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Your Burning Questions Answered

We are gearing up for another year of school.

Home. School.

Which means we pull off the incredible hat trick of depriving our children educationally while still teaching them too much (making them socially awkward, because, as we all know, if you’re smart you MUST be socially awkward).

In honor of this auspicious time, I will answer your burning questions. The next time these questions are asked, I will have a handy link to text to you, whether ye be an insecure public educator, a concerned social worker, a well-meaning stranger, a police truant officer, a “considering it” fellow mother.

 

How do you know what to teach ? Are you even qualified?

How did you know to teach your kid to poop in the toilet?

To tie his shoes?

To speak?

Are you even qualified?

If you know how to do something with a halfway decent level of competence, you can generally teach it to another human being. Unless Nanny has been raising your kid and only bringing her to you at tea time chances are, you’ve been teaching her since birth. If you didn’t know how to potty train another human, you Googled it, and were sooner or later successful. I have been successful in homeschooling so far. Unless one (or one’s child) is severely handicapped,* you both are capable of learning. If you are capable of learning, you are capable of teaching, even if you haven’t shelled out the exorbitant amounts of time, money, and paperwork to become a ‘qualified’ teacher.

Seriously, you can google “Kindergarten Curriculum” and get all of it PLUS endless blogs explaining how to do it well. It’s like there’s an alternative to teachers unions and politics. Weird, right?

Seeing as how I managed to graduate from college, I (hopefully) have a solid grasp of elementary level Language Arts, Math, Science, etc.

My mother, with almost no college, was a far better teacher of early elementary for me than many certified teachers I have encountered since.

An education degree does not a competent educator make.

Lack of an education degree does not an incompetent teacher make.

I could vomit my many pedagogical thoughts onto you, but it may or may not get your vote of confidence. That’s OK. I didn’t ask for your vote of confidence, neither do I need it, unless you’re making policies about this stuff. In which case, the shady bribe money is in the hobo tent under the underpass at 32nd and Main.

Thanks for the random audit.

 

What about SOCIALIZATION? 

Oh no! My kid isn’t spending 8 hours a day with peers who all fall between two capriciously chosen birth dates, with the expectation to sit when everyone sits, stand in line (a straight, quiet line) when everyone stands in line, and raise his hand for permission to speak or urinate. WHY AM I DEPRIVING HIM OF PREPARATION FOR REAL WORLD SOCIAL SITUATIONS???

Unless my child has aspirations to grow up and become a full-time DMV client, I don’t think the social structure found in school will prepare her well.

My short answer to this is that the most important social training happens in the home. I think a lot of teachers will agree with me on this–particularly teachers who are compelled by their students to spend more of their time teaching social and emotional skills rather than literacy and math skills.

My long answer: My children start their day with hugs and validation from their teacher, who also birthed them, breastfed them, and knows them pretty darn intimately. They spend their whole school day in the safest space they know. After school, they spend time playing with the most important peers they have (siblings), followed by time with lots of different kinds of humans at:

-A  diverse music program

-The homes of immigrants and refugees

-Nursing homes, both private/rich and government/poor

-Our church

-The homes of our fellow church goers

-our front yard. Where many of the public schooled neighbor kids tend to congregate when we’re home. Because we raise chickens, bees, plants, and are always willing to outsource labor to eager young hands.

To recap: They have church friends, refugee friends, music friends, neighbor friends, old people friends. They have cousins and aunts and uncles with whom they have long distance relationships. They have their mother and father. They have each other. I would submit that they’re doing just fine. And if they’re not, I’m sure they can get therapy as adults.

I know of a homeschooler who was horrifically NOT educated/socially awkward/ a serial killer.

Cool. I know of a public schooler who was horrifically NOT educated/socially awkward/a serial killer. Takes all sorts to make a world, doesn’t it?

Are you going to homeschool him all the way?

Are you going to public school him all the way? I mean, really, you should think about that, because I know of a public schooler who was horrifically NOT educated/socially awkward/ a serial killer.

It is a big commitment. I can’t tell the future. Maybe my breadwinning husband will die a horrible untimely death at the hands of the teachers’ union and I will be forced to enroll my children into Dark Satanic Education Mills where they learn how to worship dinosaurs and use contraception, while I go and work in the cafeteria, tearfully slopping mashed potatoes onto endless trays, missing the patriarchy that kept me in the lifestyle to which I was accustomed. Where art thou, vaccuum and pearls???

