how to overcome challenges

Yes, I actually let my kids watch Beauty and the Beast

OK, so not that Beauty and the Beast. Without having seen it, I’m not sure what to make of it or the controversy. It seems odd that Disney’s big coming out would involve the comic relief and the villain, but whatever. I kind of hope it is as bad as all that because I’m kind of tired of Christian groups sounding the alarm over nothing. Sometimes, it seems like they’re part of the marketing. Float a little controversy in front of the right people and you have instant buzz and instant curiousity. Because seriously, it’s like the second highest grossing film EVER. Right behind Harry Potter. The controversy isn’t driving too many people away.

Beauty and the Beast

The 1991 Disney version is bad enough. I mean really, it’s a bizarre mix of bestiality and Stockholm Syndrome held together by a cast of talking tableware.

Or is it?

What is the main message of Beauty and the Beast?

If you are to believe Disney’s marketing, it’s only the greatest love story ever told. It has everything. A father held captive by a beast. A girl who offers herself in his stead. A curse that can only be broken by love . . . a love that has to somehow be able to see past a beastly exterior. And a beastly temperament. And, you know, that whole being held captive thing.

Most people will tell you it’s a fairy tale with an important moral: Beauty is only skin deep.

But Disney is Disney. They’ve built an empire on harvesting fairy tales and cleaning them up for the mass market.

What was the original Beauty and the Beast about?

My 10 year old actually read the original (or one of its many versions) and was quite disappointed in the movie. It strayed too far in too many key points. Rather than Gaston as a counterpoint to the Beast, you have narcissistic, worldly sisters as counterpoints to Beauty’s perfect femininity. And the spell breaking love is demonstrated through a tear rather than a kiss.

But this, too, was a story with a message. It is also controversial, though not quite so much for the plain features of the text. The controversy comes more from not being able to agree on the inspiration for the story to begin with.

So what was the inspiration for Beauty and the Beast?

Camp 1 says this a prepatory tale for young ladies awaiting arranged marriages. Don’t fret about his looks or manners. Learn to be happy in your new prison. The man may be a dolt, or even a genuine beast, but your femininity and social graces will captivate him, change him and turn him into your prince. I think the most compelling case for this is the social milieu of the major characters. They are neither peasants nor royalty. They seem to belong to the closest thing to a middle class that feudal Europe had to offer. I don’t know how many of the original fairy tales you have read, but this isn’t really typical.

Camp 2 says it’s a fairy tale inspired by real life. Petrus Gonsalvus was a very real man with hypertrichosis, also known as “werewolf syndrome” for the excessive hair growth that occurs all over the body. He first came to the court of Henry II in 1547. He became quite famous due to his condition, moved from court to court and was studied across Europe. While in the Netherlands, he married the very beautiful Catherine. Although he lived as a nobleman, he was never quite accepted as fully human. I think the most compelling case for this view is, well, the “beauty” and the “beast” aspect of the history.

Or maybe it’s a bit of both. I could totally see some well-meaning 16th century parents telling their daughters, “Look, at least you’re not marrying that guy!”

And what does that have to do with the movie?

Disney chose to play up the being-held-captive side to the movie. Themes involving arranged marriages don’t go down so well these days, but Belle is not the only prisoner. The Beast is cursed. His temper is an expression of his own captivity. He continually convinces himself that there is “no point” to pursuing Belle or doing anything to encourage her to like him. And then he lashes out.

He was cursed for not sheltering an old woman. Now he is forced to live his life as the witch saw him. He’s hideous, forced from human contact and held captive in his own castle. With Belle’s arrival, he protects what dignity he has left by pushing away the one thing he needs to make it all go away. He is the one who chooses to open his heart and allow himself to love. He makes the first step and ultimately releases her from her bond to him. The great act of love is him releasing the one thing that could release him.

So what’s the real moral of Beauty and the Beast?

I think it is clearer when you compare the Beast to the beastly Gaston.

