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I May Be a Slow Learner But I Learn

34 years of parenting and roughly 27 years of homeschooling have taught me a few things. What do I wish somebody had told me?

You cannot do all the physical work alone. Teach your children to help you from the time they can walk. Teach them it’s normal to work. Teach them that families work together. Teach them that an orderly home is a happy priority. Be kind and patient, but persevere in your teaching.

They can’t help much, it’s true, and teaching them how is a lot of work. But you will grow your patience. And later on they will help a lot!

Any way you have to do it, get help. Get help. Get help. Get help. There is no shame in delegating. Get help.

You cannot do it all. If you decide to homeschool, please recognize that you are layering your tasks now; at the same time you are maintaining your home, you are teaching and administering education for each child. You literally have two things to do at the same time, all the time.

And each child in your homeschool is in a different grade (unless you have multiples) so you have the responsibilities to evaluate, plan, assign, teach, read aloud, check work, keep records, for each child in each grade.

The endless dishes still need to be done. Three meals and snacks still need to be planned, bought, prepared, served. And there are those dishes again. Appointments made and attended. Your home maintained and cleaned to a degree your family finds comfortable and functional. The very spaces in your home must be planned and furnished so that function and comfort are even possible.

The dishes are literally endless and they will take over your life.

It is impossible. Unless you’re an absolute genius at scheduling with a perfect grasp of the totality of your responsibilities, you will be overwhelmed and ultimately make yourself ill. (I did.)

You can’t do it alone. Get help. Delegate. Humble yourself and welcome anyone who offers help.

The effort we expend on trying to look poised while seriously struggling to keep all the plates spinning is almost funny. It’s a heavy and stupid burden.

Don’t carry it. Be honest with yourself and get help.

Thus endeth this lesson from my experience.

Three Kinds of Tragedy

I know women who aborted because their ob/gyn’s discovered that the babies they carried were afflicted with fatal problems. Perhaps the babies would only suffer if they allowed their pregnancies to run their course. At any rate, they were advised by trusted medical professionals that the best course would be to terminate.

Some women in the same circumstance choose not to terminate, and to see the babies through their short lives to natural death. Both decisions are made in a medical facility, usually a hospital; and the women are served by obstetricians in whom they have confidence.

The deaths of all their babies are utterly tragic. It is not for me to presume to comment on their experience except to express sympathy.

But the loss of some babies may be tragic in a second manner. A medical culture which is dubious about the humanity of the fetus may offer termination as a panacea, and women in such dire places may grasp for any solution which seems least painful–for themselves and their children. Here too, I have only sympathy.

If that culture says we should cut our losses and try again, is that same culture likely to do all it can to seek saving solutions for the babies? If it does not, those losses are doubly tragic.

That’s the problem. If the default of our society is to err on the side of death in order to solve our problems, and women are confronted with life-and-death decisions when they are at their most vulnerable…death becomes the predetermined result.

A third kind of tragedy is the Planned Parenthood vision of abortion-on-demand. This kind of tragedy is wholly different from the others. In that universe, the fetus is probably not human, it’s not a baby. We are not supposed to really care because it’s beside the point. The only point is the sacred right of women to avail themselves of their services, at cost. All other claims are moot.

Then those women, much more so their children, become victims of opportunistic corporate interests and relentless political interests. The best and most well-meaning solution that such a society can offer is death as panacea.

Such a value system is inadequate to meet the needs of real life. In real life, we are faced with unanticipated pressures and less than perfect decisions have to be made. If the overarching goal in the face of the unexpected is to get back to our comfort and our plans, no matter what the damage, those decisions will be brutal.

A Planned Parenthood culture which denies the humanity and the rights of the pre-born cannot recognize the loss that these women feel; it cannot admit that their loss is legitimate.

So imagine being a woman who has an abortion in her past, who isn’t stridently happy about it. Maybe she was OK with it at the time, believing it was necessary though unfortunate, and maybe she has regrets now. Or maybe she was one of those who was advised to terminate by a trusted medical professional, and she has grieved over the loss of a hoped-for child. In either or any case, those women have suffered loss. Yet our abortion- friendly culture cannot allow them to fully acknowledge their loss.

That is tragic. I cannot fathom how women who have suffered through the first kind of tragedy are not outraged at the presumptuous manner by which Planned Parenthood uses their losses to promote itself.

