Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Tip of the Day

Rubbing alcohol gets melted, red crayon off of tan car upholstery.

Bonus tip: Do not take home the free mini-box of crayons that you get at most restaurants... especially if your kids have trouble remembering to take them out of the car.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Wait. They'll tell you when they're ready.

As parents, we give and receive this advice quite frequently.

When should I introduce solid food? When your baby starts reaching for your green beans or chicken, he's ready to try some. He'll tell you when he's ready.

When should I start potty training? When your toddler starts showing interest in the potty, it's time to sit her on it. She'll tell you when she's ready.

When should I teach my child to read? When you child grabs a book and starts pretending to read, he's ready to learn. He'll tell you when he's ready.

When should I teach my child the birds and the bees? When your child starts to ask questions about where babies come from, she's ready to hear an "age appropriate" answer. She'll tell you when she's ready.

"They'll tell you when they're ready. "

What does this mean?

When we give this advice to another parent, we are generally trying to encourage them not to worry. We are encouraging the parent to wait until the child gives some sort of signal... grabbing the fork, sitting on the kiddy potty, pretending to read a book, or asking if he was in Mommy's tummy just like baby sister. But does this advice work for everything? Let's face it, if many of us waited for our children to tell us they were ready for vegetables or ready to learn to clean their rooms, we'd still be waiting for the signal when they left for college! On the other hand, sometimes we get signals we aren't sure what to do with, are intimidated by, or seem to be "age inappropriate." By age inappropriate, I mean that our child is asking questions about things that our culture has decided are above their comprehension for thier age so we have no guideline for discussing these topics with our children. This seems to happen most often with topics of spiritual signifigance. When do you start talking to your children about topics like sin, redemption, death, and sanctification?

I believe in this situation, where a child is asking a question about a topic you feel he is too young to understand, you answer the question... or at least try to. Lest you respond, "That's easy for her to say." Here are some questions that our kids have asked Frodo and I recently (after each question, I have indicated which child asked it and how old he/ she is):

"Why did God create light first?" (Terzo, 5)

"What would happen if lightening hit our car and we all died?" (Terzo, 5)

"Why would someone steal a kid?" (Primo, 9)

"Why did God make butterflies if they only live for 2 weeks?" (Secondo, 7)

"Why did the Stone Table break after Aslan came alive again?" (Primo, 9)

"Why does God let tornados kill people?" (Primo, 9)

"How come there aren't any more dinosaurs?" (Secondo, 7)

"How come different books about dinosaurs say different things about why they died and what they looked like?" (Secondo, 7)

"How come Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil when God told her not to?" (Terzo, age 5)

"Will you die?" (Primo, 9; Secondo, 7; Terzo, 5)

"Will I die?" (Primo, 9; Secondo, 7; Terzo, 5)

We did our best to answer their questions and pray for wisdom in answering those that will inevitably come up in the future.

Our children will let us know when they are ready to face some of life's hard questions. But I have learned some things through my children's questions... I don't know all of the answers, I probably never will, and I don't ask enough questions myself but it is important that I ask. Asking questions and searching for answers (sometimes receiving them and sometimes not) matures us. If I stop questioning, I stop growing.

Have I stopped asking?

Have you stopped asking?

Does this mean we are not ready for the answers?

Or does it just mean that we are hiding from the responsibility required of us when our questions are answered?


I am sitting here watching the eleven o'clock news on my local ABC affiliate where they just concluded a story on the response of local churches to this weekend's opening of The DaVinci Code. The back and forth debate over this movie has already gotten old, so none of that even phases me now. However, I am realing over this comment made by the reporter at the conclusion of her story:

"Pastors don't get the chance to talk much about theology from the pulpit, but this movie is giving them that opportunity."


I'm not even sure how to respond to that. Maybe someone needs to buy this woman a dictionary. The most basic definition of theology is the study of God or religion. What does this woman think goes on in churches? She just interviewed a pastor and parishoners who used the words God, church, religion, Christianity, and Jesus repeatedly. Does she really think that these people only brought these topics up because of a MOVIE?!

On the other hand... what if there is more truth in her comment than churches are willing to acknowledge?

What if?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Can this line ever be drawn?

