Thursday, April 30, 2015

Homeschool Planning Thoughts after the Feast of Our Lady of Good Counsel, 2015 Edition

This is the third year I've prayed the Novena in honor of Our Lady of Good Counsel, asking specifically for wisdom and guidance as I consider our next school year.   Each year I've found this an excellent and clarifying experience, and a wonderful way to kick of the homeschool planning season.

Last year, my revelations centered around how much I had misunderstood what I had learned from my first Novena.  I didn't really discuss how I was going to move forward, largely because I didn't know at the time.  I wanted to write a post about my decisions, but it never happened.  The closest I came was this, written last November.  This year has been a tough one for me as a person, and it hasn't left much time for things like blogging.  The most relevant aspect of my reflections is that I decided to use Ambleside Online for our course of study, substituting or combining only when absolutely necessary. 

As much as I wanted to love Ambleside Online and to embrace it fully, I also had to come to terms with the fact that it is a very Protestant curriculum using some very Protestant materials.  Some books can be easily substituted wholesale.  Other books are trickier to deal with, as I consider issues of bias, the omission of factual material, and even outright erroneous statements.  I also have a BA in History, which can be frustrating when trying to work with historical materials written for children.  I know there's more to the story, and that events and motivations are being vastly simplified.  And sometimes I think the way the events are being described serves the author's agenda far more than promoting a greater understanding of the issues at hand.  

There's a fallacy that says that the closer the author is to the time period he writes about, the more true what he's writing is going to be.  So for example, Bede writing in the early 7th Century about the 5th Century will be more accurate that someone writing about that time period later.  Or Scott, writing in the early 1800's, is going to have a better idea of the 12th Century than someone writing about that time period today.  Or even that Chaucer, writing stories for people of his own day, is going to be able to accurately describe what an entire nation or class of people thought and felt at that time period.  Any piece of writing is going to have a bias - it is impossible to write as a human being and not bring some piece of yourself to what you are writing - and it is vitally important in the study of history in particular to be aware of the author's bias.  Is the author writing what he is writing because it fits his narrative of events?  Is he highlighting something about a group of people because it is a nascent component of something he holds true about those people in the author's time period?

Perhaps the best thing to say at this point is that the study of history is complicated.  We can never know what really happened, or exactly why certain people and groups of people decided to do the things they did.  And even if we read what they wrote, we don't know that they are being entirely truthful in their reflections, or that they even really understand their own motivations.  How often do I completely understand my own motivations for my actions?  

And in all this, I have to consider my children.  As children.  But also as people who are growing into adults, adults who hopefully can weigh and consider and contemplate.  I also have to consider my highest goal in our home, namely to grow our family in Wisdom and Virtue by exposing ourselves abundantly to the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.  

Does this mean I wouldn't read Ivanhoe with my children again, or Robin Hood?  Books that supposedly take place in the 12th Century, but in some ways have just as much to say about attitudes and perceptions in the 19th Century as they do about the 12th?  No, absolutely not.  But to read book after book after book with a similar bias and worldview - a worldview I find flawed and incomplete - risks my highest goal for my family.  What are we internalizing when we read work after work in that same worldview?  How can we not help but to at least partially internalize that worldview, even if it is at least somewhat at odds with Truth, Goodness, and Beauty?

And this, finally, leads me to my greatest revelation in this recent time of prayer.  Ambleside Online is not THE Charlotte Mason course of study.  It may be the 800 pound gorilla of Charlotte Mason booklists, but it is not the only way to implement Charlotte Mason's Philosophy of Education.  And while I have no intention of abandoning Ambleside Online, I do intend to abandon the perspective that to follow Ambleside Online to the letter is the only way to implement a Charlotte Mason curriculum.  That if I don't follow Ambleside Online to the T it means there is something lacking in me, or that I can't cut it as a Charlotte Mason educator.  That if I use more recent materials I am somehow diminishing my children's education.  And I know none of these perspectives are officially part of Ambleside Online, but I know they are ones that I have internalized, and ones that I feel are present in the Ambleside Online community to varying degrees.

And with this revelation, I am considering our next year in a new light.  I'm going to use the framework of Ambleside, and many of the books, but I'm going to be substituting more.  In particular, Year 8 is going to get some substantial changes.  I am also going to read through Charlotte Mason's Volume 6 again, and perhaps the Living Page again as well.  There's much to consider and contemplate, but I no longer feel anxious.  I feel like I am seeing a way forward, one that will help my family to grow in Wisdom and Virtue as we consider the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

And Sometimes the Problem is Me

When I'm dealing with these baby sleep issues, it is easy for me to look at my baby and think, "What is wrong with you?  Why won't you sleep??" but in this case I think the real problem is me.

After my blog post from last week and a "here's what you gotta do" conversation with another mom who I really respect, I realized I needed to expand my toolbox.  It is so easy for me to hunker down and think, "oh well, I guess I just have to suffer" instead of trying to figure out how to improve the situation.  I decided to buy a book I had seen mentioned last summer, one that seemed gentler than a straight cry it out approach, but hopefully more helpful than the attachment parenting type books I had read before.  (The Sleep Lady's Good Night, Sleep Tight, in case you're wondering)

I read through the first chapters and the chapter about Hannah's age group, and felt hopeful.  Finally some other tools!  Finally some different strategies!  Here was something I could try where I didn't have to just plunk her in the crib and walk away, but I also didn't have to respond to every little whimper with nursing or cuddling either.

