Parenting Off-leash

The seasons are changing.  My oldest is gone more than home now, and the next two boys are working out in the gym and growing manly muscles on their lean arms.  My daughter’s turned into a lady with a keen sense of right, a quick tongue and an even sharper wit.

We’re all growing up. Not that I’m crying, mind you. I welcome the opportunity to wrestle bigger challenges than whose Hot Wheel this is.  It’s just a different type of parenting now.  They still need shepherding, just with a looser hand.

I’m reminded of my first parenting lessons, years ago. I had adopted a 100 lb. Labrador Retriever with an assertive streak. What a tough bugger he was in obedience class, refusing to lie down on command unless I body-slammed him and pinned him in my own version of a wrestling hold.  I only outweighed him by about 3 pounds, and he had testosterone and four legs on his side.  He strained to keep his head above mine.  With persistence, he learned to work with me. We moved to off-leash training, where he had to choose to obey lessons like, ‘don’t chase the kitty across the road just because you’re the dog for the job and I’m not looking’.  At the end of the summer, we won 2nd place at the trials.Sandyswim

I wish it were that easy to train kids.  Today, I’d be thrilled to come in second place.  On that day, I felt gypped, and came up with all sorts of consolations.  I was a teen with a large, intact male dog competing against an adult with a spayed people pleaser. She wasn’t at all moved by the lovely mutt in heat that wandered through the final exam.  My dog looked like Pepe Le Pew floating away after a Persian cat.

I didn’t recognize the real point.  That class was a joint effort to develop well-mannered companions, not a competition to see who could produce the perfect show dog.

Education is not about perfection.

I will never be a perfect mother, homeschool or otherwise.  My only charge is to love the Lord more than anything else and figure out how to stir each of my students to choose to follow me in that, daily.  But just like my old Lab, the outcome boils down to a choice that is outside of my control.  Will he follow my path, or not?  Milk bones or a swim in the lake assist with retention, but just like most adults on earth, if it doesn’t pay off, he probably won’t repeat it.

My oldest kids have learned the basics of come, sit, and stay.

It’s now time to go off-leash.  What they know, they know, and what they don’t will show quickly.  We’ll focus there.  Move into the world, my children.  You will fall.  Know that – but know also that falls are not fatal.  You’ll get up and be stronger.  I’ll help you, but only if you need it.  You have the rest of your lives to fine-tune who you want to become.

Someone asked me today how I parent high schoolers.  I couldn’t help but chuckle under my breath.  I’m really not the one to ask.  But yet I am – I can answer from experience that there comes a point when you must trust that what you’ve done has made an impact and that your children are competent to think and move on their own.  But you’re not done.

You must still pray.  Pray for quiet patience that exudes faith, in God and in the child.  Pray for safety and quickly growing wisdom.  Know that God is there, and won’t blink, even when it’s midnight and you haven’t heard from your son since lunch.

If you’ve been diligent with your time when you had it before you, you will not be disappointed now.  The Bible doesn’t just spout cool maxims that encourage us emptily.  When the proverb says, ” Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” – it’s a promise you can lean on.

I found this interesting elucidation in Clarke’s Commentary:

When he comes to the opening of the way of life, being able to walk alone, and to choose; stop at this entrance, and begin a series of instructions, how he is to conduct himself in every step he takes. Show him the duties, the dangers, and the blessings of the path; give him directions how to perform the duties, how to escape the dangers, and how to secure the blessings, which all lie before him. Fix these on his mind by daily inculcation, till their impression is become indelible; then lead him to practice by slow and almost imperceptible degrees, till each indelible impression becomes a strongly radicated habit. Beg incessantly the blessing of God on all this teaching and discipline; and then you have obeyed the injunction of the wisest of men. Nor is there any likelihood that such impressions shall ever be effaced, or that such habits shall ever be destroyed.

I’ve not done everything right.  But that’s where the prayers come in: God is the perfect Father.  He can instill in each of my children what I never taught.  They’re in good hands.

