Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Depths Of Kindergarten, Alphabet Cards, And Number Blocks


It's mid-afternoon on a Summer day, yet the spread of notes, book lists, and curriculum options on the table in front of me hints more of Autumn. Our experimental year of kindergarten is behind us now, and I'm hopeful that our first official school year is nothing but good in the way that this last year has been. It's popular in the homeschooling community to skip preschool and/or kindergarten, hold out until age seven, then call first grade the scholastic starting line. I'm all for that. Dropping children into full time studies that they won't remember and (frankly) can't handle holds not a drop of good sense to me. But there are just so many ways to go about this whole learning thing and so many potential land mines to obliterate everything good in it that dipping our toes in slowly seemed a good thing.

And you know? I'm so glad we did. It helped us create rhythm, crush some bad habits with new ones, hash out ways to balance learning styles and teaching methods, and completely evaporate Lanna's idea that school equaled some kind of horror show. But I think what I most appreciate from the experience is the chance it gave me to roll up sleeves and get my hands dirty in understanding why having a goal in education (as a generality) is vital, so vital.

Questioning the point of things comes a little more quickly to me these days (either a tool born out of a never-ending to do list or a side effect of being married to an attorney), so it didn't take long for the why's to surface among the alphabet cards and numbered blocks. Why do we do this? It wasn't a questioning of what I think we all see as a necessary privilege, more of a questioning what it's necessary for. Singing the alphabet song a hundred times over and counting to ten fifty times a day, I could grasp that these are tools, but for what? What is the most basic goal of all of this? It's a necessary question, I realized, because there are some very different answers, and trying to direct learning without having direction is asking for frustration that nobody wants.

What do I most want in life for our girls? I asked myself this question fifty million times over as we read, played, and learned. And always, only one thing stood out sharp and clear until I accepted it as the answer: for them to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and mind, and love their neighbors as themselves. It sums up everything, flows into every category, molds their path in the most vital ways. And if the proverbs speak truth in saying that the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge, I'm beginning to see that it might be because every subject we study beckons us in the words of the Narnian cry to go "further up and further in." That maybe all this learning can be our act of straining eyes beyond these shadows we live in to glimpse what all of these things are really, truly reflecting of the forever-lands. Literature, nature, mathematics, practical hard work, all of it.

Who knew kindergarten could be so deep, right?

On the more practical side, I picked up a few personal do's and do not's too, like:

 - Not bothering much with formal curriculum at this point. I had some Singapore math books passed on to me from my mom so we dabbled in the first book. Alanna loves working with numbers so the concepts were interesting to her, but working them out on paper was not. I don't regret anything with that experience - I dropped it as soon as I realized it truly was a no go for us - but I do wish I had stuck to things like touch and feel counting cards or counting beads until it was time for the more abstract stuff.

 - Being more organized when it comes to learning the alphabet. We started with a "Get Ready For the Code" book because the letter work was simple and it looked fun, but dropped it halfway through and used it for playing school instead. It's a great program and I'm sure they have a reason for the organization, but for us it was more natural to tackle the alphabet in A-Z order. In the future, I'll stick to more tactile things for this early stage like these letter units or The Peaceful Preschool type of format, with the Turbo Reader for the weird rules and word lists.

Now on to whatever first grade holds for us, I suppose.




Sunday, June 18, 2017

A Reminder Of God's Lovingkindness And The Necessity Of Huggin' Your Dad

Sometimes I forget how the gospel is reflected in our real life relationships with each other. 

Imperfect reflections as they are, it never fails leave me in a state of awe when I catch sight of them. What goodness of God is this is to not just offer us His gift of lovingkindness, of belonging, but also to weave it right into the day-to-day tapestry of our lives so that we're tangled up in the reality of it whether we realize it or not? It's as wondrous as it is sobering.

It's this sort of awe that struck me when my Dad was deteriorating rather badly a couple of years ago. Remembering the commonplace and rather messy pieces of our story, I suddenly caught sight of that thread of grace that was woven through it all. With the opportunity to offer some serious thanksgiving seeming like it was closing fast, I wrote this little piece - I wanted him to know and I didn't want to forget. Today I'm reposting it here and thankin' the good Lord that Dad still around to read it. 

Friends, read and remember how great the love of God is, then go hug your Dad.


The incessant buzzing of my cellphone cuts through melodious strains of Gershwin and supper prep, finally catching my attention. Setting my knife aside momentarily, I prop the phone awkwardly between shoulder and ear.
"Hello?"
"Hello, Santa Maria Police Department. Is Carissa at home? We have a warrant out for her arrest."
"Um, you must be mistaking me for my Dad because, I mean, his humor is absolutely criminal."
His belly-busting laugh nearly bursts my speaker as I grinningly switch ears and resume chopping vegetables.
"How are ya, Dad?"
"Oh I'm not too bad, sweetheart, how are you?"...

The joke always changes from call to call - the police department, the telephone company, the bank. They're all kind of dumb but also endearingly his in such a way that sends a glad surge of warming humor into the iciest of hearts. And lives, mine in particular. Come to think of it, I suppose that's what he's been doing for me in general from our beginning.

