The Ups and Downs of Homeschooling

We started officially homeschooling our 5-year-old daughter this past fall, and I've been reflecting on what has worked for our family, what the consequences have been, and what I need to do better.  Please read the "Why We Homeschool" page on this blog to find out more about our original reasons for homeschooling.

We began homeschooling our daughter ("Lolly") before her fifth birthday, shortly before she was due to begin kindergarten with her friends from her former preschool.  Our baby boy ("Ola") was born by C-section the same month; we also have a toddler girl ("Toot-Toot") at home.  So, I went from being a working-full-time supervisor with two kids to being a stay-at-home, homeschooling mother of three kids in about a week's time.  I had all three kids at home with me as I recovered from the C-section, so needless to say, we got off to a slow start with homeschooling.

Over the first couple of weeks, I was overwhelmed with hormones, exhaustion, and a lack of confidence.  I began to wonder if we had made the best choice.  I asked Lolly if she was happy to be homeschooled, and she said that it was fine for kindergarten, but she couldn't wait to go to "real" school in first grade.  When I pressed her as to why, she said that it was because she wanted to ride the school bus, eat fun lunches, and get a new backpack, like her friends.  While I couldn't help her with the school bus request, I did try to make some fun lunches, and I had her help me buy school supplies for the year, so that she could take part in this underrated rite of passage.  It has also helped for us to have regular playdates with her friends from preschool, most of whom have gone on to kindergarten.

I decided to go with an eclectic mix of curriculum: a combination of workbooks, computer tutorials, projects, outside classes, and semi-unschooling with assorted games, playtime, and real-life activities.  The electicism is partly because I like being creative with school, partly because I'm too cheap to buy a packaged deal, and partly because I don't like following schedules.  (Flexibility was one of our main reasons for homeschooling in the first place, so why make a rigid homeschooling plan?)  In addition, it's often easier for me to go back and count one of Lolly's self-led activities as a homeschool activity than it is to plan something and not know what it will become.  I guess that's where the "unschooling" part comes into play.  Both my husband and I are pretty committed to traditional academics, and we're pro-assessment, so we wouldn't feel comfortable with complete unschooling.  However, I like to take a little bit of everything - the stuff that works - and fit it into what we're trying to do, rather than commit to something that works in concept but not in practice.  (Childrearing is one of the few areas in which the Cranky Idealist is the Happy Pragmatist!)

Fortunately for me, Lolly is a naturally curious and eager student, which makes teaching her very easy.  She is committed, patient, and motivated to continue to do better.  Honestly, if her personality were resistant to structured learning, I am not sure what homeschooling plan we'd follow.  I do worry that I am not able to give her the time and attention she deserves every day, as our lessons and projects are often interrupted by the demands of two diapered little ones.  This also means that I am hesistant to do things like start at science experiment or do a library day if I know that Ola might cry or that Toot-Toot might have a meltdown.  I feel like Lolly might be doing even higher-level, in-depth work if only I had a few more uninterrupted hours to spend with her each day.  Too often, I have to send her away to do her work independently, because I have other urgent needs to fulfill.  Independence is a valuable trait/skill to have, of course, but sometimes I feel that she needs me and I simply don't have enough of "me" to give to her.  The same goes for Toot-Toot, whom we are also teaching, albeit in a less formal sense.

Another consequence of homeschooling vs. sending Lolly to school (and of being the mother to three young children) is that I don't get a break during the day.  Lolly is a talkative, social child, and because she is home with me most of the time, I am her playmate, her teacher, and her mother, all rolled into one, during almost all waking hours.  I went from complaining about not getting enough time to spend with my children to being around them all the time.  It's been an adjustment for me, but kids are only young once, and getting to be with my children every day is a privilege that not every mother is able to have.  (As for the concerns about socialization, rest assured that my children have a busy social life with several close friends, and they get to interact with dozens of their peers on a weekly basis.)

One of the biggest anxieties I have, though, is that I will fail my children in some area.  It's like thinking that they'll go to college without learning to tie their shoes.  I worry that I won't be enough for them, or that others will judge me or my children more harshly if they fail at something.  After all, if my kids fall behind academically in some way, I can't blame a bad school or a personality conflict; I can only blame myself.  I don't anticipate anything negative, but I do feel like the pressure is real.  I can feel myself pushing Lolly to do more challenging work, in part out of my own insecurities.  This is the part that I do not like.

