Thursday, June 27, 2013

In Defense of Men

Over the last few months, I have heard and seen several things that have bothered me. Here are a few of them, the first five that come to mind:

  • On Facebook, I saw a male friend asking for recommendations for a new pediatric dentist. His reason for leaving his kids’ current dentist: He had not been allowed to make an appointment for his child, because “mothers should make appointments, not fathers.”

  • Also on Facebook, I’ve seen several memes regarding husbands, fathers, and men in general. I suppose they’re funny if you agree with the underlying premise that men are incapable dolts who have life easy … but if you don’t, they fall into the same category as jokes that make fun of people of different races, different religions, or different hair colors (I’m thinking blonde jokes)—you know, the ones that get you tarred and feathered for being offensive. Here are some examples:

Misandric Facebook Memes

  • Over Father’s Day weekend, I heard a chorus of well wishes for fathers … and also for single mothers, because they act as both father and mother to their children. Over Mother’s Day weekend, I heard not a word about fathers, single or otherwise.

  • In a conversation with a man who married, had a son, divorced, was a single father with custody (I believe), re-married, and now is happily married with multiple children, he expressed dread at the thought of watching the movie Courageous, widely acclaimed in Christian circles for its portrayal of husbands and fathers. His reason: when he was a single father, he experienced firsthand our society’s disdain for fathers and worship of mothers.  It was just as bad, if not worse, in the church as in society at large. I'm not sure that he mentioned the movie Fireproof, produced by the same church, but he could have, as it portrays pretty well the view that all problems in marriage are the husband's fault, regardless of the wife's behavior.

  • At church, I listened to a sermon on authority and how we should submit to proper authority whether we want to or not, because “there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Romans 13:1, ESV). The speaker talked about how we should submit to the government, whether we want to or not (Titus 3:1). The speaker talked about how we should submit to our supervisors at work, whether we want to or not (Ephesians 6:5-7). When it comes to submission within the family, however, there was no mention of wives submitting to husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24) or of children submitting to parents (Ephesians 6:1-3) except to lay the groundwork for talking about men’s obligation to love their wives as Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25-28), which they are required to do perfectly enough that wives and children always will want to submit to them (???*).

I’m well aware that to the majority of people, only the first item in the list above is a problem. But do you see the pattern that I see? There is a general attitude of disrespect for men, and not just for specific men who have earned disrespect. Men seem to be disrespected unless and until they earn respect; meanwhile, it is assumed that women should be respected unless and until they prove otherwise, and they may well be considered deserving of respect even after they prove otherwise. This problem exists even in the place where I, for one, would have least expected it: the church. In fact, in my interactions with believers and non-believers, it seems that Christian women often show less respect for their husbands than do non-Christian women—but because they deliver their scathing criticisms with a joking smile, or in the guise of a prayer request, it’s perceived as perfectly acceptable. Christian men often do no better: they send “man up” messages that indicate that if only men were man enough, good enough, godly enough, then their wives would respect them. It’s the men’s fault, you see; if they aren’t respected, it’s because they haven’t earned it … but try treating a woman with disrespect until she earns something better. There’s a double standard here, and this one works in women’s favor.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about this trend is that people don’t notice it. The speaker at church didn’t even seem to notice that he placed unattainable leadership burdens on men while removing obligations from women. People don’t think twice about the little girl wearing a t-shirt that proclaims “Girls rule; boys drool!” or “Anything boys can do, girls can do better!” But change the genders on those shirts, and you’d have widespread outrage. When it’s come up in conversation and I’ve stated that Alexa is not allowed to wear shirts with this type of statement on them, I can predict the reactions: Almost all women and many men—almost all men if there are women other than me in earshot—look at me as if I’m crazy. Why in the world wouldn’t I want Alexa to absorb such empowering messages? But when I’m the only woman around … often, the men simply say “Thank you.”

Before we left Cambodia, a friend wrote me a very sweet note expressing her friendship and her appreciation for me. At one point, after acknowledging that this nomadic life can be difficult for me, she wrote: “But you speak, always, so highly of your husband, I never hear you complain, and I really admire how much of a team player you are with Jeff and his career.” It struck me then … I also never heard her complain about her husband, despite the difficulties she was facing as they entered the life of overseas missionaries, and many of my other friends there didn't either. Some did, one badly enough that even Jeff, who rarely saw her, noticed and took offense on behalf of her henpecked husband. But most didn’t. And yet, having grown up in the United States, surrounded by the influences there, it doesn't seem normal to us for women to refrain from complaining about their husbands. We were enmeshed in a small, self-selected community in which most of the women treated their husbands respectfully, and yet it remained noteworthy. Over the course of our lives, it has been rare for a woman not to complain about her husband, to make a conscious decision to share his strengths and help cover over his difficulties, to support his career; it has been rare enough that it was noted, even in a subgroup where it's much more common. Those things aren’t an incredible level of respect—those are the bare minimum courtesies that we should give each other if we claim to have any respect for each other at all.