________

He found us at a low point, my Dad. I was just a tiny bundle then, fairly new and wholly fatherless. My mom was on her feet but still reeling from both my arrival and finding herself faced with the lonely duo of just us - my biological Dad being stuck in a terribly nasty rut of life at the time. I don't know the specifics of how exactly things started out; something about old flames, mutual friends, and diaper runs, I think. What I do know is that he bounded into our lives with his expansive enthusiasm, more than filling the space of love and stability vacant to us.

Over the months that followed, he won the cautiously approving eye of family while baby-proofing my great grands home and hopping into my playpen when I was left to my own devices. And whether witnessing my firsts or sneaking forbidden sweets, he found a way to cradle my heart like his own. "I'm still not wholly sure who he was more in love with when he married me," my mom will still laughingly recall, but that statement is always backed by a warm grin in his direction that I pretend to ignore. He sweetened life in surprising and quiet ways while mom and I tried to pick up and jam together the broken pieces of our life. And when the time was right and our horizon streaked crimson with lonely surrender, he offered us a new life altogether.

My first word was Daddy and it was with eyes fixed expectantly on him.

________


The pan sizzles with the contents of my chopping board as I gently slide it all in.

"So how are the babies?"
"Oh, mischievous and curious as usual. Plucking my latest blooms in the yard for doll soup and then reciting scripture at me in the very next moment. So, good, I suppose."
"Ahh sounds like you're getting dished your own medicine."

We both chuckle over this - I in recalling the events of the day and he in memories. I admit I've always marvelled a bit, from the first night of sleep deprivation to the aforementioned doll soup, that Dad willingly took it all on. At times, parenthood seems such a dauntingly uncharted territory for the ones who expectantly step into it, yet he Louis and Clark'ed it for someone who wasn't even biologically his.

________


I definitely had a troublemaking streak growing up. I tended to be the one who tickled siblings during family devotions, forcing loud guffaws and feigning ignorance. Often enough I could be found proposing terribly exciting experiments like spraying unassuming solicitors through cracks in a fence with a garden hose. I'm pretty sure I once talked one of my brothers into stuffing rocks into his ears, and then humbly denied any collaboration when he started pushing them up his nose as well. But for all my trouble making and attention seeking tactics perfected over the years, I don't remember much irritation or discouragement from my Dad.

I do remember watching from behind window curtains while he had a serious chat with a six year old neighbor boy who had attempted to kiss me one too many times. I remember him piling us in the back of his latest VW project and hauling off at top speed to lavish us with multicolored Mexican pastries. I remember the annual father's day camping trips and the extra bag of marshmallows he would break out to snowball us and every other child in near proximity with. I remember his honest opinions over the the colored bands on my braces and the last time he tried to buy me shoes - the green vans with pink frogs that horrified me so. I remember the way his shoulders collapsed a bit but his head stayed high when I waved a last goodbye from the boarding gate to a plane bound for southeast Asia. I remember him sitting off to the side of my little speaking gigs, head cocked slightly and expressionless thoughts playing at the corners of his lips as I nervously spouted words from my notes. I remember the proud grin that wrinkled into his eyes when I showed him a small stack of college acceptance letters and attempted long speeches on the benefits of sponsoring my education. . . .

In particular, though, I remember this pivotal moment a few weeks before my tenth birthday. Sitting in traffic, our van brimming with uncertainty as Mom weakly waved a hand at our questions about what Multiple Sclerosis was. Dad, grimly clutching the steering wheel and trying to hide the tears that unbiddingly trickled down sun hardened cheeks.

It was the first time I remember ever seeing him cry.

________


I slap a lid over our simmering supper, barely remembering to lower the heat before kissing a few owies and attending to a potty run or two. Dad chats patiently on the other side of the line, interjecting humorous sarcasm and monologuing about this and that as the evening business unfolds. I'm silently appreciative of his understanding as I finally turn to the table with a handful of napkins and a carefully balanced stack of dishes.

"So how are you feeling these days?"
"Oh you know, tired. My powerchair is at the shop again."
"What'd you do this time, run it over the railroad ties or across a field?"
"Fell in a ditch. The Fire department got me out."
"They always do. Pretty sure you're their only consistent source of excitement."
"I do what I can. Hey, if I can ever interest you in buying my MS, I'll sell it to you at a good price."
"I'm afraid I'll have to pass this time."
"Mmm, yeah, I figured."

There's a momentary pause before he launches into an account of an encounter with a friend the previous day. I listen quietly as my fingers deftly fold and pat napkins into neat rectangles. I've never pitied Dad for his disease. On the contrary, over time it made him stronger and wiser in my eyes. But I won't deny that having family dynamics drastically change and watching him struggle through the inevitable deterioration of his body once haunted us with heavy chords of brokenness beyond repair.

