Tuesday, September 1, 2015

In The Moment

Well into my sixth decade, I have found it deceptively easy to let days slip by unremarked, to mistake similarity for sameness, to let time disappear not because it is moving faster, but because I am less attentive.

Oh, what did you do today?  Went to work, spent hours looking at a computer screen, solved a couple of problems, sat through a couple of meetings.  

What was your weekend like?  Oh, the usual.  Did some work around the house, went to church, had a lunch date with my wife.  Just another weekend.

And on and on and another year, another birthday, another Christmas and where did they all go?  The same as they did when I was five or twenty-five or forty-five.  So, this week, I decided to pay attention, to look, to see, to be aware that each day, no matter how routine, is a unique experience.  

I am at Barnes & Noble almost every weekend, doing my part to delay the death of the Last Great Bookseller.  But this was Thursday.  It was about 85 degrees outside that evening and nearly that warm inside our home.  We were wilting.  Aubrey, the girl who loves getting out the house no matter how much she has already been out and about on a given day, pleaded, “Please, can we pleeeeeeeeease go to Barnes and Noble?”  It was miserable in the house relative to the comfort of the air conditioning at B&N and I had taken the next day off.  So, what harm could there be in taking a couple of hours out of the evening in the familiar halls of the bookstore?  So, with the appropriate feigned reluctance, I said, “Yes”. 

Shortly after we arrived, the girls were in the kids section at the back of the store, absorbed.  I decided to go to the front to check on a book I was interested in.  In the background,  B&N had music playing from a CD on sale in their music section, as they always do.  Usually, it is just background noise.  In this case, the tune was familiar and caught my ear.  It was a vocal group singing, of all things, a hearty version of “Amazing Grace”.  (I found out later that the album was The Very Best of Celtic Thunder, which also includes such spiritual tunes as “Seven Drunken Nights” and “Galway Girl”).  Then, as I started to walk up the aisle towards the front, I heard someone singing along.  That is, a real, live person in the store.  Not loudly, but clear and noticeable.  I smiled at the thought of someone enjoying the old tune enough to sing along in such a public place.  Out of the next cross aisle, a young man appeared, probably in his late teens, at the most in his early twenties.  He crossed a few feet in front of me.  His hair-cut almost certainly identified him as a member of the Marine Corps.  He walked with a bounce in his stride, still singing.  Then, he caught my eye and saw my smile.  He stopped singing just long enough to return my smile, tip his head in my direction, say “Sir,” and go right back to singing.  I kept on smiling as I watched him go.  Two total strangers in the local bookstore sharing a moment of appreciation for an old song sung in a fresh way.

A day later.  The usual pattern for Friday evenings is that our eldest daughter, her husband, and their kids come over.  Grandkids on Friday.  Part of the routine.  Easy to become commonplace.  Hold me Grandpa.  Look at this Grandpa.  Push me on the swing, Grandpa.  Earlier, I had spent most of my day ‘off’ in a lot of physical activity:   cleaning the garage on the hottest day of the year.  I was spent.  So, when the grandkids arrived in the late afternoon, I was laying down trying to recharge.  They started playing in back along with our girls.  Their happy chatter drifting in our bedroom window roused me out of my lethargy, somewhat.  Grandpa doesn’t always have the stamina he did when his own girls were small.  I headed outside towards the play set and plopped into one of the swings, watching all the activity.  Then, my eldest grandson came over.
“Can I swing?” 
I thought at first he wanted me to push him and I started to get up.  Slowly.
“Can I swing with you, Grandpa?”
Now that is a different proposition altogether.  Not necessarily any easier for me, but not what he usually asks for.  I sat back down and he climbed onto my lap.
“Hold on tight.  I don’t want you to fall off.”  Standard instructions for grandchildren.  It is in the manual.  Page 36.  
And the instructions worked for a few swings as we gained altitude.  Then, he decided holding on tight was not so important and not nearly as much fun.  