I used to think it was funny to hear and read stories of the stupid things men did. Now I think about the men themselves—do they think it’s funny? Would they share those stories themselves? If Jeff gave me stories like that about himself, I wouldn't share them. None of us deserve to have our dirty laundry aired in front of the world, to experience that humiliation of knowing that all our friends know about our poor decisions or our incompetence at certain tasks. Yet women share these stories about their husbands all the time, and the world cheers them on.**

I used to sympathize with women who had such large problems with their husbands that they regularly shared prayer requests—full of information about his failings—with anyone who would listen, sometimes with an entire Sunday school class or even an entire congregation. Now, I more often sympathize with their husbands. Please don’t misunderstand; I do believe that it can be appropriate at times to request prayer for difficulties involving a spouse, but those situations should be handled carefully and discreetly, with specific prayer requested only from a single good friend who can keep it quiet and who generally is supportive of the marriage and of both spouses, or only from a pastor or other church leader. I’m a fan of the unspoken prayer request if more prayer support is needed.

I guess what it comes down to, simply, is that men deserve respect too. Men are capable human beings too. Men and women on average have different strengths and weaknesses, with significant individual variation, but just as we women don’t want men to judge us by our weaknesses, we shouldn’t judge them by theirs. Just as we don’t want humiliating stories about us shared with the world, we shouldn’t share humiliating stories about them. Just as we don’t want men to make fun of us, to criticize us publicly, or to make disparaging remarks about women in general, we shouldn’t do those things to men either.

Our society as a whole is hard to change for the better. It’s hard for any one normal, everyday person to change the way men are portrayed in movies and TV shows. It’s hard for any one normal, everyday person to remove the misandric messages from t shirts, Facebook memes, and cartoons marketed toward young girls. It’s not only hard; it’s impossible for one normal, everyday person to change those things.

But it is possible for one normal, everyday person to change his or her own life and sphere of influence. It is possible, and even relatively easy, for one person to refuse to watch movies and TV shows that portray men as incompetent buffoons. It is possible to refuse to buy misandric t shirts, to refuse to share or like misandric Facebook memes, to refuse to allow children to watch misandric cartoons. And it is possible—and crucial—for one person to change the way he or she speaks about and to men in general and the specific men in his or her life.

I know I’ve talked mostly to and about Christians in this post, and I haven’t said half of what’s been swirling around in my head for the last several months. But, please … whether or not you’re a Christian, whether or not you believe that wives should submit to their husbands, whether or not you’re a feminist … please, think about the words you say, the actions you take, and the products you purchase. Do you really believe the often unspoken premise? 

Think of the men you know—are they really incompetent buffoons? If they aren’t, don’t watch that sitcom that portrays them that way, and don't share that misandric cartoon or joke.

Ladies, think of your husband—is he really such a fool? And if he is, do you really want to broadcast it, because how does it reflect on you that you chose to marry a fool? If he isn’t, or you don’t, then don’t post that Facebook status telling the world about the stupid thing he just did, and don't tell your friends about his failings. Protect his dignity; it’s your dignity, too.

Pastors, think of the men in your congregation—are they really doing such a terrible job as husbands and fathers that they need you to heap more condemnation on them (even if it is in the form of “encouragement and tips on how to do better”) than they already get from society and maybe even from their wives? If they aren’t doing such a horrible job, then maybe you could try telling them what they’re doing right, the same way you tell women what they’re doing right, and maybe you could help both men and women by telling both men and women what they could do better.

Think about your words and your actions. Think about the beliefs that underlie them. And if those underlying beliefs are ones that you wouldn’t openly admit that you hold, then reconsider those words and those actions that flow from them. If you wouldn’t stand on a street corner and announce that your husband is an idiot, that all men are imbeciles, or that men are worth less than the paychecks they bring in, then please, don’t announce it in less direct ways either.

*The speaker seemed to think that this idea—that wives and children always will want to submit to a husband and father who is a good leader—flows directly from the instructions to men in Ephesians 5:25-28. I’m not sure where he came up with that fallacy. Ephesians instructs men to love their wives as Christ loves the church; Christ is to be their example. But when you look at the example of Christ and the church, you see that despite Christ’s perfection—which extends to His role as leader; He’s the perfect leader—we as Christians do not always want to submit to His will, even though His will always is the best thing for us and even though we are commanded to submit. If Christ’s perfect leadership isn’t good enough to make us always want to submit to Him, then it’s pretty clear that the quality of the leadership isn’t the problem—we just don’t want to submit, period. Wives are commanded to submit to their husbands, with no escape clause in case he isn’t a good leader; that’s why I advise women to be very careful whom they marry and to be sure that they’re willing to submit to their future husbands before they become wives. (I know that many of my readers, Christian or not, do not believe in wifely submission. If you are not a Christian, I fully expect you to disregard this advice, even though a Captain-First Officer model of marriage also works very well for non-religious couples. If you are a Christian and do not believe in wifely submission, or believe in a pretense of it in which the wife is required to submit only when the husband is leading her where she wants to go, then ... I'm at a loss, as the Bible is very clear and explicit in this command.)

**I'm not a complete killjoy; I do recognize that there are some hilarious stories that the men themselves are willing to share, and of course I don't object to the men sharing them, or to their wives sharing them with the husband's approval.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Our New Adventure: Choosing a Homeschool Curriculum

When I first started reading about homeschooling on blogs, there was one curriculum that seemed to be incredibly popular. Over the years as I’ve continued reading about homeschooling, that same curriculum keeps coming up. In Cambodia, I even met two moms who use the curriculum and love it. So of course it was one of the first ones that I looked at when we decided to homeschool Alexa for preschool. Despite all the positive things I’d heard about it, however, I had some reservations, so I decided to see what else was out there as well. Within the space of about 15 minutes, I had tabs open on my internet browser for seven curricula, ranging in price from free (assuming access to a public library) to $549. One was completely online. Two were literature-based. One was classical. One was kind of eclectic but had strong Montessori elements. Most were Christian, but not all. I quickly realized that I needed to talk to Jeff and clarify what type of curriculum we were interested in—every one of the seven had something going for it that would make it perfect if we were interested in that educational style or philosophy.

