Friday, August 14, 2015

The Lion House

We got the house we wanted.  Yes, on Avram's birthday (yesterday) we found out we got the house, and then our day became a flurry of deposits and contracts, keys and paperwork.  But we have it now, which is super exciting to me. Now we can finally move, and unpack, and settle down. All except one small detail - Avram got sick yesterday, and now is lying in bed. So....no moving today. Compared to not having a home to move into at all, a state of life we were in two days ago, I really don't mind this small hiccup. We are planning now to move tomorrow, and in the grand scheme of things one day's difference is not important.

Why are we moving so fast, you might be wondering?  Well, impatience on my part plays some role. Now that we have keys to our new home how could I not want to move as soon as possible? Plus, with rooms as exciting as our dining room, which also doubles as a storage room and, most exciting of all, Athena's bedroom, we are more than ready to stretch out a little.

Would you believe that our family actually eats meals in here? Yeah, I don't quite believe it either.  


What a pretty nursery - I should pin it to Pinterest. (Yes, this is the other half of the room that we eat in).

Living room of our cave basement home. I want to be clear thought, that as much as I am looking forward to windows, that I am grateful we have been able to stay here while looking for a long term home.


 Here are some pictures of the house we will be moving to. This isn't a complete tour - apparently I forgot to take pictures of two of the three bedrooms (and I went in for the sole purpose of taking pictures of the house.....)
This is a home very close to BYU campus, and so there are many students living around here (it is surrounded by apartment buildings). As with many old, large houses in Provo, it has been divided into apartments. The main floor is our apartment, so it just feels like a one story house.

This is half of our front porch. Our house is called the Lion House, from the Lion statue. I love big front porches!

This is half of the living room, and a glimpse into the entryway. Note the moldings, and built in bookshelves and window frames.
I love the large south facing windows.




This is the one bedroom I captured - this will be Elisheva, Guinever and Enoch's room.  Elisheva is ecstatic about the built in vanity and dresser.

We are thinking of either eating in the kitchen (moving this table out and ours in, of course), or putting the table in the living room, since it is large enough to handle that.

This is the old butler's pantry, which will probably become Homeschool storage on the bottom  and bookshelves on top.

There is also a backyard, which helps increase the sanity just a bit for the whole family. I think this our new Lion House will be just the place for our family to settle down for a while, and stretch out our wings while we prepare for the next stage of our lives.  I know that when I am surrounded by natural light and beauty that I feel better about my home, my life, and I have more energy and interest in making a life I love. I used to feel almost bad that I was so affected by my physical environment, but I have realized that as a stay at home mom I spend almost all of my life in my home. And while I don't think everyone cares, for me being in a dark home or one without any personality makes me feel dull as a person.  I have a hard time being motivated to clean it (because a clean, dark and soulless home is still depressing), I have no excitement to do house projects, and I feel disconnected from nature, which in turn makes me feel disconnected with life.  Having a home that I love makes it easier to do the things I need to do as a mother and homemaker, and facilitates a happier home for everyone. 

When we started looking for long term housing in Provo, we soon realized that we could not get everything on our list (close to campus, light-filled, personality/architectural details, backyard, three bedrooms, cheap).  For a while I entertained ideas like trying to make it work in a basement apartment, or just being okay with an apartment. Plenty of people over the whole world have to just make it work in whatever housing they can have. I know it is even a measure of the first world life I have that I can even have these kinds of criteria.  If all we could have afforded was a small basement apartment, then I would have learned to be grateful that we could even have a house at all.  What became difficult to me was that we actually could afford a nicer home, but it was a choice that we had to make in balancing our priorities.  We have been grad students for so long that I have been used to just doing the bare minimum, because that was our only option. Now we could have chosen to continue that (and there is nothing wrong with living in a small, basement apartment, if that's what you don't mind doing), or we could choose to prioritize natural light and location and architectural details that make my heart sing.  I am always talking about how experiences are more important than things, but it has taken (and will continue to be a work in progress, I am sure) me a long time to actually enact this philosophy. It is easy to think of experiences as being exciting vacations, or concerts, or some other red letter occasion. As a stay at home mom, my house comprises the majority of my daily "experience," although it is is experience made up of small moments, like pearls along a string, each moment gathering together to create an overall effect like a majestic pearl necklace.

So much of how we see our life is self created, self imagined from the events or facts that individually make up our life.  I could often take one sample day, and depending on how it was described either have it sound like my creative kids spent the day with screen free imaginative free range play (which they often do), or I could say that my kids made a huge mess all over the house (which they often, at the same time, usually do). It is all how we see it, and having a home I love helps me see the former and not the latter. Experience matters, and I am finally coming to peace with the fact that this makes it okay that I want to feel that I am surrounded by beauty.

 I am grateful that we were able to find an old house with character, natural light and that is so close to campus, the library and a park. And although we finally decided in this case that we cared more about location and light than staying in a lower budget, we actually found this house right in range with what we were hoping to pay. Avram's top want was that it was within walking distance to campus. He remarked that this will be the closest that he has ever lived to campus, including when he was an undergraduate here.  I spent a lot of time despairing that we would ever find a home that covered the major items of importance to us, but not giving in to just signing a contract with the easiest to find apartments out there has truly paid off.  Now I just need to remember this for when we go house hunting in a year or two, and the the despair/hope roller coaster starts again, only with much larger stakes. I know Avram is already dreading living with me then, but hey, if being picky about buying a house pays off with the kind of home that being picky about renting a home did (which took a lot longer because we weren't willing to pursue just anything), then I will not mind at all the extra hours of anguish.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

