Talking to Kids about Race

Update: I wrote this five years ago.  I think many of us hoped racism would die simply die out along with elderly racists.  What happened in Charleston makes it clear that racism persists even in the young.  So those of us who are parents have a responsibility to try to raise non-racist children.  I find myself doing this differently now and actually talking more about race with my younger kids than I did with my older ones.
When I was a freshman at Georgetown and missing my eight-year-old sister, I decided to join the campus tutoring program for children living in Sursum Corda, a D.C. housing project.  For four years I made weekly trips to the home of my “tutees,” Shamica and Ikisha.  Some time I will write a whole post about that experience, but today I just want to say that they taught me far more than I taught them.  Ikisha and I are Facebook friends–our relationship has lasted 22 years now!  Almost every day she posts something that inspires or teaches me.
Yesterday she shared the following CNN story:

(CNN) — A white child looks at a picture of a black child and says she’s bad because she’s black. A black child says a white child is ugly because he’s white. A white child says a black child is dumb because she has dark skin.
This isn’t a schoolyard fight that takes a racial turn, not a vestige of the “Jim Crow” South; these are American schoolchildren in 2010.
Nearly 60 years after American schools were desegregated by the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling, and more than a year after the election of the country’s first black president, white children have an overwhelming white bias, and black children also have a bias toward white, according to a new study commissioned by CNN.

You can read the rest of the story here.  And if you want to see a little white girl answering the study questions, you can watch here.
Raising “color blind” children has been a goal of ours.  From the time our kids were little, we were careful never to describe people in terms of race.  We wanted our kids to think of skin color as just another attribute, like hair or eye color, not a defining characteristic.  We did not discuss race with our kids when they were little because we didn’t want to draw their attention to it.  Even now William and Lorelei don’t necessarily call themselves white–they might say they have pinkish skin, and refer to an African-American as a brown person.  We were happy about living (until recently) in a diverse community, where people of all colors shopped at the same grocery store, and where William’s classmates at Belle Morris, where he attended first grade, included many Latino and African-American children and even a little boy just arrived from Burundi.
In contrast, the CNN study reported that black parents start talking about race with their children early, because they believe the kids need to be prepared for prejudice and to give them a positive racial identity to counteract societal messages.  But even this early intervention does not prevent their children from picking up “white bias” from the society in which they live.
I will never forget how shocked I was when Jake, then about three years old, saw a tall black man going into a gas station one day and announced, “He must be a basketball player.”  Granted, stereotyping someone as a basketball player is better than stereotyping him as a criminal, but I still was amazed that Jake had already formed his own prejudices from what he saw in society at such an early age.  I don’t remember our ensuing conversation, although I’m sure I asked him why he thought that, and offered some different ways of thinking.  And as my kids have grown older, we have had many conversations about race, with the kids being mostly baffled at the way some people think about and treat those who are different from them.
Without disagreeing about the need for education, conversation, and discussion, I still feel that simply being friends with a variety of people is the best way for all of us to appreciate that we are more alike than we are different.  As I said to Ikisha on Facebook yesterday, I’ve always loved the way Sesame Street does diversity, or at least the way I remember the show handling it when I was a child:  by showing a variety of people living, working, and playing together in the same neighborhood, where it doesn’t matter if you are black, white, or fuzzy and blue, like this.
I just conducted my own experiment by drawing little cartoon girls in various colors and showing them to Lorelei.  What can I say–my kids always behave in unpredictable ways.  The girl I drew with the black crayon got the most favorable marks because black is her favorite color.  The fair skinned one drew her ire because she has a wild imagination and decided it was a depiction of a particular person she doesn’t like.  Then she drew a little girl who was supposed to be herself–for the record, she chose a pink crayon.