We first agreed that we don’t want something that is entirely online, despite the convenience. We don't want Alexa glued to electronics any more than she already is. Goodbye,, at a cost of $79 per year.

Then we agreed that although we both love reading and want Alexa to love it as well, we don’t want a curriculum that is primarily literature-based. We actually like the idea of textbooks and workbooks—maybe not so much textbooks at this age, but workbooks now and both textbooks and workbooks when she’s older. This elimination was difficult for me, because one of the literature-based curricula, Sonlight,  is that curriculum to which I referred in the first paragraph—the one about which I’ve heard such glowing reviews, the one that’s having such great results for people I’ve met in person and through blogs, the one provided by a company that consists of such amazingly caring people. I want to want to use a Sonlight curriculum (despite the fact that I can’t seem to type its name without first typing “Songlight” and then fixing the typo). But it just isn’t a good fit for us. Their preschool curriculum ($285) consists almost exclusively of storybooks and compilations of fairy tales or other literature, along with a parents’ guide that reviews say mostly is a list of the books in the order in which children are developmentally most able to appreciate them. There doesn’t seem to be the pre-math, pre-reading, or tactile skills that we want the curriculum to help us develop in Alexa. So, unfortunately, despite my predisposition to like the curriculum, and despite my true desire to expose Alexa to that literature, Sonlight had to go.

It also was at this point that we eliminated another popular homeschool option, A Beka. I believed it was primarily literature-based as well, as that was how a review described it, and I wasn’t looking carefully for reasons to keep curricula in our options list at that point; I was looking for reasons to close the tab. In reviewing the website again for this post, however, it looks like maybe A Beka shouldn’t have been eliminated at this phase for this reason. Looking at it more closely, they seem to have a preschool Bible-only curriculum kit ($233) or a purchase-each-item-separately complete preschool curriculum with supporting materials ($293). Rightly or wrongly, however, A Beka was eliminated at this point, and looking at it again now, we may re-evaluate it at a later time, but I think that, for now, we still prefer the one we chose.

Then we looked at the free options—free meaning that the curriculum itself is available online at no charge. Those are great resources … if you have access to a library. One of the free ones listed almost 200 books that were recommended to be read along with the curriculum—and although you could choose just one book with each unit instead (for a total of 26 books), that’s still a lot of books to look through and decide which ones to purchase online and have shipped here. If we had access to a library, it would be no problem. I’d just check out as many of them for each week as the library had, and I could decide on a weekly basis which one or ones to read to Alexa. That doesn’t work so well, though, when you have to buy them in order to read them. For this initial foray into homeschooling, we really just want to buy a package that includes all the necessary materials and that does not require me to spend a lot of time reviewing lesson plans or collecting materials. So, reluctantly, goodbye, Letter of the Week and ABC Jesus Loves Me.

That round of eliminations left us with four options from three publishers … and other than the two from the same publisher, they couldn’t have been more different.

One choice, the one that came to mind immediately after Sonlight, was Calvert School. Calvert School was the only completely secular option we considered. We first heard about Calvert because it’s a homeschool curriculum that often is used among Foreign Service families who decide to homeschool for a time because the educational options at a given post don’t work well for their family; I've seen reviews from Foreign Service parents who happily state that "it's like school, but at home." Calvert is a well-known, highly-respected, private school in Maryland that provides a classical education for children up to the eighth grade; its homeschool curriculum is used by people all over the world, and even is provided as a free public education option in several American states. The Pre-K curriculum, including all supporting materials, costs $380, though the price goes up dramatically for kindergarten.

The budget-friendly choice was published by Heart of Dakota, whose Little Hands to Heaven curriculum is appropriate for ages 2-5 years and costs $45 just for the curriculum. If you purchase it that way, you must own or acquire a few books and CDs separately, or alternatively, you can order a set that includes the curriculum, one of two recommended children’s Bibles, one of two recommended children’s devotionals, and a set of 4 music CDs, all for right around $80, not including shipping (the price varies slightly based on which Bible and devotional book you choose). This curriculum has the benefit of being the most Bible-centered of the four we were still considering. It’s also pretty simple, taking only 30 minutes a day to teach all the basic topics you’d expect in a preschool curriculum, plus Bible stories. It’s ready to use straight from the box, though the art projects do require supplies that people are likely to have on hand or be able to find easily, at least in the States.

