Dad has a terrible short-term memory and bouts of confusion and a frailer body, but his warm heart and the smile that lights up his face when we come to see him are warmer and lighter than they have ever been. He's more joyful, happier than he's been in years. He knows all of us who love him, all the time, even if he doesn't remember our conversation from the last visit. He is game for most any adventure or outing, regales us with funny stories from his childhood, and showers us with appreciation for anything we do for him. What's more, I am not the person I was before my dad's crisis. I'm making the transition from the daughter who calls on her parents for help to the daughter on whom her parents rely for help. It is a strange position and has taken some getting used to. I did not know how much I loved my dad until I discovered that I can be patient with him when he's telling me the same story for the fourth time in one hour. Really patient, not just pretending to be. I did not know that I would stop feeling frustrated over all the old patterns and tug-of-wars that children play with their parents and start feeling amused by them, even grateful for them. My dad no longer punches the same buttons he used to in me. Maybe it's the transfer of power; maybe it's the beginning of realizing that I'm standing on my own, and that I will be okay. The strength I got from him no longer depends on his physical presence but on the memories and experiences and lessons he spent years cultivating in me, that have now not only rooted but blossomed into their own being, separate from him but owing their existence to him. It's a wondrous lesson that I can hardly believe.I have more to say about this process, later. I'm very hopeful that I'm back for a long while.
A Little More Time
My dad has been in the hospital for a week and a half. Whereas for a lot of people this would cause a lot of anxiety and hand-wringing, for my sisters and me it was a cause for rejoicing, as our Daddy just has not been himself for the last few months and we thought it was well-past time that someone figured out what was wrong. He was forgetting things - lots of things. He couldn't really carry on a conversation with you - it would either be one-word answers, or the same sentence, over and over again. (Spooky, as our Dad is the Champion Endurance Talker of the Century, once holding an old high school buddy of mine captive on the phone for 45 minutes talking about turkey hunting. It took my friend at least a year before he would even call me again.) At any rate, the kicker was, for about 2 weeks prior to his hospitalization, my dad would not get out of bed. He wouldn't eat. He just lay there, sleeping or staring at a muted TV. It was A.W.F.U.L. When he finally did get up, he went for a haircut, fell out of the chair, and didn't remember falling. That was it. We (Mom and I) took him to the neurologist the next day. I'm happy to say, one hospital visit and lots of new medications later, my dad is SO much better. He is diabetic, and had let his blood sugar stay way too high for way too long. He also has hypothyroidism, which was going practically untreated. Those conditions are now under control. But the best thing is that he has a renewed state of mind and emotional health, if you know what I mean. I feel like at least a glimmer of the old Dad is back. I know not everyone gets to keep their parents around for as long as I have. But I'm not ashamed to admit selfishness on this point. I want 'em as long as I can have 'em, and I want 'em as they are - not shells, not bodies without spark or personality. I hope the last two weeks have bought us a little more time together, and I plan to use it. Even if it means listening to turkey stories.
On the Home(School) Front
Well, we've been doing school around here for about a month, and I have not yet posted about how our year is going so far. Actually, I've been holding my breath a bit, waiting to see if it gets harder. But, I have to say with a little sigh of relief, that I think it's gonna be okay. For one thing, we're all in new math programs, and that is working out well. You know why? Not because the programs themselves are necessarily better, or my kids like them more. No, it's this: all of them are Mastery programs. You know, some math programs are Spiral-based: they teach a little of a skill, then a little of something else, then a little of a third thing, then come back around to the first thing and teach the next step. That seems to work well for a lot of kids. Not mine, though. Or maybe I should say, not for ME. I got so frustrated when my kids could not get through their math without tons of errors, and then I'd go to try and correct them, and then we'd have to backtrack 20 lessons to find the one little skill they never mastered so that they could not make the rest of the problems work out. With their new programs, we stay on a skill till I know they've GOT it. If they get more than 3 or 4 problems wrong, we do more of the same the next day. We're not moving on until it is solid. Math is taking a long time this way... but it is SO much easier to correct. And I don't have that horrible twisty feeling in my guts that they are going to blow their math exams in high school because I've failed them as a teacher now. Someone asked me what we are using - it's Chalkdust for the boys, and Math-U-See for the girl. Yeah, the MUS is a little on the easy side... but I'm okay