Thursday, September 27, 2007

Light a Candle

Adlai Stephenson said of Eleanor Roosevelt "She would rather light a candle than curse the darkness" .....approximately (the quote is in a children's book CLEAR OVER in the kitchen). We read that quote yesterday after poring over about 6 books on the late first lady during an improvised unit study surrounding the movie Annie (I call it a unit study because Obsessing-over-every-vaguely-interesting-detail-related-to-anything-which-gives-us-pleasure is entirely too long a label). I turned to Olivia and gushed, "Olivia, I hope one day someone could look at my life and say something like this about me, don't you?" She answered instantly, "What are we waiting for mom? You would rather light a candle...than....swallow the night....or something." Then we both busted up laughing and went back to Eleanor (who really had a difficult childhood, and was FDR her cousin or something?).

I can't spend 20 minutes sentimentalizing about dishwashing detergent and then go to bed without telling at least mentioning the fact that my daughter, daily, lights my candle for me. Tonight we fancied up and went to see the dress rehearsal of The Magic Flute (Olivia loves the opera). She has been looking forward to this date forever (in the way that a 5 year old understands forever.....maybe in the way that any of us understand forever)....and so have I. We hurried to the performance hall, arrived early, and found out that the dress rehearsal was LAST NIGHT. It was a long drive. We spent money we should have saved. No opera. Olivia cried. I nearly cried. Poor Patrick at the information desk almost cried. After about 4 minutes of grieving and then 3 more of regrouping, I remembered Eleanor, and Olivia and I resolved that, after a quick trip to the bathroom (and 10 or so more apologies from me about my mis-schedule) we would salvage our date and light a candle instead of sitting around cursing the darkness. ("What's cursing again mom?" "Complaining or sitting around saying really bad things about your situation instead of doing something to change it." "Oh yeah; let's light a candle.") So we left the auditorium and saw a pack of sorority girls (women?) with painted faces and balloons in their hands. Needless to say we followed them for a time. Olivia thought they were clowns, and I was open to anything that would help to drag our date out of dissappointment quicksand. Then I saw a mom with four kids exiting a minivan with a purposeful look on her face. I distracted Olivia from the clown processional long enough to accost the woman, fill her in on our tragic date, and ask her what she had planned for her own kids. Her comments led us to a rehearsal of the Indianapolis Children's Choir, which we surreptitiously attended and LOVED. Then, candles lit, we left the campus. We were so close to the Indianapolis Museum of Art that, in spite of the late hour, I told Olivia we could stop before we headed home, and she jumped at that one. So I darted across a couple of lanes (sorry, Dad) and we surveyed the whole of African art in about an hour. Now, we know a good deal more about incorporating the beautiful into everyday life, and every docent in the wing knows about our Ethiopian adoption thanks to a VERY proud big sister. We both declared the evening one of our best dates ever, and we told the story of The Magic Flute (as best we could remember it.....somehow, we managed to forget how the actual flute played into the plot, but we did not forget the crazy bird man!) all the way home. She will be very tired tomorrow in school....all that candle lighting wears a body out. What a great kid.

One Great Thing

I learned something wonderful today. Cascade Complete, the $6 dishwashing detergent that promises to clean your dishes without ANY prewashing......DOES!!!!!! I sprung for the high end soap figuring that, on the off chance that the stuff really worked, I would bask in the unwound joy of having countless extra hours this year because of the time I save in NOT washing my dishes before placing them in the dishwasher (and, better yet, avoiding the bitter post-dishwasher soak and rewash of the 30% of the dishes with crud firmly baked on by the dishwasher sanitation kiln....a lovely tomatosauce glaze).....OR I would chalk the three additional dollars up to relatively cheap lessons learned and move on (and the $2.99 Electrosol). But it works!!!! I have washed two loads of dishes today....the first was loaded last experimental run with the new detergent after a detergent dry spell that yielded mountains of disgusting (DISGUSTING) crusty dishes. I challenged my new soap and my new soap met that challenge!!!! My bowls are clean -- completely clean -- every crevice of every fork is sparkly, and there is no disconcerting crud on the edges of my spatulas that must be manually scraped into the insinkerator. They are clean. So I tried the pots and pans....havens for blissful dishes of dinner and unbudging growths of visible bacteria colonies.....ALL CLEAN. I cannot describe the unspeakable happiness that warms me everytime I open this dishwasher (my first ever). Who invented this stuff? What is the procedure for recommending someone for canonization as a saint? This discovery rivals the introduction of Zout to our laundry system (that's right, JJ! Pass it on!) I'd ask the Cascade people (saints?) to pay me for this gratuitous recommendation, but I'm not sure there's a budget for mentioning a product to immediate family (the sole demographic that comprises my blog audience). Thanks, anyway, Cascadians......You are (sniff) wonderful.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


