Friday, February 29, 2008

Adultery - in a kids' book?

A few weeks ago I read The Thieves of Ostia to the kids. This is one of a 15-book series (The Roman Mysteries by Caroline Lawrence) set in ancient Rome. I had heard good things about the books and my kids were interested but not enough to read the series on their own, so I decided to read the first book. Then, I said, they were on their own.

The book was pretty good, not outstanding, and not really the kind of thing I like to read aloud. I like to save my reading time for books that my kids are not capable of reading, or comprehending, or processing on their own.

So we finished the first book and got the 2nd from the library so one of them could start it. But then we all got sick, or tired, or something, so I caved in and started reading it. It was quite exciting and we finished it tonight. And now I see that I will have to read the whole series to them, because one of the themes in this books is adultery. Or, to be precise, an accusation thereof.

No, the actual word is not used, but there is an accusation that a man's wife and his friend were were lovers, and that relationship produced a child. Yes, in a book for the 9 - 12 set.

Otherwise the books are good historical fiction, worth reading. The one we finished tonight, The Secrets of Vesuvius, gives a good picture of life under the volcano. It does not have a pat happy ending (though the main characters in the series, 4 children, all survive, of course). There are characters who follow that new religion, Christianity, and people who persecute them. There's excitement and fun and history.

But now I can't trust them to be appropriate for my kids to read on their own. Even 12 is too young to need to read about adultery (even if just imagined) in a novel. A novel!

But we're not doing the whole 15 books in a row. We did 12 in a row with the "Swallows and Amazons" marathon last year. The Roman Mysteries are fun, but they do not compare with Arthur Ransome's series of kids in England's Lake District. And there's no adultery to worry about either.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Living and loving my domestic life

Domestic: Of or relating to the family or household: domestic chores. Fond of home life and household affairs.

Yes, yes indeed. I am very fond of my home life and my household affairs. After working for a little over 20 years, I feel so... at home, here at home. Taking care of my family, working to create and maintain a nice comfortable place for them.

So many people misunderstand the domestic life. It can seem so boring. Stifling, even. Mind-numbing. "How can you stand to be home all day? I couldn't stand the boredom." Well, yes, we of small intellect don't mind the boredom, right?

This attitude comes from feminism, of course. Which really isn't feminism anymore because, if it was, it would not mock this choice. Remember when feminism was about choices for women? Maybe you're too young; it was a long time ago now.
There are also women, who don't call themselves feminists, who say, "Well, my husband and I are partners. We both work, and we share the chores at home." Usually that's said with an air of superiority, as if the only way to be a partner is to bring home a paycheck. Guess it is, for them. However, the only real difference is in the division of labor. Husbands and wives split the work, one way or another. Some do it well; for some, it's an area of contention.

In my home, the roles are pretty clear. We don't have to argue about whose turn it is to cook dinner or grocery shop. Or who will stop at the take-out joint because we've both worked too late to cook. We don't have to fight over who has to pick up the kids from daycare. We don't have to quibble over things like vacuuming or laundry or... all those pesky house chores. I do as much as I can in the home so he can concentrate outside the home.

Then there are the men who equate married women who don't work as prostitutes. Yes, it's true. I've read it with my own two eyes. Of course we know that housewives are just deadweight parasites on our husbands, right? (I still cannot think of that without laughing.) I suppose there might be some marriages like that. I don't know of any.

So what about that boring part? It's not boring to keep my family clothed and fed. It's not boring to keep the house looking nice. (Or get it there, when it's not so nice.) It's not boring, making home a place my family wants to be.

Laundry, cleaning, and doing dishes are not fun. Those tasks can be boring. But everyone has to do them anyway, unless they have a housekeeper. Teaching my kids housekeeping skills can be frustrating, but it is never boring!

I could do many things better. The house can be cluttered. (OK, it's usually cluttered.) The meals are not always so great. Like anyone else, I can waste time. I can indulge in some discontent every now and then too. That is when I remember my catechism.
What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. We glorify God when we fulfill the purpose to which He has called us. Some of us feel called to be home.

But you don't have to believe this to understand that some families work better when the wife/mom stays home, and that some men and women make a conscious choice to live this way. If you think a domestic life is boring, don't live it. But don't tell me I'm wrong for living - and loving - my domestic life.