with that. It's very homeschool friendly, with none of the silly classroom stuff that wastes hours of time, and it's very visual. We're doing two pages a day. The Chalkdust is pretty good. There's a video instructor who teaches each lesson, then the boys do the problem sets that go with the video. I do like being able to control how much practice they get.At Classical School (the one-day-a-week program the boys attend), the year has gotten off to a good start. Things that were excruciatingly hard for DS2 last year have miraculously gotten easier, such as writing papers. Grammar and Latin we have been doing together, and that is paying off - DS aced his first tests in both subjects! (This TRULY is miraculous, believe me!) Their teacher has come up with a clever plan for Latin... I just love this. Even though the boys are a year apart in the program, they are on the same lessons in the Latin book because the older class started Latin at the same time as the younger class. DS1 is head of his class in Latin, which his little competitive heart just loves, but there are a couple of other kids hot on his heels. So their teacher made a deal with DS1 - he could earn extra credit every time HIS BROTHER aces a Latin quiz or test. In other words, if DS1 helps DS2 succeed, they both win. How cool is that? The best part is... it's working. DS1 has taken over Latin lessons with his brother. Heh, heh, heh. Let the revolution begin.DD and I are whizzing through First Language Lessons and Story of the World Vol. 1. That's because we were supposed to be halfway done with the former and completely done with the latter by the end of last year, but sadly, we weren't. So I'm trying to stay completely on track this year to catch up. We're skipping some of the SOTW lessons, which is unfortunate, but hey, if we didn't I don't think we'd finish the book by the end of THIS year! I'm hoping to start Vol. 2 in a couple of weeks, and again, we'll have to skip a few chapters, but we should be able to finish up, which is the goal. One thing I do know by now, after 6.25 years of homeschooling, is that you have to be master of the curriculum and not let it master you.Let's see, what have I left out? Piano lessons! We have another new teacher (long story), but the big advantage of this guy is he comes to my house! Woo hoo! This is so efficient! And I really like him as a teacher... he is very focused, and positive, but he has high standards, which has helped my kids want to practice. Whew. We are not doing any sports right now... which needs to be corrected... but we'll get there. Right now I'm feeling like we're not TOO busy, and not TOO idle, and I hate to upset the balance. Margin is a good thing.
On The Other Side of the WorldWere you as sad as I was to learn of Steve Irwin's death? Yeah, yeah, I know you could say it was only a matter of time... but really, don't all of us take risks every day just getting in the car and driving on the highway? Yes, The Crocodile Hunter took unusual risks, but he did so with passion. And enthusiasm. He had a rare gift for making us look at God's world with renewed wonder and making it seem fresh and adventurous. In a world full of too-cool-for-you celebrities, The Crocodile Hunter was never too jaded to express a genuine excitement for learning and exploring. His family's loss is a loss to all of us.Round HereThe Counting Crows played in Atlanta this weekend, and guess who got to see them? Mamabird! And guess why? Because Mamabird's kid brother is a musician who plays with a singer/songwriter who opened for the Crows! So DH and eldest Babybird and I all got to hang out backstage with a bunch of very cool musicians (no, not the Crows - it's all very segregated, even backstage), but it was very exciting nonetheless. My brother was FABULOUS, if I do say so myself. He's been playing music professionally for about 10 years now, and it was a real thrill to see him perform in front of thousands of people. We've been to enough hole-in-the-wall bars and Arby's parking lots to see him play for dozens, so this was very gratifying.Back to Real LifeSchool goes on. Math is a drag. Latin is rockin'. Everything else is just okay. But this is a short week, with the holiday, so I'm going to take what I can get this week and hope that things pick up soon. I'd like to avoid turning into Mean Mommy because we've had too many days of not getting to everything we should.That's the news around here. Hope your week is going well. I'm still reading Eat This Book but haven't made much progress. Will take some fiction suggestions if anyone has read anything good lately.
Like Honey, Like Sweetheart*
My dd just turned 7, and she SO identifies with Mom. We are deep, deep into All Things Mommy, from applying lip gloss in the morning to choosing Diet Coke as her preferred soft drink. But this week she channeled Mom again in a way that made me laugh. She was loading the dishwasher with her brothers and got into a little "row" with them (as the Brits say). When I stepped in to referee, I discovered the cause of her frustration: She, who has the permanent job of unloading the silverware, was insisting to uncooperative brothers that spoons be put in THIS compartment, knives in THAT one, forks in THAT ONE ON THE END. This way when she unloads it, all she has to do is grab all the handles in one section and dump them into the drawer, with no sorting! Her exact words were, "Mom, I'm trying to be ORGANIZED."