If you've read my posts about sparkly shoes and the conspiratorial folder (Homeschool v. Public School), you have probably inferred that I have spent the better (or worse) part of my life clawing up the smooth face of other peoples' approval. Today it finally happened. Signed, sealed, and delivered to my home, I got approval. Approval from the government of the United States to adopt up to 3 (but we're only requesting 2) "foreign-born orphans" into our "immediate family." I'd have to say, I'd happily sacrifice a revision of my whole junior high experience for this flavor of approval.....MUCH sweeter. Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers. We are WELL on our way....and now the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security agree!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

An Adoption Update

I realized this afternoon how long it has been since I updated news of our adoption progress (the ostensible purpose of this blog!). I have something to report, in fact. Last Friday, Josh and I were officially fingerprinted at USCIS, the final step in our application process with the US government to petition for our adoption....pretty big news, actually, for all of us. We celebrated a very merry unbirthday for the new babies, together all day. (I should clarify the "very merry unbirthday" reference, as I realize it is a peculiar family holiday. One of our children has a birthday very close to Christmas. In order that her "special day" not be entirely subsumed in the fervor of the season, we instituted the Very Merry Unbirthday. At least once a year, we surprise each kid with a day of devoted celebration. We arrange our plans around an event geared toward the interests of that particular child, and, after waking her with a loud and badly rendered version of the tea party song from Alice in Wonderland, we shower her with attention, affection, and the planned surprise outing. The only stipulations we restrict ourselves to when planning a VMUB are 1. Every immediate family member must be present for the day in its entirety. This stipulation often requires that Josh take vacation from work...I think he looks forward to the unbirthdays more than the kids do actually. 2. No gifts. Very merry unbirthdays are exclusively for celebrating together, an activity that often requires little if any expenditure {a HUGE bonus}. We still celebrate birthdays wildly, but I think we have all grown to anticipate and appreciate the unbirthdays as staple family holidays. I have to think it would be very cool to wake up every morning of your childhood knowing that it could quite possibly be your very own Merry Unbirthday! {I really like to think that, anyway.} As the kids get older, they love being in on the planning and secret-keeping for each other's unbirthdays. In fact, I often have to reign them in from instituting daily VMUBs by invoking rule one so that Daddy won't be left out of the festivities -- they have found a loophole, by the way, in very special brother day or very special sister day. These are days that they plan and orchestrate on their own for each other...very sweet, though they often last only until shortly after anyway....We made Friday a first Very Merry Unbirthday for our two kids who are far away, devoting our day to celebrating and appreciating them and the depth they already bring to our family.) After our stop at the immigration office, we headed to the art museum to take in art created in Ethiopia. Finding, however, that the museum opens much later than it used to, we headed to Grandma and Grandpa's house for a visit before having dinner together at an Ethiopian Restaurant. All in all a powerfully fun and eventful day and another milestone (maybe a half-milestone....they have those, now, in Indiana, you know) as we continue moving toward completing our family.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Laughing out loud

After laughing out loud and in tears for the last 15 minutes as I read this story of one woman's visit to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (where we will pick up our babies in a few months), I am taking a minute to add another link-related entry to this blog. You must not miss this one!

I'm going to post it quickly so that I can read it again before I shut down for the night.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The British Invasion ---- A Homeschool Curriculum Link

Oh how I love this BBC site! We love the primary science and math arenas, but there's so much to explore. I hope it's helpful. I know it's fun!

