authors, Books, childhood, compassion, family, Life, Unschooling

Divergent…and other stories

“We believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another.” …

This quote, from the novel Divergent, highlights why some of what I read is Young Adult fiction.

I read for truth. Truth and hope. Divergent_(book)_by_Veronica_Roth_US_Hardcover_2011

Young adult novels, regardless of genre, reflect the virtue of hope. They are not afraid to honestly portray hope as a human desire. The worlds of YA novels are not tainted by unnervng, unforgiving, unending cyncicism. For, while cynicism, exists, as in Quicksilver by R. J. Anderson, the cynicism of  a girl who is different and who learns to mistrust others, there also exists a parallel of hope . Maybe things can be different. Maybe “… two people who care deeply about something bigger than each other,……drawn together by a shared commitment to that common ideal or goal” can describe both friendship – and love.

It is this hope that marks the call to action one encounters in YA fiction. YA fiction has a strong voice. It is often written in first person. It bends genres – think of Eleanor and Park – romance fiction but also realistic fiction, with some humour and the marks of pop culture. The novel, of despair tinged with hope and love, with a celebration of  different, is also, in its way, a coming of age and school story , with overtones of philosphical fiction (What does it mean to be us? What  is love? Who and what are we?).

Young adult fiction forms and informs the reader (And for those of us who are no longer young adults, it reminds us of this formation and youth).

Who can forget the strength, resilience and search for roots in Dicey, from Homecoming and Dicey’s Song?

Or the advice given to Opal, in Because of Winn Dixie, to hold those we love loosely, in the palms of our hands.

Young adult fiction encourages new writers. The writing is often superb. Articulate voices craft these stories. They invite us into the narrative, into the minds and souls of the characters. We become a different person after immersion in the lives of others.

We remember. And we look to the future.

We, like the young adults for whom YA fiction is written, begin to understand more of our complex world and more of the complexity of others.

YA fiction pushes us towards positive change.

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Books, family, Life, Maybehedoesnthityou, Motherhood, speaking up, Women

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

Time and Time Again

Ben Elton’s book ‘Time and Time Again’ details travel backwards in time, to correct an event that had world-wide catastrophic events. At book club, someone asked the rest of us: ‘If you could go back in time, what would you change about your life?’ A personal twist on the novel’s societal concern.

My immediate reaction was ‘Nothing’. I made the decisions I did, the choices I enacted, based upon who I was at the time, with the information then available. How could I change that? Indeed, to change those decisions would mean to change me, to change my family of seven sons.

Does this mean that all my choices and decisions have been good?

Far from it.

They are, however, mine. They make me whom I am today, both the good and bad. They form the substance of my relationships – with family, with God, with others – and the essence of my theological, philosophical, and personal understanding.

I have written before of domestic abuse. Surely, I am not ‘owning’ that?

Well, I am. I am not a victim or even a survivor. I am not an over-comer. I am a woman who has experienced abuse and, in decrying the abuse of myself and my sons and the abuse of other women, I am strong. I am not broken and no, my sons do not come from a broken home. We are well, thank you very much. Our home has peace. We grow in virtue and compassion. We have a radar or sixth sense for abuse and control in and of others. We can see through the bullshit (excuse the language, but we can).

I made a choice to marry young, to continue to be a rescuer, because that is who I was at age nineteen. I didn’t deserve the abuse. But, be sure, my seven sons from that abusive relationship are beings I would never wish away.

I have made many mistakes in my life. But having seven children and homeschooling are not any of the mistakes. To erase or to manipulate my history in one swift time machine trip would be to erase the good with the bad.

I am who I am. I fight for others. I own my choices and stand firm against abuse. I am not a victim. I am whole.

In a life well lived. In a life that I plan to continue to live well.

In fact, there may just be truth in the old adage ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.

compassion, Life, Movies, New Year resolutions, Unschooling, Women

The exception, not the rule

I think somehow that those people who are held up as examples are exceptions, not the rule. The ‘He’s Just Not That Into You’ downloadthing. You know, those times when we, and others, point out the exceptions to say – look, it’s possible, if  they can do it so can you.

But we do ourselves a disservice when this happens. For the exceptions are not the rule.

The rule is the rest of us, living messy lives, stringing life and money and events and people together in a sometimes haphazard, sometimes organised, often chaotic fashion

I see it with money. Some people just sock it away, make amazing investments, own three houses, retire early. We can learn from them – but, in our own way.

