Telling or Teaching?

Our neighbors asked Mike if he would stop in twice a day while they were out of town and take care of their pets (two cats, two turtles, three beta fish, and five goldfish). Mike agreed, and I decided the opportunity for him to have a hands-on lesson in responsibility was worth the effort on my part. Plus I really wanted to help out my neighbor. Plus plus we have our own "zoo" that will need "sitting" in a few weeks. Win, win, win.

"A little to the left... oooh, yeah, that's it."

On our twice daily trips, I referred to the list of morning and evening "to-dos", while Mike performed each task. I stepped in with words of caution ("Don't pull the turtle's leg out too far!"); reminders ("Did you turn on the light?"); and to do what he physically couldn't ("Don't climb on the turtle tank to turn out the light! Let me do it."). I was proud of Mike. He did (pretty much) all the work without complaining (much) about it. I was proud of myself too for facilitating the learning experience.

Mmmm... turtle sandwich.

About mid-week, I asked Curtis to take Mike over to do his evening chores, so I could finish making dinner. I was confident Mike knew what to do, and if not, there was always the list for reference. Curtis, like me, would be in a purely supervisory role.

Upon their return, I asked Mike how it went.

"Fine. Great."

"You gave the cats food and water?"

"Oops." [blank stare]

"What do you mean, 'oops'? Didn't you look at the list?"

"Yes."

Curtis interjected from across the room, "NO! Obviously, you didn't read the list! If you had, you wouldn't have forgotten to feed the cats!"

"YES! I did so read the list! It said, 'Evening: turn off the lights.'"

I explained, "Michael, that was just for the turtles, the first thing on the list. You have to read the whole list."

This big boy could stand to miss a meal, but that's not the point.

So what happened? Mike had already been through the routine several times. How could he forget such a basic and vital item like "feed the cats"? Upon reflection, I remembered something my brother told me:

Learning happens in the mind of the child, not in the mouth of the teacher.

Charlotte Mason (whose philosophy of education and method of teaching we follow in our homeschool) calls it "masterly inactivity" or "wise and purposeful letting alone". If I am always hovering, cleaning up behind, and reminding my children what to do and when to do it; all I have managed to teach them is how to be directed by a source outside of themselves. Then, when that source is no longer there, why am I surprised that they forget to "feed the cats"?

What we must guard against in the training of children is the danger of their getting into the habit of being prodded to every duty and every effort.*

"Seriously, who hired this kid?"

While Michael indeed did most of the physical work, I had created a situation where it wasn't necessary for his mind to be fully engaged in the process. He didn't need to think or remember, because I was there thinking and remembering for him. Both the list and the responsibility were firmly in my hands the whole time.  

It's like being driven to a new place and then asked to navigate back to the same spot yourself the next day. After passively riding along, even two or three times, how well do you really know the way? As a passenger, you have to be quite motivated and pay close attention at every turn to be able to confidently and successfully find your way on your own. If you were an eight-year-old boy you might not care too much about where you were going, or how to get there, or doing it yourself the next time. Even if your mother had been calling out each turn as she made it, you probably still wouldn't be able to get there on your own.

Curtis had it right. (Indecently, Charlotte Mason observed that fathers tend to have an easier time with this "letting alone" than mother's do.) Curtis was present as an authority for safety and supervision, but the responsibility for the job was Mike's and Mike's alone. I had the right idea, but all my telling him what his responsibilities were did very little to actually teach him how to be responsible.

So once again, the lesson for myself is to get out of the way. My role is to guide, facilitate, support, and to create an atmosphere where my children can enter into relationships with the world and all that is in it. I can put these things before them, but they must do and learn for themselves.

 

*For more on "Masterly Inactivity" see School Education  by Charlotte Mason; chapters three and four.

I'm Not as Cool as I'd Once Hoped

EXHIBIT A:

I was invited to a Girls Night IN (friend's husband and kids were out of the house) in my neighborhood. It was a themed potluck: Summer Salads. I brought this:

Tossed Coconut, Banana Chip and Pecan "Salad" (aka trail mix).

EXHIBIT B:

To supplement (or make up for) my not-a-summer-salad, I also brought beer and a Dera Frances. We went together to the local liquor store. When I say local, I really mean "ghetto". Dera found her wine, no problem, cuz she's cool like that. There was not a huge selection of beer, but still I was overwhelmed. I usually buy Budwieser because it's the King of Beers and I don't care. But I decided that these ladies, just might care and I was trying to overcome my trail mix. Finally, I held up a six pack and shouted to Dera across the store,

"Is THIS beer cool?!"

So not cool.

EXHIBIT C:

I just downloaded this app:

So that I can understand what all the cool people are saying on the internets, and so that I won't be this mom:

 


Source: tumblr.com via Sarah on Pinterest

 

 

Exhibit D:

What I wore the other day.

