Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Confessions of a Failed Home-School Mom

I'm an organized, scheduled, ambitious person. Or, I was, before trying to home-school my kids.

I can't name one thing that ultimately brought me down. It was just everything. If parenthood is the equivalent of ten different simultaneous full-time jobs, then home-schooling parenthood is like running a company while running a marathon while stopping to wipe the nose of every person in the crowd. 

I spent ten years doing admin and office management work before doing this full-time stay-at-home-mom thing, and it was glorious. In the office, I was a coffee-driven superhero bringing order to the world around me. 

Once I became a stay-at-home mom, everything I thought I knew about time management and collaborative success went out the window with three babies and the bath water. Except there wasn't actually any bath water, because with three babies, it's really just wet wipes and baby powder over and over and over. You know it.

My children hated homeschooling. I loved the idea of homeschooling, but in practice, it was like saving a puppy from a burning building, only to have it gather every dog in the neighborhood and run back in. It was making cookies while cleaning the septic tank, and accidentally licking your fingers. It was sitting next to a five-year-old on a six-hour flight who just learned the theme song to "Barney." It was adding caramel sauce to the wash cycle to help get out the ketchup stains. It was feeding ducks and watching turtles and hiking trails and stopping by church, on a good day. It was also muttered curses, crying in the closet, and endless to-do lists, on a good day. (Rarely was it reading, writing, tracing, memorizing, or phonics -- even on a good day.)

Home-schooling should be incorporated into both the summer and winter Olympics, because it takes resolve and skill like no other, and it never ends. (Actually, a lot of those Olympians home-school, so I guess it's represented alright.)

But for me, for this season, I will drag my weary soul onto the glistening island oasis of our neighborhood public school, feel the sun on my face, and thank God Almighty that He has made a better way.

What started as a bid for free babysitting in the midst of a three-month move with one-year-old twins in the third trimester of pregnancy has become a joy for my kids, and a new hope for me.

I wanted my kids in sports, but didn't want the evening games and club fees: PE! 

I wanted my kids to draw and paint and create, but I hate messes in my kitchen: Art Class! 

I wanted my kids to learn typing and technology, but their mysteriously sticky fingers on my Mac make me cringe: Computer Class! 

I wanted to check out books and attend story time at the library, but quietude is not a thing with a chorus of three babies: A School Library!

I wanted my kids to love reading and writing, and to feel kind of okay and functional at math: They love it all!

We might go back to home-schooling, someday, if we discern that it's the best route to our kids' academic, social, and moral success. 

But for now, the best education we can give our kids is at our local public school with amazing, caring professionals who did more in two months at the end of the school year than I did in the eight months preceding. (And it's not one of those "private public schools" made up of white, upper-class kids whose families can afford the real estate. This is a Title I neighborhood school that's just doing really great stuff with their students.)

And so, I will take your 40 hours of free babysitting a week, by the most amazing "babysitter" I've ever met -- music, art, sports, technology, all the basics, and hot lunch. 

And I will pay attention to my babies at home, so they aren't in speech therapy as two-year-olds, because no one has talked to them in two years. (Or we'll just do our best to recover from this purely hypothetical situation.)

And I will have special one-on-one time with my "big" kids in the evenings and on the weekends, and it will not be Mom raising her voice with empty threats and lowering it with expletives. Or well, hopefully, at least not most of the time.

Thank you, Public School.

NBD. It's just THEIR FUTURE we're talking about here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Book Review: The Sinner's Guide to Natural Family Planning (In Observance of NFP Awareness Week. What? That's a Thing? Yeah.)

Because the sedan was big enough for one more baby, but not two. 

Because the minivan was big enough for three babies in two years, but not a fourth.

Because our four-year-old can eat a banana, two oranges, a PB&J sandwich, two cups of water, a handful of goldfish, and a scoop of raisins, and STILL be hungry. And our grocery budget is supposed to cover 7 people, not 1 preschooler.

Because our bedtime routine has gotten entirely out of hand. And if I start the clock at 4:15 with bath time, it puts everyone finally in bed, lights out, doors closed, calm, at 10 o'clock, on a good day. In time to nurse the baby again.

Because there are only so many minutes in an hour that one can spend cyclically changing dirty diapers without going absolutely insane.* 

There are lots of good reasons to delay having a baby. 

For people trying out the Natural Family Planning method, might I recommend a humorous, easy read along the way: 

I read this book while breastfeeding twins, and refereeing two preschoolers from the couch. And I've never felt more understood in my fears and frustrations. 

Just real quick, I need to pause and clear up a misconception: twin breastfeeding -- despite the twinsiverse lactivist propaganda -- is nothing like this:

Picture Source
It's this:

Picture Source
Okay, back on course.