I read The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had over a year ago. I went out and bought the first two books in the History reading list and the first book in the Fiction reading list, and finally began reading Herodotus' Histories a few months ago. I was really enjoying it, but about two weeks into reading, I essentially gave up. (I still pick it up periodically, but I am not engaging the book as I once was.)

I have a few reasons (excuses) for giving up:

1. I have 4 children that I homeschool. Finding a time that is consistent and sufficient in length and a place that is quiet where my book won't "wander off" when I set it down is very difficult to find.

2. The very thought of reading ancient history as written by an ancient author is extremely overwhelming and intimidating.

3. Since I had no outside accountability, I lost the impetus to keep going as soon as I hit a difficult passage since I had no one to talk through it with.

but the main reason:

4. I cannot make myself write in a book.

Both Susan Wise Bauer (the author of The Well-Educated Mind) and Mortimer Adler (the author of How to Read a Book - which I am presently reading as part of an online book club) recommend writing in books. There are many reasons that they suggest getting into this habit... from noting passages that you have difficulty understanding to simply noting your half of the "conversation" that you are having with the author. I completely understand why readers participate in this practice and it makes perfect sense to me to make notes in the books as I read rather than keep a seperate journal that may get lost or requires me to abandon the asthetic of and engagement with the book to make notes. I just have a very difficult time doing it.

I went to government schools where I was absolutley forbidden to write in a book. I also borrowed many, many library books as a child (still do), and again it was taboo to write in a book. I would never have considered writing in one of my own books as a child... although it is not really necessary to write in the margins of a Curious George or a Nancy Drew book. When I got to college, I did highlight some of my text books, but if I wanted to take notes, I would keep them in a seperate notebook. The first book I ever wrote notes is was my copy of Darwin's Origin of Species. That was last year. I have read the book before, but this was the first time I really studied it. I got halfway through the book, and when I stopped to look back at all my notes and underlining, I thought, "What am I doing?!" I haven't picked it up since.

I have gotten books out of the library where someone has written a note in the margin or underlined something, and it made me angry that someone took it upon themselves to taint the book with thier own thoughts. I was not allowed the gift of experinencing the book in its virgin form and formulating my own thoughts. My reading and understanding of the book would be forever skewed by that tiny note or faint line.

But those are library books. I am not talking about writing in a library book. I am talking about writing in a book that I own. Why can't I write in a book that is mine to do with as I please? When I know that engaging the book my puring over it and taking notes would increase my understanding of it?

Two reasons come to mind. First of all, I am just not in the habit of writing in my books. This is something that can be slowly overcome by just starting to make notes in books as I read. The second reason is that I frequently lend books to family and friends, so I don't want to taint their reading of the book. Granted, I am probably not going to take notes in a Stephen King book which I am much nore likely to lend out than my copy of Herodotus' Histories, but many of the books I do take notes in, I expect my children to read some day. I don't want to rob them of the joy of having their own conversation with Shakespeare or Herodotus or Cervantes.

All this debating and justifying is not going to get me any closer to being able to write in my books. I guess I just need to sharpen my pencil and find a cozy corner and start reading and conversing with my books. And as the children get older, I will continue what I am already doing, give my children thier own copies of books so that they can join in the Great Conversation.

Poet Laureate Billy Collins has a wonderful poem about writing in books entitled Marginalia:

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive -
"Nonsense." "Please!" "HA!!" -
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
why wrote "Don't be a ninny"
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls "Metaphor" next to a stanza of Eliot's.
Another notes the presence of "Irony"
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
"Absolutely," they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
"Yes." "Bull's-eye." "My man!"
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written "Man vs. Nature"
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird signing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake's furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents' living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
"Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love."

Per ClassicalMamma's request, here is the link to my brief notes on Chapter One of HTRAB.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

It's Spring!

Stop and smell the dandelions!

Jumping in on a discussion a planned to avoid...

I had been attempting to avoid this topic, and succeeded until I went onto the Well Trained Mind message board today and found that my only oasis from this topic had finally been tainted by it, and I realized, for my own sake, I had to say something... then I will let it go.