Sleeping Beauty

Most mornings, after I get up at 6:30 and wake the boys, prod Jake to get ready, make breakfast for John, and close the door behind the three of them, I go back to bed for an early morning nap.  I try not to feel guilty about this, because I work hard all day long, and while my work day might start later than some people’s, it also goes on longer (for example, I was drafting motions and writing client letters after 11 last night).
Still, I probably would stay up and try to get an early start on the day if it weren’t for one thing, or I should say one person:  Lorelei.  My five-year-old baby still sleeps with us, and the temptation of getting back into a warm bed for another hour or so with a cuddly little person is too hard to resist most days.
Parenting is an inexact science–or art–at best, but one area I feel sure I have mastered after five children is the issue of “sleep training.”  Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems was all the rage when my first was a baby, and I “Ferberized” her and her little brothers.   It worked–for awhile.  But I remember many, many nights standing by Emily’s crib, counting the minutes until I thought it was safe to sneak out the door; and many, many other nights of lying on the floor next to her bed and then actually crawling out of the room.  With Jake, it was getting up and down and up and down to head to his room to nurse him, only to fall asleep where I sat; both Teddy and Jake came into bed with us in the middle of the night for years.  And always there was a sense that I just HAD to get them to sleep through the night in their own beds!
But why, really?  When William was born, he slept in his cradle occasionally, but mostly he was in bed with me.  When he was two, I put the mattress from his crib (which we set up but never once used) on the floor next to our bed, and he started sleeping on it.  Eventually I moved the mattress to his room and began nursing him to sleep there.  Sometimes he would call for me in the night, but he never once left his room to come to ours.  By the age of four, he slept all night, every night, in his own room.  It had all been peaceful and stress-free.
Lorelei didn’t have a room of her own, let alone a crib, as an infant.  She has always slept with us.  She has a room now with her own mattress, and if I want to lie there with her until she falls asleep she will sleep there until she wakes to use the bathroom, when she comes to us.  But most of the time I don’t bother.  After a stressful, busy day, I like that I can still give her this time, can fill her emotional tank and mine with some night time cuddles.
As for going back to bed in the morning, here’s the reason I quiet that critical, guilt-inducing inner voice and do it more often than not:  I remember when Teddy, now a 210-lb. 15-year-old football player, was a roly poly five-year-old, still asleep in my bed when his big brother and sister left for school.  I remember how often I forced myself to resist the pull to go back and join him so I could do something very important like dishes or laundry.  I remind myself that ten years from now there will still be laundry and dishes and letters to write, but there will not be a cuddly child lying in my bed.
And then I go back to sleep.

Lorelei with her cat, Pepper, who also used to co-sleep. 🙂

Postscript: Lorelei continued to spend a lot of nights in bed with us for many more years.  She’s 12 now and sleeps in her own room.

More on kindergarten

More bad news for those of us who have kids entering kindergarten (plus more dismaying news about education in general):

Up until very recently, it was considered developmentally appropriate to begin serious reading instruction in the second grade. Now, however, kindergartners who once went to school to learn their ABCs are way behind if they aren’t already reading simple words when the school year begins. Even a child’s pencil grip can be enough to force parents into decision-making mode: Will she be able to work with her peers or will her pencil grip frustrate her and put her at risk of failing?

You can read the rest of this AOL Parent Dish article on “The Myth of Testing for Giftedness” here.

Finding Balance

Balance.  Does anyone have it?  You hear everyone talking about having too much on their plates.  Of juggling all their responsibilities.  Well, my plate overflows on a daily basis and I can’t keep all those balls in the air (in my case, it’s actually flaming torches).
Like any mother, I have a long list of job titles, even though I don’t work outside the home.  In addition to the usual “mother jobs” I’m also homeschooling my nine-year-old and for some reason I volunteered to start a Social Justice Committee for my parish (and I’m not doing a very good job with that right now).   Then in February I took on the job that put me over the edge.
It started with the decision that I would answer the phone for my husband’s law practice.  He is a “mobile” attorney, who meets with his clients in restaurants, at court, or in their homes, and does his paperwork in our home office.  I didn’t think answering the phone would be a big deal, and it isn’t.  I quickly established firm hours of operation and the after hours calls stopped.  I can carry the phone with me anywhere, so that responsiblity did not change my life much.
But once I got involved with the phone, I started finding other things I could do–keeping track of time, sending out long overdue bills, writing letters to clients, setting up new files and reorganizing old ones, doing legal research, interviewing new clients, drafting simple pleadings . . . before I knew it, answering the phones morphed into a  “Legal Assistant” position that probably takes about 20 hours a week.
I’m enjoying all this and it’s good for business.  And because we have an actual office directly off our bedroom, I get to work in my pajamas, start as late as I want, leave the office as needed and do the work later, and be with my kids.  What I cannot do is keep the house clean.  Something had to give, and that was the something.
I have also noticed that my five-year-old has become increasingly clingy since I started this.  She wants to come and sit on me when I’m trying to work.  And even though I am at home all day every day, she gets more upset when I go out in the evenings than she used to.  “I want to be WITH you,” she says.  I’ve never been one to play with my kids all day long, but something about the focused attention I have to give the work I am doing is more upsetting to her than the kind of attention I give to laundry, cooking, and dishes.
Oh, and this study really made me feel a lot better! (not)
This poem describes my life perfectly:
Robert Frost