That said, I feel like challenges can inspire learning, and learning is, in itself, exciting.  Charlotte might have never guessed that her multiplication tables (for example) would be useful to learn until she was exposed to them and shown how they can help her delve more deeply into other interests.  It is my job to expose, to record, and to guide... and I hope I can inspire in the process. 

Plus, in what other job would I get to stay in my pajamas and cuddle my children anytime I wanted?  Verdict: I am enjoying it!


A Brief Tribute to Inspiration

Here is a video blog about my faith.  I feel that our source of inspiration doesn't have to be perfect in order to be good, and that our truth doesn't have to be literally true to inspire us. 

About Philip Workman, who is discussed in the blog:


What Every Student Should Know

My daily occupation is to be a mother and homeschool teacher.  It keeps me busy; in fact, so busy that I've struggled to keep up with this blog.  My writing time and my homeschool planning/recording time compete with each other, but such is life. 

As I was reflecting on all of the activities that we do together as homeschoolers, I realized that I concentrate heavily on traditional academics (reading, writing, mathematics, the sciences, social studies), and I supplement art, music, physical education, foreign language, drama, home economics, and so forth.  That is the model with which I am the most comfortable.  Should anyone suddenly give my kids a standardized test, I want to be ready, pencil in hand!

However, part of the very reason why many folks choose to homeschool - and indeed, what all parents try to do - is to impart the wisdom of good habits and character traits to their children, and to have their children be able to function well in daily life through the years.  Academics are great, but they must be combined with strong social and emotional and practical skills.  Isn't that what we all ultimately want: happy, confident kids who grow up to take care of themselves (as much as they can) and make a positive contribution to society?

So with that in mind, I thought about my "checklist" of what I'd love for my kids to know in order to succeed in the real world, at least as much as I can foresee of the real world before my kids are ready to enter into it.  Here's my short and inexhaustive list, in no particular order:

Health skills:
To know what nutritious food is, and to want to eat it.
To take care of their teeth, skin, heart, and other body parts.
To learn when to seek medical attention.
To know moderation in consumption.
To understand sex, biologically and emotionally.

Practical skills:
To know how to save money and spend wisely.
To learn how to be organized around the house.
To learn how to fix simple machines.
To know how to write well and speak articulately.
To have a healthy knowledge of science.
To be able to create at least one kind of handcrafted thing that they are able to share.
To be aware of current and historical events enough to have an intelligent opinion of them.

Social skills:
To be able to give and take compliments.
To exercise self-control.
To keep promises and commitments.
To be generous, understanding, and trustworthy to others.
To be polite to all people in all stations of life.
To be sympathetic, and to take the underdog's side.
To be aware of the people and problems in the world around them.

One more thing, but I am not sure what category this would fall under: the ability to choose and cherish a worthy life partner.  There are few other things in adult life that influence our happiness (or unhappiness) as much as what partner to whom we choose to devote our life.

There are a million other things that I am forgetting right now, but I have a few more years to go.  Today, Lolly wrote down where she lived (from street to galaxy), how time interconnected (from minutes to millennia), and what holidays were in what months.  It's a start.

What's on your checklist?


What "Busy" Is: Lessons Learned

I had never known what "busy" was until I became a mother.  In college, mind you, I thought I was busy.  I remember that at one point, I was taking 21 credit hours, working as a Teacher's Assistant, volunteering as a Meals on Wheels driver and as a Girl Scout troop leader, serving as the Senior Class President, serving as an officer in two academic fraternities, co-directing a student play, researching and applying to graduate school, and being heavily involved with my church, including teaching kids, singing in the choir, and preparing for the ministry.   (I had my heart set on getting the Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford, of all the crazy things... I went for pipe dreams.)  I thought I was swamped!  However, the difference between college and motherhood now is: A) I could have quit at any point, and B) My free time really was my own.  I could have actually slept in most mornings, as well.

