Monday, October 6, 2014

Child update, Oct 2014

 My grandmother made this dress for my younger sister in 1990. She and my mom worked on it together, and I remember playing with the scraps of fabric to make a "dress" for my doll. I was seven, so the doll garment in question was rather poorly constructed. Here, it is worn by my daughter, the Shieldmaiden. Like her Aunt, she is full of spunk. She has indeed shown an interest in the color pink, dresses, and sparkly shoes, but still loves playing with her brothers' toy cars and my training swords.

The Cookie turned three last week. Here we are making cupcakes, his requested birthday treat. I forgot to take pictures of us decorating and eating them. My philosophy lately has been to enjoy moments as they come instead of worrying about capturing them on camera.  The Cookie has the kindest, gentlest soul of anyone I've ever met. He is starting to learn his letters and loves telling people what letter his name starts with. 

The Squeaker is quite the artist. He started reading short phonics readers recently. Also recently I started reading him chapter books. He is not confident enough in his reading to get through them himself by a long way, but he loves to hear me read them. Here is a list of the books we've read since August:

The Good Master, by Kate Seredy
The Mouse and the Motorcycle, by Beverly Cleary
Runaway Ralph, by Beverly Cleary
The Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Currently we are reading The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Next on our list is The BFG by Roald Dahl. Even though he's only five, he asks questions about the characters and about the plot that let me know he is really following the story very well.

I sure love these kids. I do still remember with fondness the days when I could have a decent night's sleep and go more than 2 hours without coming into contact with bodily secretions, but these three little people make my life complete. I'll go ahead and brave the poopy diapers if it means I get to cuddle and read to these guys.

All Children Have the Same Imagination

This post is not in any way meant to belittle or cast harsh judgments on other people's parenting. I imagine I'm still going to get some flak for saying what I am about to say in public, however.

So often these days I find myself being one of "Those Parents." You know - one of those moms who say things like, "you can't have that treat because it has High Fructose Corn Syrup. No chocolate for you. Be careful; I don't want you enjoying your childhood too much." I agonize over it a lot. Am I justified in my concerns? Am I making a big deal out of nothing? Am I over-thinking it?

Most of you who know me know that The Husband and I are pretty picky about what we let our kids watch. In the vast corpus of films created for children, the list of what my children have watched is miniscule. They haven't even seen Winnie-the-Pooh! Almost every little boy I know is extremely well-versed in superhero and Jedi lore, except my two boys. Occasionally The Squeaker will say something about Batman, but apart from owning Batman underwear he doesn't actually know who the guy is.

When I expressed concern to The Husband that perhaps in withholding Star Wars from our children that we were stunting their imaginative play, he said, "Our kids' imaginations are fine. The thing with Star Wars and all that pop culture stuff is that it makes all kids have the same imagination."

Holy Sacred Bovine Batman! It's true! How many young Jedi do you find running around, yearning to become Luke Skywalker? How many girls pretend to be some flavor of Disney Princess? And what else is there? Only variations on the same themes. Yesterday afternoon as I was walking around in the neighborhood I saw three little girls playing together: one had an Ariel doll, and two had Rapunzel dolls. Not that there is anything intrinsically evil about having an Ariel doll. I think I actually had two when I was a child and I did not grow up to be a serial killer. The problem is when merchandizing commodifies children's play: when Disney Princesses become the only thing a girl wants to do; when a little boy interacts with the world soley through the lens of Star Wars. I am sad to say that this does, actually, happen. I have seen it.

I know it sounds like I'm being alarmist and putting everything into black and white. But think about it: when was the last time you saw a kid role play or interact with a toy that didn't tie-in with a movie in some way? Even my kids do it, except that they tend to reenact scenes from Bill Nye or Good Eats or Avatar: The Last Airbender (the cartoon.).

That's why I have decided that I'm not over-thinking it when I decide not to let my kids watch Frozen or Spiderman. The influence media has on kids is pretty powerful. I am perfectly happy to keep that influence to a minimum.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Gilgamesh the King

My History Student and I just finished reading the Epic of Gilgamesh today. I really wanted to cover this with her but I didn't want to just hand her the book, because there are some parts that don't make appropriate reading for a 10-year-old. I didn't want to what my 10th grade English teacher did by blacking out the lines, either. I solved the problem by reading it aloud to her, so I just gently skipped or summarized as needed. There are so many lines missing from the poem, I don't think she noticed, anyway.

This is the second time I've read it in the last month. It's probably the best thing I've read in ages. What a powerful tribute to the human condition! I know Gilgamesh is the main character, but Enkidu is my favorite. I've spoken to The Husband about a lot of my thoughts so I don't really feel the need to repeat them, here. But Uta-napishti is my favorite name.

