My Crankiest Rant Ever.

I am usually far more "idealist" than "cranky" in my life.  I try to be a uniter, not a divider.  But sometimes, I get pent-up frustration (like we all do) and I feel the need to vent.  So, here is my unofficial "cranky list" of what has annoyed me recently. (I hope that no one will unfriend me after this!)

Please note that I am not including any justified anger against injustice and cruelty, the kind of anger that spurs people into righteous action.  These are just my pet peeves. 
1. The folks who honk at me when I am trying to be a safe, prudent driver.  Dude, I stopped in the road because there was a stop sign or a red light, or because someone was trying to turn in front of me, or because someone was pulling out in front of me, or because the traffic was going more slowly.  Please don't honk at me or plow into the back of me.  Just watch the road.

I see so many wannabe Nascar drivers on the road.  Here's a little tip: if you want to get to your destination five seconds faster, why don't you leave five seconds earlier?

The next time someone honks at me for no reason, I will be tempted to get out of my car, look the person straight in the eyes, wave while grinning broadly, and say, "Hey, buddy!  I thought I recognized you!  Great to see you!  Thanks for honking at me!" 

2. The folks who play their music way too loudly, whether in traffic or down my street in the middle of the night.  Newsflash: your music isn't so wonderful that everyone within a 500-yard radius wants to hear it.  Granted, it's your right, I suppose, to damage your own hearing and to pay a whopping sum for huge speakers.  However, the next time I am sitting in traffic with my children and I hear profanity blasting next to us to the point where we can't hold a conversation, I think I will get out of my car and start dirty dancing in my Mom Jeans right in front of you.  Your music isn't so hip now, is it?

But if I am awoken from a sound sleep because you thought you'd impress your friends with a 3 AM party in the suburbs, I will call the cops.  You'd better hope that there's no underage drinking there.

3. People who are grumpy toward and suspicious of friendliness.  When I smile and wave at you as we walk by each other on a sunny day, I promise that I am not trying to rob you or preach to you. Yes, I realize that we are probably strangers, even in this very small town of ours, but I just want to say hello.  I promise.

4. People who think that they know everything about parenting.  I am not talking about well-meaning advice that comes from experience, or the parents who really do inspire us, but about the people who are like, "My baby never cries.  Yours does?  Hmmm.  You must be doing something wrong."

While I am on the subject: parents who think that catering to their child's every whim (not need, but whim) is a good thing.  Where does this come from?  Are we teaching kids that they should get everything they want in life?  No, children need to learn patience, gratitude, and generosity... and parents who spoil their kids are doing no one any favors.  (*I was spoiled as a child, and I had very few friends.  Even my stepsister wrote me a card that said, "I love you, even though you are selfish."  Do not spoil your children!  Trust me on this.)
You wouldn't "teenage" your baby, so don't "baby" your teenager.  Give your kids everything they need... not necessarily everything they want.  Helicopter parenting is bad.  Lecture over.

But the worst would be the parents who think that their child(ren) are the only ones on the earth that matter.  "I don't care that Mrs. Smith has 30 kids in her class.  If she doesn't give my son 2 hours of one-on-one attention every day, I am going straight to the Superintendent!  My son deserves this!"  Yes, your child is special... and so is EVERY OTHER CHILD.  That's right: other children exist, and their parents love them just as much as you love yours!  Imagine that.

5. People who think that their choices aren't just the best for them, but that their choices are the only choices that reasonable folks could possibly make... and therefore, you are an idiot for making different life choices.

I know, this is a hard one... I know I certainly do it.  This applies to everything from voting to vaccinations to vegetarianism, breastfeeding to big cars, circumcision to spanking.  Strong opinions can make for some annoying self-righteousness.  Everything should be prefaced with, "The right choice for me/my family was this, but..."

That's like when it comes to homeschooling, I think it's the best choice for our family right now, but is it the best choice for all families?  No way!  Parents should get all of the knowledge available, weigh the alternatives, and judge for themselves what is best for their families.

However, that said, sometimes I think we NEED a little more judgment and opinions from honest friends.  It's not being judgmental in the pejorative sense if you criticize someone while having good intentions.  Maybe we should listen to other people once in awhile.  Just a thought.

6. People from a group who think that because some people from another group condone or encourage their viewpoint that they are justified in hurting people from that other group.  (For example: "Some people from indigenous cultures don't mind being exploited for profit, so it must be okay to exploit all people from indigenous cultures for profit!"  Or, "See, our group isn't racist because 5 people of color think it's terrific!  They must speak for everyone!  We are immune to criticism now.")  As if.

7. When the mailman puts the "Sorry we missed you card" in the mailbox in front of my house for a package delivery when we've been home ALL DAY... that annoys me to the hilt.  So now I have to make a special trip to the post office and wait in line, all because you were too lazy to ring my doorbell?  Dude, I realize that you must have a rough job sometimes, but you get some sweet benefits.  Please stop and ring my doorbell.  That's all I ask.

8. Women and men who spend hours each day and thousands of dollars on their physical appearance.  Are you a model or entertainer?  No?  Then why spend your time and money worrying about what you look like, and then sigh about how much you can't afford to give time or money to charitable causes?  Sure, it's well within your right to be vain, but I've got a newsflash: we're all going to die someday.  Our bodies will rot.  It's true.  So why not use the time and money that you've been given to actually do something positive?  Dude, no one cares about your stretch marks or your crooked teeth.  We're all human beings.

9. People who take themselves too seriously.  Oh, and nationalism.  No further comment needed.

10. The whole religion vs. non-religion debate.  Let's all make this clear:

Whether you are a Christian, an atheist, a Muslim, a pagan, an agnostic, or whatever: we all are equally wonderful and we all equally suck.  You complaining about someone's religion or lack thereof is not going to change the person!  You know what will change their hearts?  Your positive example, that's what.  People follow happy people.  If you want to bring someone to your "side" on this issue, show the person how happy your choice has made you.  If you're miserable yourself, do you think that someone would want to join you?

We're human beings.  Don't try to play the self-righteous card and talk about how The Other is horrible, how The Other is the cause of all of our problems, how The Other just needs to get enlightened to your version of the truth or how The Other should just go away.  We all need each other, like it or not, and the best thing you can do with this little time on earth is to realize that someone else has it worse off than you, so A) appreciate what you have and B) try to help people.  Otherwise, what's the point?

11. Bloggers who think they know all the answers, and who think that people actually care about their blogs.  How annoying!  Oh wait, that's me...

Cranky's rant is over, for now. 