The third and fourth options, both from multiple publishers and put together as complete curricula with a “scheduling helps” book by Timberdoodle, were a bolt from the blue for us. The sets are very similar to each other, except that one is a preschool curriculum appropriate for ages 2-3 and the other is a Pre-K curriculum appropriate for ages 3-4. As Alexa will be in the overlap age, we looked at both sets. Each set had three options—Basic, Complete, and Elite—with prices ranging from $219 to $549, making this potentially the most expensive option we considered. Timberdoodle is a Christian-run company, and the curriculum packages for older grades include explicitly Christian material. That advantage was minimized, however, by the lack of Bible resources in the preschool and Pre-K curricula. I’m not certain what educational philosophy is best exemplified by these curricula, but for right now, I’ll go with eclectic with a bit of Montessori  mixed in, as much of the learning occurs in hands-on ways. However, there are several workbooks, too, with titles such as Language Lessons for Little Ones, Mathematical Reasoning, and Building Thinking Skills. The curriculum descriptions state that they “stress critical thinking skills and, even at this early grade, work towards independent learning.” This approach definitely is not classical, as the classical approach to education emphasizes mostly the acquisition of facts in the early years; this approach assumes that the child can do more. When looking at these curricula, I quickly eliminated the Pre-K one, because many of its titles are meant to be used after the ones in the preschool curriculum—Language Lessons for Little Ones 2 is in the PreK set, for example, whereas Language Lessons for Little Ones 1 is in the preschool set. But I was intrigued by the preschool curriculum.

Jeff and I fairly quickly made one decision. We very much wanted the Bible stories and lessons that are included as part of the Little Hands curriculum. However, we also very much wanted more in-depth academics than we would get in this 30-minute-a-day curriculum (this judgment was verified when we looked at the sample lesson plans available on the website). Luckily, Little Hands is relatively inexpensive. So we ordered it. Our original intent was to use it as a supplement in order to add Bible stories and songs to the more academic curriculum yet to be chosen, though I predicted that I’d use the whole curriculum, since even the letter-learning activities revolve around the Bible stories.

The next decision felt monumental, though I comfort myself by saying that this is only preschool, and she’ll only be three years old; if I do this wrong, there’s plenty of time to fix it later. Our next decision was the choice of our primary curriculum.

Calvert felt like the safe choice. It’s endorsed by several state governments, because if the educational authorities in those states didn’t think it was good, it wouldn’t be offered as a state-provided option. The Department of State refuses to recommend any specific curriculum, but it’s pretty clear that Calvert is blessed by those in authority in the office that deals with the educational benefits for Foreign Service children. It’s a classical curriculum, and classical education is blessed by history and makes a lot of sense to me. And despite what my parents would say, my natural tendency is to submit to authority and to respect the judgment of authority figures, unless I have very good reason to do otherwise. It would have been so easy to choose Calvert. But we didn’t.

(As a side note, now that I've reviewed A Beka more thoroughly, I realize that it should have been the curriculum to which we were comparing Timberdoodle; it would be a better option for us than Calvert. It seems more academically challenging, and although the website never says that they use a classical model of education, their materials do seem to lean that way. They also are explicitly Christian, which we prefer. After reviewing their website again, Jeff and I have decided not to revise the choice we made for this year, but if we decide after a year or two to switch to a more traditional model of education, A Beka will get a very close look.)

Despite going into this decision believing that I wanted a classical education for Alexa, I was drawn to the Timberdoodle curriculum. I don’t want to teach Alexa just facts. I want to help her learn to think critically. That’s really what it came down to. And it helped that Calvert boasted that at the end of the year, students would be able to “recognize and write the numbers 1 through 10,” expectations that just seem too low to me, especially in a program designed for children a year older than Alexa. So we chose Timberdoodle. We aren’t sure yet which package we’ll order—I know I want almost all the items included in the Basic package, and several of the ones in the Complete package. I’m not sure if I want those Complete items enough to pay the extra cost, though, since I think we’d do just fine with the Basic kit. As for the Elite package, well, as much as Alexa would enjoy it, I’m not paying that much money to add several more toys—educational or not—to our collection, even if one of them is a super-cute, looks like super-fun, sit-n-bounce Wahoo Puppy (that has no weight limit—so even adults can play!).

We did make one additional choice, however. We’ve ordered the Little Hands to Heaven curriculum. We are not going to order the Timberdoodle one just yet. Little Hands should be here, waiting for us, when we return from home leave. We intend to start using it immediately upon our return. We’ll use it both to teach Bible stories to Alexa and also as a test to see how she does with a short, structured, daily school time. If she does well, as we expect, then we’ll order the Timberdoodle curriculum soon thereafter, adding it to her daily school time when it arrives. If its delayed arrival means that we don’t start our primary curriculum at the same time when the traditional academic school year begins, then so be it—that’s one of the benefits of homeschooling; we have as much flexibility as we want, and there is no requirement to begin or finish the year when traditional schools do. If, however, Alexa struggles with 30 minutes a day of school, then we may choose to wait longer before we order a more expensive curriculum.

Our new adventure is in the works. Late this summer, we’ll start a structured preschool curriculum consisting mostly of Bible education: Little Hands to Heaven, published by Heart of Dakota. If that goes well, then early this fall, we’ll add the preschool curriculum compiled by Timberdoodle. Alexa will add the role of “student” to her life, and I’ll add the role of “homeschool teacher” to mine. Look for updates sometime in the next several months …

Lest anyone misread this post and believe that decisions at any point were made unilaterally by the First Officer, please be aware that the Captain was involved in and approved of every step of this decision-making process.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Our New Adventure

In just under three weeks, we will celebrate Alexa’s third birthday.

In the last three years, I have watched her grow from a helpless infant—so helpless that she required a little assistance even to get enough oxygen into her lungs at first—into an active little girl. She loves running around, jumping on her bed (though only when she thinks I don’t know), going to the playground, and zooming around on her ride-on giraffe. She also loves being read books, especially Curious George books; looking at books on her own; and playing games on her Daddy’s iPad—including but not limited to the educational Curious George games that teach her phonics and all sorts of random facts about various animals.