In the Middle

Everything is in the middle right now. We have an application in on an apartment (actually, the main floor of a house that has been divided into apartments), Avram just sent off his first set of applications of the academic season, and the first one happened to be for our most coveted positions at BYU.  We are living in a two bedroom basement apartment right now, with our boxes piled up high around us. We have never really unpacked, because we have always known that we were going to be immediately looking for somewhere else to live.  I'm trying to be patient. I know that this stage too will end.  If we do get this house then we are planning on moving in just two days (since it will be available tomorrow), and since there really isn't a whole lot to pack up. It could be so soon where we would be out of this purgatory, and although not permanently settled for the rest of our life, at least settled for this year.  Or....it could be a lot longer, just depending on what houses are available.  I am not good at patience and waiting. I think God knows this, and is trying to help me be more patient. I am not sure I appreciate His efforts, but maybe I will once I can look back and remember that nice, short time when we didn't know anything about anything that was happening in our life.

For now I just feel like every day is another one being dragged over the heaping coals of impermanence.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Let's talk about hard things - foodstamps and the 'life of the mind.'

I'm trying to have faith, but I think the hardest part is what if God's plan for us is to be really, really poor and uncertain this next year?

It makes me nervous to move all of our belongings, which would not be cheap, across the country when we don't have any specifics.  And what if it doesn't work out - what do we do then?  We need to have some kind of job.  And if Avram wasn't adjuncting, or almost worse if he only got one class, I would rather that he found some kind of full time position, even if the pay were not great, than trying to cobble together a couple of part time positions. At least then we might get some kind of benefits, and if nothing else he would be working more than 29 1/2 hours a week - the top cap, because heaven forbid if any university went over that amount and - gasp - actually had to pay benefits like health insurance for their adjuncting employees

 There's no guarantee that even feeling peace about our future means that we will have enough to live on, or even that Avram will get three classes to adjunct for.  And it's not like even if he does adjunct we will be making much.  I think America does not realize that one of the prizes of the modern, intellectual age - our University system - is built upon the backs of people who are teaching class by class, and getting paid only around $25000 for an entire year of teaching - and that is if they are able to get three classes throughout the entire year.  We know someone (who is in business, and is quite comfortable) who recently asked if adjuncting paid what, around $80,000? That's way more than even many professors make (in the humanities). I'm sorry to be crass and bring money into it, but I think all too often America and academia hide their poor practices and marginalizing of workers by making talking about money taboo, and by emphasizing lies like it's a "life of the mind."

Do you want to know what the "life of the mind" is like?  It's trying to keep your wife and five children clothed, fed, and sheltered while bringing home 1565 a month - and that is the most (the amount before taxes, at least - this is the after tax amount) that you have ever made before! It is qualifying for - and using -  medicaid and foodstamps because you honestly cannot make the ends meet, and because you are trying to finish your dissertation it does not make sense to pick up another job, since that would just make everything take even longer, and you would be a student for longer.

A boy at our church when questioned about evil said that people who use foodstamps are evil.  Well, now you know. I am evil.  My family is evil.  (Don't worry, I do not actually believe that).  What kills me is that this boy is the son of our very good friends - who knew that we have had foodstamps. So what does that say - are they telling him we are evil? I know kids have their own agency, and are not just puppets of their parents, but I'm pretty sure that idea didn't pop into his head sui generis.

Regardless of your politics - maybe you think foodstamps are evil too - just remember that at your university that you attended has lots and lots of adjuncts, and even if they personally are not on foodstamps (and I can guarantee more than a few are), they all qualify for them if they have dependents. So if you do not believe in foodstamps, it's not as simple as just condemning them - it involves making system that pays people enough to live on.  Most of the people who are on them are not educated - they are not the "elite" who both use government money to eat and who have almost four college degrees between one couple.  Maybe they should have not had children when they couldn't support them (I would like you to meet Enoch - who was conceived through an IUD.  Maybe I should have had an abortion - would that have made the right wing feel better about their lives?)  Maybe they should havbe reconsidered spending eight years of their lives in upper education, living far below the poverty line and qualifying for lots more government aid that they never took, including not using foodstamps for over half that time because they are trying to be independent, and are trying to be self - relient, but it gets really hard when you are not paid a living wage.

Most people on foodstamps do fit some of the stereos attached to them - after all, I have spent hours and hours waiting in the official government offices, and I admit, it is not all roses and sunshine for those on government help.  But I almost feel a responsibility to speak up for them, for many do not have the education and knowledge on how to speak up for themselves.  And they are working, like we are, too. But when you don't make enough to live on, it's not that easy, no matter how hard you work.

For me, I guess I have been able to justify being on foodstamps because we are students, and things are going to get better.  But now, I don't know if they are going to get better. I am definitely not planning on having them after we graduate - without a dissertation to write we can and will fill in our time with side jobs that will pay for our food. But we will still have medicaid, because even those adjuncts who don't have so many dependents, or who have enough side jobs to actually pay for living still do not have access to any kind of medical insurance.

This is the life of the mind.  Sure, we have great conversations about the ancient world, and about religious constructs, boundaries, conceptions of ritual and appropriate religious observances.  Sure, we have a personal library that rivals some medieval  royal libraries.  Sure, we spend our evenings not watching TV but reading and thinking - well, except when we don't (Avram and I do our fair share of zoning out too). But we also have no job security, no benefits, do not make enough to live on, and the field is so lopsided that we will almost certainly never get a tenure track job.  That is our ivory tower that is so out of touch with reality.  That is the rarefied air of academics. If there is an ivory tower it is built on the worn out backs of many who will never be able to ascend its hallowed stairs to a better (full-time) position.