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Legalism in the Homeschool

Teaching a one-room schoolhouse is not just a job – it’s an incessant mental workout, plotting, overseeing, and enabling the intellectual pursuits of multiple children simultaneously while clarifying my own motives and methods for doing so.  Mothers can be a bit insecure holding the future in their hands and incessantly look for clear direction.  It would be really nice if there were a manual to follow which would guarantee well-rounded adults.  I found a really viable one once, but couldn’t afford it.  That frustrated me.  But I saw recently that many of its graduates are now hopelessly mired in hypocrisy, torn by an inability to be true to their professions of faith and morality.  I cannot imagine the parents’ remorse as they hear that their students feel cheated of the truth.

I’m sensing that this curriculum, like every other one I’ve seen, was incomplete.  Children need to understand the Law and the Gospel.  I was raised with plenty of Gospel mercy and very little Law to give a reason for Jesus’ death and resurrection.  My biggest problem has been an inability to define sin.  The students I saw in that program had the absolute truth about sin, but no redemption from it.  I didn’t see that then.

I just knew I was winging it and was really dissatisfied with my progress.  The irritating little girl in the sandbox angrily threw sand into her mate’s face while yelling, “Sorry, Molly, I didn’t mean to do that!”  loud enough so Mommy heard her.  I was humiliated to see it was my own child.

Homeschooling seems to have a special knack for breeding legalism, which, according to Webster, is the “literal and usually too strict adherence to the letter of the law.”  Yep, that would be my little Pharisee.  In my quest to produce Rhodes scholars, I’ve drilled rules into them.  Any failure rests on my shoulders, and I am plagued with doubts:  “I must be lazy or using the wrong organizer; something I’m doing isn’t working!  These kids are smart, but I’m too inexperienced for the job.”   There is no going back.  The serious Christian has no business sending her children to government schools if the truth be told.  Separation of church and state, you know. 

“A Day in the Life” articles show others achieving everything God apparently requires:  Socratic method, elementary Hebrew, plane Geometry, and concert violin are all taught to umpteen well-mannered children in a well appointed home.   The goals themselves were way beyond me.  I threw my hands in the air and told the world to go to hell.  Or something like that.  I’m certainly not making it, so I guess we’re all doomed.  I obviously don’t have what it takes to be an educator and a chosen one simultaneously.  The call I heard to do this, not to mention the Christianity that invoked it, was a sham – and it was high time I admitted it.  Honestly.   I have always said that where God puts a lamb He will also provide the pasture, but I had obviously missed something.  Everything I stood for was crashing around me and my flock.   I took the summer off.

I read Scripture and prayed.  Not the “Hallowed be Thy Name” kind of prayer – the “What the hell’s going on here?” and the “What do you want from me, God?” kinds of prayer.   Prayer becomes very powerful when you finally get honest with God.  I found out I was right – what I’d professed was a sham.  What Jesus taught and the Christianity I practiced bore no resemblance to each other.  My faith was badly warped.

In seeking the perfect curriculum and implementation, I’d been combing Scripture for which rules to uphold, never seeing the real good news.  (Who’s the Pharisee?)  “When our salvation is based upon something WE do rather than what GOD does, eventually a person will grow disillusioned, frustrated, and spiritually suicidal.”  I wish I’d read these anonymous words years ago, but I had to experience them for myself.  The same writer went on:  “…true freedom doesn’t come from moral behavior, but rather by complete abandon to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

But how to teach my children the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy  6:6-7) while pointing to Christ like John the Baptist (John 3:30)?  They need to know the rules so they know how awesome the pardon is.   Rules broad enough to apply to everyday life will never address the situation at hand, however.  I can’t look to these rules as a checklist of what to do.  That’s not their purpose.  The purpose is to show us how frightfully inadequate we are to live up to the standards so that we will look for help from our Creator.  And His work is already finished.