Back to (Home)school

This week, a familiar story happened to us: our computer crashed, and we hadn't backed up our data in years.  (Let this be a lesson!)  We were very fortunate that we were able to salvage the personal files that mean so much to us, as a family: the photographs and videos of the kids from the last couple of years.  (I can't imagine losing most of my youngest children's baby pictures!  Total heartbreak!) 

I breathed a great sigh of relief and believed it might have been a blessing.  We happened to have a computer (this one) in the closet that had been given to us for free by a friend of my aunt's who had upgraded his computer and wanted to pass the old one along.  Well, this computer is newer and faster and comes with more gadgets than our old computer!  This one had just been sitting in the closet for the longest time, primarily because I was too busy (read: lazy) to take the time to transfer all of the files.  Meanwhile, our old computer (the dead one) was so noisy that it sounded like an airplane was flying in our dining room.  I should have changed it then.  (Let this be a lesson!)  But we transferred the special files and didn't even have to buy a new computer.  How often does that happen?

Everything was fine, except that I cannot find any of Lolly's homeschool records.  None.  A whole year of records went poof.  (To be fair, her paper workbooks and lapbooks and computer tutorial records are all in the closet, and we have videos of some experiments on YouTube.)  Part of the problem is that I had the records stored on a desktop application, rather than online or even in a file on my hard drive.  Whoops!  I guess I thought that airplane-computer was going to last forever.

But with challenge comes opportunity.  I have decided to use this time to rethink our homeschooling for Lolly (officially a first-grader) this year.  We have different "obstacles" (we'll use that word) this year than we did last year.  For example, last year, Ola was a tiny newborn who slept most of the time or who was content to be held or rocked in a swing.  Now I have a one-year-old and a two-year-old who get into everything, and they have to be watched all the time.  The collateral damage has been everything from jewelry in the toilet to scribbled library books.  Plus, they are being homeschooled, too, so I can't just keep them in a room with some toys while I tend to more "important" matters with my oldest child.  I have to find a way to incorporate them into the homeschooling routine.

"We had no intention of staying inside today.  Are you kidding?"

Another obstacle is that I need time to myself.  No, I don't mean time to sit with a cup of cocoa and chat with a friend on the phone, though I might pencil that in next year.  I mean time to do work (I edit reports from home), time to do church work (my other unpaid job), time to clean the house (got to fix that collateral damage), and time to play on social networking sites.  (Did I just write that last one?  Whoops!)  How do I do that when my oldest child needs time to learn?

Baking a Father's Day cake from scratch: Home Economics.

We are neither an "unschooling" family (in the way that many of our friends are) where unstructured learning is the norm, nor are we a "traditional homeschooling" family where there are formal, scheduled lessons.  We fall somewhere in the middle, I suppose.  Typical daily "lesson":

Me: "You need to learn your XYZ this week.  How about you do some pages in your workbooks, play an educational computer game, read the books we checked out from the library, play the board games that tie in those skills, and do research to make an XYZ lapbook?"
Lolly: "Okay!  Can I also watch that documentary we've been talking about, and can we print out those worksheets?  How about I write a story about it?"
Me: "Sure, that sounds great!  I'll help get the materials.  In the meantime, you can get started, and let me know if you have any questions."

The schoolroom is anywhere, and amongst everyone, by necessity.

Dress-up counts as Dramatic Cooperative Play. 

With a few exceptions, that is how a "typical" homeschool day goes.  Lolly goes off to do her work with some pit stops - like playgroups and silent reading - along the way.  I record the work afterwards, and those records are what got lost when the computer crashed.  (Typical entry: "Used blocks to perform examples of subtraction with regrouping," or "Discussed important dates for Civil War.  Made timeline of events.")  Some days, we accomplish a week's worth of work in a few hours.  Other days, I feel like a slacker. 

Time at the library with some of her selections...

It helps that Lolly is very motivated and wants to learn, wants to be assessed, and wants to succeed.  (Last week, for example, I heard: "Please give me a spelling test!"   She did it with words she'd never studied; I made it up on the spot.)  She's also very independent.  I never need to tell her that it's "Reading" time; instead, I find her on the couch, curled up with a book.  She's been reading 12 chapter books on average, per week.  I can hardly keep up with her.

I love to be spontaneous, but sometimes, spontaneity is another word for disorganized.  I need to make this my priority because, well, it's my priority!  So I looked for another method. 

I thought that I knew all of the homeschool methods (Unschooling, Traditional, Unit Studies, Classical, Charlotte Mason, Waldorf, Montessori, Literature-Based, Eclectic, et cetera) that there were to learn.  I loved a lot about each of them, but I didn't want to commit to any of them.  Then I heard of the "Workbox" curriculum.

It refers to a specialized, independent, customizable, flexible curriculum.  Lolly could do her work, written or otherwise, based on prompts and materials in workboxes.  Obviously, I would still do many projects with her, but the advantage of this is that she wouldn't have to wait on me while I tended to the needs of the babies, a work project, or anything else.  She could work ahead as far as she could, and then stop when she had a question.  This sounds like a more organized way to do what we've already been doing.

I really like this approach, and I think I am going to try it, starting this week.  With backed-up files.


My prayer tonight.

If I curse diapers and late nights and the inconveniences of parenthood, remind me that there are those whose arms ache to hold a baby.  If I curse the coming of an empty nest, remind me that there are those would would give everything to see their children grow up healthy and independent. 

If I curse the work that sustains our family, remind me that there are those who would love to have any profitable work, much more that which would be safe and secure.

If I curse the compromises of marriage, remind me that there are those who will never be able to marry or even spend time with the person they love the most.

If I curse the marks on my walls or the noise of my appliances or the state of my furniture, remind me that there are those who do not have any of those things to call their very own.  If I curse the mess on the floor, remind me that it's because my home is occupied by people who love me. 

If my definition of "hungry" means that there is nothing in my kitchen that meets my cravings of the moment... if my definition of "lonely" means that my friend didn't call me back... if my definition of "tired" means that my eyes ache from reading my favorite books... if my definition of "injustice" means that I had to pay extra for my insurance... if my definition of "underprivileged" means that we don't get a vacation this year... remind me, Lord, remind me.

And Lord, if I ever complain about being bored, please give me some work to do, as there is so much that the world needs.


Setting Goals and Accelerated Learning

When I was younger and I heard my teachers (or coaches, adult friends, guidance counselors) talk about setting goals, I would tune out.  It sounded so unnecessary.  I would think, why not just go out and do it?  Why bother setting goals?  It was such a cliche to me.

