Saturday, June 30, 2012

We were floating in the river today when my daughter asked, "Mom, when is George Washington's birthday?" I have no idea and said so, which made her smile. I asked why, wondering if maybe it was a trick question or if folks usually answer: the Fourth Of July. She said she just wondered. She said she used to sit around trying to guess what kids in school were learning and she wondered if it was facts like that. Pretty good guess, actually. A lot of elementary school is all about facts like that. I said it was a perfectly fine thing to wonder about--what other kids are learning. Neither of us commented further, but the supposition is true enough and I think she felt it all rather shallow. Was it a smile of relief or recognition that crossed her face?

Apparently she and her friend, M, used to play school. Until they wondered if school kids play homeschool, and if so what that would look like to them. They wondered if playing homeschool might make school children angry. Which is an interesting thing for these girls to wonder.
We grew new things in the spring garden this year, a very satisfying experience. Truth be told, I don't really garden for the produce. I do enjoy the tomatoes, beans, basil, and fresh cucumbers. Having fresh greens in the front yard does help stretch our food budget. But we waste more of what's grown than we preserve. A personal failing of mine is that I've never been all that interested in preservation--of any resource, but especially food. But I do enjoy the flow of plenty. And if a garden provides, it usually provides plenitude. In that way a garden is a lot like a thrift shop or a library. Its a hall of yes, here, and take what you will. 

Generosity and plenitude are great reasons to garden. But I do it just to learn how things grow. I feel a new intimacy with beets, for instance, that I've never known before. Having plucked that "drilling whisker", having felt the tearing of a deep root in a thing that looks as if its merely sitting on the earth, to feel a beets activity...its something one must do to know. Carrots flirt on the surface as pretty people always will, but their hold and reach are deep. They don't let go easily, and they have to mature before they  are sweet.

Aunt Katherine, Dean Of Students, always admonished us to be sweet as we were walking out the door. It was her universal instruction for all children. Be sweet. I never once heard her say "be smart." I guess she knew most children are already smart. Kindness is much harder to learn. And if learning how to be good at one thing makes a child more adept at learning anything, why not teach them how to be good at kindness first? I think kindness used to be a cultural standard but has slipped as our collective worship of pedagogy and expertise expands.

Which is to say, society is kind of obsessed with preservation, a form of hoarding and a hedge against uncertainty and mortality. There is some wisdom in it--a fennel sort of wisdom, I suppose. Its pretty and seems complex and weighty at first, reassuring. But reliance on experts hinders more than it helps. Too bad that's what society seems most anxious to teach the children.

Too bad you rarely hear anyone telling a child: Be Relaxed. Or: Be Unconcerned with Perfection. Be Less Impressed By Expertise. Why not: Be More Willing to Try It Yourself?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

I gave my son a small lecture about being helpful, enthusiastic, and figuring out how to drive your own life through action. I mentioned the Seven Deadly Sins--an act of irony if ever there was one. Are 13 year old boys naturally a bit lazy? Then what's my excuse?!  Spongebob Squarepants and the 7 Deadly Sins
Me: What are you reading?
Dear Boy: The Book of Deadly Animals, the part about butterflies and moths.
blank stares at each other....
Dear Boy: I KNOW, RIGHT?!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Dear Daughter: Are you scared of Bunny?
Me: Of course not, I just don't want it in the kitchen because its narble.
Dear Daughter: Just because its green doesn't mean its narble.
Me: True, but the fact that it is supposed to be white and is now green definitely qualifies it as narble.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

I broke down and watched the school bus video. Have y'all seen it? Many different things can be said about it. For myself, the school bus was an unusually happy place. Our driver was young and oh-so-fine; we are still friends to this day. And I was a popular girl in those days so I enjoyed the privilege and meager shelter such status offered.

I saw bullying on the school bus, of course. Because bullying is endemic to the institution in general, part of the daily background noise. These bullying children in the school bus video are a product of their environment.  They are one possible logical endpoint to the many years of training they've already endured. The video is so familiar, brings back such visceral memory, such normality.

Today, the truth I see on this video is a jolting reminder which gives me complicated and philosophic feelings. Had I seen it the year I graduated high school, I would have laughed cynically. Cold cynicism being one possible logical endpoint to the many years of training I had endured.

The normalcy of systemic bullying should be a grim indicator, a slavering canary. The institution is familial. After all, most children spend as much, if not more, waking time in school than they do at home. Bullying is as rooted in the common dysfunction of our school family as any generational family dysfunction. Just as daily, plain, and unconsciously tolerated and taught as any family dysfunction. Like any family, the institution has its goodness and of course its complicated. But what is broken is profoundly ill.

