Thursday, May 24, 2012

Are You Overprotective?

While any parent may be accused of being overprotective, the label probably most often falls on homeschoolers. There is the fear that the homeschooled child is being isolated and will therefore not be prepared for the "real world."  I've already discussed this real world, which I do not believe that the public school reflects. The real world is based primarily on family life and activities that involve people of all ages, races, ethnicities, and socio-economic backgrounds. What I want to focus upon now is the responsibility mothers and fathers have to protect their children. We teach our children to look both ways before crossing the street, don't we? We don't just throw them to the wolves and leave them to their own devices.

Let's look at some specific cases. I once heard about a dad who forced his 4-year-old son to watch horror movies and ridiculed the child for crying. This is an extreme case that amounts to child abuse, and the vast majority of parents would agree that young children need to be sheltered from murderous, bloody, gruesome images. We do not blithely say, "Well, he's going to be exposed to this stuff in the real world, so he may as well get used to it."  Yet that is exactly what many parents argue in less extreme, but still very important, situations.

I heard about another case of a parent who removed her children from public school because a child had brought marijuana to school--elementary school. I do not know what other reasons may have lead to the choice to homeschool, but this is something that seems like a valid reason to me, while to someone else may seem overprotective. First of all, we are not required to give "good enough" reasons for our homeschooling to anyone. We have the freedom in this country to live this educational lifestyle, and that is that. But looking at this particular case, it is safe to say that grade school is too young to be expected to deal with the temptation of drugs. In my opinion, exposure to drugs should be avoided at all costs, forever. But that is not likely to happen. Kids are going to see drugs, maybe not until college, but they will most likely be exposed at some point in life. The answer is education. Kids need to know the dangers and how to handle them when they occur. But what parent in his right mind would think, "I may as well smoke pot in front of my kids at home, because they are going to see it some day, and otherwise they won't be prepared"?

I could go on, but I think the point is well made. It is irresponsible not to provide shelter for one's children, whether physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual. Parents need to have good judgment about what is appropriate to teach their children according to the child's age, development, and individual constitution. You know your child better than anyone. One teenager might be ready to date at age 15, while another not until a couple of years later. Some parents have reverted to the tradition of courting, rather than allowing kids to ride away in cars. That will seem overprotective to some.

One's parenting choices may seem like religious radicalism to the outside world. I don't care. Do you? When you get to heaven, you will have to account for how you raised your children. Did you prepare them with examples of a godly life and how to counter the darkness they will eventually experience? Did you build them up with confidence in themselves and the Lord? Or did you set them loose in the neighborhood and merely cross your fingers? People who see and experience evil, horrors, inappropriate language and images, and all manner of things damaging to the psyche and spirit as children do not typically grow up edified to live a healthy, functional life. The child who grows up watching porn, for example, is going to have a very warped view of sex and relationships.

Living a holy life will not be seen as normal by the vast majority of people. Homeschooling will be misunderstood and considered weird, mark my words. Your kids may not appreciate the boundaries and guidelines you set, but they will feel more secure in having them defined. Yes, we must trust our children to live and behave as we have taught them. We must let them go to make their own way in the world when it is time. But first, the Bible says, "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it."

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Blessing of Motherhood

 Mother of God, Mystical Rose

Happy Mother's Day to all mothers, grandmothers, godmothers, and those who mother the world! Motherhood is a distinguished vocation. At Mass yesterday, Father Jim gave a homily about the nature of God's love being compared to the way a mother loves. He said that motherly love is the overwhelmingly most common example the Bible gives us to know the abundance of the unconditional love of our Father in heaven.

I am blessed today with a husband and child, both of whom, in their own ways, made me a mother. I am blessed with my own mother and two grandmothers being alive, and I got to see them all today. I am also blessed with the great-grandmothers I was privileged to know while they were still living, and those whose existence led to my being alive today, but who I will not meet until I see them after my own death.

And this year, I am blessed to honor and love Mary, the Mother of our Lord, as my own, spiritual Mother. I thank and praise Jesus for giving her to all of us from the cross. The last thing He did to complete his Passion before He died was to say, "Behold your mother" to his beloved disciple, who is symbolically all of us, His brothers and sisters.