I, personally, think this is cool (although the face I was making while sucking in my gut was not). According to my eighty "followers" on Instagram, however, not so much. Four* people "liked" it (over an eight hour period). To put that into perspective...

Within fifteen minutes, this picture of our neighbor cutting down our tree got seven "likes". Not that it's a contest (but I guess it totally is).

WTF! Well that's fantastic!

 

*Shout out to @julmorg, @khannah, @lpink75, and @barefootgal: Thanks for the Southern Rawk love, or the sympathy "likes". Either way, xoxo!

Tradition!

Thanksgiving Day this year didn't go quite as I had planned. Curtis had to work until 3pm (shame on all who fly on holidays). It was also King's dad's year to "have" him for Thanksgiving, but he and his wife had graciously invited us over to their house for Thanksgiving dinner. Not exactly a "traditional" arrangement, but Curtis and I would be able to spend the holiday with both of our children: a complete family (and then some).

The only truly traditional happening was that our family was playing that old holiday favorite: "Pass-the-Virus". Curtis and Mike had cought a cold. Mike woke up Thanksgiving morning barking like a bull seal. I was valiantly trying to fight off the bug by downing immune enhancing fizzy vito-mineral cocktails.  My plan was to get as much rest as possible before Curtis got home, then pump Michael full of cough supressant, so that at least he wouldn't be spraying his germs quite so violently around the holiday table.

I woke from my nap to find Curtis home and Michael hacking away, worse than ever. I laid out my "plan" for Curtis, to which he responded:

"What are you talking about? Do you hear Michael coughing? We can't go!"

[SCREACHING TIRES]

[NEEDLE SLIDING OFF RECORD]

I will spare you all the ugly details of my reponse to this proclamation. Let it suffice to say that it culminated with me spitting out the utterly unhelpful question:

"So, what, we just cancel Thanksgiving then?"

Curtis was right, of course. We were invited guests to someone else's celebration - guests that were supposed to bring beer and pie, not a heaping helping of the rhinovirus to share. In my mind, however, Thanksgiving was ruined and I proceeded to make sure it remained ruined, no matter who I took down with me. While Curtis was trying to salvage our day by trekking out to Ruby Tuesdays to pick up some $9.99 Thanksgiving Turkey Specials (no cranberry sauce... grrr) and Double Chocolate Cakes (no pie... grrr), I was plotting to remove the last semblance of Thanksgiving tradition: football. I flipped through the channels and decided upon "The Fiddler on the Roof", which was just starting. In my semi-concious effert to punish the messenger, the bearer of Thanksgiving Day gloom (i.e. Curtis), I had landed upon the perfect weapon... a Jewish Musical!

Poor, Reb Tevye. He had built his life on traditions and they were all crumbling out from underneath him.

"Traditions, traditions. Without our traditions our lives would be as shaky as, as... as a fiddler on the roof!"

Oh, how I could relate. My "traditions" were slipping away from me, too.

"Who should have her children with her on Thanksgiving?

Have some turkey with cranberry sauce and pie?

The Mama! The Mama! Tradition!"

I have learned over the years, that nothing sends me down the drain faster than a special day being treated like any other day. This is why I always make sure I plan something for myself on my birthday. Forget all that coyness, waiting to see if people remember, which only leads to dissapointment. However, considering the current situation, all my efforts to keep special days special can be thwarted easily enough by... well... real life.

So who's really to blame for this Thanksgiving "disaster"? Let's start with the usual suspects: me trying to control things I have no control over and setting my hopes on them. Time to shake off my tiara and stop worrying so much about how I am going to make the holidays sufficiently jolly and focus a bit more on what makes the ordinary days, not quite so ordinary. Traditions are not bad, but they are only worthwhile if they point me to the goodness that can be found in regular time.

Things to be thankful for on days other than the fourth Thursday of November:

  • My husband still has a job, even on holidays.
  • My eldest son has two whole families who love him.
  • I have a roof over my head, food on the table, a family to love, and all the wonderful, ordinary things that go along with them.
  • My God loves me enough to tear down my faulty foundations once in awhile in order to turn my heart back to Him.

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed." Isaiah 28:16

The Volunteer

One of the director's of King's soccer team said to us, "if you have a complaint... volunteer." Curtis and I love that. But what do you do if you have a complaint about volunteering? I'm not really complaining... more expressing my stunned dismay at the disappearance of my newfound freedom now that King is in school. I should have known not to get too giddy.

 It all started when I went to school registration day. I should have taken Martha's advice and ceremoniously "thrown away all the PTA stuff". Of course, at private school, they call it a "club" (whatever), and it is not a nameless faceless piece of paper beckoning you to "get involved", but a gym-full of smiling women, who in reality said only nice encouraging things to me, but in my head all I could hear them saying was this:

"Surely, you are not going to leave this room without signing up for something? Look at us. We are volunteering. See, we are doing it right now! ...AND we even had time to shower and put makeup on, AND our houses are clean too. What's your excuse?"