For every parcel I stoop down to seize
I lose some other off my arms and knees,
And the whole pile is slipping, bottles, buns,
Extremes too hard to comprehend at once
Yet nothing I should care to leave behind.
With all I have to hold with~ hand and mind
And heart, if need be, I will do my best.
To keep their building balanced at my breast.
I crouch down to prevent them as they fall;
Then sit down in the middle of them all.
I had to drop the armful in the road
And try to stack them in a better load.
How about you?  Are your arms (or your plates) too full?

Why stop at two? Reflections on Having a Big Family

In honor of Mother’s Day I am reprinting this column, which appeared in the ETC about two years ago.

When Emily started kindergarten at St. Joseph School in 1996, the largest family at the school had four children. What happened to all the big Catholic families, I wondered. It was a far cry from my days there, where in my class alone there were representatives of families of seven, eight, nine, even ten.
Big families have been making a comeback, although five seems to be the new ten these days. Still, our family of five is not the biggest at St. Joseph, where offhand I can think of families with six, seven and nine kids.
When I tell strangers I have five children they say, “I couldn’t do it. Two [occasionally three] is as much as I can handle.” I am not here to make judgments on anyone else’s decisions concerning family size–only you can know what is best for your own family–but I wonder if people give themselves enough credit. There’s nothing special about me or my husband that makes us able to handle more kids than most people. Any additional noise or chaos tolerance we have has been acquired “on the job.” I tell people, “If you have three, you’re already outnumbered. After that, it just gets louder.” Going from one to two is the hardest adjustment. Once you’ve figured out how to divide your attention between two kids, adding a few more is not that hard.
Why do it, though? Why have a large family? I’ll answer that question from our family’s perspective this time, and from the Church’s perspective another time, but I have to say that I wonder the opposite–why would anyone NOT want to have lots of children? Having a baby is the most amazing, creative thing we can do in this life. When you add to your family you are a co-creator with God of an immortal soul. Nothing else you accomplish in this life will last forever but your child’s soul will exist to give glory to God for all eternity!
Even in THIS life, think of what a gift a child is to the world. The zero population growth folks like to frame human beings as nothing more than consumers of the earth’s precious, non-renewable resources. They forget that a child IS a resource, a more precious one. It’s trite but still true that the child you choose not to conceive might be the one who would have come up with solutions to global warming or the lack of a cheap alternative to oil. Family size is only one aspect of environmentalism and not the most important part.
I know some people who think that it’s not fair to the other kids in the family to keep having more. How can baby number five possibly get enough love and attention? It’s true that Lorelei does not get the focused attention from me that Emily received. She’s got something better, though–four older siblings to give her attention and love. When we are looking at books about babies, she always asks where their brothers are. When I told her that I did not have any brothers and that her father had no siblings at all, she looked at me uncomprehendingly. When you ask her to name the people she loves, she has a long list to fire off. “Aren’t you a lucky girl,” I say, “To have so many people who love you?”
And there is nothing like seeing a teenage boy who spends a lot of the time driving you crazy comforting a crying toddler or watching movies with her. I don’t think Lorelei is the only one deriving benefits from being one of five.
In a big family, kids have fewer material things and more responsibilities, yes. But is that a bad thing? We make sure our kids have everything they need. In our family, needs are pretty basic. Clothes are a need, but designer clothes are a want. Ipods and cell phones are not needs. Emily has an ipod but she earned the money to buy it herself. Her cell phone was her 16th birthday present. Our big kids have chores they have to do every day. John and I both have evening commitments outside the home and we expect them to take care of the little ones–feed them, bathe them, help William with his homework, and put them to bed–if we aren’t there. So they are learning to clean house, do laundry, cook, take care of small children. Even William and Lorelei–aged 7 and 3–can set the table if need be.
So, are we done yet? The answer is that I don’t know. We still feel like someone might be missing from our family. Each child is unique, and it’s fascinating to watch their personalities develop, and to know that you are partly responsible for the existence of this human being who will grow up and accomplish things and live after you. Honestly, it’s a wonder to me that anyone wants to stop at two.
Update:  I miscarried our sixth child in May 2008.  Our “baby” is 12 now.  I still wish we’d had just one more.
Why Stop at Two_Reflections on Having a Big Family

