family

What you get for buying cheap

With Easter, a wedding and summer heat coming, my son was in need of a bit of a haircut. My husband, stylist that he is, pulled out the clippers. Yes, he does hair just about as well as he does lawns.

See,a few minutes after he started clipping, the clippers died. The battery takes several hours to charge so he was stuck with the cut overnight. And the next day, a few minutes after he started clipping, the clippers died yet again. So we were sort of stuck. Sometime tomorrow, he shall don a hat to accompany me on a search for a nicer pair of clippers, thus serving as a reminder that in attempts at frugality, there are considerations beyond just the dollar signs.

The poor little guy failed to see any humor in it at first, and Saturday was a rough day full of teasing from siblings and my little Bear overreacting to the provocation. I asked if I could take a picture, just for him for later, and got quite a bearish growl in return.

So I decided to leave that. Even as a so-called “mommy blogger,” I have some respect for my children’ boundaries.

But then today, out of the blue, he said with a slight grin,

“Mom, I guess you can take a picture. But just to send it to grandma. I’d better not see it on your blog.”

“OK, sweetheart,” I answered, trying not to laugh.

And then, after I took the pictures, he said somewhat shyly,

“Oh, alright. You can put it on your blog, too. But you better only say nice things.”

Apparently, his sense of humor takes about two days of humility to begin to come out. That and the ability to be featured on my blog. That, dear readers, is the highlight of my children’s week: when they see a story about them published here to my blog. And with this, he knew he had a free ticket into the spotlight.

Line of risque T-shirts has family groups outraged

Somehow, there is a new level of risque attained when you slap sexual messages on a four month old. I’m still trying NOT to picture my sweet little cherubs kicking about in a T-shirt with “I’m living proof my mum is easy” slapped on the front. Even if he does have four siblings, it does not seem to be the place for opening that kind of cultural dialogue. After all, what is a T-shirt slogan, if not a sort of pre-Twitter medium for expressing your message quickly, succinctly and to a broad audience?

Katherine Hamnett, whose T-shirts The Guardian credits with becoming the cultural signposts of our times, says of the medium:

“I wanted to put a really large message on T-shirts that could be read from 20 or 30ft away,” she says now. “Slogans work on so many different levels; they’re almost subliminal. They’re also a way of people aligning themselves to a cause. They’re tribal. Wearing one is like branding yourself.” The Guardian

Aligning yourself to a cause. Connecting yourself to other people. Branding yourself. You have five seconds and the passing eye of a distracted stranger.

What do you want to tell the world about your cause and yourself?

Maybe “The Condom Broke”?  Or “I’m a t*** man.”  (Without the asterisks, of course.)  Or how about “I’m bringing sexy back”?  On an infant!

Julee Gale, director of Kids Free 2b Kids, bought some items at Cotton On Kids (I presume for education purposes) and is outraged by the messages carried by these shirts that may be conveyed to young people.

“I reckon there should be a penalty and there needs to be an awareness campaign with retailers about what’s appropriate and what’s actually harmful,” she said.

“They don’t get that it’s . . . harmful. It’s all part of a continuum of sexualisation of kids. It’s about the mental health of our children.” News.com.au

But is it really the retailers that need education? What if, in response to this collection, Australia decides to regulate the messages that can be printed on t-shirts marketed to or for youth? Would anything really change? The items on the rack at your local department store are, after all, an effect of the culture we live in, not the cause of it. Certainly there is a bit of a circular relationship between marketers and the market, especially when the marketers are successful in attaching their products to other things already sought after (think High School Musical merchandising!).

But a T-shirt slogan? For this collection to become a colossal flop would speak loudly and clearly to Cotton On and other clothing manufacturers and retailers about the inappropriateness of both the message and the medium. Rallying family groups? Not so long as the collection is turning a profit.

The collection bothers me. That product designers, marketing directors and retailers wanted to design, advertise and sell this collection bothers me.

But really it is the fact that there are parents who are willing to buy them that bothers me most. Your child is not your vehicle for sexual-expression.

On blogging, dirty laundry and respect

Penny Raine recently posted a nice entry on Respectful Mom Blogging, citing some of her concerns she has with blogs which perhaps reveal too much about the young children placed in our care and the “dirty laundry” some seem to feel compelled to air.  It’s good advice, but I stumble over a couple of the “rules.”

I don’t share a lot about my family on this blog, although I have been known to go into lengthy tangents about pencils as well as share a few very personal struggles.  And I do have a more personal blog where I share some of my reflections on parenthood, the silly things my children say, a bit of misbehavior, and just tidbits of my life as a homeschooling mother of four.

For me, it is difficult to come up with hard and fast rules about what to share and what not share about our lives.  When I write an entry, I am inviting my readers into a part of my life.  And I clean up a bit, just as I would straighten my house before you came over for tea.  Excessive compliments would not drive me to leave my children’s laundry scattered about the house and the sink full of dishes the next time you came, but I also wouldn’t pretend as if my house always looked that way.  The blog is a curious medium, part diary and part public address system.  It becomes personal, and we begin to feel a very personal connection with those readers who comment regularly as a sort of community begins to develop around our blogs.  As our sense of community in our own neighborhoods diminishes, I think we will see more and more people seeking to fulfil this very important human need online through these virtual communities.

Whether or not a particular story I read on a blog bothers me has more to do with the purpose behind the sharing than exactly what is revealed about the life of the blogger. If it seems to be about sacrificing the esteem of a child in exchange for traffic, I, too, would be a little uncomfortable reading the entry.  If it is about sharing a little humor about the often trying task of parenting, I may be inclined to share a story of my own.

