Archive for March, 2008

Attention Bloglines Subscribers

March 31, 2008 @ 9:32 pm | Filed under:

I’ve just discovered that some of you are subscribed to an inactive feed. If you haven’t been seeing new posts in your Bloglines reader, please make sure you are subscribed to, not Thanks!

(But how will you see this if you’re not getting my feed?)

Trouble Loading This Site?

March 31, 2008 @ 3:21 pm | Filed under:

Hey, I’m hearing from some readers that the blog isn’t always loading for them. I’ve had that problem too ever since my web host changed servers last week. If you’re encountering this problem, would you mind leaving a message in the comments when you finally do get through? I’d like to have a clear idea of how often it’s happening. Thanks.

Another Gem from Willa

March 31, 2008 @ 5:21 am | Filed under:

Parenting as a creative art:

But if the parents don’t model mature, loving ways of interacting, how is the child going to learn? I think some people see the word “love” and think “permissive, weak, mushy”. But honestly, it doesn’t break down that way, or shouldn’t. There is nothing permissive or weak or timid about allying with the child to help him to “become who he is”, who he is meant to be. There is nothing permissive or lax about letting go of the non-essentials and focusing on the essence. It is strength, not weakness, to focus on the good things and magnify those. Love is as Maritain said “wild and irrepressible”. It is deep and unique and springs out of who you are as a person, like any other creative art. It is generous and loves the truth, as he also says, but then you also have to remember that truth is not a sword to use to cut others down — it is a light that illumines and makes good things clear and transparent and sparkly. For some reason, it often involves laughter, at least in our household. Laughter (not the mocking kind) frees things up and dissolves barricades.

There’s much more, including a moving account of her husband’s tenderness toward their fragile infant in the NICU. The “my little werewolf” story reminded me so much of how Scott kept me laughing when Jane was in the hospital. As her golden curls started to fall out from the chemo, my brown-haired husband joked to his brown-haired wife that “we always knew she’d lose the blonde hair someday…just not this soon!” The nurses used to think we were crazy, but the laughter was what kept us sane and close.

Willa’s thoughts about laughter dissolving barricades and tension brought back another hospital memory. One of our favorite nurses, Theresa, was a young mother about our age (late 20s) with two little boys ages 3 and 5. She worked nights, and we often wound up chatting during the wee hours when all her patients, including my two-year-old, were asleep. Once she told me that she had almost administered her very first spanking the week before—almost. Her boys had done something (I don’t remember what) Very, Very Bad. Something Extremely Naughty and Highly Inappropriate. Surveying the scene of the crime, fury rose within their mother and she roared at them, “You deserve a—” She was going to say “spanking” but she saw the fear in two sets of big brown eyes and a pang of regret cut through the fury. Her sons had never been afraid of her before.

“—A—a SCHMANKING!” she finished the sentence.

Fear changed to bewilderment in the big brown eyes. “What’s a schmanking?” asked the five-year-old.

“It’s this,” said Theresa, and she scooped him up and tickled him all over. He shrieked with laughter and the three-year-old held up his arms, crying, “My turn! My turn for a schmanking!”

I loved that story then, and I love it more now, ten years and four children later. Don’t all our children deserve a schmanking now and then?

Here’s another nice post at In Need of Chocolate
with a roundup of many of the books people recommended in my patience post comments, plus a link to an article urging parents to “take a week off from punishing” their kids and see what happens.

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The Parenting Thread

March 29, 2008 @ 9:02 am | Filed under:

I’m still juggling the various strands of discussion in the comments, on two posts now, and such thought-provoking remarks continuing to come in. I’m conscious of several questions that have been raised but not tackled yet, and while I’m pondering them (and seeking time to reply), I thought it might help if I teased apart the topic strands into separate threads. The unschooling thread is going strong in the knowledge post, and I’ve put together a number of your comments and questions about parenting below. Amy at Epiphany Springs and Elizabeth at Frabjous Days have posted on the respectful parenting topics at their blogs, too. (And other people as well, I’m sure; feel free to add your links to the comments.)

Also, Willa has written another very good post at In a Spacious Place addressing the shortcomings of the term “child-led” education.