As always, I will link it to my sidebar so that it will be available forever and ever.

Ethiopian History and the Christian Church

I have run across a few sites that detail the history of Ethiopia and its longstanding relationship to Judeo-Christian traditions of faith. I thought these sites might interest some of you (I'm thinking of you in particular, Grandpa M.).

I'll link them in the sidebar as well for later reference. I love you guys. You are the greatest family (and friends) in the world. Thanks for taking the time to read and keep up with our adoption (and for tolerating all of the other crazy things I write about along the way).

Monday, September 10, 2007

Homeschool vs. Public School

Perhaps I'll revise that title later; it sounds like I'm heralding a steel cage deathmatch between two opposing groups of kids. I'm not (I'm NOT). I've been revisiting a longstanding debate between myself and.....myself: me vs. me (much more boring than my aforementioned wrestling intimation....but much less ethically volatile). Where to begin.... Do I start with the sometimes glorious sometimes grueling (mostly pretty terrific) year of homeschooling my kids that I only recently wrapped up with a preschool graduation ceremony at grandma's? Or should I begin with the school supply aisle at Targ*t last month, where our public elementary school list "outed" us in front some of our favorite fellow homeschoolers?

I'll just give you my lists...the nebulous coagulations of pros and cons and what?s that I've never organized into lucid bulletpoints.....never...until NOW.

What I love about homeschooling:

1. Spending time with my kids. If you've met my kids, then I don't need to elaborate on this one. In case you haven't, imagine hours spent pretending to be....any number of real and fictional characters....while hiking in the woods....sharing grapes, water, mudpies, and knock knock jokes much funnier than the ones that actually make sense....then add my kids to the scene and you have a fairly accurate rendering of the better part of our afternoons together.

2. Learning whatever interests them....and me. As it turns out, I love science and history: two facts that completely eluded me during my years of studenting (it SHOULD be a verb). As it turns out, they love EVERYTHING, with an emphasis on all things attached to a story, song, or bug net.

3. Field trips. I've said it before (is there a more arrogant introductory clause in the English language? I seriously doubt it), I am a terrible stay-at-home mom (so I'll balance it with a little self-effacement). I require the perspective of an apple orchard, or a stage, or a creek, or a museum, or a zoo, or a factory, or a festival, or a creek (yep, there it is again, we love them that much), or a park, or a tree, or a sky, or a library to keep me from going berserk (see my previous post wherein I describe the calculation with which I anticipated conversations with visiting mormons for further elucidation of this point).

4. Scheduling and unscheduling our days. I love poring over lesson plans, unit studies, children's books, and educational theories until my eyes burn and I have no feeling in my feet only to wake up WHENEVER WE WANT TO the next day and implement the very best of what I've learned with fantastic students or drop it all and celebrate Bat Day.

5. There are a million or so other things that we loved -- enough, at least, that I thought the bulk justified an open-ended numbered point. We love the seamless continuum across which we turn our loves into our lessons and our lessons into our loves. Josh and I get to play to our strengths, and I think we are all stronger for it.

Things I don't love about homeschooling.

1. Failing, failing, perpetually failing. Here's one glaring example: I planned a year of activities geared to address each day of creation across the span of seven months(so we would spend a month loosely discussing light, one on water and the sky, one on land, dirt, rocks, sea, plants, seeds, and climates........and there it stopped. No "etc." Who knew day three was so rife with educational potential? We didn't do half of the hands on exploration that I had planned for the first three months, and after a full year we were still jostling around in day three.) Some of you more generous readers (hi, mom) are thinking "that's not failure," but I bought wall-length charts of the human skeletal and digestive systems! I organized our entire children's library by their relationship to the days of creation! I planned science experiments, display posters, and literature-based unit studies that we never even broached! I bought wall-length charts! WALL-LENGTH charts! And it turns out we just really like dirt and plants! Who knew!