Books That Change Lives

I want to do some book blogging here from time to time.  I’ll share some of the books that have been important in my life, or that inspire me, or that I just enjoy.  And I hope that in the comments you will share some of your favorites as well.  The topic today is the nonfiction books that have had the greatest impact on my life.  I was going to make it a top five or top ten list but then I decided it would be more authentic if I just wrote about the ones that popped into my head first without setting a specific number, or even looking on my booksheves (or in the many, many boxes in the garage!).
The following are in no particular order unless you ascribe some significance to the order in which they popped into my head!

  • Surrendering to Motherhood by Iris Krasnow.  Judging from some of my recent posts, I need to read again Krasnow’s autobiographical journey from high-powered ambitious challenge-chasing career woman to mom-in-the-moment.  One quotation: “Being There [is] an emotional and spiritual shift, of succumbing to Being Where You Are When You Are, and Being There as much as possible. Its about crouching on the floor and getting delirious over the praying mantis your son just caught instead of perusing a fax or filling the dishwasher while he is yelling for your attention and you distractedly say over your shoulder: ‘Oh, honey, isn’t that a pretty bug.’ It’s about being attuned enough to notice when your kid’s eyes shine so you can make your eyes shine back.”
  • Let’s Have Healthy Children by Adelle Davis.  Davis is considered a crackpot by some, but I credit her nutrition advice with the buoyant good health of my kids, who each had maybe one ear infection, have never had strep throat, never take antibiotics.  (Seriously:  Emily, age 19, was last seen by a doctor for illness when she was two years old.)  I say Davis was ahead of her time–she had me taking folic acid years before anyone thought to fortify bread with it.  One quotation: “Research shows that diseases of almost every variety can be produced by an under-supply of various combinations of nutrients… [and] can be corrected when all nutrients are supplied, provided irreparable damage has not been done; and, still better, that these diseases can be prevented.”
  • How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor by Dr. Robert Mendelsohn.  Dr. Mendelsohn was suspicious of vaccinations.  He thought antibitotics were overused.  He didn’t think kids need to be taken to the doctor at the drop of a hat–most childhood illnesses clear up on their own.  I agree with him.  One quotation:  “The pediatrician’s wanton prescription of powerful drugs indoctrinates children from birth with the philosophy of ‘a pill for every ill’. . . . Doctors are directly responsible for hooking millions of people on prescription drugs. They are also indirectly responsible for the plight of millions more who turn to illegal drugs because they were taught at an early age that drugs can cure anything – including psychological and emotional conditions – that ails them.”
  • Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing by Sheila Kippley.  I love this one as much for its philosophy of natural mothering as for the child spacing aspects.  One quotation:   “We tend to forget that these artifical aids–bottles and pacifiers–are merely substitutes for the mother.  The infant’s need to nurse or be pacified at the breast is nature’s way of bringing mother and baby together at other than feeding times.”
  • Nursing Your Baby by Karen Pryor.  We’re talking the 1970s version here, which I picked up at McKay’s while expecting baby #1.  It’s a simple, basic, practical, and yet beautiful guide to breastfeeding–just the best one I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a lot.  One quotation:  “Nursing a baby is an art; a domestic art, perhaps, but one that like cooking and gardening brings to a woman the release and satisfaction that only creative work can give.”
  • Between Parent and Child by Haim Ginott.  My mother’s copy of this book was sitting around our house for as long as I can remember.  I read it long before I had kids of my own.  I may not follow its principles all the time, I’m sorry to say, but I try.  One quotation: “What do we say to a guest who forgets her umbrella? Do we run after her and say ‘What is the matter with you? Every time you come to visit you forget something. If it’s not one thing it’s another. Why can’t you be like your sister? When she comes to visit, she knows how to behave. You’re forty-four years old! Will you never learn? I’m not a slave to pick up after you! I bet you’d forget your head if it weren’t attached to your shoulders.’ That’s not what we say to a guest. We say ‘Here’s your umbrella, Alice,’ without adding ‘scatterbrain.’  Parents need to learn to respond to their children as they do to guests.”
  • Kids Are Worth It by Barbara Coloroso.  I’ve read a lot of parenting books, new and old, and I’m sure you have too, but never one that was simpler, truer, and less gimmicky than this one.  A former school-teaching nun, now married with three kids and a popular inspirational speaker on parenting topics, Coloroso’s descriptions of three kinds of families will make you cringe if you are a Brickwall or a Jellyfish.  One quotation:  “Our children are counting on us to provide two things: consistency and structure. Children need parents who say what they mean, mean what they say, and do what they say they are going to do.” 
  • Relating.  I still have this battered paperback religion textbook from my junior year in high school.  It was the first place I learned about fair fighting rules.  My friends and I used its ten hallmarks of love vs. infatuation to evaluate our college romances.  I made my future husband do all the quizzes in it with me before we were married.  Thank you, Mr. Dan Darst, a religion teacher we thought was goofy at the time but whose lessons we carry with us today.  No links or quotations, I’m afraid–it’s here, but I don’t know where, and the title is all I can remember right now! [I wish so much that I had pulled it out and written down something that day.  I have searched and searched online for a replacement but I just don’t have enough information.]

