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’.

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, Unschooling

Mums are like Spiderman.

We mums have a lot in common with Spiderman. We really do.

Spiderman has his spider senses, a tingling in his brain that warns him of dangers, a sense that he can also use to guide himself on his weblines.

And we, as mothers, often have this spider sense. We often know, deep in our hearts, what it is that is best for ourselves and our children.

Our spider sense is borne out of mothering, out of love, out of experience. Experience with this child and within our family.

So many times we question ourselves and our mothering spider sense. We listen to the experts and ignore that small, nagging voice, those inner qualms. Spiderman often does not listen to his spider sense when fatigued. Mothers often do not listen to our spider senses when we feel pulled in many directions and besieged by experts, by those who tell us they know best.

We need to acknowledge our own expertise in  mothering, as we acknowledge the expertise of others.

I can’t tell you the number of times a fellow mother has asked me for advice and then, during our discussion, I see a dawning light appear on her face. She knew already what should be done with her child. She knew in her heart he needs more love or she needs more time or he needs clear parameters or she needs a change of direction. We mothers just don’t heed our spider sense.

We mums are like Spiderman. We have our own mothering superpower, our mothering gut instinct, and this can be examined in the light of day with other mothers, with fathers, with children, in prayer. But only if we first recognise that it is there.

Sometimes, our spider sense is built on fear…fear that if he doesn’t do well in maths he won’t get to university or that she doesn’t write now at all so that means she will never write.So we listen to an expert, force a child into a mold, all out of fear.

What if we acknowledged the role of spider sense and examined it, fears and love, reason and truth? What if we worked through our “what ifs” and faced our fears? What if we took some time to pray and reflect on what is really going on and what that whisper in our heart tells us to do?

Many times, my spider sense tells me to give a son some time.

Many times, my spider sense lets me know it is time for a nudge.

Many times, I have ignored my mothering spider sense, my gut instinct, and I have been left with a less honest relationship, a less authentic path, and an unsettling feeling that something is not quite right.

It is trusting in that sapientia, that wisdom arising from prayer, love, reason and experience. If we can recognise this and exercise this wisdom, then we also teach our children to do the same. To reason, to love, and to listen to that still, small voice.

That spider sense.Image

Life, Unschooling

Unschooling resources

Most weeks, we talk about unschooling.  Me, my kids, my friends.

We talk about what how and why unschooling works.

And what we need to make it work.

Or what we did to make it work.

I think we are education nerds.

What is it that makes unschooling work?

I have talked elsewhere about time….how time is often the biggest factor in unschooling. Time for at least one parent to be with the children, to take less demanding career positions, to work part time, so that they can just simply be there for the children. You can’t both work in demanding positions that require long hours. One parent has to have time for the children and may choose a less demanding position or part time work or a home business.  Many single parents testify to the fact that this is possible. It may not make you rich but it is possible. (See Sequencing)

Time for the children to play, to read, to explore, to not always live a hurried and harried lifestyle. (The Hurried Child)

Time for the children to grow and mature at their own pace and in their own way.

But what else do you need to unschool?

MacBeth came up with an interesting post on her unschooling  “must-haves”.

I second the duct (masking) tape!

For me, for us, our must-haves included:

A library card –  where would we be without our public libraries? Games, books, CDs, DVDs, magazines, toys in some libraries, journals. Computers and free internet access. A place to go and hang out. Perusing a shelf has sparked many an interest here.

Attitude – what? Yes, attitude. A parent’s attitude.  A learning attitude, an enthusiastic attitude, an attitude that enjoys life and is curious  and interested, that enjoys children. For the most part. Because none of us are perfect and we all have our days or seasons of sorrow or despair or irritability. I am talking, however, of the big picture, folks!

Parks – time for kids to explore and parents to explore or read or talk. Time to practice masterly inactivity.  And nature study. In all weather conditions.

When I started my unschooling journey, I began on a budget. (What else is new?). I bought a scrapbook for each child ( yes, even the toddler), for their journal or main lesson book or record or portfolio …whatever it is that you like to call it. I bought a scrapbook for me, for a homeschool journal or log (we kept this online for awhile). I bought your basic stationery supplies…textas, some water colours, coloured pencils, glue, sticky tape, plasticene (or made playdough or salt dough) …and yes that masking tape! I saved boxes and wood scraps and material scraps. We cooked. We did chores together. We went to the grocery store together. We talked. We went to libraries and to parks. We wrote. We drew. We made stuff. We listened to music and played music (recorders).We went to free museums and art galleries.We organized get-togethers with other homeschoolers and friends from church or other groups.

My only main purchases were some maths books from a local educational supply store and some unschooling books for me. To educate me.

And now with the internet, you could get these  for free. Or do some printing at your local library. And I don’t even know if I’d bother with the maths books now. But they were there. As a guide.

And I would definitely second and third and fourth the resources and support and unschooling education for the parent.

Minimal must-haves. I think, I guess, because in unschooling, as is often the case in life and in education and in mothering, less is more. 

Catholicism, Life, Unschooling

Parenting Rules

I’ve realized that it is okay to break the so-called parenting rules.

I get it. I get consistency in parenting. I really do.

But you know, when that toddler had a temper tantrum in the food hall because he wanted Coke to drink , not water, it made him quiet (and thus I and all the patrons happy) when I gave him a smidgeon of Coke in his sippy cup. And, no, contrary to the rules, that son did not grow up to become a child or young adult who believed that having temper tantrums and making a fuss would gain him his way. Rather, he is a pleasing, determined young man and university student, much harder on himself than on others.

Similarly, waking a bit earlier every morning to ensure that the two/three year old had his favourite He-Man shirt clean and ready to wear, that we had rice bubbles for breakfast, patted into a pyramid shape in his Sesame Street bowl, with milk poured carefully around the edges, sounds, well, bizarre. And definitely catering to a young child’s whims. Yet that son is now an adult with a deep spiritual life, one who thinks of ,and prays for, others.

Or allowing a teen to spend a year playing video games sounds like shameful neglect when, in actuality, it was a much needed year of growth and development and maturity. And that son is currently a university student who earns High Distinctions and is very involved in campus groups at a Catholic college.

So, why did breaking the parenting rules work?

I think what actually worked was that, in spite of the seeming no rules existence, what was present was commitment, a few unbending Tiger Mother parameters ( never be mean ) and authenticity in my parenting life. I might be me, I might be imperfect, but I really shared ME.


“Families, be who you are!” Blessed Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio