Thursday, March 29, 2007

Do You Know Where Your 52 Legos Are?

This essay from the National Review by John J. Miller is certainly food for thought. The article details a story that's been tossed around by bloggers for a while now, about how a school (day care?) called the Hilltop Children's Center in Seattle, WA banned Legos for a while due to concerns that children were acting like capitalists as they built their little imaginary structures; that is, they all wanted the 'good' pieces, they didn't particularly want to share, and there was some competition among the children as to whose structure would be the biggest. Of course, the children were also acting like children, but one wouldn't expect the Eurofied denizens of Seattle to know how children behave, as most of them have never seen one (other than in the movies, of course).

One detail from Mr. Miller's essay struck me, however. The Lego company says that everyone on Earth has about 52 Legos!

That means, as a family of five (so far) we ought to have 260 Legos lying around. We have about 52 altogether, and if it hadn't been for a little Lego Batman/Catwoman set purchased because the girls are in their Superhero phase, we wouldn't have any at all.

I'm sure that our other 208 Legos are more than accounted for by the girls' many 'boy cousins.' It's a comforting thought.

But back to Mr. Miller's article: the teachers at the Hilltop Children's center remind me of the silly adults in a masterful story by the great Saki, titled The Toys of Peace.

Like Saki's characters, the folly of the adults in the Hilltop story is that they don't remember what it is like to be children, to have imaginations unbounded by the limits of the world. That tall building made of Legos reaches to the sky; the one next to it is important because it is purple, and has large windows; the one a little further down the street may teeter precariously on uneven sides, but it is precious beyond the grasp of an adult mind, because it is fashioned with the diligent love of an uncritical creator. As are we.

It is an act of almost unspeakable pride to paint such creations with lessons from the adult world about political economy and competing philosophies regarding the distribution of wealth. The teachers' motives may or may not be pure; they may be socialists because they really believe socialism will give relief to the poor, or they may be garden-variety socialists who mask their own covetousness with the apparently selfless veneer of socialism. In this they're not unlike the child who destroys everyone's tower of Legos because he can't have them all, or at least the 52 belonging to his nearest neighbors.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Spring Break Update

The gravel is being put into the aquarium as I write this. Only a few more steps to go until the fish arrive; the girls can't wait!

The painter turned out to be way, way too expensive. Either his prices have skyrocketed in two years or the person who gave me the recommendation didn't remember what he actually charged in the first place. We'll have to keep looking for someone to do the job.

The deck people can't come out until April. We're exploring other options, as we think they usually do larger jobs and might not want to take on the small construction project we have.

I just noticed, today, that Mr. Crunchy Con himself left a comment below my post about his book! How amazingly crunchy the Internet is, creating a virtual community where a homeschooling mom can interact with an author and journalist she really respects. I plan to finish reading Crunchy Cons soon, and hope to have some observations to offer (though I suspect I'll have more time when vacation's over, ironically enough).

We have a few more closets to clean and a few more errands to run this week, but choir practice comes next. The girls were practicing a Bach piece on their own, this afternoon; as the resident classical music junkie I get a kick out of hearing three preteens warbling Christus der uns selig macht as they tidied their rooms!

I've plans for a couple of serious posts for later (if I don't lose the paper again). Till then!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Rain, Rain, Go Away

No, not really (sigh). But it does seem rather ironic that the first day of my husband's first vacation in a very, very long time would be marked by a day-long, torrential downpour, especially in a state where rain is rare enough that my children rush excitedly to the windows at the sound of raindrops.

Granted, it doesn't really interfere with our plans. Our main objective this week is to try to catch up on all of the chores we've put off since before Christmas, so while a rainy day might postpone a trip to drop off donations of used household goods, it's not in any way stopping us from cleaning out various places and uncovering those items.

The rain didn't stop us from rearranging the living room to accommodate the new fish tank, either. The tank was purchased with money my husband's parents sent the girls for Christmas, and while we've been planning to get the equipment purchased and set up since January, this week has been the first time we've been able to buy the stand and tank starter kit, and make room for them. We didn't quite realize the amount of work that goes into the setup of an aquarium--I had forgotten that you have to wash and drain the gravel before it can be placed in the tank, for instance--and while my husband has been working marathon hours to meet his recent project deadline we just couldn't do much to start the process. But now, the tank and stand are positioned in the best possible place (near an outlet, away from direct sunlight and an air conditioning vent) and are ready for us to take the next step. If all goes well and we can get a stable environment going, there should be fish in the tank by this weekend!

The heavy rain did interfere with one of my husband's goals for the day, though. It isn't often that our favorite local used bookstore chain offers a coupon for an additional fifty percent off the price of any item. I guess that CD set he was hoping to scoop up will have to wait until Saturday's 40% off coupon instead, if someone didn't beat him to it.

All in all, the rain isn't an unwelcome visitor. I'm glad to see, though, that at least a few days this week will be clear and dry--I'm hoping to talk to a painter about the outside of our house, and a deck construction company about putting a cover over our back porch, this week, and neither of those would be particularly fun to do in the rain. But the rain made it possible for my husband to call both the painter and the deck people for whom we had recommendations today; the painter is coming tomorrow, and we hope to get an estimate from the deck company too.

Did I mention that we've been putting off a lot of necessary household chores since before Christmas? :)

It may be that, some time in August, I'll be lamenting the heat and the dry, dry air. I'll walk past the aquarium casting cool reflective shadows on the living room wall; I'll look out the back window, made significantly cooler by the porch cover; I'll feel less frustration overall due to the decrease in the amount of clutter. And I'll remember the day in March, and the rain.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Spring Break!

One of the great things about homeschooling is that you can set your own schedule, independent of the local school board.

The school kids around here had spring break a week or two ago, but we get to take ours next week. My husband will be home for the whole week--a rare treat!

Blogging will be sporadic. I have closets to clean out.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Question of College

The Catholic blog world has been talking about the latest situation regarding Father Fessio and Ave Maria University. First, Fr. Fessio was out; now he's back in, apparently, though in a different capacity. Speculation appears to be rife over the causes of this latest controversy regarding the University and its somewhat colorful founder. For some parents who have commented on the situation, a note almost like despair is heard; they'd found an orthodox college they could (almost) afford to send their children to, but now are wondering about Ave Maria University's stability and the direction it will take in the future.

These are valid concerns, of course. But one question which seldom gets voiced is this one. Do our children need to go to college at all?

There are some who will answer in the affirmative. In today's global job market it can be difficult to obtain gainful employment without that magic piece of paper known as the college degree. But as bachelors' degrees become more and more common, available to a wider and wider group of prospective employees, some businesses and employers have now begun to demand advanced degrees from the people who would be hired by them, as a way of separating out the 'really' qualified candidates from those who have only, so far, proved their ability to get a bachelor's degree, an increasingly common and therefore less valued occurrence.

But if the practice of seeking graduate level work as a condition for all but the lowest levels of employment becomes common, soon parents and students who can barely afford four years of college will be faced with the necessity of paying for six. And if the trend continues, there is the very real possibility that it will one day be necessary to obtain a doctorate where once only an undergraduate degree was required.

For some fields of work, of course, an advanced degree is absolutely necessary. But one question I think that middle-class, single income families need to ask themselves is, "Does this child intend to enter a field which requires this sort of degree? Does this child need a bachelor's degree, or will an associate's degree provide entry into the sort of work they wish to do? Does this particular child need a degree at all?"

Too many of us are, in my opinion, prone to the belief that a college degree is necessary for every child, whatever his tastes, interests, talents, or level of diligent scholarship (something we homeschooling moms are in an excellent position to judge). For many of us, who struggled to obtain a liberal arts degree and then spent the next several years struggling to pay for it all, it seems natural that we would want our children to have the opportunity to taste the richness of Catholic thought in an environment of scholarly discipline which both fosters a lively exchange of ideas and forms the mind in habits of logical and inquisitive thought.

But I have come to an opinion which, to tell the truth, had already begun to dawn on me in the days of my own education, when I was close to graduating with a degree that had absolutely no practical relevance in the world of jobs and careers:

It is a luxury for a middle-class family of one income and little means to allow their children to pursue a liberal arts education, if these children have no job prospects after graduation and will be taking on an extremely serious debt load in order to obtain this education.

Now, though I've said it's a luxury, that doesn't mean it's never justified. It's a luxury to buy your child an expensive pair of shoes, after all, but if a doctor strongly recommends such a pair of shoes as a way of dealing with an orthopedic issue of some concern, most parents will find a way to buy the shoes. If your child wishes to enter a scholarly religious order that generally wishes the applicants to have completed some level of a liberal arts education, this education would become something of a necessity. Similarly, if your child shows an amazing talent in the field of literature, history, philosophy or theology, and is willing either to obtain an education minor or to major in a practical field and then take on the liberal arts field as a second major or as a minor, this would also be a sensible way to approach the situation.

But the way not to approach the situation is to let your child declare a liberal art major and have absolutely no idea how he or she intends to pay back those staggering student loans after graduation, if you are a middle-class family of one income and limited means.

Are liberal arts educations only for the rich? Not at all. But whether we like it or not, whether it suits our ideas about the purpose of education or the idea of the University, colleges and universities today exist primarily to provide astronomically expensive career training. The few students who are capable of scaling the ivory tower will continue to find a way to do so; unless we harbor a natural genius or two in our midst, we will insist that our children find a way to blend their pursuit of pure truth with some practical notions of employment after college, so that they don't have to wait four or five years to begin a religious vocation or a family, whichever the case may be.

Contradictory Conservative?

I've recently begun reading Rod Dreher's book, Crunchy Cons. In a few days, I'd like to write about my impressions, but since I haven't been able to get very far in the book as yet I don't have too many thoughts to share.

One thing that keeps striking a somewhat painful note is that this book appears to have been written at a time when Mr. Dreher was more optimistic about certain things in his own life, and by extension, by the influence he thought that crunchy conservatism might eventually be able to have on mainstream conservatism, and perhaps even on the Republican Party. This optimism seems to have had a somewhat evanescent quality: Mr. Dreher's enthusiastic plans to homeschool his oldest son fell apart, he and his family left the Catholic Church to become Eastern Orthodox, and in recent days on his blog he's seemed quite defeatest about social conservative positions, and willing to abandon any attempt to seek a political solution to such problems as abortion and gay marriage.

None of this, of course, means that the book has no merit. But it's hard to separate the eager voice of the man talking about embracing permanent values, preserving and protecting the family at all costs, and seeking to live a sacramental life, with the realities about Mr. Dreher's experiences in the recent past.

This apparent contradiction may end up being solved in later chapters. I'll let you know if I think it is.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Stream of Unconsciousness

I've lost a piece of paper.

It's the one on which I jot ideas for this blog, which invariably strike me at times when I'm not actually seated in front of the computer.

You homeschooling moms out there know exactly what I mean; how some nice thought about the arrival of spring, or some reflection born as you remember the homily you heard Sunday on the Gospel which didn't turn out to be the prodigal son story after all (note to self: pay attention when the NCCB lists a choice of Sunday readings in future) (further note to self: write that down on a piece of paper)--oh, wait. Where was I?

Writing things down.

Anyway, you'll be struck by some nice idea and you think that you'll jot that down for later, only instead of having some nice crisp little notebook for the purpose, you're using the backs of the page-a-day Far Side calendar your husband gave you for Christmas, which also get used by the kids for everything from spelling lists to reverse tracings of the Far Side cartoons on the fronts, so somewhere along the way the piece with the most recent ideas on it ends up in the mysterious black hole where all the things the kids swear they didn't take, use, or throw away end up, and then you're staring at a blank computer screen shortly before midnight on a Tuesday that happens to be the first day of spring, thinking to yourself, "Say something!"

Of course, the reason you have to jot the idea down at all is because those ideas never come when you actually have time to blog. No. They show up when you're grading a math test and dealing with a nearly-tearful child's frustration with adverbs and the words they modify, which if capitalized would sound like some kind of odd anthropological documentary, but instead are just the grammar book's latest sinister plot to torture us all until we crack, which is intrinsically evil of it and I should really call in Mark Shea for advice.

I have to admit that even if I'd found the paper it wouldn't have done me much good. I'm rather prone to jotting down cryptic phrases, like 'contraception diet soft drinks absence of primary purpose--sugar good or evil?' and leaving it at that. Which, when I read it later, causes a sudden rush of comprehension as I mutter, "Stark raving lunacy!" and toss the poor used calendar page unceremoniously into the trash, which should almost be a crime considering the Gary Larson artwork on the other side of it.