I normally would not publish this. My draft folder is full of posts like this, that are a little bitter, lack some perspective, and perhaps would make me feel awkward if I knew other people had read them. But I am going to publish this one, because I want people to know a few things - one, what a broken Academic system means, what adjuncting, and having more and more adjuncts, and less and less professors actually means.  I want people to have another perspective on those 'evil' people who use foodstamps, and to realize that one of the most highly respected positions in Amercia, that of professor, goes hand in hand with adjuncting and with poverty, and hence with foodstamps.  I want people to know the truth of what this 'life of the mind' entails, and it's not just great mind expanding conversations and late night epiphanies over the human condition, it's also spending a month living on your food storage of beans and wheat (with some fresh produce and dairy) while waiting for foodstamps to come in, because that is how little you have. It is gettng foodstamps again, because although we were off of them for two years, I really, really wanted to buy our own food, and we took on extra debt to do so, we got them again this last fall because they started deducting for our retirement, and there went our food budget), and being as excited about that as about getting a job interview.  This is the dark underbelly of our shining ivory towers, and I think America would do better to acknowledge it than to hide it behind a smoke screen of how embarrassing and tacky it is to talk about crass and plebian topics like money, benefits and foodstamps.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Updates (in the usual Thora style)

This is not going to be the large essays I have been previously prone to (and will be prone to again, I am sure). Rather, in the absence of facebook, I wanted to pop in with a few thoughts and updates.

First, regarding facebook, things have been going actually really well without it. I feel like I have been more productive with my internet time, and feel like I do not spend as much time on the internet as well.  But when I went to a baby shower for a woman from church I kept being reminded of all the things that I am actually missing from my current, in real life, social (and religious) group.  So...I don't know. The jury is still out on whether I will resume facebook or not.  Plus I miss being able to share pictures with family that does not live close by, without having to take the effort to individually email them all out.  Of course, one could say that I could blog and post pictures of my family, but....that would require blogging, and uploading pictures. So maybe what I am really saying is that I do not miss actually uploading pictures for family to see, but rather I miss the idea that I was always about to upload them, but actually only rarely carrying through on that intent.

Second, it's a really good thing I gave up facebook, because I have been spending the last week and a half, and still have a week and a day left, helping Avram edit his dissertation. He has edited it before, as has his advisor, but this is the editing of pulling it all together into one large, cohesive piece, with adding sections that support his introductiona and conclusions (and hence, the main points he makes). Plus it is a good, thorough copy edit, because his advisor does not do any copy editing. So I am reading through each of the thirteen chapters twice as we do edits back and forth (with the intro and conclusion getting three edits, since they are the most important parts).  All of this means I basically have an unpaid part time job, with me spending two to six hours a day on editing and reading and editing. Just the kind of mentally tasking work that before would have made just checking facebook a teeny, tiny bit really tempting, but ultimately meaning that I would end up checking it, and then avoiding the heavy-duty hard work through the easy "catching up with the really, really, obviously essentially important work of reading about friends' and family's lives."

Doing this has also helped me appreciate all the work Avram has been doing these last two and a half years. I have helped him do extensive edits on papers before, but not on something that is approaching four hundred pages, and the immensity of such a task has given me much appreciation for what Avram has been working on all this time.  All that said, I will be very grateful when it is handed in, and we can all relax a bit (until it is time for his defense, at least, which comes at the ides of April).

Lydia also turned nine this month, and I took lots of pictures, and had lots of thoughts on how old she is, and how she really is becoming (or rather, has always been) her own, unique person that Avram and I have the responsibility to shephard through he first fourth part of her earthly journey, but who has always been, and will always be, her own person with her individual strengths and weakness. Our responsibility as parents, therefore, becomes helping her explore her strengths and resolve her weaknesses, but not to mold her into some generic "good" or "responsible" person with all of the strengths, and none of the quirks that real people share. Plus I went to a play she was in yesterday (yes, I took pictures there too, and yes, they are still all on my camera, and no, I will not upload them to this post).

What became driven home into my mind from the experience (besides that Lydia has a lot of stage presence, which another mother even complimented me on Lydia's behalf for, and which I also know was generally felt because the audience audibly reacted to her delivering her lines - and that maybe I should consider getting her into some kind of theatre for kids, but that would take knowledge, time, and money, so....) was, seeing all of the kids that are not as short as mine, the reminder of how old nine really is. And how old that ten and eleven will be even moreso (driven home by seeing the 4/5 grade class performing their play after Lydia's third grade class did their's).  Oh, my, and then she will all too soon be grown up, and so old (even if she never gets big), and then she'll go out into the world and be a grown up.  It brought home to me how much motherhood (and fatherhood) is doing all you can to bring a prescious soul into the world, holding them, loving them - but only to ultimately let them go.  Dave Barry said this better than I can, which is why he got a pulitzer prize for that piece, and I got to self publish on blogger. Also, I am sorry that this link doesn't go directly to the actually column - see above, I am busy right now. So busy I ought to be eating lunch right now....

And how with all of my kids, not just Lydia, will grow up, and become beautiful, smart big people who drive and date and go to college, and I am sure that I will be very proud and happy for them, and even moreso, I do not actually want them to remain little forever, but still, why does it hurt so much to do that which is so right and good? Why is it poignant, why does my heart and throat feels such a small, stabbing sadness to see them getting older and bigger (a little) and smarter?  Because then, I am not their all encompassing, all wise mother. Of course, I will be their mother forever - but Athena needs me, loves me, and it is very validating, even if it also includes what Avram and I lovingly refer to as her constant need and desire to go for the jugular and  ripe out our throats with her little (loving) claw hands.

But the best mother love of all is the one that lets go, that is all encompassing, but only because it is also all releasing.  That I cannot fully be a proper, true, archetypically meant all-mother unless I can let go.  I realized that sometimes when I treat my kids like not fully-thinking independent people (when I expect them to automatically follow what I say, without their own thoughts, when I as a knee jerk reaction say no to a request of theirs, without first actually thinking about what they are asking, and giving it the same kind of weight that I would give anyone else that were not my child or another small kid) it is really sometimes not just lame (but it can be that too), but also a backwards way of trying to deny this fundamental truth - that I am not their overlord, they are not my faithful child army I have (slowly, laboriously, even) conjured up to be mini-mes that reflect me exactly, but that they are eternal beings, souls that, as Dave Barry puts it, are like comets in their trajectory. And although sometimes I am just being selfish when I am not remembering or acting as if my children are independent beings, but sometimes I do think that it is a sort of love that becomes twisted in its expression, so that in a way I am saying "My refusal to see you as a real, separate person is my refusal to let you move up and with that comes an implied move away from me."  Yet, taken too far and I would become like the mother in the Great Divorce, who cannot accept her son as a real, adult person (and that God is more important than her son).  My job is not as a mother to smother my children with love (or, because I am kind of a lazy, laid back temperment, to just not see them as separate beings, but this could manifest in others as a martyr complex for our children, like the mother in the Great Divorce).  My job is to help them shoot through space, not try and hold them close to me forever.

This also gave rise to all sorts of thoughts about Heavenly Father's love, and why he gives mankind the freedom he does, even when we tend to use it so poorly.  Anyway, these are all deep thoughts, and I didn't mean to hijack my own post into musings on the big picture questions of life.  But, all these things do make me appreciate more that I can simply hold and nurse Athena without having to incorporate eternal parenting principles of agency and respect - even if I do end up with a few scratches.

And now, back to editing.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Parasailing into the Dark

Last year I wrote about free falling.  Well, if that was free falling, now we are parasailing off a cliff into the darkness. Yet, I feel calm about it.  This last week we went from planning on leaving Columbus around the end of July.  Today we are now leaving by the first of June.  Only a difference of two months - not much time, even in the space of a year.  But these were our last two months here, where we have spent six and a half years. Avram and I will celebrate our tenth anniversary this April, and all but  three years and five months of those years have been here.  We have lived three different places here, in a townhouse, one little white house, and then another little white house with a bright red door.  We have had three children here.  We have sent two children to school.  We have been in the same ward the whole time, which means we have grown in the same religious and social community most of our marriage.  We live across the street from Avram's brother, and Samuel and Aleatha and their three children are an integral part of how we plan our social days and weeks (not to mention the untold times Avram and I have borrowed an egg, sugar, rice, baking soda, and every other food item because apparently we can't remember anything when we shop).

We have always known that our time in Columbus, Ohio was a sojourn. A stopping point, that although not brief, has always been temporary.  Yet, somehow I thought that we would be able to say goodbye sufficiently, that somehow five months to mentally wean ourselves from our friends, our beloved little home and our life here would be enough.  Now we are down to three months. Yesterday I listed out every weekend that we have left, and then filled them in with the trips we want to accomplish while left here, places like Kirtland, or the Amish Country.  I added a monthly trip to the zoo, to make sure we get our full value out of our Christmas experience gift.  After a few other necessities, like Graduation weekend, our weeks were all filled up.  I believe there is one day free from here until we move.  So quickly do the days turn into weeks into months into us driving away from Ohio into....where?

For we do not yet have firm plans for after we leave.  Although, it looks as though Avram will be adjuncting some classes at our alma mater this coming year. And there is even a possibility of a Summer seminar he will take part in as well (which is why we wanted to move up our moving out, even with having to say goodbye faster) . But nothing is settled yet, there are no promises. Still, I feel a great measure of peace, and I am calm in our moving forward, even through this dark passage - I just sometimes wish I had a little more light.

 I used to hope that he would get a tenure track job straight out of Graduate school. Then, as Avram applied to Jobs last fall, I educated myself on the truths of the job market. I even wrote a lot of half finished blog posts about this topic, which I may edit and actually publish, but basically just say that in the humanities there is a much greater supply than there is a demand. And the demand (the number of tenure track jobs, or any full time job for that matter) continues to lower while the supply (the number of people with Ph.d.s) continues to rise.  Just statistically speaking, Avram's chances of getting any full time job, let alone a tenure track job, will never be very likely - something like twenty percent for a tenure track. Probably less.

I spent the month of last November in a daily emotional roller coaster, realizing how broken the humanities market was. I had thought that we were always walking a long, difficult road, but there would be a good job at the end of it. And here we are, at the end of that road, and we can see no further.  I didn't know that the academic humanities was like trying to be a professional musician, or trying out for movies or Broadway. You must have talent and ability to even make it very far, and connections (like a fancy school) do help. But at the end, only a few will make it, and it seems more dependent on luck than skill. By the end of November, when Avram was gone at a conference where we had hoped he would have interviews, and he had none; when we were already a couple of weeks past being rejected from the one phone interview he has ended up getting (and that we felt went so well!), when our bright prospects, promising future, and carefully nurtured greenhouse flower hopes hit the icy chill of what the academic job market is truly like; I felt at the bottom, emotionally, spiritually. I couldn't understand why God would lead us here, and then seemingly abandon us. Avram has had many promptings, blessings, spiritual experiences, even a line in his patriarchal blessing that have all guided him to be where his is today.