If there is anything that I have learned in my adult life (read: not much), it's that if you set your goals high, you just might achieve them.  If you set your goals low, or have none at all - well, you might just achieve that.  It's been true for all of my life choices, especially when it comes to school or career.  Goal-setting is important!  I now hope to apply it to my homeschool life with my kids.

I want my kids to learn joyfully, deeply, and efficiently.  It's the last quality that really requires some work; the joy and depth should come as part of the experience, and of course, should never be forgotten or sacrificed for the sake of efficiency.  The flexibility of homeschooling allows for efficiency to be part of the equation, and I want to take advantage of that, or at least experiment with it.

I've consulted with guides - including everything from our state standards to homeschool books - to see what my kids should be learning, more or less, by certain grade levels.   I want to make sure that all benchmarks are hit, and that I don't gloss over anything.  For example, my 5-year-old is strong in reading and social studies, but I need to make sure that she learns how to tie her shoes this year!  I also need to make sure that she understands number theory before she masters arithmetic.

[What could be the problem with missing some information?  I'll put it to you this way: I never learned subtraction with regrouping.  Yes, I am serious.  Yes, I still have trouble with this.  Yes, it's embarrassing.  As a kid, I memorized everything from the Greek alphabet to the Preamble to the state capitals, and I won my school spelling bee in eighth grade.  I had enough trivial knowledge to whip some butt in a Trivial Pursuit game.  But I still had to discreetly whip out the calculator when doing a problem such as 1123-789, for example.  I missed one key piece of information somewhere, and the absence of that messed up the processes that came after it.  I guess you could say that my learning goal this year includes learning subtraction with regrouping!]

Last year, Lolly moved through all of her second-grade level work.  This year, I hope that Lolly will get through second-to-fourth-grade-level work.  It's a goal that might not be achieved, but with me being disciplined, and Lolly being motivated already, I am setting the bar high.  As for Toot-Toot, who is solidly in her so-called Terrible Twos, my goals are to make sure that she uses her manners (fingers crossed), to start her on basic addition and subtraction, to teach her some beginning sight words, and to teach her how to write all of her letters, assuming that her fine motor control will make her feel comfortable with that.  (So far, she legibly writes about a half-dozen letters.)  We'll also do music, art, and the extras.  I think we can do it.

Before you think that I am a crazy homeschooling mom, or just another bragging Tiger Mom, let me say this: if learning is enjoyable - and I think it should be - kids can and will want to learn.  Kids are like sponges when it comes to new information, as we all know.  Years ago, kids often didn't learn their alphabet until ages 5 or 6, when they started school.  Now, most kids learn their alphabet by ages 3 or 4, at preschool age.  Yet most kids have the potential to learn even earlier, by age 2, if given personal attention and the time to learn it.  How many times have you known kids to be curious about what adults do, and want to copy them?  It's practically their way of life.  If kids see adults reading (a special privilege, they might think), most kids will be interested in learning how.  Further, in homeschooling, we're able to work without the distractions that most teachers face in their daily classroom routines.

So why the push to teach kids to read so young?  Why not just wait?  Partly, it's because I want my kids to share my love of reading as soon as possible.  Partly, it's because once kids have unlocked the key to reading, everything else in learning becomes easier, both for children and for parents.  They've unlocked a world!  (An added bonus is a safety issue: wouldn't you want your preschool-aged child to be able to read and thoughtfully comprehend a sign that says "Danger" or "Exit"?  Or even "Push the button if you need help" or "Be careful if you come into contact with this"?)  Lolly is able to be more independent and to do more in-depth lessons because her reading skills are strong.  Without that, she would be limited by the time that I had, which she must share with her younger siblings.  Writing is another big skill.  Wouldn't we want our kids to have another way to articulate their feelings (or have privacy in a diary, or express gratitude in a note, or connect with friends from far away)?  Writing does that, of course, and what a gift to give to a young child!

So this year, I am setting the goals high, and I am forcing myself to become more disciplined and organized in my planning.  In homeschooling, the success of my kids, in part, rests on my ability to get my act together.  I need to get to work. 

Curriculum Review:

As you all know, as a homeschooling mom, I am always looking for innovative ways to educate my kids, especially my soon-to-be-first-grader.  Sometime late last fall, as I was searching for homeschool tips in the many homeschooling blogs that I read, I saw an advertisement for a company called Time4learning.  It purported to teach lessons (for Pre-K through 8th grade) in Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies, entirely online.  The program is used for homeschooling families, as well as non-homeschooling families in the form of afterschool or summer enrichment.

At the time, if you'll recall, I had a young baby, a toddler, and a 5-year-old, and I was desperate to find a way to supplement our at-home learning, which largely consisted of workbooks, library books, videos, board games, and of course, homemade projects.  In addition, Lolly has really excelled at using online computer games to enhance her learning, so I decided to give Time4Learning a try, at no risk. 

I had two particular objectives in mind.  First, I wanted a way for Lolly to be able to move through her lessons more independently, as I have her younger brother and sister at home, and I can't always guide her lesson every step of the way.  Another objective was for me to be able to assess where Lolly was, grade-wise, in her learning.  I knew she was advanced in some subjects, especially reading, but I didn't know how to judge her grade level in all subjects.  Time4Learning prides itself on meeting grade-level standards for the states, so I took it as a fairly accurate measure of Lolly's progress.

We ended up sticking with the Time4Learning program for three straight months, and then we took a three-month break to do other things, and now we're back.  During our absence from Time4Learning, Lolly missed being able to do the games and activities, so I decided that it was worth it to go back, even though we're in summer mode.  We originally asked for First Grade as our primary focus, and months later, I have Lolly doing Third Grade work, at my prerogative.  She completed all of First Grade math, some of First Grade Language Arts, and Social Studies and Science activities for First and Second Grades.  She has now completed some Third Grade math, as well.  Here are the advantages and disadvantages that we've found with the program, in no particular order.   

*Maximum flexibility.  Students are free to go at their own pace and do as many or as few activities as they would like.  Time4Learning recommends a sample schedule of one activity per day, per subject.  Lolly would sometimes do 5-10 in a day, if she were so inclined.  This is great if you have a student who gets excited about a subject and who doesn't want to be limited by the parameters of the schedule.  A student can also switch from subject to subject and to different available themes.

Further, while parents choose the student's grade level, Time4Learning allows students to move through three different grade levels without even officially requesting to change grades.  This means that if a student finds the material too hard or too easy, the student is not "locked in" to a specific grade level.  A student can also do different grade levels with the material.  For example, Lolly is at Second Grade in math, and Fourth Grade in reading, and Time4Learning allows for her to switch between those levels as much as she wishes.

