Monday, February 27, 2012

Preparing My Children for "The Opera"

State Opera House, Budapest
Pick a place that you love, a place that is full of beauty and goodness that amazes you when you go there.  That place for me is the opera house.  I spent a significant time of my youth learning the techniques and nuances of classical singing and the opera house is the epitome of all that I think is amazing.  I feel surges of emotion from listening to the music, I understand and silently sit in awe of the talent and dedication that it takes to sings difficult passages, and it is something that brings joy to my heart.
I want to someday share that joy, pleasure and love of music with my children.  I know how it makes me feel and I want to give them the opportunity to feel that happy and swelled up with beauty and inspiration.

But they are not ready for it...yet.

Can you imagine what it would be like for me to take my young children to the opera house?  Do you think they would enjoy it?  Do you think they would feel comfortable in those surroundings, comfortable with behaving according to the expected rules?  I have high expectations for my children and I like to think that they're rather well-behaved, but I'm not blinded by that satisfaction--my kids would hate going to the opera.

I'm sure I could bribe them to go--I could gush about wearing fancy clothes and going to a fancy dinner before and eating fancy dessert afterwards.  But the actual opera?  "Let's go sit and listen to people sing stuff you don't understand for two hours with only a short pause to use the bathroom halfway through."  Yeah, that's not going to sell them on the idea.

I need to start at the utmost basic level and painstakingly prepare my children, one step up at a time, to appreciate and enjoy operatic music before thinking of ushering them into the opera house and expecting them to actually enjoy the experience.

First, they need to master their little bodies to handle the experience.  They need to be able to sit and pay attention and resist the urge to talk loudly.  They need the physical maturity to not wet themselves in their chair and not pick their nose and flick boogers at the person occupying the seat in front of them.  I'm working on this physical maturity in their early years.  We work on controlling ourselves and learn new skills that will afford us new opportunities once a lower skill is mastered.

Second, they need to master their emotional selves.  I'm not taking a child who cannot control their anger to the opera.  No one in their right mind would take a tantrum-throwing child to the opera.  Until my child can show the emotional maturity required for opera attendance, they are not setting foot in that theatre.

Third, I need to nurture my child in musical knowledge and appreciation.  The first two expectations are a given, but I find that a lot of people will completely skip this third step and then be completely baffled as to why their child (or significant other...) did not enjoy nor appreciate the fine entertainment presented.  Every now and then you'll hear the story of a "natural" who had no foundation in operatic music that just loved it from the first vocalized note, but those are rare stories.

Opera, to the un-initiated, is an archaic form of music that isn't particularly catchy or flashy someone who prefers Top 40's music used to tell even older stories.  You're generally not going to stand outside the opera house after the final encore and hear the exiting patrons exclaiming about how the beat really had them grooving, how "sick" the choreography was, or how the costumes were going to set new fashion trends.  As a young adult, I most definitely did not earn any "coolness points" for being able to sing an aria and I did not consider my ability to resolve a Neopolitan chord as a seductive tool.  Yep, opera just isn't that sexy in a world that considers sexiness one of the most important factors in entertainment.  But wo, wo, wo unto ye un-initiated!  Opera is gorgeous.  Opera is intimidatingly awesome...once you understand it.

Anyone can turn on the radio and snap their fingers to a catchy tune.  That's entertainment.  People are easily entertained because being entertained is easy.  But opera, there is a lot going on in opera.  There's the singing, the acting, the story and the orchestral music.  There's usually super-titles (translations of the foreign words shown above the stage) as well. 

It takes effort to watch an opera production, but if you've done your homework ahead of time, it's really an enjoyable experience.  You need to know the story before you go to the show or it's going to be slightly disappointing.  You don't go to the opera to be told a story.  You read the story ahead of time and go to the opera to appreciate the artistry that tells the story.  You'll fare better if you've heard the music in its entirety beforehand.  You don't go to the opera to listen to music.  You listen to the music ahead of time and go to the opera to appreciate the performance and the singers' execution of the musical passages.  The opera-goer who doesn't know the story or the music before attending the show misses out on enjoying the opera at a higher level.  I love that higher level of opera.  It is deeply fulfilling for me to witness the excellent execution of a show.