We re-evaluate every year. If there comes a time when it seems like the better option, we will freak out and lock our children up forever enroll them in a school. We do our best by our kids, as you undoubtedly do, too.

What are you afraid will happen in schools?

Drugs, sex, rock and roll! Also, they might be exposed to ideas that are not ours, religions that are not ours! ATHEISM! COMMUNISM! THE DNC! APPLE PRODUCTS! We can’t have that. No siree.

We’re not trying to shield our kids from anything. We’re trying to prepare them for everything. HOWEVER. If you want a strong plant, do you drop a seedling in the middle of a desert, or do you give it some time in a greenhouse first? Some seedlings can survive deserts, some can’t. It’s a crapshoot.

Greenhouses are designed to provide the best start for young plants. We’re trying to give them our best greenhouse. Plants raised in non-haphazard circumstances, and carefully “hardened off” to the wild caprices of nature, have a better chance at growing strong and well into a long and fruitful maturity.

So you think I’m a negligent parent by sending my kid to school.

Nope. I have trust and faith that you are capable of making wise and good decisions for your kids, even if they’re not the decisions I would make. You and your kid are different people than me and mine, and God’s grace is the only real thing that gets any of us through this in the end. Our choices matter as per our circumstances, and our circumstances alone.

I could NEVER homeschool!

That’s true if you believe it.

I would hate homeschooling.

Than you probably shouldn’t. That being said, I thought I’d hate brussels sprouts, and I was pleasantly surprised. Broiling them in olive oil goes a long way. Similarly, in homeschool, setting things on fire goes a long way. Just saying.

I couldn’t homeschool my kids because they never do anything I tell them to.

You have my sincerest sympathy. Also, there’s a lot of books on this topic. I feel shy mentioning this in case you’ve read them all already. I just want to be friends, and I’m not here to judge. Godspeed, fellow child-rearer!

*And even then, by gum, you can learn.

 

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That one time we went to NYC and FAILED.

So.

With seven in our family, we eat a lot.

Therefore, it is necessary to buy a lot of food.

Once a year, we go to a restaurant supply store in New York City and buy oatmeal, flour, sugar, rice, beans, etc. in 50 -100 pound bags–because they have the best price on these things, they don’t make you pay for a membership, and the store carries delightful surprises we can’t pass up, like bulk sesame seed (hello, homemade tahini!), insanely beautiful 2 gallon jars of kalamata olives, and powdered hollandaise sauce mix by the half gallon (which is probably terrible for you, but dang delicious over ham and eggs on an english muffin).

Anyway.

We’ve been shamefully late on doing it this year, but we finally put aside a Saturday and made the drive.

Our phone map app died 20 minutes before we got there in the middle of  icky NYC traffic. The qualifier icky goes without saying, doesn’t it?

We desperately navigated the rest of the way old school style, using maps that did not  indicate which streets were one way.  Three children were distraught because they needed to pee. We got to the store five minutes before their 1 pm closing, and while they took enough pity on us to let us use the bathroom, they flat out refused to sell us the three hundred pounds of beans and dry carbs we had come for.

We piled back in the car and went down to a gas station to refuel and let out the last child whose bladder hit capacity only after we pulled away from the restaurant supply store. At the gas station, the man in front of me spent ten minutes trying to explain to the  cashier that the tire air hose was broken outside. The cashier had a sketchy grasp of English and and even sketchier lack of caring. I asked for the bathroom key, and he informed me that “toilet exploded.”

Back on the road, we realized we were all hungry. So we stopped at a grocery store boasting a Greek food aisle and bought muffins, bananas, and an array of other things to grind into the newly vacuumed van carpet. The store also boasted a bathroom, through the back, down the stairs, in the darkest corner of the basement storeroom. If I could buy larger bladders for the children, I would.

Well, says I, we’ve come all the way to New York City. Surely we should do something interesting here before we leave?

Yes, says husband, let’s go to the High Line Park! My colleague from New York City says it’s THE thing to see out here.

So we pick up McDonald’s wifi and learn that High Line Park is a mere 6 miles from where we are. And it would almost be faster to walk.

55 minutes of purgatory New York City traffic later, we  (astonishingly) find a (maybe free, maybe legal?) open parking space. Whether or not it was actually legal, there was no parking meter, and we didn’t get a ticket. This is our primary triumph in this journey.