*Entertaining activities.  Most of Time4Learning's activities are presented in a fun way by animated characters - who are, surprisingly, not annoying or distracting to the learning process.  It's that whole "learning while having fun" component.  Lolly enjoyed seeing what the characters would do; they were a big draw for her, no pun intended.  As much as I believe that learning shouldn't have to involve animated characters in order to work, I must admit that it helped Lolly during the more mundane lessons.

*Recordkeeping function.  This is one of Time4Learning's biggest strengths, in my opinion.  For every activity that the student does, Time4Learning records how much time the student spends on the activity, how the student scores on the practice, the quiz, and the test, and so much more, including the time/date that the activities are completed.  This makes recordkeeping so easy for parents!  Parents can view or print the records at their own convenience, and look at patterns and progress in the student's learning.  This is especially a big help for homeschooling families who live in states where certain hourly attendance is required, and needs to be part of the recordkeeping.  Most importantly, it shows me where we need to review.

*Good value for the money.  Time4Learning includes everything for $19.95/month for the first child, and $14.95 for each subsequent child.  While that's not free (everyone's favorite price, of course), it's a bargain compared to the hundreds of dollars that some parents spend on textbooks and complete curricula.  In addition, when I wanted to cancel a few months back, I received good customer service, and no surprise costs.  Many of the activities also included printable worksheets to drive home the concept just learned.

Time4Learning offers more than just the online student activities, should parents choose to do more with their membership.  It also offers extensive message boards (so parents can talk with other parents) and lesson breakdowns (so parents can find out what their kids are learning, exactly), as well as reading lists, local homeschool group contacts, and opportunities for further learning.  The website is more substantial than one might expect, and it's all included, making this a good value for the money.

*Strong math component.  Lolly needed special help in math, compared to the other subjects.  Time4Learning did more than I think I could have done to teach her about math on my own.  For example, I know that one needs to teach addition, subtraction, fractions, et cetera, but I did not realize how important it was for students to master other principles of mathematics first, such as pattern-making and place value.  I had completely overlooked some basic, essential building blocks, taking them for granted.

For months afterward, whenever Lolly would clearly understand a math concept and I would ask her where she learned that, she would answer that she got it from Time4Learning.  That speaks volumes.

*Independent learning.  Lolly could do nearly all of the lessons on her own, which gave her a sense of confidence and saved me time.  Time4Learning is designed for the "accidental" homeschooling family, so it really caters to what is convenient for families.  That's a plus, in my book!

Now for some disadvantages:

*Not comprehensive in scope.  If one used this as a complete homeschool curriculum, several components would be lacking, obviously, such as art, music, physical education, foreign language, laboratory science, and the like.  Plus, I think it's important to include a wide variety of learning tools, including books, field trips, and so forth.   This is not a blight against the program, but just a caution that Time4Learning should be used in conjunction with real-world learning, of course.

*Too much computer time.  Some parents, especially those with nature-based schooling styles such as Waldorf, might not like the program's obvious emphasis on computer-based learning.  As inferred in the previous point, it's all about finding a balance and using the curriculum alongside other tools.  If using Time4Learning, be sure to take breaks and get lots of outdoor time, as with any child's computer use.

*Problems with the curriculum.  This is my biggest beef with the program.  I'll give you an example: in one printable worksheet from the Science portion of the curriculum, snakes and reptiles were discussed.  The worksheet clearly said that snakes did not have a backbone, among other erroneous statements.  That's like saying that all birds fly, or that all fish have fins; that is patently untrue.  In fact, all reptiles have backbones, and there was no excuse for this clearly incorrect information.  It then made me nervous, wondering what other mistakes were hidden in the curriculum that I hadn't yet caught?  To be fair, I can't recall finding other errors.

In summary, I would definitely recommend Time4Learning to help teach children about reading and mathematics, but I am still on the fence when it comes to their science and social studies components.  (Too much gray area there, and after the snake worksheet, I am not sure whether I can trust it.)  It is particularly useful as a learning supplement, rather than as a primary curriculum.  It met my objectives, and I will continue to use it.

Time4Learning is an online education program that can be used as a homeschooling curriculum, an afterschool tutorial or for summer learning. As a member, I've been given the opportunity to share my experiences. The content in this review was not written by Time4Learning. While I was compensated, the opinion is entirely my own.


The Oldest Child.

"Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light/The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight/For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above/While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love..."
- "O Little Town of Bethlehem"

On Mother's Day, I reflected not only on the complex nature of the relationship between myself and my own mother, with whom I am close, and of the relationships between myself and other "mothering types" in my life, including my grandmother and my aunt, but also of my relationship to my own children.  This marks my fifth "official" Mother's Day, though I still celebrated when I was pregnant with Lolly, my first child.

Any parent can tell you of the feeling of unspeakable joy, pride, wonder, intensity, fear, and euphoria that one feels when a child comes into one's family, particularly a first child.  After all, it's an experience like no other, and when you've experienced it for the first time, life seems to take a deep breath.  (Even at Lolly's birth, I wanted a mirror to see what was happening... I didn't want to miss a moment.)  When parenthood begins for the first time, it can feel like there is no other single person greater than your child - certainly not yourself.  You want to savor every moment.  You protect, you obsess, you worry.

Lolly in a box.

Now that I am the mother of three young children, I've relaxed somewhat.  I no longer feel ill when my baby cries; instead, it's a fact of life that babies will cry, and we just do what we can do help.  I no longer write down every single first - including things like "first dog seen" or "first apple tasted" - because I just don't have time.  I no longer have the same resolutions... life gets in the way before I can hold onto those things. 

However, when I was the parent of one child, I tried to devote all of my free time to her.  Unfortunately, I had to go back to work when she was less than a month old, but it made me cherish the times with her even more.  We went everywhere together: amusement parks, restaurants, New York City, everywhere from Maine to Pennsylvania to Florida, and all around her native Boston.  She sat in the front row every week at church.  I took her to the Museum of Fine Arts ten times before she was two years old.  I wasn't able to do attachment parenting practices all the time because I worked, but I definitely got the concept.

Lolly was my baby, my little seed of perfection.  Dammit, the parent says, I may have made lots of mistakes in my own life, but this kid is going to be perfect!  Look, she was born perfect!

Lolly's very first day of preschool.   I think I was just as nervous as she was.  I cried every day that week.
Of course, you also want to treat that child perfectly... you spend all of your money on professional portraits and trips to the zoo... you read to your child all the time, you don't let her watch any television... you create elaborate birthday parties, you make sure she eats her vegetables... you videotape her singing and even sleeping.  This child is a reflection of not only you, your family, and your values, but possibly of life itself.  Don't screw this up, your conscience seems to say. 