You didn't misunderstand; I misspoke.

One of the first things I learned in composition class was the importance of taking responsibility for the clarity of my writing. OK, maybe that wasn't the first thing, but I do remember being taught that it is not the reader's fault if my writing is misunderstood.

So I get really cranky when I'm reading a blog or message board and someone responds to a comment with "you misunderstood!"

No, they didn't. Or maybe they did. Either way, it is the responsibility of the writer to clarify. The proper response to a misunderstanding is, "I'm sorry, I was unclear. What I meant was..." Yes, even if the writer knows he or she was clear. Even if the reader made it obvious that he or she misread or misunderstood the post/comment/whatever.

Responding in any other way is like saying to the reader "your reading comprehension skills are poor." Or even "you are too stupid to understand."

Misunderstanding are inevitable, you say? Yes, that's true. Still, take responsibility for misunderstandings. People will appreciate the way you communicate with them.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Anger, Offence, and Vindictiveness

This semester I am back in school! My first real class in many a year. Students' spouses can attend classes for free; how could I pass up such an opportunity? My class is in the counseling curriculum and is about... change. How people change, how we can help people change. We are doing a lot of great reading (Camus' The Plague, Paton's Cry the Beloved Country among others). What a dream class for an English major! We are also spending 1/3 of class time in "guided conversation" with a small group. It's very refreshing, very stimulating. And since I am just auditing this semester, very relaxing as I have no pressure to turn in papers, etc. Next semester I'll take the big girl leap and actually register. Sometimes pressure is good.

This week we are focusing on anger, and one of the assigned articles has this passage from The Brothers Karamazov:

Above all, don't lie to yourself... The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than anyone. You know it is sometimes very pleasant to take offense, isn't it? A man may know that nobody has insulted him, but that he has invented the insult for himself, has lied and exaggerated to make it picturesque, has caught at a word and mae a mountain out of a molehill - he knows that himself, yet he will be the first to take offense, and will revel in his resentment till he feels great pleasure in it, and so pass to genuine vindictiveness.

Isn't that lovely? Isn't that just so true?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A one-dog family, again

Suddenly James Taylor's "One Man Dog" is going through my mind... oh well.

As of yesterday we are a one-dog family again. The dog we had been babysitting has gone home! Now we are enjoying getting to know our little dog Max again. We had only had him about 2 weeks when we took on dog-sitting job. We cleaned the glass kitchen door, which was disgusting from the visitor pawing it to get in and out. I got the kitchen floor really clean for the first time in 3 weeks, too!

We wondered if Max would be lonely when the visitor had gone. Well, we don't know, of course, but he seems more relaxed now. He doesn't have to protect his domain. The usurper isn't nosing in, trying to get our attention every time we try to play with our own dog. Or maybe he's just bored. He did have fun in the snow today, even took a sled run with the kids. We have a slight incline in our yard, enough to get the sled going with a good push.

Now he's snoozing in front of the fire. It's a nice life, here with my family and dog. Maybe I'll go dig out that JT cd and sit down by the fire too.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Caving on the Valentine's Party, sort of

Couple weeks ago I wrote about my homeschool group's annual Valentine party and why we were sitting it out. Well, I semi-caved on the deal; we went after all, and I'm glad I did.

First of all, we did not exchange valentines. But, the venue was one much desired by my children: Chuck E Cheese. This was the third time in their young lives they have been there. I hate it, but it's a fun place, once in a while. They hadn't seen their homeschool friends in a long time; we've been housebound, the pizza and token were cheap.

So I emailed the leader of the homeschool group and asked if we could just come. She readily agreed. We knew that in the chaos no one would really notice that my kids were not exchanging valentines.

Boy were we right.

When we arrived most of the 20-odd moms and kids were trickling in, armed with the valentines they'd prepared and the bags to collect in. The kids immediately ran off to play the games, leaving the moms holding the bags. (Hahaha.) Over half were people I'd never seen before. One woman commented that she knew only one other person there! (I managed to restrain myself from asking her why she had her kid do valentines for 30+ strangers.)

