compassion, family, Life, Motherhood, Unschooling, Women

Family is our heritage

Eat. Chocolate. The heritage of the family. Or, as Blaise Paschal would say, the heart of the family.

I have often written of this heritage as  ‘strength’. That ability to cope, to keep going, to persevere. The heritage of strength. To never give up and, rightly or wrongly, to stick to being themselves, my family, with their agency and decision-making, both individualistic and collective.

Present, too, in my family, has been the strength to know when to cut your losses and make a change.

So, strength has been a theme, a thread, in the heritage of the family.

But I think there is more. To be honest, when I think of family love and family battles, of parties fading to fights, of solidarity and connectedness, I think of family itself. I realize that the heritage is more than a character trait or a story weaving its way through our lives, a tradition that keeps on being traditional. No, to reduce the family heritage to such simplicity is to do the heritage injustice. Because, ultimately, the heritage of our family is ‘family’ itself.

The ties that wind and bind, with love and sometimes dislike, inexplicably wrap us together as family. We pass on the intensity of the experience to our children. They, too, come to know family as a heritage that one can never quite escape.

And, surprisingly, we come to understand that the heritage of family is something you do not want to escape. It is you, your heritage. It is in all the good and all the bad. It is both the utopia and the dystopia.

It, family,  is there in the books and movies and music and quotes. The shared memories of childhood. The standing together against all odds, even in the busyness of life and the rare opportunity to gather as family.

We know life because of family.

This is our heritage.

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’).

Christmas, Life, new year, New Year resolutions, Women, word for the year

It’s not a word for the year. Or even a new year resolution.

white_t_shirt_by_alymunibari-d3fw9adDoing that word for a year thing seems so stale for me now. So old me.

But  to see the new year in without a promise or hope  hurts. It’s like putting a big, fat red cross on 2017 before the poor thing even properly starts.

What to do? It’s a dilemma….

Then, today, I put on my new white t-shirt. Ethically made. Simple. Clean. Clear cut lines. No adornment.

And I remember that I love white shirts. Especially white t-shirts.

Yeah, they show every dirt or stain. But -zap!- a soak in napisan and out they come, pristine. Almost.

They give a sense of a fresh start. Of Youth and of Summer. New promises, as yet unbroken. Even the many times washed white t-shirt. That looks good but not perfect. Like life, really. Promise of more with hints of that which has gone before.

I’m going to buy another new white t-shirt today. It’s like a promise to myself. Of newness and goodness and hope. To try, and to try again.

White t-shirts are a gift to the world.

In the end I find that it’s not that I need a word for the year. Or even a resolution.

What I need is a new white t-shirt (or two or three..). A symbol of hope and promise.

It’s my new New Year thing.

Books, Christmas, Life, Movies

A booky Christmas

For those of us who love books, reading and writing, a Christmas without books would be unthinkable.

While others make lists of food and cards and Things To Do I make mental lists of books to read over the break. The Christmas break. The no work break ( who am I kidding??).

I keep wanting to add more and more and more books but I am trying to learn realistic time management – you know, where you actually plan for what is possible and not for superhuman, Wonder Woman Leonie who can cram 48 hours into 24. Or so she thinks.

These are currently on my booky Christmas want-to-read list:

  1. No Holly for Miss Quinn by Miss Read. An oldie but a nevertheless an easy to read, feel-good Christmas story by that quintessential British author, Miss Read. Miss Quinn enjoys her singleness but has become a trifle smug. One Christmas jolts her from such smugness.
  2.  The Twenty Four Days of Christmas by Madeleine L’engle. What can I say? This children’s book inspired me many years ago. As a young teen reader, I knew what sort of mother I wanted to be, one day. I learned, through literature, of  Christmas traditions. This shaped my mothering and my Christmases. I have to re-read it.
  3. The Conscience Pudding by E. Nesbit. Another classic and another children’s book. The Christmas after the death of their mother, the Constable children (Five Children and It) want to give away their Christmas. As is usual for the children, their endeavours end in situation comedy scenes.
  4. The Sign of Jonas by Thomas Merton. The sequel to the book much loved by me and many others – The Twelve Storey Mountain (or Elected Silence) – and a book I have wanted to read for  long time. I found an original 1953 edition in a library. Treasuring his own story of conversion while looking at contemplation in my own life.
  5. Selected Writings of Dorothy Day. Dorothy Day may just be one of my modern day heroes. Her story of abortion, affairs, picking men who would not love her back and then, her love for her daughter, her life as a single parent, her love of Christ and her love-hate relationship with the Church, her writing of peace and compassion, especially for the poor and forgotten, the influence of Kropotkin and St Therese – these are the stuff of narrative lived in an authentic life.
  6. Along the Way: The Journey of a Father and Son by Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez. Parenting, relationship, movies, told from a father and son point of view.
  7. Bridget Jones’ Baby by Helen Fielding. This is my fluff reading. What can I say? Bridget makes me laugh! I love, too, how the baby becomes the donor in Bridget’s life – very Joseph Campbell.
  8. Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood. A modern re-telling of The Tempest, set not on an island but in a Canadian prison. What Shakespeare buff could resist?
  9. Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby. I am a big Nick Hornby fan. I love his style of writing, the semi-autobiographical tone. I love his movies. The movie of this book, with a very young Colin Firth, is a story of family and community,  of love and despair, and  with the usual Hornby character who doesn’t quite fit in (cue story of my life). I love the movie and look forward to the book – a cheap, market find book for me.
  10.  All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. My book club book. It is not yet in my library but I Have to read it for book club. I am scared – will it make me cry?
  11. The 48 Hour Startup by Fraser Doherty. Yes. I am always wanting to start a book business. But I am reading this more like fiction than as a how-to book. The best way to read is through the lens of narrative.

So that is my booky Christmas. I have a smattering of unfinished books lying around, which are my pick up now and then books. Perhaps I will list them in another post.  But for now these are my Christmas books. Will I read them all? Probably not – but then, there is January and reading on the train to work!

 

 

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