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!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Not Back to School

It is nearly upon us: the day I do NOT send the Squeaker off to kindergarten. I've been both looking forward to and dreading this day for several years. I bet you can tell because I tend to agonize over it on my blog.

I am firm in my belief that home education is the best choice for my child, but homeschooling is still kind of a fringe thing, and that makes me feel a little self-conscious. Also, I remember the excitement of shopping for back-to-school materials, and class parties and all those other things that make school fun. I feel a touch of remorse that I am, in a sense, taking those things away from the Squeaker. But there's a flip side to that coin, too. Kindergarten was pretty much the only year I really enjoyed school, so I don't have many qualms about also taking away the bullying, the negative socialization, and the endless rounds of standardized tests.

Still, there's that feeling nearly ubiquitous to childhood of trudging through newly fallen leaves wearing a back-pack that contains your new spelling workbook. There are the little crafts that you make as a class out of poster paint and pipe cleaners. I do wish that there was a way to have all those good things about school without having to endure the aspects that, when I was young, caused me to have daily emotional meltdowns.

I did enroll the Squeaker with the school district's online virtual school. He will be taking an art class, so he'll get to have those pipe-cleaner crafts in his life. And I guess I could still get him a backpack. And he has workbooks and new pencils. 

I know it's common for homeschooling parents to go, "eek!" when the time comes for them to make the actual decision, no matter how justified it may be. I can't believe that day is actually  here. EEK!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Worst Article on Breastfeeding Ever

Aaaauuuggggghhhhh.

That was a groan of shame, in case you couldn't tell.

I made the mistake of reading this article this morning.

I, myself, am actually very much in favor of breastfeeding. I have been very fortunate in that it has never been necessary to fee my children so much as an ounce of formula. I am very proud of this fact, and I see no need to apologize for it, much in the same way I feel no need to apologize for feeding my children whole wheat bread or steamed broccoli. However, the article in question does nothing positive for the back-biting and sniping among women that is known simply as the "mommy wars,"  simply because it's horribly written.

The article is "seven unscientific benefits of breastfeeding." Reason number two cites breastfeeding as a stimulus for postpartum uterine contraction, which, last I checked, was a fast based in science: "You don’t need a scientist to tell you that each time a new mother nurses her baby, things inside her body are starting to move back. Albeit painful, nursing shrinks that uterus back down to size, helping to fit everything back where it belongs."

Reason three says that caloric input/ output is math, not science. (Psst....it IS science!)

The comments on the article were pretty representative of what you find in conversations about breastfeeding:
"Great, now she's making me feel like a bad mom because I bought formula." 
"That's right. You ARE a bad mom."
"Let's go burn the author at the stake."
"Great idea. Lemme just grab my pitchfork."

I don't believe breastfeeding should be a polarized issue the way it is. I think there should be honesty in the discussion: it is a scientific fact that breastmilk is the very best way - indeed, the original "normal" way - to feed human infants. Formula is a reasonable, but admittedly inferior, substitute. That's the deal, and we all know it. But, since women view their feeding choices as a reflection on their parenting, emotions fly fast and furious any time the "B" word is mentioned.

This article does not add anything relevant or insightful to the discussion. It gives a condescending, uneducated, insensitive voice to breastfeeding women, and what we really need is an educated and understanding voice. In many situations, feeding formula to her child is not a woman's choice - it was necessitated by health or other factors. A woman can still have a bond with her baby, and she can still feel important in ways that have nothing to do with breastfeeding. I think in real life, there are very very few women who refuse to even entertain the idea of breastfeeding in a way that makes it an actual "choice." 

A better idea for an article on breastfeeding might be, "7 reasons why you shouldn't judge a woman when she sticks a bottle in her baby's mouth." (All these reasons are actual reasons that happened to people that I know personally)

1) Mom had insufficient glandular tissue and was unable to produce enough milk.
2) Mom had to go back to work shortly after the baby's birth, and was unable to pump enough to keep up her milk supply.
3) Baby couldn't figure out how to latch on, despite weeks of early intervention therapy.
4) Baby is allergic to something in Mom's milk
5) Mom's milk didn't even come in until the baby was three weeks old, and by then it was too late to teach the baby how to latch on. 
6) Baby had to spend so much time in the hospital that the mom wasn't able to sit down long enough to pump, and her milk dried up four months postpartum.
7) It might be expressed breastmilk anyway.

How to Anger a Mom

You want to get  mom really angry? Like, beyond reasonable angry? Take one of her kids' toys.

This happened a day or two ago while I was making dinner. The kids were playing outside, with The Husband supervising, when a cry of intense distress reached my ears. Immediately I dropped everything and ran outside. Through tears of hysteria the Squeaker told me that "some girls took my toy sword! Just to be mean!"

My eyes flashed. No kid, boy or girl, is going to take anything that belongs to MY children! Not while I draw breath! I imagined some punk 5th graders beating up on my kids, thinking them to be weak. Ha! Obviously they do not know who they are dealing with. They do not realize that there are Black Belts In The House. I vowed that they would feel the heat of my righteous anger.

I ran in the direction indicated by The Squeaker, and quickly caught up with The Husband, who was following after at a much more leisurely pace. Didn't he realize what was at stake here? That neighborhood bullies were roaming free to terrorize innocents? I quickly passed him and turned the corner.

Then I saw a kid with the sword, and discovered that the "punk 5th graders" were in fact the Sunbeam-age daughter of one of my visiting teachers and another kid who I think is in nursery in our ward. Sheepishly, I gently asked the nursery kid to return the sword, which he did. Then they toddled back home.

It sounds like there is a moral to be found in there somewhere. 

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