Classical at Home

The education related ponderings of a homeschool mom and armchair philosopher.

Are you brave enough to be unsure? — July 12, 2015

Are you brave enough to be unsure?

“I don’t know.” Three little words that the majority of the world seems unwilling to utter. I have been trapped in a quagmire of indecision. This is indecision about big, life-altering things. I’ve been thinking about re-entering the work world and putting my kids in a local private school, instead of homeschooling. Don’t get me wrong, I still LOVE LOVE homeschool. I think it can be done really well. I know my kids are thriving. However, sometimes I don’t feel like I am doing very well. As the kids get older, and easier, I find myself getting bored more frequently. However, there’s still the constant sludge through daily work. Sometimes I fantasize about someone else taking care of my kids while I get to wear dressy clothes in an office full of adults. I’m not saying working moms have it easier, and I really don’t want to launch one of those wars. I just wonder if it wouldn’t be better for my mental health to get out of the house and into the wider world of adults.

Almost on a whim, I applied to a couple of jobs at my alma mater, which happens to be a 10 minute walk away. I haven’t heard anything yet, and wonder how I will respond if offered a job. It would mean putting my kids into (very good) private school down the road. It would mean big changes. I’m worried about how the new work schedule and school schedule would affect our families travels and adventures. Freedom in our schedule for travel has always been one of our reasons for homeschooling. Also, the classical model of education, the inclusion of Latin (which the school down the street does not have) and plenty of free time for nature and play for my little guy, who needs the outlet for his enthusiasm.

The additional income would take a burden off my husbands shoulder’s. He is a full time PhD student and money is tight and will get tighter before he finishes. My daughter is worried about being able to attend her many activities. Not the least of which is her lovely Girl Scout troop composed entirely of homeschoolers. They meet during school hours and she would not be able to continue.

Soooooo…..as I talk to people about this, it becomes murkier and muddier. I honestly don’t know which path is right, or even which one I prefer. Right now, I’m trying to keep my foot in both doors to keep them open while I wait, and think, and breathe.

In some ways I am very privileged to be able to make choices in my life. So many people have to take whatever work is available. Others don’t have the choice to stay home. Both of my options look appealing to me, for different reasons, and I’m sure that whatever decision I make, there will be days where I wish I had made the opposite choice.

Mistakes are the portals of discovery.

James Joyce

But I’m not afraid of failure. I’m not afraid of being wrong. I’m not afraid of rethinking things and making changes when something doesn’t work. I’m not afraid to admit mistakes. Those qualities have led me to some of my most proud accomplishments. A wonderful friend once told me I was allowed to change my mind. Whatever happens, I’m sure I’ll be revisiting my choice in another 6 months, wondering if I should continue on my current path. I choose to believe that this make me brave, not indecisive.

Being at ease with not knowing is crucial for answers to come to you.

Eckhart Tolle
I’m not comfortable with this uncertainty. I prefer to have a one year plan, a five year plan, a ten year plan, and work towards those things. I want to know where I’m headed and break it down into small, attainable goals. When I look at things from that perspective, my choice seems obvious….
Anger Does Wonders for My Workout — June 24, 2015

Anger Does Wonders for My Workout

I noticed something this past week. While involved in  an extended conflict (no names…) , my workouts thrived. I increased the speed and distance of my runs. I added weight and intensity to my resistance workout. It was better than caffeine. I often use the rare silence of my runs/walks to work things over in my mind. I replay conversations, plan blogs, or strategize about homeschool. This week I found that a little aggravation is better than a lot of caffeine, at least as far as exercise goes. Psychology today reports on the phenomenon, saying that anger is “a forceful motivator of achievement.”

I think the exercise might also be good for my anger. I’m not a particularly angry person, but like everyone, I experience stress, irritability, and the occasional grudge. While exercising, my brain is flooded with feel good hormones, making me more generous towards my perceived enemies. The New York Times has reported on this positive effect of exercise on mood.  Also, I push myself past previous limits, allowing me to visualize success in other arenas of my life. Often, at the end of a workout, I have come up with solutions to problems. Sometimes I realize that what was bothering me was not actually problematic at all, and can be ignored.

I’m not saying start fights so that you can get better exercise. However, I would say this:

When the customer service people disappoint, when the other driver cuts you off in traffic, when the package fails to get delivered on time….put on your running shoes. It’ll do wonders for your body, your mood, and your immediate surroundings. Nothing is worse than being angry about something else, and accidentally fighting with a loved one. I have been very guilty of this in the past. In the future, my advise to my husband: If I am angry, hand me my running shoes. Give me an hour to myself to work it out, and we’ll both be grateful.