The day Avram presented his paper I blogged (this is unpublished) my heart out while sitting on the couch, with my children watching a movie around me.  I cried as I typed my fears and concerns out, and as I did so, I realized that God did love us. That he had not abandoned us - that not getting a job does not mean that we have failed, or fallen of the ideal spiritual and temporal path in life. Of course, if I were asked in a vacuum if following commandments and promptings means that you are assured a certain job or temporal path, I would vehemently disagree that this is how God works.  Yet, when it was our own life it has all been a lot murkier, especially because Avram studies religion, and we have received a lot of specific religious encouragement to pursue this professional path.

 I have come to realize that telling the Lord that we will go where he wants us to go does not in fact mean, "I will go where you want me to go, and since you directed us to go to grad school and Avram felt specifically inspired to move to Rabbinics and for him to study in Israel that this means that where you want us to go is to BYU, or another university, with a tenure track job and everything will work out perfectly with financial security, public acclaim and vocational satisfaction."

Originally we decided that we would give Academics one application season, and then if nothing turned up that was full time (so a TT, VAP or Post-Doc) we would find another field for Avram to apply to - something like teaching at a secondary level, or becoming a civil servant or chaplain.  Now we are in the dregs of this season, and nothing full time has worked out.  Given a variety of factors, however, we have decided to give it one more year before moving on from Academics.  One factor in this has been that the BYU religion department, where Avram has adjuncted before in the summers a couple of times, and where we principally saw ourselves if we did go back to BYU, did not have any job openings this year.  We did not want to have a still born career, where we never even had a chance at applying to the Tenure Track job we were most likely to get (since the LDS pool of candidates is much smaller than the general pool), and so giving it one more year makes sense. Plus there is a strong possibility he will be able to teach a few classes there this coming year, and that combined with an online side job means that we will be able to survive through this next year financially, making it possible to "stay in the field" one more year. And if Avram were to get a tenure track at BYU next year, this would, in fact, be the straightest route to Provo and BYU - which means as hard as it has been, this could be the 'easiest' road (not that I think this is the way it has to be, mind you).


Most convincing for us, although least convincing when logic is added up, is that we feel peaceful about this direction.  We have talked about how we both still feel that academics will work out as a career future, despite the complete lack of proof otherwise.  And even if academics is not in our future, I still feel really good about going forward with this direction, with moving to Provo and spending another year making ends meet while pursuing Academics as a profession.  Yet because of time lines for moving, this means that we have set our moving date (June 1st we leave Ohio), and we are already mentally planning for Utah, like where we will pursue living, or what companies to look at for moving trucks. Yet we don't have a contract yet for next year, and I don't even know when we can begin to hope to get one.  Currently we are hoping to get a few more specifics (like, a contract for next year) before making concrete moving plans, but because moving is only three months away, we shall see how things unfold. We may truly be driving off into the wild blue yonder sunset with no landing place for our Honda Odyssey full of seven people and our most precious (and grubby) personal belongings.

Yet, more than ever in our lives I know that God is at the wheel.  This does not mean that we don't need to move forward, or that we will automatically get a career in academics, or even any kind of job at all.  Rather, this means that when we depend on him fully, that he can turn any circumstance our our lives to the building up  of his kingdom, to the strengthening of our family, and to greater testimony in our own lives.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Nothing Makes you Blog like Shutting Down Facebook for Lent

Lately I have been feeling like my  time on facebook has not been helpful. Not that there aren't useful parts of facebook, like the groups I have for my ward Relief Society, book club or my family group.  And I love being able to plan an event and invite a bunch of people with very little fuss, and everyone being automatically reminded so they actually show up. It has been invaluable for arranging visiting a large number of people when we are going to be in Utah on vacation.  And I like seeing bits and bobs of other's lives on my feed, especially family members - there are news updates that I would never know about without it.  Crowd sourcing and soliciting for advice has always produced a volume of support and help (and advice). Even the articles linked to, on occasion, provide thought provoking conversations.  And there are those rare, like a purple unicorn, moments where an interesting, insightful, or just plain humorous conversation arises out of a comment section of a status. It is just - there is so much of it, all the time. I don't have a cell phone, so I don't have it with me all the time, but when I do get on the computer and check facebook, I always seem to be on it longer than I mean to. The news feed just keeps going and going, and because I don't usually get on every day, when I am there I feel like I either have the choice of not checking my feed at all, and just my notifications (who are basically just family members whom I have starred) or to start looking at my feed, and scroll down for untold amounts of time and and through untold amounts of links to sites with click-baiting titles, large numbers of status updates that never seem to be from those closest to you, but always some casual acquaintance you knew in high school who wants to tell the world a play-by-play of their morning.  


Apart from all this, do not even get me started on the algorithm facebook has set up that means you never know if what you are seeing is all that your friends have even posted, which means even if I do scroll all the way down to a point I have seen before I do not know if I have "caught up" because there are always status updates that don't show up (unless some how later they do - usually long after they are relevant). And sometimes it is hard to get off the computer when I should or when I plan to, because I am checking (just one last time! And of course, being the nature of facebook, there is almost always some change, some new aspect to give the illusion of progress, the perfect set of circumstances to lead to "Fear of Missing Out") to see if someone said something new, or if anyone commented on my newest status update that I like to pretend was a witty bon mot, but more likely in reality was an unwieldy commentary that did contain humor, just of an overly esoteric kind - which probably most readers completely missed anyway.