I did receive a few exclamations of surprise at my presence. Embarrassment that they did not have valentines for my kids. I tried to explain, without explaining exactly why, that we weren't really there in an official capacity and did not expect any valentines.

Then, the moms proceeded to fill the kids' bags with the valentines! The kids were no where in sight! No exchange was being done. The kids played, the moms walked around looking for names on bags and put valentines in.

As moms finished filling the bags, some wandered over to where I was hanging out. While publicly everyone was full of enthusiasm for the exchange, privately... well... More than once a mom told me that she had a hard time explaining to her kids why they were making valentines for people they didn't know. Every single one told me that when trying to explain, they related the custom of valentine exchange to school. Let's take a moment to remember that not one of these kids goes to school! Most have never been to school!

So in that context I felt comfortable explaining why we did not participate. At that point it didn't need much explanation.

These women are not dopes. They are thoughtful, educated women who are taking on full responsibility for the care and education of their children. They research learning styles and educational methods. They know the benefits and downsides to phonics and whole-language. They can tell you which Latin curriculum worked best for them and why they chose (or did not choose) to follow the classical education model. They are intentionally counter-cultural.

Except on Valentine's Day, I guess.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Submissive does not mean subservient

It also doesn't mean mindless, ignorant, barefoot and pregnant, uneducated or... many of the other things people think it means.

For some reason lately, wifely submission has been coming up in conversations. People really have a hard time understanding this concept. Most people who don't get it just make fun of it. Natch; that's easier than trying to understand something.

Ephesians 5:22-30 is usually cited when discussing Biblical submission:

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30because we are members of his body.

This doesn't say anything about husbands bossing their wives around. It doesn't say women shouldn't think for themselves. It doesn't say women have to run to their husbands for every little decision.* It doesn't mean women can't keep the family books, if the husband and wife agree she is the best one to do it. It doesn't mean women shouldn't read the paper and form their own opinions.

It does mean that both spouses do things in light of the love and respect they have for each other.

It does mean that when a man and woman come together, they agree that the man is the head. That means he is the one to make the final decisions. That can and should include saying to his wife, "hm, you're better at this, how about you decide?" Or, "will you please help me with this decision?"

It does mean that if there is a disagreement about a decision, the husband makes the call. To some that might sound like "he wins, she loses." But if the husband is acting Biblically, he is acting out of love for his wife and will make the best decision for her, for the whole family.

Here's an example. A husband gets a job offer in another state. He is excited. It's a great job, one he's really interested in. The wife is not so excited. She doesn't want to move. Her family is close by and she doesn't want to live in the area they'd be moving to. So, what happens?

- They fight about it incessantly, he takes the job, she refuses to move, they get divorced. Or, they stay married but she stays angry too.

- The husband refuses to take the job to avoid conflict with his wife. Wife "wins," husband is full of regrets.

- The husband and wife discuss the options together. He seeks her wise counsel. They make a list of pros and cons to the move. The wife expresses her thoughts about the move freely. They talk, they pray, and agree that they are together whatever the decision needs to be. Then the husband decides, based on his love for his wife (and by extension, their children) and his position as the head. That might mean he decides to take the job; it might mean he doesn't.

Whatever the outcome, no individual wins or loses. If the husband and wife follow Biblical principles, the whole family wins. If the decision is to move, the submissive wife will not pout because she doesn't get her way, or engage in passive-aggressive techniques to make her husband miserable. She will know that the decision was the right one even if it's not her favorite option. If the decision is to refuse the job, the good husband knows he did the right thing for his family, will not be angry and will not engage in passive-aggressive techniques to punish his wife.

Sometimes even Christian women will say, "my husband doesn't go for this submissive wife stuff. He wants me to have a mind of my own." Guess what? If she goes along with that, she is a submissive wife. Others like to sneer at the notion of the submissive wife, saying "my husband and I are partners." Well, a truly Biblical marriage looks like a partnership, with the couple working together for the good of the family. A woman who marries the right man can trust that his decisions will be for her good. She can trust that he will listen to her, not brush off her concerns. A man who bosses his wife around or treats her like a child is not a good husband to her. He is not acting Biblically.