This is like Mom in two ways. One, it manifests Mom's insane need to keep in order parts of the home that no one ever sees, such as the inside of junk drawers or the Christmas decorations in the attic, while portions of our home open to visitors sport dirty socks and stacks of old magazines. My dd can walk right past a puddle of chocolate milk she spilled on the table, but the SPOONS! the SPOONS, by Jove, are ALL TOGETHER in the DISHWASHER! Two, she has picked up on a every woman's unspoken belief: Men don't load the dishwasher properly. You can't learn this too early in life.*The Honey/Sweetheart title came from dd, too - when she was very small, around 2, she used to come to me and ask to play a game she called Honey/Sweetheart. "Okay. I'll be the Honey. You be the Sweetheart. Sweetheart, have you cleaned your room?" This game was just a version of House, where she was the mommy and I was the baby. I was puzzled by the name until I figured out that she always heard DH called me "Honey" and I was always calling her "Sweetheart." The game persists even today, with our cat in the role of Sweetheart. Pity the poor cat.
Today was a hard day. Don't ask me why, I just don't know. Everything was just hard. I spent the day alternating between crying for no good reason, feeling murderously angry at my poor dear husband (who thankfully timed his phone calls so that when we actually spoke I was no longer ax-wielding), snapping at my children for being children, eating weird foods at any time except mealtime, and burying myself under the covers between math and grammar lessons. Around 3 p.m. I realized that what was needed was... chocolate. And a John Cusack double feature: Must Love Dogs, followed by High Fidelity. John Cusack is lovable, and Jack Black is the truest, most believable used-record-store-snob I have ever seen portrayed on film. He makes me laugh out loud.My normal favorite movie is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but that was just a little too much real life for today. I needed fantasy escapist movies, not brutal reminders of the realities of love and life.Chick flicks and chocolate. I am sure I have undone 3 good solid weeks of dieting and gained back in one day what it took 21 to lose. But some days nothing else will do.
Here's a sampling of the hats I've worn this week:1) Travel agent headset: DH called Sunday night from Costa Rica to beg for help getting home early from his trip with DS. He came down with an ear infection after snorkeling that was so bad his ear canal was completely blocked. And all the resort paramedic (who spoke no English, so it's a good thing DH speaks Espanol!) could do was look at the ear, and say, "Wow!" Gee, that's helpful. I think it's time to come home!2) Taxi driver's ball cap: After successfully switching DH and DS's flights to one leaving a day early, I had a dilemma: I was already supposed to be picking up his mom, dad, and sister upon THEIR return from a trip, and the pick-up point was in the opposite direction from the airport but at the same time as DH's new flight arrival. Whew. So I enlist my mom to pick them up. But wait! Dear Sis-in-Law calls and says they missed their flight, and they'll now be arriving at the airport around 7 pm. Why, that's perfect! I'll just get everyone at the same time! I call my mom back and ask her instead to watch my youngers so there'll be room in the car for everyone. No problem. Except... DSIL calls again later, and says they missed THAT flight, and now everyone is arriving back late in the evening and can I come get them around midnight from the original pickup point? Sigh. Of course. And that's what I do - drop the youngers with mom, go down to the airport, pick up DH and DS, call Pizza Hut on the way home and order dinner, take the suffering DH and DS (who is also coming down with an earache now) home, go back and pick up youngers from Mom's, come home, eat a piece of pizza in random bites as I pass back and forth through the kitchen between the car (unloading) and the bedrooms (putting sick family members to bed). I lie down with DH for a moment to hear about the trip, but he's feeling so bad that he can't really think about much else. Just about the time I think, wow, this pillow sure is comfortable, the phone rings - DSIL and DMIL and DFIL have touched down and the bus is on its way to the pickup point! So, back out to the car.I arrive at the pickup point about 11:30, maybe 5 minutes before the bus arrives. We load up and I drop DMIL and DFIL off at their house, then swing back by DSIL's house last. But what's that weird noise coming from inside her front door? Yes, folks, it's the BURGLAR ALARM GOING OFF. At midnight. In a single woman's home.Fortunately, there were no intruders to confront. Unfortunately, the alarm didn't know that. We tried everything to cut the stupid thing off. But then, what else could we do? We had to call DFIL. Poor man. So I sat with DSIL in her very warm house (the phone and the air were both out.) and waited for DFIL. He came BACK out to help, after a long day of missed flights and bus trips. He cut the wires to the stupid alarm thingy that makes noise, and discovered that lightning had taken out the phone, the alarm, and the air. Sigh. Mystery solved. Sis-in-law went home with DFIL to spend the night. I finally went home and went to bed.And all this was on Monday. 3)The rest of the week I wore a nurse's cap as I shuttled various people to the doctor, the pharmacy, and to bed to recover from earaches. We did school, too, starting Algebra (eeek!) and our new year at Classical. Somehow, along the way, we got laundry done and dinners cooked and teeth brushed and stories read. But now, it is the end of the week, and I am tired.I think I need a vacation.But not to Costa Rica.