I signed up to work in the nurse's office and to help with some festival, which I think is in the spring. I also signed up to be an "on call" volunteer, which I thought would be a relatively safe non-committal decision, however I now get emails asking for my help on every sort of thing; it's been a steady stream of guilt flowing into my inbox. I didn't feel too bad about my choices until I went to King's classroom to meet his new teachers and found that there were even more things to sign up for in there. I couldn't say no to these women. I would not become a footnote on King's file that reads "parents not involved." So I added organizing a class Halloween party to my list of commitments.

Even though I definitely signed up for more than I wanted to, I still felt my responsibilities were manageable and would only slightly cut into my "free time" (hah!).  But then came soccer. Upon receiving the third email from King's coach regarding the need for a team parent, I realized that no one else was going to volunteer. The job was billed as simply organizing who would bring snacks to each game and putting together the end-of-the-season party. However, the day after I agreed to take on the role of official "soccer mom", the coach forwarded me several emails from the league's Volunteer Coordinator outlining what my real duties were. I must also find volunteers to line the field with white paint, work the concession stand, and take orders on team photo day. The hounded was now the hounder.  I was also given a general directive to "protect my coach" from all organizational and parental concerns. It is the recreational soccer equivalent of the Secret Service.

For the final cherry atop my volunteering sundae, I added some new duties to my regular Sunday School teaching obligations at Church, including helping to organize the production, props, and costumes for our first children's Christmas program (it's really more of an "appearance" than a program, as they are only going to be posing in their crèche positions long enough to snap a few photos and sing one song, but not long enough to cause any major mayhem); designing and assembling a "thank you for visiting" card for new kids who attend our Sunday school; and putting together individual craft supply kits for each regularly attending child. I do not use the "cherry" metaphor lightly here, as this is the one area of my busy schedule that I actually sincerely enjoy. It is the sum total of my volunteering efforts that has gotten me down.

 As you can see, my dreams of having time to sit down and write in (dare I say it?) a clean house were spurious, at best. I am more a headless chicken than ever.

Caught Cheating

We use a babysitting service to get babysitters for the kids. We don't go out that much, but when we do I usually forget to schedule someone until the last minute. When I call the service they always treat me like it's totally normal that I waited that long to call them. We have always been very happy with the caregivers they've sent to us.

Since we've moved to our new house we've had several different sitters. King kept saying he didn't like them, but we were starting to wonder if maybe it was the whole idea of a babysitter that he didn't like. We decided to have the sitter loosen-up the rules a bit, extend his bed-time a little, and instruct her to play some games with him after Michael went to bed.

It worked. After we implemented the new instructions, King said that he liked her. Not only did she play games with him, but she played three games with him, plus she cleaned and did the dishes. Everybody was happy.

We requested to have the same sitter come back and scheduled her for Wednesday and Saturday. When we talked to King on Thursday morning we asked him how it went with the sitter. He said it was great.

"Michael and I even got to play upstairs alone," he added.

"Where was the babysitter?" we asked.

"Downstairs."

"What was she doing?"

"Watching T.V."

"How long were you and Michael up there alone?"

"I don't know... 10 minutes."

King has a very poor understanding of time. For example, when he asks how long until something happens and we say something like "two hours," he'll ask "how many minutes is that?"

"120 minutes."

"How many minutes is that?"

"120 minutes."

"How long is that?"

"It's 120 minutes. I don't know what else to tell you."

Once I tried to explain it to him in terms he'd understand. I pointed out that one Spongebob cartoon was 15 minutes long, so 120 minutes would be like watching 8 Spongebobs. He said, "Spongebob is on?"

Needless to say, we were skeptical of our source, but 10 minutes could have been 60 minutes as easily as it could have been 2 minutes. We decided that although we weren't sure enough about what happened to confront the babysitter or inform the agency, we felt uncomfortable enough about it to cancel her for Saturday night. I called the agency and instructed them to cancel the first babysitter and find us a new one.

The new babysitter called about a half-hour before she was to arrive to get directions. Right on time, the door bell rang. I opened the door to find... babysitter #1, the one we had supposedly cancelled.

"Didn't the agency call you to cancel?"

"Nooooo."

Right about this time, I saw babysitter #2 parking across the street.

I thought if I could just get rid of babysitter #1 before babysitter #2 started coming toward the house, I  might be able to get out of this.

Babysitter #1 is understandably perturbed that she drove all the way over here for nothing and asks if she can use our phone RIGHT THEN to call the agency.

"Uhhh... Well...."