My biggest fear with Lolly is that her joy will be taken away.  We all know that innocence inevitably fades; that's just part of maturing.  However, joy doesn't have to fade... her sense of wonder and excitement about life.  Nor should her empathy and sensitivity fade, I hope.  It can't happen, I tell myself.

A happy, healthy, moral, confident kid... that's all we parents really want, right? 
The seed of perfection got older, and I had more children.  I got more busy and, admittedly, more lax about some things.  Yet I never stopped trying to mold Lolly, it seems.  Since she now knows the answer to 9 times 12, I get anxious for her to learn the whole times table and long division.  Since she now reads Babysitter chapter books, I get anxious for her to start on great works of literature.  I've been consistently amazed at how quickly Lolly learns, but the more she learns, the more I want her to know.  I think she's brilliant, so I keep pushing her.  One of these days, she's going to go on strike, and rightly so.

Then I worry about what's going to happen as she gets older.  Her personality, at least for the moment, is so much like mine was when I was her age. She is a people-pleasing perfectionist, a sensitive girl who loves performing but feels embarrassed when called to do so, a voracious reader with a strong imagination, and someone who might be lonely someday.  What if she goes with the first guy who says he loves her?  What if she falls in with the wrong crowd?   Just like any parent, I want to keep her from any hurt.  I don't want to see her get her heart broken or to be ridiculed or to feel humiliated or to dislike herself or to hurt others.  I guess that never stops.

We're really close now... we would do everything together, if I would let it happen.  I am worried, on a selfish level, about whether she'll decide that not only does she not need me when she becomes an adult(which is appropriate, of course), but that she doesn't want me.  Yes, I realize how remarkably immature that sounds, but those are my insecurities, right there.  I want us to continue to be close.  I also want her to learn from my mistakes.  And I always want a part of her to be my baby forever.
My recipe for perfection now is to let her have more tea parties, read more books for pleasure, have more playtime, and to keep making a big deal about all of the birthdays and holidays and visits.  Saying yes more often - when it counts - is a good thing.  She is never going to get these years back, and neither am I.


Because It Makes Me Happy.

I was reading an autobiography from my bookshelf today wherein the subject, a well-known actress, stated that her main childhood aspiration was to be a happy adult.  As a child, she didn't tell people that she wanted to be defined by some occupation when she grew up, but rather, that she wanted to be happy.

It seems so foolishly simple: of course we'd want to be happy.  Yet everywhere we look around us, we see people who either outright ignore the goal of happiness (by choosing careers they hate, partners they don't respect) or who pursue it in dangerous ways (like drug abuse).  Most of us rarely follow our bliss, as Joseph Campbell might say. 

But why?  Is it guilt?  Do we think that, somehow, making ourselves happy should be wrong?  To put it in a spiritual sense, don't you think that God (or whatever you call your ultimate) intends all of us to be truly fulfilled and happy in life?  If not, why not?

I am not talking about selfish hedonism here.  I am not talking about Ayn Rand or do-it-yourself, damn-the-rest happiness.  I don't feel like the pursuit of happiness at the expense of compassion, generosity, and community is worth much in the long run for anyone.  What I mean is when people follow their bliss - while being mindful of what might be best for other people - people can inspire more joy and fulfillment in others.

If that sounds too vague or simplistic for you, consider this: can you recall a time when someone inspired you?  Perhaps a friend made a courageous life choice that caused you to reexamine your life choices and redirect your life in a positive way.  Perhaps a stranger did or experienced something extraordinary that caused you to rethink the very nature of joy.  I am convinced that happy people can beget more happy people, as long as those people are given the chance to be happy and don't feel like they're on the outside looking in, so to speak.

Certain things are supposed to make us happy, society says: our kids, our looks, our financial security, the toys we have.  While I certainly agree that children can make us feel deeply fulfilled, and I agree that one cannot be very happy in life without some level of security - however that might be defined - I think that our standards for happiness are different from what we might think.  (I remember the comedian Rita Rudner once giving a list about the things that sounded better than they really were; on the list were things like the beach, and hot buttered rum.)

I was talking with a friend this week about expectations; specifically, about how things that cost money are supposed to make us more happy.  My friend talked about how she had more fun just sharing a glass of wine and conversation with her husband on the back porch while the kids played than she did going out to a fancy dinner and paying a babysitter to watch the kids.  It's also the same feeling when you buy a nice pair of jeans for $40 vs. $80 vs. $1, and thinking about how much you could do with the extra money and the $1 jeans.

But I get a little awkward when I describe what really makes me happy.  I mean, why did I get married, procreate, and raise kids?  Because all three things made me happy, of course.  (Many children aren't conceived because their parents deliberately wanted to make a wonderful difference in the world.  Instead, the children were a byproduct of joy, so to speak.)  Was I supposed to give a different answer?

But what about other things, like homeschooling?  One of my "dirty little secrets" is that I wanted to homeschool because it makes me happy.  It makes me happy to see my kids constantly!  It makes me happy to put lesson plans together and watch my kids learn.  It's exciting!  We don't homeschool because we feel that, regrettably, we have to... we do it because it's awesome for us.

All in all, why wouldn't we do things out of happiness?  Can we do things out of a sense of duty, and still feel really happy about them (like volunteer work)?  We've only got one of these lives, so we'd better find some happiness in what we do.


Because I'm not a Woman anymore. I'm a Mom.

Warning: what is to follow is some of the most vapid, insignificant stuff about which I will write, but I figured we could use some levity.

As some of you may know, my personal fashion style has been, er, eclectic over the years.  My style could be called gaudy, modest, weird, over-the-top, or just plain frumpy.  A former boyfriend's best friend used to describe my clothes as "dick repellant" (my apologies).  First, I didn't wear jeans, shorts, or sexy shirts.  Instead, I wore long skirts or dresses or jumpers, sometimes with tights or leggings underneath, and blouses with sleeves.  This was even in the summer. It's not a religious thing, but rather, a personal thing: I would prefer not to show my own skin, and I definitely don't like to tan. 

In addition, I've tended to go overboard with colors and patterns.  It's not that I didn't want to attract attention to myself, but that I wanted to do it on my own terms, with the clothes that I liked best.  I mean, who doesn't like bright fabulousness?  (I won't even go into my hairstyles over the years: bleached, buzzcut, mohawked, you name it.  That would be another blog altogether.)

"Hey, guys!  The pregnant, hippie creampuff modeled after June Cleaver's curtains is right over here!"