I see now that this was because I kept thinking that everything depended on what we should do, for when I saw so little of true repentance and victory over sin, helplessness crept into my heart. I counted and summed up all that they did  [to clean up their act], and not the smallest percentage of debt was paid. But now I see that which is done, and  I see that the whole debt is paid. Now therefore I go about my duties as might a prison warden who carries in his pocket a letter of pardon for all  his criminals.  (Bo Giertz, The Hammer of God)

Not that my school is a prison.  Good grief.  But the children are human, just like me.   Christopher Columbus said,  “I am a most noteworthy sinner, but I have cried out to the Lord for grace and mercy, and they have covered me completely. I have found the sweetest consolation since I made it my whole purpose to enjoy His marvelous Presence.”

When I cried out to the Lord for help and stayed on the floor until He provided, I found the secret.  Those prayers I utter in the morning are more important than the lessons I spout in the afternoon.   Inspiration – breathing in the breath of God – is what brings everything else together.  Until I see the joy of Christ’s resurrection and what it means to me, I can drive the children all day and they’ll never go.  But they will catch my fascination with my Savior if it is real.   The curriculum becomes just a medium to work with on the way to mastery of everything in God’s world as we seek to know and understand Him together.

The frustrations we encounter turn out to be pointers redirecting our steps, gifts to be welcomed.

Kara Murphy, creator of Organic Homeschooling, sums up my point perfectly:  “If Satan can keep us in constant turmoil about what method or curriculum to use, he can keep our focus away from the most important work of discipling our children. Don’t fall into his trap. Renew your mind by the washing of the Word and move forward, confident of the work that Jesus Christ is doing in you and your children.”

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.   (Proverbs 3:5-6, NKJV)

Socialization: A homeschooler’s perspective

I saw this great quote about homeschoolers the other day in Jim Mullen’s article at Hanford Sentinel.com.

“Those kids are nothing but problems…. They’re not socialized. We had one boy who wanted to go out for football because that’s something you really can’t do at home, and when he got to the locker room, the other kids found out he didn’t even know how to snap a towel or give a wedgie. That’s the problem with homeschooling.”

Hmmm. I never thought about the things that truly matter in adult life and make boys into men like towel-snapping and wedgies. For the record, my boys are accomplished at both. They’ve also found time to master important social skills like Indian burns and ice cubes down sister’s back.

That’s not exactly what I’d envisioned as the marker of success.  The original definition of socialize is ‘to render social, to make fit for living in society’.  I haven’t seen that my knowledge of these skills has made much difference in my social status.  The fact my kids even do these things at all embarrasses me.

Last week, the topic of Justin Bieber came up.  I have no clue what this kid does to create the kind of stir he has.  Boys seem to despise him en masse, girls catch their breath at the mere mention of his name and then apparently are rendered deaf.  I heard a mother utter death threats on anyone humming a song of his “because none of us will get it out of our heads before Friday.”  I’m afraid to click on his name on YouTube.  I have things to accomplish before Friday.  Other than appearing to be a younger, more synthetic version (if possible) of Shaun Cassidy, I think he just needs a haircut.

His photo on IMDb made me think of the kids who ask Mom to drop them off blocks before school, so their friends won’t have to see that they have parents. I never did this of course, but you remember the drill:  even in pouring rain, if the friends didn’t witness a mother, you can deny she exists.  Hmm.  If my son ever thinks the way to win girls is to look like this kid, dropping him off several blocks away from wherever we’re going might be a good idea.  It would allow me to deny my part in his upbringing.  Sorry, kid, you mess with my image.

Socialization is the biggest question I answer to those who have no stake in our future.  Am I not worried they’ll grow up to be social misfits?  If knowing and looking like the current teen heartthrob is integral to growing up properly, then that’s exactly what I hope.

