30 June 2006

Childrearing #6

Avoid premature discussions. I spent a lot of time on that first sentence, because this concept {introduced to me by my sister} is somewhat difficult to condense! The idea, though, is priceless, and I believe it can help a family with small children avoid some unnecessary troubles.

There are many books/videos/other media out there that are didactic in nature and intend to help a parent deal with a specific topic. For instance, consider the heaping mounds of books dealing with the fact that there are not monsters under a child's bed. There are also lessons on moral issues, such as telling the truth. These books can instigate what I would call a premature discussion.

My sister once told me that she didn't want to read her son a book I was telling her about because it talked about monsters under the bed, and her son hadn't yet conceived that there could be monsters under his bed. She feared that reading such a book to him could actually cause him to dream up monsters.

After hearing this thought, I went home and hid a book about lying because our son had never tried to lie {yet}. Perhaps such a book would give him ideas? I wasn't going to take the chance.

I think there is a place for didactic children's tales. They can help illustrate and reinforce necessary correction. They can give encouragement {along with prayer and hugs}, like a book we read when E. was having regular nightmares. But a child who hasn't yet lied doesn't need to be thinking about lying. A child who hasn't invented imaginary monsters doesn't need to be told they aren't real. It is, to my mind, much more fruitful to spend most days reading the child a story about Pooh and Rabbit and Piglet, and utilize didactic tales only when they are timely.

29 June 2006

All Books are Not Created Equal

A lot of friends and family members know that we love books and homeschool. This combination means that our children are often given books as gifts. And more often than not, the books are wonderful additions to our ever-expanding library. But every now and then, there comes along a book that sticks out like a sore thumb, as the saying goes. And just like a sore thumb, it is quite painful to read.

I will give as an example a book called Tommy the Tugboat that Si and I affectionately dubbed Tommy the Union Tugboat. Almost the entire book is about Tommy the Tugboat being on his break. Who in the world writes a book about a worker being on his break? Anyhow, while Tommy is on his break, something breaks that causes a traffic jam. Tommy is depicted with a frustrated look on his face, for he is trying to read and the honking of the car horns is interrupting him. He benevolently puts down his book and tugs whatever it was that was broken, and everyone is happy, and Tommy goes back to his reading for the remainder of his break.

While I am not anti-break {God, after all, created a Sabbath day for the express purpose of resting}, I found this book troubling to read to my little boy. After all, work is good and to be embraced, and Christians are commanded to do all with excellence and for the glory of God.

Here is a recap, just for fun:
  1. Tommy is on break.

  2. Tommy's break is interrupted by something breaking.

  3. Tommy, even though he was created to help in times like these, acts annoyed because this happened on his break.

  4. Tommy grudgingly performs his duty.

  5. Tommy goes back to break.
I'm not even going to attempt to discover a moral of this particular story because it doesn't seem worth the effort.

Tommy the Tugboat has joined the trashheap of history, so-to-speak. But he is not alone. Over the years, we have received Scooby-Doo books in which the character Shaggy uses the word "like" repeatedly. And then there is my favorite, the Finding Nemo book in which Nemo's father is totally uncool, and Nemo is disobedient and disrespectful. I realize that in the full-length film there is time spent developing a fairly decent moral to the story, but the movie was castrated in order to make it fit in a child-sized book, so it is lacking many of the redeeming qualities. The book tells the story of a little boy-fish who is not rebuked nor disciplined for publicly and purposefully dishonoring his father.

Many of the child-rearing "experts" out there will say that a mother should read, read, and read some more to her children. And I completely agree that reading is an integral part of family life, especially if the family is educating the child themselves. But the "experts" rarely differentiate between good books and bad books {though there are awards for "best" books}. In fact, it seems rare to hear of an expert declaring that a book can be bad.

I am relatively new to the idea of living books, but my father was very good about driving home the idea that there were "classics" and there was Everything Else. It took a lot of pushing on his part to get me to read classic literature {or non-fiction, for that matter}, and yet I must now admit that though all the fluff has faded away, I have vivid memories of my childhood encounters with books like Treasure Island and The Illiad.

When a parent is choosing books for a child, it is important to discriminate. It is important to seek out the best. And it is important to throw away the trash when decluttering the playroom!

And the same goes for Mommy. I have spent far too much of my life reading what I think Cindy would call twaddle. The reason I want good, living books for my children is because I want them to grow and learn, and fluff doesn't exactly stretch the intellect.

I remember my college PE instructor {a short and feisty old lady, by the way} telling me that she tried to learn at least one new thing every day because the day you stop learning is the day you start to die. I thought she was kooky at the time, but now I'm starting to see her point.

Not to sound Emergent, but I am a person in the process of Becoming. Everybody is. And I am learning that what I allow into my mind contributes to how I think, and who I become. The other day I told Si I was starting to feel like an alien, and he told me it was because of all that I had been reading for the last year. That response surprised me, and yet in retrospect, I can't help but agree with him. In fact, I am thinking that rather than one being what one eats, it is all the more likely that one becomes what one beholds.
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. {Philippians 4:8}

28 June 2006

Childrearing #5

Choose baskets on an open shelf rather than a chest of drawers. I thought it was darling when Pottery Barn debuted this style, and I was originially drawn to it purely for its cuteness. I loved the little wicker baskets with the colorful fabric liners, and it seemed cheery and playful when compared to the average chest of drawers. But I have since discovered that there are real, practical benefits to this when children are small.

First, though, I will describe E.'s shelving {and make note that A.'s setup is similar--her changing table has two open shelves full of wicker baskets}. We wanted to make sure that he could easily reach everything. Target, at the time of purchase, was selling a low-cost white "bookcase" that was only two-shelves high, and quite wide. It was perfect for his room!

We filled the bottom shelf with all of his books. This not only kept them within reach, but also weighed down the bottom to prevent tipping in the event of climbing or earthquakes. For the top shelf, we purchased three wicker baskets with cute liners that matched his bedding {two were blue and one was red}. I already mentioned this in a previous post. One basket contains shorts {in the winter it contains pants}, one contains T-shirts, and one contains underwear. Since we bought this shelving cheaply, we make sure the lightest basket {the underwear basket} is in the middle to keep the shelf from swaying.

E. has a bedside table that has two small drawers for his pajamas. These drawers have caused me a fair amount of grief because he will pull them all the way out {not purposely} and then he doesn't have the coordination to get them back in. Sometimes, he also hurts himself in the process because the accident happens so fast. I am so glad that we do not have a chest of drawers for his clothes right now!

The baskets allow for easy access. He can take them down and put them back without requiring any assistance. Shortly after we began this setup, we realized that this meant he was able to put away all his laundry himself, save what needed to be hung up. Now, he loves the independence, and doesn't need to be asked. If I fold clothes at night, I just leave everything outside his door, and by the time I see him in the morning, everything is neatly put away in the appropriate baskets.

In short, we have found that this style of shelving works well for our family. It allows the child to participate more with the laundry, as well as prevents accidents with the dreaded drawers.

27 June 2006

Childrearing #4

Require a child to try new foods at least ten separate times. Not all kids are picky eaters, but our son sure can be! I wasn't sure what to do about it, and I didn't like the idea of him imposing such strict limitations on his diet that he actually missed out on certain nutrients. Then I read an article {this was a couple years ago, so I can't offer a reference here} that said that it can take up to ten tries to acquire a taste for something. {This is probably why I don't like alcohol!}

The basic purpose of our Ten Tries Rule is to encourage a child to eat a wide variety of foods, because variety is a key to good nutrition. We also think it will make dining more exciting for him later on in life.