Anyone reading this who does not care about what's in the Bible probably thinks I am nuts. But I am happy and content in my marriage because I know my responsibilities, and I know my husband's. I know that when we can't agree on something, I can trust him to decide and know it will be in my best interest. Believe it or not, it is freeing to be able to trust someone in this way, to let go of every decision and not feel like I have to have my way all the time. But I guess some people will never understand that.

* Unless she makes poor decisions and her husband has to do it all. Face it, some women (and some men) are incompetent. Probably there are men who like having incompetent wives because it does give them someone to boss around. But that is not Biblical. A good wife is competent and able to make good decisions and get things done without constantly needing her husband's help. Her husband can trust her to do this without his constant supervision.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Another Valentine's Day post

Usually one every 2 years is enough, but I was noodling around on the 'net today while my kids are trying to make snowballs out of the eighth-inch on the ground and came across some ruminations on the topic. (Moo!) I am reminded of the first V-Day I spent with my husband.

He took me out to a nice Italian restaurant, his favorite place. It was not a fancy place, but not a plastic-grapes-hanging-from-the-ceiling pizza joint. The food was fabulous.

He had made a reservation (I think) but there was still a wait. Well, that turned out to be the most entertaining part of the evening! People-watching on V-Day is such fun! The atmosphere was thick with passive-aggressive discontent. I think I was the only happy woman in the place. The rest sat around looking put out, either because the place wasn't nice enough, or because they had to wait. The waiting, I think, implied to them that the man had not thought ahead and made a reservation.

I am surprised we could converse over the sounds of exaggerated sighing.

Now I am not a big Valentine's person. In the past a dinner out with some good wine has been the standard celebration. But I have young kids. My girl is really into the whole heart and love thing, and at her age it's cute. She make valentines for special people, relatives mostly. My boy couldn't care less about it.

But, we have realized that we should probably make a slightly bigger deal out of it for our son. See, some day (we hope) he will have a wife. And while I pray (fervently and frequently) that he doesn't end up with someone like those sighing passive-aggressive dames I used to see at La Galleria, he might end up with a woman who's just a little bit into Hallmark holidays and would like something. Not jewels, you know, but maybe a Whitman's sampler (is that the one with the little map on the lid?) or, our personal favorite, Ghirardelli Espresso Escape. The poor kid is already a freak, not having an x-box or even a real game boy. We may as well not handicap him any more.

So, what to do? There's not much time and between school, homeschooling, our dog, the visiting dog, the electrical fire in the back yard (more on that another day), life is just plumb full! But my husband and I are not above pulling a long-forgotten (and never noticed by the kids) book off a shelf and wrapping it up, just so we have a gift to give. In our house, books are the best gifts anyway. Hm... I wonder if they ever noticed this new copy of The Selected Writings of Thomas Aquinas that's sitting on the desk here... how romantic!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Parasitical Housewife

Isn't that a great term? I've been reading some blogs lately about men who delay marriage or don't bother to marry. The comments on these blogs say a lot about men and their attitudes toward women. More than once I read the term "parasite" attached to "housewife."

I feel like changing the name of my blog to that, but that's too much work. I have way too much to do, watching Oprah, eating bonbons, spending all my husband's hard-earned dough, and sitting around with my girlfriends dissing the old man all day long, waiting till his 401K is big enough for me to dump him and take all his cash, and the house! (Should be a long wait, what with this seminary thing he's doing.)

Oops! And here some of you thought I took care of and educated my kids, cooked great meals (OK, they're not all great), kept the house running reasonably efficiently and cleanly, hung out with and enjoyed my family, and generally contributed to the wellbeing of that family.

Nope, you're wrong. I'm just a parasite, living off my husband, sucking the very life out of him as we speak.


Thursday, February 07, 2008

Instant Doggy Door

Yesterday it was warm enough to open the windows and get some fresh air in here. Lovely. The kitchen door - which is the door kids and dogs use to get out to the back yard - has a screen that had a little rip in the bottom corner. Note the use of the word "had." No, we didn't fix it yesterday. Have you already figured out what happened?

It was our dog, little Max, who wanted to get outside but was a little impatient. Rather than wait for us to open the door, he just plowed through the screen, which easily parted from its frame to create a little doggy door for him. Big dumb Casper, the visiting dog, still waits for us to open the door. I am very happy about that, because that would create a really, really big open flap.