In high school, I belonged to the Latin Club.   It branded me a nerd.  Even after touring Italy and Greece together, sitting through class after class with intelligent people, I was afraid of being identified with them.  And those same geeks are the successful business moguls I wish I were with today.    I had so much in common with them, but the popularity contest kept me away.   It was all about popularity and appearing cool.  I am shocked at the vast majority of high school graduates I’ve spoken to who readily admit their total lack of understanding of higher math, grammar, or even American history and consider themselves responsible adults.   What was school about, after all?   Paul Simon sang (about the generation before mine), “When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all.”

Most of us are hypocrites.  We look back on the waste of time that was the majority of our education and simultaneously deride those who strive for a more productive use of their children’s time.  And homeschoolers, being human, are just as susceptible to peer pressure as anybody else, for the most part.  If we are the only ones present in the neighborhood all week, I feel left out of the world of important busy-ness.  But I lived on “Homeschool Hill” for a while, too, and I heard several parents there lamenting what failures they were because their only contribution to their students’ education was dropping them at the bus stop.  How much of what any of us do is still the result of peer pressure?  That’s pure foolishness, and has nothing to do with competent, adult citizenship.

I don’t want my children to be part of the crowd doing nothing but griping about the state of the world today.  I want them to make a difference in their world, to think for themselves and stand on their own beliefs.  I want them to believe in God and respect their father.  I want them to read original ideas and deduce their own conclusions.  My textbook and newspaper world prepared me much better to read a review than embark on an original work alone.  I am very aware of my vulnerability to being misled by this.  I also know that, in spite of being an honor student with a 4-year degree, I still have no ability to follow the train of thought in many of our country’s founding documents and make up my own mind about them.

So how well socialized am I, if I cannot join the adult conversation about the most important concepts regarding our native land?  It’s a sad commentary on our society that I am considered an intelligent, competent member of society because I try to research candidates before voting.  Someone actually was impressed that I had a standard for how I voted: could I pronounce the person’s name, and did I prefer a man or woman in this office?  I wasn’t flipping a coin the way they were.

Homeschooled kids know they don’t fit in.  I remember two boys who attended a swim party at our home once and never removed their fishing hats.   At any other swim party, they would have been laughed at as dorks.  But these boys were very fair, and had already learned to put their health before their vanity.  They were wise beyond their peers.  As I look at the college-age kids around me, I see Eagle Scouts, lobbyists, business owners, and museum curators.  They don’t fit in any standard mold.  Yet they are the children of my homeschooling friends.

There used to be a popular book about homeschooling called Hothouse Transplants.   I loved the impression.  Plants raised in a greenhouse aren’t raised in a natural environment.  But when they come out, they have a strength that far outperforms other plants.  I’m doing something different because I want to make a positive change in my world.  And really, wouldn’t that be the ideal definition of rendering a child fit for society?

False Evidence Appearing Real

My sweet Pips and I had lunch with an old friend today.  He calculated we hadn’t seen each other in 28 years.  Good grief.  I must’ve been 6 last time I saw him.  No wonder he said she looked so like me when I was younger…..

Anyway, we were discussing perceptions of each other when we were in school together.  He described me as shy.  I never would’ve used that word, but I definitely feared jumping into others’ conversations where I may not be welcome.  He recalled the feeling of never being accepted at the “in” table, which I also remembered clearly.  Then he talked about a girl we both knew, who’d confessed to him that she had feared rejection badly.  I had always thought she was arrogant and had avoided her accordingly.  I didn’t need her looking down her nose at me, since I was already nearing the bottom of the social heap.  I was really surprised, when I reconnected with her, how genuinely open she was.  And how much we had in common.  Others I never expected have welcomed me as a friend just as generously.

It struck me how we all gauged our relationships on fear.  Of the unknown, of uncertainties, of potential humiliation.

And once we got past the expectations and perceptions of high school, we could all be friends. It makes me happy I’ve chosen to homeschool.  My kids have no conception of peer pressure or expectations – because it’s not part of reality.  It’s only a construct in schools (and beauty shops.)  My kids, like most adults,  just like or dislike a person based on actual experience with them, not who they keep as friends or what they drive.