With our daughter, we can't really articulate the Rule in such a way that she can understand, but we can tell E. that he has to take a certain number of bites of that food, and that he has to try it at ten separate meals before he can say he doesn't like it. So far, he has eventually acquired a taste for everything he has challenged us on, though he of course has foods he likes more than others.

I think that if he is ever extremely stubborn about a food, I will create a chart, and he will get a sticker or something for each attempt. If, after ten tries, he still hates it, then I will accept that he really doesn't like it. {I think every person I know has a food they just don't like, so though I want to encourage adventurous eating, I don't want to ignore the fact that he really might not like something.} But if he tries it five times and quit complaining, I will quietly make the chart disappear.

Some kids might like a celebration or something, if they like praise. Drawing attention to something like this would bring E. right back to square one, so how to "end" the chart should be based on the child's personality. For instance, we always clap for A. when she tries a new food, and she beams her best smile. When we do likewise for E., he scowls at us. Funny kid.

I suppose that another thing we do that is related to the Ten Tries Rule is forcing bites a bit with A. She is often resistant to a new food, but if I tell her she must take one bite, she usually decides she likes it. Of course, I have to make sure that the food is something that she can eat without difficulty {she is not a carnivore yet because she doesn't quite have all the necessary teeth}. She doesn't require nearly ten tries; encouraging the first bite is usually all it takes!

26 June 2006

Childrearing #3

Hang entire outfits on one hanger. Most children will reach a day when they really want to pick out their own clothes. And my observation of our life tells me that they often want to pick them out before they are capable of matching them together. In our family, E. was about three, and A. was only twelve months. Perhaps this is because E. is a boy and A. a girl! With E., choosing his clothes was a power issue, but A. simply liked the pretty dresses and cared about which color to wear.

Now, some parents don't care if the children are matchy-matchy all the time. I admit it. I am not one of those parents. I do care if my children match. I just do. But I don't want this to get in the way of allowing them a bit of choice in this area.

So our hanger system is the compromise. I keep all the hangers we receive when friends and family purchase clothes for the children, so we have a very complete collection of hangers that will hold bottoms and tops together. When the children are too little to choose from all of their clothes, I simply grab a hanger in each hand and ask them to choose between two outfits.

For E., I have begun to teach him about matching by pointing out what colors the bottom and top share, and then having him pick socks to match when necessary. Also, he has two baskets on a shelf in his room. One has a collection of shorts that will match almost any T-shirt, the other is full of said T-shirts. If we are headed to play outside, I let him grab what he wants from each basket, knowing that everything goes together fine.

A. is still little, but we can use looking at her clothes as an opportunity to talk about fabric textures or colors. She oohs and aahs over her dresses every single day, which is fun because it continually strikes me how different girls are from boys.

But the commonality is that they both want to choose, and hanging outfits together has made it possible for me to make room for those choices rather than being tempted to squash the desire.

24 June 2006

Frugal Moment: Book Closeouts

Even when I was a child, I was enthralled with beautiful books. It wasn't enough that the words were beautiful. I desired that the cover, binding, illustrations, and typesetting be beautiful also. It always felt almost magical when I read my absolute favorite, a beautifully illustrated {and bound!} edition of Johanna Spyri's Heidi.

And I have wanted that same feeling for my children. I want them to become enamoured with the covers of the books we own. I want the illustrations to compel them to devour the whole book with delight. I want their childhood to be filled with beautiful, living books.

But, these books are expensive. We have a tradition. Every year at their birthdays, and again at Christmas, the children receive one beautiful book. The books are so expensive that giving more than one copy seems too extravagent. E., having been around longer, has the superior collection, including Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses illustrated by Tasha Tudor, and the complete works of the likes of A. A. Milne and Beatrix Potter.

So imagine my surprise when I finally ventured over to that website Carmon is always touting, BookCloseouts. My, oh my! I decided to add a bit to our read-aloud library with the homeschooling budget Si gave me for next year, and I was able to purchase four beautiful, living books at amazing prices.

The first is a 100th Anniversary Edition of L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It is supposed to be a replica of the original {hardbound} first edition, complete with original color-plate illustrations. If I round up, it cost $12.

The second is a hardbound, lavishly illustrated and unabridged copy of Barrie's Peter Pan. There were so many illustrations that I hesitated, but we decided the price was too good to pass up.

The last two books are both by Kipling: The Jungle Book and Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. Together, they are about $16, and, again, they are both hardbound, with quality illustrations.

Including shipping, the total was less than $45, which I consider a Very Good Deal for unused, collector's editions, especially considering that I am quite used to paying full price for the children's library.

I have learned already that the trick with BookCloseouts is to know what I'm looking for. I keep a list of books that I think would be good for one or both of the children, so it was easy for me to simply search for the titles and see if there were any copies in stock. One must pay attention, for there was a sad proliferation of abridged copies, which are quite inferior to the originals. I am told that shipping can take up to four weeks, but as we are still working through our current library, they should arrive right on time.

23 June 2006

Birth Control as an Idea {Appendix A}

One of the things I learned about contraception during the time I spent studying it is that one cannot help but have one's mind affected by it. The way one thinks about children and family is changed when one avoids children and family, regardless of the reason. If there is one thing that I can say about myself during the times that we used birth control {and, for the record, we have never used a hormonal form of contraception} is that my attitude was very controlling.

We had plans. Lots of plans. But I became pregnant anyhow {three months into our marriage, to be exact}, and I spent a lot of time having a negative attitude about it. It was not long after E. was born that I remember my attitude of worrying and control was challenged for the first time. There was a local shoe store that gave out "first shoes" to every new baby. We went, and as we were the only folks in the shop at the time, we had a nice conversation with the young Hispanic man behind the counter. He seemed surprised that we were young {married} parents. We told him our sob story, how the pregnancy had come as quite a shock. And I remember him looking up. I know now he was trying to translate something into English. He said that in his culture there was a saying. In English, it is something like, "Babies come with a bag." He said that his grandma told him that means that God doesn't send a baby without also sending everything necessary to care for them.

After E. was weaned, we began using birth control again. Then, we decided that we wanted E. to have a sibling. And we got pregnant right away. By then I considered myself the Real Thing. I was Fertile Myrtle.

And then, on Christmas Eve, I lost that baby.

A lot changed in me when that happened. I was angry again, this time because God wouldn't let me keep a baby I wanted. My heart was very demanding, and for five long months, we grieved not only the child we had lost, but the baby that wouldn't come instantly.

This was control also. And I have seen it a lot in society, and I think this sort of control is directly tied to birth control as well. The use of contraception makes certain assumptions about one's fertility. It assumes that one is fertile, that, if one does not use contraception {and use it properly}, one would become pregnant. It assumes that one is fertile not only now, but also in the future, and that delaying childbearing will have no consequences. And I assumed this about myself. After all, we had never had to "try" to become pregnant. And so I thought that birth control would allow me to control the spacing between my children.

But my children are almost three years apart, which was not at all what I had planned. God graciously blessed us with the conception of A. around E.'s second birthday. As saddened as I was by losing a baby, I couldn't have had both babies, and A. is a perfect fit for our family in every way. Through this, I learned that God, of course, knows exactly what He is doing.

A. was about 11-months old when Si decided we would discontinue our family's relationship with contraception unless there were specific medical reasons for using it. I was nervous. What if I got pregnant right away? Would I be able to handle having children so close together? And I had two very close friends who wanted babies so badly. What if I got pregnant and they were still childless? Would they hate me? Would I hate myself? Our business was doing poorly. What if we couldn't afford another baby? {In answer to this one, Si and I quietly agreed that if we waited for our finances to work out, this wouldn't really be a step of faith for us. It would be somewhat like casting myself on Jesus after making myself righteous on my own.} I silently prayed that God would work out all the details for us, since we knew this was the path He had for our family.