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We ascend the steps and find ourselves on an elevated walkway packed with tourists from all over the world, walking up and down this elevated strip of history, through high end apartment buildings and over circles of hell  New York streets packed with cars.

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I had envisioned playgrounds and grass planted over the raised rails. While there were patches of grass, they were studded with polite signs to please keep off. Because, just like chickens, too many humans will destroy a nice patch of lawn.

 

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Once again, the offspring had to pee, so husband was obliged to go buy fried asparagus in order to gain access to a toilet. While we waited for him (and bladder-needing child), Jane the Austen and I counted how many Francophones, British Accents, and Russian Speakers we could overhear in a five minute period, how many torn skinny jeans we could spot in five minutes, how many heads of pink hair we could catch in five minutes.

Outside of cheap oatmeal, my favorite thing about “The City” is people watching.

The asparagus, like New York City, sounds exciting in theory, but was ultimately kinda disappointing, and not half as fresh as I thought it would be. But maybe overpriced, overdone vegetables and cities are an acquired taste that I have yet to develop.

On the way back, we encountered a gentleman who had a nice hippie public art project, where the general public was invited to pain masterpieces on 3X3 pieces of cardboard, which he added to an ever growing display.

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Some people are appallingly talented. (OK, this is also something that is fun about New York).

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And that is the story of our futile journey for oatmeal.

The End.

In Which “Naked for 5 Hours at the DMV” is More Than Just a Bad Dream

So today* I went  to the DMV because my pacific northwest driver’s licence had to be unreasonable and expire.

Husband the Man scheduled the day off his Fancypants duties so that he could take care of the children. And play with power tools. Husband the man is a talented woodworker.

Anyway, I took Lucy the Maude, because she, like the four before her, finds artificial nipples an insult to her intelligence and discerning taste. Ergo, until she has more than breastmilk in her diet, she is literally attached. To me.

We got to the DMV, and I was instructed to get into the “green” line. I was pleasantly shocked to see that it was the only line in the place that wasn’t a million people long. Lucy and I got in line, and Lucy, having inherited my sense of humor, proceeded to projectile vomit all over herself, just to make things more interesting, and to complicate the simplicity of a short line.

The vomit was acidic and Lucy was soaked, but smiling and cooing amicably. Like I said, the infant has a sense of humor. I let three people go ahead of me while I stripped her down. Since she’s a freakishly neat baby (normally) I had no backup clothes for her, but fortunately she missed dousing her baby blanket. So she got so arrive at the DMV window naked and swaddled and happily sociable. The DMV worker was much amused.

“You lucky duck,” says he to Lucy, “I wish I could wander around with my shirt off, too.”

Lucy the Maude thought he was hilarious.

I followed DMV man’s instructions, took a number, photographed myself at a self-service driver’s license photo area, and settled in for a multi hour wait. The glory of the DMV is that it’s one of the most diverse places in the wilds of urban Connecticut besides my church. My local church congregation is gloriously diverse.

Like my church, the DMV does not discriminate who it brings in. Everybody welcome! Unlike my church, the DMV legally compels people through its doors. My church, blessedly, does not.

Anyway, as I was sitting there, I got to watch all the people, and speak to several. Even in the age of smartphones, some people are sociable and interesting enough to converse with strangers. Their stories are delightful.

I also got a big hug from a Congolese friend from my church. It was refreshing to break up bureaucratic monotony with an unexpected occasion to practice one’s French.

The lady sitting next to me watched this interchange, and when he left, asked me about him. I explained we went to the same church. She inquired which church. I told her. An eyebrow raised.

“Did he go to your church before he came here?”

I told her I didn’t know, but I think he did.

There is still a stereotype sticking to us that Mormons are generally middle class white Utahns. While there are lots of those, they’re not the majority, not by a long shot.

It should be noted that I, a mostly-white, sorta**-middle class Mormon, have never really lived in Utah. Idaho for college, but never Utah. But I digress.

Over one hundred dollars and five hours of infant toga baby blanket wearing later, Lucy the Maude and I escaped the DMV with a new state license.

My goal is to never return to that circle of Dante’s inferno for the rest of my sojourn in the wilds of urban Connecticut.

The End

 

*Yes, by today,  I mean a while ago, because these things are scheduled in advance.

