Saturday, February 9, 2008

Sometimes They Remind Me

Let's face it. One of the top five reasons for me, personally, to be homeschooling could charitably be called laziness. I've never figured out why learning is supposed to be a difficult process. I know that my years in public school had me convinced that learning was equivalent to sweating blood, having night terrors, or being audited by the I.R.S. ...but in the 20+ years (and never mind how many + years there might be!) I sort of figured out differently. What I know, I mean what I really know know, is stuff that I learned myself. This was knowledge that I went after like a shark in a feeding frenzy, or stalked with the patience of someone who enjoys watching rocks grow. Test me on anything I was taught in high school and I might come up dismal; test me on what I taught myself and the rodeo is on.

Still, I have those days. Those days when I wake up and realize that all my children do, all day long, is watch the Science/History/AllDayEveryDayScooby Channel, or poke around in the back yard, or read books that feature dancing rabbits. I have the almost irresistable impulse to sharpen a slew of pencils, sit them all down at the kitchen table at 8 a.m., and teach them calculus. That I myself have never taken calculus and that the Banshees are still in the single digit age realm should be clues numbers one and two that my panic has caused me to be semi-delusional. I panic and I have not now, nor have I ever been, a good thinker under such situations.

Now, let's introduce you to MB. That's the middle child, the one I swear would be on half a dozen medications for ADHD if I'd left him in public school. He's outgoing and energetic and in the last six months or so has taken his native story-telling abilities to new heights. When he gets into a subject, he gets into it with spelunking gear in hand. He's going to dig and delve and immerse himself in his current interest. He bites into it and gets lockjaw. (I will go on record here that it's all from his father's side of the family. I certainly never display these characteristics. Just ignore what I said in the opening paragraph. I get interested to an obsessive degree; my spouse gets interested to a degree that would have most OCD patients shaking their heads.) What's interesting about MB, however, is that he will then follow you around the house and pour out everything that he's just processed. Constantly. For days. And he never seems to breathe. It isn't always accurate but he's doing a credible job for his age. We first noticed this when he latched onto the story of the Titanic; he now has books and models and a dvd about Titanic and won't pass up an opportunity to learn something new about that boat. (Yes, we do have a multiplicity of doting grandparents. How could you tell?) He lectures about not only the Titanic but Britanic and Olympic as well. (If you didn't know Titanic had sister-ships, now you do. Did you also know that there was a passenger on Titanic that was working aboard the Britanic when it sank?)

MB studies stars and galaxies and has nightmares about black holes swallowing up the solar system. (Yes, we've told him this is unlikely. Now we need to get back up sources -- but if you're going to teach someone to question experts, they're going to start with the nearest ones.) Today he rushed into the room, breathlessly spewing everything he'd just learned about volcanoes. Without breathing. Finally I asked him if we were going to have to get him as much material on geology as he's got on Titanic. I think I can safely interpret the reaction as "Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!" I told him that we would have to test drive a few books from the library, and that some of them were likely to be books written for grown ups. Did he, I inquired politely, feel up to the task of tackling grow-up books? Yes, he said, bouncing. Okay, I said. And then, as he turned to leave the room, he started humming the theme from Superman.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Signs and Portents

My spouse, poor man, has learned over the years that sometimes seeking shelter and riding out the storm is the only way to survive. Despite all propaganda, it isn't necessarily when I'm moody or irritable. Moody and irritable he understands and can handle. Usually all it takes is a large bag of chocolate and a litte alone time. He knows about wanting alone time and huge chunks of dark chocolate'n'blueberry bark. He lives with the Banshees too. He knows. It's my enthusiasms he dreads.

It's the days when I want to dig up the entire back yard and plant every variety of tomato in the Tomato Grower's Supply catalog (and believe me, that's quite a few.)

It's when I want to tear the fence down and replace it during one of his rare vacations. (It would be perfect! He gets to watch the kids while I do basic maintenance. What isn't to like?)

It's when I decide that the megalithic greenhouse that I'm dreaming of is just a tad on the small side, and while we're at it, let's add a larger heater as well.

It's when I opine that I need $$,$$$ to start a business. I like making soap. A lot. And I've had my eyes on this gear forever.

It's when I latch on to the monolithic dome website like a radioactive leech and start trying to teach myself architecture, layout, and interior design all in a single afternoon.

These are all signs of the impending apocalypse as far as my beloved spouse is concerned. I know I'm not going to get to do half of these things. Heck, my drawing alone is enough to teach me heaping amounts of humility. My mother could draw. I can weld. They're different skill sets and I despair that I'm ever going to get spatial relations down (on the other hand, I did teach myself to knit. It took me 25 years, but I did it!) I'm not going to get to plow the back forty with three small children on the property, not without chaining them to something large and heavy, a practice CPS actively discourages. And I know, because I handle the family finances, that $$ on soap gear is stretching it, much less !$$,$$$. I know it, and he knows it, but somehow he just can't relax about it.