And He did! I really am quite amazed. When one suspects one may be Fertile Myrtle, or at least a close relation, sometimes God shows His sovereignty not by opening the womb, but by closing it for a time. In my head, I had a "magic number" of 22 months apart. And God worked it out. If Number Three is born on the due date, A. will be exactly 22 months old. I am not saying that all our future children will be precisely spaced in just the manner I wish. I simply think God spaced our children in this instance in order to show me that I can rest in His will.

Secondly, remember both of the close friends that I wanted so desperately to be pregnant before me? They were! In fact, one of them called to tell me she was
The only thing I know is that I’m not comfortable shutting the door in God’s face and saying “Bless me Lord, with anything but babies.”
pregnant the day after I found out I was expecting. I rejoiced! Not only had God chosen to bless them both with children, but He taught me a lesson in trusting Him at the same time.

Lastly, there were the financial issues. Si got a new job at a hospital just two weeks before we conceived. Not only does he have a job he loves with a steadier paycheck, but Baby's delivery should be free to us.

We have learned that walking in faith in this area (just like in any area, and hopefully, eventually in all areas as we become aware of the need for such faith) is an adventure. And seeing God's hand smoothing the road ahead of us has been a source of amazement and delight.

One of the passages that has been dear to us during this time is Psalm 127.
Unless the LORD builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the LORD guards the city,
The watchman keeps awake in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early,
To retire late,
To eat the bread of painful labors;
For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.

Behold, children are a gift of the LORD,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one's youth.
How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them;
They will not be ashamed
When they speak with their enemies in the gate.
We are in the midst of learning what it feels like to have the LORD build our house. And as we let go of control, we learn that all the striving was in vain, "for He gives to His beloved even in his sleep."

So what is next? Well, a bigger car, for one. The compact car I was given during my senior year of high school just isn't going to cut it anymore, even if it is a tank. But for the first time, I have no fear of the future. I don't sit around and worry that I won't be able to take the kids anywhere because three carseats won't fit in my car. God is taking care of us, He has shown us that already. So we simply pray and watch.

We tried for a short time to build our own house, and we reaped much grief. Now, we are living an adventure as we anticipate the arrival of our third child on Christmas Day, the third blessing I will be privileged to give my husband.
How blessed is everyone who fears the LORD,
Who walks in His ways.
When you shall eat of the fruit of your hands,
You will be happy and it will be well with you.

Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine
Within your house,
Your children like olive plants
Around your table.
Behold, for thus shall the man be blessed
Who fears the LORD.

{Psalm 128:1-4}

22 June 2006

Childrearing #2

Keep Baby's hands under the tray of the highchair when training Baby to eat solid foods. Now, some people think that babies are being "creative" when they play with their food and throw it all over the room, while screaming with delight. My opinion is that this sort of activity is just about as creative as modern art, which is to say not very creative at all. And much like modern art, the root of the problem is a lack of discipline, and possibly Not Knowing Any Better.

In my mind, creativity is for the bathtub, playdough, and mud puddles. Definitely not the dining room. Nobody has to agree with me, but There It Is.

Now, the point of training Baby to keep her hands under the tray is to, first, allow the early skills of chewing and swallowing to develop with limited distraction caused by other activities. A secondary reason is to encourage a pattern of peaceful mealtimes for the whole family. I am, simply, not very patient when it comes to being covered in food during mealtime. So the Hands Down Rule keeps the peace.

Children will resist this discipline, and some will resist more than others. Both of my children had to be constantly reminded during the early days {weeks!}. But training was quite simple. First, we started Baby out with hands under the tray. Anytime they snuck out into the open, we simply said, "Hands down" and helped Baby get her hands back down.

This comes in handy at restaurants, where there is no tray, and Baby begins to reach out for food. We say, "Hands down," and Baby is reminded to keep those hands down.

This rule doesn't continue in our house much past the first birthday, because then Baby is old enough to begin to self-feed. But since Baby never got into the habit of throwing food or playing around with food, we have found {so far} that Baby will actually eat with her hands when the time comes, rather than spend mealtime playing.

Some people's children don't seem to have a problem with trying to grab the baby spoon because they like food that much. Other people just don't consider grabbing the spoon a big deal. This is not a moral issue. But if a mommy and daddy value a clean shirt {and floor, and table, etc.} before and after meals, the Hands Down Rule might be just the trick.

21 June 2006

Childrearing #1

Train to the playpen. I believe this works for us because we do not need the playpen for our children to actually play in. A baby gate to keep a little one in a secure room has worked fine, but usually we just close all the doors in the house and let walkers roam a bit. So when I say "train to the playpen" I am referring to training the child to sleep in the playpen. If a child is required to spend a lot of time playing in the playpen, training him to sleep in it also may be more difficult.

There are many reasons to do this. The most obvious is that when parents travel, they usually bring along a playpen for the baby to sleep in. If the baby has not been trained to sleep in the playpen, he may not sleep at all, turning a vacation into a nightmare. But this benefited us a great deal even at home, especially when we had only one child, because we could go to a gathering of friends and stay as late as we wished. We simply brought along the playpen and set up a makeshift nursery in a back room. Our son used a playpen in this manner until he was two-and-a-half. Our daughter still uses one.

The question is usually how to do this. What has worked for us is to start young--about the time the baby has outgrown the bassinet and moved to a crib. A. was more difficult to train than E. I remember that with A., I simply had her take one nap a day in the playpen until she was no longer resisting {resisting, by the way, was not screaming, but just a tendency to fuss a bit and take longer to fall asleep}. Then I lowered the frequency to about twice a week. Now that she is over one, she doesn't need the practice. She will sleep in the playpen whenever we require it of her. It also helped that we put down the same blanket {we didn't have a sheet to fit the bottom} for her to sleep on every time, and made sure that the blanket came with us when we took the playpen out. The consistency in bedding seems to help.

20 June 2006

Grandpa George on Money

I must admit that Johnny Depp's Michael Jacksonesque appearance while playing Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a bit frightening. But if one can get past it, it is still a mostly delightful little film, and an even better book, if truth be told! If nothing else, there is one little gem nestled within the story that I think, in light of yesterday's posting on economics, is worth repeating.

Let me first set the stage. Charlie has just discovered the last Golden Ticket. His family is very poor, his father has lost his job, and people have been offering him money in exchange for the ticket. First fifty dollars, then five hundred...By the time Charlie gets home, he has resolved that the best he can do for his family is to sell the ticket in order to help with the finances.

Here is Grandpa George's reply to Charlie's announcement that he will be selling:
There's plenty of money out there. They print more of it every day! But that ticket? There are only five of them in the world, and that's all there's ever going to be. Only a dummy would give this up for something as common as money. Are you a dummy?
Now, it is debatable whether, in real life, keeping a golden ticket would really be more profitable than selling it. But what I thought interesting was Grandpa's assessment that money is ubiquitous, and therefore of less value than something {the golden ticket in this instance} of which there are only five in the world.

Si and I have spent time in the past discussing true value, and one issue that inevitably arises is the idea that paper money only has value because we have all agreed to say that it has value. Otherwise, it is just a fancy piece of paper, and not at all rare. I am reminded of Proverbs 31, where the virtuous woman is said to have value above rubies. The idea is that she is scarce, and scarcity gives something its value.

