Friday, September 20, 2013

On Being a Good Person

The benefit for the park was Tuesday night, and I was duly honored. It was lovely. The weather was gorgeous, the Hudson River glittered in the sunset, the food was excellent. The event was sold out, a fact that made me very happy. I am always ridiculously pleased when people contribute to making the world more beautiful, and our park is indeed, a beautiful place.

Siberian elm and asters in fall<br/>Photo by Marcia Garibaldi
The Heather Garden in Fort Tryon Park
Photo from the Fort Tryon Park Trust
To my surprise, both our state senator and soon-to-be city councilman came and stayed for an extended period of time. The senator declared me "an individual worthy of our highest esteem and admiration". The current city councilman's representative said I am "an outstanding individual, one worthy of the esteem of this great city." It's printed up on faux-parchment, so I can gaze upon the words whenever the urge hits. The city proclamation is even framed, with a ribbon and gold-foil seal.

It's moving, but frankly also pretty funny. I mean, how long have you vaguely wanted others to think you are a Good Person? Now I am like the scarecrow from Oz, who thought the problem was that he needed a brain, but found that all he needed was a diploma. I have the documents! It's official! I'm Good! (Heh, heh.)
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On Saturday I'm teaching a class called "What the Dinosaurs Ate in Fort Tryon Park". I taught this class last year on the day Hurricane Sandy arrived. The rain started to fall just as we finished. The trees started to fall 10 hours later.

If you walk through the park today, the only remnants of the hurricane are 100+ tree stumps. The city was a huge mess at the time, but most of Manhattan has long since recovered. Out in Queens they are still rebuilding. I have to remind myself that there are people who will be rebuilding their lives for years. It's easy to forget that, once your own life has moved on.

The impact of disasters varies from person to person. Big Guy has a friend at his therapeutic school whose father was killed on 9/11. When the towers fell, so did her life. She was five at the time. I think sometimes about this girl's mother, who lost her husband and, in some senses, lost part of her daughter. She probably lost some of her own grounding, too. Putting a life back together is far harder than putting up a Freedom Tower.

To my way of thinking, this is part of why we need to build community, build resourcefulness, build each other up every day. We need to be so deeply in the habit of doing and seeing, of caring and contributing, that it's our default setting. We need to give, not because that makes us Good People or because we get thanks or a proclamation, but because we can.

When we get around to consistently doing what we can because we can, I suspect we'll stop wanting others to think we're Good People... because our hearts will be focused on good itself. Which is, really, far more interesting than the adulation of people around us.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Homeschool 2013-14

Eldest began her senior year of college last week, and Dancer started her sophomore year of high school.

Tomorrow is the first day of Big Guy's senior year of high school. We finally decided -- late last week -- that we'll homeschool Snuggler for 7th grade. We'd already planned on having Little Guy at home, so tomorrow will be the first day of school for them as well. I may be up late tonight figuring out exactly what that means.

Snuggler will be doing Medieval British Lit, starting with Beowulf. It will be a stretch, but for her it's better to go deep, slowing down to whatever pace works, than to trot along reading books without layers. In theory it's a semester-long course; if it takes a year, that's okay.

She's already started her Thinkwell for math, and she and Little Guy will both do the One Year Adventure Novel. (Yeah, I know: neither of them is in high school. But if I can get Little Guy to write anything, it will be progress. And one of the oddities of teaching kids is that sometimes -- not always, but sometimes -- setting the bar high gets them over smaller hurdles they think they can't jump. More on that another time.)

I've signed her up for Caveman Chemistry at the homeschool co-op, which we'll supplement with Conceptual Chemistry at home (because we already own the book). We'll also be working through Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking with the help of the MIT Open Courseware syllabus.

She'll also do a class at the historical society that teaches American history through musicals. First up: 1776, along with artifacts and actual documents of the time. Add soccer, a big role in the children's theater musical, being a mother's helper twice a week, and a regular service project, and that's about it for now.

Little Guy will be doing Singapore Math 5, although I realized today that I don't have the workbook. He's going to be on a FIRST Lego League team (robotics), play soccer, and he scored the lead in the children's theater musical (he's Ugly -- the duckling -- in Honk, Jr.) Science will be cells, writing will be endless, though I'm hoping the OT will help with graphomotor skills. We'll split apart the conceptual side (via dictation and, if needed, Dragon Naturally Speaking) from the physical process of composition.

We're doing British history, thanks to Little Guy's obsession with Horrible Histories (you can see samples on YouTube; it's kind of Monty Python meets history). He thinks we should take a field trip to England this spring. I told him I'm up for it, as long as he pays.

It's a plan. Or, as I explained to someone the other day, it's the plan we're starting with. It will be revised as we go along. A lot. Frequently. Because, you know, we're learning. And that requires change, and flexibility, and searching out opportunities for growth.


Monday, September 2, 2013

Thoughts on feeling that you can't make ends meet

There is nothing quite like cleaning a kid's room to re-realized how not-poor you are. I was thinking about it this way:

On the left side of the scale let's put all the things you want for your kids, as well as the desires (for them and for you) that you think of as needs.

On the right pile let's put all the waste: the carelessly broken, unused, good-for-a-week, and no-longer-of-interest toys and games; the leftovers that went bad in the fridge and the food thrown out partly eaten; the collection of single earrings mourning their mates; the clothing that is perfectly good but languishes unliked and unworn in dresser drawers.

It puts some perspective on all those desires, doesn't it? Because all that stuff you're throwing out was once, in some way, desired.

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I tell my kids they have the right to feel poor on the first day they don't get to eat.

I don't expect them to buy it completely, of course. We all feel poor when others have things we can't afford. We feel poor when we have to work hard at making ends meet. We feel poor when we have to make hard sacrifices and trade-offs. We feel poor when we can't replace things we're used to having, and when we can no longer afford to do things we used to be able to do.

Whether feeling poor is the same as being poor is a different issue. The yardstick doesn't begin with where we are and end with where we want to be. The yardstick begins with poverty we can't imagine, and ends with wealth we wouldn't enjoy. How much of it we see is up to us.

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A dozen years ago I met someone who managed to scratch three meals out of one chicken for her family of four. I knew how to get two meals for my then-family of five, but was baffled by the third. "Soup," she told me, "I never buy chicken without making soup."

It had never occurred to me to make soup from the scraps. At first it seemed like a ridiculous amount of extra work. But like most things, it doesn't take that much work once you make it part of your routine. It's like baking muffins: less expensive than cereal, better for you, and five minutes to mix up and toss in the oven. Simple. Sometimes we're poorer because we lack the insight to see how much more we can do with what we have.

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One reason we sometimes feel we don't have enough for our needs is because as soon as we have resources our minds revert to thinking about what we want, instead.

It also think that, aside from being incredibly bad at distinguishing our own needs from wants, we confuse others' needs with what we want for them. This is true when it comes to our kids, and particularly true when it comes to things that we think will make them happy, smart, engaged, interesting or better able to capitalize on their innate abilities.

I hit this wall every year, when I try to reconcile our homeschooling activities with our budget. It is hard to see what would be beneficial but isn't possible. Eventually, every year, I shrug. I can't do everything I think would be beneficial, because that's not one of my options. Instead I do what I can with what I have, and trust that somehow that will grow into what it needs to be.