2. When they love school, they love me. When they hate school, get the idea. I am the one urging them to finish their projects, put away their markers...with lids...when they're finished, and stand for our closing song (oh, we HAVE a closing song, and an opening song, and transition music.....transition music planned to coincide with the relevant aspect of the day or creation we are discussing.....who can blame them for being annoyed?) And when I (also annoyed by my own anality [it OUGHT to be a noun]) failed to communicate the central idea of a lesson or the phonics concept or mathematical principle or logical structure during a given school period, I often failed, too, to love them effectively in the process. My patience waned, frustration mounted, and occasionally someone cried. It stunk. Some days, it really stunk.

3. Balancing passion and pressure. This point relates less to the time I spent with my kids, directly, and more to the interaction that I maintain with the homeschool community at large. The passion we share for enjoying and educating our children drives us together. The pressure to represent is overwhelming. And in case the nineties-rap jargon (you know how I love love love 90s rap) turned homeschool verb(al) seems confusing, I'll take a minute to unravel "represent." What's your curriculum? Is she reading? Phonics or whole language? TV or no TV? Latin yet? Music class? Art class? Ballet? Do you test? Co-op? If none of these questions resonates with you, think freshman year, "What's your major? Did you rush? Are you ready for finals?" or Fall semester, senior year: "What are you going to do when you graduate?" Or for you preacher-readers (hi, dad), "emergent or traditional? saved or baptized? gay-friendly or homo-phobic?" (as a side note, however, I need to point out that, although I referenced my father when I prefaced the religiously-oriented hot-button topics, I can't imagine that any one of these questions would cause him the slightest alarm or that he would venture into a discussion about them unless one of his kids needed a sounding board during a personal crisis....and it would have to be a crisis. He's not particularly religious, in the strictest sense, and RARELY engages "issues" of religion.....unless we make him:). Exhausting! And if it's exhausting for ME to have to represent, imagine the trickle-down effect on my kids! (Emotional Reaganomics!)

4. Which brings me to number four: homeschool weird. There, I said it. I don't think the socio-psycho-pop-cultural-iconifiers have constructed an esoteric label for this one yet, but it's a very real phenomenon. Somehow, the pressure to represent (see number 3)mingles with the overarching sense of failure (see number 1), yielding an environment in which homeschool weird is likely, if not certain, to take over. I don't buy the "lack of socialization" explanation for HSW, for a couple of reasons. First, most homeschool students have a broad and active peer group in their communities and churches. Second, I think the factors that contribute to the HSW phenomenon are so obvious and so obviously unrelated to issues of socialization that I'm surprised they are still discussed so frequently in tandem. Here's an example of the petrie dish in full effect. I have attended a number of homeschool plays, concerts, and performances at which the performance anxiety in the audience is as high or higher than that which is on stage. The sense that lines misspoken, a blip on the public school screen of parental concern, reveal some amplified failure to educate or support by parents whose days and often nights are spent thinking acrobatically of ways to educate and support their children oppresses the otherwise joy-filled atmosphere of a homeschool gathering. Which is why, in the homeschool dyad, it is quite often the parent and not the child who winds up HSW. Some families manage to skirt the issue entirely, finding a glorious middle ground between hyper-intensity and inattention that makes for remarkably close, loving, and enviably educated parents and children. And I need to point out that HSW is not an altogether pejorative term! Some of my favorite people are HSW. I, myself, am branded many different types of weird and am secretly proud of most of them. The danger, for me, that forces this point into the second category rather than the first rests on the fact that I think my personality is exactly the kind of personality that could contribute to the most damaging kind of HSW, where the kid, my kid, feels that a parent's success or failure rests squarely upon his ability to spell really tricky words or to properly assess a logical fallacy. NO BODY needs that kind of pressure. (I am seriously doubting that I'll be invited to speak at any homeschool gatherings on this topic, but it has been a part of my own deliberation, so I thought I'd pass it along).

I'm going to have to abbreviate my public school comments as it is very late, but I'm going to give it a whirl.

Things I love about public school.