These days, a lot of skills are scarce, and I can't help but think that helping our children develop real skills will be more "profitable" than training them for some sort of speciality job, which is the more common route. Many families {ours included} today have lost skills that used to be common: the ability to fix things and build things, the ability to cook and sew, the knowledge of how to grow food or raise chickens.

Printed money only has value as long as citizens continue to agree that there is a purpose in allowing it to be exchanged for real goods and services. Paper money, unlike gold, has no real value. In the event of a major recession, the people who are capable of producing real goods and services {both for themselves and for others} will be the people who do not suffer {at least not as much}, regardless of their previous financial status. They will also be the people with the greatest ability to be generous.

For Charlie, passing up the easy money meant winning a vast inheritance and the ability to gain knowledge of a trade from the Master Craftsman himself. I doubt anything so dramatic will ever happen in my own life, but I do think I am learning that passing up the easy money can, and often does, mean freedom.

19 June 2006

Huxleyan Economics

Over Memorial Day weekend, Kim was kind enough to allow me to borrow her copy of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Si and I have been reading it aloud in the evenings, and we have finally finished. There is a lot to discuss when one considers a futuristic novel, but I don't really want to do a series of reviews. I simply want to talk about the New World's economic system {where consumption and indulgence literally make the world go 'round}, and explain how I think it resembles this modern world.

First, a couple quotes from the book to set the stage:

"We condition the masses to hate the country," concluded the Director. "But simultaneously we condition them to love all country sports. At the same time, we see to it that all country sports shall entail the use of elaborate apparatus. So that they consume manufactured articles as well as transport."
* * * * *
"There isn't any need for a civilized man to bear anything that's seriously unpleasant. And as for doing things...It would upset the whole social order if men started doing things on their own."

"What about self-denial, then? If you had a God, you'd have a reason for self-denial."

"But industrial civilization is only possible when there's no self-denial. Self-indulgence up to the very limits imposed by hygiene and economics. Otherwise the wheels stop turning."
The last couple on sentences, in particular, brought back to me vivid reminders of all of the economic reports that are so prevalent during Christmas shopping "season." If sales are up and reaching new highs, everyone is happy. If sales are down, there is great cause to worry about the state of the economy. I have actually felt a sort of pressure from such reports, as if some sort of civic duty were performed when I consumed goods. Of course, I value frugality and a simple life too much to actually bow to such pressure, but it doesn't mean the pressure isn't felt.

And though U.S. citizens are not formally conditioned in a neo-Pavlovian manner to engage in excessive consumption, I would say that marketing essentially accomplishes the same task. Think of all the money large corporations spend using advertising to convince customers that it is necessary to replace, for example, a perfectly good cell phone with one that has more bells and whistles and performs a wider range of functions. And this happens over and over, especially in the arena of electronics. One may not be programmed by the government to consume {as Huxley postulated}, but corporations aim to convince one to do so through enticement instead.

Has this country built an enconomy that is dependent on self-indulgence? Does consumption make the US Economy keep running? Date-Dabitur author often mentions economic indicators in his posts. Here are a couple samples I thought worth tying into this conversation:
[Here is a] great example of how “economic indicators” are misleading. When moms stay home with their children and take them to the garden center with them, the only contributions to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are the purchased vegatables and the gas used to make the trip. But if these same mothers took jobs and put their children into daycare - ooops - I mean preschool - then just think of the growth in GDP. The measurable economic output will grow as the mothers pay for tuition and snappy new clothes, and grow even more as the preschools purchase schoolbuses and leashes. {Date-Dabitur}
* * * * *
For an interesting mental exercise in economics, consider an idyllic Shire where all the people help one another with their troubles, and no money changes hands when someone helps you fix your car, tends to you when you’re sick, helps you paint the house, brings you a meal, helps you get your plowing done, etc. In such a community there would be very little measurable economic output, only those things which were purchased from outsiders and sold to outsiders would go into the calculations for gross domestic product.

But along comes an industrial revolution to our quaint little Shire, and with everyone being a full-time wage earner, they have little time to help each other out. As a result, everyone has to pay someone to repair their car, pay for home-health care, pay a professional painter, buy fast-food from a restaurant when you can’t cook, and hire contractors to plow your field. Since money is now changing hands for all these activities, gross domestic product increases dramatically. Economists would hail this as “remarkable growth.” But is anything being “produced” that wasn’t being produced before? No, the only change is that these things are being bought and sold rather than cooperatively done by families in the community. So next time you hear that “the economy is growing,” ask yourself what that really means. {Date-Dabitur}
Here is where I began seeing some antithesis forming. On the one hand, there is consumption, indulgence, and money changing hands. On the other hand, there is production {in the sense that a person performs certain services for themselves rather than purchasing them--like mothering versus daycare}, self-denial, and generosity. The former leads to a measurable economy. The latter, however, is more likely to lead to community.

It is important to note that, in Huxley's world, there was no family and no church. There were no ties to bind the citizens one to another--other than their excessive promiscuity, which was a fleeting rather than permanent connection. And those who were able to rise above their conditioning felt quite alone {if they did not drug away their negative sensations}.

In the postulated "Shire," there might be a "lower" standard of living, in the sense that the citizens would be quite unlikely to own the "latest" gadget or gizmo. But there would be God and family, marriage and fidelity, permanently binding ties, and acts of service that are "free of charge" to those living within the community.

Reminds me of something...

And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles' feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need. {Acts 4:33-35}

15 June 2006

Redeeming the Time

This post is a bit of a follow-up to The Media-Free Childhood. It would probably be best if one read that post first, if one hasn't already. In summary, the first post explained a bit about our family's journey to a quieter life that is devoid of much {not all} electronic media. For instance, our children do not watch television or play video games, and we do not expect this to change anytime soon.

One thing that I didn't really bring up in regards to television {I use TV as the biggest example because I think it is the most common form of media for children aged 0-4 to be exposed to...and my kids are aged 1 and 4} is the idea that there are limited hours in a day. We all know this, for this is why efficiency has become such a virtue in our culture. But the hours in the life of my children are limited even more than my own.

I sleep about eight hours a day, or at least I try to. {Sometimes, I wish it were more!} In contrast, E. sleeps about 12 hours a day, and A. sleeps a whopping average of 16 hours a day. While I am left with 16 hours in my day to expend, E. has only 12 and A. has only 8.

Why is this important? While I certainly don't believe that because I have more time, I am granted license to waste more of it, it is a basic law of economics that the more scarce something is, the more value it has.

In the past, when Si and I have debated television's relationship to our family, we have often come back to the fact that if the children were to watch something, there would be something else they didn't do. After all, they have full days, and when we "add" an activity {of any kind}, there is something else we are subtracting, even if it is only "free play time." Because the amount of available time is static, there is a necessary give-and-take when considering activities.

So when we discuss television, there isn't any activity within the children's day to which TV watching seems superior. We would "lose" in the trade-off if we substituted TV for something else {in our opinion} because the other activities are better {i.e., more educational, more interactive, more important, etc.}. So in one sense, we look at the situation and say that even if we thought TV was "good" we would still believe the other activities to be better. And choosing what is best is our goal.

13 June 2006

The Media-Free Childhood

A few days ago I ranted a bit about Toys R Us. In that posting, I mentioned that E. received a Disney-issued Finding Nemo Slip and Slide that he affectionately calls "The Ocean." And then I said, "That is the unmuddied response that can be born only in a media-free childhood." Allow me to explain.

In the beginning...
For our family, the media-free childhood has been conceived of in steps. We did not set out upon our journey saying, "Thou shalt not watch television, listen to radio, or go to the movies." And to be quite honest, Si and I do all of these things and more from time to time. The journey started out in this way: we read that the AAP does not suggest Amusing Ourselves to Death. I still think that the work of Postman is a good place to start when considering what relationship one's family will have with electronic media.