How about you?  Have you read any of those?  What nonfiction books have you read over and over?  Would you say there are any books whose effect on you was so profound that they helped you become the person you are today?  Please share yours in the comments.

Who Gave You Life?

This originally appeared as a column in the East Tennessee Catholic in 2006.
Today is my “baby” sister’s 29th birthday.  My mother reminded me today that Anne owes her existence to her two big sisters. I remember well how much we begged and begged for a baby.  According to my mother, she decided to have another baby because she loved us so much that she wanted us to have whatever we wanted!  Luckily, we were very pleased with the gift.  We did everything for the baby except feed and change her. And I frequently said, “What if we had never had her?  It would be terrible if we never had her!”

Three sisters at my wedding
Three sisters at my wedding

When Anne was two or three, I taught her to recite a few lines paraphrased from George MacDonald’s poem “Baby.”  I would say, “Where did you come from, Baby dear?” and she would reply, “The blue sky opened and I am here.”  Then would come, “Where did you get those eyes so blue?” “Out of the sky as I came through.
That’s about all I remembered; then yesterday I happened to come across the book the poem was in, pulled out by someone and left lying on the back stairs.  What struck me upon re-reading was the end of the poem.  After cataloguing all of baby’s sweet little parts, the poet asks:
How did they all just come to be you?
God thought about me, and so I grew.
But how did you come to us, you dear?
God thought about you, and so I am here.
Isn’t that a lovely thought? And how many people really think of babies like that these days, as a special gift, planned just for us and presented by a loving God? It seems to me that on the one hand people see babies as mistakes, accidents, inconveniences. Something like 60% of babies are unplanned, and don’t they seem to come at the worst possible times? They cost lots of money, they cause us physical problems, they interrupt our busy lives.
I think many times people don’t even consider their intended and wanted babies in terms of gifts from God.  No, then babies are something they planned, something they earned, something perhaps they even paid for, considering the widespread reliance on fertility treatments, artificial insemination, donor eggs, and surrogate mothers. If they think of a baby as a gift at all, it’s more like a gift they think they are giving themselves—there hardly seems to be room for God in the equation.
And often as kids grow we try to give them the feeling that it is we who gave them the gift, the gift of life. I hate that particular guilt-tripping phrase, “I gave you life!” Well, no, I didn’t give my kids life; God did. Life was His gift to them; they are His gift to me.
And I don’t always appreciate it either. Longfellow said that into each life some rain must fall and the Shollys have been in the midst of a rainy season for a while. Today at the dinner table we were discussing things we were grateful for and I talked about how 16-month-old Lorelei had given me a gift today. I was supposed to be working but she begged and begged to go outside.  Because of her I took the time to enjoy the Spring.  Because of her I got down on the ground, examined pine cones, smelled daffodils, tore up handfuls of onion grass, remembered what it was like to be a child in the springtime.
As I write, Lorelei sits in my lap, half-asleep, nursing. She is wearing pink striped long johns and a t-shirt which reads “Sholly Creations. Size small. 100% joy. Made in Heaven.” I couldn’t agree more.
Lorelei at about 18 months (with William, aged 5)

And tomorrow I will write something new, I promise.  So many ideas, so little time. 