Battling the Holy Self
For the past few months, when I have some drive time, or can't-fall-asleep time, or in those other little spaces during the day where your mind isn't otherwise occupied, my thoughts have been occupied with what it means to be a Christian. I know this is a question that others have addressed more thoroughly and more eloquently than I ever will. But I also know that it is a question every Christian ponders, in various forms, throughout his or her spiritual journey; it seems to be part of the process, an exercise that either keeps us from straying off the path or helps us get around obstacles or through deep valleys.
This time around, the variation of this question that is haunting me is, How much of my Christianity - my spiritual beliefs and practices - is a true and accurate interpretation of following Jesus, and how much of it is just cultural norms? I've assimilated a lot of evangelical Christian culture through a lifetime of church attendance, Sunday school, youth groups, worship services, choir singing, Focus on the Family, mission-trips, Vacation Bible School (as student and teacher), Christian books, Christian newsletters, Christian music. I've also assimilated, right along with that culture, my American culture of consumption and materialism, worship of youth and beauty, reduction of thought processes to sound bytes, independence and rebellion, rugged individualism. All of that - all of it! - is mixed together like one big soup in my spirit, my soul, my identity. I am a product of my culture, my upbringing, my place in time and space (20th-21st century U.S. of A.).
So, how much of my faith is true faith, and how much is fluff? Or worse, deeply held convictions that are just plain wrong?
I’m wrestling with this issue, then I read an article in the NYTimes (tried to link it, but it's been too long and now you have to pay to read it) about a pastor who had the courage to tell his congregation, Enough. Enough with calling America a “Christian nation” and accepting every American military campaign as God’s will. Here’s a quote:
“When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses,” Mr. Boyd preached. “When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross.”
I grew up in the kind of church where American flags were flown and political candidates were endorsed. It never occurred to me to question this, until adulthood. And it makes me wonder what else in the church I grew up with is also way off base.
And then I start reading Eugene Peterson’s Eat This Book. Listen to these quotes:
Our lives, that is, our experience – what we need and want and feel – are important in forming the Christ-life within us. Our lives are, after all, the stuff that is being formed. But they are not the text for directing the formation itself. Spirituality means, among other things, taking ourselves seriously. It means going against the cultural stream in which we are incessantly trivialized to the menial status of producers and performers, constantly depersonalized behind the labels of our degrees or our salaries. (p. 23)
We learn early, with multiple confirmations as we grow older, that we have a say in the formation of our lives and, within certain bounds, the decisive say. If the culture does a thorough job on us – and it turns out to be mighty effective with most of us – we enter adulthood with the working assumption that whatever we need and want and feel forms the divine control center of our lives. (p. 32)
Sorry, I know that’s a lot of quoting – but it’s powerful, isn’t it? Here's one more:
What has become devastatingly clear in our day is that the core reality of the Christian community, the sovereignty of God revealing himself in three persons, is contested and undermined by virtually everything we learn in our schooling, everything presented to us in the media, every social, workplace, and political expectation directed our way as the experts assure us of the sovereignty of self. …We are hardly aware that we have traded in our Holy Bibles for this new text, the Holy Self. (pp. 33-34)
You can see where he’s going with this – that we need a new way of reading the Bible in which we accept its authority as higher than that of our own experience. And I’m feeling like I need to develop a new, sharper sense of discernment that I can turn upon my convictions – all of them – and test whether they come from Scripture or from some other deeply imprinted place from my past. I have a feeling this discernment is not something I can develop on my own, either. It feels like it will have to come from somewhere outside of myself – will have to be a work of the Holy Spirit.