________


Those first few years after the diagnosis were hard, really hard. I'm not sure anyone, ourselves included, quite comprehended the war that raged in our home over that time, but it was fierce as it was painful. And as pain is apt to do, it swept change over us so quickly that we hardly knew ourselves after just a few years of its strange work. I watched the progression from the sidelines as time marched on - canes, walkers, wheelchairs, memories. The man who gave me so much was deteriorating before my eyes and much of our roots seemed to be fading right along with him. A long healed scar in my heart began throbbing, subtly at first but steadily as time passed. Throbs so overtaking they filled my ears and pounded down through my vision, screeching the cruelly slow emptying of that Dad sized space yet again. Throbs so demanding that it took all the sickeningly sweet selfishness and deceit I could muster to ignore the surrender required of me.

But God.

Just writing those two words sends tingles of hope down my spine again. The very same victorious hope that allowed Dad to win to some degree. He didn't beat MS, of course, but MS certainly didn't beat him. For while I went off in a busy nose dive of blinding self centered bitterness, stabbing his and mom's hearts over and over when they needed it the least, they stayed clinging to the solid rock that is Christ and found wholeness in the midst of brokenness. All the grace my parents had claimed to believe prior to the disease suddenly glimmered through more tangibly against our black backdrop, pushing me to a place of being unable to deny its existence anymore than I could the nose in my face. And dad? That precious, endearing man still found ways to cradle my heart like his own through it all until I finally reached up from my lowest point and clung for dear life next to him.

_______


"Well Dad, I'm off. Supper is on the table and I'll hear some howling if I don't call everyone in soon."
"Me too. It was good talking to you, sweetheart."
"You too Dad, call anytime."

I pause, losing a precious few seconds to thought.

"Dad?"
"Yeah?"
"Thanks."
"Always."

I set the phone gently on the table and stare off into clumps of jasmine vines in the yard, my heart thumping quiet thanksgivings into the stillness of the moment. There's a sweet assurance in being someone's - someone's wife, someone's mother, someone's friend, someone's daughter. But to be left in a lonely heap feeling something like trash and still have someone come along and see you, draw you into their heart, and call you their own? It's unthinkable in all the most wonderful ways.

And it's my story. The one I'm given to whisper into drowsy little ears during bedtime snuggles, that I can pour into willing hearts over the ever present pot of tea on my table, that I'm plucking from my heart and sending off in a breath of hope - you are someone's. The eternal Father's heart beats out rhythms of love for you. He'll draw you through the wind storm of life and cradle your heart. He'll call you His own.

Friday, June 9, 2017

An Inspired Summer


Spring was short and somewhat fickle this year, wasn't it? Allergies aside, it's just so colorful and alive after the brown of Winter, always making its adieu somewhat bittersweet. What makes it all okay, though? The season most synonymous with outdoor play being its follow-up. Summer memories are some of the greatest - peering prayerfully through the slatted floor of a precarious tree house with a little apprehension and maximum delight; the perfect temperature balance of cool water and icy popsicles on sweltering days; the wonder in camping beneath a cathedral-like ceiling of night sky with the oldest of art glimmering above; but mostly the hours upon hours of siblings, friends, jumbles of playthings, and limitless imagination in back yards. The funny thing about all these memories is that - for myself, at least - they hold no detail of whether it was the sort of play that came organically or the we-have-no-choice-because-mom-locked-us-out type of organic. I'm guessing it was a bit of both. Funny how we don't recall that sort of thing.

But I digress. Summer: It can be pretty great.

My girls are still unbelieving in this respect (except for maybe Alanna who adores any season that allows for days upon days of swimming). Or maybe it's better to say that they're still in the process of being converted to the adoration of outdoor play. No fear, this will come about. . . with much prayer and wheedling. Actually, on a more serious note, I think what they really need is as simple as a spark of inspiration and some encouragement.

Thus our seasonal book basket.


As soon as the Jacaranda trees started raining their purple blooms, I began my cloud-like hovering over our bookshelves. At first it was all picture stories in our little basket, but an incident involving disagreement over how to make a bed reminded me that as alike as the girls and I can be, our inspiration and ideas of play are probably different. More cloudy hovering, then sunshine as the basket finally popped with more variety and color.

On a side note, that Tasha Tudor book is wonderful. The opening line, "Granny, what was it like when mummy was like me?" opens this almanac like a magical phrase does Aladdin's cave, Winter sugaring parties, doll fairs (complete with beetle races), 4th of July picnics, and birthdays with floating cakes... it's the practical sort of wonder that childhood is made up of. Highly recommend.


With every good thing that seemed right for the season already out, I moved on to my perpetually running list of books-to-buy. This took triple the time because when you're trying to choose from a list completely made up of titles you want anyway, things get complicated. . . and expensive. But the excitement that burst right in time with the packaging of our final choices evened it all out.

And may I this moment to interject that if you are unfamiliar with Patricia Lee Gauch, the good Lord help you. She is marvelous. Christina Katerina and the Box and Andrew Henry's Meadow are on a almost daily repeat around here (her Tanya books are in our library treasures almost every visit, as well), and I'm not even annoyed about it. Who in world could with stories about all the games giant boxes can offer, or a tiny town completely made up of and built by children?


So that has been the introduction to our Summer: Working thoughtfully and prayerfully with inspiration herself, inviting her to be a sort of pied piper and lead us all (because Lord knows I can do with her magical music as well) into the wonder and beauty the Creator has embedded into this season.