Several times over the last few months, I’ve thought about what we need to do to encourage and develop the love of learning that Alexa, like so many other children her age, perceives as so natural. This past weekend, I finally thought about it at a time when I was with Jeff, so we could discuss it.

As I see it, we have three options: send her to preschool; continue as we have been with unstructured play at home, which often turns into me teaching Alexa informally or into Alexa playing educational iPad games or watching educational movies; or keep Alexa at home, but use a planned curriculum so that for part of the day, she “attends” preschool at home.

The most common option among Foreign Service families, and indeed among families in the United States in general so far as I can tell, is to send children of this age “out” for preschool. There definitely are benefits to this approach. For families in which both parents work outside the home, this option makes the most sense and often is the only option that even occurs to them—many daycares function as de facto preschools, as they start teaching, telling stories to, and singing with the kids well before the age of three. This option also provides the most opportunities for children to socialize with other children, and for Foreign Service families, it’s an easy way to expose children to the local language and the local culture—even if the instruction is provided in English (as it usually is for the preschools chosen by Foreign Service parents), it’s very common for most of the children to use the local language in their play. However, it’s also the most expensive option—a preschool that is used by many expatriates in Pristina has a flyer (from five years ago) which lists annual tuition and fees of over 2,400 euro, or over $3,000, which can be a strain on the budget when you’re a single-income family that is trying hard to save money for future needs (such as a house, a child’s college, retirement, replacement cars, and anticipated trips back home to the States). And for a child with high social anxiety, like Alexa, the many opportunities (or requirements) for social interaction may be more of a problem than a benefit.

The second most common option (I’m guessing, but I think I’m right) is to keep the child at home and allow things to continue as they have been until the child is old enough for “real” school. This option is the most budget-friendly and easiest for families in which one parent stays home full-time. And it’s really all that’s needed in regard to school preparation for most children who do not live in poverty and who have loving, attentive parents. Just by doing what we’ve been doing, with no concerted effort at education, Alexa has learned her numbers to 20 (though she often skips a number or two, most often “16” lately), most of her letters, and a lot of her shapes and colors (though she tends to confuse “black” and “brown”), as well as miscellaneous things like left or right and top or bottom. She also navigates the menus on her Daddy’s iPad at least as well as I do and knows how to play the games on there much better than I do. I’d say she’s pretty well prepared, in a purely academic or intellectual sense, if we wanted to start her into kindergarten next year. But there’s more to education than these facts that she’s picked up; although we’re doing well at preparing Alexa at home in an academic sense, we are not doing as well in other areas. I’ve not done a good job in teaching Alexa Bible stories, and we don’t have age-segregated Sunday school to help me. Alexa has not held a pair of scissors, a glue stick, or a bottle of liquid glue. Her experience with pens, pencils, and even crayons is a bit limited—she still wants me to “help” her draw rather than doing it herself, and her ability to draw a straight line, much less trace a letter, is suspect. And these are only the things I realize she hasn’t learned. I don’t want her to miss out on things she could and should learn because I don’t naturally do things with her that would teach her that information or those skills. Also, as Jeff pointed out, we never want to give Alexa the impression that she’s learned enough for her age or developmental level, that she can stop learning until she hits a new milestone, at which point she’s expected to learn more. But to constantly teach her age-appropriate skills and information … to never be at a loss for what to teach her next … to have to remember all on my own all those songs and stories and skills that children her age seem to pick up in preschool … well. It feels a bit overwhelming.

And that brings us to option number three, the least commonly chosen choice: the decision to homeschool a preschool curriculum. This choice is the compromise between the other two in many ways. It’s less expensive than sending a child “out” for preschool, and it can be free if you use online resources, have access to a good public library (we don’t), and are willing to put in a lot of work getting organized (I’d rather not). Opportunities and requirements for social interaction are determined by the parents much as they were before formal schoolwork started; church, playgroups, and other social activities continue to provide that. The parent continues to teach his or her own child, but there’s a plan in place—developed by the parents, or developed by someone else and chosen by the parents—to make sure the child learns what the parent believes is important. Drawbacks also are a combination of the other two choices: it can be expensive (though even the most expensive option I’ve seen costs significantly less than the international preschool here). If the parent doesn’t arrange social interactions with similarly aged children, they don’t happen. And the responsibility for educating the child still lies squarely with the parent, so it can feel a bit overwhelming. In some ways, the responsibility can feel more overwhelming, simply because there are so many choices of curriculum, so many things to consider. How many parents of preschoolers have thought through their educational philosophy? How many know the differences among various models of education? How many even feel competent to begin formally (or informally, depending on philosophy) educating their child?

As you’ve probably guessed by now, we chose option number three. It’s the option that is the most work for me, the stay-at-home parent. It’s the option that my naturally lazy self would just as soon avoid—honestly, the easiest for me would be to send her out to preschool, even with the adjustments that would be required in other areas of our budget. But that wouldn’t be best for her. Despite her acquisition of information and skills, Alexa is a young three (well, a young almost-three). She isn’t ready to be away from me all day, or even all morning. She isn’t ready to spend all morning with a group of other kids, required to interact with them, or with a stranger for a teacher and caregiver. I could make the case for why it would be good for her to force her into these social situations, but I don’t honestly believe it. I believe that forcing her to be more social than she’s ready to be would cause her more anxiety and make the problem worse in the long run. So I intend to take her to one or two playgroups a week, and take or send her to Sunday school (assuming she doesn’t fall asleep and nap during that time). And I’ll make an effort to find a friend or two near her age, or maybe a year older, with whom she can spend a little one-on-one time and maybe get comfortable. But I’m not going to force her into social situations without me being there to be her safe haven.