As an added bonus, Mother Earth has blessed us with perfect weather and roses in full bloom--in May! If we could behold all of the beauty around us at once, I do not think we could stand on our own two legs for even a moment, so crushingly, achingly glorious is all of God's creation. Such astounding, overwhelming Beauty, we cannot begin to comprehend it. So we gaze into the faces of our mothers. We breathe deep the fragrance of a single rose. We behold the mother bird feeding worms into open beaks and know that even in the smallest of ways, God's maternal love is never ending and can be found everywhere we turn.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Why Go Vegetarian?

Quoted from an editorial by William Clifford Roberts, M.d., Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of Cardiology:
"When we kill animals to eat them, they end up killing us because their flesh, which contains cholesterol and saturated fat, was never intended for human beings, who are natural herbivores."

A friend recently explained to my child, Beezy, who is a vegetarian like me and her dad, that people are meant to be omnivorous, eating both plants and meat. This is not, however, a statement of fact, but an opinion. I don't think anyone could make a case for humans being strictly carnivorous, eating only meat. Even the most die hard steak lover likes a potato on the side! But the case can be made for vegetarianism. I don't know enough about the vegan diet, which contains no animal products at all, such as cheese or eggs, to comment on it. Some vegetarians eat fish but otherwise no meat. I used to be primarily vegetarian because I ate fish, but now I am strictly vegetarian, but not vegan, so that is what I will focus upon.

I became interested in vegetarianism in my mid-to-late 20s because a friend of mine was vegetarian, and I asked her why. She mentioned how the processing of meat is often not only cruel to animals, but that it also affects humans. For instance, she explained how turkeys are hung by their necks on a conveyor belt before their heads are chopped off, and how the fear and trauma they experience results in high levels of stress hormones flooding their systems, which are then in the meat that we eat. Interesting. I don't know exactly what the science is behind that idea, but it makes logical sense. Most people assume vegetarians make that choice to avoid unnecessary cruelty to animals, but that is not the only reason.

I then read in a yoga book how the human anatomy is not designed to consume meat, based on details of the teeth, digestive system, and saliva. Another blog gives a detailed explanation of the facts, which you can read here:

In summary, the function of our saliva, shape of our teeth, length of our intestines, and the way we digest food indicates a closer resemblance to herbivores than omnivores. In nature, the anatomy of the omnivore is very similar to the carnivore. Ours is quite different. Also, we are not opportunistic eaters, scavenging for whatever we can find to eat, which describes the omnivore in nature. Even if our ancestors were hunters and gatherers, it seems likely that we have evolved toward a more plant based diet. In fact, I saw Dr. Oz, the renowned heart surgeon, describe on the Oprah show how meat is digested by rotting for three days in our bodies! Plant material, on the other hand, passes easily through. He did not say humans should not eat meat, but that is just gross and can't be particularly good for you.

There are also humanitarian and ecological reasons for being vegetarian. The land it takes to graze cattle to feed just one person can feed 30 people with soybeans. In a world full of starving people, this is hugely significant. Rainforests are being depleted at an alarming rate in order to provide land to raise beef, mostly for Americans. Cow farts contribute more to the greenhouse gasses that cause global warming than our cars do! And of course most medical specialists agree that saturated fats and bad cholesterol from animal product consumption are major contributors to heart disease. Many people I know, who have become more conscious of health for themselves and for the planet are eating much less meat, even if they do not become vegetarians. It seems to be an intuitive change. In my case, it was also part of a deepening spiritual growth and awareness. I began by cutting out beef, then poultry, and finally fish and seafood. Now any meat simply doesn't taste good. I accidentally ate bacon not too long ago, which I once really liked, but it tasted terrible. One can become accustomed to omitting even his or her favorite meats from one's diet without any secret, residual longing, though this may take some time.

Along the way I would occasionally eat meat; for example, turkey at Thanksgiving or when my dad made his awesome barbeque chicken. It can be hard to be different and feel like you don't fit in with friends, family, or your community in general in this way. But you can make the transition gradually, being fortified in the knowledge that your choice to be vegetarian is really the best all around. Americans generally eat too much protein, and it is easy to get adequate amounts from nuts, beans, legumes, whole grains, seeds, and small amounts of organic dairy. A vegetarian can be malnourished, but no more so than an omnivore who does not eat a balanced diet.