Humor as Bomb-Diffuser and the Power of “Hmmm” — May 29, 2015

Humor as Bomb-Diffuser and the Power of “Hmmm”

My husband and I fight a lot. I understand some people will be appalled at this revelation. We disagree in short, frequent burst whenever we feel the need. There is absolutely no repression in our household. We have had fights about dinner, bedtime, throw pillows (which I then returned to Pier 1), how to load the dish washer, how to discipline the kids, and everything in between. One might reasonably wonder how we are still married.

Well, the answer is simple and not so simple. We laugh. Laughter is the diffuser of any type of relational bomb. If you can get the other person to laugh, all tension seems to evaporate and the situation (how to fold t-shirts) is suddenly put into perspective. Ben and I laugh and laugh about everything. Don’t get me wrong….he has made me so angry I have actually fantasized about beating him close to death with my bare hands. I have not indulged in this, because, well, spousal abuse is wrong. Even if the guy is 6 inches taller and 70 lbs heavier than you. DON’T HIT!

Instead, we often find a way to laugh. For the sake of this blog, I asked Ben if he could ever remember one of the diffusing comments we have made to each other over the years that ended one of our fights. Nope, no memory. And I can’t remember either! Why can’t we remember any marriage saving phrases? I wish I could pass them on verbatim to you to employ in your own relationships, but it’s impossible. Here’s why.

Our shared humor comes from our shared experiences. Over a decade we have seen the same movies, quoted the same friends, read or discussed the same books and articles, and generally had a shared life. When I say to Ben in a deep voice “Of course its a good idea…” he knows, Monty Python style that the follow up phrase is “I’m f#$%ing God!” And when I rarely admit that Ben was right about something, he always makes me add that he’s “Very good looking, and I”m not at all attractive” from Happy Gilmore.”

Heaven forbid that he asks me what size I want in a burrito or ice-cream…when I say ” The big ones….” (See Chappell show for the full skit.)

I had to ask Ben to check all my quotes to verify correctness. They were all wrong. Ben’s response “Nobody’s got stress….she’s wearing a dress…God, I hate people that get the words wrong!” – Bull Durham

So….we’re movie quoting nerds. But it diffuses so many of life’s little quagmires. I encourage you all to watch goofy comedies with your spouses. You won’t regret it!

For the power of “Hmmm”- there’s not much to say. When someone says something to you about which you are undecided…don’t form an instant opinion. Say, “hmmmm.” When someone says something you just don’t want to respond too yet, say “hmmm”. From when you say “hmmm”. Smile when you say “hmmm”. But by all means give yourself some space. There is no reason you have to have a fully formed opinion on every topic under the sun at the drop of a hat. Give yourself time, space, and the ability to change your mind. Take advantage of the “Hmmmmm.”

Seeking Balance in the Indefinable Currency of Favors and Love — May 26, 2015

Seeking Balance in the Indefinable Currency of Favors and Love

We all know of people that we don’t want to call because they only talk about themselves. We all know people that we don’t want to answer when they call because they always need a favor. I am sad to say that there are people in my life who i love more than they love me.

In these relationships, there is a disequilibrium of that indefinable currency. Sometimes the currency of friendship or family is favors. For example, our wonderful little neighborhood used to have a tradition of each house hosting all the children for a few hours on Friday night for pizza and a movie. The parent(s) of the other children got a few precious hours off. The host(s) had only to make or order pizza and play a movie. The children got stress free socialization with their neighbors. It was a win-win.

This arrangement kept the burden equal. There was equal exchange of time and services; favors. Imagine the friend who only calls to ask for a ride to the grocery store, a letter of recommendation, or free childcare? What about the friend for whom you do some favors and they do some favors, and it all seems to balance out?

A neglect for the very real, though indefinable currency of favors leads to damaged friendships, hurt feelings, and loss of community. I try to be very aware of when I ask for a favor, and carry that as an invisible IOU to be repaid. Maybe others are more capable of being casual about this exchange. I am not, because of previous relationships where I as taken advantage of. No doubt, there are also relationships where I was perceived as being given more, and that is always food for thought.

Some people say that each person in a relationship has to give equally, 50/50. If either fails in their obligation, the relationship suffers, or the other person gives more than their fair share.

A better paradigm is that to be in a relationship requires each person giving 100%. Certainly, you will fail many times in this high ideal. But to fail when aiming at the stars will still land you on the moon. Try hard, and harder. But, recognize when you are giving to a person who will only take.