I realize that "going to the opera" isn't the same experience of beauty and fulfillment for some of you that it is for me.  That's why I asked you to think of a place like that of your own.  I'm sure you do not plan on taking your children to that place until they have mastered the ability to behave, control their emotions and after a little bit of education to help them understand what's going on in that favorite place of yours.  You want to share those good feelings you feel at that place with your children and you go through the effort to try to stack the deck in your favor.

It is the same thing with Heaven.

We have a loving Heavenly Father who is in a place that is full of love, beauty and joy and He desperately wants to share it with each of us.  Just as our toddlers, preschoolers and teenagers may not be mature or educated enough to truly appreciate "our" special venue, God knows that we are not mature or educated to just traipse on through those pearly gates whenever we please.  So He gives us commandments to follow; commandments that will help us learn to master our physical bodies, temper our emotions and help us to learn of what will happen in His special place.

Just as my opera house isn't seen as too terribly "cool" or "fun enough" to warrant the work needed to truly enjoy the experience, Heaven isn't generally regarded by popular opinion as cool enough to warrant the work needed to truly enjoy its celestial experience.  Humility is viewed as a weakness, modesty portrayed as repression and virtue touted as old-fashoined and non-applicable in our "modern" world.  Those who try to live according to the commandments are labelled as idealistic dreamers, goody-two-shoes or brain-washed sheep that are too timid to live in the "real world."  But those idealistic individuals striving for exaltation are putting in the work now that will make Heaven a comfortable experience for them in the future.

Just as I'm not attempting to raise my children to feel comfortable around scantily-clad, screaming inebriates at a rap concert, but instead hedging my efforts to encourage appreciation and understanding for the musical venue that makes me feel joy, so is our Heavenly Father hedging His efforts to encourage appreciation and understanding for the venue that makes Him feel joy.  He wants to share all of the best with us and He has given us the instructions on how to get there and enjoy it.

If we don't do the work now, Heaven may feel rather alien to us later.  We take our intelligence, habits and personalities with us to the next life.  If we're uncomfortable around the meek, the humble and the virtuous in this life on this Earth, the perfection of Heaven is going to be a very uncomfortable experience in the next life.  God has given us commandments and high expectations to live up to so we can be prepared to enjoy His beautiful residence.  Obedience to His commandments brings us joy, beauty and love in this life and the next life. 

The commandments aren't meant to stifle or limit us, just as my expectations for my children to behave aren't meant to suck the fun out of their lives.  The commandments prepare us to fully appreciate everlasting joy.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

This Homeschooling Thing That We're Doing

This homeschooling thing that we're doing--I love it.  I love getting to be with my children and I love getting to witness their lives unfolding right in front of me instead of wondering what they're up to at school.  I like the conversations we have at lunchtime together and I love updating my Facebook status with random funny things that they've said to me throughout the day.  I love it that Bluebird is affectionately referred to as "Einstein" by people at church.  I love it that my children are learning about things that I think are important to learn about, rather than things that some group of people decided they needed to know about.

This homeschooling thing that we're doing--I don't love it one hundred percent of the time.  I don't like feeling like we're slogging through the work with one eye on the clock until our scheduled snack break.  I don't like how I feel like I'm having to ignore my younger children in order to attend the older children's educational needs.  I don't like feeling like I'm kind of being left behind while my adults friends send their children off to public school and suddenly get to pursue interests of their own while I'm playing slave-driver in our basement, trying to coax Bluebird to remember how to add nine to a number or convincing Penguin to read more than one page of her phonics curriculum.

This homeschooling thing that we're doing--it's fun.  It's fun to play with glue and glitter and construction paper.  It's fun to cook up ethnic meals and learn about how other cultures celebrate their important holidays.  It's fun to go on nature hikes and make my kids think I'm a freakin' genius when I can tell them what kind of tree that is and what animal made that pawprint in the mud.  It's fun to act out historical events in the backyard and to have inside jokes that most adults don't understand.  It's fun to go at our own pace on field trips and to do what we want to do on Fridays.

