Dear Simcha: Some back-to-school advice

Dear Simcha,

I believe in predictability, order, and routine. The alarm goes off at 6:20. Breakfast is always ready on time. We’re well-stocked with clean clothes, toothpaste, and deodorant. I keep the kids’ shoes in labelled bins and their backpacks on labelled hooks. I give them a ten-minute and a five-minute warning when it’s time to leave. We’ve been doing this exact routine for three weeks, but we are still late every single day, and my children are often partly naked. And they all act like it’s my fault! What is wrong with them?

Signed,
Craves order

Dear Craves,

Well, it is your fault, you know. Don’t you know how important it is to have reasonable expectations?

For instance, you are expecting your children to act like rational human beings, even though the testimony of every mother throughout the course of human history, from the cave matron shooing her hairy little cavebabies off to twig-gathering school to the LuLaRoe’d, overcaffeinated yummy mummy weeping quietly into her suddenly deserted cul-de-sac, can tell you children are lower than the animals.

Animals, at least, respond predictably to stimuli and will act in service of their own self-preservation. Children, on the other hand, can zero in on the least helpful, most self-destructive course of action like a hungry pig after a truffle. Children crave order and predictability. Children are order and predictability’s worst enemy. You must know this.

Still, you have to get out that door. Your only recourse is train your kids to sing out adorably, “Daddy gets us ready every morrrrrrning!” According to the latest research, a kid who turns up wearing a stained leotard, Scooby Doo slippers, and grits in her hair is cute as long as Daddy got her ready.

***

Dear Simcha,

I make a point of serving my kids a balanced breakfast including protein and whole grains every morning. They also bring a full lunch and two snacks, and I keep cheese sticks, almonds, and dried fruit in the car for the ride home. Can you tell me why they are always hungry enough to take actual bites of each other’s arms by the time we pull into the driveway at 3:45?

Signed,
It just don’t add up

Dear It,

Well, I’ll tell you. On that very special day when a brand new baby first opens his eyes on this big, overwhelming world, a tiny fairy comes to him and whispers a very special secret into his ear:

“You’re not going to eat your lunch,” she tells him.

“Never mind why. Just know that it doesn’t matter what your mother packs. It doesn’t matter if she cooks it herself, and you requested it specifically, and it is monogrammed with a special lunch monogrammer purchased at some expense from Hammacher Schlemmer. None of this matters, for, o my child, you are not going to eat it! Your lunch is just there for the ride. It wants to go to school, and it wants to sit on your desk, and then it wants to go home again, to be thrown away completely intact, even unto the granola bar that was produced on machinery that does not also process tree nuts. It is the way of the world, little one. So shall it ever be.”

Your best bet, mom, is to buy a chicken, a goat, or some other non-discerning animal with a great hunger, so at least someone eats all that food. Then, when it’s nice and plump, you can sell it on Craigslist and buy some booze.

***

Dear Simcha,

Wow, you sure do complain a lot about school! It just makes me glad that we home school. So many people believe that home school is going to be hard, but in my experience, a full day of school work can be accomplished in mere minutes a day. I have never met a homeschooler who has regretted their choice or who has found their job difficult.*

Signed,
Just Sayin’

Dear Just:

I may have a public school education, but even I can tell one of two things is going on here. Either (a) You don’t actually home school, but you fully intend to, once you have kids of school age, once you have kids, once you get married to your secret boyfriend, Milo or (b) You do home school, and you do finish in minutes a day, but your kids can’t, like, read. Or add. And the youngest one is nineteen.

I have friends who home school for all sorts of reasons, but not a single damn one who will tell you that it’s always easy. Like every other kind of parenting, including parenting that involves a brick and mortar school, home schooling is sometimes easy and rewarding, sometimes hard and unrewarding, and sometimes easy and unrewarding, and something hard and rewarding. Sometimes it’s some combination of these things within a single hour. So say all my home schooling friends who are not liars.