What PP actually does is to establish societal acceptance for, create the need for, then be the primary provider for elective abortion. What many, many abortive women have experienced–that their abortions were tragedies–is not equivalent to what PP does. They are worlds apart.

Humble Imposition

Many women rebel against the idea that they are obligated to carry and birth a child they have conceived. Witness the current pro-abortion twitter fad on this subject: an embryo is an invader which we are justified in killing in self defense; violent retaliation is a right; no government nor man has the right to force birth upon a woman.

I’ve given birth several times so I won’t surprise you by saying that I think that line of reasoning is childish and frightening.

But whence comes this trouble, these heavy trials women must endure? Why in particular is childbirth such a horror?  I have borne several babies and I say this: we should never minimize carrying nor bearing a child.

If we go back to its troublesome origin, we must go all the way back to Eden and the fall of mankind. In Masaccio’s fresco on this subject, Adam and Eve have been ousted from paradise and thrust into a troubled world in which they must struggle and suffer. That they understand their own culpability does not lessen their grief.

Look at their faces. They are heartbroken and incredulous that their perfect, intimate relationship with their Creator is now estranged. They seem cast outside of their Father’s bosom like a child thrown on the streets.

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Yet their estrangement was not rejection. The seeds of redemption were within the bodies of the ones cast out of Eden. There would be total restoration; the Savior of mankind would come from their progeny’s bodies, and He would crush the devil who hated them and their God. That blessing was an expression of fatherly love.

The catch was that they would have to strive and suffer and work, and die before they would see the restoration. Adam would work himself to death in providing sustenance for his family. Eve would bear children in anguish and pain.

A simple story. It’s true and glorious. Notice this: it really is a burden to carry a child.

Every pregnant woman feels it if only for a few minutes: the shock that you will have no choice but to go through childbirth. It’s something that will happen to you, like it or not. There is panic for a moment.

So I understand that impulse to draw back from the huge burden of carrying another person, from going through childbirth in order to bring her into the world.

It really is humbling to be burdened with the responsibility of another’s life. You watch helplessly as your body goes through an incredible transformation and some of the changes are unwelcome. Childbirth is sublime but also as gritty as it gets.

It’s the first signal that your life is no longer your own. Your whole being will be stretched so far out of shape that you will never spring back to your old normal. Your life has changed. Your priorities are upside down. Your center is no longer you.

But isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t becoming an adult essentially the acceptance of the responsibility to put others before oneself? Philosophically and practically, when we take on the well-being of dependents, we have become actualized people.

As most women throughout human history have learned, the burden is worth bearing. The result is lasting joy and the pain is all but forgotten.

It is sad that there are so many women ready to agitate for the idea that any burden thrust upon them, no matter how tiny and defenseless the nature of the imposer, is too outrageous for them to be expected to bear. That we may not expect a woman to sacrifice one iota for another, no matter that that other was meant to be her particular and precious responsibility to nurture.

The imposition is the most weighty there is; the bearing is as close as we get to mortality even as we give life. Such a burden could only be a privilege. It is a gift not to be refused.

Fringe

I am a total geek over a little five-season thing called Fringe.

Fringe is like a Korean historical drama (another interest) in complexity. I immerse myself in its five-season character arcs and brilliant storytelling. Only serious Fringe fans will follow me here.

I was watching the series for the…eighth time? And I just figured out the Peter disappearance dilemma. I never understood why must Peter be erased, exactly? I could never quite get it til now.

Peter was supposed to die falling through the ice. (Walter’s Peter really died and was no more. Walternate’s Peter, in the alternate universe, was to be cured but September distracted Walternate and prevented that cure. Alternate plan: Peter-alternate was to die falling through the ice. There could be no Peter in this world.

But September saved him.

Peter’s presence in this world adjusted everything, very much not in accordance with The Observers’ intended future.

If he had died then, none of the trauma between worlds would have occurred.

It wasn’t that Walter broke the universes when he crossed over. That was not the irreversible act of destruction, though many burdened Walter with the guilt of it.

No. It was the unintended consequences of Peter’s continued existence which was at the center of it all. If both Peters had died, there would have been no one to find little Olivia in the field of tulips (Subject 13), who was the first person who seemed to care about her in her lonely life, who insisted that she tell Walter about her father beating her.

And so Olivia, full of fear and love, burst into Walters office and pleaded with him to help her. Except she had just crossed over into Walternate’s office without realizing it, having crossed universes through the combined powers of fear, love, and cortexiphan, and had unintentionally revealed to him that there is an alternate universe, that she had come from it, that we all have doubles there.