Is it the pattern that's causing my manic smile?  This was part of a polyester three-piece suit.

When you've completely given up, you can wear Christmas pajamas outside.  By the Dumpster.

However, while I thought that I was looking original and unique all of these years, I think I was just looking tacky.  I was doing my own thing, but I wasn't flattering myself.  I had even been anti-jeans because I'd been anti-conformist.  I wanted to be different at any cost.

Then there's the modest aspect.  There's a difference between not trying to look sexy and deliberately trying not to look sexy, even for my husband.  I began looking like a cult member (trust me).  It didn't help that I'd gained and lost about 450 pounds total within 5 years with 4 pregnancies.  I needed all the help I could get.

Flash forward to the present day.  I am helping to look for jeans for my niece and nephew, and it occurs to me that I haven't owned a single pair of jeans in years.  In fact, I last wore jeans back in college, I think, with the exception of a pair of maternity jeans I wore during one pregnancy.  Yet jeans are flattering, versatile, and very practical.  They are perfect for busy moms like me. 

So I decided to change my style altogether.  I will now be a Jeans Wearer.  It's okay to be somewhat normal, I guess, for the sake of practicality and looking decent.  I've also gone back to wearing makeup and styling my hair, two things that had gone by the wayside over the past year. 

I still refuse, however, to go to the trouble of shaving my hairy legs.  (Thank God I married a European who doesn't give a darn about these things.)  So, obviously, the jeans will really come in handy for that.

Total cost of new outfit: about two dollars, thanks to the clothing-by-the-pound deal at Good Cents!

P.S. I showed this photo to my oldest daughter, and her response was, "Who's that?"


Three Is a Magic Number?

Ever since my son, my third child, was born almost nine months ago, I've been asking myself if my husband and I will have any more children together.  For me, the answer has been "maybe"... and yes, that is crazy, but I'll explain.

I can think of a hundred excellent reasons why we shouldn't have more children.  In no particular order, some of them are:

1. We don't have the money, and our bank accounts aren't expected to grow anytime soon.
2. We have a small house with only three bedrooms... and that house needs repairs that we can't afford.
3. We have a sedan with only five seats... and that car will need to be replaced with something fuel-efficient.
4. My husband will be 48 years old next month, and has no desire to raise young kids during his retirement.
5. We'd love to go to England for the first time to visit family, and a bigger family means more travel costs.
6. More babies are bad for the environment!  If we care about the earth, we should stop having kids.
7. Both my husband and I have little free time or "we" time, and more kids means even less of that for us.
8. We would have to have fewer outside commitments (church, volunteer work) and less time with friends. 
9. We have committed ourselves to adopting at least one child, but more bio-kids lessens that possibility.
10. Our families would kill us, I think, if we had another one.  I think they're shocked that we have three between us, plus two other biological children (including my adult stepson).
11. Perhaps most importantly, more children means that our attention is divided between them, so they each would get less time with us.

So as you can see, having another baby would be pretty much ludicrous right now.  Plus, if we were to do it, we wouldn't do the sensible thing and wait a few years until the babies were older, because of my husband's age, so that would mean having perhaps three children ages three and under.  (Go ahead and laugh.)  Could I handle another child to diaper, to breastfeed, to potty train, to homeschool?  I've been stingy with my baby clothes and baby toys, waiting for another baby to be born, secretly hoping for one.  I am half-worried that my friends would disown me if I had another one... they've already been so good about me dragging my brood of three around.  There is a line from "Parenthood," one of my all-time favorite comedies, where one of the dads - whose wife is pregnant with their fourth child - is asking his dad for advice, and the dad shakes his head and says, "I never should have had four."

I had a talk with a close friend last week and she gave me her honest opinion (which I asked for) about having more kids.  She knows that it's as crazy as I think it is.  After our conversation, I half-considered going home and packing up the rest of the baby clothes for good, and donating them to someone who actually needed them, as many generous people have done for us.  That would be just one more step towards our Journey Towards Vasectomy.  Yes, my husband is perfectly willing to get sterilized, and I've been begging him to do it without telling me.  I don't know if I could take the anticipation.  (For the record, my husband agrees that we shouldn't have more babies, but doesn't seem very committal in his answer.)

So why even consider having more kids?

After my son's recent baptism... can you see my "oversmile"?

Another "oversmile" with my first daughter, almost five years ago.
Because kids are freaking amazing.  Because my gut tells me everything will be fine.  Because all I've wanted to do in my life is have a big, happy family.  Because, dammit, I want to do it before I can't.

My husband and I have happy, healthy, lovely children and a happy, healthy, strong marriage.  We have an involved extended family and we live in a great community.  We talked about having a big family - 10 kids was our original number, haha - since we were first dating.  Obviously, I am not trying to compete with the Duggars or even the Gosselins, but four young children seems like a great number.  We could stop there, right?  Four is perfect, right?  Or is this baby-fever taking over and making me think irrational thoughts?



More than bonnets, patent leather, and pastel collars...
More than bright bulletins and collection plate dollars...
More than ham, potatoes, rolls, and greens,
More than chocolate bunnies, more than jelly beans...
More than all the metaphors mean...
More than arguing over God's existence...
More than just political resistence...
The rebirth, the resurrection, the truth, the life...
The starting over. 
The speak.

"...I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born...."
-from "Easter, 1916" by William Butler Yeats


Random Thoughts

Here we go:

1. My mother-in-law is coming into town today, and my house no longer looks like it was raided by candy-hyper, cyclonic gremlins.  Score!

2. I am not sure which is more disappointing: an arrogant religious person or an arrogant atheist.  Maybe arrogance is the real problem. 

3. Why are babies so deliciously addictive?  I mean, I should know better than to want another one!

4. I watched a biography of the late televangelist Tammy Faye, and it showed her in such a sympathetic light that I wanted to be more like her.  Is that bizarre?

5. I am terrible at writing thank-you notes, and even worse at calling people.  I need to stop making excuses.

6. I really miss being on Facebook.  Unfortunately, being off has not had the desired effect - that is, giving me more time with my family - because I have replaced Facebook with other distractions. 

7. "We Are the World" is still a kick-butt song.  I love it.  However, I realized just how old I'd gotten when I recognized all of the artists from the 1985 version, but only about 2/3rds of the ones from the 2010 remake:

8. It is April 2011 already?  Wow.  Life is pretty darn good right now.

The Joy of Siblings

One of the wonderful things about having more than one child is that I get to see how my children interact with each other, teach each other, and enrich each other's lives.  (Yes, this is despite the "Ow, she pushed me" moments, of which I am well aware.)  
Lolly reading to Toot-Toot

It is a proud and happy thing to see one child teach another. 