On the one hand, you have a cursed man.  His very humanity was taken from him, he’s been driven into a solitary castle with no human contact and his only hope is to somehow find love. On the other, you have the very model of manliness. Strong, good looking and the desire of almost every woman in town. One is a beast because of the prison he was forced into. One is just a beast.

So the Beast takes Belle captive in exchange for her father’s freedom. Maybe more in hopes that the curse can finally be broken. But the climax of the movie is not when Belle returns. It is when he, out of love, releases her from her bondage. He is the one driving the story forward. He is the one with a major conflict. He is the one who changes.

Belle is the same young woman at the end as she was at the beginning. He was the one with a love powerful enough to change, and powerful enough to allow her to see his humanity.

I don’t see “Beauty is only skin deep” so much as “True love changes you for the better.” It’s like that greatest of all love lines in As Good As it Gets, “You make me want to be a better man.”

And that is totally a message I want my children to ponder.

how to overcome challenges

How to Help Your Child Navigate Life

Children grow up. They move out. And they bring with them the not-so-quiet confidence of youth not yet tempered by experience. How they navigate life through the transition depends a lot on the relationship you have built with them up to this point.

helping children navigate life

We are standing at the cusp of this transition with our eldest. The subtle shifting from directing to offering advice has been easier than I expected. Then again, she’s a pretty responsible and driven young lady. I imagine there would be much more trepidation coming into this phase of parenting if I didn’t agree with the decisions she is making!

Help them lay a solid foundation.

We all want to see our children weather the storms well and not have their values swept away in the first strong crosswind. In our home, we look to Christ and what He taught and how He lived.

And we fail. Especially the last several years, I feel like our lives have been marked more by just getting through it than actual involved, proactive parenting. Sometimes, I feel like my daughter has become this courageous, dedicated, loyal, determined, faithful young woman in spite of me and the years the locusts have eaten.

But then I think maybe there are some things we did right. Before Mattias’ death and after. Chief among those, I believe, was the determination to help them lay their own foundations, not grow up sheltered by ours. Besides, the Holy Spirit and a desire to live for Christ will take them so much further than fear of what we might say if we ever found out.

Give them a good compass.

After all, you can’t navigate without knowing what direction you are heading. I have worked hard to replace my somewhat reflexive, “What were you thinking?!” (which really just implies that they weren’t thinking) with a calmer, “What were you thinking?” (which invites them to reason through their own decision making process). What I want is for them to learn to analyze their own motivations, know their own weaknesses and consciously learn to own their own actions and reactions.

And to apologize well. That we’re not so good at. A couple of my children are actually quite adept at the apology that makes it quite clear that they are not at all sorry. Any tips on that one are welcome!

Practice using the life boat.

I try to make our home a soft place to land. I strive to strike a balance between supervision and trust, guidance and freedom. They need enough structure and “fences” to form healthy habits and draw nearer to God. But they also need enough freedom to fail while I can still help them talk through what happened and guide them through making better choices. Experience may be the best teacher, but she isn’t very kind and she has very little grace. I believe it is better for my children to gain that experience a little at a time as they grow and move toward independence rather than moving suddenly from being under my complete control to absolute freedom overnight.

I want my children to know that while I may not always be pleased with their decisions, our home is always safe. No matter what happens, we will be here to help them figure out the best next step.

Help them release the docklines and see them off.

There is a time when a child is an adult, whether they are ready for it or not. I think we have to respect that, even if we disagree with the choices they are making. Ironically, I think the more quietly we step away from the helm, the more likely they are to return to ask for our advice and listen when we give it.

This is when we get to make that beautiful transition from being a parent to being a friend.

This last bit is not something I have had to deal with just yet. My daughter is making that transition and is doing it quite well. I’m sure this would be far more difficult for me if I felt like she were straying too far from the values she was raised with. But my role changes when they are an adult regardless. And I think of an interview I did with Lisa Hodgen (Me and My House Ministries) for one of my first magazine articles. I doubt she knows how much her words blessed me as I was barely starting out on my homeschool journey and she shared with me her heart after having a child leave home and walk away from the faith.