Babysitter #2 was getting out of her car.

She must have seen by my face that I didn't like that idea and offered, "I'll call when I get home."

"Yes. Good. I'll call too. I'm sorry. Bye."

As I closed the front door, I saw babysitter #2 crossing the street in front of our house.

I ran to the back room yelling, "Curtis! Curtis! It was the old sitter at the door and the new sitter just pulled up! Go look and see if they're talking. Oh... this is sooo terrible!"

I peaked around the corning and saw BOTH babysitters walking up to the door TOGETHER! I ran back again.

"Oooooh, Curtis! They're both coming to the door. I can't deal with this. You go talk to them."

Curtis handled the situation as smoothly as possible, telling babysitter #1 that King said he felt a little uncomfortable with her. This was, of course, a total LIE. First, King would never use the word "uncomfortable" and second, King thought being upstairs alone with Michael was the greatest. When we told him we were getting a new sitter he protested, "No! I liked that one!"  Though I think the truth would have hurt more, I doubt our fabrication made her feel like babysitter of the year, making 5-year-olds "uncomfortable."

When Curtis had whittled the crowd down to a manageable one babysitter, I came out of hiding.

"I'm so sorry about that. I feel like I just had two dates show up on prom night."

After all that, I'm sure she was just so excited to work for us.

Here's Rat Poop in Your Eye.

I had high hopes for the floor and the ceiling. We live in a 1939 Cape Cod style house with a nasty 1950's addition and some unfortunate decorating decisions. Our family room is oddly divided into two sections, one being the addition, which, as best as I can figure, was fashioned as a home office complete with its own built-in space heater so old it screams "carbon-monoxide poisoning", and a random exterior door leading to the laundry room. Both rooms are covered in berber carpeting which is stained and compacted it resembles fuzzy concrete. The ceiling tiles over the addition are bulging and stained, making it look as though our ceiling has some horrible skin condition.

When we bought the house, we were informed that the floor of the addition was most likely plywood, however under the carpeting of the original family room we would find a hardwood floor. With the help of my friend, ED, I set about removing what was barely passing for carpet, expecting to reveal the beauty that lay beneath. (If you are laughing out loud right now, YOU SHOULD BE.)

Upon pulling back the first section of carpet, we saw that my fairy tale was really more cautionary in nature. The previous owner's realtor didn't exactly lie about there being hardwoods under the carpeting, he just failed to mention the layer of ugly yellowed linoleum with it's tar-like adhesive that was sandwiched in there. 

Once we recovered from our initial disappointment, we decided to keep going. Not only was the carpet padding so old and compacted in spots that it had been pulverized into dust; but it was attached to the floor in a 1x1 foot pattern of now rusty staples just waiting to inflict our family with Lock Jaw.  The project I envisioned as consisting of a few cuts with the utility knife, freeing the carpet to be rolled up and removed had quickly  turned into ED sweating to cut and pull back small sections of carpet, while I worked to remove 50-year-old staples with a flimsy office staple remover and some pliers. Then we'd have to vacuum orange carpet pad dust before moving on to the next section. It was slow going, and with only more ugly floor staring back at us, our will to continue soon waned.

"You know..." I said, "when you get new carpeting the installers remove the old carpet and haul it away for you."

That was it. We finished the swath we were working on, reasoning the scrappiness of the floor would  serve as an incentive to order new carpeting more quickly.

I don't know exactly what I was expecting to find hiding above the ceiling tiles. I guess I hoped for a white-washed shabby chic arrangement of exposed beams. (Again, you should be laughing.)  At the very least, I thought it couldn't be any worse that what was already there. Have I learned nothing in my life? IT CAN ALWAYS BE WORSE. Both boys and ED were standing at the foot of the ladder looking up intently while I poised my utility knife to cut into the ceiling. Mike, I believe, was only interested in how he could connive to climb the ladder himself, and I don't think King was entirely convinced yet that we wouldn't be able to see through to the upstairs level once we removed the tiles. I made a few cuts and pried enough loose to get a good grip on the tile. Thankfully I told everyone to close there eyes, because when I yanked the tile down we were hailed by rodent feces and tile dust. I hadn't thought of it before, but now that its particles were swirling around us, I was suddenly highly suspicious of the asbestos content of those tiles. The amount of rat (I assume) poop per square inch was amazing. The stuff was even splattered up onto the beams. How does that happen? I don't want to know. Even though I hoped that we just happened to uncover their favorite toilet corner and that the rest of the ceiling wasn't holding an equal amount of vileness above our heads, I still concluded that this, like the carpet removal, was best left to the professionals.

When Curtis got home that afternoon, he walked in the door and immediately asked what we had found.

"You know that saying: 'don't judge a book by its cover'?" I said.

"Yes?"

"Well, in our case the book is much worse."