**Especially culturally. You can take the girl out of the middle class, but it’s much harder to take the middle class out of the girl. If I am very wealthy one day, I will probably still never buy a 4 or 5 figure piece of clothing. To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever worn a three figure piece of clothing, outside of my homemade wedding dress. My sartorial needs are paltry next to other’s food or human rights needs. If I am destitute one day, I will probably still never, ever wear leopard print spandex. In all fairness, leopard print spandex plagues all classes, but it afflicts the impoverished most of all.

Post General Conference Recap Part I:the weekend

It was a glorious conference.

Saturday:

Children and I went on a cleaning blitz, while husband went on a finish- the -take- home -midterm blitz prior to conference.

We watched the first session, with some scrambling during choir breaks to finish making glorious ham and cheese brioche pockets.

Neighbor children come to house. They like to hang out. We like them. They think conference is boring, and promised to come back later.

Post conference, we get to sit down with one neighbor kid’s mother. We like to meet neighbor kids’ parents. Some parents are elusive. This one is not. She’s a lovely woman. She also tells us about the parental challenges of some other kids who frequent our house.

This is not our first experience with parentally challenged children.* A few  years ago this conference weekend, when we heard this talk, we both struck with a sense of destiny. From that time forward,our house has become a magnet for parentally challenged kids. It was like Elder Scott was blessing/ cursing/ calling us personally. I love it and wouldn’t change it for the world, even though it stresses the string beans out of me sometimes.

We missed the second session due to social calls from growan up neighbors. Yes, I know I should have just invited them, but it was our first time meeting them, and establishing rapport via full attention was the order of the moment. Husband left to priesthood session, and I walked our neighbor kids home because it was getting dark. Coming back, I find one more kid, begging for just a little more time with us. And, knowing what I know about his parental challenges, I couldn’t say no.

We boiled some corn starch wallpaper glue and I helped Clive the Staples plus neighbor kid do a long anticipated map project. Neighbor kid said our house was so educational, we didn’t need TV.

That’s only partly true, neighbor kid. Sometimes Studio C is my deus ex machina. Just saying.

Sunday:

We made cinnamon rolls and brought them to a glorious brunch at church, followed by the morning session. The kids were surprisingly contained through most of it.

We lingered at the church because husband had to help with some priesthood ministering (I love this about him) but left when Lucy the Maude pooped her last diaper.

We caught the last session at home, and one neighbor kid came and sat through most of it with us. Jane the Austen knitted a roof for her newest fairy house. Toddler dozed on husband. Mr the Rogers and Clive the Staples doodled. Neighbor kid played with a fidget toy. I geeked out over text with jail chaplain friend over how great the talks were. Live texting with her during conference is a million times better than live social media-ing during conference, which I only tried once. Not worth it, kids.

 

This is the skeleton of the weekend. The flesh and blood and guts were in those 8 hours of lovely talks from prophets of God. I’m glad I have six months to study it all.
The end.

*Parentally Challenged: children who have been in foster care, are in foster care, or maybe should be in foster care.

 

**

Stay-at-Home/Working Mother Symbiosis

I could start by saying that my (our) choice for me to be a stay at home mother is one of the most important we have made. (It is).

I could also start by saying that I think that staying at home is more than just a sign of our privilege and affluence; that we would have to be pretty darn destitute, and would cut lots of other things before we seriously entertained my entering the workforce as a solution. (Also true).

I could tell you how important time with mother, especially in a child’s early life is. (Spoiler: it’s really, really important).

But really, what I want to talk about now is the fact that I am grateful for working mothers. While we all feel compelled to defend or champion our lifestyles, it’s very freeing to take a step back, take a deep breath, and realize that stay at home mommery and working mommery don’t need to be at war with each other. In fact, they can be symbiotic institutions.

Aren’t we meant to help each other?

If all our strengths and virtues and vulnerabilities and liabilities were the same, caring for one another would be a difficult task indeed.

So. Symbiosis. Mutually beneficial relationship.

Once upon a time, one of my dearest friends was (still is) a jail chaplain at the county jail. I met her through a neighbor who was incarcerated. We were both deeply invested in helping this neighbor and her little daughter, and through this mutual concern, a life altering friendship grew.

Here’s what else we had in common: we both had children and we both were pregnant.

My time with my babies and toddlers is special and sacred. I am where God needs me to be. It breaks my heart to think of spending 40 hours a week away from my little ones.

But.

My jail chaplain’s time in the county jail was special and sacred. She was where God needed her to be. It breaks my heart to think of what would have become of my neighbor, me, and my future foster daughter if she hadn’t been where she was to counsel and minister. She has since returned to stay at home with her kids, because she felt that that’s where God wants her. I believe her when she says this, and I also believe that her working in the jail when we all needed her was also divinely appointed.