If you have any choice at all (and not everyone does), you keep on doing it as long as the rewarding part outweighs the hard part. But saying it’s always easy for everyone? That’s just plain . . .

you know what, never mind. I gotta get back to that Craigslist guy about this goat. Baaaaa!
_____
*Actual comment I read on actual Facebook.

How ready are you for the end of school? A quiz

You check your calendar and realize there is yet another evening concert tonight. You . . .

(a) stride into the child’s room to make sure the concert apparel is clean and pressed, shoes are shined, and that the after-school snack you’re planning doesn’t include cheese, which can produce a phlegmy sound in the vocal cords. Oop, there’s just time to run out for flowers!

(b) sigh a little and adjust your schedule so everyone can get there on time. Maybe bring some work with you.

(c) barrel through the stages of grief as quickly as you can, then set to work figuring out why it’s definitely your husband’s turn to represent.

(d) contact your lawyer. This just isn’t right. This just isn’t right. 

As your child leaves for school, you notice that his shoes are pretty beat up. You . . .

(a) are relieved, because it’s been nearly four months since his feet have been measured and fitted by your on-call orthopedist. Optimal brain function is only possible when the body is cared for from top to toe.

(b) dig out a spare pair that are not perfect, but they’ll get the kid through.

(c) hope the gas station sells flip flops.

(d) growl, “Well, we got plenty paper bags. Here’s a marker; draw yourself a swoosh.”

You are packing a lunch for your kid and you make sure it . . .

(a) includes a lean protein, two servings of veg and one of fruit (local, obvs), a grain (because kids will be kids!), and . . .  let’s see, it’s Thursday, so that means the extra treat will be . . . cauliflower-based! Fun! Now, which mason jar conveys the most love?

(b) is reasonably balanced, won’t trigger anyone’s allergies, and may even get eaten.

(c) has some food in it, none of it used.

(d) is heavy enough to appear to contain food, for plausible deniability.

You are informed there will be three field trips next week, each one requiring a special lunch and extra snacks, early drop-off and late pick-up time, a sheaf of permission slips and release forms, and of course a check. And money for the gift shop. You . . .

(a) sprint to the phone to volunteer as chaperone. You always wanted to see how they sort industrial grit, and now you get to do it alongside a large group of middle schoolers! Win win!

(b) are just grateful someone else is organizing these things. It’s nice, really, that kids get to break out of the routine.

(c) shout, “FINE” and tear a check from the checkbook so violently that you accidentally clock the kid in the jaw, and when she stops crying, she admits that she didn’t want to go anyway because her best friends Braeydinn and Peyytun are being weird, so you decide to just skip it and get donuts together.

(d) take the kid by the hand and ask him if he really wants to go, grasping his hand tighter and tighter until he begs you to let go, I mean let him stay home and help you get caught up on laundry and really just be useful to you in any way you need, really.

You scroll ahead in your calendar to find out when the last day of school is, anyway. You . . .

(a) sit right down and write a thank-you note to the superintendent for all his hard work and wise and prudent choices over the year. Those guys just don’t get enough credit, you know? Six figure income, you say? That doesn’t seem like enough.

(b) sigh a little bit, but you have to be grateful there is such a thing as school. Some places don’t have school.

(c) massage your temples, breathe like your therapist wants you to breathe, and work toward a place of acceptance, by which you mean “only soft screaming.”

(d) decide that, as of this minute, you are homeschooling, dammit, and it is summer.

***

Scoring:

Come on, what do you want from my life? A+. You all get an A+. All right?

Image by Ian Chapin via Flickr Creative Commons

Support for former homeschoolers?

A reader writes:

I know you used to homeschool but you do not anymore. Since stopping, have you found any blogs or support groups or anything of like for Christians with kids in public schools? Our kids are going to school in the fall and I am NERVOUS.

Oh, yes.  Nervous. The decision to stop homeschooling was one of the hardest ones I’ve ever had to make.  Lots of nightmares about whether it’s worse to send my children off to be eaten by wolves, or simply to cut our losses and eat them myself.