“She still has these things, a foundation to return to, when God opens her eyes, bringing light to deliver her.”

She reminded me that we all have to decide on this faith for ourselves and that building that foundation is not in vain. Christ is never more than a step away, no matter how far or how hard we run.

And we get the privilege of loving them through it all.

This is part of the Blogging Through the Alphabet Challenge, where I am sharing some homeschool encouragement, from A to Z! Click on the tag to see the rest of the series!

how to overcome challenges

I homeschool to give them just enough

Parenting is a tough job and homeschooling is like parenting on steroids. You have these llittle beings in your care that you love more than life itself. You strive to guide them, to teach them, to encourage them, to inspire them. You want to help them build strong foundations that will carry them through the storms of life. And sometimes you just need them to stop fighting over who is touching whom fifteen minutes into a four hour drive.

why I homeschool

 

I don’t have this parenting thing figured out. Not by a long shot. It seems like it should be about time. After all, my eldest ist 18, left for farrier school and is transitioning to adulthood. All I know is that it takes a lot of prayer and a whole lot of faith. Mostly, I feel like I’m parenting in the dark. When there is conflict, I still don’t always know exactly what constitutes “normal” and what is cause for concern. It’s complicated by having lost a child. Some things I see in my children I trace back to that night. And the accuser entering my thoughts is always ready to blame my own grief and years of struggling to be present at all.

But I know what I want my parenting to look like. I want it to be “just enough.” Not in a lazy, get out of the hard parts of parenting way. To me, “just enough” is harder.

I want to give them just enough freedom to fail, but enough support that getting back up is easy.

I want to push them just hard enough that they surprise themselves at what they can do, but not so much that their victories are no longer theirs.

I want to work them hard enough that they learn discipline, but provide enough unstructured free time for them to get bored and begin to daydream.

I want to answer enough of their questions for them to learn how the world works, but leave enough unanswered questions to allow them to ponder and to wonder.

I want to give them just enough direction that they don’t feel lost, but not so much that they never learn to find their own way.

I want to give them just enough responsibility to develop their character, but enough grace that they can just be kids.

I want to give them enough instruction in our faith for them to build a firm foundation and just enough liberty to meet Christ on their own so that their faith is theirs and not just an expression of how they were raised.

And as I strive each day to be enough so that I can give them enough, I fail. Daily. So I cling to a simple prayer . . . that love really does cover a multitude of sins. Both mine and theirs. Then each day can start new with just enough strength to get through.

This is part of the Blogging Through the Alphabet Challenge, where I am sharing some homeschool encouragement, from A to Z! Check out what I’ve written so far!

A is for Adventure
B is for Boredom
C is for Christ
D is for Daydreaming
E is for Every day
F is for Failure
G is for Grow
H is for Homework
I is for Impromptu field trips
J is for Just enough

how to overcome challenges

On letting them grow and letting them go

You birth these precious cherubs. Bring them into the world and for awhile, they are your world. And you are theirs.

You teach them to read,

homeschool learning to read

to create

homeschool art

and to explore.

exploring the creek

You’re with them in their valleys

homeschool field trip stream

and on their mountain tops.

homeschool field trip Pike's Peak

You nurse them when they are sick, serving them Sprite and bouillion and toast. You try to let them rest . . . as much as anyone can rest while having their temperature taken and their blankets adjusted hourly through the night.

homeschool sick day

You laugh with them in their silliness

silly face

and help them through their messes and mistakes.

homeschool messes

You watch them fall in love

kitten love

and know that one day, another will replace you.

wade and dakota-min-1

You hope you’ve taught them enough. That you haven’t made too many mistakes. That their faith and their character will make up the difference. They’re ready to embark on this adventure. You? Not so much.

loading the car for farrier school

But you take them as far as you can. Excited for the next step.

dropping off at school

Excited for the hopes and dreams of the future. Praying that they’re ready. Praying that their faith is strong enough to see them through.