So E. made it to the age of two without any exposure to television, save the annual Thanksgiving football games that some of our relatives insist on watching. We had told our extended family our viewing policy before E. was born, and everyone respected it quite nicely, which we appreciated since we know it was inconvenient for them at times.

When E. hit the age of two, something interesting happened. There was a great sigh of relief, and many in the family thought that it was all over, and now they could finally watch TV with him. We, however, were quite uncomfortable with this. Two had crept up on us, I suppose, and we found ourselves staring blankly at the videos and wondering how different aged 1 year and 364 days was from the age of two. Should one day really make such a difference? And was he really missing anything important from his life?

Reflecting on personal observations...
The birthday videos were placed, unopened, on a shelf while we privately debated the future of television in our family. We had finally moved into our own home after living with my parents for a time, and the TV was neatly tucked into the master bedroom. The focal point of our living room was a fireplace and a huge cabinet of books, and we liked it that way. And then we had some company.

Si had some clients that were new to town, and we thought it would be Good of Us to invite them to dinner. When the special evening arrived, only the wife and children were able to come, but it was still a pleasant time together.

The two little girls were known to watch television upwards of six hours a day. The youngest {14-months, I think} was mildly autistic {which, after doing more reading, I think may be linked to the TV, but I don't want to get into that right now}, and the oldest {aged four} had forgotten how to play. She wanted to know where our television was. When I explained that we didn't watch TV, she stared at me blankly. We had lots of toys, and I know, now that I have a four-year-old, that she should have been fine playing with them. But instead, the poor thing wandered aimlessly both indoors and out of doors, completely bored by her own loss of the skill of playing.

We discussed the situation that evening, and I was instantly reminded of a little boy who had lived next door to me as a child. I remembered the day he moved in, and that I was amazed that there was only one boy, and yet it sounded as if there were a huge war going on in the backyard. Less than a year later, that little boy did very little. He was a latchkey kid who had received a Nintendo as a gift. His ability to play was diminished almost entirely within months of receiving it, and the backyard never saw a war again.

Cultivating the soul...
We consider our children to be a precious trust, given to us by the Lord. We take
As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think...What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.
--Neil Postman
our responsibilities seriously, and believe we will be held accountable for our actions someday. I have mentioned many times that we often refer to the Shema {Deut. 6} when making parental decisions because we believe that God, in His wisdom, has revealed His plan for parenthood in Scripture.

We believe that until the child is old enough to cultivate his own soul, we parents are responsible to do it for him. We are to stimulate good growth, and prune off the bad. We are to do a lot of weeding, and we grew to consider television a weed, one that could easily spawn unhealthy thought patterns that were detrimental to the educational environment of our home.

How do you stand it?
I have been asked on a couple occasions how in the world I get anything done without distracting my children with the television. There seems to be a growing consensus that even if one doesn't allow their children unlimited access to TV, it is a helpful "tool" when the mother needs to do "real work" around the home. Now, my children do help around the house {even the little one}, but I think the real answer is that when children have perfected the skill and art of playing they do not need distraction as much.

This is not to say that our children have never been bored. But I am not necessarily quick to intervene when they appear so. Boredom is often a precursor to great creativity, and if I interrupt the boredom with distraction, I may prevent the invention of a new game or project. Allowing the children to experience boredom is, I believe, a part of their learning process.

The other half of this, which is another post entirely, is that my desire is to teach them that the world around them, molded by the Creator, with so much to see and learn, is not boring. When one cultivates the life of the mind, one has less cause for boredom.

Not just television anymore...
Our media-free life has expanded itself over time into other forms of media. Our current desire is to secure a piano, that our evening songs will not be a capella. This desire began quite innocently one day, when we were visiting my parents' home. E. had requested I turn on the radio while he was cleaning up the toys, and I was not in the mood for noisy songs. So I asked him if I could play the piano for him instead. He loved it. And so did Si and A. I was a bit rusty, since we don't own a piano ourselves, but I plunked out some hymns, and before we left, we had sung a Vesper Hymn together quite nicely. The magic that hung in the air was so different from the effects of radio. We created our own music, and it was a beautiful experience for us.

And I think that is what we seek now. It is not that we "hate" television or radio or movies. And though the content is often questionable, we are not running from media out of fear. It is simply that we have come to think that the media-free life is much more peaceful. We want to make lots of room in our family life for creating our own music and acting out our own plays, casting a golden glow on the memories of our family's childhood.

12 June 2006

It Really Works!

I'm not one to go out and buy new products to try. But sometimes, when I find myself in a bind {like I did last night}, I am glad that others are braver than I am. Allow me to first set the stage. We were at a graduation celebration for a friend. It was a lovely evening and the weather was fine. But the woman sitting to my left during dinner spilled her glass of red wine...on my skirt!

It wasn't near time to leave, and yet with red wine down my light-colored skirt, I really couldn't imagine myself rising to mingle. And I was a bit paralyzed with fear that my hopes for the skirt I thought would last well into this pregnancy due to a very forgiving elastic waist had dissipated before my eyes.

Enter the woman sitting to my right {I have no idea why my husband wasn't next to me}. She is a self-proclaimed "clean freak" who loves to try every new cleaning product to hit the market. She sent her husband to the car to get her magic wand: Tide-To-Go.

I dutifully followed her instructions, but I didn't really believe that it would work. After all, this was essentially a marker that I was using to scribble an invisible stain remover on the stain. I was told to press down to release the magic liquid, and then scrub it into the stain with the marker. I did so. It was a large stain. I made sure I covered it all, but I wasn't about to spend an hour scrubbing it all away.

Imagine my surprise when I looked down a half-hour later and couldn't decide where the stain had originally been. The stain didn't fade; it disappeared. It really is a magic wand!

Now, I have been informed that this product is quite pricey. I have a cheaper stain-remover at home that I spray on laundry before placing it in the washer, and I'm never disappointed. But I can definitely make an argument for grabbing one of these if I see it on sale and keeping it in my purse for future accidents at special events. After all, it did save one of my favorite skirts!

10 June 2006

My Child-Supply Store

I hate Toys R Us. I truly hate it. Every time we are there and we've been inside for about five minutes, I inevitably look at Si and say, "I hate this store!" And I do. We only go to this store because our children receive giftcards for their birthdays. And we are very grateful for these giftcards because they have allowed us to purchase some really great toys.

Since I hate the store, we always do research in advance and know pretty much what we have come there to buy. Yet we still end up wandering around for time without end. Today, we asked a clerk where we could find a toy box. He told us to go ask Customer Service. {I found myself wondering if his title was something nifty like Customer Service Representative.} So we made a full circle back to the front of the store, where a nice lady directed us to the very back of the store. But then we needed help with the item because there was no price tag and they keep the stock in the back room. Of course, there weren't any real people available to help us except the first clerk, who we already knew wasn't very helpful. Needless to say, Si went on a wild goose chase to get assistance.

So all of this was to spend some giftcards on a nice, plain, white toy box that I'm hoping doesn't fall apart in a year. I've been wanting to tidy up the play room for some time, and this was the perfect solution.

But it is so difficult to find something plain like this!

We looked for a lap desk for a trip we're taking in our car soon. The only options were covered with Dora the Explorer for girls and characters from that new Cars movie for boys. I just couldn't do it.

Everywhere I looked there were bedspreads covered with Thomas the Train or Tonka Trucks or Barbie. There was furniture stamped with every brand name imaginable. And, honestly, it disgusted me. Something about the overt marketing to children makes me sick. I can't exactly put my finger on it, but it all seems insulting to my child's intelligence and good taste nonetheless.