1. The pledge of allegiance. I have no explanation for this one. In fact, in a rigorous, ideological debate, I'd probably fall closer to the platform of the anti-pledgers. But I love it. I love the standing up, hand-over-the-heart solemnity of the whole thing. I love feeling like I'm a part of something as big and important as "liberty and justice for all." Throw in a little "My country 'tis of thee" before we are seated, and I'm so full of the untrammelled national pride of youth (before discontent makes you say that stuff with a sneer) that I'm ready to write a treatise or run for office or something. I think you only get the corporate resonance of the language and the broad range of its application in public school (which is why we never did it in homeschool.....our thin three voices couldn't drown out my sneer.....and we already had the whole opening song seemed like overkill).

2. THAT teacher. The one who notices and reaffirms the talents and aspirations that your parents have cultivated and encouraged since birth (or, in a couple of cases I can think of [not you, mom...parents of my friends] gifts that parents may have been completely blind to). Somehow, in the language of this teacher, this third party observer, your potential sounds true and you begin to chase it down. I love teachers who challenge and inspire individuals rather than categorically educating their students. There are tons of them! Ask your public school graduate friends, and most can name at least one.

3. School plays, field days, sports, dances (yes, dances....think of my 90s rap affinity, and you just about have the picture), academic teams, competitions, clubs (although, I never really did clubs....they didn't make sense to me without performances or competitions...I'm too much of an extra-curricular capitalist, I guess), choirs, bands, and ALL of their AWARDS days. I eat this stuff up.

4. Report cards and tests. (And right about now you're thinking I should elaborate on the phrase Public School Weird because what else would you call that?) I love knowing what's expected and then knowing where I stand. I love it.

5. The system. I love participating in a predictable system that, given time and attention, can serve your every inclination. Do you want to learn? There's a way. Do you want to do as little as possible? The system allows for that. Do you want to cross-list courses and achieve as much as possible with as little effort as you can manage? There's a system for you! The public school system is (or at least has historically been) pliable and a student with supportive parents has almost no greater ally than a predictable educational system.


Things I don't love about public school

1. The conspiratorial folder. You are 5 or 6 or 7. You believe that your teacher loves you, has taken you into her confidence as a partner in learning and fun. You have grafted her into the thin tree in your inner nursery of trust alongside your parents and favorite grandparents and a couple of aunts, and then, WHAM, in walks another teacher, and she whips out the conspiratorial folder behind which she is most certainly scoffing at you, maligning you, mocking the class, discussing your bad habits, or berating your parents. WHATEVER she is doing, she is making a dramatic gesture of excluding you by holding up a notebook or a folder that conceals her words but not her adult-ish, whisper-masked scornful tone....sometimes it's held so carelessly that it doesn't even hide her animated, almost assuredly snide eyebrows! You feel isolated, violated, and excluded. And here's a weird thing. Some teachers are so surfeited with kid-culture that they whip out the conspiratorial folder around parents. I've seen the thing used at PTA meetings, in conferences, at orientations, all of which involve only adults. On what planet is it deemed acceptable to overtly exclude other grown ups for the purposes of whatever teacher-speak cannot be accomplished outside of the context of that impermeable folder? It's not....ever! I hated it as a kid, and I hate it now....and I hate it for my kid.

2. Lunch, recess, and student elections. After a whole decade of movies devoted almost exclusively to disassembling the tenuous social strata of public education (think Goonies, Pretty in Pink, Breakfast Club, Can't Buy Me Love, Sixteen Candles, Lucas.......etc.), the "youth of America" remains unphased. Lunch tables are unmistakably demarkated; hallways are minefields. It's a feudal state. I'm not sure I was a serf (look at me pulling out the medieval terminology I learned in 5th grade....there's nothing I learned in public school that I didn't learn in either 5th or 6th grade....ask my parents; they'll back me up on this one). In fact, I think the problem was that I wasn't sure where I belonged. I bounced from landowner to serf to sub-aristocracy with uncomfortable ease (that's the oxymoron that could caption my entire high school career)....I never really landed, but I'm not sure that anyone ever did. Maybe if we had tackled the Molly Ringwald movies a little sooner....