At the time, I really relished being active and involved in all of those activities.  In fact, I thought that the busier I was, the more productive I was, and the more productive I was, the better I was.  I kind of valued myself in terms of how much I could produce, and man, was I proud.  I had even won a couple of achievement pageants in college, mostly so that I could show that I was capable of winning.  To me, that's all that mattered: being the best.  I had to have the best grades, the best achievements.  It's that whole perfectionism thing again.  (Children from dysfunctional backgrounds tend to overcompensate out of insecurity.  Noted.)

My first turning point came during my senior year of college.  I was insanely busy and could barely make it from one meeting or class without having to go to another.  I was also in a relationship that I was worried about.  I still had good grades, but I was procrastinating on my work, particularly on my term papers.  Who had time to think about writing a term paper, much less researching for it?   I eventually ran out of time to write a major final paper for one of my most respected theology professors, who also happened to be a priest.  In my haste and overconfidence, I wrote something that was only a few pages long, with minimal research, and I turned it in late, expecting somehow to have it go under the radar.

It did - that is, until I received my grades for the semester.  I got an "F" for the class.  It should be said that the lowest grade I'd ever received was a single "B" prior to this, and so I was sufficiently freaked out enough to approach my professor in his office when we returned to school.  I told him my concern about the grade, and asked if there was something that I could do to make up the work.  He turned to me with a cold look in his eye and gave me the most frank words I've ever had in my life:

"I gave you the F because your paper was crap.  You knew it was crap, and yet you submitted it anyway, thinking that I would overlook it.  That was an insult to me.  I wrote a recommendation for you to Oxford, and this is what I get?  It was an F paper, and that's what it deserved.  You spend all your time worrying about how popular you are, about what clubs to join, instead of studying.  But when you leave college, no one will care what you did here.  No one here will remember you."

At that point, I burst into tears.  He was right, and I burned with shame and embarrassment over being called out.  He continued: "But what will matter, for you, is the effort that you put into your work here.  I will give you another chance.  If you research and rewrite this paper, and make it good, I will change your grade, and you can have an Incomplete until then."  I thanked him and apologized, and left his office with a new perspective.  [Postscript: I completely rewrote the paper and presented it at a conference, which got me an "A" for the class.  Unfortunately, I had worse luck in grad school.]

I came out of the professor's office shaking, but those words were exactly what I'd needed.  In retrospect, I was depressed and burnt out.  However, I spent lots of energy trying to put on a good face and pretend that I had things under control.  I owe that professor a huge debt of gratitude for not only giving me another chance, but for being real with me.  Sometimes the best words aren't the sweetest. 

When I became a mom, I outgrew the desire to be busy for the sake of being busy - or for the sake of getting outside accolades.  Yet I am now more busy than I've ever been in my life: my schedule mostly revolves around mealtimes, bedtimes, school lessons, and playdates.  I once tried to track how many diapers I changed in a day, but I lost track at the twelfth diaper.  I usually choose to eat standing up when my kids are awake, because I can't guarantee that I'll sit down for long.  Multitasking is my reality, and I don't even work outside the home anymore.  This is not meant to be a complaint, but just an observation.

Yet there are times when I really worry that I am treating motherhood like the way I treated college: like a marathon to be won.  I fear I could be channeling my personal competitive energy into being a mom, and counting my children's achievements and milestones like a checklist.  There are some moments, thankfully, that cause me to sit down and just appreciate what the kids are doing, just for being who they are. 

If ever worry about my children's goals more than their personhood or their happiness, please let me know.  Life is just too short for any of that.  In fact, the more kids I have and the more they grow, the more I feel myself pulling back, wanting to do less.  Lazy might be the best word for it: I just want to be lazy and live more simply.  That is a goal in itself.


I've Never Met a Teenager I Didn't Like

Almost every time a baby is born in our society, the community gathers around to show its support and good wishes for a new life being brought into the world.  We send out congratulations to the expectant parents, even if they are complete strangers.  We will go out of our way to buy gifts for the child of a friend or close relative.  Almost anyone but the most bitter curmudgeon would generally agree that a new baby in the world is the symbol, or even the very embodiment, of hope, love, and renewal of life. 

Then every new parent hears at some point how they need to prepare themselves for when that baby becomes a teenager.  The warning comes: "Just you wait!"  (Cue scary music.) 