I hope some day that my children can look back on what their mother has written about them and see a different side to our relationship that perhaps they do not see as much right now.  After all, my children saw a very humorless mother the day they dumped a storage tub full of books and a fifty pound bag of dog food on the laundry room floor.  Looking back over these events, however, I hope they see not a mother making fun of them, but a mother who truly delights in their developing personalities, even through the inevitable struggles of parenting young children.

And some of us are truly struggling in relationships with parents, children, spouses or other significant people in our lives.  Of course we need to be careful how we discuss those in a public forum, but for every person willing to talk about their struggles there are many thousands who feel isolated and as if they have no one to talk to and no one who would understand their problems anyway.  My most recent article for Heart of the Matter certainly gets into the deeply personal, and involves a bit of “dirty laundry” that I, too, would just as soon not read about on other people’s blogs.  But it wasn’t about traffic or recognition.  And the last thing I want is sympathy or anyone to take “my” side.  It is more about giving purpose to a difficult issue and hoping that others can find some eoncouragement in dealing with their own personal struggles.

I am not too good with rules, anyway, but I think for me a better guideline is not specific topics that we should discuss or that we should shy away from, but asking ourselves what the purpose of sharing any particular topic is.  Is it uplifting and edifying?  Great!  Would it fall under bearing one another’s burdens?  With some common sense applied, terrific!  Is it about bringing attention to ourselves?  There you’ll have to be the judge of exactly what kind of blog you want, and the kind of community you want to build around that blog.

Homeschooling family values

Mouse and grandpaJust after Thanksgiving, my dad hurt his back.  Small piece of advice: Never get injured over the holidays when your regular doctor just left the practice.  To make a long story short, he ended up losing feeling in his leg and by the time someone finally saw him, the doctor was upset he hadn’t been immediately admitted to the emergency room.  As he went into surgery, he was given a twenty percent chance of spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair and a strong likelihood of never completely recovering the use of his leg.

Much to everyone’s delight, two days after surgery he had already recovered more than the doctor had hoped he would after a week of physical therapy so he was released early.  While he was quite happy to be walking already, he was also obviously a bit stir crazy.  He had a month off work with nothing to do but fret about what would happen if he were to fall and to try to entertain himself with Sudoku and the endless channel offerings of U-Verse.

So I offered up my ten year old daughter who about hit the ceiling with excitement when I told her she was going to go babysit grandpa for a week and a half while he recovered.  She began planning activities ranging from puppet shows to building model airplanes and collected some recipes in order to cook some meals for him.

I began collecting materials for her to work on.  Things educational that she could nonetheless accomplish on her own with nothing more than the direction to go do them.  A bit of spelling.  Some math practice.  Some reading.  I was contemplating whether or not I should send along some history of some sort when I realized that I was missing something larger than the schedule I feel hopelessly behind on.

After all, this is part of why we homeschool:  family.

What greater lesson could she learn than service to those around her?  What greater memories could she build than in spending such a special time ministering to someone she loves?  And what lessons were in any of those books and worksheets that couldn’t be made up later?

I’m learning.  But the impulse is still there and can be frighteningly strong at times.

Oh, and after she came home, we let her purchase another life lesson with her savings and (quite) a bit thrown in from mom and dad.

Beagle puppy

Clarification: That photo of the adorable little bundle in my dad’s arms is an old photo.  That little L. E. Fant will be two in April.  I just couldn’t find any other pictures with my Mouse and my dad together.

School room of my dreams

It has been awhile since I have shared much from our homeschool, so I thought I would participate in this week’s Heart Of The Matter meme and show you our school room.  Very elaborate and beautifully decorated, I am sure it will be the envy of homeschoolers the world over.

First, we have the independent learning center.  This is where children may come to select activities and interact with one another during self-directed, exploratory activities.  Note the purple curtain in the background.  This is actually a sunroom-turned-bedroom and thus has three walls of windows, covered here for intimacy, but opened in the daytime to allow minds to range freely even while bodies are trapped indoors.  Going with the Bringing-the Outdoors-in theme, my children are preparing for a camp out.  Or is it a camp in?

camp out

With only 900 square feet, finding a place to get away is sometimes a challenge.  Here, my daughter has solved the problem beautifully by retreating to the top of her bunk bed.  And pulling up the ladder, which you cannot see in this picture.  She has taken a quiet moment to read a book…at 11 PM!  I think she may be a bit like me.

Reading

Many homeschoolers do the bulk of their teaching at the kitchen table.  We did away with that nuisance long ago and no longer own a kitchen table.  Instead, we use TV trays for just about everything that might pass as school.  Here, the children are playing a nice game of chess.  I love this picture because….well…it just looks so homeschoolerish.  Nevermind that neither of them knew how to play when this picture was taken.  It is all about the image discovery.

chess

With limited space comes creativity, and every room and every piece of furniture does double duty.  Here is an impromptu tea party on my old bed.  And what tea party is complete without a baby dressed as a…actually, I’m not sure what they were thinking.  Their living doll is pretty patient, however.

tea party

Last, but not least, is the center of our homeschooling: the sofa.  And here you can see a little of my philosophy of how to keep toddlers under control while teaching: just give them the same tools and let them play along.  Note the ubiquitous TV tray.  Can’t do school without it.

sewing

As you can see, our school room covers pretty much the entire house.  Nine hundred square feet may be small for a house, but it isn’t bad for a school room.  All that aren’t pictured here are the laundry room because they aren’t allowed in there.  Just LOOK AT WHAT THEY ARE CAPABLE OF and I think you will understand why.  And the kitchen.  For some reason, young children near open flame requires a level of attention I do not have behind a camera, but if you follow that link, you will see my three year old in her chosen profession which definitely involves the kitchen.

And it is the school room of my dreams because here is where my children are now, building something for their futures that we cannot yet even guess at.

Homeschool Memoirs is also collecting posts about school rooms if you would like to look at even more.