3. Checkmarks, punitive writing assignments, revoked recess privileges, names on the board. I hate crap like that. Give me a good old-fashioned trip to the principle. Or demerits. Or detentions, or something. AHHHHH, the system. The system, I can handle. It's the renegade dictatorial classroom strategies that wear me thin.

4. THAT teacher. If they can build, they can also destroy. For my husband, it was an elementary school choir teacher; for my Dad, it was, first elementary PE and then a long string of English teachers; my mom had several of them in grade school; and mine was a first grade teacher. The parts that these teachers break off never grow back. And so my husband won't sing in front of people, and my father won't dance, and my mom carries around innumerable scars, and I am earnestly self-conscious and mathematically awkward. And lots of teachers break lots of kids. Just ask any of your public school graduate friends; they can almost all name at least one.

5. The heavy girl in the sparkly sneakers. I hung out on an elementary school playground with my son the other day during a kindergarten recess in the early part of the second week of school. Three girls ran over chasing some boys in an ill-defined tag game. A few steps behind, an overweight little girl tried to find her way into the game. The most vocal of the tag-players was oblivious to her presence. In fact, it was tag-player number three that the hopeful little girl was addressing. "Hey, can I play with you?" Pause, "Hey, can I play?"......Again and again, until finally #3 turned to the little overweight girl with an irritated expression and some surreptitious muttering before looking for approval to Tag leader #1, conventionally cute and well dressed, and recommencing her ambiguous role in the game. The heavy girl looked down and shifted her weight back and forth in pink, sparkly sneakers. I didn't want to cry until I saw her shoes. I've bought sparkly shoes of all kinds. One year, I was given $20 or something for my birthday, and I went to the mall...the MALL, and stretched the $20 at a sale in some boutique-y store to buy 4 sweaters. You can imagine how cool I must have felt (and, with some perspective, you can probably imagine how "cool" my sweaters must have been at 4 for $20...they had short sleeves). I just knew that my time on the periphery was over, that with these sweaters, I could break through into the mystical ring of belonging that I kept bouncing off of. Of course it didn't work, for various reasons (not the least of which were the sweaters themselves, I'm sure.....4 for $20 at the mall....short sleeves....short sleeved sweaters), but it was worse than before. I kept looking down at my meal-ticket tops expecting the situation to change...expecting to feel important like in my dreams....and the rebuffing was more painful because of my uniform.....I stared at my sweaters the way this little girl looked at her pink sparkly sneakers. And they gave her courage; she tried again, "Can I play too?" This time she called out as the #3 girl began to run away, with a vaguely sympathetic but still annoyed look of disdain on her to more amorphous tag, I guess, increasingly aware of the threat that sparkly shoes posed to her own position in the tag game.....fearful, I guess, of her own not-belonging. But, wide-eyed, the heavy girl with the sparkly shoes followed, calling after her again and again the same, steady unrelenting question, "Can I play?......Can I play?".....Until finally, the teacher blew her whistle and the kids began to fall in line, the little girl shuffling to her spot, her eyes, confused, glued to her sparkly shoes. A few days later, my son and I were parked in the car line waiting to pick my daughter up from school, when I saw the little girl again, lined up with her kindergarten class on the way in from recess. They were lined up alongside a brick wall, and the little girl had both hands up in her hair, clutching strands on either side as she faced the wall, kicking it again and again with her sparkly pink shoes....fierce and bitter...while other children filed past her, until a teacher finally told her to get back in line. All of this during the second week of Kindergarten!

None of this analysis is designed to be even-handed. Not everyone experiences school, at home or elsewhere, the way I have. Not everyone listens to Pink Floyd's The Wall with their matriculating Kindergartener, assuring her that her teacher will certainly encourage and appreciate the unique and special person that God made her to be, but that the song illustrates the pull toward conformity - the insistence that children become the same, like bricks in a wall that ultimately keeps people apart - sometimes engendered by the social circumstances of school and validated by some teachers.......not her teacher of course because her teacher wants her to become the unique and special person that God created her to be......but some teachers. Our three year old danced around the house for days yelling out "How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?" We are, in some ways, unique. In other ways, we are not.