By which Walternate instantly understood what had become of his kidnapped son and who was responsible, setting off the chain of events for the next 20-some years.

So then Peter was needed, with occasional guidance from September, to right things via The Machine. Once he had done that, all was on the path where the Observers believed the world was supposed to go. And so he was erased because he had accomplished the Observers’ purposes — put everything back to where it was supposed to be in a world in which he didn’t exist.

Peter was not supposed to be here. Without the meddling of super scientists, including Observers, our Peter would be dead. That is why the Observers returned him to non-existence. Observers pat selves on backs for a job well done, the end.

But.

The observers are not godlike omniscients. They are self-interestedly guiding the world toward the future which THEY have created.

The other thing is the core and the heart of Fringe, and the reason I so appreciate it.

We cannot erase people whom we love. It cannot be done. Love transcends all. Conflict, estrangement, madness, death. Non-existence. Science. Megalomania. Human will. Universes. Love transcends and conquers all these things.

The lesson of the show is that when we love someone, we do not let them go. Walter could not let Peter go. (Walter’s first unwillingness to give Peter up—after his death—was selfish. He stole a Peter who wasn’t his. Walter’s journey was not to learn the selflessness of letting him die but the self-sacrifice of putting a universe of people before his own loss. Love is true when we love not just our own but when that love extends outward.)

And even after Peter was erased, Olivia could not let him go. Olivia willed Peter back into existence because she could not let him go, no longer through the power of cortexiphan, but because of transcendent love.

I’m a Grandmother

This is my view right now:

Little Girl is 11 days old. My beautiful daughter has a beautiful daughter! I’m at my daughter’s house holding the baby so she can take a nap. Ahh these days again, of putting the rest of the world on hold while you do something actually important.

We Are Haunted

Most of us are fascinated by accounts of hauntings. I know people who believe they’ve been visited, in some way, by a departed person. Genres of literature and film are devoted to the idea that the dead interact with us. I do not believe it.

I do not believe in ghosts. I do not believe that dead people haunt us. If there are supernatural visitors breaking through to our physical existence, they are not people who have passed on but something else.

But I think I understand why human beings have always imagined that they were haunted. It’s because we are haunted.

My mom passed away a year and a half ago at the age of 96. She had lived a full life but she was spent. We had time to prepare ourselves and it was not a shock, neither do we have the regrets of wondering why she had to die.

And yet I am, more or less, haunted. She visits me many times a day. She is with me, or more precisely I am with her, at another time and another place. I find myself in her house watching TV with her, or sitting by her bed in her room at the nursing home.

Or I am living at home, because I’m younger than I am now, and my mom is in the kitchen baking. Or watching her stories while she irons. Or cutting out a skirt.

It’s been over a year since I’ve been in her house but I can close my eyes and walk into her house and I can smell its familiar smell and see the sunlight coming in the bay windows and feel the temperature of the air and hear the TV in the next room. I can go upstairs, I can feel the emptiness of no one being up there anymore, I can hear every creak on the steps, and see every box and bag and pile on the third floor. It is all vivid, fresh, and real, like I was there an hour ago.

I can distinctly hear her voice, I can hear her faux-operatic singing of Happy Birthday to You over the phone. I see her crooked fingers holding a cookie at the breakfast table. I see her straight fingers applying foundation to her face as she gets made up at that same kitchen table, getting ready to catch the train into center City to use her season ticket at the Academy of Music.

As I go through my day, she is there. I am in my kitchen and I look through my window toward her house, and for a split fraction of a second, almost wonder if I should walk down and see her.

I am haunted by my mom because she was the first person I lost who I could miss in this visceral way. I helped take care of her during her last three years and I saw her almost every day. Every day, navigating my way through the ever-changing stream of her dementia. I needed to map that stream, to understand its habits and its surprises, in order to relate to her in a way that made sense to her. In other words, I was trying to think her thoughts.

We are haunted because we still feel the presence of people we have lost. We are haunted by their presence because our senses still remember them as though they just left the room a minute ago. We are haunted by their absence because we miss them and only our factual processes understand that they are gone for good.

Are we haunted because we want to be?

I think the idea of hauntings took root because we really do continue to experience being with our lost loved ones. My mother was not someone whose memory will easily fade.