Toot-Toot "reading" to Ola

I was raised, in a sense, as an only child.  My brother was born when I was twelve years old (after my parents had remarried each other), and I didn't meet my older half-sister until after our brother's birth. However, for those first twelve years, I was the only child and grandchild in my family.  Spoiled doesn't even begin to describe me, I am sure.  My mother had lost two siblings in accidents before they reached adulthood, and I think that their early deaths led my family to be extra-protective of me. (Though I won't blame anyone but myself for my neuroticism.)

A rare reunion, two years ago

Oh, how I wanted a brother or sister so badly!  I used to pray for one, against all odds.  But when my little brother (who is now almost 6'8" tall) was born, I was so much older than him that I felt more like an aunt than a sister.  But no matter... I will always have a brother and a sister, even though we are not as close as I wish we were.  Amazing now to think that my little brother is a parent himself and my big sister is going to be a grandmother.  Wow.

Of course, there are perks to being an only child.  My early school years were probably helped greatly by the fact that I had the attention of many adult relatives.  I didn't have to share my toys, or anything else, very often.  (Side note: at one point shortly after my parents divorced for the first time, my father briefly remarried, and I instantly had two older stepsiblings.  I remember little about my stepsister, April, but I do still have one item from her: a card that she made for me.  It says, "I love you, even though you are selfish.")

There are also perks to having only one child.  I speak with some of my girlfriends who have one child and I notice that they are able to not only have more one-on-one time with the child, but also more free time for themselves.  There are fewer decisions and compromises to make, I would imagine.

However, I feel so blessed to have three little ones (and an adult stepson) who can love and support each other long after my husband and I are gone.  Plus, there are some practical benefits, including the fact that siblings usually entertain each other.  If I am too exhausted to finish another round of fingerplays and nursery rhymes, I ask Lolly to do them for Toot-Toot and Ola, and she is only too happy to help!  They play games with each other, feed each other, comfort each other, and teach each other.  When it works, it's magical.


God, Kids, Husband. In that order.

"Cranky" is going to be crankier than usual today with this blog.  Please forgive my strong opinions on this one, and bear with my hypothetical reasoning.

Several times this week, I've heard stories about people putting their spouses before their children in terms of priority. 

On one of the "Real Housewives" reality shows, the wife often talks about how, in a Christian marriage, God comes first, spouse comes second, and children come third: 

Then I read about an author couple in which the wife is seen to be almost obsessive in her love for her husband, and much less effusive about her children:

Finally, I saw this over-the-top post from an English husband regarding his family:

I realize that I am far from the first person to respond to this issue, and I also realize that this is merely a theoretical construct, but I still feel it's worthy of attention.

First, let me make this clear: I love my husband to death.  He is my best friend, and in some ways, my hero.  He's a brilliant, sweet, supportive, affectionate, funny, deeply spiritual, responsible, and honest man... not to mention, a fabulous dad.  We have stumbled upon a kind of Ozzie-and-Harriet relationship these days in that my husband is the sole breadwinner and I stay home with the kids.  However, the man is a feminist who still manages to bring me coffee every single morning and roses for no reason.  He wrote me poetry and even served as my "doula" when I was a surrogate.  He baptizes our babies, reads stories in silly voices, spends his weekends doing chores, and has never said an unkind or untrue word to me (or to anyone, if memory serves).  He doesn't have a jealous or spiteful bone in his body.  My family adores him.  There is not much more that anyone could ask for in someone, in my opinion.  You could say I am rather fond of him.  I realize how fortunate I am.  (I even have amazingly awesome in-laws, as a bonus!)

But would I put my children before my husband?  Absolutely, and I'll tell you why.

1. Children are vulnerable, and they must be protected.  My husband is a grown man who can, in most aspects, take care of himself.  My children need help, like any other children, and so tending to their needs trumps tending any non-vulnerable adult's needs.  That's a no-brainer. 
2. Children didn't ask to be born.  My husband and I, as their parents, had control over that, and therefore we have an additional duty (again, a no-brainer) to be responsible for them.  However, my husband and I chose to be together and to commit ourselves to each other; in the extremely unlikely event that we'd ever change our minds, that decision is also within our control.

Sure, I understand what my critics are probably saying: a happy, strong marriage makes a happy, strong family.  It's important to tend to one's marriage/partnership for the sake of the family, and that bodes well for the kids.  In most cases, I'd agree wholeheartedly to this.  I do believe that the kind of love that my husband and I model with each other, as well as the way we model our cooperation, conflicts, affection, and so forth, are really important.  I also think that it helps that we are a united front when it comes to family values, discipline, and the like.  (That doesn't mean we always agree, of course, but we back each other up on the important stuff.)

But the idea that kids are at the bottom of the list really churns my stomach.  They are kids!  (Should I underline that for emphasis?)  One real-life, tragic example is of a relative who stood by her husband even when her children were being abused by him, and who claimed that it was the biblical thing to do.  If, God forbid, something happened and I had to choose between the lives of my children and the lives of my husband, I would choose my children's lives... after all, I'd choose their lives over mine anyday.  Children are precious, no matter to whom they were born.  Case closed.

But what about the "God" part?  My many loved ones who would consider themselves agnostic or atheist might wonder about this.  To explain... I think of God as my highest ideals, the source of love and the ultimate.  I would put God first - or honestly, I would hope to, but reality says I often fall short - because God, for me, equals life and all of humanity.  Life itself is more important than even one precious family, even though, of course, every family is an indivisible part of that big picture.  (Clear as mud?)  But love conquers all, and it isn't party-loyal to kith and kin, as they say.

One final postscript: the Dailymail piece is from someone who would be writing for the Reluctant Dad website.  The site has got to be a joke, right?  Some people really shouldn't have kids.

Do these children ever make it to adulthood without hating their fathers or becoming misanthropes?  I hope not.  What do you think?


My Ultra-Critical, Tongue-in-Cheek Review of the Worst Children's Movie

Hello, friends!   I've been swamped this past month.  Even with no Facebook (*sniff*), I find that my time is readily filled with all kinds of projects, appointments, playdates, parties, homeschool planning, and assorted obligations.  Yet my house still looks like a wreck.  I am wondering why scientists haven't figured out a way to eradicate sleep... I mean, who needs it, really?

Anyway, life is great, if hectic, and I am excited to finally be able to write this blog and post it, even if it's in the wee hours of the morning and I have to get up in five hours.  What could be so important, I hear you cry?