This is the Time to Remember

This column reprint from 2007 seems especially apropos for a lovely spring day which I spent sitting at a desk drafting motions for continuances while my kids played outside in the sunshine. 

Over the past few weeks several people have mentioned that they haven’t seen my column in the paper recently. I had to admit that the reason it did not appear when last it was scheduled was that I forgot to write it. I’ve forgotten birthday parties before, but you’d think, wouldn’t you, that a person could remember something that’s due every other month, on more or less the same day, that’s written in pen on the wall calendar? But life is so complicated and full of commitments. There is scarcely room left to write on my June calendar and the month’s barely begun. July and August are filling up fast.

Every Sunday night, my husband and I have a meeting at Shoney’s, away from the house and the kids, to discuss our calendar, plans for the week, and other business. All the waitresses know to expect us to sit there for a long time! Many times we have been approached by other customers who want to know what kind of business we are in. We just say, “Oh, we have five children,” and they all seem to think that justifies our need for weekly planning meetings.

John at one of our Shoney’s meetings

It’s not really the kids, though. I’ve seen families with just a couple of kids who are serious about playing sports–their kids’ schedules are much more crammed than ours are. With seven people in the family, of course there are going to be more dentist appointments, more doctor appointments, more places to be–but the adults in this house are the ones whose schedules are complicated.

Even though I don’t work outside the home, lately I’m gone a lot. Church and community activities, errands, some time for myself and some time with my husband keep me out for many hours every week. And when I’m home, I’m usually working–laundry, dishes, cooking, writing grant proposals (my very part-time job) and acting as John’s legal assistant (a bigger part-time job). When I’m working, I’m here–and being here is important–but my mind isn’t on the kids; it’s on whatever I’m doing at the time, or whatever I’m getting ready to do next.

I celebrated a big birthday this year. I turned 40, and to soften the blow I spent two nights in a hotel downtown by myself. I combined a mini-retreat with resting and having fun–and enjoying the silence. One of the insights I came away with is that I need to “be in the moment” more. When I’m sitting at the computer typing and hear the birds singing outside the open door, I need to listen for a minute. Even though its hot in this kitchen sometimes I need to be aware of the changing of the seasons and appreciate the warmth of the summer sun shining in. Even the simple, homely little sounds like the dishes clinking in the sink as Teddy does his after dinner chores or the sound of the water running as Jake puts William in the tub can be reminders of what makes my life worth living now and of a time that won’t last forever.

With Emily getting close to college age already I don’t need anyone to tell me how quickly children grow up and how soon this time will be gone. I can already look back with nostalgia to the days when I had three little children at home, when going anywhere was a struggle, when there were usually two children in bed with us, when no one ever was ready to leave the park when I said so. Having three teenagers (in just a few more months) will probably be just as hard, and I may look back on it with fondness one day too. I’m so lucky, though, that I have the opportunity to have little kids again, because now I’m in no hurry to move Lorelei into her own room, and when she throws temper tantrums I just think it’s cute that she’s beginning to assert herself.

I know someone who said he couldn’t wait for his newborn son to get older so they could play ball together. I look forward to experiences I’ll share with my kids in the future, but I’m in no hurry. I’m going to try to remember to celebrate the gift of life embodied in my children not just when they are innocent little babies, but throughout their growing up years.

Diaper Rant: The Case for Plastic Pants and Pins

Cloth diapers are trendy today, especially among the environmentally conscious.  But over 19 years ago, when my first baby came along, I was the only person I knew who was using them.  I wasn’t trying to be a “green” parent; it just really had never occurred to me to do anything else.  Disposable diapers were expensive, and using cloth was no big deal, so why not save the money?

Nowadays, though, cloth diapers are not only gaining in popularity, they are big business.  It was this article in Mothering Magazine that prompted me to write this post.  The link appeared in my Facebook news stream, entitled, “What Cloth Diapering System Did You Use?”  I know people love all these cute and fancy newfangled cloth diapers.  And I suppose that they encourage some would-be plastic users to go the cloth route, which is a good thing.