The highlight of my week - probably the highlight of my MONTH, actually - was when my student turned to me after I had closed the book and asked if there was more epic poetry from Mesopotamia that we could read. There is nothing quite like sharing something you love when it is well received.

I told her about the Oddessy and the Illiad. We are so totally reading those in the near future.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Teaching What I Love

Back in May, I got to go to a bo staff seminar taught by on of the Masters in my martial arts style. It was a whole ton of fun! I don't think I am going to dedicate myself to becoming a master of the bo staff, myself - what made it fun was the person who was teaching it. The way he talked about the bo staff and about weapons in the martial arts was really similar to the way I sound when I get talking about the geeky stuff I love, like spinning wheels. After I quit working for Head Start to stay home with the infant Squeaker, I mostly assumed that I didn't really enjoy teaching. That's not really it - I just don't enjoy that kind of teaching. I love teaching when it's something I really enjoy: Ancient History, Arabic, Spinning.

So I have to tell you about the most amazing opportunity that has fallen, plop, right into my lap! A friend of mine decided, on the eve of the first day of school, to pull her 5th grade daughter out and homeschool her. She asked if I would tutor her in history, since I'm already doing some history stuff with the Squeaker along with some other kindergarteners. I said yes.

I gave her an "assignment" prior to our first lesson. I wanted her to write some things about what she most wanted to study this year in Ancient History. Imagine my surprise when I read her composition and she wrote all about wanting to learn Arabic! I said, "Well...that's not Ancient History because Classical Arabic wasn't even in its full form until about the 7th century, but I'll teach it to you anyway."

So essentially, though perhaps not in so many words, my friend and her daughter came to me and said, "Hey, Beth, after nine years of feeling just the tiniest bit like a failure for not getting a job in your field upon graduation, how would you like to use your college education for once?" Yeah, like I'm not going to say yes to that!

We have been studying Ancient Egypt. We've discussed the Rosetta stone, Mummies, mythology, and Rameses II, among other things. We even spun and wove linen. Next week we will try our hand at cooking some Ancient Egyptian food. Week after next, we'll go on to Ancient Mesopotamia, where we will do an extensive study in wool and textile production. I have a whole fleece for her to process with me. We'll also get some clay and write actual cuneiform in actual clay. And we'll learn all about Gilgamesh (in an age-appropriate manner, of course).

I have plans for us to study a wide variety of ancient civilizations this year, including ancient China and India. I don't actually know that much about that part of the world, but I feel we should touch on it because it always gets skipped. In my 10th grade world history class, our textbook had chapters on Ancient China and pre-Columbian America, which we skipped. (Not cool, Texas public education system!). After we do Ancient Greece and Rome etc etc, I thought we'd cover the history of Arabia and the Levant. This will give us an opportunity to cover Dilmun, the Nabateans (can I get a huzzah for Queen Zenobia?!), and the early Israelites. 

Even though my "student" and I have lessons together, there are quite a few differences between what we're doing and a traditional school environment. For example, told her straight out that I am not going to mark up her compositions in red pen and say she gave 85% of a correct answer. She's not going to get low marks for turning something in a day late.There are no academic standards we must follow, there's no one to shake their fingers at us for straying from the curriculum. More than once I've asked her, "What do you want to learn next about Ancient Egypt?" A few days ago she expressed her fervent wish to grind wheat berries in between two rocks. I explained that there is a reason why we don't use rocks to grind our wheat, any more, but that we could probably still find some recipes to try. This weekend I purchased some dates, almonds, and walnuts, which will be used for this purpose.

I am pretty sure the girl I teach is enjoying herself, but I am really having a ball, too.

Friday, September 19, 2014

A few thoughs on Body Image

A friend of mine called me up today, and somehow during our conversation the topic wound around to body image.

I've never developed an eating disorder or anything, but I haven't always had good feelings about my body. I have been looking at pictures of myself from ten years ago and I look great! At the time, however, I felt unattractive. That was kind of dumb.

Giza, Fall 2004
Why is that? Why was my perception of myself so different from reality? I can't really explain it. I know it happens to a lot of people, though. I have heard horror stories about women who literally starve themselves to death because even with all their bones protruding they don't think they're thin enough. (I bring it up not to shame people with anorexia, but to emphasize how destructive a distorted body image can be.)

I will probably never fit into size 6 khakis again, but I am at peace with this fact. Birthing three babies has irrevocably altered my body; I'm allowed to wear whatever size pants I wanna wear.

Generally I am pretty pleased with my appearance, except when one person I know is around. I don't see her very often, but when I do I always feel like Madame Frump. It's because she always dresses quite fashionably, yet is always lamenting her appearance and food choices. If she feels that way about herself, what must she think about me? I have never, ever, in my whole life, dressed fashionably. And I am not above eating a whole box of swiss cake rolls for no other reason than I felt like it. After we part ways, it usually takes me a day or two to feel myself again.