Which illustrates another difficulty in my relationship with facebook - it makes me overly conscious of my audience. I will often mentally compose statuses like I am living my life waiting to mine it for humor or clever comments for public consumption. Although I obviously do not despise writing out my inner thoughts for others to read, I felt like always seeing my life through the lens of sharing has changed my reality in a way that I am not completely comfortable with.  Clearly this is not the fault of facebook, but fault or not, it is an aspect of my interactions with it. Of course, this same aspect exists to an extent with blogging, but something about the method of presentation, where in facebook everything moves to the shortest deliveries with a wide audience of casual readers, effect me differently than blogging, where although theoretically the whole world could see my long ramblings, but in reality only a handful of people, who are choosing to sit down and read them, actually are. Despite its more theoretical public of a discourse, blogging is actual a personal discourse (at least for my little hobby blog), where this is my domain, and I feel a greater ease to fully express myself on my own territory, than in doing the equivalent of going to the town square and nailing up a sheet of paper on the public board saying the same sort of topic in such a public sphere. Discussing natural birthing on my blog, while still a potentially controversial topic, still remains to the most part me dialoguing my thoughts out with an occasional comment chiming in. Sure, plenty of people could come away from reading my long missive convinced that Thora is a little (or a lottle) bit too intense, or too crazy, or just plain too wrong. But they probably wouldn't tell me so, and we could all go on our ways comfortable in our respective spheres. Even if someone does comment a disagreement, which if were civil I wouldn't mind - as difficult as it can be, communication through disagreement is one of the best ways to grow as people and in in our relationships with others - it is still on my space, which means someone they know, that doesn't know me, or at least the me through long blogging, wouldn't see it and come over and sidebust with a comment that displays a lack of understanding of either those engaged in the discussion or of the actual matter being discussed, but mainly only shows their biases and opinions that were too burning to be kept to themselves. 

 Despite my constantly thinking of ways I plan to share or condense my thoughts into scintillating paragraphs of mirth and sparkling wit (which I don't love doing - if this blog post shows even just one principle, it is that I want to say it all, and I want to use all the words to do so), by the time I am actually on facebook I rarely remember what I meant to say, and if perchance I do I usually end up nixing the status, sometimes even after typing it out two or three times, after trying to find a way to express myself without offending this set of people (what if this is too crunchy/anti-crunch, or seems combative, or what if so-and-so took this topic in this way that would seem to be designed to denigrate their life choices/circumstances/innate selves?) or boring that set of people (what if this is too religious for my friends of other faiths? What if no one but relatives want to read about the cute things my kids say and do?), or setting of the topic vigilantism of a third set of people (what if I don't acknowledge those who aren't able to have children in this status about the blessings of motherhood? what if I don't validate those who feel alienated my my religion while still being honest about how I feel my LDS faith is truly for all people?) By the time this three way venn diagram has overlapped all sorts of 'friends' that I have on my feed, I am almost always left with such a small overlap of people who would not be offended or bothered or bored by my update that I do not post it at all. 

If I do decide to post, I end up too often measuring its worth by the number of comments. This is not limited to facebook, of course, but somehow when it is so much easier to comment on facebook than on blogs I expect more comments. And then even if a status update is well received, commented on, and hits all the right notes of humor, self deprecation wit and droll commentary with enough humble bragging to keep the universe in balance, it all too soon disappears into the gaping maw of facebook past. Despite the fact that people say you should be careful what you put on facebook because once it is on the internet people will always be able to see it forever and ever, this only seems to occur when people are trying to hang you on your poorly worded personal record or awkward photos best never taken, and never when I am trying to find something I myself have said, and would like to remember. I feel that although I have tried to remember and mark my children's childhood at least partially through sharing things on facebook, that twenty years from now it will all be gone forever like the eight track tape and floppy disks - indelibly marked in dead technology with no access point.

Although, writing this post has reminded me of one reason I use facebook - throughout it I have struggled time and again with writing because various kids have come and leaned on me, sat on me, read aloud as I am writing every word, asked me for things, discussed the plot of the movie they are watching, hid out next to me to avoid awkward moments from that movie, and in every way seemingly tried to prevent me from actually producing anything - all the while asking me repeatedly when I am going to be done, and how have I not finished writing yet? I am sure in all this time I would have had plenty of time to compose at least one status and get commentary on it, even if it fell far short of the kind of communication I would like to engender more of in my life.

Coming at last to the main point of this grandiloquent manifesto, I feel that lately the good of the many points facebook has brought to my life, through frequent, if casual, communication, has become over time outweighed by the time wasting nature facebook promotes, the paralyzation of sharing of information through too small of sound bites in too public of a sphere, and in ultimately the way that facebook takes up mental and writing energy and outlet I would rather see expended in more productive areas, such as blogging. I would like to slow my communication down - not in a true, "slow life" way, but to at least an email, phone call, and blogging sort of way. Sure, I will lose touch with friends that I do love to touch, however peripherally through the internet ether, but I hope that the deepening of  fewer relationships in my real and online life will more than make up for this. After all, we only have so much ability, time, and mental energy to engage and connect with others - I would like to change more of this engagement to more meaningful encounters.  And yet, the useful nature of facebook, especially the quick ability to email friends and relations, the groups I belong to that I do worry I would miss out on vital information (like book club being cancelled the night before) has always kept me from taking a step away.

A couple of days ago this dissatisfaction became the topic of conversation between my sister Mary and I. We decided as an experiment to step away from Facebook for a while, and conveniently since we are in Lent, and we both feel that our having no Facebook could help with our balance, with finding more spiritual and temporal centeredness, we decided that for the duration of Lent we would not sign onto Facebook. Thus until April 6th I am Facebook-free.  At that point I am planning on evaluating how I feel, and either resume Facebook, or hopefully have found alternate ways to accomplish what I loved most about Facebook, and leave all the "She wrote a blog post about THIS and you'll NEVER guess what happened NEXT...." behind.