It also would not be best for her to continue as we have been, without any forethought or planning when it comes to her learning. She’s learned a lot this way, but that only reinforces my belief that I need to make more learning opportunities available for her. I often start to teach her something one day, then forget about it until she mentions it a day, week, or month later—even when I do realize that there’s something specific and age-appropriate that I can teach her, I’m not good at the follow-through without a plan. Her learning to this point has been almost entirely self-motivated, which is good, but a lot of it has happened because we had the appropriate tools available: an alphabet puzzle, Curious George Learns the Alphabet, several Leapfrog alphabet-oriented movies on Netflix, for example, and she enjoyed them and just learned her letters. But it’s been haphazard, and for much of what I want her to learn now, I don’t know what materials I can have in order to stimulate her interest. If I have a prepared curriculum that I can go through with her, and if she enjoys “school time” as much as I think she will, then I’ll have a guide in how to introduce and teach the lessons I want her to learn.

Combine both of those sets of reasons—her unreadiness to go “out” to school and our desire for her to have more planned learning activities—and there’s a good case for a homeschool preschool. Then add in our openness to the idea of homeschooling, which started for me before Alexa was born, and Jeff’s slowly-growing-over-the-years preference (not mere openness, but preference) for the idea of homeschooling over the idea of sending her out to school, and there you have it. This is the choice we’ve been heading toward for years. Then it was just time to pick or develop a curriculum … and that’s the subject of another blog post.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Still Here

It’s been two weeks since I last published anything. That’s not a long time when you look at my posting history—I may post every day at some times, but it’s also not all that unusual for me to go a month without posting anything. I think it just feels like longer than usual to me because I actually do have several blog posts in my head—one even written down—and because of why I haven’t written or posted them.

My last post was published just a few days after the arrival of our HHE. I spent the next week in a flurry of boxes, paper, packing tape, knives … unpacking at a feverish pace, hoping to have it all done, organized, and put away before we go to the States for home leave later this summer. I made great progress that week, getting most of the house into a livable state, though most of the drawers are stuffed with items that don’t belong there, the closets are empty or have a few random items that may or may not stay there long term, the cats’ room is still an obstacle course of random objects that I swear reach out to grab my feet as I walk by, and the basement is still full of full boxes. That’s not counting the living room, which stayed full of boxes until just a few days ago, when the newly-ordered cables and connectors and other electronic components arrived so that it made sense for Jeff to take the pieces of our home entertainment system out of their protective boxes and start setting them up. (There are still a couple of boxes in there, and we’re still using the smaller TV that eventually will go into the playroom, as I think we’re still waiting on some more components to arrive before Jeff can get it fully operational … and we need the guy who keeps postponing to come install the AFN satellite dish already.) So that week was very busy, to say the least.

Saturday was busy, too, though not with unpacking. One of Jeff’s coworkers had left for R&R in the States, and unlike our other offices, this office is staffed with exactly as many people as are required to get the job done—no extras, no room for someone to leave for a while and everyone else to be a little busy but ok until the missing coworker comes back, no margin. Everyone is needed at all times. When one goes away, a temporary replacement (known as a TDYer, or "Temporary Duty-er") needs to come in, or it’s complete insanity for whoever’s still there. So one had left, and one had come in. And of course, although we can’t really help that the TDYer stays in a hotel alone, without his family, and eats most dinners alone, without his family, we can at least offer him a chance to spend some time in our home and eat a home-cooked meal with our family on the weekend. (We would have welcomed him during the week, too, but he was working later, and with a little one, holding dinner is not an option.) So Saturday I made a supermarket run, tried with predictably limited success to make our “just moving in” house look a little less “just moving in,” and then cooked dinner for the first time in a week—we’d been ordering all week so that I didn’t have to reserve any of my time or energy for cooking, as Jeff had been unable to take time off work to help with the unpacking, and we both wanted all my efforts there.

Sunday the bottom fell out from under me. I’d been fighting off some minor cold symptoms all week—“I do NOT have time to be sick; you’ll just have to get over it,” I told my body—and my body decided it was time to show me who was boss. Overnight, my minor cold became a not-major-but-I-need-to-rest cold. One more night and there were silent tears streaming down my face as I sat in a chair, contemplating the energy required to get up and walk across the room to the table where Alexa was eating breakfast and considering how I was going to find the energy to care for her while Jeff went in to the office—no margin there means no ability to just call in and say that he’s staying home today to care for his daughter and his sick wife. There were a few things he absolutely had to get done that day, and he promised to come home as early as he could.

Monday morning was spent on the couch, trying to stay awake while I allowed Alexa to simultaneously watch Netflix cartoons on the TV and play Curious George, Mickey Mouse, Angry Birds, Singing Monsters, or any other game she wanted on Daddy’s iPad. Jeff came home around noon, and I stumbled my way through Alexa’s naptime routine, then stumbled up the stairs to my own bed, leaving the afternoon’s contingent of plumbers (who needed to fix leaky pipes and a disconnected dryer vent) for Jeff to handle. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Jeff stayed home in the mornings to let me sleep—the best medicine ever invented for what by then was a raging chest cold—then went to work after I’d woken up and showered, usually just in time for me to put Alexa down for a nap and then expend what little energy I had unpacking a box or two, doing a load of laundry, and finally collapsing in front of the computer for a daily email/Facebook/blog check. Thursday was harder, as Jeff had to spend the whole day in the office and theoretically I was recovered enough to get up early. By Friday I was feeling much better, though I still tired easily and I still cough as if I have the plague.