Which, of course, means that I've probably accused the kids (silently, to myself, for once) of throwing the latest batch of ideas away quite unjustly, and have probably in my never-ending yet fruitless quest to remove at least one layer of paper from the top of the computer desk thrown the blasted thing away myself.

And given what you've been reading, if any of you are still with me, that's probably a good thing.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Harmony

One of the pieces we were given at choir practice was a tiny part of Bach's St. John's Passion, sung in four-part harmony. Since we were to sing it this past Sunday at Mass, and since it was challenging to sing a piece we weren't that familiar with yet, and in German, too, I decided we needed to practice a bit.

I don't know what I'd have done without MIDI files; my musical skills aren't up to playing a piece I've barely heard, let alone separating the four vocal parts. But I found a great website that had a MIDI file of the whole piece, plus four more files where each vocal part was emphasized, so Saturday evening I called the girls into the room where the computer is, and we practiced the piece together.

The soprano line was relatively uncomplicated; the German pronunciation gave us more trouble than the melody. A few times of reviewing the piece was all we needed to feel confident.

After the girls had gone to bed, I offered to go over the piece again with my husband. He's been having a few difficulties with choir practice, mainly because he's a baritone who's always sung bass before, but owing to the lack of tenors in our church choir the director has asked him to sing tenor. My DH is used to 'hearing' the bass line, and it's kind of difficult all of a sudden to transition into singing a bit farther up the scale.

I played the Bach MIDI file that gave all four parts equally emphasized. My husband shook his head. "I can't hear the tenor line," he said.

So then I played the tenor line, but kept singing, quietly, the soprano line; I wanted to be sure I knew the piece well enough to sing at Mass in the morning. My husband tried, but once again found himself lost, owing to the fact that the soprano melody overlapped the tenor line several times, making it hard to distinguish his part.

I nodded. I clicked on the tenor MIDI again; this time I stood beside my husband and sang the tenor line with him. We sang it several times, and though I couldn't really reach the lowest of the notes, I kept singing with him, until he felt like he knew the piece. When he was ready, I sang the soprano line again while he sang the tenor line, and as our voices mingled I knew he had the part down cold.

At Mass the next day I heard him singing the Bach piece confidently behind me, and I realized that the whole thing was an apt metaphor for one of the realities of our marriage.

My husband is the proud father of our three daughters, but we haven't yet been blessed with sons. Even if/when God allows us another child, there's no guarantee that a new baby would come home bundled in blue blankets. My husband doesn't really mind, though I think he's felt more deeply than I have our girls' transitions from the toddler/young girl stage to the preteen stage. As he stopped being able to get away with buying toy cars (so long as they were pink or pale green with flowers) or Nerf items (my girls all had a foam dart gun, at some point) and started noticing their interest in tinted, fruity lip gloss or their birthday requests for clothing or jewelry items, he's had to rely on other areas where his interests and theirs overlap: superheros, video games, and things of that nature.

But as the girls grow up, I've realized that if I don't want my husband to be 'lost' amidst a strong soprano sound, I might sometimes have to sing along with the tenor line.

I let the girls play video games with him, even the ones that involve impossibly large Turtles fighting cartoonish villains. I didn't raise objections to my husband sharing reprints of the earliest Spider-man comics, and we've all been sitting and watching these, which my husband remembers watching on reruns after school when he was young. I've gotten over my discomfort with video game arcades, too, but only if they remain a rare excursion. I've encouraged my husband to enjoy fantasy football for the past couple of years, thanks to one of my younger brothers (you know who you are!) and now that fantasy baseball is being added to the repertoire I may sit and watch a baseball game or ten this season.

I don't decorate my house in red hearts or pink flowers. I'm grateful for the fact that my husband sees several things as his jobs: the trash, the yardwork, anything involving the car. I'm glad that he's so involved with the girls and that they look forward to all the time they get to spend with him; and I'm glad he decided to join the choir with us, to make this excursion into music and service to the church a family affair.

In our family with all the girlishness and femininity, that strong confident tenor voice is a necessity. If I can help by singing along with the tenor line from time to time, I'm glad to do so. We sopranos might achieve a nice unison on our own, but we need our dear tenor if we're going to have harmony.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Prodigal, Pride, and Perseverence

At Mass in the morning, we should be hearing the story of the Prodigal Son. I have to admit that when I was younger I thought this story was awfully hard on the poor older son. There he was, working and slaving away on what remained of the estate after the younger brother had 'cashed out' his share, never asking for acknowledgment or appreciation, content just to be there and to be doing the father's will. All of a sudden, the younger brother returns, destitute, ragged, a beggar. Here was a situation just crying out for tough love, right? And that's what the older brother confidently expects his father to give his younger son.

Instead, to the older brother's hurt surprise and disgust, the kid gets a party! Fine robes are thrown over him; he's wearing the ring from the old man's hand, a sign of authority and power! The father can't hide his joy; but the older son can't hide his anger, and so he goes out and, to put it bluntly, sulks.

When the father realizes his older son is missing, he goes out to him. I needn't repeat their conversation. What's funny is that though the older brother's position has a lot of justice in it, the actual words hint at pride, at jealousy, at selfishness, at the kind of deadly sibling tendency to measure everything from the price of a toy to the size of a slice of cake, which every good mother tries to stomp out before the child reaches adulthood. The part I like here is when the older brother finishes complaining that, after all, he's never asked for anything--and the father reminds him that he never has to, as all the father has is his.

What a beautiful statement, that cuts through all the petty selfishness and envy. The older brother knows this; he may even have thought of the acres he worked on as property that would all be his someday. His dutiful work on the father's behalf has always supposed a just reward, and the father reminds him that the reward is sure.

But the father also reminds him of how much they both have lost, by losing the younger son. "Your brother was dead, but is now alive," he says, his eyes filled with the light of joy. More important than the acres that will one day belong to his son is the brother his son has known since infancy, the brother with whom the older son shares a relationship closer than any of the friendships the older brother mentions. It is more important to celebrate the younger brother's victory over sin and return to the family than to brood about what he has cost them.

Every human being alive on earth today is our brother. (Sorry; I don't do inclusive language.) Many of them are lost; none are beyond finding. If we count the cost of trying to bring them back to God's family, of having to run down the road to meet them, and provide them with clothing and food and shelter before they will even listen to our words of faith, then we will never take the first step. But what rejoicing will there be in Heaven when we see that people counted as lost on earth managed to persevere to the end--and what joy if we are there, too, at the Father's side to rejoice, not hiding and sulking about the fact that people who (we think) never worked as hard as we sometime kid ourselves into thinking we're working for the Kingdom of Heaven managed to make it there after all.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Striving for Charity

I apologize for the slow rate of posting in recent days; I've been rather caught up in a gay marriage debate on another blog, and have spent a couple of days defending traditional marriage, using some of the points from the posts I wrote on the subject in February.