 

We’re very, very happy with our charter school, and more or less happy with the public high school, but it wasn’t easy to figure out how to get what we needed, appreciate the good things we hadn’t anticipated, fix the things that weren’t working, and let go of the rest.

I have written a bit about our transition.  First, there was Why We’re Dropping Out of Homeschool, which includes a photo of something that would make Charlotte Mason herself make tracks for the admissions office of the nearest Stefani Germanotta Memorial School.

Then I wrote one actually useful one for the old Faith and Family Live: From Home School to the Classroom:  Tips for Transition.

And then I wrote this quiz for the Register: Home School to Classroom:  A Quiz for Anxious Parents, which I intended as a self-deprecating jaunt into the realm of parody, but which many homeschoolers took as proof that I’m anti-homeschool, as well as anti-education, anti-child, and plus I make yearly pilgrimages to poop on the grave of Elizabeth Anne Seton.  (I’m not, and I don’t.  I’m just anti-sticking with things that just aren’t working anymore.)

So, back to the reader’s question.  Have you made this switch?  Do you have any advice, or do you know of a discussion group or something for people dealing with the transition?  Or at very least, can you offer a prayer for the reader’s peace of mind?  Thanks!

A little blaze

In discussing history with my older kids, I always try to hammer home the following point: when someone tells you that this or that issue is perfectly simple, then that person is either stupid or lying.

Here’s a satisfying case in point:  a recent Salon article (h/t to Kevin James) reminds us that, despite what renowned scholar Dan “I know how to type” Brown tells us, it wasn’t the mean old misogynistic Church who led those infamous European witch hunts.  More reliable sources show that women were accused of, tortured and killed for witchcraft because of  “squabbles among neighbors, resentments within families, disagreeable local characters, the machinations of small-time politicians and the creepy psychosexual fixations of magistrates and clerics.”

So there’s a good lesson there:  when something really big and awful goes on for 300 years, you can’t sum up its cause or significance in a single sentence (unless that sentence is “It’s a fallen world”).  Nothing is that simple.

For younger kids, though, I am in favor of teaching the simple, mythologized version of history first, and then refining it later (as long as you don’t get your myths from a dumbbell like Dan Brown).  Kids should understand the basic truth of what happened, and then discover the details when their minds become more subtle.

Thus, we teach the little ones that Columbus was a hero, Lincoln strode into battle to free the slaves, and God made the world in seven days.  All of this is true.  The details are more subtle, but the basic myth tells you something important that the details can’t convey.

Modern history books for children will have none of this fairytale foolishness.  They want to paint a truer, fuller picture of history by debunking myths — but they do this by oversimplifying in the other direction, and they end up telling an equally false story.  By insisting on the deary, mitigating details, they teach children that no one ever fights to the death for justice, and that no one is really courageous, that nothing is noble.  What a terrible lesson — what a lie!

So now school children kids believe that Thomas Jefferson was, above all, a famous racist; that Columbus’ main goal was to find some peaceful natives to slaughter; and that the liberated Israelites merely trudged after Moses through a swampy area during low tide.

I don’t lie to my kids.   Soon enough, children learn that there are details, there are complications.  But I know they haven’t lived long enough to understand that sin and weakness go along with courage and nobility — that they can exist in the same man.  This subtle understanding is something they will need to have eventually.  But trying to teach it prematurely doesn’t give you educated students, it gives you ignorant cynics.

When you’re building a fire, you have to start with a little blaze. Sure, the fire is more useful and productive when the flames have died down.  You can get some even and steady heat then, and glowing coals are easier to control and maintain than the leaping, unpredictable tongues of flame when kindling catches fire.

But you can’t just skip to the steady heat stage.  That’s what these myths about history are–they’re a little blaze to get things going.  You have to start with the blaze.

(cross-posted at The Anchoress)