It's easy to see why some people prefer babies over teenagers.  Babies are always cute.  Babies don't talk back.  You need money to have a baby, but at least the babies themselves don't ask for money.  Babies don't require complex emotional involvement or you setting a good example.  Babies don't have friends and habits that are bad for them, or freedom that they could abuse.  Babies always want to be loved.  Heck, the only place where babies score evenly with most teenagers is on their mutual habit of staying awake all night!

There is a major prejudice against teenagers, and frankly, it's no stronger than when coming from the (current or former) parents of teenagers themselves.  I think that what makes some teenagers so "bad" is that society and their own families, too often, don't expect much of them.  If I've learned anything about marriage, friendship, and child-rearing, it's that people will raise or lower themselves to whatever expectation you set.  Thus, if you expect your teenager to be reckless, irresponsible, demanding, defiant, (insert adjective here), then that might be exactly what you get in return.  However, if you have a relationship built on sincere respect and mutual trust, then you at least have a chance, as a parent, of getting through to your teenager and having him or her make better life decisions. 

I also think that some parents might feel guilty when teens misbehave, regretting that they haven't spent more time (or resources of other kinds) on their teens; they might take the blame for their teenager's poor choices.  So in response, the parent becomes lenient and acts more like a friend to the teen, both to get closer to the teen and to ameliorate some of the guilt.  The teen then loses some respect for the parent's role, and the cycle continues.  Note that I am not suggesting that parents and teens shouldn't be friends, but just that at the end of the day, a parent is a parent first.

The fact is that I love teenagers.  (Yes, I've been around many of them, from very different backgrounds!)  On the whole, I think they are funny, sincere, wise, caring, and infused with justice and passion for the world.  I wish that more adults would get as outraged over injustice as teens do!  I've never honestly met a teenager I didn't like, as long as I stayed around long enough to listen to what they had to say.  Remember that babies will be held, fed, and cared for by any willing adult, but a teenager requires the special attention of a parent or guardian who knows them and trusts them.

How different a world would we have if we publicly celebrated the coming-of-age of our teenagers and looked at adolescence as the time of self-discovery, rather than as a time to dread? 


How Being a Mom Turned Me Into a Mutha

[Note: I wrote most of this shortly after Toot-Toot, my younger daughter, was born.  If you followed my old blog, please forgive me for the "recycling"!]

I've noticed that, in the past couple of years, I've become much more bold about sharing my opinions, whether popular or not.  Ten years ago, I would have wanted to crawl into a hole if I even thought that I had made waves in a conversation.  Being liked was one of my top priorities in all relationships, and I tried very hard to make nice with people, even with people who weren't so nice.  (In high school, a female friend of mine bought me a book called, "Getting in Touch with Your Inner Bitch."  Apparently, I needed some help.)  

These days, however, I find that I have fewer qualms about speaking my mind when the situation calls for it. I think it's cost me a few potential friendships, but that doesn't bother me... much.

All of my newfound boldness began, I think, when I became a mother - and I mean at the actual birth itself.  If anything, what giving birth teaches you is to forget modesty.  There you are in pain, about to welcome a new life, and suddenly it doesn't matter at all that a medical student is holding your legs open or that a stranger just had to wipe away your body fluids or that you just cursed in a room full of nice people.  (You also realize that nobody cares about your unshaved legs and lack of pedicure.  Really.)  It's like having a serious illness: little things that used to matter to you no longer seem so important.

This extends, of course, to the months and years ahead.  Priorities and interests shift, and you give up worrying about the minutia of life.  For example, I used to be a huge fan of Marilyn Monroe.  I read her biographies, watched her movies, memorized her songs, and decorated my bedroom with her pictures.  I was an officer with two Marilyn fan clubs, and I even briefly became a Marilyn impersonator for hire.  However, when I became pregnant with my first daughter, all of my Marilyn obsession began to dissolve almost unconsciously.  It just wasn't that important to me anymore.

As we grow older, we often find that we have less and less time and tolerance for other people's crap.  Life becomes too short to deal with gossip, rudeness, and other time-wasters.  Parenthood, I think, increases this feeling.  Who has time to worry about the little things when you have kids at home? 