For those of you who may not be familiar, there has been a controversy for years over two parenting books: To Train Up a Child and On Becoming Babywise. The first discusses discipline issues and the second breastfeeding issues. The issue came to a head recently when a couple applied a discipline proceedure not mentioned in the TCUAC book and killed thier son. Later, the couple mentioned TCUAC as thier primary resource on discipline (techniques which they took too far), so the book got labelled as the manual of child abusers.

So that I am being upfront and honest with everyone, I happen to own both books in question (actually I lent one to someone and never got it back, but that's irrelevant.) I read both many times, lent them to people, applied some of the principles of both books, and ignored some princilples in both books.

I very rarely agree with everything in every book I read, and there are many that I don't agree with much at all. If I own it and don't want it any more, I may donate it to the library, freecyle it, give it to a friend, toss it or burn it in the burn barrel depending on the book (keeping in mind content and condition). I do not view any book (with the exception of the Scriptures because I am a Chirstian) as sacred. If you are a private citizen and want to burn your copy of a book, go ahead. I tend to be environmentally concious, so that comes to play in my decision on what to do with a book I no longer want. I am amazed at the calls for the mass banning and burning of these books and anyone who has any association with them (including Homeschol Blogger because the magazine the site's owners publish has advertized the books.)

I don't expect everyone to agree with every author's recommendations in books (like the ones I mentioned above or any other book). Some people take things too far in their applications and some people don't go far enough. Some people have mis-applied Scripture, abused the Constitution, and used kitchen knives to murder people rather than to butter their bread, but I do not think these things need to be banned or burned for censorship's sake. Should we have the right to get rid of books (or anything else) in our possession that we do not find edifying and supportive of our mission to "glorify God and enjoy Hin forever?" Yes. As Americans we have the right to do that and more, but I don't beleive that this is the true issue here. The true issues here are the lack of recognition of sin and the abuse of autonomy that causes people to think of themselves as better than others.

Sadly, we live in an imperfect world. We will never get rid of abuse, neglect, murder, and hatefulness. Should we strive to overcome these things? Yes. But we must also trust God, have good-faith in our neighbors, and invest ourselves in each others lives so that when someone wants to go too far in their application of something (like beating their child to death with plumbing supplies) we can step up before (with love and familiarity) and say "No!" rather than wait until afterwards to feed our self-rightousness (I include myself in this) and say "I would never do that!" and try to find blame. The real crime here is one of selfishness and laziness on the part of those of us just outside these situations.

We need to regain the desire and ability to talk to our neighbors and friends openly and intimately about topics that are controversial, get our opinions out there, and trust that others can use their brains as well as we use our own and make their decisions thoughtfully. It is just as much my fault as anyone's that it happened because I didn't love my neighbor enough to stop them before-hand because it was politically incorrect to do so. When my parents were little, it was common that if a neghbor saw them doing something wrong, the neighbor would go out and stop them then go talk to thier parents. That rarely happens any more... with children or adults. We have taken independence and autonomy too far. We silently recognize this fact and attempt to reconcile it by having the government do the dirty work for us. See a child with a dirty face or a bruise? We call Child Protective Services annonymously. We would feel too "weird" doing it ourselves. Have we stopped to think that we should feel weird? We feel awkward because deep down we know that we are just as sinful and in need of rebuke. We know that "there but by the Grace of God go I." We ask ourselves, "Who am I to confront them about their sin? I'm not perfect either." Of course you aren't. No one is. But we are afraid that if we point it out in someone else they might point it out in us, and we will shatter the visage that we have worked so hard to create.

We have to confront sin, in ourselves and others, not because we are perfect but because God is. We have to acknowledge that our world is perverted. Man was not meant to live in a world pervaded by sin and death. We were created for Eden and to be in intimate fellowship with God. Will pointing out our own and others' sin return us to Eden? No. But we can't get to where we were intended to be if we don't first acknowledge that we are lost.

Now, I will let it go.

(By the way, I am leaving this open for comments, as I do all my posts, under the assumption that you will comment civily and respectfully. I will delete or edit comments that do not meet this criteria. Thank you.)

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Definition of Confidence and Contentment

Secondo was playing with Primo, Terzo, and our neighbor (who I shall call "M") on M's trampoline the other day. That evening when we sat down to dinner, we asked the kids what they had been playing at M's house. Secondo answers, "I don't know what Primo, Terzo, and M were playing, but I was playing astronaut!"