I won't lie, despite all the difficulties I have outlined above, I have really missed it. I missed feeling connected when the people who toured our house as possible renters knew a childhood friend of mine of Facebook, and I thought to myself - I could totally tell Winslow on Facebook that I saw his friend, and what a small world it is!  I have wanted to share in a snow discussion with others when church was cancelled today because of a winter storm.  I have composed lots of status updates that I am convinced (!) this time I would not only remember until I made it to the computer, but that would still sound as great when typed out for the world to see. I have wanted to share multiple videos, thoughtful links, and just generally I have wanted to go to the virtual town square for socializing and soapboxing. But for now I am sitting back here in my virtual internet home instead.  I will have to nail my 95 status updates to my own front door, and maybe a much smaller audience will see them, but I am hopeful that the communication that results will be more meaningful. Just please, if you move book club or any other group information that I belong to, let me know. My fear of missing out truly exists most in missing those real life connections I value, and what has kept me tethered to an imperfect medium for so long; that, plus the chance to share my own click bait....after all, you'll NEVER guess what happened NEXT....

Friday, January 30, 2015

Homeschooling, the Why

I am planning on homeschooling Lydia, Elisheva and Guinevere next school year.  This is not the kind of statement that goes lightly in today's world: there always seems to be an elephant accompanying the phrase into a room.  Here's my elephant - I am excited, but also terrified.  I am doing it, but mostly not for educational reasons.  Sometimes I think I will sit on the fence between homeschool and public school for so long that my proverbial feet will fall asleep and sting me sharply when I finally decide (or fall from lack of balance over to a side).  I suppose this post is an attempt to get off the fence, to formally say, move over large vans full of unruly children with frumpy moms of stereotype, Thora's coming to join you. (Except...could we just lose the stereotype? I mean, I do have a lot of kids who act crazy, and I do drive a van, and I am probably frumpy, but I have never worn a denim jumper in my life, so there is that.)


So why then? Why spend more time and money and bother educating my kids at home when they are already getting educated somewhere else for free? Well, in a nutshell, because it makes sense for me and for our family at this time. But of course you know that the only thing I have ever put into a nutshell is a nut, and so here is the long reason.

Avram is graduating this year, and we know not where we will be in the future, from the midwest to Hawaii, with a permanent job to a visiting assistant professor to adjuncting.  About the only thing certain in our future is its uncertainty.  I expect to be moving three to four times in the next five years, between post docs, VAPs, adjuncting, and hopefully finally settling down with a tenure track job.  As part of our prable many moves, I have concerns about changing state and regional requirements every year or two. I worry about having so much disruption with our children. 

 Lydia is currently in a full time Gifted and Talented program, which is situated at the closest school to our home, and where Elisheva is able to attend as well.  I don't know how the other G&T programs will work in other parts of the country, but I do know there is a good chance that I would be schlepping Lydia across the city, or having her take long bus rides to attend a school with a full time program - if I could even get her into such a program, coming from another state. The thought of having to work out this situation multiple times in as many years back to back has been rather unappealing to me. Not to mention balancing children in different schools - just the few weeks I did that this year still make me grateful I was able to get them together at the same school.

As well, Lydia is very advanced in some subjects, but she is actually remedial in others - she has struggled with writing, can't summarize to save her life, and yet does compose poems.  She struggles to master the basic facts of math, but is the most accomplished in her class in logic puzzles.  So although she needs advanced work, she also needs help with laying a solid foundation - which she has been able to gloss over in the past because she was so advanced in other areas. Meanwhile Elisheva is fairly on board with her grade across the subjects, but I do not like how the school teaches her reading, with the emphasis on guessing and whole language versus phonetic progression. I taught Lydia how to read at home, I did about have of the work of teaching Elisheva, and I feel like I would end up teaching Guinevere as well.

Avram and I also disagree with some of the other prevailing pedagogy in public schooling in America. One is the amount of homework expected out of elementary school. We both feel that six hours a day of schooling is plenty for younger children, and that to do extra work on top of that, when they are already tired out for the day is excessive. Practically speaking, I find that the time spent with Lydia and Elisheva on homework to be dubious in value, excepting just straight reading.  Not that it is a bad thing to require a student to practice principles that they are learning, and I also see the value of parents knowing what children are doing in school. Rather, I am not sure of the efficacy of homework in accomplishing both of these activities, especially in light of the fact that homework is directly competing, in the manner of time, with other worthwhile home activities - free, imaginative play, chores, cooking and eating and cleaning up as a family, reading as a family, reasonable bedtimes.  We don't watch TV at our house, and I still feel like there is not time to fit it all in.

 Additionally, we do not like this emphasis on testing, especially with schools who already do well getting more funding, while schools that struggle get less. Often the struggling schools, like the ones my daughters have attended, have lower income families that are working a lot, often have many immigrant children and families who are not familiar with English or the American school system, and who need more help than ever, not less, when their scores are low.  There is nothing wrong with tests per se - it is this test that measures the worth of a teacher by how well her or his students do on a test, thus leading to teaching to the test, and thus encouraging focusing on a test.  And yet the teachers continue anyway - I have been happy with every single teacher my girls have had, all seven of them. They weren't perfect, but then neither am I.  And they all cared a lot about teaching.  But within a system of pedagogy that I increasingly feel dissatisfaction with, I feel they are hampered.