I hesitate to say it's a conspiracy, but it does look to me as though there is a force that wants women to hate their bodies. But what wonderful bodies they are! We can do all kinds of things with them, plus reproduce ourselves to boot. Mormon doctrine teaches us that our bodies are gifts from the Divine. I think feeling content and confident about ourselves is a better way to respect that than counting calories with such draconian precision.

My friend told me about someone she knows who obsessively tracks calories and will do jumping jacks for fifteen minutes before allowing herself to eat a cookie. I am all for healthy living - I adore karate and expend a lot of energy making nutritious meals for my family - but that kind of behavior is destructive to the soul. How much mental energy is taken up by women as a collective whole in feeling down on ourselves for reasons related to distorted body image when we could be doing things we actually want to do?

To illustrate this point, here is what I prefer to do instead of bemoan my stretch marks, frown at my cellulite, and feel guilty for eating chocolate:
  • Karate!!
  • knit
  • spin wool
  • Tat lace
  • spend time in the garden
  • read to my kids
There are even some less exciting things I would rather do than scowl at myself in the mirror:
  • fold laundry
  • clip my son's toenails
  • fill and empty the dishwasher
  • public speaking
It's not because I really really scowling at myself, I just have better things to do. And don't we all? Join with me, my sisters! Cast off the cruel task master (task mistress?) of thinness! Abandon thinspiration boards on Pinterest! Eat a cookie! If you prefer, eat a gluten-free, dairy free cookie, as long as you enjoy it. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Mourning for Time Past

My plane for Egypt left ten years ago last Monday. I lived there for three months, and then I spent two weeks traveling with a small group from my University through Jordan and Syria. We saw many sites of historical importance, many of which have now been damaged because of the war.

It makes me feel really sad. I have literally lost sleep over it, and thinking about it occasionally brings me close to tears.

A lot of people may not understand why - it's difficult to appreciate the beauty of a place if you haven't actually been there. You can look at pictures, but it really isn't the same:
I have other pictures of Palmyra, Syria, but this one is of me. I"m standing at sunset at the crusader castle overlooking the ruins.
Even now, I am trying to find words to articulate the magic of these ancient sites. Even though they are crumbling piles of rock, the walls resonate with the energy of the spirits of the people who used to live there. Palmyra, the Ancient seat of Queen Zenobia, the warrior queen who defied Rome (so what if she lost?) was constructed primarily of Limestone, and in the orange light of the setting sun it glows with its own fire.

I went inside a tomb in Memphis that dated back to the Old Kingdom in Egypt. (I don't have any pictures of that to show you - sorry)  I didn't really understand how old the Old Kingdom was until I saw that tomb. It was amazingly well-preserved. The original paintings on the walls described life in Ancient Egypt thousands of years ago. Seated statues of a man and his wife sat in the center, to serve as vessels for their bas to return to earth, should their bodies fail to stand the test of time. It really struck me that humans have not fundamentally changed during the passage of time. We still care deeply about our family relationships, perform work to obtain food and clothing for our families (though the nature of that work has changed).

 I don't feel as though I did a good job of explaining the profound impact these experiences had on me. It's something that, really, you need to experience for yourself to understand it.

A lot has happened in ten years. Egypt has a new government, and Syria is in the throes of a terrible civil war, and Isis has seized and/ or damaged some of these places.I've been teaching my children, and also the daughter of a friend, about Ancient Egypt during the past few weeks. I would like to take my family to visit Egypt again in the future, but I don't know if I will ever be able to. Egypt is arguably safer than Syria, but the political situation is still incredibly volatile. And I think I would feel more comfortable walking into a volcano than venturing into Syria right now.

It's funny - ten years ago, we saw the seeds of discontent with Mubarak's regime, so the Arab Spring came as no surprise. But when protests and clashes started happening in Syria, I was shocked. In 2004, Syria was a police state. We were told during our visit that we were probably safer there than anywhere else, because the movements of every person were tracked obsessively.

I still hope to return, someday, with my family. Egypt guards its antiquities pretty well, I think, but as for Syria? Maybe there will still be something left.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Not Afraid Any More!!

Last October I broke my nose. Or, more accurately, someone else broke it for me while I was participating in a Karate-related activity known as "grappling." The person involved is a good six inches taller than me, and even though he is also much lower rank than I am, I have kind of been avoiding him ever since.

I knew I wouldn't be able to do that forever, though, and tonight during grappling class, I had to face my fear.The idea of fleeing the dojo entirely under the pretext of "I forgot something in my car...." crossed my mind, but I'm glad I stuck around.

Because you know what? I didn't do so badly after all. I am not afraid of you, sir! Indeed, I fear nothing, for I have nerves of steel. Should any bandit dare to challenge me or my house, I will smite them with my strong arm and mighty blade!


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