This homeschooling thing that we're doing--it's not fun.  It's not fun to clean up glue and glitter and little tiny pieces of glue-and-glitter-covered pieces of construction paper that are stuck to the carpet.  It's not fun to wash the cat to get the glue and glitter out of her fur after someone forgot (yet again) to put away the glue and glitter.  It's not fun to yell for the girls to come back and stay with me on nature hikes while I carry Monkeyboy in one arm and tug on Baxter's leash with the other.  It's not fun to feel like the only place we can go is our backyard after four hours of summoning my last drops of patience in order to get through our lessons on a bad day.  It's not fun when people quiz my kids instead of having a conversation with them.  It's not fun to pack up four young children and take them anywhere by myself.

This homeschooling thing we're doing--I really look forward to it.  I really look forward to starting a new read aloud book with the kids and I look forward to hearing about the books they've read from the library.  I look forward to doing art projects and going on field trips.  I look forward to listening to them tell Michael about what they learned during the day.  I look forward to picking out curriculum and I love to dream about all the fun things we're going to do in a new school year.  I look forward to working on Girl Scout badges and the feeling of pride I feel when all four of them are quietly working around the table during schooltime.  I feel like such a great mother during those times.

This homeschooling thing we're doing--I don't look forward to it sometimes.  I don't look forward to trying to be a good example of work ethic, cheerfulness and patience on the days that I wake up feeling like I would be better suited to pursuing some sort of violent vocation.  I don't look forward to teaching my kids while knowing there is a sink of dirty dishes, carpets that need vacuuming and clothes that need folding...and that if I wasn't doing this homeschooling thing, those chores would be completed before lunch instead of trying to simultaneously complete them while cooking dinner and supervising baths later in the evening.  I don't look forward to the feeling that I'm somehow not doing enough, ever.  I don't feel like I'm a good mother on the days I yell at my children or the days when I have to back out of other commitments because I don't have time for them because I homeschool my children.

This homeschooling thing that we're doing--it makes me feel empty sometimes.  It makes me feel empty when I've given all my energy to making the day go well and have nothing left over in the evening for me or my husband.  It makes me feel empty when I'm sitting with friends and all they can talk about is their children's teachers or classmates; when the realization that I homeschool lights up in their eyes, but then they shrug it off and continue in the comfort zone of their conversation despite its isolating effect upon me.  I feel empty when I have to be honest with myself and cancel yet another awesome field trip because it just won't work at this time in our lives.  It makes me feel empty when I feel proud about the things I'm doing and someone else points out that those same things could have happened if my kids went to public school...but that then I would have had time to work on something for myself.  It makes me feel empty when people think I'm "wasting" my college degree by staying home and educating my children.  It makes me feel empty when I try to explain why I love homeschooling and parents who send their children to public school go on the attack to prove why I've made a bad choice for my children.

This homeschooling thing that we're doing--it fills my soul.  I taught my children to read, which is one of the biggest and most life-affecting skills a person can have.  I know my children and we are such a team.  I love knowing that I am crafting personal educational experiences that cater to my children's strength, weaknesses and interest.  I'm proud of myself for doing the best thing for my children despite how difficult it is.  It fills my soul to have conversations with my children throughout the entire day about things we are both familiar with, instead of me trying to glean information about their day spent somewhere else.  It fills my soul to watch the four of them help each other learn a new thing or explain a difficult concept in a way the younger sibling can understand.  It fills my soul to hear my daughters answer that their sisters are their best friends.  It fills my soul to hear them ask for "just one more story" from the children's scriptures or that we sing "just one more song" during our morning devotional.  It fills my soul when I ask what they learned in Sunday School and they tell me it just review of "something we'd already learned in school."