Picture the upswing: laying back, arms straight, feet pointed towards the sky.  If I let go, disaster.  If he lets go, there is grandpa and centrifugal force keeping him safely in place.  So, there we are, grandson relaxing with his arms by his sides on the grandpa recliner.  Except we soon have a problem: we reach the apex and start the downswing, normally the signal to lean forward and kick your feet back.  But, I can’t do that or Charlie ends up in the gravel and I live with years of guilt.  So, I stayed mostly horizontal, my arms holding my weight and the additional weight of my grandson, kicking my feet just enough to keep our momentum from failing while not catching them on the ground.  It didn’t take long for my arms to start protesting at this unnatural swinging technique.  But I had to ignore my arms, because how often does a 4-year-old get to swing through the air, up-and-back, up-and-back, without holding on at all?  The only thing keeping him in place is gravity and his trust that Grandpa would never let him fall down.  And I wouldn’t.

While my arms ached, the blue sky and horizon of the fence and trees and the house next door moved up-and-down.  I tried to imagine my 4-year-old self so long ago and what kind of magic it would have been to have a Big Person right there supporting me while I flew through the air holding nothing.  Then, just soon enough, my grandson said to me, “Down.  I want Down.”  
“You’re all done swinging?”  I tried not to sound too hopeful.
“Uh-huh.  All done.”
So I let my feet drag in the gravel and we slowed to a stop and soon he was off to his next adventure, leaving me to wonder at the one he had just finished.

Two magic moments.  I wonder what it will be today?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Lila and John

Marilynne Robinson is the one author alive today whose prose is, to my taste, a literary banquet, a choice and varied meal to be savored.  When her latest book, Lila: A Novel, came out late last year, I immediately bought it, not knowing when I would actually get to read it.  But, I finally did and it was as rewarding as I had anticipated.

Lila is the story of the woman first introduced in Gilead, Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.  It is the story of a middle-aged, nearly illiterate, vagrant woman, Lila Dahl, and an older, small-town minister, John Ames, both of whom share a weariness of being alone and a difficulty in trusting after years of self-reliance.  The gulf between their experiences is wide.  Lila has spent her life on the rough edge of survival in almost complete ignorance of the truths that John has dedicated his life to.  He has lived his adult life in the same home in Iowa.  She has never had a permanent home.

Yet, as the need for companionship causes each to take steps into the other’s world, a trusting companionship unfolds between these two unlikely lovers.  The story becomes a microcosm of what marriage can be, of what the gospel looks like when lived out in daily patience and acceptance of God’s grace, of how an undeserved love can make life meaningful again or perhaps for the first time.

Each volume I have of Robinson’s, both fiction and non-fiction, I have marred with underlines and asterisks and exclamation points, so I can go back to some phrase or paragraph that speaks in ways I only wish I could.  Language that is true to life, true to the yearnings of the human soul.

…she saw the Reverend walking up the road, Boughton beside him, the two of them talking together as they always did, and listening to each other, as if, so far into their lives, some new thing might still be said, something not to be missed.

“You’re right not to talk.  It’s a sort of higher honesty, I think.  Once you start talking, there’s no telling what you’ll say.”

She thought, What would I pray for, if I thought there was any point in it?  Well, I guess the first thing would have to be that there was some kind of point in it.

…one morning, standing at the sink washing the dishes, she said, “I guess there’s something the matter with me, old man.  I can’t love you as much as I love you.  I can’t feel as happy as I am.”
“I know,” he said.  “I don’t think it’s anything to worry about.  I don’t worry about it, really.”
“I got so much life behind me.”
“I know.”
“It was nothing like this life.”
“I know.”
“I miss it sometimes.”
He nodded.  “We aren’t so different.  There are things I miss.”