They, these people,  are exceptions because of the cost, the life cost, the opportunity cost, the experience cost. There is always a cost to our actions, whatever that cost may be. And the cost for others may not be do-able, or even want-able. So we, the others not the exceptions, save and put money away for retirement but, no (sigh?), we don’t always make the best choices.

The same with food and exercise. Some seek perfection (a nebulous word, really, when one speaks in physical terms). They attain their version of this perfection. Yet, there are those of us who work hard, and eat well, but who also know that not all happiness is attained in physical terms. We count the cost of believing in physical beauty.

Homeschoolers do this, too. Some search for and write out the perfect schedule, the orderly classical curriculum, with children on track for early university and scholarships and ‘success’. Others do a bit of this, a bit of that, a great deal of messy learning and discussion while still reaching academic goals. This, indeed, is the norm and not the exception.

So, is it okay not to be exceptional?

Isn’t  this just a version of accepting and promoting mediocrity?

I think not.

I think it is a version of wanting the good, of working towards that which is good, within the complexities of self, others and community.

I think that just keeping on, towards the good, can be a compassionate approach to life.Showing compassion and understanding for oneself and for others, both when we succeed and when we falter. In our messy, non-exceptional lives.

 

 

 

 

 

Books, Catholicism, Life, politics, refugees, Women

What should we read, right now?

9781408855706_309035.jpegDolores Umbridge: I am sorry, dear, but to question my practices is to question the Ministry, and by extension, the Minister himself. I am a tolerant woman, but the one thing I will not stand for is disloyalty. 
Minerva McGonagall: Disloyalty? 
Dolores Umbridge: Things at Hogwarts are far worse than I feared. 

If I were homeschooling now, in this age of fear of immigrants, of wishing to publish (weekly) crimes of ‘aliens’, of the rippling effects of such decisions across the world, I would re-read the Harry Potter books with my children. Heck, I’ll probably re-read them now myself, anyway.

J.K. Rowling got it right. The Ministry of Magic and Dolores Umbridge are perfect characterisations of swift, reactionary, dare I say populist policies delivered under the guise of protection. So that when others criticise the policies and actions, these others are criticised as simply being ‘others’, as being ‘disloyal’, as anti-ministry (anti-government) rebel rousers.

‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’, in particular, demonstrates the creeping effect of policies and culture that choose to focus on what appears to be good, or even on what is actually good, while ignoring that which is also bad in the regime. Indeed, the swift action in trying people who are against the Ministry of Magic, of picking targets for fear and hate, allows the Ministry to create a culture of fear with misinformation.

Harry Potter: But if I keep popping in and out of the Ministry, won’t it look like I approve of what they’re doing? 

Rufus Scrimgeour: It would give everyone a boost to think that- 

Harry Potter: No, sorry. I don’t think that will work. I don’t like some of the things the Ministry are doing. Locking up Stan Shunpike, for one. 

Rufus Scrimgeour: I would not expect you to understand. These are dangerous times. You are sixteen years old- 

Harry Potter: Dumbledore’s a lot older than sixteen, and he doesn’t think Stan should be locked up either. You’re making Stan a scapegoat, just like you’re trying to make me a mascot! Later. 

Rufus Scrimgeour: I see. You prefer – like your hero Dumbledore – to disassociate yourself from the Ministry. 

Harry Potter: I don’t want to be used. 

Rufus Scrimgeour: Some would say it’s your duty to be used by the Ministry! 

Harry Potter: Yeah, and others might say it’s your duty to check people actually are Death Eaters before you chuck them in prison! You’re doing what Barty Crouch did. You never get it right, you people, do you?! Either we’ve got Fudge, pretending everything’s lovely while people get murdered under their noses, or we’ve got you, putting the wrong people in prison and pretending you’ve got the Chosen One working for you!

The parallels with the current immigration crisis and subsequent vetos on immigration and dislike targeted towards groups of people, as though a few speak for the many, is evident.

And J. K. Rowling again got it right. Because the novels offer hope. Hope in the actions of those concerned for truth, compassion and mercy. Hope that we, too, like Harry and his friends, can make a positive difference in the narrative of fear. To fight for mercy, to be merciful, again and again.

[Harry thinks to himself] …’how they had talked about fighting a losing battle, and that it was important to fight, and to fight again, and to keep fighting, to keep evil at bay, though never quite eradicated.’