In relationships where I have loved more than being loved, I certainly got more fulfillment from the loving that the being loved. Like the Prayer of Saint Francis, I got more from the relationship. However, being human, I felt a loss, a disadvantage. Always to complain about my treatment, or pose a critique was to risk ostracizing the person I loved. I felt that they were more free to walk away from the relationship that I was. But what kind of freedom is that? A freedom without connection can certainly be a radical type of liberation, free from the expectations and mores of others.

But do I suffer for loving more? Do I suffer for giving more? Or is it merely like the 401 K of spiritual currency, where i feel a bit put out at the time, but reap rewards later in excess of my input?

I suppose, in general, I chose to love. I chose to forgive. I chose to give of myself. Sometimes I will regret these choices, and learn, and choose again. Sometimes these investments will be poor investments, with no fruit to show for my labor. There may not be a lifelong friendship that results from the favors, or a beautiful family holiday that comes from my forgiveness and forbearance.

Mother Theresa says something along these lines:

       People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them away. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

Love Anyways. That’s what I’ll do.

The Art of Saying No, and the Value of Mental Minimalism —

The Art of Saying No, and the Value of Mental Minimalism

As a stay at home mom and homeschooler, people often assume that I have tons of free time. They think it’s okay to ask me to babysit for free, run errands for them, or volunteer for the most recent committee of whatever. Even when I love the cause, or want to help my friends, I find  it beneficial to step back for a moment and breathe. I ask myself, “If I say yes to this obligation, to what am I saying no?”

Sometimes by saying yes to a craft or event, I am saying no to a relaxed family night. Sometimes, by saying yes to a larger commitment, I may be saying no to my mental wellbeing.

For years now I have kept a notebook. I have gone through some dozen or more humble notebooks, which I have kept. Only as I got older did I realize the value of the efforts at journaling, listing, and taking note. Many great thinkers and writers from DaVinci to Franklin have kept “Common Books,” in which they wrote everything that was of note. Sometimes, later, upon flipping through my grocery lists and ad hoc quotations, I notice interesting intersections. It is from here that I get my writing.

At the beginning of keeping a common book, the most important thing is to simply not edit yourself. I literally write phone notes and grocery lists in them. I also write journal entries, nature sketches, poetry snippets, and anything else that needs writing. My husband keeps a digital version of this, but I have never been able to give up my paper.

…………………………..

You might then draw the conclusion that the fuller my time and days the fuller my notebook, and therefore the larger my experiences for reflection. This would be incorrect. Activity is the enemy of reflection. In the same way that I prioritize play tie for my children, I prioritize mental space for myself. This means saying no sometimes.

I do this gently, because it has little to do with the activity or person to which I am saying no. I try to be honest. Sometimes the scheduling isn’t right. Sometimes the activity doesn’t meet our needs. Sometimes I can’t commit fully. These are important things to say, so that an activity that’s not right for you doesn’t try to reschedule around your needs.

Some people will be alienated by my taking time and space for my needs and the needs of my family. This is bound to happen and there is not much that can be done. Some people will find a way to be offended about almost anything, and bending over backwards for them will only inconvenience me and will not make them happy.

Mental minimalism allows me to focus on what is truly important, because I have said no to the things that are not. Sometimes this is harder than others. I would love a regular spin class, a reading group for the classics, or to take piano lessons myself instead of watching the kids learn. There are years and years ahead of me to do these things. There are decades (God willing) where I will not have little people in the house with schedules that are not flexible. Teddy needs to learn to read more urgently than I need to watercolor my nature journal.

I need to let go of the idea of time scarcity…the idea that everything has to happen right now. I can afford to savor a meal, snuggle a child, and watch a favorite movie again. I can call my mom, take a nap, and recharge my batteries to be patient with my family.

Every year or so, I edit my personal goals, a la “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” still the best personal improvement book ever written, in my humble opinion. So, I rewrite my personal goals, outlining roughly how I want to prioritize my time and energy.

Because I know people will ask what mine looks like….here you go. This is one of my mission statements from before I had Teddy:

Personal Mission Statement

My primary principles are Excellence, Scholarship, Service

Excellence– to seek the highest quality of result in whatever my activities, be they personal or professional. This will require me to allocate my resources of time, money, and energy only to those things which are truly valuable to me. I will simplify my life of people, things, and ideas which do not add to my life.  I will decline invitations to participate in activities that will sap me of my ability to achieve excellence in my chosen pursuits. 