So in my head I have invented a store. A venture like this would take far too much energy and time from my family for me to actually do this, but if some high-energy or single person out there wants to take this idea and run with it, just let me know. I will probably charge royalties in the form of food and coffee items.

Back to my store. My store would specialize in furniture, bedding, books and toys that no one could identify as being anything other than a piece of furniture, bedding, book or a toy. No one would be able to look at the sheets I sold and say, "Look! Dora sheets!" No! The only thing one would be able to say is, "What pretty sheets!" The furniture would have nothing to do with Tonka or Hasbro or Barbie or Disney. The books would be alive and all Disney versions would be banned. The toys would not be miniatures of some character on television. Maybe they could even be handmade, like our wonderful Amish-made car track.

And I would unmarket the store. It would be in a secret location. Really hard to find. And I wouldn't tell anyone where it was. No one would know except through word of mouth. And maybe a secret password at the door, just to make things difficult. And maybe a bouncer at the door to kick out anyone wearing Disney garb. Anything to protect the purity of the idea.

For his birthday, E. received a Slip and Slide. And not just any Slip and Slide, but rather a Disney-issued Finding Nemo Slip and Slide. But he doesn't know or care who Nemo is. So what did he say upon opening such a gift? "Oh! I got an ocean!" That is the unmuddied response that can be born only in a media-free childhood.

My store would be like that. It would sell a product, not a concept of an imaginary person like Dora or Nemo. Sheets would be sheets, toddler beds would be toddler beds, and a baby doll would be a baby doll. Let the children imagine they are something else, not the marketers!

09 June 2006

Habits of the Mind

A while back, I wrote a posting on PMS that was inspired by what I had read in Debi Pearl's book Created to Be His Help Meet. I don't want to repeat myself too much since I just linked to the original post, but suffice it to say that I spent a lot of time thinking about Pearl's assertion that "a hormonal change doesn't change a woman's soul; it just tears down her carefully constructed defenses against expressing the carefully guarded content of her heart."

Well, now I am reading Charlotte Mason's Home Education and I desired to approach the subject of hormonal response from a different angle: habits. Mason once wrote that "the habits of the child produce the character of the man." I couldn't help but think that it was also true that the habits I continue and perfect as a young woman will determine my character and behavior as an older woman. Though it is true that I will not be the same person in twenty years, surely I will be greatly influenced by who I allow myself to be in the present.

In her book, Mason quotes a work by one Dr. Carpenter entitled Mental Physiology:
Any sequence of mental action which has been frequently repeated, tends to perpetuate itself; so that we find ourselves automatically prompted to think, feel, or do what we have been before accustomed to think, feel, or do, under like circumstances, without any consciously formed purpose or anticipation of results.
And isn't it true? I couldn't help but
Habit, working thus according to nature, is simply nature in action, growing strong by exercise.
--Charlotte Mason
think of the instruction in Ephesians 4:29 to "let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth." I have certainly been disobedient to this teaching. And what I noticed was that the next time I faced a similar circumstance, I felt the urge to speak unwholesome words again. And if I allowed myself, it was just a short time {especially if this was a response to a sort of circumstance that I would face regularly} before I was in the habit of speaking unkind, unwholesome words in certain situations. What followed, of course, was the difficult road of repentance and retraining.

Perhaps this is why the Bible tells me to practice righteousness. How beautiful to think that righteousness might become a habit! To have Christ train my soul to be good is a delight, indeed!

So why is this on my mind? Because I'm pregnant, of course. Because I feel terrible most of the day, and sometimes the attitude my children receive from me because of it is truly shameful. And somehow I remembered that I once resolved that I did not want to be that kind of woman when I am old and menopausal or just sickly, and it all starts in how I act right now.

It is said that one cannot teach an old dog new tricks. I don't really think that is true; I think Christ can have mercy on anyone He chooses, even a cranky old lady! But I have the privilege of knowing Him now, and I cannot help but hope that I grow increasingly graceful in this time of my youth, instead of waiting for some dramatic Divine intervention when I am old.

08 June 2006

Attitude Adjusting

Sometimes, I just love the Large Family Logistics website. It offers me a much-needed kick in the motivation department. I’ll admit it. I’ve started wallowing a bit. My fuse has been short, my energy has been low, and my tummy has been cranky. And after over a month of feeling so icky, I’ve begun to feel like every day is a failure. The house is dirty, the laundry was behind {until this week}, lunch is a daily cause for tears, and I feel a huge amount of guilt about all of it.

At the same time, the nausea really does seem to be lessening {though I am impatient and stubborn and refuse to be satisfied until it is entirely gone}. It was this subtle hint that the future may be bright, after all, that got me to scouring the LFL site. There is nothing like the Top Ten article to motivate me! Well, that and the fact that I refuse to have a humiliatingly dirty and disorganized house when my mother-in-law arrives in July.

Now, I know that LFL means large families, but I just figure that means I have a lot less work when compared with all the ladies that have three times the amount of bodies in their homes. {Of course, I also have fewer helpers.} I am also a realist and know that if our current rate of growth continues we could fit into the category of “large” sooner than we think! I just keep telling myself, if they can stay organized and clean and peaceful with eight kids, then I can do it with two and one on the way!

07 June 2006

The Darndest Things {06/06}

29 June 2006: A Labor of Love
This morning, I was working in the office for Si. E. seemed restless, so I had him go get the finished laundry {a load of rags for cleaning} out of the dryer and prepare it for me to fold in the living room. I heard lots of running and whispering to himself, but I assumed he was still doing what he was told to do. He was...and MORE! When I entered the living room, he was beaming! He had folded every rag, both large and small. He was so proud of himself and declared, "Only FOUR-year-old boys can do THIS!"

28 June 2006: Weaning
Little A. had her last bottle tonight. I don't think she noticed or cared, but Mommy sure did. I had Daddy take pictures, and I held her extra tight. We've been going slow, and she's been using a cup during the day already. But I will miss this nighttime ritual. It all goes too fast...

26 June 2006: No Imaginary Friends Here
Most kids E.'s age have imaginary friends. Not E. He has imaginary WORKERS. They are his slaves, and he tells them what to do all day long. They must be union, though, because we've noticed they take a lot of naps! They eat lunch with us, and can often be found cleaning E.'s room. He tells us he wants to be a builder when he grows up {and there is a list of things he wants to build: lots and lots of houses--one for me, of course!--and one church}, and the workers seem to be his practice employees.

15 June 2006: Not Amish
This one is funny, even out of context:

E.: No, I'm not going to be an Amish man because I'm going to be a Tractor Boy.

15 June 2006: The Raisin Party
What happens when Big Brother leaves the raisin jar within reach of Little Sister, and Mom is too tired to notice? Little Sister's Raisin Party. Yes, Little Sister managed to get a raisin trail going that reached into the far corners of the playroom, dining room, kitchen, living room, and hallway. Thankfully, she cannot turn door knobs yet.

Guess what tired Mom got even more tired doing? That's right. Thirty minutes of Raisin Vaccuuming.

14 June 2006: Name Brands
E. has been talking about Hot Wheels a lot, and finally Si discussed it with him last night. We were all surprised by this one.

Si: So what is it if it's not a Hot Wheels?
E.: Oh. It has cool wheels.

And we were worried he was becoming a brand snob!

13 June 2006: Mama's Little Helper
Today is an unseasonably mild June day, and E. has been enjoying the Great Outdoors. So when I went to start some laundry, I found myself absent of four-year-old SuperHelper. Only a toddler toddling after me. Only? A. has surprised me, again.