Unfortunately, on Thursday, I started noticing symptoms in Alexa. It wasn’t too major at that point, but she was more tired and fussy than usual, she sounded congested, and her nose required wiping much more often than usual. When her nap was interrupted repeatedly by coughing, I got concerned about our lack of children’s medicine—we gave away what we had before we left Cambodia, as the expiration dates had passed or would pass soon; we intended to restock our supplies during home leave, and since Alexa had never required anything more than an acetaminophen, we felt pretty safe being supply-less for a couple of months … but on Thursday, I started missing those supplies. I contacted Jeff, and Jeff contacted the health unit in hopes of getting recommendations for locally available medicines that are safe and effective (medications overseas can be hit or miss). They did us one better, telling us to bring Alexa in so they could check her out, and then they’d give us what was necessary.

Accordingly, Alexa and I took a trip to the embassy late Thursday afternoon. Our practitioner checked Alexa’s ears and lungs (all clear), weighed her so that we could get accurate dosing information, and provided me with full-size bottles of children’s Claritin, a children’s decongestant, and a generic form of children’s Benadryl, with strict instructions to use the latter only if it got really bad. For good measure, she also gave us some fluoride tablets for Alexa and an expectorant for me … I think she wanted to listen to my lungs and check me out, too, after hearing my cough, but since I told her that I was recovering, she contented herself with giving me the meds.

Since then, things have just kind of drifted along. I’ve been doing what housework I feel capable of doing—meaning I cleaned the floors for the first time in two weeks, cleaned the bathrooms, did a little ironing, and unpacked a few boxes from the basement. Jeff has worked at work and worked at home, helping me in the basement and setting up the home entertainment system as much as he can without the remainder of the supplies—all the while trying to fight off what may be the beginnings of a bad cold of his own. Alexa definitely has a cold, which seems to be an annoyance to her during the day, when she tries to play normally, and a real problem during naptime and at night, when the congestion and coughing interrupt her sleep. We give her the antihistamine at night, as well as the fluoride she’ll be taking from here on out other than when we’re in the States, and we tried the decongestant once, but it seemed to make her hyper, so we’re trying not to give her that one again. We hosted our TDYer for ordered pizza and a movie Friday, and we made a trip to Camp Bondsteel to restock our frozen meat supplies on Saturday. Yesterday we just stayed home—we decided against spreading our germs at church.

This weekend I asked Jeff about his thoughts regarding preschool for Alexa; after all, she’ll turn three soon, and if we’re going to do preschool, it’s time to be thinking about it. We made a couple of decisions about that, which I’ll share in a separate blog post. I did write another blog post, on one of those afternoons when I was too tired to work but not too tired to type. I haven’t published it yet because I’m not completely sure about it … I’m not sure I’m happy with it, and even if I decide that I am, it touches on some issues that we may choose not to share on the blog. Nothing really personal—I think I’ve been more vulnerable and open here in that regard than we ever expected, but we’re ok with that—but more that the whole post is based on a comment made by someone else, and we aren’t sure if sharing that comment publicly could cause problems for that person or her family, and we can’t just ask her for reasons that I can’t get into. Jeff and I both are still thinking the whole issue through … and although I want to share the post, or rewrite until I’m happy with it and then share it, I have a feeling we may choose not to. I do have several other posts in my head, though, that I had hoped to share before we go on home leave. I’m beginning to doubt that I’ll write them in time, though, just as my dream of returning from home leave to a completely unpacked, organized, pictures-on-the-walls house is fading away.

So, we’re still here. Trying to get unpacked and settled. Fighting off, fighting through, or recovering from illnesses that are minor in the grand scheme of things but that feel like a pretty big deal at the time. Contemplating the sorry state of the house after two weeks of minimal to no cleaning, and trying to get up the energy to do something about that. Preparing for home leave, and for Alexa’s birthday celebration at the start of it, and for our Consumables packout at the end of it. Making and beginning to implement decisions about Alexa’s earliest formal education. Hoping to get blog posts written before they fade away into the shadows of missed opportunity.

I think I may get another post or two up before we go on home leave. Not everything I want to get written, but some of it. And you shouldn’t expect to see any new posts for several weeks once we go back to the States. But, when the posts stop, just be assured, we’re still here … other than the time when we’ll be in the U. S. But we’ll be back, and I’ll be back posting again.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Be Our Guests

But bring your own chairs … and steak knives … and look out for the birds. Really. I’m not kidding.

On Memorial Day, Jeff and I hosted guests in our home for the first time since we’ve been here. We had not received our HHE yet, so we had only basic home items, but Jeff has a new grill, he wanted to try it out, we wanted to have our sponsors over, it was Memorial Day, and we knew that after that weekend, we wouldn’t be hosting anyone else until August. (Our HHE was delivered later in the week, and we are busy unpacking it, trying to get it done before we take our home leave in the United States this summer.) We figured that we have the necessities: a grill, grill utensils, a few Pyrex dishes, and some beer; we’d buy the rest of what we need—plastic plates, utensils, and cups. It shouldn’t be a problem, right?