However, an opening is an opening, and now we're not sure what to do. It seems apparent that in his life before us, Max had access to a doggy door: he uses it with such ease. However, we live in mosquito country, and summer is really not all that far off. (Just check the stores and clothing catalogs if you are dubious.)

Monday, February 04, 2008

Treat a boy like a man, and maybe...

he'll start acting like one. Compare and contrast:

1. Boy, 10, goes to Sunday School class taught by a woman. Sits at a table, listens to stories, performs tasks such as word searches, mazes. Gets candy rewards for things like bringing his Bible, having his verse memorized. Boy gets bored, fidgets and sometimes misbehaves. Boy comes home feeling deflated and relieved that it's over.

2. Boy, 10, who is a Cub Scout, goes to a Boy Scout event run by older boys and men. Boy is immediately put onto a team with other boys and performs tasks such as pulling a sled (yes, the boys are the sled dogs), building a fire, cooking a meal*, crossing a river on a rope suspended overhead. Boy is engaged mentally and physically. There is not time to be bored, to fidget, to misbehave. Boy comes home exhausted but energized and ready for more.

OK, these are just two little anecdotes from one boy's life. But they illustrate the problem so many boys suffer from: too little expectation for manly behavior, too much exposure to feminine ways of learning and doing.

Not all boys suffer in Sunday School, even when the hardest "work" is a word matchup wherein all the words that match are already highlighted in matching colors. (Don't want to bother reading? No need. Just find the yellow rectangle in this column, and draw a line to the yellow rectangle in that column.) Boredom in class is never, ever an excuse for misbehavior. But it can explain the reason for misbehavior. And boys need to learn to sit still and listen, and participate in "classroom" activities. Maybe after they get some energy out. And without a piece of candy as a performance reward?

Of course some boys don't want to live up to those manly expectations. At least one boy found a reason to leave the Boy Scout event early. I don't know his reason, other than that he hadn't looked forward to it in the first place, and wasn't enjoying it. Some boys prefer a quieter day. Some would rather be home with their x-boxes, or their backyard soccer game, or the tv.

But my boy? Oh, he thrived. A boy who can be so lazy at home just dove into the work. Now of course it was fun. But a lot of it was hard. And it was expected of him by all the boys and men around him.

Now I need to find an event that blends the two: manly activities taught in an atmosphere permeated with teaching about the love of God and the sacrifice of Jesus. Maybe a summer camp?

*OK, meal is defined loosely here. A hamburger wrapped in foil and cooked on the grill. Steamed, actually. Ick. But, you know, he wouldn't starve.

Friday, February 01, 2008

My semi-annual Valentine blues post

Two years ago around this time I blogged about my dislike of the notion of boys over a certain age exchanging valentines. Last year I didn't have anything new to say so I didn't bother. I guess this year I don't have much new to say, except, here I am in a new state with a new homeschool group and... here it is again! The random valentine exchange!

I had really hoped that this wouldn't even come up this year. This homeschool group is bigger, and includes a slightly older crowd than my previous group. My boy is now 10 1/2 years old - sorry to anyone who disagrees, but I think this is way too old for boys to be exchanging valentines. I consider my son a young man now, and men don't exchange valentines!

Of course I have other quibbles. We are pretty new to this homeschool group, but we have participated in a lot of events so we know quite a few people. But when I checked the list of attendees for this shindig, I saw that of the 30-odd kids attending, we know only about 1/2. To highlight the randomness of it all - on the list kids with ambiguous names were identified as boy or girl so when kids prepared their valentines they would at least know if they should give a Pirates of the Caribbean card, or an Angelina Ballerina. Or something like that.

I did ask my kids if they wanted to go, since the venue is fun and a place they don't go to often enough (for their taste, not mine). They were horrified at the thought. So my conscience is clear.

Really, it shouldn't bother me so much when homeschoolers do these schoolish things that make no sense. I assume it's because the moms have fond memories of valentine exchanges in school. I bet if the dads were organizing things, they would not even think to have a valentine party.

One friend from "back home" told me she disagreed with me on this. She felt (probably still feels) that this is a nice way for kids to show others they are thinking about them. Fair enough. But how much thinking are they doing about a kid they don't even know?