We can take positive action, in both small and big ways. Read, write, share information. Pray. Volunteer. Donate. Discuss. Take political action even. Look carefully at how we treat others and for whom we vote.

Remembering the dignity and respect that should be offered to all of humanity, even when it may be difficult or inconvenient or have an economic cost. For not everything can be counted in economic terms. Not everything is political. Most everything involves humanity, and remembering that people, you, me, mums, dads, sisters, brothers, not objects but people, are affected and are involved.

So that we keep on working for that which is good for all. There is no turning back once we realise the good.

You’ve said to us once before that there was a time to turn back if we wanted to. We’ve had time, haven’t we? (Hermione, ‘Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince’).

Catholicism, Life, Motherhood, religion, Unschooling, Women

It’s the small things

Our Lady of Lourdes

This is how I arranged the dining table centrepiece before bed last night..a visual reminder, for all who rise in the early or not so early hours of the morning…and who wander past the dining area to the kitchen for breakfast. A reminder of today’s feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.. Saints book, candles; Fr Lovasik book on Our Lady of Lourdes; dh’s statue of Our Lady, from his childhood home….and our art focus book.
A week or so ago, someone asked me Why I Bother. Their point was I am doing a lot of work outside the home at the moment, a lot of stuff in the home for Kumon and for volunteer stuff, and at midnight, before bed and an early start the next morning for Mass, I do things like arrange a centrepiece for the table.
Don’t bother, I was told. Let others do the chores and don’t worry about the extras.
But I do want to “worry” about the extras.
It is the extras that make the house a home, a refuge, something set apart. That make a life, really.
I said awhile back, to a priest, that women don’t always have time for the great inventions, for the great works, not because we are less inclined to these things but because our days and minds are often filled with little things…little things that never seem to amount to much, that no one may even notice if done or left undone, but which make a mark on the lives of family and friends.
Creating a space, a nook, for quiet reading and sitting. For movies. Putting out flowers and candles. Planning a dessert for a saints day. Plumping up cushions and scattering an interesting book. Texting friends. Having a person who is lonely over for a cuppa..and including the kids in the converation. Sending a smile.
I am not advising mothers and wives and women to be martyrs. I certainly take time for reading, for work, for my study, for workouts. But my mind and days are also full of All Those Small Things ( Blink 182).
And I bother.
‘A man,’ as one of them observed to me once, ‘is so in the way in the house!’ Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford.
And not at all true. But the point is made..a woman often does make a subtle difference. Shouldn’t that difference be calculated, for the good, for beauty, for people?
 Thus the “perfect woman” (cf. Prov 31:10) becomes an irreplaceable support and source of spiritual strength for other people, who perceive the great energies of her spirit. These “perfect women” are owed much by their families, and sometimes by whole nations.
In our own time, the successes of science and technology make it possible to attain material well-being to a degree hitherto unknown. While this favours some, it pushes others to the edges of society. In this way, unilateral progress can also lead to a gradual loss of sensitivity for man, that is, for what is essentially human. In this sense, our time in particular awaits the manifestation of that “genius” which belongs to women, and which can ensure sensitivity for human beings in every circumstance: because they are human! – and because “the greatest of these is love” (cf. 1 Cor 13:13).MULIERIS DIGNITATEM
Pope John Paul II
Why do I bother? Out of love..not just for family, but for friends, for others, for people I meet, for love of God.
A recent homily on St Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, Chapter 13 ( If I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal… ) challenged all of us, husbands, wives, women, men, single, married, religious..all of us to serve with love. If we love, we are not jealous; we do not act out of selfishness and concern for ourselves; we act with love and care for others.
I must act with that feminine genius of which the Pope spoke, with that sensitivity for human beings in every, yes, every, circumstance…
A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, must empty ourselves. The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace. Mother Theresa
In my very busy life, I remember some of the stories of my childhood and early teen years, those stories that shaped me. The Little House on the Prairie series. The Anne of Green Gables books. The Meet the Austins series. The Dimity boarding school books. All those Pollyanna novels. Jane Austen. Swallows and Amazons. Noel Streatfield. Verily Anderson. Dodie Smith. Bridge to Terabithia. Amongst others.
What was it that attracted me to these books?
 Their vision of family life. Of normality. Of fun. Of dinners and chats and walks and time together.
 I take this vision and try to live it out, in my whirlwind of activity and technology.
 I bother with the little things.
 The extras that are not really extras. For, as we women, seek careers and study, seek good, seek to be truly ourselves it is sad if we also lose sight of what it is that makes a home…us.
Everybody today seems to be in such a terrible rush, anxious for greater developments and greater riches and so on, so that children have very little time for their parents. Parents have very little time for each other, and in the home begins the disruption of peace of the world. Mother Theresa
Life

A learning habit?