This homeschooling thing that we're doing--it's not black and white, but a rainbow of things.  It's love and apprehension, guilt and euphoric success.  It's life.  It doesn't fit into neat little homework folders and it can't be displayed solely upon the mantle and the refrigerator.  It's messy and spewed throughout the house with no regard for order and school hours.  It's maddening that my superwoman organization skills are maxed out to the extreme and not able to keep it all contained.  It's a full-fledged job at home with no pay.

This homeschooling thing that we're doing--it's a lifestyle, not a hobby that can simply be abandoned or shelved when it's not interesting for a while.  Homeschooling is a choice; a conviction if you don't give up on it when the going gets tough.  People who would never suggest someone abandon their faith during a time of personal struggle need to realize that homeschooling falls into the same territory for many homeschoolers.  It's more than "Do-It-Yourself Education."  It's a matter of heart and soul; so incredibly personal that it can't be explained by any blanket statement because every family's reasons for choosing homeschooing are completely unique and driven by an expansive collection of motivations.

Friday, February 17, 2012

2011-2012 Weekly Report:
Tired, Sick, Bored, you name it.

It was Monkeyboy's turn to get sick this week.  I really, really thought he was going to bypass this one, but alas, I was once again brought to my knees in defeat.  He is little, but fierce.  The only sick person in this house and it turned everything completely upside down.  When the girls are sick, they want to be left alone so they can read or sleep.  Not Monkeyboy.  You must hold him, hug him, sing to him and dance with him if you don't want to listen to him shriek all. day. long.  I love you lil' dude, but seriously...oh. my.

I had the bright idea to hand the Kindle over to Bluebird and told her as long as she asked me first, she could just keep buying books and reading them as long as she wanted because school just wasn't happening while I was waltzing through the house with The Tot.  When we hit the fifth book of the day on Day #1 of my grand plan, I had to call it quits.  We need to eat, Bluebird.

I also think I need to step up the difficulty level of our Literature selections if she's able to whiz through five books in that amount of time.  It always feels like I'm sprinting to catch up with her abilities and just when I think I'm going to get a hold of the back of her shirt, she turns on some turbo rockets and blasts away from me again.  I'm pleased as anything with her progress, but geez, long journeys aren't meant to be sprinted!  Sometimes I need a breather!  Take pity on your ol' mum, just for a month?  Please?

She read a lot, but no "technical" school this week.  I did have some rather glorious ideas about our homeschooling curriculum though, so the hiatus may actually prove worthwhile.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Weekly Report 2011-2012: Week 23

We took last week off to get the house ready for Bluebird's baptism and all its implied house visitors, and I was really looking forward to getting back into our routine this week.

[Enter foreboding music here...dum, dum, DUUUUMMMMM!]

We got sick.  Of course.

I'm exuding a lot of mental energy giving myself silent talks about not freaking out over losing a week of school because we're sick.  It happens to everyone and it's not going to majorly impact anything in the long run.  I just wanted to do school this week.  Boo.

We are definitely on the mend.  Fevers are gone and all that remains are hacking coughs.  Yay for the healing process!

Bluebird worked on thank you notes early in the week and that's been the extent of school for her.  (Her penmanship has really improved!  I never thought I'd say that about her!)  She also read a lot, which helps ease my not-schooling heart. 

She received a few books for her birthday and ploughed through in a few hours and then hounded me about how long it's been since we've been to the library.  (I agree, but our library doesn't open until NOON on Fridays, which is when we do our errands...ugh, small town!  Once you've had four young children out doing errands for four hours, going to the library seems like something only a masochist would do to themselves.  I'm working on a solution, but it's tough with the one-car-situation.)
It's February!  A week off to be sick is completely expected.  We'll pick up next week.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Bluebird's Baptism

Our Eternal Family
Bluebird entered the waters of baptism this last weekend.  It was a beautiful day, full of family, friends, and so much joy that my heart seemed ready to burst.  I kept thinking, "Everything I have ever done or sacrificed to make this day a reality has been completely and utterly worth it."  It truly felt like Heaven on Earth.  That's the only way I can explain it.  I believe that Heaven will feel like her baptism.  Everything that mattered was in that little room--family, friends and faith.