And for anyone who reads the Bible or cares, in Genesis God specifically gives herbs and plants to the humans He has created. There is no mention of eating the animals in God's original purpose for us people made in His image. My guess is that the eating of animals, by both people and other animals, was a result of the imbalances in the world due to the fall from grace. Just a thought.

Certainly the case can be made, and has been, for humans being naturally omnivorous, and if that is your true belief and intuition, eat the way it makes the best sense for you and your family. But I would advise anyone who eats meat to know where it comes from and how it was raised. No food is good for us when produced by some of our modern methods of adding growth hormones and pesticides, feeding the animals in a way not natural to them, and raising them with cruel and unhealthy methods. Know the farmer you get it from, or buy organic! My daughter's pediatrician said she could be perfectly healthy on a vegetarian diet, and because my child loves animals, the idea of eating them is revolting to her. In a world in desperate need of greater lovingkindness, gentleness, and care for all of God's creations, a primarily vegetarian diet is certainly worth a shot.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Intentions & Core Values

"Your reality becomes what you focus on."  --singer/songwriter Jewel

"If you aim at nothing, you are likely to hit it."  --Mary Kay Ash

I think we would all like our days to have a certain flow and smoothness to them, and for our goals to be reached easily and effortlessly. But like Mary Kay implies, if you fail to define your goals, your intentions will fly like arrows with no target, perhaps even hitting some helpless cow minding its own business, or lodging in your own behind. We have the best intentions, yet we find ourselves wasting time, running late, missing deadlines or burning the midnight oil to meet them, forgetting to visit our grandmothers, and feeding our families fast food. We may realize dimly that our priorities have gotten out of order, such as when we end up confined to bed with the flu because we have run ourselves ragged. Or maybe you feel unfulfilled, or that you wish your life had deeper meaning. Or perhaps there is something you are dying to learn or do but you just don't have the time or energy. Maybe you wake up each day simply wondering, "Where should I begin?" It's not that you have planned to fail, but that you have failed to plan (another Mary Kay-ism, I think!).

What are intentions, exactly? According to Phillip Moffitt's article, "Morning Awakening," in Yoga Journal (June 2012), "Intention is essentially the capacity to stay in touch with core values that you wish to live by as you pursue your life's goals and engage with others...Knowing what is essential to you allows you to respond to life's ups and downs with a clear mind and an open heart. Your intentions also support you in making choices and decisions, help you endure anxiety and stress, and enable you to bear disappointment and difficulty with equanimity."  Sounds great to me! So this morning I made a list of my primary and secondary core values. 

My primary core values are the things I spend time doing every day, that I want or need to focus on as top priorities. (I have always liked Mary Kay's values of God first, family second, and career third.)

1. Time with God -- This includes prayer and meditation; Bible reading; attending Mass; Catholic studies; and I plan to do a religious pilgrimage to the Our Lady of Consolation basilica in Carey, Ohio this summer.
I bookend my days with prayer. In the morning I light a candle, say a Hail Mary, and ask for guidance, support, and God's blessings upon my day. As I lie in bed at night, I pray a Rosary. We also say a prayer before eating dinner and at our daughter's bed time.

2. Family Time -- This involves spending time daily together as a family, as well as one-on-one husband and wife time, and parent and child time. We eat at least one meal as a family daily, and watch a movie together, walk the dog, or go on excursions together. My husband and I each spend time every day reading to our child and running errands, playing games, dancing, or other activities done individually with our daughter.

3. Home Education -- I am the primary person responsible for educating my child, and we spend about two hours a day in formal homeschooling, plus additional time with informal learning experiences. Our community provides many educational opportunities as well, from homeschooling co-ops to the library and Parks and Recreation programs.

4. Homemaking -- This includes meal preparation; de-cluttering, organizing and paring down; housekeeping chores; caring for pets; and decorating. I am hoping to spend less time daily with housekeeping once I have it caught up!

Secondary core values are those things that I may not do every day, but that I do regularly during the week or the month and that are important to my happiness and well-being.

1. Time with extended family and friends -- family gatherings, play dates (where I am friends with the other child's mother), visiting grandparents and other relatives, talking to friends on the phone who don't live nearby (or communicating via email, letter, or Facebook), getting together with other families for a picnic, barbeque, or dinner, etc...