I won't go into all the details, but in a week and a half we've gone from Hannah waking at least three or four times a night to barely waking at all.  She's napping well, and she's also happier and less fussy during the day too.  And there's been remarkably little crying, and she gets happy in the evenings when I get her ready for bed and talk about night-night with her blankies.  In just a couple nights, she slept through the night two nights in a row.  It hasn't been perfect - she didn't for the next three nights - but she did again last night.

I really feel like we've turned a corner and we're heading in the right direction.  Maybe an old dog can learn new tricks after all.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Stupid Tired

I was catching up on some financial paperwork yesterday by reconciling a couple months worth of statements from a credit card account.  I was absolutely astonished when I realized that we had almost $30 of interest charged on that account in February.  I quickly looked to make sure that I hadn't somehow missed a payment...  but no, I had paid the card on time.  I checked the following month and the previous month, and they both had on time payments, plus another $20 worth of interest paid.  What on earth did I do?  Was there some mistake?

After a little more digging, I realized that somehow I had only paid 2/3 of February's credit card balance.  We always pay our balances in full, and I always do so by clicking the "pay statement balance" button on the bank website.  How did I somehow change this amount?  How did I not notice this?

I'm noticing more and more strange things like this.  Things put in strange places, words that just can't come to mind, ending up in places in my house, holding things that don't make sense and not knowing why...  but what is far worse are the times when I blow pass the exit I was supposed to take, or miss a turn to a place I know well.  I'm trying to drive slowly and to never tailgate because I know my reaction time is not ideal... but can I guarantee that I'm always remembering to do so?  And what about those times when I find myself creeping up on the car in front of me because I've become inattentive?

Last night was a pretty average night.  I nursed Hannah, then put her in the crib at about 9:30.  She woke at about 11, then I nursed her and brought her into bed with me.  She was awake again at about 1, then 3, then 5, then up with me at 7.  She's 16 months old.  She slept better when she was four months old, and then it gradually got worse until it settled into this sort of pattern in October or November.  Some nights are better, it might only be two or three times...  but then other nights are worse.

Do you see a problem here?

I've come to realize that even though I have five children, I never really learned how to handle infant sleep.  Not that they're all the same, but my strategy has long been to suffer and wait it out.  And eventually they do learn to go to sleep alone, and to sleep through the night.  Some learned at around 16 months, and others took until 2 or even two and a half.  We're not one of those families where all the kids are in and out of bed with us all night, or up half the night asking for a glass of water.  Everyone else sleeps in their own bed and sleeps through the night without any hassles.  Everyone but the baby toddler.

But you know what?  I'm tired.  Really, really tired.  I'm not sure I have it in me to wait it out again. I'm not as young as I used to be, and maybe that's part of the problem.  But I'm also really stretched right now too, far more stretched when there were just little people around.  Right now I can go from a conversation about the probabilities of extraterrestrial life and if such life would have a soul to the latest and greatest plans for the drawbridge outside to "Mom, can I have a snack?" to "Mom, will you read me a story?" to "Ahhh!" with little arms waving in the air.

All in about three minutes.

And while I'm trying to make dinner.  I think.  At least that's what it looks like, because there are veggies everywhere and I'm holding a knife.  But I have to search my mind pretty hard to try and remember what exactly it was I was doing.  Or making.  And I've become too tired to try and focus enough to follow a recipe most nights.  I just cook by instinct.  Thankfully I've been cooking long enough that my instincts are pretty decent.  And people are still eating and complementing me on their dinners, so that's a plus.

Ages and ages ago, back when our thirteen year old was a wee little one who never wanted to nap or sleep at night, I read a lot of Dr. Sears.  And I'm starting to think that perhaps that was a mistake.  I know they had a gaggle of kids - more than me, if I remember correctly - but somehow I can't help to think that I've been led astray.  Or at least my memory of those books has led me astray? Entirely possible.

But I looked at his site a little while back, and I was struck by how much fear-mongering there is in what I was reading.  Do these things, or BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN!  Subtle bad things that you won't notice or realize until it is TOO LATE!  I'm simplifying and exaggerating, but nonetheless...  my impression of what I was reading is vastly different as a mother with thirteen years experience than that brand new mom over a decade ago.

And I'm left wondering...  perhaps there are subtle bad things that can happen to a child if you don't co-sleep and nurse all night long on demand and all that sort of thing.  But aren't there bad things that can happen to my marriage because I'm so tired all the time?  Bad things that can happen in my relationships with my other children, because I'm forgetful and short tempered and inattentive and sometimes just can't get up the nerve to gather all of those energetic little bodies together and try to do what I'm supposed to do with them?  (And what was that anyway??)  And what about all these little lives who are trusting me behind the wheel as I try to get them to Atrium and clay class and field trips and the grocery store?

FOLLOW-UP:  Things got better!