Not everyone may appreciate the slow, rich cadence of Robinson’s story-telling.  The action is limited, characters are few, settings are simple.  I was many pages into Lila when I realized it had no chapter breaks, much like life itself.  But if you are willing to let the deep waters move you gently, the journey is worth your time.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

My Job Description

I don’t know much about the habits of other fathers, since I’m the only one I observe on a regular basis.  But one habit I have is using the refrain “It’s in my job description” when my delightful daughters question aberrant behavior I exhibit while performing my fatherly duties.  After several years, decades in fact, of getting away with this claim unquestioned, a younger daughter got wise to my ploy.  She wanted to know exactly where this job description was so she could review it.  

Awkward.

The best I could come up with was that it was all in my head, a notion which naturally did not fly well in the face of daughters taught to think logically and do research before asserting a particular viewpoint as authoritative.

“Well, Dad, you’re just going to have to write it down for us, or we won’t believe that you have one.”

I was stuck.  So for the last several, ahem, weeks (ouch), I have been promising to write down my job description.  Because my credibility was at stake.  You can’t simply say you have a job description and not be able to deliver it (although I have heard of employers who do just that).  After much deliberation about the full import of what it means to be a father, I came up with a list of duties that seems fairly representative.  Perhaps another father or two out there needs something similar.  I cannot say I fulfill all these duties absolutely without fail.  It may not work for all Dads, as it is skewed towards raising daughters and, more lately, the arrival of grandchildren.  But, then, it IS my very own.  And, like all job descriptions, it is subject to revision.
  1. Must tickle children regularly.
  2. Must laugh at silly jokes.  
  3. Corollary to #2: must be able to tell corny jokes that invoke extreme eye-rolling and exclamations of “Oh, Daaaaaaad!”
  4. Must be able to see invisible friends.
  5. Must be conversant in stuffed-animalese.
  6. Must be able to reach the top shelf.
  7. Must go on dates with daughters.
  8. Must have a certified contract with the tooth fairy for timely, discreet tooth redemption.
  9. Must be able to make bizarre facial contortions.
  10. Must watch childish cartoons with apparent interest.
  11. Must be appreciative of the subtle qualities of “stick figure” art.
  12. Must be able to fix anything.
  13. Must read to his children at night without falling asleep in the middle of the best parts.
  14. Must be adept at splinter removal.
  15. Absolutely must do all the icky jobs including, but not limited to, unclogging toilets and removing the remains of dead animals the cats deposit on the lawn.
  16. Must not take losing at games too seriously.
  17. Corollary to #16: Must not take winning at games too seriously.
  18. Must not excessively embarrass his children in public.
  19. Must be able to tutor all school subjects at all grade levels.
  20. Must perform the ‘Daddy Dumpster’ function: let no plate leave the dinner table with perfectly good food on it.
  21. Must patiently endure emotional episodes when he in all likelihood hasn’t the faintest clue what the cause may be.
  22. Must have arms that never tire of pushing children in swings.
  23. Must say a goodnight prayer.
  24. Must always keep his promises.
  25. Must give really good hugs.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Why Dads Need To Take Their Sons To See Cinderella

Not just your mother's Cinderella

Given the way Disney and other movie producers have been revising fairy tales in recent years, I was unenthusiastic when I heard there was a new Cinderella movie.  It did have in its favor a PG rating, so excesses of passion or violence would be missing.  Then a reliable media critic that I know personally, my teenage daughter, went with a group of her friends to see it and came back with a glowing report.

Clearly, I needed to do my own evaluation.  So, I took our 12-year-old daughter for her date to see Cinderella.  As might be expected, there were a lot of moms and little girls when we arrived for the early matinee.  There may have been other dads there, but I didn’t see them.  I settled into the reclining theater chair, sure I would at a minimum enjoy my daughter’s reaction to the movie and my tub of popcorn.

Two hours later, I am not sure who was more enthralled.  Yes, it was the same story, yet fresh and grand.  Surprises were few and complimentary.  Most surprisingly, I realized that this is a Cinderella that fathers should take their sons to see.  Because this Cinderella captures the essentials of what it takes for a ‘happily ever after’, for a man and a woman to join in a lifetime partnership of doing and being together what they could never do or be on their own.  