2. Belly dance practice and troupe leadership -- This is my primary form of exercise and also provides a supplemental income for my family. My student troupe performs at local festivals and functions. I teach classes in sessions of 4 or 6 weeks for most of the year.

3. Time in nature -- This is so important for health and balance and does not have to be complicated. A walk in your neighborhood or in the woods, gardening, watching your children and animals play in the yard, visiting a farm, or going to a lake or park will give you the fresh air and contact with the natural world that humans are designed for and desperately need.

4. Extra-curricular activities -- Blogging, club membership, occasional travel, movies, and going on a belly dance retreat (only once a year, but a highlight and significant priority) are some of the things that round out my life with both responsibilities and recreation.

Everyone's core values are different, and they should be re-evaluated monthly. It takes about 21 to 28 days to form a habit, so if you focus on your core values for that long, they will become the reality of your life. They may change according to your needs, interests, or the time of year. If you find you do not have the time or energy to devote to your core values, then you need to honestly look at and document how you are spending your time. Anything that you do for at least an hour on a daily basis strongly reflects your values. So if you watch TV or spend time online for more than an hour every day, and you find yourself not having time to exercise, for example, then you know what you have to do! With a little planning and structuring of your days to fulfill the intentions you set, your ordinary life can become extraordinary and eventually resemble your fondest dreams.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Homeschooling Expectations

Recently a visitor to my home asked about how Beezy was doing with her reading. Beezy will just be 8 at the end of this month, and she is progressing well, fluently reading Dick and Jane books, as well as using Beatrix Potter's charming tales for focusing on sight reading. We still practice sounding out words, but she does not enjoy that task, and progress had been slow with it. I took Charlotte Mason's advice and incorporated sight reading, and the repetition used in the Dick and Jane readers reinforces retention. So I am happy with my child's progress.

What concerns me is that my visitor said that since Beezy is homeschooled, she should be a couple of grade levels ahead in reading. Where do such expectations come from? It is true that some homeschooled children are ahead of public school children. It is also true that it isn't unusual for some to begin to read as late as age 10, particularly if the method used is unschooling and the parents wait to teach reading until the child is interested. Typically these children will pick up reading skills quickly and ultimately equal or surpass their peers.

The important thing is for everyone to understand what his or her state requires. In Ohio after the first grade, an evaluation by a certified teacher or standardized testing must be done before the next school year begins. Our superintendent requires a letter of intent, proof of high school graduation or GED, and a brief outline of the curriculum used. Certain subjects must be covered. The child only needs to progress according to his or her abilities. As long as you are meeting your state's specifications, no one should be questioning whether you are doing a satisfactory job at teaching your child, nor should they be concerned regarding the particular level your child is at in any given subject. Even in the public schools, there are typically three levels of reading or English for each grade. All children are not expected to be at the exact same level of proficiency.

My visitor was not critical or disrespectful in any way, and he validated the ability of my husband and I to do the job. I wish he had not brought up the subject right in front of Beezy, though, because I don't ever want her to feel compared to other children. Perhaps a good response in such cases would be to politely tell people that you do not discuss your homeschooling in your child's presence, so perhaps another time would be better.

We homeschooling parents can get concerned ourselves sometimes, but it is not good for our anxiety to be felt by our children, or for them to feel pressured to learn at a different rate than they are learning. When I feel this kind of pressure, it is typically as a result of the expectations of others. Allowing someone else to shake your confidence or instill doubt in homeschooling and transferring those negative feelings to one's children is obviously not healthy for anyone, so take care not to let it happen to you. I think it is appropriate to let the dissenters know that their negative attitudes will ultimately harm your children, so if they care for the welfare of your kids, they will be as supportive of you as possible.

Taking the joy out of learning and taking the wind out of our children's sails, who we want to feel confident and proud of their accomplishments, is not our goal. Learning should be challenging, yes, but it should also be interesting and fun, filling the child with wonder and encouraging an active imagination. We are preparing our children for life, nurturing not only their minds, but their bodies and spirits. If you believe as I do that the home (and the community as you choose it) is the best place for your children's education, then carry on with your worthy and holy mission. Pray for the strength and resources you need, and don't hesitate to seek the support of others in your homeschooling community. It is a courageous and beautiful thing that we do!