There is no other place in society, save perhaps jail, where bullying is so blithely normal and common.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Yesterday my husband and I spent a quiet afternoon sitting outside sipping rum, knitting, and discussing the children's education. My father called on father's day to offer a big fancy new computer to support Dear Boy's emerging interest in computer science, perhaps for his birthday. Which is lovely. Pops feels its important to put current sharp tools--the best you can find, into the hands of children. I agree completely.

However, Dear Boy doesn't love computers that much and a bigger faster computer isn't all that different from any reasonably new computer, which he already has. My husband pointed out that Dear Boy's true love is reading. He reads all the time. He reads everything. His first choice of somewhere to go is always the book store or library. He has the temperament of a scholar. And he really doesn't need more quiet thoughtful hobbies. The archetypal Tarot card whispering through the stars above this kid's head is Earl of Cups, Quiet Thoughtful.

But plumbing put a smile on the boy's face last week. The wrench in his hand seemed to light him up. And his father and I think action is what's wanted. All those long years ago in the early homeschooling dark ages, I planned to encourage the children to build tiny houses. I still think that's what my son should do with his teen years, unless he decides to go to high school. Or until he goes to college.

Our daughter spent the day helping run a henna booth at a festival. It was her first true professional day of work and she was paid 10% of the door, (more actually) plus lunch. Of course, the true payoff was experience and mentoring, both of which were rich. She came home exhausted, sunburned, and wiser. She told me, "This could be a summer job, something I could put on a resume for college." Which is absolutely true. She spent the day studying business acumen.

Specifically, Dear Girl noticed how the artist handled the flow of money. Two little girls with one five dollar bill wanted two tattoos. Our Girl was surprised the artist offered to do a five dollar tattoo on each child, which was the written and clearly stated price. Rather than choosing to give two tattoos for two fifty--thereby splitting one. Or, seen another way, giving a free tattoo. I pointed out the artist was working hard to feed her family and deserves to get paid. She wasn't there for fun. We have also noticed a certain open giving attitude can serve business interests well. All of which we discussed. It can be tricky to balance giving with working to get paid--a confusing part of life and business.

My husband and I think Dear Girl may never choose straight academic training. Not because she's so artistically inclined, though she is clearly artistic to her core. More because she wears blue wigs when we go out, or cat ears, and notices such behavior requires bravery. Consciously then, she does not choose what's easy. Quite Thoughtful is in the Tarot deck of this child, but she is likely guided by the Goddess of Alternatives. And Dear Girl is driven to make money. She wants to be well set, able to take care of herself, and buy what she wants. She'll likely not wait around, dithering through college. She may be off and running her meandering path even now.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

 He did it! I suggested he go research how to do it. And instead he did it. Good job!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

My 13 year old is bored. Shall I rescue him? Is it my job to keep him enthused? He has three major passions: reading, Magic The Gathering, and video games. (In that order.) And one minor passion: music. (As far as I know.) He wants to study Aikido again and I am willing to support that. But he must wait a year, until the Herpst appliance is taken out of his mouth. Its not okay to participate in a head flinging sport while wearing a steel lever on your jaw. Especially if the fulcrum is your tempromandibular joint. What instead? What now?

Is this a test of his drive and my dogma? Children, humans, should rise to their own occasion. Yes? Perhaps he is craving less thought and more action. Perhaps increased duty around the house is in order, might restore order, might illuminate an ordered path. (Order is boring.)

I can't help thinking, what ails him is not so different from what ails me. I'm bored too. I have slacked on plenty of household duty, we could do with more action and less dwelling. Dwelling...

A strange dissonance forms in this Luddite who wistfully recalls the distant days past when folks used standard large screens commonly. With a shock of relief, I set aside my laptop to open the dictionary underneath (holding the computer off my actual lap) to look up dwell the old old-fashioned way.

dwell (Websters Unabridged hardback version): 6. a period in a cycle in the operation of a machine during which a given tool or part remains motionless. to lead astray, stun. abide

We should rip out the kitchen faucet and figure out how to fix it. When we can't be enthusiastic, we can at least be helpful. And the constant dripping annoys as our water and electricity are siphoned for non.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

What were these dangers? Progress of science, man's increasing technical mastery? No, the real danger threatening man lay in those gigantic social and political organisations, being ends in themselves instead of means, using the instruments of education and propaganda to suppress individual judgement by creating instinctive mass reaction. These organisations hinder man's spiritual development, reduce the capacity for moral judgement to a low level, and hand over society to the insensate lust for power of a few individuals. ...There lies man's road to extinction.  ~Henno Martin  
"The Sheltering Desert" is a deep worthy read. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

No one asked me about taking baby chicks out into the world. I'm not for it. Except, clearly, it was right.

I spent a lot of time today watching Mama Broody with her babies. She was serious, intent, ferocious, determined, gentle, and for all that also oblivious. She has to be. Right in the face of innumerable dangers she took her babies out. One of them was only one day old and Not Ready.