forge

And then they don’t answer your calls. They don’t answer your texts. You know they are busy. You know they are being asked to work harder than you’ve ever asked them to. You know they are tired. But you want to know how they are. You want to hear it from them. But you go on, making plans for a field trip that won’t include them. Knowing their plans don’t include you.

sandhill crane

You know they are OK. There WOULD have been a call if they weren’t. And somehow, you know that this, too, is right. Because it’s their life now and you are no longer the center. Still, you don’t feel quite right until that first text comes in. “Sorry, mom. I was at the forge all day but I finally got my hoof pick made. It’s hard!” And then you finally find a bit of peace that they are where they belong and that they know where you are if they need you.

homeschool freedom

Because they’re growing up and you’re letting go.

how to overcome challenges

Cherish the Uncertainty of Life’s Adventures

It was supposed to be a little trip to pick up some pumpkins for the pigs.

Cherish the uncertainty of life's adventures

Just a little trip.

What’s more, it’s through our version of Amish country and seeing the buggies out is always a treat.

But things didn’t go exactly as planned.

First off, I took a wrong turn. My son took this as a sign that we should not be doing this. A few pumpkins is not worth the time or the gas. Which I had precious little of.

So we stopped to refuel. We ran into a friend who told us about Santa and hot dogs and a raffle for our robotics club.

“Can we go? Can we go?”

Of course we could go. It was just a little trip to pick up the pumpkins. We’d be back in plenty of time. My son again attempted to talk me out of this fool’s errand. He does not like car trips. Even if they are little ones through Amish country. A life with no electricity holds no fascination whatsoever for him.

And perhaps there is a point when you cut your losses. When you realize you have already invested enough time and energy into a dozen or so pumpkins and it is time to move on. If so, that point is well beyond where my stubbornness kicks in.

And it would take less than an hour to get them, putting us where we wanted to be right on time. It would work out perfectly. Because who wants to sit around for an hour waiting for Santa? (Don’t answer that.)

At any rate, that’s how I ended up driving south for the second time (only this time on the right road), allowing me to make yet another wrong turn. This one, however, did not lead me in a convenient circle. This one led me down a gravel road that ended a little before I realized. As in I was suddenly on nothing but mud.

What’s a little mud? I have four wheel drive, right? Thing is, I didn’t. I pushed that little button and nothing happened. And I don’t know how many of you know this, but if your four wheel drive isn’t activated, you have rear wheel drive which is essentially useless in slippery conditions.

Then I began the long slow slide down the hill which ended with me facing east west on a north south road.

And I had given my daughter the cell phone. In fact, I had joked that if I wasn’t home when she got home to call the police and send an ambulance my way.

“This is why you don’t make these kinds of trips for pumpkins.”

My son was full of wisdom. So I sent him out of the car to push until we got the car out of the way as much we could.

All we had to do was get to a phone before my daughter left for Lincoln.

“Worst case, we go back to the car. Dad will be off by midnight at the latest. I think there’s a hotel in town, but if not, we’ll be fine in the car.”

And with that, we marched. A quarter mile through mud and another half mile through town. With my son pointing out each and every step would have been unnecessary had I only taken his sage advice. My goal was the gas station (and ignoring my son. Let’s not underestimate the value nor the self control behind saying nothing at all). But then I saw Subway.

Subway, precious Subway. What a sight to behold! Warmth and chairs and drinks and food and a phone.

And the worst case scenario became the best case scenario. Not only did I get hold of my daughter, but she AND her friend drove down to rescue us. We’d go home all in one fabulous trip.

But as we talked over soft drinks and cookies (can you believe that as I handed out cups, I told them they could get whatever they wanted?) you know what my children said the highlight of their week was?

Getting stuck in the mud and hiking to Subway. For them, it was an adventure. They saw tracks of deer, raccoon, coyote and even fox. They got to slip around in the mud and tease their mom and, for a little while at least, everyone knew how to drive better than mom. They laughed and hiked and loved the whole misadventure of it. And when asked what he thought the best part of the week was, even my son answered,

“Mom seeing the error of her ways.”

Which I think is thirteen-year-old-speak for “I kinda had fun, too.”