One of the hazards of entering into a debate like this on the Internet is that interested parties--in this case, people who identify themselves as gay--have a tendency to plunge into argument based more on their personal feelings and the sense that only bigots could deny them something many of them have come to see as a fundamental right of which they are being unjustly deprived. There emotions are, quite naturally, strong on the subject, but unfortunately their ability to be rational suffers as a result.

I'm aware that for people like me, clearly on the other side of the issue, it can be difficult to act with charity toward people in that state. Objectively speaking, they are not living in accordance with God's will, but then, neither am I, a lot of the time. It helps to remember to love the sinner and hate the sin; it helps to remember that the Church itself doesn't want us to act in hostility or anger, even as gay activists try to dismantle marriage and wreak further havoc on the traditional family.

Christ died for all of us. If the least rational of the gay posters on that blog today were the only person ever born, Christ would have died for him alone. Defending the Church's teachings on traditional marriage, and especially doing so using secular reasoning so one's arguments can't be dismissed as religious bigotry, may be challenging. But doing so with charity in mind and the hope that at least some who read the various exchanges may come, if not to an absolute change in their own positions, at least an understanding that our position is not motivated by hate or by religious bigotry, is worthwhile.

As I've participated in these discussions, I keep coming back to a beautiful quote from St. Therese of Lisieux which appeared on my daily planner a few days ago:

"True charity consists in putting up with all one's neighbor's faults, never being surprised by his weakness, and being inspired by the least of his virtues."

That quote reminds me that no human being, however far he has fallen short of the Kingdom, is ever worthy of being despised. Insisting that marriage should remain between one man and one woman is not an act of hatred; treating those who disagree with scorn or contempt always is, and must be avoided, no matter how difficult it may get.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Make a Joyful Noise!

This post will be somewhat brief, as I'll be getting my family ready to go to choir practice in a little while.

We just recently joined our parish choir, and I can't tell you how much I'm enjoying it. I love to sing, and haven't sung like this in years. But the fact that our choir was welcoming and encouraging our whole family to join was the icing on the cake.

This is the kind of thing that I love about homeschooling. I can tailor our Wednesdays to be a little less intensive so that we can eat dinner early and be ready to go with no last-minute racing out the door; the girls get the experience of learning about sight-reading, counting measures, and other music topics that despite my enthusiasm for classical music I'm not qualified to teach them; and my husband, who has a very nice singing voice, can join in an activity with us that we can all appreciate and enjoy.

I must confess; I've been a little snobby about choirs in the past. I love Latin and Gregorian chant; I loathe Haugen/Haas music and all the more modern stuff. But I'm reminded by our brief experience as choir members how difficult it is to get an all-volunteer choir organized and capable of learning music at all, and with an hour and a half of practice each week there are lots of complex pieces that will never make it into the repertoire. Still, I think many choir directors would love to be doing more challenging music; I've found out that ours loves Bach choral pieces, so tonight we'll be singing at least one piece in German.

I'd love to hear, in the comments section below, from people who are involved in their parishes at any level. What do you do? What do you like to do? What would you like to see done differently?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Write Stuff

There are at least two kinds of writer's block that I know of.

One is that kind where you stare and stare at a blank screen (no, I haven't written on paper for years!) waiting for lightening to strike. Hopefully it won't kill any of your characters.

Yes, that's a confession. I write fiction. So far, I have two completed but still unedited manuscripts of young adult science fiction, which is what I like to write when I'm not writing blog posts and comments.

And in my writing of fiction, I've come to be very familiar with that kind of writer's block. I'll have a basic plot outline, I'll know what needs to happen in the chapter, I'll even get started and be writing away at an alarming pace, but then all of a sudden everything grinds to a halt. So I stare, and stare, and wonder if I shouldn't be cleaning something, which is a sure sign that I'm having a serious episode of writer's block, not just a momentary lapse.

But the second kind of writer's block is the kind my children have been experiencing a lot lately. Given an assignment to write about something, given a topic, given clear parameters regarding the accepted length of the piece, they still look blankly at the assignment, at me, and back at the assignment, finally admitting, "I don't know what you want me to write."

I don't think this is a problem which only affects homeschooled children, but I hear a lot of homeschooling parents talking about it. It seems to come and go in waves; a child who never has difficulty expressing herself will suddenly balk at the instruction to write a paragraph about Columbus, or the difference between seed plants and spores, or what it means to receive Holy Communion.

The nicer the weather gets, the more this type of writer's block seems to affect my children. It seems as though writing assignments become second only to math homework in their rankings of things they'd rather not be doing.

Yet, ironically enough, none of my children so far struggles in general with the act of writing, or finds it difficult to commit thoughts to paper. They each have a diary, and two of them have attempted to write fiction before, writing pages and pages before losing interest. My oldest even asked me the other day how old she'd have to be before she could blog. So it's extremely frustrating to have them come up to me, one at a time, during the school day, and ask, "What exactly did you want me to write, here?"

I've talked to them, gently for the most part, about the difference between 'wanting help' and 'wanting Mom to repeat, slowly, model sentences that they can jot down quickly and hand back to me.' I've tried to stimulate their imaginations by giving them lots of creative freedom in these assignments. I've encouraged them to think of these types of lessons as places where they can express their opinions about the subject at hand, where the goal is not just the dull repetition of facts but the vibrant ownership of the information. They listen attentively, nod, and then ask, "Do I have to make it five sentences, or will you accept three good ones?"

I wonder. Is there such a thing as Teacher's Block?

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Gargoyle of Grump

There's a gargoyle in my house.

He sits perched atop the secretary desk in the living room/schoolroom, surveying the activity below him with unhappy eyes. His stone wings, which look as if they ought to have crumbled away long ago, are folded beneath him in an attitude of gloom. His curved, predatory beak, streaked with the moss of long-forgotten churchyards, snaps open every now and then, as if he's failing to feast on non-existent insects.

And whenever I notice him, he spreads those impossible wings, flaps them for a moment, and then soars just awkwardly enough to avoid being graceful downward, landing on my shoulder and perching there, gripping me with granite talons and tucking his heavy wings away.