Here are the father-son lessons from Cinderella:

Values Matter
A simple narrative thread was woven into the tale: have courage and be kind.  While some ardent feminists object that Cinderella was just a door-mat for her evil stepmother and stepsisters, Cinderella was actually embodying a counter-culture ethic in a time that idolizes power, especially "girl power" that looks like nothing so much as immature "boy power".  Cinderella instead chose this path:
“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” 
That takes an entirely different kind of courage than the "kick your enemy's butt" kind.

Not Just A Pretty Face
The prince and Cinderella first meet while she is riding in the woods.  At this chance encounter, he discovers a girl who is willing to confront him with her compassion for the stag the prince and his party were hunting, a girl who speaks the truth that just because something has always been done is no reason it should be done.  When his father the king accuses him of having his head turned by ‘a pretty girl’, he responds:
“She isn’t a pretty girl.  Well, she is pretty.  But she is more than that.”
When the prince eventually discovers that the mystery girl from the ball is truly a dirt-poor commoner with no parents and no dowry, he has a decision to make.  And he makes the right one.

Be Truthful, Especially About Yourself
The prince keeps his royal identity secret when he happens upon a simple country girl in the forest.  He introduces himself to Cinderella as ‘Kit’, an apprentice learning a trade from his father.  When she discovers his true position, he reiterates his claim that he is an apprentice.  He had the humility to recognize that in spite of advantages of position and wealth, he had much to learn about life and the responsibility of being a king.  

Honor Your Father  
While his growing regard for Cinderella brought tension into the royal court, the prince was always respectful of his father’s wisdom.  He would do what his father thought best for the kingdom, even to the point of accepting an undesired marriage if Cinderella could not be found.

The Right Person Is Worth Everything
The prince searched until he had found Cinderella.  At the end of the movie, he takes Cinderella by the hand and asks, “Are you ready?”  To which she replies, “For anything, as long as it is with you.”  Then they step out onto the balcony to join the celebration. That ending captured the essence of why our culture for so long has given each princess their fairy tale day called a wedding ceremony.  That day when for one shining moment, he is a prince, and she a princess and they are declaring to the world:
“We are ready for anything, as long as we are together.”
I have been with my princess for 34 years now, and cannot imagine facing the future without her.

Recap
To sum up the lessons fathers can teach their sons from Cinderella:
You start life as an apprentice.  Keep learning.
Listen to Dad.
Have courage, especially when faced with overwhelming obstacles.
Be kind, especially to those who have it harder than you.
Do what is right, not just what everyone is doing.
Inner beauty is far more important than outer beauty.
When you find the one who is willing to share a lifetime of uncertainty with you, never let her go.

I should mention that the prince agrees that boys should see the movie.  Oh, and one final reason dads need to take their daughters to Cinderella: I have daughters and need them to be raising the right kinds of sons.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Day I Knew My Sister Loved Me

If you grew up in a family with more than one child as I did, you were part of a pecking order.  (I apologize in advance to any chickens who may be offended by this vernacular.)  To put it another way, there is no such thing as equality among children, no matter how fair parents try to be or how noble we envision untainted childhood.  Providence and circumstances, or nature and nurture if you prefer, conspire to ensure that the vacuum of leadership is always filled, particularly when parents are not on the premises.  Birth order obviously has an impact.  The younger you are, the less clout you have in childhood until the late teen years mitigates the advantage older siblings have.  Then there is some shifting in the peckological order, but it never goes away.  Adults are right now thinking about their last family get-together and nodding their heads.

In our family, I was number three on the depth chart, ahead of only one brother.  The roost was dominated by our two older sisters, one nearly three years older than I, the other nearly four years older.  When you are in the wonder years of elementary school, anyone that is a teenager seems vastly older, smarter, more powerful.  That was my sisters.  When Mom was gone, they ran the show.  My younger brother and I were just peons scarcely worth consideration in the realm of home life.