But I also worry that they discourage others, by making something simple seem complicated, and something economical expensive.  I’ve seen it before with baby items–there are inexpensive car seats that fulfill all safety standards, but parents are pushed to buy pricey ones with bells and whistles, and like as not the coordinating “travel system” that goes along with them.  I had a couple of more expensive strollers back when my “Irish twins” needed a double one, but for the most part we’ve gotten by just fine with the $15 umbrella models.  Breastfeeding is the ultimate baby freebie, but the baby product folks want you to believe that you are going to need bottles, and pumps, and special “privacy shawls,” and expensive vitamins with DHA, and who knows what all else.

I had a few of those fancy new diapers handed down or given as gifts, and I enjoyed using them.  But the “cloth diapering system” that has worked just fine for me through five babies requires Gerber plastic pants (which we still call “rubber pants” around here), trifold cloth diapers that come in packs of five or ten at Walgreens or Kmart, and good old diaper pins.

Baby #4 in his plastic pants

I’m recycling this post by sharing it on the #WorthRevisit linkup, hosted at Theology is a Verb and Reconciled to You.  It’s a great linkup with lots of (mostly) Catholic-themed posts you might have missed.  And while this post isn’t explicitly Catholic, something tells me that Catholic mothers might be interested in diapers. 🙂

Homeschooling for Dummies

Catchy title, huh?  Seriously, though, I just don’t think homeschooling is as hard as many people seem to think it is.  Or at least it doesn’t have to be.
Let me tell you how I approached it.  When I decided to keep Jake home for fourth grade, I registered him with an umbrella school for $100. ( I’ve since learned that you can register homeschooled kids through the Knox County school system for only $20 free.) There are co-ops available for homeschoolers, and there are remote schools you can register with and entire curriculums you can buy, but I didn’t do any of that.
For me, the fun of homeschooling was not having to deal with anyone else telling me what to do with my child, and making all the educational decisions myself.   For over twenty years I had been saving some of my own grade school text books, and finally they came in handy!  I used my own third grade English workbook, which was only about half full.  I also used my fourth grade religion book (and discovered that the content, if not the presentation, was almost identical to what Jake’s parochial school classmates were learning that year!).   I was especially excited about the fourth grade speller I found at my friend’s junk/antique shop.  It was used in the 1940s in the Knox County Schools, and I am of the firm opinion that the old fashioned way of teaching spelling is best.  Our reading books were discards from old St. Mary’s School–1950s Catholic texts that I sometimes read in grade school  when we finished the regular reader.
I did buy a new handwriting book or two–one for printing and one for cursive (it doubled for art, too, since after you copied the Bible verse there was also a picture to color!). (Yes, I am old-fashioned enough to teach handwriting!)  And I borrowed a “modern” math book from the school–I had read about the Saxon series on various homeschooling sites and after using it for several years I am a big fan.  Finally, for social studies we improvised.  We memorized all the states, their postal abbreviations, and their capitals, and when we were finished with that we learned all the Presidents in order, their dates, and a little about each one.
I bought a school desk from my friend’s shop in South Knoxville (I would love to link to Myrtle’s Mess, but she doesn’t have a web site!) and set it up in our living room.  We had school each morning starting at 8 a.m.  By 11 or 11:30 we were usually finished and ready for “gym/recess”–going on a walk around our neighborhood.  We got a little science then as well, identifying flowers and trees.  That was pretty much all the science we did, although I signed him up for some workshops at The East Tennessee Discovery Center and Ijam’s Nature Center.
My first year of homeschooling was harder than my second, because my son had undiagnosed ADHD and it took awhile to get that sorted out.  Also, he needed me to read with him, and because he has handwriting difficulties I had to write his math problems down for him.  My second son was more independent; I could assign work to him and then go about my business, ready to help when he asked.
Both boys thrived.  Jake, who had been behind in both reading and math, returned to school above grade level in both and never had another problem.  Teddy returned to school two years ahead in math.  Both profited from the time off from the stress of all-day school and homework.

Jake as a Sophomore in high school dressed up for his first Prom.

[update:  Since this was written I’ve had William at home for four years before enrolling him in public school, and Lorelei is currently in her fourth year of homeschooling.  This post still accurately reflects my approach.]