Further, parents can't afford to be too nice.  Allow me to illustrate: if someone says something nasty to you alone, then it's entirely up to you, as the injured party, to choose how or even if to respond.  However, if someone says something nasty to or about your child, you now have a moral obligation to respond.  In other words, it's no longer about you, or about being liked.  Your child needs a defender, and that defender is primarily going to be you.  You have to take the chance that you're not going to be popular for your response, and that just has to be okay.

Yet women are taught to not make conflict, to be nice, and to be supportive, both to men and to other women.  Well, I am all for being nice and supportive, but the conflict part is downright necessary.  Conflict is critical for growth.

I once had a female acquaintance basically apologize to a mutual male acquaintance about me making waves in a political conversation.  While I didn't agree with what the male acquaintance said, what hurt more was that the female acquaintance felt the need to smooth things over with the male because I had spoken my mind about something unpopular.  If I were male, would she have said anything to him at all on my behalf?

So why not speak the truth in love at every appropriate opportunity, even when that isn't popular?  After all, you might regret saying something, but you might equally regret not saying it.  I would rather say something unpopular that might get me into trouble than to not say anything and to have other people assume that I agree with something abhorrent.

So, thanks to my precious children, here I am.


The Joy (mostly) of Breastfeeding

About 8-10 times a day, a snuggly, precious five-month-old baby nurses at my breast.  He follows suit after his two sisters did the same.  The difference in the breastfeeding experience between my son and my two daughters is that I went back to work when my girls were still newborns and, after pumping rather unsuccessfully, I eventually supplemented with formula.  However, I plan to exclusively breastfeed my son for as long as it works for us.

I'll admit it now: I love breastfeeding.  I always knew that I wanted to become a mother, and I always knew that I would breastfeed my babies if at all possible.  My mother and grandmother both breastfed their babies whenever they could, despite the fact that they were both work-outside-the-home mothers and that breastfeeding was not the norm years ago.  My grandmother reports that the maternity nurses bottlefed her first son in the hospital without her consent, and they chided her for wanting to breastfeed.  After all, formula feeding represented societal progress... even though the formula at that time usually consisted of equal parts evaporated milk, Karo Syrup, and water.  (I could go into a long novel about how glad I am to be a 21st century mom, but I digress.)

But every time I talk about how great breastfeeding has been for me, I always feel like I have to emphasize that my yay-happy approach to it does not indicate an indictment against women who either choose not to breastfeed or who cannot breastfeed (of course).  I think that mothers have been forced to take sides on this issue, and that is not fair.  Yes, it's been proven that breastmilk is the absolute best nutritional choice for babies under a year old.  Yes, breastfed children are shown to be generally healthier, and they tend to have fewer earaches, allergies, communicable diseases, and so forth.  Yes, breastfeeding is free (sans the pumping and storing implements), and it's ecologically sound.  Yes, breastfeeding promotes bonding, it's good for the mother's postpartum body, it's excellent birth control, et cetera.

But NO, formula feeding does not cause children to be unhealthy, unhappy kids. No, moms who choose to feed their babies formula do not love their babies any less than moms who choose to breastfeed.  You'd think that this was obvious, but in the Mommy Wars, nothing is taken for granted.

As for me, I am a believer in pragmatic parenting: go with whatever works best for you and your kids.  I've done both, and I personally found that formula feeding was a bigger pain.  Sterilizing bottles, going to the kitchen in the middle of the night, running out to the store to buy more formula at $15 per can - no thanks!  That's right: one of the reasons why I like breastfeeding is because I am lazy (and cheap).  Placing a baby at the boob is easy: no mixing powder, no heating water, and I can still have one free arm to multitask, like I am doing right now.  Not to mention the bonus benefit of not having a menstrual period for months, and the fact that it burns hundreds of calories without me having to do much.

Yet to show how this is a complex issue, I will share those times when breastfeeding has not been a joy for me.

First week: Breastfeeding can really hurt, especially at the beginning.  Newborns have a surprisingly powerful sucking reflex; after all, their lives depend on it.  With my oldest, I remember having tears in my eyes and scabs on my nipples from the bleeding.  (Please excuse the visual!)  But then the days go by and you eventually can't feel any discomfort whatsoever, like you went from wearing boots to bunny slippers.