Perhaps it's because I can't stop talking about it. My dh is a practical man; when he develops an enthusiasm he researches viability. If he can't do it, he develops a different enthusiasm. Me, I learn for the sake of learning. So it's unlikely I'll ever have the resources to pull together a coherent and cohesive monolithic dome drawing, let alone ever have the cash to build it. I'm going to know exactly how to put one together anyway. Just 'cause it's neat. And just because I have never known just what knowledge is going to come in handy somewhere down the road.

I had a nephew once ask me what I intended to do with all of the "useless knowledge" that I had accumulated. If he had started speaking in Javanese I don't think I could have been more startled. Useless knowledge? There is such a thing? But he was all of maybe 14 at the time, raised in a much different household than I was, and goodness knows the young man has his own personality and way of looking at the universe.

But still. Useless knowledge?? That just isn't possible. There's knowledge that I don't have a specific use for but that doesn't make it useless. If nothing else it makes me positively lethal at Trivial Pursuit. However, it's also very true that, as I said before, that no one ever knows when some small bit of knowledge, some kernal of learning, is going to synthesize with something else to create pure genius...or at least, the solution to the problem at hand. It has happened to me before. Carrying around all these disparate enthusiasms and boundless curiousities has helped me look at everything from raising children to raising Cain in a whole new way. New engineering feats aren't always born from numbers and isometric drawings; new scientific breakthroughs are as much about flights of poetic inspiration as they are about the known laws of physics or molecular bonds.

I'm not going to cure cancer. Heck, I can't even get the tomato seeds to germinate when I want them to. The house will never be a la Martha Stewart; it's a rare occasion when I can see a flat patch of counter space. But I have this boundless enthusiasm for learning and I hope, I wish, I want to be able to pass that enthusiasm on to my children. They may be the ones who have those marvelous, miraculous, legendary breakthroughs -- or they might be the inspiration for the person who will. They may be thinkers and poets and philosophers that have no great fame beyond their own family circle and as long as happiness and content are part of that circle, there is every reason to rejoice. Just as long as they inherit my love of learning, my enthusiasm for figuring things out -- their father's tenacity in the face of obstacles -- as long as they keep striving to learn more and loving every minute of the journey, then I will count myself a successful parent.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

St. Vidicon and the Universe

Christopher Stasheff is the author of the Warlock Series, most of which I've read and enjoyed very much. I mention him because he created the patron saint of technology, someone I've invoked an awful lot since I started delving into computers and learning the mysterious ways of the internet. I've told my spouse that I'm going to create a niche for a statue of St. Vidicon of Cathode and I'm only half-joking. It isn't that I really believe that a mythical Saint of a religion I have no ties to is going to save my hard drive if it's bound and determine to crash, but there are just times when invoking a fictional saint makes me feel better. It also keeps me from reprogramming the delicate and complicated gadgetry with the tin-knocker's ax that I keep around. St. Vidicon keeps me sane when the internet connection goes south, when the server melts down, and when the files I just downloaded disappear into the ether without a trace. "St. Vidicon, save me from Murphy and the Imp of the Perverse*" is a mantra that is repeated with varying degrees of frequency and feeling in my computer nook. (Even as we speak the internet connection has gone cattywhompus...again. Does garlic work on Murphy or is that just vampires?)

And then there are times when I just blame my position on the Universe in general. That's when something becomes, at least in my mind, unavoidable. There are details about blogs and blog traffic and blog etiquette that I figured I'd never really need to know. No one reads this thing except for a few of my nearest and dearest friends. I have no need to go out and drag traffic back to my blog; there is no inner exhibitionist in my soul screaming LOOK AT ME! in ultra-shrill tones. My friends know where to find me and I'm cool just hanging out here in my own microscopic corner of the web. But the Universe just knocked and I'm going to pay attention because...well, because I'm peeved. All right, I'm far beyond peeved, this emotion goes all the way into immediate white-hot outrage. Deborah Markus, who runs The Secular Homeschooling Magazine, had one of her pieces stolen. When the thief was confronted about it he basically shrugged and said that it was making too much money for him to give it back. My first reaction was immediate and visceral and completely unprintable. My second reaction was to do exactly what she has asked of her audience, and that is to link to her blogpost "I'd Rather Be Hated Than Used". I'm also going to link to the original
Bitter Homeschooler's Wish List, because I like it and you deserve to know who authored it. Then I'm going listen to the universe when it tells me it's time to learn about trackbacks, Fark, Stumble Upon, Digg, Boing Boing, and any other place that serves such functions, and whatever else it takes to get the word out about this situation. Just because someone can be a thief doesn't mean they should be a thief, or that it's at all advisable to steal.

It has been pointed out by wiser brains than mine that the internet is still very much in the Wild, Wild West phase of its existence. Laws may or may not exist to cover all contingencies and even when they do, they cannot always be invoked effectively. However, where lawlessness is rampant
reputation is everything. Which is a long-winded way of saying that what goes around, comes around and it's likely to be a bitter meal. Go Forth, Gentle Reader, and Spread the Word. I'm going to be digging under the couch for the subscription money.

Hat tip to Tammy at Just Enough, and Nothing More for the heads-up.

*The Warlock Unlocked