I set to work with the laundry, and I missed the basket when I was tossing in an item. She gingerly bent over, picked it up, and put it in the basket for me...with that Miss America Smile. So proud of herself! I "accidently" dumped all the remaining items on the floor, and A. put all of them in. Then she helped me push the basket to the next room...and the next. Finally, we pushed it into the laundry room and she actually handed me each item to put into the washer! She was so proud of herself...just beaming.

It has always been fun to work side by side with E., but there was something especially touching about doing laundry with my daughter for the first time. Eventually, E. will have a wife to clean his clothes for him. But A. is in training, even now, to be a wife someday. Today was the beginning of an endless procession of joyful lessons I know will fill our future years together at home.

10 June 2006: A Game of Chase
Playing "Chase" is a common childhood game, of that I am well aware. But we have been much to little to experience it with our own children...until tonight. E. and A. had been wrestling a bit on the floor, when A. suddenly jumped up and ran away. But she looked back at him, with that twinkle in her eye, and E. knew immediately that she wanted him to chase her. And so that is what they did. They ran through the playroom, dining area, kitchen, and living room and back, screaming and laughing and chasing. A. fell numerous times, but each time she got back up and ran away again. We, of course, were delighted with all the giggles.

9 June 2006: Changing of the Guard
Recently, I was struck by the thought of a mother of twelve who said that the youngest child who can perform a task should be the one doing it. Otherwise, the family will create a world in which the oldest children learn to work, but the youngest do not. This got me thinking that there are chores around here--only a couple, but still--that E. is doing that really could have been handed down to A. by now.

We started off by teaching A. to throw away her own diapers. Oh, but E. was furious at his loss of responsibility! So I tried my best to explain to E. that all of us have a need to work, and that A. wasn't doing enough--we must give her this job. And then it dawned on me: I could give to him the job of teaching her to perform the task. This way, he was still involved. So now, I am quite amused as I watch Big Brother guide Little Sister to the kitchen trash and help her make sure she gets the diaper in on the first try. He even makes sure she doesn't stand around and browse through the rest of the refuse once she's finished! What a good big brother!

8 June 2006: Flowers by My Bed
What a sweet boy I have. We have been spending much time out-of-doors, examining trees and birds and flowers. The summer flowers are starting to bloom, and there is much opportunity to sharpen those pre-science observation skills. E. is particularly taken with the one flower that is available in the desolation that is our backyard. It is a bush that has made its way through the fence separating our yard from our neighbor's. This bush is in no way intended for cut flowers. No, the flowers are only beautiful when attached to the rest of the plant. But E. is not deterred. He faithfully picks one or two or five and sneaks into the house and lays them at my bedside table for me to discover in the evenings after he is sound asleep!

7 June 2006: "I Don't Need a Nap!"
We spent today visiting Great Grandmother at her house. It was great fun. At 1:30, I told E. we really must get going because it was going to be naptime soon. "But I don't need a nap!" he insisted. He repeated this like a mantra over and over while he prepared to leave. He groaned about it. He tried to convince me. He fell asleep in the car about halfway home, and so deeply that I could not rouse him. So I had to carry the Boy Who Didn't Need a Nap into the house and lay him in his little bed myself, and take off his little sandals myself, all while he mumbled something I couldn't understand.

But really, he didn't need a nap.

Update: I was in a different room, but I heard his door opening, signifying that he had awakened. And I heard him take his stubborn stand in the hallway as he defiantly declared, "I didn't take a nap!"

6 June 2006: Brothers and Sisters
A. is abused. Not by Si and I, mind you, but by her brother--surely his treatment sometimes qualifies as abuse! We try our best to protect her, and to help him understand that Job Number One when being a Big Brother is to Protect the Little Sister. But still, she often finds herself the pedestrian victim in his child-sized car wrecks and a moving target for his water gun practice. But she adores him. She cannot help herself!

Today, while I was feeding her, she was in no small amount of turmoil because I am training her to a cup and she hates it. He walked over to check on her. She reached out her hand. I think he thought she was trying to hit him, because he quickly moved out of the way. I whispered, "She is trying to hold your hand, I think." Her hand was still outstretched, so he grabbed it, first with one hand, then with the other. A smile lit upon his lips as he, with delighted face, whispered, "She loves me!"

6 June 2006: Little Boys in Conversation
We spent some time yesterday with my nephews, S. and M. S. is five and Theo is his dog's name. This is important information when considering the following conversation:

S.: Me and M. and Theo are all brothers.
Me: Really?
S.: Yes. M. is my brother and Theo is my brother.
Me: Well, why does Theo look so different from you and M.?
S.: Oh, not all brothers look alike. I've been to the park and met brothers that didn't look alike.

Flawless logic.

E. has decided that debating with S. is great fun, though the mothers find it somewhat annoying to listen to. Here is today's Great Debate:

S.: I'm going to bite off your head!
E.: Well {not to be outdone}, I'm going to bite off your eyes!
S.: You can't because I already bit off your head and your mouth is in your head!

There's that flawless five-year-old logic again!

2 June 2006: Grammar Instruction, Overheard

E.: Where you was?
Daddy: Where were you?
E.: I was in the bathroom. Where you was, Daddy?
Daddy: No. Where were you?
E.: I already told you. Where you was?
Mommy: {giggles}
Daddy: No, son. Say, "Where were you?"
E.: Oh. Where were you?

05 June 2006

Vote Your Conscience

Well, tomorrow is primary day, and after much consideration, I believe that fact merits a second posting for today. If I wait until tomorrow, I'll have waited too long! I think the best way to approach this post is to start by quoting one of our Founding Fathers:
Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may treasure the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost. {John Adams}
This is the sort of politics I can appreciate! This is not a vote based on polls or trying to guess who can win. This is honestly analyzing the candidate or the bills {I would suggest Scripture as the litmus test} and then voting accordingly, regardless of the consequences.

If I could encourage my readers to do one thing, it would be to vote according to conscience.

This morning I received an email from an aquaintance concerning a race in our district. It is a three-way race, and two of the three are neck and neck in the polls. One of the frontrunners is the most liberal. The letter explained that the other two were both conservative, but one was much more likely to win than the other, and since it was a close race, we all need to get together and vote for the guy who can win. The thing is, the letter didn't tell me why the "guy who can win" is the right candidate. In fact, it mentioned that the candidate lagging behind was a true conservative who the writer "greatly respected," but there was concern he couldn't get the votes.

This is voting motivated by strategy rather than virtue, and I consider it to be utter foolishness in the long run. I heard such statements over and over during the Gubernatorial recall election. Everywhere we went, we heard folks saying things like, "Well, Schwarzenegger isn't really very conservative, and Tom McClintock is, but we all know Schwarzenegger will win, so we're going to vote for him." We didn't know a single person who voted for Schwarzenegger because they actually thought he was the best candidate! I always wonder if McClintock could have won if everyone who thought he was the best had voted out of conviction!

But we will never know. We will never know what a country governed by conviction looks like until we elect our representatives from conviction. We are so afraid to lose that we forget "our guy" never really ends up in office anyhow. I mean, I don't think I can rightly call Schwarzenegger a "victory" when he and I don't share the same values. The guy that I would call "our guy" will never win because no one thinks he has the chance. That is, unless we ignore the incessant polling data and vote with integrity.

I think it's time to stop playing games. And we might lose a few rounds getting the kinks worked out. But really, I always thought the Christian life was quite distinct from the Republican life. While Republicans may be seeking to win, Christians have the responsibility to transcend all the games and do the right thing every time, regardless of the consequences.