There was a constantly simmering feud between my sisters.  It was not pretty.  If you’ve ever seen girls fight - physically or verbally - well, they don’t call it a cat fight for nothing.  (My apologies to cats, of course).  The best my younger brother and I could do when things got hot was stay out of the way.  My second sister was endowed with a forceful personality which collided with the assumed natural rights of the first born.  Still, there was no denying she was a born leader in the mold of the great dictators of history.  If you did what she wanted, life was at least tolerable.  If she ignored you, life was a bit better.  If you crossed her, then life was horrible.  There was more than one literal knock-down, drag-out session when I tried to get out of my obeisance.  Once pounded into submission, I grudgingly toed the line.  In the grand scheme of things, when Mom was gone, Renee was queen.

What made matters worse was that both sisters doted on my younger brother, who was two and a half years younger than I.  He was little, he was cute, he needed attention.  While I was big enough to fend for myself, his adorability unleashed all the nascent mothering instincts of two teenage girls.  Woe to me if ever one of them caught me asserting my rights as an older brother to pick on my younger brother.  Did I resent this?  Of course.

Against the sheer force of the dictator-queen, my eldest sister and I had in our favor that we were rule-keepers.  So, when Mom came home, we had a glowing report of our accomplishments, while Renee and Philip were often found wanting.  Renee simply had other priorities than the rest of us and Philip was too small to do much that was useful.  So, that tended to put Denise and I into an alliance of necessity which pushed Renee even more into favoring Philip.

This somewhat volatile mix of home life left me with the basic assumption that my queen sister despised me, that I was just an inconvenient organism in the petri dish of our tiny trailer.  (Apologies to bacteria).  My oldest sister tolerated me as that helped with the balance of power.  My younger brother always wanted to play with me, while the same immaturity that made him so sweet to my sisters meant he was just annoying to me.  Most of the time, I was isolated in a crowd of siblings.

One weekday evening during this era, Mom was gone.  Which was odd because she didn’t go many places during the work week other than the Wednesday night prayer meeting at church.  I have no recollection where my eldest sister Denise was.  It is likely that dear baby brother was with Mom.  Since I fell into the category of being less than no company at all, Renee had brought a friend over.  Renee always had friends in our neighborhood.  And enemies.  There were no neutrals.  This minion was a guy about her age named Mike.  He had straight brown hair all one length hanging down near his collar, typical of the late 60’s and early 70’s.  Mike was a big, stocky, dark-complected kid and, by virtue of his bulk, inclined to being a bully.  

They were hanging out in the living room listening to the rock ’n’ roll music that would never be played when Mom was home and I wandered up from the back of the trailer out of curiosity.  I knew that Mom didn’t want anyone in the house when she was gone and I also knew that Renee disregarded most rules as a matter of course.  Still, it always fascinated me to see this in action.  Here was an obvious breaking of THE RULES.  I never quite grasped how it was that Renee could thumb her nose at the rules and not worry about consequences.  Oh, there were consequences, but she didn’t seem to care.  In the trade-off between consequences and freedom, some pick freedom, others chose to avoid consequences.  I was the latter.

As I came in, Mike’s alpha male instinct inspired him to start picking on me.  He unloaded all the humiliating things he could think to say about a scrawny and quiet underling.  Why I stayed to endure it was a wonder.  As he continued along this vein, Renee came to my defense.  I am not sure who was more surprised, me or Mike.  Well, Mike’s bullying nature overcame his good sense and he challenged Renee to do something about it.  While Renee was physically the dominant person among the children in our home, Mike was a different matter.  He was imposingly large in my view of things.  He smiled the confident smile of a person who is used to getting his way.