As soon as he alights, I realize with a heaviness not unlike his rock-like form just how far away we are from the freedom of summer vacation.

Eleven. Long. Weeks.

Twelve, if you count the time we'll be taking off at Easter. (But who ever counts vacation time?)

This realization spawns a whole host of grumpy thoughts. I notice that the room needs vacuuming, that the laundry isn't done yet, that the child who has been putting off all day a subject with which she needs Mom's help is still putting it off. I'm aware of deficiencies in handwriting and the shorter and shorter answers written in the religion workbooks. I'm uneasily cognizant of the fact that I haven't a clue what dinner will be, or when I will be free to go start cooking it. I realize that some of the 'help' my children are seeking with their schoolwork isn't really 'help;' it's, "Can you do this for me, please, so I can put this book away for the day?" which makes me grumpier than anything else.

Unlike the Siren of Self-Doubt, the Gargoyle of Grump tends to telegraph his arrival. I saw his shadow not long ago, when The Math Lesson that Would Not Die was succeeded by a sequel, The Math Lesson that Would Not Die II: Revenge of the Decimal. I heard his cry soon after that, when I realized just how many pages of history my oldest daughter would need to do per day if we're going to finish school on schedule. And I saw him for certain today, when owing to the ridiculously early time change, all of my children were still doing homework at six p.m.

Unfortunately, the Gargoyle is more difficult to banish then the Siren. He comes for a reason; he won't go till things get better. Luckily, my children don't have to acquire a magical understanding of math or pick up Palmer method handwriting for the Gargoyle to give up, flap ponderously away, and find somebody else to haunt for a while. The only thing that really has to improve is my attitude, my mood.

I can take a few deep breaths. I can find reserves of patience. I can ignore the house cleaning for a bit, to focus on the finish line, only eleven weeks away (with a break in between!). I can plan some easy meals on purpose, taking advantage of the lovely spring weather to serve some picnic fare on occasion. I can enjoy the extra daylight in the evenings. I can plan a special school day as I've sometimes done in the past, a day when our 'regular' subjects are put aside so we can enjoy learning about something else, something like outer space or dinosaurs. Most of all, I can set an example of cheerful perseverance for my children, which they may not copy now but will remember later.

I can feel the Gargoyle's talons loosening as I write.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Spring, Space, and Storage Boxes

Yesterday, as the all-permeating warmth of the Texas spring sun spread like a wave of happiness through our house, I realized two things.

One, that it was time to replace the heavy comforter we use during the winter with the lightweight bedspread that alights on our bed for three-quarters of the year (did I mention I love it here?).

And two, that it was time for the twice-yearly clothing swap.

As a Christian, I'm supposed to be detached from earthly goods, from dreams of wealth and luxury. I'm working on that. But in the meantime, I sometimes find myself staring into space, my thoughts centered on an unworthy yet blissful daydream: that someday, we will be wealthy enough to own a house that has enough closet and bedroom space so that my children can keep their summer and winter wardrobes in their rooms, year round.

Some elements of the clothing swap would remain the same, even then: the oldest would hand clothing down to her younger sister, who would then hand clothing down to hers; the youngest one would try on and then set aside the clothes that didn't fit her to be placed in a shopping bag and handed along to their "girl cousins." Knowing that her favorite twirly dresses will be enjoyed by her cousins, and maybe even some of their little friends, makes the whole business a lot more palatable to a child who is prone to be sentimental, and who has been known to confer names on all sorts of inanimate objects.

But the part of the clothing swap that would be different would be the part where I drag in plastic storage boxes full of last season's clothes, go through them in the living room, help my daughters pull heavy fleece tops and sweatpants from their closets and dresser drawers, box those items up, and return the boxes to the garage until sometime between October and November, when we do the whole thing again.

There just isn't room in their bedrooms for shorts and tank tops to jostle with Christmas sweaters and stretch velvet dresses. Their dressers aren't up to the task of holding heavy corduroy slacks and lightweight, breathable summer skirts. Their closets are crowded enough without cramming the sweet Easter dresses beside the plaid flannel jumpers.

So out come the plastic storage boxes, twice a year.

I'm not complaining, though. Even though it would be nice to have the ability to keep all their clothes inside, I'm glad that we have the room to store the boxes in the garage. The task would be infinitely worse if we had to drive to a storage unit twice a year to retrieve the clothes that were put away for the future. In fact, I'm glad that we haven't, so far, needed to rent a storage unit at all, to hold little-used or seasonal items, as so many people must do in this land-without-basements.

And most of all, I'm glad that it's time to pull out the warm-weather clothes again, already, in March! (I did mention that I love it here, right?)

Friday, March 9, 2007

Make Them Walk the Plank!

It seems as though each time a new presidential election rolls around, a certain element within the Republican Party starts to talk about whether or not it's important to nominate a pro-life candidate. The sound bites spread on talk radio, the Internet, and more conventional news sources. They all seem to say the same thing.

They say we've already lost the culture war. They say we can't expect to win on such issues as abortion and gay marriage, at least not at the political level. That's just 'reality.' Instead, 'reality' demands that we must give up the notion that we can elect a leader who will mirror our positions on social issues, particularly on abortion; instead, we should work on 'changing the hearts' of our fellow Americans on these issues. What good it will do us to change the hearts of people after we've entrenched abortion even further through pro-abort Supreme Court justices and the pouring of more federal dollars into Planned Parenthood's coffers is never discussed. I suppose some of their 'reality' is better left unsaid.

I'm with Baron Munchausen, who would say to these people, "Your reality, sir, is lies and balderdash and I'm delighted to say that I have no grasp of it whatsoever."

The worst thing about this element within the Republican Party, some of whom are undoubtedly people like this, is that this time around they may get what they want: the primaries may end with a pro-abortion candidate running as the Republican presidential nominee. And by the time the 2008 election takes place, whether or not this candidate is elected, the Republican Party will no longer be the pro-life party.

Pro-choice Republicans have been trying for years to remove the pro-life plank from the party's platform. I don't think there's any doubt: if a pro-abortion candidate for president is nominated, the pro-life plank is deadwood, and will be jettisoned.

