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. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

July Homeschooling Update

Holy Cow, has it really been six weeks since my last blog entry? Blah. I've been kind of overwhelmed with a lot of little things in life, and I guess the blog was the first on the chopping block. We've been taking a lot of time off from school as well. Since it is, in fact, July, I suppose that is acceptable, since most kids are taking time off from school during this time of year.

Despite our time of, things are going pretty well with the Squeaker's "private tutoring." We finished his kindergarten Singapore Math curriculum and started Primary Math 1A, which is also part of the Singapore approach. I cannot guarantee that The Squeaker would get a perfect score on a state test if he were to take it today, but I am confident that he would pass by a decent margin.
For a reason unknown to me, the Squeaker has taken an interest in Ancient Egypt. So I pulled out one of my old college textbooks and we are looking at all the pictures together. I'll call it "history." When we finish going through the whole book, we'll get out a "make your own Papyrus" kit that I purchased last Christmas.

I've been working on "School" with the Cookie, too. This usually involves setting him down on my lap. I place a crayon or marker in his hand and move his hand to trace and color in a coloring book. I discovered that he knows a lot more letters than I thought he did

I don't have formal education in Educational Theory, but I do read a lot about the subject, enough to know that public schools are designed to implement very little of what is scientifically known about child development (as I stated in my analysis of Common Core standards). The research is crystal clear that children do best when they have "down time" to process the world through imaginative play, ideally in a setting that includes trees and grass and mud. Finland doesn't have a problem with this, so I don't understand why the US thinks it's such a bad idea for kids to have fun. There is not a positive correlation between a child's success and the amount of homework he or she is required to complete, so it makes sense that kids in the US are assigned hours and hours more than their international counterparts, right?

I think back to my own year I spent in Kindergarten, and a lot of it was just playing, anyway. That was pretty much the only year I really enjoyed school. The rest of my elementary school experience was an exercise in the pointlessness and futility of the human condition and the cruelty and indifference of the Establishment.

I sometimes feel a bit nervous about the fact that I will have to tell people this fall that the Squeaker is not going to a conventional kindergarten. I am confident that this is the right educational decision for my child, but I worry that not everyone will see it that way. At this point, I feel that it's too late for the Squeaker to attend conventional kindergarten even if he wanted to, because he already knows too much math to be remotely contented with moving along with the rest of the class. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Five Signs That You Might Be A Karate Parent

None of my kids are taking Martial Arts classes of their own (yet) but Karate does seem to have permeated a lot of our lives. Do these things happen to other people, or is it just me?


1) When your children play with their foam swords, they bow first, and strike poses that look remarkably like parts of your own form.

2) During a discussion about the meaning of names, your son asks why your Karate instructor's mom named him "Sensei."

3) Any time a belt is seen anywhere in real life, your kids want to know if it is a black belt, or some other color.

4) All your varnished wooden weapons have scratches on them from when the kids played with them outside.

5) When you see your kids play-fighting imaginary pirates and ninjas, you have to stop yourself from correcting things like targets, stances, and other aspects of proper technique. ("That is not how you form your hand for a punch. No son of mine is going to punch like that in public!")

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