How the kitchen knife happened to be sitting within Renee’s reach, I don’t recall.  But she picked it up.  It wasn’t too big or too sharp, but it was a knife.  Renee implied that she wasn’t afraid to use it if Mike didn’t back down.  How to describe that moment when the stakes have been raised to a crucial point and someone has to fold?  My gut churned with an onslaught of adrenaline.  Even though I had been on the receiving end of Renee’s fisticuffs, did not think she would go that far.  Nor did Mike.  So, he just kept on pushing.

And Renee threw the knife at him.

Now, there are all sorts of ways that could have turned out.  Since it wasn’t a particularly heavy or sharp knife, if it had hit him in his torso it probably would have bounced off his clothing.  Or it could have hit him in the eye, which would have been a far worse outcome.  As it happened, it hit him in the forehead where even a blunt knife at high velocity can do some damage.

I had a fleeting glimpse of the shocking realization on Mike’s face before he howled in pain when the blade struck him.  Blood began running down Mike’s face as he instinctively grabbed the wound.    
“Are you crazy?” he bellowed.
“No.  You just don’t mess with my family,” she replied with remarkable calm, considering the circumstances.
“I’m bleeding!” 
“Calm down.  It’s only a cut.”
Head wounds, even small ones, can produce a lot of blood, a sight Mike was apparently not fond of.  The half-inch gash was leaking quite a bit.  A red line was running down his hands and a few drops had hit the carpet.  Renee found a dish-towel and pressed it to his head.
“I gotta go home.”
“Yep.  I’ll go with you.  And don’t be such a baby.  You’ll be fine.”
I remained frozen in place throughout the entire incident.

Then they left.  I may or may not have ever seen again Mike after that day.  I am sure there was some kind of fall out that both Renee and Mom had to deal with.  I mean, you can’t assault someone with a knife and go unnoticed.  But, that night, there was birthed in my mind the realization that when push came to shove, Renee had my back.

With that realization came a novel idea: my sister loved me.  And still does.


Bear in mind that this event happened about 45 years ago and the only video recording was the one that wanders around in the dusty archives of my memory.  The dialogue in particular is imaginative at best.  I am thankful to have Renee on my side after all these years.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Education of a Home School Dad

It started out as a grand mission, a noble ambition to raise children who would be spiritually whole, academically competent, relationally compassionate.  We had heard the stories about home-educated National Spelling bee winners, about 1600 SAT scores, about brilliant people in history who learned at home.  We met homeschool graduates and heard their success stories.  We also heard about the horrors of public school curriculum and bureaucracy, the corrupting influence of peers, media, and secular humanism.

So, out of the same desire nearly all parents have — to do what is best for our children — we started on the homeschool adventure.  Eighteen years later, we certainly know more about ourselves, more about parenting, and more about education.  Do I have regrets?  A few.  Do I wish we had done something completely different?  No.  But I have learned that the benefits propounded by well-intentioned home education advocates do not all pan out in that very long haul from kindergarten to high school.  So, while there is much good that can come from parents educating their own children, the process has its own unique pitfalls, particularly when one is wearing the blinders of spectacular expectations that morph into fallacies.  So, what follows is a brief synopsis of those home education notions that have proven in our experience to be more than a desert mirage once we got closer to the destination, yet still considerably less than we had hoped for at the beginning.

Parents Make Better Teachers  
Yes, parents normally have a far greater interest in their own children than a teacher can have.  Parental love is a powerful motivator.  But that does not translate directly into better teaching.  In the early clueless years, especially if starting out with younger children, there is little harm you can do, frankly.  Likewise, there is much that children can learn from nothing more than a little readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmetic.  In that respect, our early years were blissful.  We discovered a lot of new things, made new friends, bought a lot of curriculum, read so many, many books.  Our children seemed to make reasonable progress.  But as they got older, the gaps in parental teaching skills, both in terms of subject matter knowledge and the ability to communicate it, became more and more apparent.  We had to find other options.  That flexibility is part of the benefit of home educating.  It is also part of the stress of home educating.  You are constantly on the search for solutions to the educational limitations of your home school - that is, your own limits as Mom and Dad being surrogate teachers.