Thankfully, unlike most bloggers-turned-authors, Simcha Fisher's first book is just as entertaining and insightful as her blog -- even when talking about the very personal and often annoying topic of NFP. 

(Yes, I can call it annoying. I have five kids, and the oldest is six.**)

A more accurate title might be, Sometimes NFP Sucks, But It Really Can Actually Be Good For Relationships, No Really, or as Simcha's written before, The Worst Possible Method, Except For All The Others.

She clears up some inaccuracies that don't get covered in a lot of Catholic marriage prep classes: how to not hate your spouse, how NFP can ruin your marriage, and that it's okay to laugh about sex. 

She even makes fun of the idea that NFP is all roses and romance and honeymoon, as it's often marketed by well-meaning advocates. 

I spent several years telling people that NFP is awesome and everyone should do it, and if you're not doing it, you're missing out. But really, that's a decision for each couple to discern on their own. 

For our family, it's the best choice, and it's been a good thing for our relationship. 

If you're thinking about jumping on the NFP bandwagon, I recommend downloading a copy of Simcha's book for a realistic and humorous primer. 

*Also, physical health, finances, and one's own conscientious determination. 

**By the way, if you like taking pregnancy tests as much as I do, you're going to want to know about Amazon's giant box of super-cheap test strips

Friday, July 22, 2016

Donald Trump And The American Dream

Donald Trump is a man of tenacity, self-confidence, and zero tact. And maybe that's just what our country needs. 

Wally and I feel like a lot of Americans, I think. Trampled by big government, our paychecks slipping away in inconsistent and indecipherable taxes, our $2 box of cereal is suddenly $3.28, and we're all but selling our souls for family health care. 

We're not sure what's wrong with the world, and for a long time, we've felt like it's something wrong with us. 

We're college educated. We've got a mortgage on a modest home. We work hard. We live in a budget.  We drive pretty dependable cars, even if they're getting up in miles. Why aren't we going anywhere? Why is it every time we seem to get ahead, we get pushed back again? 

We want the picket fence. We want a pension plan. We want to know that the money we save today is going to grow into something for our retirement. Will our children inherit anything from all our hard work? 

Mr. Trump promises to bring back the American Dream. He says, "Let's make America great again," and I want to believe him. 

One article says that he's a good candidate because he's a successful businessman. My immediate reaction was that's what we need at the helm of this country. 

By Darron Birgenheier from Reno, NV, USA (Donald Trump in Reno, Nevada) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

But why is Donald Trump a successful businessman? Is it because he invests in his employees, supports worthy charities, and builds up what is good in our nation? 

From what I've read -- and please, feel free to share otherwise, if you've found otherwise -- Donald Trump's towering wealth has been sustained on the sacrifices of his hardworking employees; he fulfills virtually zero of his highly-publicized charitable pledges; and his lasting legacy in the American business landscape? Casinos

Again, please, post otherwise, and if I'm wrong, I will delete this article from the internet and issue a public apology in its place. 

But it sure seems that Donald Trump is just like every other mega-million CEO out there, collecting profits by any means, skirting healthcare provision for his employee's families, skimping 401(k) contributions, retaining powerhouse litigators, and simply leaving contracted workers unpaid. 

Maybe that's just the way things are, the only way to make a buck in this country. And we shouldn't hold it against him that he's simply doing what it takes to be successful. (Though when the average CEO makes 300 times that of the average worker, I wonder whether a truly successful CEO couldn't build a strong business model that includes quality compensation for employees.)

I'm not convinced that Donald Trump really understands how we're fighting to stay afloat, and how to get us out of the exhaustion of treading water for too long, when his own millions are made from using other working middle-class citizens as a means to his own profitable end. 

Does he not realize that the same tactics used to secure his personal wealth are what have held us under for so long? 

We treat the role of president as a sacred trust that surely no one would demean as simply a bid to grow self-serving ambitions. And then we recall those who have abused this trust, and realize this hallowed position does not come with immunity from the human vices of its presider.

My concern is that Donald Trump has been driven to pursue personal wealth and power for so long, without pause to share his accrual with charities or his hardest working employees along the way, a new title over a great nation cannot change his true ambitions. How can he suddenly look out for the interests of forgotten middle-class Americans, when his track record indicates that he's yet to show interest in the first place? 

Maybe Donald Trump could be one heck of a president. Maybe we do need to change things up, and see what's the worst that could happen with a firecracker personality who wants America's ego to be as big as his own. (Although Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter of his 1987 bestseller The Art of the Deal, has been quoted saying, "I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization."

Regardless of whether Schwartz is offering hyperbole or foresight, it's irreconcilable to pretend that Donald Trump has a history of concerning himself with middle class concerns, or that the honor of a title as prestigious as President Of The United States could make that any more likely to occur.