Where the Wild Things Are

I've mentioned before that our backyard is an untamed wilderness. The problem with this is that we live in the suburbs, and we are supposed to have a nicely landscaped grassy area surrounded by neat and tidy shrubs and flowers. We blame this entirely on the landlord, who promised us a backyard a year ago this spring and has yet to follow through.

I'm not really writing to complain about this, because I have discovered an unintended side effect that is giving E. some unplanned nature lessons, and we're really enjoying it. We are now a Bird Habitat. In fact, I bet by posting this, our backyard will become some sort of protected environment and we'll never be allowed to put in our landscaping. {After all, California quit believing in the principles of private property a long time ago...but I digress...}

Anyhow, I thought I'd share a bit of the research I've been doing. After all, mommies need to be able to answer questions intelligently {one can tell I've been reading Charlotte Mason from this comment}. And E. is four now. "That's a bird" doesn't quite cut it anymore.

The Mourning Dove

Supposedly, this quiet little guy {gal?--they both incubate the eggs, Mourning Doveand they look alike, so it's hard to say} has a mournful cry that can be quite enchanting, but we have yet to hear a peep. We have been given some dirty looks for getting too close to the nest. The nest is perched atop some parts of E.'s yet-to-be-assembled swingset. No babies yet, but obviously there are eggs because the nest is never vacated by the parents. I will try to take photos of the eggs if I ever see the nest empty, but at the very least I hope to capture the babies in a week or two. I've read that the incubation period is less than two weeks!

Some Sort of Lark

Okay, so we think this is a Horned Lark*, but I hestitate to call it by that Larkname because I'm not positive. A few of the details in the description I read don't sound like an exact match. My father was raised to call the bird a meadowlark, but when I looked it up, meadowlarks are decidedly yellow on the head and breast, and this bird is all earth-tones all the time. If any reader knows about birds, I would love to know the official name for this gal. I know this is a female Larkbecause I watched her lay the eggs {from a distance--it was still amazing}. I must apologize that she is so contorted in these photos. She does some amazing twists and turns when one gets too close to her nest which, by the way, is basically a shallow hole in the ground that is barely lined with some bits of twig and leaves. She guards it fiercely and is quite noisy, both day and night. She Larkactually charged some of the children when we had company Saturday night because they expressed their curiosity too openly. In fact, one of the reasons I don't have a decent photo of her {or one of the eggs at all} is that I am a bit afraid to get too close. That, and the lack of a good zoom lens. The eggs are speckled and look a bit like rocks that one would find on the ground, which is ideal since that's where the nest is.

So that is all {for now} of our Wild Things. It's not as exciting as my friend R.'s mountain home. She can brag about scorpions in the hallway and bears rummaging through trashcans. But it's not bad for a simple suburban backyard! Of course, I could share our recent Cockroach Incident...

*We later learned that this is actually a Killdeer.

03 June 2006

Charlotte Mason on Working Mothers

Joan: It was my choice... not to go. He would have supported it.
Katherine: But you don't have to choose.
Joan: No, I have to. I want a home; I want a family, that's not something I'll sacrifice.
Katherine: No-one's asking you to sacrifice that, Joan, I just want you to understand you can do both.
Joan: Do you think I'll wake up one morning and regret not being a lawyer?
Katherine: Yes, I'm afraid that you will.
Joan: Not as much as I'll regret not having a family, not being there to raise them. I know exactly what I'm doing and it doesn't make me any less smart. {Mona Lisa Smile}

It is always interesting to me that I can read Something Old and still have it reveal Nothing New. An instance of this is something I read the other day in Volume One of my new Charlotte Mason books {Volume One is entitled Home Education, by the way}. I won't quote it all, because it would get rather lengthy, but suffice it to say that she starts out the work discussing the rise of working women. She explains that there is a growing desire among women to use their education in the workforce, and that the world desires to benefit from the contributions of these women. She explained the trend: women would have fixed hours, definitely tasks, and an income--"the pleasure and honour of doing useful work if they are under no necessity to earn money."

This was written a little over 100 years ago.

What I love is Mason's response to such a situation {few speak so boldly anymore}:
The parents of but one child may be cherishing what shall prove a blessing to the world. But then, entrusted with such a charge, they are not free to say, "I may do as I will with mine own." The children are, in truth, to be regarded less as personal property than as public trusts, put into the hands of parents that they may make the very most of them for the good of society. And this responsibility is not equally divided between the parents: it is upon the mothers of the present that the future of the world depends, in even a greater degree than upon the fathers, because it is the mothers who have the sole direction of the children's early, most impressible years. That is why we hear so frequently of great men who have had good mothers--that is, mothers who brought up their children themselves, and did not make over their gravest duty to indifferent persons {emphasis mine}.
Now, I do not necessarily believe that mothers should be more influential than fathers--in fact, with the Biblical concept of headship, I would consider that idea to be questionable. But I do believe a mother's influence is different than a father's, and equally important. After all, God gave to each their own role to play in the family. And the idea of "making over one's gravest duty to indifferent persons" {aka "daycare"} is, in my mind, the same as a king abdicating his throne, a turning of one's back upon one's God-given duty.

Si and I spent some time discussing the concept of duty a bit on Sunday. He is of a "feeling follows action" sort of mindset, and believes in doing the right thing when he doesn't feel like it. And I completely admire this about him, and seek to emulate him when I can. There have been days when the only reason I don't go out and get a job is because I believe being home with my children is the right thing to do. And really, this is nothing more than resisting temptation, the natural outcome of which is that temptation will flee and stop bothering me, at least for a time.

But I think that duty doesn't necessarily have to be stale and emotionless. After all, the Bible says I was created for good works when I was created in Christ. These good works were ordained for me before I had lived even a day of my life. This isn't duty as a form of obligation, but duty as a form of realizing my purpose, of knowing who God created me to be, what He created me to do, and then being blessed by the Holy Spirit enabling me to actually do it. This is not a grim, cheerless life, as the feminists would have a woman believe. This is life abundantly.

02 June 2006

Chicken and Salads and Tea, Oh My!

Everyone always says that pregnancy is full of cravings. My pregnancies tend to be full of anti-cravings due to the extreme nausea. I really don't mean to start filling this blog with the gory details of my pregnancy. But I can't get it out of my mind today, so I thought the readers might humor me.

What I mean by "anti-cravings" is that most every form of food sounds horrible to me! The other evening I told Si that we had "no food in the house." He proceeded to walk around from freezer to refrigerator to pantry and give me a dozen options, and the thought of every one of them turned my stomach.

But, like my other pregnancies, there are a couple things that sound good.

If "you are what you eat," then it logically follows that unborn babies must be what their mothers eat. Which means E. should look something like a bean burrito from Taco Bell.

And A., as I mentioned before should look like mild cheddar cheese. Or actually, since I couldn't keep much down with her, it's more likely she is made entirely of Cocoa Krispies.

Well, I have finally found my favorites for this baby. Iced tea is, of course, a great remedy for the slow digestion associated with hormonal nausea. But what about food? Expensive salads, of course! It is terribly unfortunate for me that I had to fall in love with two $8 salads, but I couldn't help myself! I suppose I should just be pleased that it is healthier than my past obsessions with processed burritos and chocolate cereal.

So I must share which salads they are! There are two. The first is the Southwestern Chicken Salad from Sequoia Sandwich Shop, and the runner-up is the Crispy Chicken Salad from Chili's.

I have already resigned myself that, due to their cost, I will not be partaking of them very often at all. But I'm hoping this post might inspire Si when he considers our next date!