One thing we homeschoolers and unschoolers are often asked is ‘How do you teach your kids?’… Or, ‘Are you a teacher?’

What I have found it that it matters less what and how or if we teach.

What matters more is that we develop a learning habit and a learning environment. A habit where we peg activities onto other activities rather than a mad rush through the day .A habit that reinforces that which we know is most important – books, free time, family time, discussion, time outdoors.

A habit of reading and talking together. Sharing books and thoughts.

I have often felt that it is this learning habit, some rhythm in our days or week, with lots of reading and talking that has ‘made’ our education. People ask how it is that my sons do well at undergraduate and postgraduate study. I think it is because they have developed that learning habit, borne out of rhythm, experience, passion, and love.

It was gratifying to read of the importance of these factors (habit and reading) in a book called ‘The Learning Habit’. Yes, it is written to help parents and children with school homework and with establishing patterns of learning for school and college success. Yes, there are issues I have with the book concerning screen time and bedtime (but I also acknowledge that these issues are more important for families with children at school then they are for unschoolers).

However, it was encouraging to note the studies, experiences and anecdotes that describe the positive effect on children of ‘a learning habit’, namely a routine or rhythm in their life (not necessarily every day) and a value placed on reading and reading aloud and family time.

Almost a recipe for unschooling.learning habit

Books, Life, Unschooling

Woman vs Woman

A colleague of mine was due for her yearly student review, at the university where she works. In student reviews, students in your classes complete a questionnaire about your lecturing and teaching, with space for additional comments concerning performance, if required. My colleague was upset, however. Why? A young female student came to her after completing the review, to let her know that she was the one who criticised the lecturer’s dress in additional comments

Now, let me say one thing. Many male lecturers dress casually and no student ever comments on their clothing. Yet, when asked to review a woman lecturer’s lecturing and teaching performance, another woman feels she must comment on dress. And fashion.

Why do women do this to each other? Why are we our own worst enemies?

Recently, researchers in North Carolina in the U.S. ran online courses for students. The lecturers ran one course under their actual names and gender and, simultaneously, the same course under a different name, changing their gender. The results? When students were told the lecturer was male, they rated their lecturer higher in performance rankings. When students were told their lecturers were female, well, the lecturer performance ratings took a dive.

And female students rated female lecturers more harshly.

Now, some have posited that this animosity among women is a natural thing….boys will be boys and women will be haters…to other women. However, it seems to me that it is more learned behaviour than natural behaviour. And thus, if it can be learned, it can also be unlearned.

Unfortunately, as Juliette Frette writes, much of the tension between women, much of the general meanness, concerns looks, weight, beauty. You know, you attend a class and afterwards, over coffee, your female friends around the table start criticising another woman’s body, or fashion choices, or makeup, or…

As though looks define our femininity.

On the other hand, in some circles, it is not our looks that are considered suitable fodder for dissecting and discussing and just general dissing.

No, in other circles, it’s our qualifications, our intellect…we are seen as too smart for our own good, in completing our PhD, or not quite making the grade because our thesis is on women and family related issues.

In still other arenas, it is our mothering style. Having been labelled as unattractive, a poor housekeeper and a poor mother by a woman I admired, I know the hurt that such tensions creates. These are the so-called mommy wars – debates over breastfeeding, working, homeschooling, ways to homeschool (unschooling? School at home? Should her kid start university courses so early?), parenting styles, wifely duties (“Did you hear they split up? He left her. I bet it’s because she was too busy for him/spent too much time on the kids/works/homeschools/you name it”…ignoring the fact that this is private information and, just perhaps, it wasn’t that the husband left her…).

Seriously, this has to stop. Frette lists ways we can change the tensions among women. My stance is to become pro-woman, pro other women. To take the other’s side. To change the topic of conversation. To have a meta-discussion about discussing other women.

To remember, in the words of Harriet Vane, in Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night, that we are ‘cursed with both hearts and brains’, with the responsibility of using both wisely; especially in resolving the women vs women debates.