Education Can Be Tailored To Each Child  
The reality is that mastering a single curriculum in a multi-student, multi-grade environment is quite an achievement, particularly when pre-schoolers crawl between the legs of the Teacher Mom while she attempts to educate her school-age children.  Every homeschool family I know has spent significant amounts of money and time on under-utilized curriculum in search for that perfect fit: the self-teaching curriculum.  What ended up happening in our home and many others is that they settled on a curriculum that worked for the parents.  The parents understood it.  Whether it was really best for their children may not have been clear until much further down the road.  As the years unfolded, we did get better at evaluating curriculum and how it fit our children.  But, that still leaves the unbending limit of how much time a parent-teacher can put in to shaping a custom education for each of their offspring.  So, we picked a method and, for the most part, have stuck with it.  As we got smarter, our teaching improved, but it wasn't customized for each child.

The Bible Is A Science Text  
No, I’m sorry to say, it isn’t.  I have friends who have been ostracized for not toeing the line of ‘Young Earth Creationism’.  I myself have had to take a vow of silence on this topic so as to not alienate people whom I otherwise hold in high regard.  I understand that the Bible and its veracity are foundational to the Christian faith.  What I don’t understand is jettisoning ‘love one another’ — which the Bible clearly teaches — for the sake of non-essential positions on the purported scientific framework of Scripture.  Since most of church history leans toward treating the Bible as moral and theological, rather than technical and scientific, I can only attribute this contemporary effort at reconciling ancient writings with modern science as an indicator of ignorance both of science and Scripture.

A Large Family Means Success  
I love my children.  We have more than the average American family.  I love my grand-children.  In fact, the people I get along with best are those from age zero to about four years old.  I don’t know what the ‘right’ answer is about how many children your family should have or my family should have.  All the wailing and hand-wringing about ‘carbon footprint’ hasn’t convinced me that we are in a population epidemic.  But I do know that a subtle worship of fertility in home school circles does two things.  It creates a stratified culture where those who have fewer children are seen as less committed to the mission; those who have followed the plan and have a large brood are expected to handle with a ‘stiff upper lip’ the concomitant financial and relational stress that comes with raising large numbers of children in an urban society and adding in homeschooling on top of it.  The mothers in homeschool families that I know are dreadfully weary.  Most of the time.  And they are heroic.  But I also think they carry a big sense of failure with them because they see the near impossibility of the task, yet have no space to admit it.  In the case of my own treasured wife, I know this is true. 

Everyone Should Do It  
Teaching is hard.  It is not a skill that everyone can develop.  There still are excellent teachers who actually want children to learn and can inspire them to do so.  No doubt, there are issues with the public school system as a whole and with particular public schools.  Private schools are often prohibitively expensive.  But, that simply means that parents need to evaluate the options of the schools available for their children and determine as best as they can what will be the right solution for their family: public school, charter school, private school, home school.

Character Formation Will Be Better  
Character formation of children, when exclusively the domain of the parents, becomes reflective of the strengths and weaknesses of the parents, which may or may not be ‘better’.  Conversely, children with broader exposure to other positive role models and experiences outside the home gain character in ways simply not possible when limited to two people known as parents.  While this precept of home education had children in mind, the challenge of this monumental task certainly is character forming.  For parents.  

Families Should Do Everything Together  
Because, the more you do together as a family, the closer your family relationships will be.  While this sounds good in theory, in reality, the differences can become volatile the more time you spend together.  The sun provides warmth and light.  Focus it through a magnifying glass and it produces smoke and fire.  This is particularly true in the home where the muting effect of public visibility goes away behind the walls of the homeschool castle.  Each one of our children are unique, significantly different from their siblings.  While we are confident that they will remain close to each other into adulthood, it is highly likely that they will, like their parents, form bonds with friends outside the family that will be closer than the relationships they have within the family.

