Saturday, October 20, 2007

Gypsy Children

Gypsy Girl
1879 Giclee Print
Pierre-Auguste Renoir

The months' events stretch forward on my calendar like so many ducks-in-a-row. But because I HAVE to provide myself some breathing space, some quiet spots for reading and thinking, I sometimes allow the kids to sleep late. I catch my time for renewal while they are asleep.

Then I feel guilty. Am I requiring enough from them? Am I inadvertently teaching them to be lazy and undisciplined? Perhaps I am lazy myself for indulging in morning quiet hours?

I wrestle with guilt even more when I speak to other mothers whose children are schooled 7 hours a day, engage in extra-curricular activities & sports, and do 3 to 5 hours of homework in the evening. What I require from my students seems a mere pittance in comparison.

I'm older than many of these other mothers, having come to the role of motherhood late in life. I've had time to accumulate some observations along the way: families that have overloaded schedules often cut out or miss regular fellowship time with the saints. I suspect--though I have no proof-- that they also miss out on a fair number of family meals and personal devotions. It's also probable that there are no leisurely walks, no lingering in bed a few extra minutes when it rains, no reading of books just-for-fun, nor indulging in a second cup of coffee over conversation with a loved one. Does this sound critical?

My aim is for a well-rounded life. There are times I think I succeed at that. There are other times I am either too lax or too regimented. Always, there is tweaking and evaluating when it comes to being a steward over the hours entrusted to me.

Typically (and ideally), I arise at 5:30 and have my quiet time, exercise, and grooming done before the kids get up (7:30). This works well UNTIL: a) travel schedules deplete the mother b) late nights deplete the children c) sickness slows the family down.

When this happens, I get up when I wake up. I sit in my chair and read until I am finished. Then I get the kids up. It may be 8:30. It may be 9:45 (GASP). And we proceed from there.

Now the Lord sometimes intervenes in mysterious ways to show me that I need to give the same cosideration to my children that I give to myself. Children, too, need quiet spaces in their lives.

This week, my little Artiste begged off from her art lesson at the museum. This is uncharacteristic of her; normally those lessons are the highlight of her week. Her reason, "I've been too busy. I need a break."


But she needs a break.

An artist, even a young one, cannot crank out masterpieces week after week without having a margin of inactivity in her life. She needs to play in the mud puddles, wield a stick, inhale the fragrance of fall. "Masterful inactivity" was what Charlotte Mason called it. These are the essentials that feed the creativity of artists. Could I demand Artiste produce art when her heart was crying out for renewal?

We skipped this one lesson~~guilt, be gone! There are some things more important than the cost of a measly art lesson.

I've seen the same principles at work with my oldest daughter, Melody. Melody normally composes a lovely piano piece about every 6 months. A few years ago, I noticed that the composition had come to a halt. After some investigating, it became obvious to me that I was the culprit. She was dutifully cranking out all the homeschool assignments I had required of her without complaint, but she had no time left over. There were no spaces left in her life for quiet; no time to just mess around at the piano; no time to engage playfully in her art. I relieved her of several requirements and within a month she was writing music again.

Tellingly, Melody chose a poem entitled "Leisure" to recite for her cooperative school speech class. It's not fine literature by any stretch of the imagination; it would be considered poetry of the working class in the last century. But it's obvious that the theme struck a chord in Melody's heart. The author of the poem, William Henry Davies, was a tramp. He was a gypsy-poet who lost his leg in one dramatic leap from a train.

Ah~~we risk losing our children to the gypsies when we turn them loose amongst the books!


William Henry Davies

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Self-Taught Individual

Ninth grade is the year for biology. This fact has caused me a deal of stress, because I have at least one ninth grader who thrives as an autodidact. I have no doubt that he will learn biology; it's just that it most likely will not be in a neat, sequential format like the one laid out in the expensive textbook I purchased. When I lifted that textbook out of the mailbox last month, my heart felt almost as heavy as the book. I knew I had purchased it because a college-bound high school student needs to be able to write "biology" on his transcript. As far as textbooks go, it is no doubt a good one ~~~Exploring Creation with Biology written by Jay Wile. But in my heart I knew that it was a compromise.

But how do you learn biology without a textbook?

We've already used the microscope, kept nature notebooks, studied insects somewhat in-depth, dissected a cow eyeball. But mostly we've read. Currently, we're reading the fascinating story of smallpox in a book called Dr. Jenner and the Speckled Monster. A person effortlessly comes away with some understanding of viruses and T cells and immunity after reading a book like that.

I know that all learning cannot be effortless, but somehow that big, fat, biology textbook makes me tired. I need courage to continue learning as we've been doing, without fear that my children will fail to measure up to the standards required by college. I have a feeling that they will be able to put their randomized bits of knowledge in order on their own once they decide they have the need to do it.

Interestingly, I came across a truly lyrical biology book, a series of essays by Lewis Thomas entitled The Lives of a Cell. Thank you, William K. Zinsser for suggesting him! Now this is a man who can write about biology in a way that delights. For example, this paragraph on pheromones:

" 'At home, 4 p.m. today', says the female moth, and releases a brief explosion of bombykol, a single molecule of which will tremble the hairs of any male within miles and send him driving upwind in a confusion of ardor. But it is doubtful if he has an awareness of being caught in an aerosol of chemical attractant. On the contrary, he probably finds suddenly that it has become an excellent day, the weather remarkably bracing, the time appropriate for a bit of exercise of the old wings, a brisk turn upwind. En route, traveling the gradient of bombykol, he notes the presence of other males, heading in the same direction, all in a good mood, inclined to race for the sheer sport of it. Then, when he reaches his destination, it may seem to him that most extraordinary of coincidences, the greatest piece of luck: 'Bless my soul, what have we here!'"

I love the way this man personifies the moth, don't you? And look how effortless it was to figure out that "bombykol" was a powerful pheromone released by a female moth to attract a mate. A curious individual would proceed to find out a little more about this chemical. He might go on to study pheromones in other species and even how/if they effect us as humans.

In contrast, a biology textbook would probably say something like this:

"Bombykol is a chemical substance called a pheromone. It is released by female silkworms in order to attract a mate. Named after the moth's Latin name Bombyx mori, it was discovered in 1959 by Adolph Butenandt."

Somehow, those words do not give me a taste for further investigation.

I was somewhat comforted by an article I came across this evening by John W. Osborne, called Thoughts on Autodidacticism:

" .....unscheduled reading made the child father to the man. It led to [my career] in academe. It was self-education rather than twelve years in a public school which allowed me to complete the college work that prepared me for graduate school. The mature Cobbett boasted that 'books and literature have been my delight.' His intensive personal reading helped to develop that direct, vigorous style of writing which still holds a reader's attention. Knowledge imparted in classrooms‑-what Ben Jonson called 'schoolcraft'--would have smoothed our way early in life, but might have cramped our individuality and led us along other paths."

THAT sums up my dilemma: smooth the way OR provide for individuality?

No pheromone receptors have yet been found in humans; perhaps our gift of language negates the need for pheromones and the messages they transmit. I'm banking on that gift of language to transmit the mysteries of biology to my children.

Meanwhile, fat biology books make great flower presses!