Scholarship– to seek to become enlightened and informed on topics of importance through independent research, thought, and dialogue with others. This value is a necessary cornerstone of achieving excellence. 

Service– to use my unique talents for the service of my community and world. To be an example of what personal fulfillment can be attained through service. 

In my role as individual-My relationship to myself is of paramount importance to my ability to develop my values and talents and pursue my goals. My relationships will all others are deeply impacted by my relationship with myself. Towards this end I will guard my physical and mental health, avoiding people, situations, substances, and habits that have deleterious effects on either. I will work continuously towards improving my well-being, following the two directions of the Oracle of Delphi- “Know thyself” and “Nothing in Excess.” I will be gentle with myself, but work always to fully develop my unique potential

In my role as wife- I will be supportive of Ben’s interests and help him to fully develop his talents. I will be complementary to him in his role as father.  I will be the kind of person who sidesteps negativity in our interactions. I will be slow to anger. I will be quick to forgive. I will be willing to admit to and learn from mistakes. 

In my role as mother- I will enjoy my children for who they are, not who I desire them to become. I will be present in my time with them. I will prioritize their needs. I will help them to develop correct values and become self-sufficient. I will foster in them a love of reading, service and learning. I will recognize my role as teacher and student as part of my role as mother. I will not be reactive to my children. I will manifest patience and unconditional love in my interactions with them. They will know that they are accepted. They will seek excellence in their lives from the solid base that Ben and I provide them. 

In my role as student- I will prioritize my role as student to my role as teacher. I will recognize that there are  infinite ways in which I can learn throughout my life. I will continue to read broadly and voraciously. I will continually reevaluate my ideas, opinions, and prejudices. I will seek to see the world through alternative paradigms. I will not allow myself to become stagnant in my thinking. 

In my role as teacher- I will continually reevaluate my philosophy of teaching and make sure that my actions are congruent with my goals as a teacher. I will recognize that my life is the most powerful educational tool I possess. I will seek to live as a model for my students, friends, and family.  I will continue to develop my research and ideas in the field of human trafficking and will seek new opportunities to inform others. I will keep in mind the words of Thoreau, “ For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil, there is one striking at the root.” I believe the root cause of evil committed by people is ignorance and I will seek to address this as a teacher. 

Community member- I am a member of several communities, where I can employ my principles of excellence, scholarship, and service. I am a Big Sister, a Catholic, an anti-slavery activist,  a member of the Navy community, and a member of my local community. 

Friend- I have a large group of close friends, to whom I have specific obligations and responsibilities. 

GOALS

What do I want: 

-In my marriage?- I want Ben and my marriage to be a partnership between two successful individuals who take genuine joy and interest in each other’s interests  and accomplishments. I want Ben and I to be best friends, and to have positive, mutually reinforcing communications. We will attain higher levels of professional success and personal fulfillment working together than we could as separate individuals. This relationship will embody the principles of creative collaboration, team work, and interdependence. 

-From Sophia?- I want a beautiful, intelligent , emotionally mature daughter who directs her talents toward worthy goals.  I want a friendly, warm relationship of mutual respect, love, and humor. She will always want her mother to be part of her life. She will seek and accept my advice, because I am not critical or judgmental with her, but accept her with unconditional love. She will desire and receive my acceptance because I expect from her the excellence of which she is capable of. 

HOW WILL I GET TO THESE PLACES?

PRIORITIES

  1. Taking care of Myself, spiritually, physically, emotionally

  2. Nurturing, loving, and enjoying Sophia and Teddy

  3. My Relationship with Ben

  4. Close, mutually giving friendships, Elizabeth, Mom

  5. My teaching

  6. My volunteer pursuits

  7. My research

Your own personal mission statement could start out very simply, with only a list of your priorities in numerical order. It could also outline your values and your definitions of those values. Don’t stress, this will grow through the years and it only matters what it means to you and that it clarifies your goals and values.

Articulating these goals for myself has helped me say “no” to non essentials, and therefore clearing my mind and time for those things that are truly important. How do you say no, without alienating people? How do you prioritize your time? Do you or your family write mission statements?

Okay or Not Okay? Paring down language…. — May 16, 2015

Okay or Not Okay? Paring down language….

Some of my closest friends in Boston speak english as a second language…sorta. When they are harried, like parents of young children often are, their vocabulary suffers. I’ve heard it called “mom brain”- that mushy, non resilient thing that happens to your short term memory upon having children. My brother researched it and told me that my brain was actually smaller in size after having children, and then proceeded to address me as “Small Brain” for a few months.