It also makes me happy I’ve grown up.  There are people I’ve known for years and feared being friends with for nothing more than a perception of who they are.  That is so wrong.  Everybody suffers when a potential friend is not realized or developed.

Growing up,  I was the only girl on my street, and I didn’t get a sister until I was in college.  I’ve had precious few female friends.  Which was fine for a while; it’s a lot easier to talk cars with guys than girls.  Only for the four years I lived in Las Vegas did I have a circle of female friends.  I missed them before we met, and I miss them again now.  But all the way through school, most of my friends were male.  My initial choice for my maid of honor was male.  I didn’t have bridesmaids; I had bridesbuddies.  No joke.

All this just to illustrate the power of perception and it effects on friendship.  Years ago, I was invited to a family party with a friend.  My family didn’t have parties, so this was a real treat for me.  It sounded like fun.  The minute I arrived, I met my friend’s grandmother and parents.  It flashed across my mind that I was not merely a friend, but a marriage prospect being considered by the elders.  I saw other friends I knew at this party, including the guy I went to lunch with today, but that didn’t change the perception in my mind.  I panicked and extricated myself immediately.  I don’t remember, but I may have walked home.   I never explained to my friend what happened nor spoke to him again.  While I’m sure he has not spent years pondering what he did to offend me, I’ve often wished I’d given him the benefit of an explanation. Because that’s what friends do, and I wasn’t one that day.

I was in the 8th grade when that happened.   Fear is a powerful force, and drives us to do stupid things.  It’s also not from God.  I desperately wanted family and friends, and yet when they presented themselves, I ran away.  God wants us in fellowship with others.  Anything that isolates us from humanity is not from God.  I thought about the truth of 1 Sam. 16:7, which was the theme of the book Pips asked me to read when we got home.  “For the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”  (It’s an Amish book, so the King James Bible was quoted.)

I am so glad I had a chance to talk with this friend today.  Fear will no longer rule the day.  Because perfect love casts out fear, and (I’m hearing a mantra I recite to my son) communication is key to every relationship.  I could have had many, many friends in school had I merely asked if I were welcome to join the group.  Because we all know how honest schoolkids will be.

I Could Do Nothing

When I was still relatively new to homeschooling, a retired teacher turned homeschool maven encouraged me in my work:  “You could do absolutely nothing with your kids but spend time with them, and you’d be ahead of the public schools.”  I’ve never been quite sure of that, but I do see truth.  The character and ability to think for oneself, along with the self-confidence I’ve seen in every homeschool graduate I’ve ever met, is far more important in my mind than whatever academics I may have succeeded in shoving into their heads.  Although I’ve seen quite a bit of academic excellence, far beyond anything I witnessed in school.  I just wish I were a part of it.  My kids are pretty average.

Depending how you judge.  My older son has made a live save while volunteering time with the local fire department, and assisted with countless other rescues.  He and my second son have been available during school hours to fight fires when most every other firefighter is unavailable.  They study, run calls, and return to their books.  I’ve heard first-hand from homeowners how much they mean to the community.  Houses and property could have been lost if they had been locked up on a campus.  And what have they learned?  That knowledge trumps all?  Or that people are the most important investment?

Education is not always easily measured.

But I’m up on my soapbox.  Today, I got a reminder that Mary was right.  I love learning and all things academia, but I never aspired to teach.  That’s a good thing.  I am not a great teacher – I do best when I’m excited about something and lead my flock on a wild learning adventure.   I’ve pretty well burned myself out trying to teach, so declared this summer to be vacation time.  Even if we sit and do absolutely nothing, I am taking summer off.

And this is what I found today, when the children had been quiet too long.  Funny, they didn’t want to be photographed.

Maybe they would be better if I did nothing….

(Day 39/365)

Be Still, and Know

There was no post yesterday.  Not that anybody noticed, not that it matters, but it’s important to me.  Because whether anybody reads my drivel or not, it’s good for me to write.