Is being a stay at home Mom important to me? Oh yes. But I am indebted to this woman who did not stay at home. The same goes for my foster daughter’s social worker, my children’s phenomenal pediatrician, for a string of gifted music teachers who have coached our children, and countless other women who have supported my family with their work outside the home.

Recently, another mother I love and admire had a child suspended from school for a week. She could not take off work, but me? My work is at home. The primary point of my main occupation is “being there for people.” The vast majority of the time “people” means my husband and children, but I also consider it a part of my calling and vocation to be available for these exact circumstances–for the boy whose mother can’t take off work for a week, for the Grandma dealing with the emergency foster placement of her grandchildren, for the neighbor child whose parent relapsed. I am here for them. That is part of my job.

I need working women, working mothers. And they need me. I could write a whole other blog post on why I think staying at home is important and best for my children and best for me, and why I think society has harmed itself, and women in particular, by devaluing stay at home motherhood (I probably will), but really, above and beyond that, I’d just like to acknowledge that we need each other. That we’re put on this earth and in our particular circumstances to lift each other. And I’m  grateful, so very grateful, for what I’ve been given and what I can give.

The End.

 

A Few of My Favorite Things:Family Home Evening Chart

On Sunday afternoons, I try to sit down with each of my children for at least 30 minutes each, doing something with only that one child, hopefully inducing meaningful conversation.

Because, you know, relationships and whatnot.

The child gets to pick the activity.

Jane the Austen likes to write or read, discuss her favorite books, and geek out over musicals and 19th century history together.

Clive the Staples likes back rubs and feet rubs, cuddles, and drawing.

Mister the Rogers likes to make treats with me, particularly cookies or caramels.

Katherine the Great likes dramatic nonsensical conversations, singing, and dancing.

Lucy the Maude generally likes to nurse, and doesn’t really get formal one on one time. She gets her loving in by default. Thank the stars for breastfeeding, snuggles, and infantile unwavering delightful sociability.

 

One Sunday afternoon, Clive the Staples decided we needed to make a family home evening chart together. So we toddled on down to the basement, found an old 2X4, and set to work with a skilsaw, sander, woodburning pen, and drill.

And my oh my, did we ever make a family home evening chart!

Towards the end, Husband the Man busted out the router, because he’s the only one who really knows how to work that baby, and gave it a fancy beveled edge.

The tags are flipped backwards, because, you know, privacy, but you get the idea.

Now, every week as we rotate everyone’s tag to a new job, I am reminded of my sweet secondborn, and how terribly fast he’s growing up.

 

The End.

A Few of My Favorite Things: Wedding Ring

Once upon a time, I was helping my future husband with his college French class. And we were totally not dating, because I was totally not 18.

So, he’d call me up and say: There’s a French film screening on campus today.

Me: cool!

Him: And your apartment is on the way, so if you’re planning on going, we could walk together.

Me: Is this a date?

Him: No.

Me: OK. I’ll go with you on a not-date.

The thing was, we were constantly on not-dates…To the art gallery, cooking at each other’s apartments, reading together,* playing Scrabble, and I was completely and totally infatuated with him.

So when he brought up marriage two days after my birthday, I did that thing where you cry when someone proposes.

And then very romantically reply: how do I know you won’t (insert litany of behaviors I had watched destroy marriages in my family)?

At which point, it felt a little warm in the apartment common room, so we went on a walk. And by walk, I mean a six mile, late night trek in the frozen Rexburg January.

And we talked about faith and covenants and atonement and children and parents and friendship and love and life goals and priorities and difficult scenarios and working together to build meaningful things. We talked for hours.

And then my feet went numb and he carried me home.

And then, a while later, he did the whole kneeling with a ring thing.

And everyone asked about colors and reception and setting a date, and we didn’t know.

Have you guys thought this through at all?

Only the other part.

One particularly clever fellow explained that now that he gave me a ring, he’s invested. Because money.

It didn’t happen with the ring. It happened in the many hours in each other’s company prior. Most especially that frozen January night.

Which was the very real beginning of the longest, most fulfilling conversation I’ve ever had. A conversation I’m bold enough to hope and believe will never end.

A conversation I fondly think of whenever I look at my ring.

*Most memorably, the Book of Mormon in French, and The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz. So romantic….