My friends are wonderful. We enjoy our time together and our children enjoy each other as well. This can be difficult to find. I sometimes explain it as akin to the difficulties couples have finding other couples to hang out with…the men have to like each other, the women have to like each other, and the men and the women have to like each other…but not TOO much! Only add to this complex equation the additional little persons and their phases and stages. It can be challenging.

So our family has a wonderful family that we are platonically dating, and we speak different languages. I have found we use the word “Okay?” a lot. “Okay” is a question. “Okay” is answer. “Not Okay” is indicative that something needs to be changed. When distracted parents are trying to communicate with each other, this seems to be the bare bolts necessaries of communication. Every so often, in golden moments, we get to sit and chat and expound upon our different theories on life and love and family and the world. The rest of the time, “Okay” and a congenial smile seems to do all the work of friendship while we chase our children, pick up after them, feed them, and do all the things that occupy the little moments of our day.

For a person who loves words, this is an interesting exercise. Instead of my usual verbose, loquacious and grandiloquent verbiage, (definition: I like the sound of my own voice)- I am forced to pare down my language to be understood.There is no purpose to language if not communicating. Enjoying your own language is something….else….but not communication. More on this to come later. I slow down. I enunciate. I enjoy the physical presence of others. I elaborate my physical gestures. I remember that friendship has to do with good will and it’s okay to provide room to grow in a relationship. I’m reminded again of Thoreau and his desire to see what were the bare essentials necessary for life.

I see love communicated in our friendship by how we treat each other and each others children. I jabber away at their baby in english, though he might not understand me. They open their home to my explorative preschooler who seems magnetically drawn to their apartment. Friendship is expressed in a universal language of actions. Words can be hollow, and this is an idiomatic expression I will teach my friends.

The Three angels on My Shoulders — May 15, 2015

The Three angels on My Shoulders

Most people have seen in some form the classic, and sometimes comedic imaginary of a person with an angel on one shoulder and and a devil on another. The devil advises them to go with their worst impulses in a challenging situation and the angel encourages their better selves.

There is also the popular book by Mitch Albom, “The Five People you Meet in Heaven” which (spoiler alert) expounds upon the fictional  five people that a man most impacted in his life, knowingly or not.

I have 3 angels on my shoulders. I haven’t counted the devils yet, but they’re there as well. The three angels are the three people in my life that I most want to talk to about every event, large and small. I anticipate their reactions to my behavior, and in my more rational moments chose my course. In my irrational moments, I ask for advise on how to rectify my situation, and sometimes even listen to the response. These are people I respect and love. More importantly than that though, they are people who I know love me unconditionally, and so they have the biggest impact in my life. I respect and like  Martha Nussbaum, Pope Francis, Natalie Portman, and Anna Nalick, but they’re unlikley to impact my life in a profound way because they simply aren’t accessible to me. The people I talk to…the people I work out problems, with, those are the ones who shape me as a person.

I remember, a fable about an eagle raised with chickens who grew up to peck the ground instead of soaring. How important the people that we surround ourselves! How much can we improve our lives and minds by a diet of society? More people who elevate and challenge and less who we feel yucky with…Trust your own intuition, you will know how to edit your social circle.

The first angel on my shoulder is of course, my wonderful, imperfect, generous, mother. No day is complete without talking to her about it’s events. No day is complete without her praise and acceptance. I understand what it is to love unconditionally because of her.

The second angel on my shoulder is my tiny little best friend, E. In college, we were so close that boys were forced to take us both out in order to date us. She reminds me of the value of self control,  and self improvement. She is always powerfully authentic, but reminds me to act normal when I sometimes do not feel normal.

The angel that jumps up and down on my head, because both shoulders are already occupied is my husband. I picture this one like a miniature version of my husband wearing a leprochaun outfit. This is probably odd. This little angel always wants me to be frugal and efficient. Somehow, this little angel makes me laugh most of all, just like my husband does. Every movie and date and party, my husband makes me laugh. He likes my crazy, loud laugh, and knows how to handle my ugly cry. He manages it all, and makes me feel safe and grounded. This little angel and I sometimes disagree…about how much to spend at target or whether I should stay up to watch another movie. He is my favorite little angel.

Without any of these, I’d be lost. I’d be an incomplete person adrift in the world.

Don’t mistake me. I have education, religion, family and friends. I need these other versions of reality to keep me grounded….to know how to proceed in my daily life. Nothing is real until I’ve talked to them, or thought about their reactions. Who are your angels? Who are your devils? What makes the day real and and complete for you?

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