Outings with baby: Many new moms already feel vulnerable and insecure.  That feeling can be intensified when moms need to nurse hungry babies in public places at inopportune times. I remember trying to nurse my youngest daughter at the circus, where it was loud, crowded, and dirty. She screamed every time I tried to cover us with a blanket for modesty, and the only private space around was the portapotty (yuck).  The more she screamed, the more she couldn't latch on, and the more she couldn't latch on, the more hungry she became, which caused more screaming.  At that moment, I was not a good poster child for breastfeeding.

Outings without baby: These days, if I want to go anywhere without the baby - a rare occasion as it is - I have to either pump milk (not always successful at this) or be sure to return within 3 hours.  I've been for a quick trip to the store and returned to find my son crying for me.  This isn't as bad for me as it is for my son and whomever is caring for him during my absence.  Don't forget the joy of having drips show through your shirt in public.

Teething: I am experiencing this right now.  My girls were fairly gentle, but my son seems to think that I am a chew toy.  He has no teeth yet, but when that day comes, I will be monitoring things closely.  Grinding is not a good feeling! 

Weaning: There is something bittersweet about having your baby grow up, and weaning is one of the big milestones for this.  I've cried over it.  Our oldest daughter, whom I weaned at twelve months old in order to increase my fertility, would have breastfed for years if given the choice, but our youngest daughter (ever the independent one) eagerly weaned herself from the breast at eight months old and wanted her bottle instead.  Our son seems to be the nursing type, so don't be surprised if we continue this for awhile.

Nursing is not always terrific, but I wouldn't trade it for the world.  It's been a great choice for us, and I am glad that we've tried to stick with it.


How many environmentalists does it take to change a lightbulb?

There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth.  We are all crew.  -Marshall McLuhan, 1964

Like most of us, I have wanted to do my part to help make our planet more green.  I once even chased down and confronted a litterbug in my old neighborhood over a discarded donut wrapper.  Rawr!

Yet I've wanted to go beyond the "compact fluorescent bulb" stage of environmentalism.  I use that term because whenever I read pamphlets that discuss what we can do for the environment, switching to compact fluorescent bulbs is usually at the top of the list.  But it's an easy choice: we save money in the long run, and it involves no more investment than the initial cost of the lightbulb and the time it takes to screw it in place.  (Of course, a broken bulb with mercury can be a problem when it comes to disposal, but that's another story altogether.)  It's a great start, but environmental solutions need to come with harder lifestyle choices.  How many of us turn up the heat rather than put on a sweater?

I thought about all of the major, radical things that we human beings can do to help our environment, and my list immediately consisted of this:

1. Consume much less.  This means buying only what is needed, buying used whenever possible, and reusing things until they can no longer be used.
2. Become a vegan.  Animal farms cause water pollution and require major land resources, for starters.
3. Don't have more than one child.  Overpopulation taxes limited resources.  Not to mention, diapers are awful for the environment, no matter what kind you use.
4. Rarely drive a car or take an airplane.  The pollution caused by carbon emissions from countless cars and airplanes is extreme, as is the junk that comes from manufacturing and getting rid of them.  This doesn't even begin to include the impact of fossil fuel drilling and oil spills.
5. Don't support any businesses and government systems that hurt the environment.  Take a stand against the worst polluters.  This is where people can make the greatest global impact.

Okay, let's admit it: if I do/had done all of the above things, my environmental footprint would get much smaller.  I mean, are we really environmentally minded if we commute far distances, have three kids, and eat meat every day?  (That was a rhetorical question.)  We need to acknowledge that it's not enough for people to put their cans in the recycling bin and call it a day.  We all need to do more.  We cannot be lulled into ecological apathy.  We need to consider ourselves environmentalists; we have no choice if we are to have a future.

That said, are the above radical actions desirable or even realistic for most people?  How many people would assent to one or the other, but then balk at the rest?  How many people can be persuaded to change their lifestyles to that degree?

The fact remains that we all have choices, but we don't have to be ideal environmentalists in order to be good environmentalists.  I would rather everyone in the world make moderate lifestyle changes to help the earth than for just a few people to make radical changes while others do nothing. 