I feel like our days become so disconnected, with the rush in the morning to get the girls off to school, the lull during the day when I am only home with small children, the rush of the afternoon routine with picking up the girls, homework, dinner, bedtimes, and hopefully some chores squeezed int here somewhere. I want to effect a more organic day, where we move from one activity to another, but not on someone else's timeline.  I want to feel like I can look back on a day and be satisfied with where we spent our time, instead of feeling like we are always artificially marching to the beat of someone else's drum.  I want to give my children a solid basis in home management and cleaning, without feeling like I have to sacrifice something else equally vital in order to do it. There are some difficulties I feel that I have in parenting our various children, like Lydia and her defiance, or Elisheva and her tendency to be the emotional barometer (and hence very affected by whom she spends time with), and as I look forward in time I see that these have grown worse, not better with age.  I don't think that homeschooling will be a magic cure, but rather it will stop giving me places to hide, but force me to spend so much time with these children that I have created that we will begin to work through some long time underlying difficulties, instead of applying short term band-aids while hoping that somehow they will just grow out of this stage (that had been life long, so not a stage at all).

I am a stay at home mom for a few reasons, among them because as a mom of very young children, often with one nursing, working would be complicated to balance with childcare.  Especially because I do not have a thriving career I put on hold to have children. I never had a career - I graduated from college in Near Eastern Studies, originally having intended to go to grad school and become a professor. By the time I graduated, I did not want to do that, but I didn't have any other real career plans in place.  And without a job that either provided sufficient remuneration to compensate for being able to be home with my young ones, or, alternately and more important by far, that was a vocation that I felt passion for and was emotionally fulfilling to work at, I would rather be a homemaker. I know that I have complained in times past (or current) about my job - about being a stay at home mom. But it would take a "true love" level of job for me to pursue a career or even long term job outside the home.

I have always planned to do that, with going back to school for a master's and possibly a doctorate after Avram graduated and obtained a tenure track job. My long term plan has been to go to the school he would work at, where I would get free tuition. If Avram would have gotten a tenure track this next year, I would have planned to start grad school the year after that.  However, that did not happen, and until he gets an academic job that is tenure track, we would not have the stability for me to start a program and knowing I would be there to finish it.  So my long term plan is quickly ranging out of reach, potentially for forever. With these limitations, I have thought a lot about, "Now, what?" Now what can I do, because I feel like without something extra, I am home all day mostly with kids who cannot carry on an actual conversation. I feel like an unpaid maid, because it seems some days as if my highest calling is to make sure that the family's laundry keeps on its eternal round.  I definitely feel that I was made for more than laundry rotation, however necessary and good that is as well. 

And yet I did not structure my life to have skills or developed interests that I could pursue outside the home. Avram and I did not lay out a life where we could share care, and switch off child care while both pursuing jobs. And neither of us have an entrepreneurial bone in our collective bodies to desire to try and create these opportunities ourselves. Homeschooling, for me, is a way that I could exercise my brain and my house running capabilities.  The modern home does not require a constant, full time caretaker, and yet small children still do.  Thus, modern homemakers often develop all consuming hobbies (scrapbooking, couponing, cooking, cleaning, blogging, exercising) or small businesses (blogging, Etsy, Scentsy or Mary Kay and the like).  They volunteer at schools, take their kids on excessive amounts of activities just to get out of the house, and some become like my grandmother spent her days playing bridge, shopping, and at the officer wives' club.  I believe this is a hidden reason behind the growth of homeschooling - it provides a productive way to engage one's brain and time, all while providing more family time together with one's children, and freeing up the family schedule to pursue what is important to ones family on ones own time. I feel that I am here on this Earth at this time to be a mother, but I also feel like God created me to be smart, to use my brain. And while I do use my brain to manage the home, I know I am capable of so much more than just what I currently fill my days with.  I feel like I have been hibernating mentally for years, which feels like it is made worse by the fact that Avram is in a very intellectually stimulating environment.  There have been many days where he has been home writing on his dissertation, and I have stumped around the house, struggling because he gets to sit and read all day (yes, I know this idealistic, yes, I know that getting a Phd is very hard...) and I get to change diapers and clean up continually made messes.  I did not go to school for elementary school teaching, so it is not necessarily the vocation that has always called to me, but I certainly believe that spending hours everyday working with my children on chemistry, ancient Egypt and the rest of the ancient world, reading and writing and grammar and math sounds a lot more intellectually stimulating than trying to perfect the art of a daily chore routine.  

And since I am home all the time anyway, it makes sense to take charge of our family's schedule, so that we no longer have the dreaded homework hour every night (that Avram and I conveniently forget to do on so many nights).  It makes sense to solve the disconnect and rushing through our days that occur, and accomplishing our schooling early in the day so that we may have better evenings as a family.  It makes sense that in moving around the country and its associated upheavals that we may as a family keep as much continuity as possible within our own family unit.  It makes sense to find something to do as a mother that is more fulfilling that housework to fill my days (uhh, and personal reading, because of course I do that too....).

What homeschooling is not for us: we like public school. I actually feel guilty in a way for withdrawing from the public school 'conversation' because I deeply believe in the existence of a quality public education in a society.  I think there can be no true modern civilization without one. Also, it is not a statement of future intent. If we ended up in a stable position where I could go to school or pursue an outside career that I love, I would mostly see our kids going back to public school. Who knows? Maybe I will give it a try for a year, and decide that despite the scheduling downfalls that I am more grateful than I ever knew for our daughters' public education options.  Or maybe after a year, the minimal time I am giving it a try, we will decide that I should have started homeschooling back when Lydia entered Kindergarten like I first thought of doing.

I do have the fear that we will begin the year with pomp and circumstance, and then somewhere in the middle a child will be buried alive under a pile of books and unfolded laundry, and as they claw their way out our house will spontaneously collapse under the combined weight of family guilt and  insanity and the collective bystanders will watch as the "Fall of the house of Shannon" occurs before their sympathetic yet mildly entertained eyes.

But, at least that would provide fodder for better literature and all that, and after all, isn't that what Homeschooling is all about - the pursuit of knowledge in all its areas?