I am here to tell you that "All Dogs Go to Heaven 2" is the worst children's movie that I've seen in recent years... or possibly ever.  Allow me to explain.

First of all, the original movie of "All Dogs Go to Heaven" is pretty good, as non-Disney animated films go.  As I remember, despite flaws in the script, children appreciated the storyline.  (All is redeemed when you find out that Burt Reynolds and Dom Deluise, two of the voice actors, actually ad-libbed most of their lines.)  I mean, the film wasn't perfect, and it has some of the same issues as the sequel does, but I can't deny that it was a popular film when I was a kid, especially after it came out on video.  Don Bluth generally directed terrific animated movies; who doesn't love the truly classic "An American Tail" or "The Land Before Time"?  So I can definitely see the appeal.  The movie was fine on its own.  It didn't need or merit a sequel, but the studio did it, anyway, without Don Bluth as the director. 

I had the opportunity to watch the sequel when a child at my house selected the movie on Hulu.  [Warning: spoiler alert.]  The basic, thin-as-paper premise is that two tough-but-good dogs (Charlie and Itchy), who live in heaven, are sent back to earth when "Gabriel's Horn" falls through the clouds.  Heaven doesn't want the horn to fall into evil hands on earth, so it's imperative that Charlie and Itchy find it and bring it back.  Along the way, the dogs meet other earthly dog friends (such as Sasha Le Fleur) and a scrappy little boy (David, with the requisite 1996 haircut) who ran away from home, and they help each other, et cetera.  Adventures ensue and all is right in the end: the dogs find the horn and return to heaven, the bad guys (like villains Red and Carface) get their comeuppance, the little boy goes home, and all of the protagonists live happily ever after.  

So what's so bad about that, I hear you ask?  Well, I have a list.

1. Sexist and Sexy

The female dog characters are either angels (literally, like the top angel Annabelle) or dogs of ill repute (namely, Sasha Le Fleur).  This is the old "Madonna-whore" dichotomy: there are good girls and bad girls, and that's it. 

In particular, Sasha Le Fleur is an out-of-place character.  She is like Jessica Rabbit (or perhaps Lucy from "Avenue Q"), except that this is a children's cartoon.  The male dogs act like, well, dogs around her: they salivate, fight, float, swallow their cigars, spin on their chairs, throw their girlfriend's flowers, et cetera.  I almost expected one of the dogs to stick a dollar bill in her collar.  At the end of one scene, after Sasha rejects Charlie's advances, Charlie says his friend's name ("Itch") in such a way that I had to listen to it again to make sure that it wasn't another word.  But maybe that's just me.

There was also a line about how Sasha thought that "breeding" would be a good quality for a partner to have, and Charlie responds that he would be good at that.  That's no surprise, I guess, since Charlie is voiced by none other than Charlie Sheen.  Sasha sings:

Note that it's not that I have a problem with romance or sexy characters in movies, but I thought that the character was way over the top for a children's movie.  In my research, I found a disturbing number of "sexy animated dog" videos that suggest that people have way too much time on their hands.  (Like me, I guess, but I don't count.)

2. Cheap shots

In one scene, Gabriel's Horn lands in San Francisco, and the dogs exchange comments about how it's going to be a particular challenge (as San Francisco is the city of sin, of course, har har).  In another scene, they need to get the cops out of the police station in order to obtain the confiscated horn, so someone yells that doughnuts are available, which sends the cops running outside in a frenzy to get the doughnuts.

These situations would be stock gags in an adult movie, but why put them in a children's movie?  They were not there for my enjoyment, and the references would go over children's heads and serve to reinforce stereotypes.  I can just picture my kids saying, "San Francisco must be where bad guys live."  It's just unnecessary, that's all.

3. Scary as hell

It's hard to put into words how inappropriate some of the scenes would be for small children, even as the other references would completely miss them.  It's pretty scary. 

At the end of the film, the evil Red character - who uses former angel Carface as an accomplice and drags him down with him - goes beyond just being greedy.  After Red obtains Gabriel's Horn, Red bends the gates of heaven and puts the angel dogs into cages on earth.  Then he grows into a monstrous, powerful, merciless, Satanic figure and threatens not only the lives of the protagonists, but indeed the fate of all dogs.  Take the Ursula water scene from the end of "The Little Mermaid" and combine it with Tim Curry's character in "Legend" and see what I mean.

Imagine that you're 4 or 5 years old, watching this scene:

4. Bad theology

This is probably what I like the least about this movie.  This reminds me of all of the oversimplistic plots that reinforce this idiotic idea that good guys go to heaven, bad guys go to hell, and yet heaven is a place where no cool guy really wants to be.  Because being good is boring, as everyone knows.

None of these movies ever mention "God" in heaven - instead, they focus on harps, wings, clouds, white robes, and characters being really polite.  They take out the spirituality part of it.  To put it another way, it's like seeing the mock Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas.

But what sets this film apart is that the villain really is like Satan.  He's a fallen angel who wants the power of heaven.  He even looks like what we'd imagine Satan would look like.  Pretty heavy stuff for a children's film, if you ask me.  We also find out that all dogs DON'T go to heaven.  Some of the dogs are actually shown going to doggie hell!  I mean, what is the point of the movie?  Perhaps it should be called "Good Dogs Go to Heaven, Which Is Boring as Hell"... even though Charlie gets another pass at life on earth.

Plus, I am a Universalist, so I believe that everyone goes to heaven.  It's just not my kind of plot device.

5. Shoddy production

There were many inconsistencies in the animation, but that's one thing.  Now, my favorite thing: at the very end of the film, when the boy David is reunited with his father and pregnant stepmother, the stepmother clearly says to David: "Having this baby doesn't mean I love you."

Hahahaha!!!  Exactly.

Watch the mistake here, at 2:20:

Watch the "All Dogs Go to Heaven 2" trailer here:

Wiki article here:

***[By the way, not to bring in something irreparably sad, but I felt I had to mention this.  Judith Barsi, the child who voiced the main character "Anne-Marie" in the first "All Dogs Go to Heaven" also voiced the memorable "Ducky" character from "The Land Before Time" movie.  Tragically, Judith was abused by her father for years, and she was murdered by him at the age of ten.  It is for this reason that I can't bring myself to criticize the first movie as harshly... just doesn't seem right, somehow.  I had no idea before I wrote this blog who Judith Barsi was, but now that I know, I am profoundly sad.  I would recommend to you the documentary or tributes about her life, but honestly, I don't know if I have the strength to watch them again myself.  But if you're interested, Google her name to read her story.  Good Lord.]