New Moon Spoiler

(Spoiler warning. Caveat Emptor, etc.)

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Sally, age 8, uttered that phrase all parents wait for this week when she asked if she could read Twilight. “But all my friends are reading it,” she said, when I told her no. (The funny thing about that is that she knew to ask. She doesn’t ever ask if she can read Charlie Bone or Enola Holmes, though we did have discussions about the later Harry Potter books last July.)

I said no, in part, because after watching New Moon at midnight with Chrysanthemum, who was my midnight-Twilight buddy last year, and Sharla, I went home and made my husband very, very happy.

Not that New Moon is great; it’s actually not even as good as the first one (which itself wasn’t very good at all except as a fantasy made celluloid). Oh, the makeup’s a little better, and … well, to be honest the best thing about it is Jacob’s chest. The music (one of the highlights of the first) was horrible. Either totally unsuited to the mood of a scene or completely over-the-top. (I think I stole that line from Sharla, but I was thinking it!)

Bella’s personality and motivations, never very sympathetic or believable, take a turn to the maniacally-self-destructive-self-hating, which can’t be blamed on anything but Stephenie Meyer. But the worst part is Edward, who is okay, if whiny-emo, at the beginning, but after an hour or so of reveling in the (literal) warmth of Jacob’s friendship and muscles, Edward, at the climactic moment in Italy, stepping out into the sunlight, looks like an angel hair noodle with bits of pubic hair pepper stuck to him.

Not appealing, in other words. Emotionally, mentally, or physically. Three strikes and you’re out, baby!

I’ve never bought that romance (and I read a lot of romance) is emotional you-know-what for women. I’ll take my level-headed, laid-back, not-libido-driven, loving husband any day over any fictional character, no matter how sparkly. But as far as regular you-know-what, New Moon apparently delivers (ask Mr. Bennet).

Which is why Sally may never read the books or watch the movies. (She will, but not any time soon.)

As we stood in line for popcorn last night (the outing itself was great fun and something I should probably do more than once a year), we talked to a mom and her eight-year old daughter. The girl was really cute. Cute clothes, blonde hair in a grown-up cut, dangly earrings. She loves the books, and she will probably have a wonderful life. Sally next to her would look old-fashioned, young, and probably repressed by a censoring mother.

And to that I say: you’re welcome.

—-

For Sharla, here’s the post where I compared Stephenie Meyer and Shannon Hale.

*Image from Fanpop.

Tender Mercies: Unspoiled Edition

In our church lady meeting the other day, we were discussing which kids needed to be separated from former-best-friends-turned-punching-bags as we organize Sunday school classes for the new year. In other words, our problem children.

I’ll be the first to admit that all children can be quite problematic under the right circumstances (three hours of church being a prime example), but I took exception to three of the kids thusly labeled. All boys, they were also all willing and enthusiastic participants in the roadshow that Chrysanthemum directed and I scripted.

Have you ever been in charge of a church theatrical production? Turns out most people would rather postpone a desperately needed root canal (it’s the pain beforehand that slaughters sanity, not the root canal itself = never fear appropriate dental work) than sing and dance in a silly fifteen-minute patriotic skit that entails simples costumes, props, and the occasional rehearsal.

And while we’re on the subject of the roadshow as Mormon phenomenon, I’d like to point out that you can have either a family-friendly, low-key production that encourages comraderie and embodies the “wholesome recreational activities” thing, OR you can have a Broadway-ready American Idol-themed showpiece with imported dancers, expensive wardrobes and elaborate sets, and high-strung directors that inspire parents to withdraw their children, but not both. — And that if you as a stake activities committee ask for the former and then privately and posthumously wish that every ward had followed the latter’s example, you’re not going to make many friends. (But I’m not bitter.) (And American Idol is a great idea for a roadshow skit.)

Anyway, I stood up to my fellow church ladies of the primary with a “Don’t you bad talk my roadshow boys. Nobody puts baby in a corner.”

Then yesterday afternoon, a little boy from two houses down knocked on my door. We’ll call him Tommy, and note that he is apparently a bit of a challenge sometimes and that he also has gorgeous shocking blue eyes and those long eyelashes that always seem to go to the boys in the family. He’s seven. And he sang his heart out in our roadshow, bless his heart.