Children Will Become Better Adults
I have seen the anecdotal evidence in homeschool publications.  I have also seen personal examples of people I know.  My un-scientific conclusion is that homeschooling certainly affects how children transition to adulthood.  While sometimes the homeschool greenhouse results in stronger plants once they get out into ‘the wild’ of the larger society, I have also seen homeschoolers wilt when confronted with something far different than they experienced, or take a totally different path than their parents ever envisioned because they never had options before.

Still Miles To Go

I treasure memories of time spent helping my children grow in wisdom and knowledge.  Our children have a shared literary heritage of many wise and delightful works.  I have made deep and dear friendships with other parents on this journey.  I enjoy being closely connected to my children through their years of education.  But, I have learned my limits.  I can look back on moments of despair when I realized I was failing my children in a big way.  I am not a good teacher.  At best, in a certain limited sphere, I am adequate.  I am grateful for where each of my children are today and that they have grown sometimes because of and sometimes in spite of my tutelage.  That, I suppose, is true of parenting as a whole.  I will continue to participate in my children’s education, but I have learned that they do not need to validate my aspirations for their future.  My children answer to a higher call than mine.  Sometimes, that means getting out of the way and letting them hear that call for themselves, perhaps through experiences and voices I would never have anticipated.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Quality Time

I need this at 6 am on Saturday
It was a typical Saturday morning.  I headed to Starbucks at 6 am for what I informally call the Starbucks Breakfast Bible Club.  Our small circle of men share the Baby Boomer cultural framework.  We also share a desire for stalwart camaraderie on the journey of life.  So, we spend a couple of hours together on Saturdays wrestling with how the truth in Scripture should continue to shape us.  It is a good time, a time ‘with the guys’ that has become vital to me.  

Early Saturday mornings at Starbucks seems to fit our demographic.  I suspect the younger crowd populates the ubiquitous coffee chain in the evening hours, when I am shutting down at the end of a long day.   After we have been there an hour, the foot traffic picks up.  Looking around, I see individuals plugged into their requisite electronic devices taking the occasional sip while intently engaging whatever is on the screen, couples conversing over steaming latte’s, a few younger guys in another corner who may be gathered for the same reason we are.  Starbucks is to this era what the classic diner was to an earlier generation. 

On this particular morning, when we had been there long enough for the coffee to do its good work of energizing my synapses, I noticed a young father with his infant daughter, likely about a year old, close to the age of my youngest grand-daughter.  She was dressed in “footy jammies”.  You know the kind: all-in-one flannels that zip from the ankle to the neck and have the non-slip coating on the bottom of the feet.  The contrast was striking between the tiny toddler with her wisp of light hair and her strongly built father with his shock of dark hair who carried her as lightly as he might carry a kitten.  They sat down in one of the cushioned chairs by a window, about half-way across the dining area from us.  Though still engaged in discussion with the guys, I couldn’t help watching this father-daughter moment.

Every child should have these
She was perched on his lap, nibbling on something from the bakery case.  He was drinking his coffee.  Every so often, he would bend down and kiss her on the top of the head or ruffle her crown of hair.  As people came and went, she would point and say something.  He would look and smile and comment.  When, as inevitably happens with small children and food, a piece of her breakfast didn’t make it to her mouth, he would carefully help her recover it from her lap or his.  Not so extraordinary, this.  Yet, as I watched them, in their own little world though surrounded by people, I realized what a precious, magic time they were sharing.  This daughter was learning at an early age that she had a father who loved her so much that nothing else but being together was important.  He was supremely content just to simply be with her.  No agenda, no schedule, just being with his little girl while she enjoyed her pastry and the people strolling in and out and the morning sun peaking in the window of that Starbucks cafe.

Then I thought about the date I had coming up later in the day with one of my own daughters.  And I was grateful for this young man and his reminder.