And if that happens, Americans will no longer have to choose between, as Mark Shea lovingly calls them, the 'Evil Party' and the 'Stupid Party.' Our choice will be between the 'Old Evil Party' and the 'New, Improved Evil Party (Now Pro-Abortion for Added Convenience!).' The so-called 'conservative Republicans' who are laying the groundwork for this sea-change are quislings in every sense of the term. The widespread horror of federally funded abortions, both domestic and around the world, will be laid at their feet.

But what about the position many of them take, that after all, Presidents can't do much for the pro-life movement anyway, and in the meanwhile, there's a war on?

Suppose a city had four thousand murders every day. Suppose the newly-elected chief of police was 'pro-choice' on the issue of murder, but ran on a campaign promise to wipe out theft in the city. Even if he kept that promise, we'd hardly think of him as a good leader, a role model, if he did nothing about the murders. Saying this isn't denying the importance of fighting all crime, including theft. But there's just no way to create a moral equivalence between theft, even when it includes acts of violence and mayhem, and murder.

Abortion is murder. Or have the quislings forgotten that fact?

Thursday, March 8, 2007

The Parties of Death?

If you follow political news--and I don't blame you if you don't!--it looks like there's a roughly one-in-three chance that Rudy Giuliani will be the Republican presidential nominee in the 2008 presidential race.

This will put Catholics and other pro-life, pro-family voters into a terrible situation. Do we vote for Mr. Giuliani on the grounds that at least his party is pro-life? Do we consider, even for a millisecond, voting for the Democrat? (My personal answer: No.) Or do we vote for a third-party pro-life candidate, knowing that the Democrat may win if there's a mass exodus of pro-life voters from the GOP?

In answering this question, I think it's interesting to consider a bit of the history of the Republican Party.

The Republican Party arose in 1854. It was made up of a diverse group of people who had some differences in their politics, but they were united around a powerful issue: slavery. They didn't want slavery to spread throughout the United States, particularly in the new territories, and they were reacting in anger to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed settlers in the new territories to decide for themselves whether or not the territories would be free or slave states. Though the supporters of the Kansas-Nebraska Act may deserve to be considered the ideological forefathers of today's pro-choice movement, this Act was a repeal of the Missouri Compromise of 1820 in all but name, and those who didn't want to see slavery spread any farther in America were incensed enough about it to form their own, new political party.

Their first presidential candidate, John C. Fremont, lost. Their second presidential candidate was a man named Abraham Lincoln.

I think as the 2008 election approaches, the question Catholic voters--and others who share our values--should be asking ourselves is not which candidate we should support, or to what degree we'd be willing to 'hold our noses and vote for X.' I think we should be asking ourselves if the time for pragmatism and political expediency is over, if the time for a new beginning is at hand.

The people who feared the rise of powerful slave interests in 1854 knew that they had reached such a time. They knew that further compromise, further attempts to tolerate slavery would result in an America where slavery was legal from sea to shining sea. They were willing to pay the price of temporary loss and setback in order to gain the possibility of future action that would keep the stain of slavery from blotting out all that was good about the American experiment. Some of them may even have envisioned the day when slavery would no longer exist in America; whatever the case, they were willing to act to change the course of history--and change it they did.

Are we their descendants? Can we see the threat to freedom posed by the continued spread of the culture of death? Are we willing to stand now, to insist that those of us who don't believe in abortions shouldn't have to pay for them via our taxes? Are we ready to complain loudly about the violations of religious liberty that occur when church organizations must pay for abortifacient contraception, when pharmacists must fill abortifacient prescriptions or lose their licenses, when in a few years Catholic nursing homes may have to throw open their doors to the kind of doctors who believe in ending the suffering of their patients by ending the lives of those patients? Are we going to defend our children against this culture, when it seeks to indoctrinate them with the message that, as we're only animals anyway, they might as well be handed copulation instructions in kindergarten, condoms in the fifth grade, and easy access to abortion (no parental consent required!) by the time they're thirteen? Are we going to look the other way as more Terri Schiavos arise, as the euthanasia of the handicapped stops being a source of outrage and starts to be sadly commonplace?

If the Republican Party really does nominate Rudy Giuliani as its presidential candidate, the mantle of Lincoln will have slipped away from them forever.

And if that day comes, will we have the courage to put Lincoln's mantle on our shoulders?

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Rise and Shine...Or Not

I don't know if you've noticed or not, but I tend to write many of my posts fairly late at night.

I've always been a night person. One of the things I love about stay-at-home motherhood is that I can live openly as a night person, that while I do need to be awake by a reasonable hour of the day, there's no reason I have to be functioning at full capacity, so to speak. I remember the years of having to rise at earlier and earlier hours to make it on time, first to school and then to work, and I don't miss that at all. While sunrises are quite pretty, and that early morning calm stillness can be a joy to behold, I found the sight of mornings most joyful when I would be up early nursing my first child, and we could both then go back to sleep together until some ridiculously late--er, wholly civilized--hour.

Naturally, the arrival of the second and third child put a stop to that sort of thing for a while, and all the years they were really little were years when I compromised, as I had for many years before. Still, the compromise of having to do nothing more rigorous in the early morning than feed and change and clothe tiny sweet people, and then settle myself on the floor as they played, with a cup of coffee perched out of reach of little hands yet reassuringly close, wasn't such a bad deal.

They're older now, and with the homeschooling they expect me to be able to function on a slightly higher level in the morning; but they don't expect me to be awake quite as early as they used to. Mornings for us come a bit later and proceed at a slightly more leisurely pace than they probably do at other homes, but I appreciate being able to be flexible.

All of this is at least part of why I'm none too thrilled about the early arrival of Daylight Savings Time this year. I never much like "Spring Forward!" time anyway, as it takes me quite a while to break the habit of looking in utter shock at the clock that's telling me that it is nearly 3 a.m., and readjusting my schedule so that I'm in bed at an hour that doesn't make it futile to go to bed at all. But having to do this now, in March, when the gentle warm light of the rising sun has only just started to make me feel as though mornings aren't so bad after all, and that maybe a nice cup of hot green tea and a muffin would be worth getting up earlier than usual for, seems almost cruel.

And just how much "Savings" do the people responsible for this think there will be? Getting up in pitch darkness means more lights in the morning; in the colder states, it means people will crank up the heat while they dress in the shivery gloom. I bet early morning showers will be longer and hotter, too, as people try to cope with the fog of adjusting to an earlier clock setting even before the sun rises early enough to make it worth our while.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks this early Daylight Savings plan is a bad idea. Fortunately, Congress left themselves an escape hatch: if the plan proves unpopular or the energy savings is minimal, Congress can revert to the old way of doing things.