People flew and drove many miles to be with Bluebird on her special day.  My granny and my aunt flew down from Seattle the night before, their flight getting in at 10pm and settling into their hotel room at 11:30pm.  I drove to their hotel to spend some time with them that late evening because they had to leave a few hours after Bluebird's baptism to catch their return flight home.  It was so good to see them, and then my aunt said, "Turn around."

My dad had come too.  (We won't go into my eardrum-shattering reception of his presence.)  My family, my family, my family.  Together to share in the realization of the dream that started when my granny was the first person in our family to become a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, back in the 1970's.

Michael's mother and aunt drove down from Idaho to be with us.  My children are so blessed to have these strong women in their lives.  They have testimonies that they aren't afraid to share.  Michael comes from a line of pioneer stock that is proud of their heritage.  I love that my children have that to claim as their own.  Thank you to the generations of faithful Latter-day Saints that have carried the Restored Gospel to this day.

My cousin, Bobby, and his wife Rachel and their adorable daughter also came down for the baptism.  They are cute newish-weds with a little child who are finishing up their degrees at BYU-Idaho...I remember what it was like to be in their shoes and I know what a sacrifice it was for them to be here with us.  And they did it happily, without a second thought...I was not as mature as them when I was their age.  Bobby served as one of the witnesses of Bluebird's baptism and Rachel gave a perfect talk about the Holy Ghost.  I can't believe that Bobby and I are working together to do these things now.  Yesterday he was running around with my brother, poking slugs with sticks.  Now he's helping confirm my daughter as a member of the Church.  When did that happen?!?!

Sadly, I don't have pictures of everyone who came to the baptism.  There were many people who came out to celebrate with Bluebird her momentous decision, and I was going to try to link to all of them, but the list got to be too long.  Each of you added an extra measure of special to a day already brimming with beauty and joy.  Thank you, thank you.

And my biggest thanks go to Michael.  He is a man of faith, an excellent father and the biggest blessing of a husband that any woman could ever wish to aspire to.  Without him this would not be possible...obviously, biologically, of course...but the guidance he provides to both me and our children and the example he sets pulls us to a higher level.  I was overcome with emotion as I watched him help Bluebird step into the water and realized that we are doing this.  This dream of an eternal family and a happily ever's happening and moving forward a little bit more every day.  It's so hard sometimes, but we don't give up and then we have a day like this and it just overwhelms me with gratitude and adoration for the man that he is.  Sometimes it feels like too much for one woman to have all to herself--Michael, Bluebird, Penguin, Junebug, Monkeyboy, my extended family, my friends and my faith.  It's all that matters.  And I have it all.

It was a wonderful day.

It's a wonderful life.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Bluebird turns EIGHT!


My first baby turned EIGHT last week.  EIGHT.  That is so big for so many reasons.  First of all, it's been EIGHT years of being her mother.  There are few things that I've stuck with for EIGHT years.  Michael and I have been together for nine, and I've been a member of the Church for almost eleven.  There's nothing else I've done for that long, unless you count my mandatory educational experience...which I don't, because it's not like I had a choice in the matter.  :)

So yes, I have been cleaning up, talking to and loving this girl for EIGHT years now.  It's been a good EIGHT years.  (The first year felt like it would never end...and the fourth year was a little bit of a nightmare with her, but she eventually grew out of it.)

She looks older.  She's lost her two front teeth.  She uses big words that sound so out of place coming out of her little kid mouth.  She's losing a bit of her "I hate work" attitude, which I sincerely appreciate, and she would rather go read a book than do just about anything else.  She's still bossy, but she'll also take the intiative every now and then and just do the work herself instead of lecturing a younger sibling about why they should be doing it.

The other reason why EIGHT is such a big deal is because when you turn EIGHT years old in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you are officially old enough to make the decision to be baptized.  She's been reading her scriptures and I've been doing my best to have gospel-oriented discussions with her about every possible topic that has come up in our daily lives, and she decided that she did want to be baptized a member of the Church.  The big EIGHT.  It's been an exciting time for our family.