Grass Rider, I call that one. She kept falling asleep, one time as she was bounced by a blade of grass in a warm puddle of sun. It was hard for her to keep up with the big four day olds and she got tired. At first she would cry as she sensed herself falling behind. "Mama Mama MAMA!" Mama Broody, I noticed, was gradually less concerned with those cries. And the cries themselves diminished over the day. She kept up well enough.

There is an entire apartment complex underneath a broody hen. Private rooms separated by lace curtains and climate controlled atmosphere. Not unlike Hermione Granger's beaded bag, there is unlimited space and you're always safe once inside. The walls of the place shape shift and gurgle reassuringly. Light filters through a million tiny barbules. Its a place of nearly zero gravity, holding sleepers any which way.
 Four days old and out with Mom into the big wide world. 
Four in each picture, if you can spot them.
Good luck, tiny darlings. 

Pause. Go back up all your image files on your computer. Do it now. I've done it. You're a fool, if you don't. They can be lost in a moment nonreturnable. That shit happens.

I had a revelation last night. After feeding the children (onions braised in grated beets and butter, salted, and tucked into omelets with cheddar cheese. Red yellow and orange for dinner.) I milked the goats, showered, and dressed myself in a neat skirt with flats. I drove to town and sat in front of a local coffee shop reading a book about knitting socks. Behind me were half a hundred beautiful young people doing what they must do nearly everyday, sitting immersed in their study and gorgeousness sipping drinks being near each other. Seriously, I'd forgotten this sort of thing goes on. Life still happens in the big world, but no one told me about it. I'd forgotten.

I was waiting for my husband, picking him up after a three day business trip in Philadelphia. There I am, clean, out, waiting. My husband is moving toward me, tired, glad to be home. We met on the street, a simple thing we must have done thousands of times in the years before children. It was all too good. Instead of hurrying home we crossed the street and fell into a sultry dark booth in a tapas bar. We ate a bit, talked, and went home. Surely we looked completely normal and sane.

Or did we? I was strange and giddy. Which is not so unnatural feeling to me, but it was showing. The waiter took our order, macaroni and cheese with crab--which, frankly, turned out less impressive than the Kraft with canned tuna we made as children. He then turned to go and I waived goodbye to him. It was involuntary and definitely bizarre. A small fluttering wave, "Bye now."

It won't right. I've been in too long. Seriously. I gazed at my husband, listening to stories of the last few days, and realized that sitting in tapas bars with something to say is just another variation of what he does for work. And then I saw the truth. For the last 13 years, through everything he has seen and done, I've been home with the children. It sort of staggered me as it defined my adult life. I laughed and told him, I've been in the house with the same furniture and the same company all these years as the walls have changed around me. And the children have grown. I've been there. All that time.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Season 1 of Downton Abby begins with the sinking of the Titanic, touches on women's suffrage, and closes with the beginning of World War I. There's a fine history curriculum all wrapped up in a deliciously clad soap opera, perfect for me and my tween girl. The social subtext is good as well: when in serious trouble, always look to your mother for help.

Why does every day involve a fight with an American?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

I've been lost in the wilds of the Namib reading The Sheltering Desert by Henno Martin. My son loaned me his copy, which was a gift from friends from South Africa and Namibia. Its the true story of two young German men in the late 1930s who decided to skip the war by disappearing into the desert. It is a fascinating book that immerses you in the heat and sand with the gemsbok and a constant search for water and the meaning in life.
Contrasted with life outside my front door this exceptionally long cool season which used to be spring but should now feel more like summer. The runner beans have scooped up the tomato plants, with a most gentle and tender twining. Daisies are blooming through bean leaves. Carrots, beets, chard, fennel, and several kinds of flowers are thriving. The land around here is damp and banging green. Figs will ripen in a few weeks. Milk is flowing.

Monday, June 4, 2012

We have a broody hen and a friend brought over 20 fertile eggs for her to sit upon. The eggs were due to hatch in a week. I was dubious they would hatch at all. They arrived in a box from a street fair, with unknown provenance. But the hen was happy to have them and it was no skin off our nose. Twice I found broken eggs in her nest, which I discarded. Twice I found new (non-fertile) eggs from my other hens, in her nest. Which I removed.

Today my daughter flew into the house shouting, "Mom Mom Mom, there is a broken egg in the nest!!!" I followed her out with a settled heavy heart, expecting to discard more eggs--not an especially good sign.

Imagine my surprise when I gently lifted broody to discover three completely dry chicks with two more pipped. I swear, it looked to me like there were 10 dry chicks hatched. Excitement fuddled my eyes. What a fun and remarkable turn of yet unplanned events! The rest of our afternoon was given over to helping. Which, after moving her nest down to the ground, has meant Intent Watching.