I wonder if that provision was written late at night?

Monday, March 5, 2007

Roll Film!

Matilda over at Waltzing Matilda has tagged me with this book and movie meme. I'm a former English major, but I haven't read all the books on this list--there are some I really ought to pick up! As for the movies, well, I'm not the biggest movie watcher. Some of these I've seen in movie form, but ordinarily I dislike seeing movies based on books--and the more I like the book, the less I want to see the movie. The books I've read are in bold, and there's an asterisk after the ones I've seen as movies:

1. Heidi (Johanna Spyri)*

2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)*

3. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)*

4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)* (Never read this book, but I'd love to!)

5. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Tolkien)

6. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)* (Can I put half an asterisk because I had to sit through half of this movie? What a way to ruin an epic work of fiction!)

7. The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Tolkien)

8. Anne of Green Gables (L. M. Montgomery)*

9 Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)

10. Anne of Avonlea (L. M. Montgomery)

11.The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger) (How did I manage to miss this one?)

12. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)*

13. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)*

14. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis)* (Well, I saw the animated version; and I've caught bits of the BBC version with my children.)

15. Chariots of Fire (Clarence E. MacArtney)*

16. 1984 (Orwell)

17. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)

18. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) (Again, how did I miss this? Never did read much Steinbeck.)

19. The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)

20. War and Peace (Tolstoy)

21. Quo Vadis (Sienkiewicz)

22. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Victor Hugo)

23. The Robe (Douglas) *

24. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)

25. The Story of a Soul (St. Therese)

As you can see, I've read only fifteen of these twenty-five, but I've only seen eleven of the movies. I guess I should plan on adding a few of these classics to my movie list!

If anyone reading this wants to be tagged with this meme, please feel free!

Faith and Feelings

This week's Gospel is one I particularly like. The story of the Transfiguration is so rich with meaning, so beautiful and potent. The very fact that Our Lord, Who would soon face His Passion and Cross, would strengthen His apostles with this glimpse of His glory, is something that may be pondered for a considerable time.

I really liked our pastor's interpretation in his homily, too. He equated St. Peter's desire to make the experience a permanent one with our own tendency to misinterpret those mysterious consolations or exaltations we sometimes experience in our own spiritual lives, as something that 'ought' to be happening, some integral part of faith without which our faith lives are somehow deficient. Father reminded us that these things, while very good in themselves, are not what faith is about. The emotional 'highs' we are sometimes given for our own benefit are not intended to be permanent; our faith is most tested and purified when we struggle to believe at all.

I think this is worth reflecting on, particularly in this day and age. On all sides we see and hear from people who leave the Catholic Church, in part because they expect some supernatural experience of holiness or goodness to be a part of their spiritual birthright, something which God 'always' gives to those who are following the right path. Some leave for sedevacantist sects; some leave for evangelical fundamentalism; some leave to become Eastern Orthodox; some even leave Christianity altogether, because they find some religion like Buddhism, for example, to be more 'spiritual' than the Christianity they've experienced in the Roman Catholic Church in America today.

This is a deeply sad thing to encounter. I recall one bright, energetic young man I met in college, who kept saying he 'had' to leave the Church because as long as he was Catholic, he wasn't 'being fed.' It's hard to imagine leaving the substance of the Bread of Life behind for the sake of some more illusory meal, but this young man had come to associate the good feelings and sense of spirituality he had encountered in the Protestant church he was attending with the substance of Christianity. He needed to 'feel good' in church, and this became more important than continuing to believe in the Church in which he'd been raised, which at one time he'd believed was the Church founded by Christ.

Sadly, those who choose this route often end up drifting from church to church, as the 'good feelings' subside and the day to day routine of living out one's faith, including having to co-exist with people who show up only occasionally and take the whole notion of religion far less seriously than the enthusiastic believers do, wears them out and dries up the positive emotions they've come to associate with faith. But as my pastor reminded us, faith isn't emotion. It isn't feeling holy, or feeling spiritual, or feeling good about yourself. Faith is a supernatural gift from God, nourished by the sacramental life of the Church, and if we're any kind of followers of Christ at all, our faith will be tested.

Many of the saints have left records of their periods of spiritual dryness. Many of them suffered for years from an emptiness or sense of abandonment. As Father put it, we may be invited to ascend the mountain--but we will always have to climb down from the heights again, to return to the ordinary practice of our faith.

And at the base of the mountain, after the Transfiguration, there would come the Passion of Our Lord, and His ignominious death on the Cross. Any of Jesus' followers who expected Him to be an earthly king, any of them who expected Him to purify the religious practices of the Jews of His day, any of them who thought that He would overcome the Roman soldiers by force or by miracle, were as shattered and broken that day as the leg-bones of the two thieves crucified beside Him. But one of those thieves, sometimes called St. Dismas, made the supreme act of faith before he died: he looked beyond the hideousness of the suffering Man beside him, and said, "Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom."

It is easy to have faith in Christ Transfigured, in times and places where we 'feel' holy or good. It is hard to have faith in Christ Suffering, when the wretchedness of sin and the evil of this world threaten to overwhelm us. But faith that can't survive being tested is no faith at all; faith that would sacrifice the Truth for the sake of a more pleasant experience of religion is a faith that depends on man, not on God.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Charting the Chores

I'm on the verge of retooling one of the homeschooling mom's best friends, our family chore chart. Generally, I make my own, but this is a cute website that will help you build and customize a chore chart for your family.

Every so often, the chore chart needs to be redone, as younger children grow in age and abilities, and older ones can tackle 'grown-up' tasks (but may need more time for schoolwork). Redoing the chore chart gives me the chance to sit down, think about the areas in our life that are running smoothly, and focus on the areas that need a little work.

I owe much of my attitude about chores, and the importance of family involvement, to my own mother. She started homeschooling at a time when not too many people were doing it, and often found herself in the position of being able to give advice to younger moms just starting on the grand adventure of teaching their children at home. I remember hearing some of the things she said to these moms, some of whom were struggling to teach and maintain their homes at the same time. Mom's philosophy was that since average ten-year-olds can, in many cases, correctly program a VCR, hook up a video game system, and use a computer, then they are not too young to learn to use relatively simple machines, such as the washer/dryer and the vacuum cleaner. I don't think Mom realized at the time just how counter cultural that advice was.