Yeah …

It started out easily enough. Jeff put the frozen ribs down to thaw and found a recipe online for grilling them. I made a list of the ingredients I needed for the macaroni and cheese and the brownie pudding cake I was making for dessert.

Then I realized that we have seating for four on our patio, and we were inviting four people over, in addition to the three who live here. No problem. Jeff sent a text message notifying our guests that our outdoor seating options are limited, and it would be appreciated if they could be lawn chairs.

Then I got overconfident. I didn’t want to go to the supermarket on Sunday afternoon, when it was sure to be crowded. I wanted to wait until Monday morning. I’d have plenty of time if I got up at a reasonable hour and got moving instead of being lazy.

Then we had a later night than expected on Sunday. And then Jeff got a phone call around midnight and had to go in to the office for a couple of hours to fix some problem with the computers. So it really would have been unreasonable of me to expect him to get up early enough for me to make an early run to the supermarket—instead, I watched Alexa while he slept late, and then he woke himself up early enough for me to get a shower and still make it to the supermarket shortly after 10.

Then, while caring for Alexa and waiting for Jeff to wake up the morning of Memorial Day, I realized that we should have appetizers, too. It’s not really kosher to invite people over and then say that they can’t eat anything until the ribs are done, especially when you’re grilling for the first time and therefore can’t say with certainty when the ribs will be done. So I added chips to the shopping list.

Then I got ambitious. I looked through my recipe books and found one—and only one—recipe for an appetizer for which I thought I probably could get all the required ingredients: backyard bruschetta with feta and tomato toppings. I added the necessary ingredients to the list.

Then I realized that the only kitchen knives currently on the premises were two steak knives, a santoku, and a paring knife—we found out on the first day of our packout that Cambodia has a strange restriction on the transport of knives, so we couldn’t put any in our UAB; those few came with us in our suitcases. This shouldn’t be a problem; it’s a strange request, but our sponsors will understand and probably think it’s funny, so … send another text message notifying our guests that it would be helpful if they brought some steak knives, too.

Then, after I had pre-prepared the macaroni and cheese (I had cooked and assembled it, but was waiting for the appropriate time to put it in the oven) and the bruschetta (I had made the two topping layers but had not sliced or toasted the bread) and as I was getting ready to pre-prepare the dessert, I realized that Jeff’s grilling activities also required preparatory work … and dishes … in the kitchen … in the galley-style, sized-for-one-person kitchen where I needed to be. And he needed my two-cup measuring cup … which I also needed. So we bumped shoulders while he used the measuring cup to make the rib sauce and I did Step 1 of my 4-step dessert. Then he finished with the measuring cup and cleaned it out. We bumped shoulders some more while I did Step 2 (the step requiring the measuring cup) and he prepped the meat for the application of the sauce. We danced around each other collecting ingredients, used whatever work space we could find that wasn’t full of person, dishes, or supplies, and generally made a big mess.

Then, while we were still in the process of making the mess (in our wide-open-to-and-clearly-visible-from-the-dining-room/playroom/pathway-to-the-patio kitchen), it was time for our guests to arrive. Oops.

Luckily, they were a little late. I had time to add the dessert to my growing pile of ready-for-the-next-step food, do a quick clean up of the worst of the mess in the kitchen (it was still embarrassingly dirty), slice the bread, and put the bread in the oven to toast—there was no room for it on our small grill with the big rack of ribs that Jeff had on there.

Then the doorbell rang. I rushed downstairs to welcome our guests and ushered them upstairs into the play/dining room … and the open kitchen (where the bread had started burning in the two minutes I was downstairs). The kids and men went outside to play and grill, and we women went into the kitchen, where my guest took it all in stride and jumped in with the food preparation.

Finally the appetizers were ready and the macaroni was in the oven. I stepped outside—and realized that although our guests had been there for about half an hour at that point, we had neglected to offer them anything to drink (an unpardonable sin to this Southern girl), because I was caught up in kitchen work and Jeff was caught up in grill work. Oops. That situation rectified, I settled in to relax for a few minutes until it was time to pull the macaroni out of the oven, boil some water to pour over the dessert (Step 3), and then put the dessert in the oven (Step 4).

Finally, dessert in the oven, I could really settle in to relax with our guests.

Then the meat was ready, so we set up a buffet inside on the dining room table—there wasn’t nearly enough room on our small patio table. We all relaxed during the meal … although Jeff did have to get up every once in a while to baste the second rack of ribs (which turned out to be unneeded) and check the chicken (also unneeded).

After dinner, we relaxed on the patio for a while longer. Then I reminded everyone that we had dessert too. We ate all of one brownie pudding cake … a surprisingly easy, surprisingly good fudgy brownie on top of a layer of pudding, plus ice cream. Alexa had three servings (small ones). One of our adult guests had two—a welcome surprise, as I’d pegged her for a healthy eater (if a healthy eater eats two helpings of dessert, it must have been good!).

Later, when it got late enough that we were concerned about children undergoing the “it’s past my bedtime” transformation from sweet little people into little monsters, we were moving things back inside the house when Jeff came in carrying a plate of leftover bruschetta.

“I’m not sure, but … I think a bird just stole a piece of bruschetta.”

The perfect wacky ending to a not-so-perfect wacky, but highly enjoyable, time with friends.