Here, from the patience post, are some questions people had that others might want to try to answer, and some of the insights about respectful parenting. These are by no means all the good comments, nor even all the best parts of the comments they’re excerpted from. If you’re at all interested in the topic, I heartily encourage you to read through the whole comment thread. (more…)

When Does a Busy Mom Write?

March 28, 2008 @ 7:31 am | Filed under: ,

Sarah N. asked:

I have a question for Melissa. How do you get any writing done when you are living in the moment and really enjoying your kids? I’m also a writer but I can’t get any work done when I really feel like I’m in sync with my kids and really being present with them (I’ve already given up the standards I’d like to have for housework and other family management so I can’t steal much time from that).

When I wrote my Little House books, Scott was a work-at-home freelancer too. I wrote quite a bit about our work-and-family schedules in the “I’m No Supermom” series a couple of years ago, oh, and in an article called “The Homeschooling, Freelancing Life.” Back then—and mind you, that was before Rilla was born—Scott worked from 9-3 while I was with the kids, and I wrote from 3-6 while the children played with daddy. It was an idyllic arrangement, and we were deeply appreciative of it for the whole lovely eight years it lasted. (He quit his editor job to go freelance when Rose was born.)

In July of 2006 Scott returned to the editor’s side of the desk. I have much less writing time now, and we knew that would be the case when we made the decision to accept the job offer. My children won’t be little forever and I want to savor these all-too-fleet years!

But still, I must write. If I don’t write my head gets swirly with pent-up words and I am no use to anyone. We’ve worked it out so that I get about 1 1/2 to 2 hours a night, four nights a week (Scott has a class on the fifth night), and around four hours on Saturdays. That isn’t a ton, but it’s enough to get some work done.

If you’re interested in the specifics (I know I always like to hear the details of how people manage their time), it goes like this. (more…)

Is Knowledge Relative?

March 26, 2008 @ 8:09 pm | Filed under: ,

I just spent all my posting time writing another really long comment in the patience/unschooling thread. Is it cheating if I post it here as well? (Cheating what, Lissa?)

Maybe not cheating, but nepotism perhaps. (Can nepotism apply to one’s own self?) There have been so many good, wise comments on that post, and I keep pulling excerpts to paste into a post—two posts, one on parenting and one on learning/unschooling—but the posts would be almost as long as that comments thread. Besides, excerpts are not as good as whole comments, in context.

This comment was a reply to one of many questions asked in that thread.

Wendy asked,

“Does unschooling mean we give equal weight to everything our children are interested in? For example, is reading a Star Wars novel (which my 10yods is now doing, aloud, for his 8yo brother) just as valuable as reading, say, Scotland’s Story? I know I must be missing something, but it seems like relativism to me to say that it is.”

That depends on what you mean by valuable, and by relativism. Relativism in this context sounds bad, like moral relativism. (You can tell I’m not a moral relativist because I think moral relativism is bad.) But I don’t see how it could be moral relativism to say “this bit of knowledge is just as valuable as that bit of knowledge.” Valuable for what purpose? In what context? Here are some things of value I see in a boy reading Star Wars aloud to his brother:

learning to read with inflection (useful in many professions)

gaining deeper understanding of dialogue including how to punctuate it, how conversations unfold

deeper understanding of pacing, rising action/falling action, conflict, character development, description, subplots, metaphor and imagery (all very valuable in my particular profession!)

deepening of bond between brothers; warm happy memory for them, shared knowledge for games and in-jokes

experiencing the good feeling of doing something nice for someone, discovering the joy of charitable acts

science stuff about space, planets, gravity, engines, weapons, etc

Star Wars usually conveys a message that is decidedly NOT moral relativism: good is good, evil is evil; good fights evil (and prevails: hopeful message); it’s not ok for a good guy to do something bad even if he has a good reason (ends do not justify means); even the worst of bad guys can repent and try to make amends

other Star Warsy themes are the importance of working as a team, playing off each other’s strengths; perseverance; sacrifice

And probably a lot of other things I’m not thinking of.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be either/or with Star Wars and the Story of Scotland (not that Wendy was saying it did; I’m just developing a thought)—both books might capture a kid’s interest at different times, or at the same time. Jane had a three-year Boxcar Children passion; she read that series so many times she could identify all 100+ titles by number. At the same time she was reading lots of books from the classics lists. If there wasn’t something valuable about formula fiction, there wouldn’t BE formula fiction. No one would buy it; it wouldn’t get published (by the millions). There is something deeply satisfying about reading a story that unfolds in a reliable way. It’s comforting, but it can be exciting, too, knowing that the next twist is due and making guesses about the plot, puzzling out the mystery or solution to the conflict.