But sometimes, it’s better to not.

And that’s hard for me.  I don’t like blank slates and quiet spaces – I’m uncomfortable with voids that should have something in them.  Don’t get me wrong;  the most fulfilling thing I do each day is designate uninterrupted silent time with my Lord.  Those moments of communion are sweet music in my soul, guiding my steps and speech the rest of the day.  I’ve noticed a huge difference in me since I made that daily appointment non-negotiable.  Not because it’s probably the only daylight hour when the house is actually quiet, but because I’m more discerning with what I say, and how.  I’m more aware of when God is speaking to me.

Yesterday there were no photo op moments or  words busting my seams to get out.  There were situations that made it difficult or impossible to speak.  Conversations moved in such a way that I was silenced, and the computer overheated and needing cleaning.   These things used to offend me.  Not anymore;  they are more probably a divine intervention to redirect my steps.  And nothing in my plan is so sacred that God cannot trump it.

A wise woman once told me that she planned her day, implemented her plan, and minimized distractions.  But interruptions were never a problem; they were an opportunity to minister.  She was referring to incoming phone calls and unexpected visitors.  I’ve had more roadblocks than unexpected callers.  They are a reminder to remember Who is really in control.

Last night, as I retired with nothing to show for the day, I heard, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)   I heard so many translations of “Shhhh – it’s all right” as I looked back over the events of my Sunday.   He’s got it in hand, and I don’t have to fret.

So today was a blank slate ahead of me.  The dreaded white sheet of paper.  But I still had that calm over my being.  I went about my routine and quietly rode my day.  Good conversations and opportunities for wise parenting appeared out of nowhere, and I was pleased I’d had nothing on my calendar to override them.

Just a nice, quiet, regular day, with the freedom to find out if ragweed burns.

It does.

(Day 37/365)

Reset

I’ve been seeing this page an awful lot lately.   It means I’m back to square one.  It reminds me of playing “Sorry!” with my big brother.  No matter which cards we got, he always moved forward to the goal and I always got bumped back to Home.  Start over, Brenda; you do it so well.

I know that what’s really going on is that I’m asking for things above the capability of the system.   While some have commented how quiet and peaceful my rural home is, it takes Eddie Albert to keep my phone connection working.  I have a sneaking suspicion that the constant upgrades to the computer to rectify speed issues have been no different than when Grandma put a bigger octopus on her wall outlet to handle the sewing machine, the reading light, the heater, and the radio together.  She never understood why she had power failures when she sewed heavier fabrics.  I wish I could just put a penny in the fusebox of my computer….

Thankfully, if my penny fails, I have an entire department’s worth of firefighter friends moments away.  The homeschool community is full of competent young men and ladies to assist me when I cannot get my blog to function or the right angle on a photo.   When I complain about my computer woes, my daughter gives me that look that only she can give and says, “At least it gives you a screen.”   Each one of them is a godsend to me.  They are my surge protector and backup power supply.

So, while yesterday’s post may not have made it to the page until today, I’m up and running.   I did what I could do and called it enough.  I moved on to better priorities.  I spent some time with my older kids talking about hamsters and farmwork.   When they organized a demolition crew to pull down their fort before it killed someone, I agreed to drive the “wrecker”.   It will take another day to clear the debris, but my backyard is now clear of ugliness.  After dinner, I moved a project I’d been wanting to do to the front burner.

I gave my piano a new life.  This project has been on my mind and my dresser for exactly a year now.   I will find a place to hang it tomorrow, after I’m sure that everything is dry and secure to put it in the frame.

And isn’t that what the reset button is all about?  Something wasn’t working – the piano was too big, too old, and too far beyond repair.   It had given many years of service before delivering its final lesson on sound dynamics and mechanics.  And yet, as it settled into its new role as artwork, it taught me about decorating and home beautification.  The piano has been reset – and is bringing me smiles once again.

(Day 34/365)