It seems that chores have fallen out of favor. Many parents expect the bare minimum even from their teenagers. Why?

I think it's because our society continually reinforces the idea that kids are supposed to have fun. True, we make them go to school, but their reward for putting in some effort in that realm is to get to enjoy the rest of their lives without any real responsibilities. Oh, they may, if nagged, clear the floor of their rooms once in a while, and they may even take out the trash occasionally. More than that would interfere with their 'right' to be a kid, something that the media aimed at children continually tells them they have.

Of course, this artificial, media-produced message contrasts with the real message about kids and chores. I found this age appropriate chore chart to be very encouraging; it's just one example of friendly advice on the Internet that reinforces the idea that kids can and should be pitching in around the house.

Sometimes the real battle in getting the children to do their chores is the battle we have with ourselves. I honestly don't know if homeschooling moms are more prone to this battle than moms who don't homeschool, but I suspect the battle is similar either way. I find that I have to overcome three 'bad impulses' in remembering how important it is to get my children to do their chores:

Impulse 1: I'll just do it myself. It may be that it's easier to do a particular chore myself than remember whose turn it's supposed to be; it may be that it's easier to do it myself than to nag for the hundredth time; it may be that my standards of how the chore 'ought' to be done are not the child's standards of how it may be done quite adequately. Whatever the motivation, this is a bad impulse because it teaches the child that he/she may not have to do the chore, depending on what kind of mood mom's in at the time.

Impulse 2: But he/she has been really busy. This one hits me when one of my children has been having a really difficult school day; perhaps a new math concept, perhaps a series of quizzes that all ended up on the same day of the week. By the time the child has finally finished with school for the day, the last thing I want to do is mention the undone chore. But even when I fall for this one, I know it's a bad impulse, because at no time in my children's adult lives will they get to skip their daily responsibilities just because they're busy or struggling in one area of their lives.

Impulse 3: If they really cared, they'd do their chores without being nagged. This one's definitely tied to that grumpy mood that hits about four-thirty p.m. some days, when I feel overwhelmed and yet stubbornly refuse to ask for help. A dose of reality will quash this bad impulse; I just have to remind myself that it's on a par with that other illusion, the one that says If he really loved me, he wouldn't have to ask what I want for my birthday/Christmas/anniversary etc. Children are even less capable of clairvoyance than the average husband; it's better to ask than to sulk.

All three impulses are tied to the false notion that chores are optional for kids. They're not. They're essential. Someday, our children will be adults, and unless we want them calling us in frustration over their inability to comprehend the vacuum cleaner, or their need to keep buying new clothes because they forgot to wash the ones they have, we'll teach them to take care of themselves. Because one day in the very, very far distant future, they may have to take care of us.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Titanic-Sized Ego Runs Aground on the Rock of Salvation

Just in case you were wondering, the Tomb of Jesus is still located where it always has been (at least, in the opinion of most reputable historians). And that would be here.

Of course, you won't find any ossuaries or bones or fragmented DNA in this Tomb. Just an astonishingly beautiful church, where Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, and Roman Catholic liturgies are celebrated daily.

I think that writers or filmmakers who might be prone to attacks of egocentricity and might, under those attacks, fancy themselves the people chosen to attack and destroy what they think of as the silly legend called Christianity might try visiting the Holy Land sometime, in reparation for their (charitably, one assumes unwitting) blasphemies.

The Question of Socialization

One of the most common, and annoying, questions homeschoolers get asked is, "What about socialization?" Despite the amazing growth of homeschooling in the last decade or so, many non-homeschoolers still retain the image of the shut-away family who rarely ventures out-of-doors or encounters anyone they don't live with. There's a perception that proper socialization requires school, that children won't learn how to interact with their peers unless they spend six to eight hours a day, five days a week, cooped up with a random sampling of them.

I often point out that the type of socialization one encounters in the school setting is actually quite false and unnatural. When, in your life, will you be segregated with people more or less exactly your age, to the exclusion of all others? Even in college you begin to encounter a more mixed group of people: older students, adults who are continuing their education, and the like. But that slight increase in the diversity of ages is nothing compared to what you will encounter in the workforce; few places of business hire people in their early twenties in large groups.

As to the teaching of basic social skills, I'd argue that these are easier to instill at home than at school. It may be the teacher's job to make the students in her care behave, sit down, be quiet, and focus on the lesson at hand (though in many schools teachers struggle just to accomplish this much), but it certainly isn't the teacher's job to teach children to greet adults politely, to open and hold doors for each other, to eat with attention to table manners, to be generous, kind, thoughtful, concerned, cheerful, hygienic, trustworthy, and diligent. Some exceptionally good teachers may inspire their students to learn these behaviors, but it's really the parents' job to teach these things, and to teach them primarily by example.

Still, having attended many schools in my educational career, I have to admit that there is a type of socialization my homeschooled children will not experience until they are much older. It is the one form of socialization schools are really good at, and which is sometimes encountered when you've left school behind. This is the type of social structure known as the clique.

The clique is popularly associated with high schools and teenagers, but it is being found among younger and younger groups of students in the present day. In fact, I'd say that the average school contains many different cliques, and woe to the child who doesn't manage to fit into at least one of them! Most of us remember the different cliques: the popular kids, the athletic kids, the artistic kids, the troublemakers, the smart kids, the 'losers,' and so on. But even the lowest-ranked clique was 'higher' in most schools' social strata than those kids who were outside of them all. In the merciless cruelty schoolchildren are capable of, some kids were permanently excluded from the social world for the 'crime' of not fitting in.

Sadly, adults sometimes exhibit this behavior, as well. Homeschooled children may get to skip the cliques of school just to encounter this sort of thing later in life. Some of them may experience it in the workplace, when as Catholics with strong family values they don't 'fit in' with the latest politically-correct agenda of the corporation; some of them may encounter it at their parish, when traditional-minded Catholics may not 'fit in' with the more vocal, liberal laity who run every committee and faint in horror at the sound of Latin; some of them, sadly enough, may find it in Catholic homeschool groups, where a particular activity or suggestion doesn't 'fit in' with "the way we've been doing things for years."

Cliques may be a part of life, but they're a nasty example of our fallen world, not an ideal of socialization to hold up to our children. I don't think it's necessary to send our children to school to learn how to socialize in this way, any more than I think it's necessary to send them to school to expand their grasp and use of common expletives. Some kinds of behaviors don't deserve to be taught.