And in a way it’s impossible to put a value on knowledge because you don’t KNOW what you’re going to need to know in the future. (If you don’t know it already, and a pressing need arises, you’re going to learn in a hurry. I knew next to nothing about the War of 1812 when I was offered the Charlotte books. The first book was set in the middle of the war, and I had four months to write it. And historical accuracy was imperative both to the publisher and to my sense of integrity. So you can bet I took in an enormous amount of knowledge at a rapid pace!)

I think it is so, so hard for all of us who were schooled to break down the boxes that school put knowledge into. School has to decide what information to present when, and to whom. It says “this is important for all people of X age to know.” (But though it can present the information, it can’t guarantee that all the students will wind up “knowing” it.) School says that certain knowledge is more valuable than other knowledge. But you know what? Knowing how to fix a toilet would have saved me a lot of money, but school never presented *that* potentially valuable knowledge. I can draw really pretty circles with a compass, though. I’ve had more plumbing problems in my life than occasions requiring perfectly round circles.

In typing class I learned to put two spaces after every period. That was a valuable piece of information when I took timed typing tests for temp agencies during college. Later, when employers needed word processors instead of typists, I had to “unlearn” that habit. Only one space after a period, in computer typing. Knowledge that formerly had value became disadvantageous. Circumstances change.

The value of knowledge *is* relative, isn’t it? “Is this important” depends on “for what?”

That isn’t the bad kind of relativism, moral relativism. It’s practicality.

I place a very high value on beautiful prose and well-crafted fiction. I value some types of poetry (Elizabeth Bishop) over others (Hallmark greeting card). Hallmark sells millions more greeting cards than Elizabeth Bishop sold books. And yet, I say her work is “better” (a relative judgment) than a Hallmark card. I say it, and I believe it, and I can tell you why, syllable by syllable. But it’s possible that my grandma (if I still had one living, that is) would be far more moved by the sentimental lines on her birthday card than Elizabeth Bishop’s rapturous meditation upon a very ugly fish.

Another way to think about it is: who is learning more—the kid who is passionately interested in Boxcar Children, or the one who is patiently enduring Great Expectations?

(That same child might, however, find herself captivated by Great Expectations a few years later—her appreciation of suspense fiction having been honed by dozens of Boxcar Children books.)

Charles Dickens knew the “value” of words—he got paid by the word. When he read his own work aloud, he stripped out most of the adjectives; he’d just put them in to pay the bills.

We (having been well schooled) might say that classical music and opera are “more important” or “better than” cartoons. But most of the kids in my generation first (and maybe only) encountered opera in the cartoons. Ohh Bwunhiwda, you’re so wuv-wy…Yes I know it, I can’t he-e-elp it… 🙂

My kids discovered Strauss through Tom & Jerry. I discovered Strauss through That’s Entertainment!

To come back to the question: do we give equal weight to everything our children are interested in? I think yes, we do. School has to decide what to present how, and in what way, but at home, we don’t. We aren’t bound by a calendar year or test date. We don’t have to squeeze knowledge into someone else’s boxes. Way leads on to way!


March 25, 2008 @ 11:56 pm | Filed under:

I don’t know what happened, but sometime this evening I lost several posts and the last day’s worth of comments. I managed to restore them all from the feed (yay comments feed!). Sorry for the confusion! I think everything’s back now. Whew. Such good comments: it would have pained me to lose ’em.

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A Quick Thought re Comments

March 25, 2008 @ 11:31 pm | Filed under:

As the conversation continues to roll on in the comments below, I just wanted to remind readers that you can subscribe to my comments by email or feed. To sign up for emailed comments, click the link in my left sidebar. To sign up by feed, click the link in the previous sentence.

Thanks! Keep your insights coming! I’ll have a chance to chime back in later tonight (in theory).

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