So what can we do?  Well, perhaps it might help to do a mental inventory of what we already do to help the environment, and what we could do better.  For me, a short list would look like this:

What I already do:
1. Recycle all paper, cans, jars, and bottles that come from our house;
2. Have a low-maintenance yard with no fertilizers and no watering, mowed with a handpowered lawnmower;
3. Share a smaller family car, and walk when possible;
4. Buy mostly used clothes, shoes, toys, furniture, and books;
5. Don't eat land-based animals;
6. Turn off lights, turn off water when not using;
7. Don't buy too much stuff.

I am okay with this list, but not satisfied.  There is so much more that I could be doing, including:

1. Reuse more household products, especially paper;
2. Use less toxic cleaning supplies, wash less laundry, use less bathwater;
3. Drive an electric or hybrid car, and use public transportation more;
4. Buy more environmentally friendly products, from clothes to furniture;
5. Buy organic, locally grown foods more often;
6. Adjust our thermostat to seasonal levels and put insulation in the walls of our house;
7. Buy much less stuff, still.

That's not even going into environmental activism, which can begin with a simple boycott or a letter written to a politician or company president. 

Then there's the matter of me and all my kids, of course... I do have a defense when it comes to having children, even as I admit that new human beings make a huge impact on the environment.  It is that a child who is knowledgeable about helping the earth and who can be taught to persuade others to do the same is worth a million compact fluorescent bulbs or recycled cans.  Today's baby could be tomorrow's Sierra Club member, after all. 
The bottom line is that while we need to make many choices to help the environment, those choices need to be comfortable enough so that they are easy for most of us to implement - and we need to talk about it as if it's a problem to which we can all be a part of the solution.


Perfect. Resolve.

Isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?  - "Anne of Green Gables"

When I was about eleven years old, I went through a period when I was obsessed about not making mistakes.  I would begin every day with a structured routine: my grooming, my handwriting, and even my speech had to be perfect.  (Even the magazines in my drawer were arranged by date... and in a spiral pattern.)  I went so far as to have scripted dialogue with my parents, which no doubt started to worry them. 

But even after the most perfect beginning, things started to break down by mid-morning every day: perhaps a classmate said something and I responded with sarcasm, or I realized that I didn't do all of my homework, after all.  The spell broke.  Because my day was then deemed imperfect by me, I felt unworthy for the rest of the day, and thus, I didn't care what happened from that point until I went to bed at night.  (Note: this lasted a few years and eventually landed me in the company of some really nice therapists.)  In retrospect, I realize that my obsessive behavior was a feeble attempt to create a sense of order in my imbalanced life, but at the time, I really believed that I could achieve perfection.  (Insert laughter here.) 

In my naivete, the thing that I got wrong the most was that I believed that there was one "perfect" way to be.  To me, at the time, "perfect" meant to be respected, because respected people were those who were free of blame, free of mistakes... so I thought.  It never occurred to me at the time that someone who was respected by some might not be respected by everyone.  After all, who decides what's perfect - or even respectable?  I guess that's where being true to oneself comes in: if you're genuine, no one can argue that you're not being perfectly you.  It also never occurred to me that most good people generally like people who show some of their faults.  Not that we're defined by our mistakes, mind you, but they are what make us most human.  When people recognize other people's humanity, they actually like and respect them more... there's a paradox for you.

As I reflect on this New Year, I am reminded of how excited I still get to make resolutions.  They are the chance to do something to make things a little more perfect, in a sensible way.  Part of the challenge, for me, is to see how long I can keep the commitment.  (I also experienced many years of my youth of being unable to commit to anything!)  So in 2009, for example, I decided to keep a daily record of everything unusual that I had done - every party, every trip to the store, every major project, every person I saw that day, and so forth.  I kept the commitment, and now I have a full record of the outings and visits that I did for the whole year.  I then did an abbreviated version for the following year.  The calendar doesn't look like much to me now, but it might be nice to share with my kids someday... especially considering how fuzzy my memory has been lately.  What resolutions have you made, if any?  How have they worked for you?

Somewhat related to the calendar is this blog, which is meant to be like a public diary of my thoughts.  It's not quite as ephemeral as my Facebook posts, and not quite as personal as emails to my friends... but it's something to share.  I resolve to post something on a daily (gulp) basis this year, whether it's about faith or homeschooling or something entirely different.  Feel free to comment, and let me know what you think. 

Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack in everything/That's how the light gets in.  -Leonard Cohen