He knocked, holding a serious-looking shovel and an open bag of rock salt. He asked if he could shovel my driveway. I hesitated. He said he did a really good job on his own driveway, I could take a look at it, and he would like to shovel mine too. I asked him how much he charged and he looked surprised, confused.

Sally and Susan and Spot were huddled around me at the door. “What do you want to get paid for the job?” Blank stare. “How much do you want us to pay you for doing it?” “Oh,” he said, finally. Thought about it, considered. “Twenty cents?”

Sally said should give him more than that — like fifty cents at least. I was feeling generous, so after half an hour of hard work we slipped him a big one.

all I can think about is …

Homeschooling.

When I was in high school, I read a book called Free at Last about the Sudbury Valley School. It was enchanting, and liberating, for me to know that there were places like that, and that my mother would support me in any sort of school arrangement I wanted to come up with for myself. From what I remember (and this is when Sudbury was one place, an experiment, not a “method”), kids went to school and then did whatever they wanted. Whatever they wanted. On a bucolic-sounding campus where anything seemed possible.

There were teachers, whom the kids could ask to be mentors or contract with to teach specialized courses, but the (I was going to say “onus” but that is the opposite of what the discovery of things, ideas, peoples should be, right?) — the planning and initial desire came from the students.

Marcy and Brad (who are three and five years younger than me) even homeschooled for a year while I was in high school, and though I stayed in public school (partly because the system worked, quite well, for me), I felt free just knowing that I was not a prisoner of the school system. Though there were times, when I compared some of the ridiculous bureaucracies of even my pretty-good school (think The Office applied to education with a twist of Kafka) to the freedoms of Sudbury, that if I had not been so ambitious/competitive at that time, I would have quit.

Now, I like to think that I can apply the principles of self-guided learning to my career as a mother and homemaker. If I have an idea that needs writing or a book that needs reading, I can ignore the cat food spilled on the floor, and last night’s sink of dishes and be glad there are waffles leftover from yesterday and that the kids know where the paper and crayons are (and the roller skates, doll stroller, and cat), while I do whatever I want, right here next to them on the kitchen table.

It’s a pretty good trade off for not getting a paycheck and not being known for having a beautifully-kept home.

The appeal of homeschooling, and my brand of “homeliving” is, as I see it — the freedom to do and learn what you want. Freedom from both actual regulations and others’ expectations. If I jumped up to clean my house right now rather than a couple hours from now, I’d be doing it for fear that someone will come over and see evidence of my “sloth,” not because I want it clean for myself (which I do, just not right now). This is also a financial freedom, of course, the freedom Mr. Bennet’s paying job gives me and also the freedom from extravagant wants. (Or at least the freedom from thinking that those wants, which I do have, are actually needs).

So that’s the biggest appeal to me of homeschool — freedom —  and also the largest drawback, because I have always seen that magical time when my kids start school (preschool and on), as the beginning of my personal freedom — from them.

But lately, because they are getting older (they’re 8, 5 & 3) and I can imagine Sally babysitting in the not-too-distant future, and because I don’t know if we will or should even try to have another baby, it has started to not seem so magical.

We had two weeks off school for our vacation, and then another week off preschool because of teacher’s vacations and illnesses, and before I knew it, I was answering Susan’s interesting questions about why our garden is “hibernating” right now and directing as Sally made an entire pizza from scratch, realizing that she’s even old enough now to deal with a 450-degree oven. (Under supervision. Calm down, Nana.)

I see possibility now where before, no matter how I admired the homeschooling lifestyle, I saw chaos and cramping and never, ever getting to go to the bathroom alone.

So I’m thinking about it. The basic philosophy — that my kids can learn without an institution to guide them, that I can provide basic instruction and figure out how to arrange any other instruction, that my kids can socialize with an even wider range of society without the structure of 8-2 school, and that they can become anything they want to be, is something I believe in wholeheartedly.

The biggest drawback, now, is that they like regular school. Sally has never had an academic or behavioral issue, and she loves her teacher and friends. Susan and even Spot like preschool and are always eager to go. Perhaps that should be the end of it, because it is certainly easier to send them off in the mornings and welcome them home in the afternoon. (Susan and Spot only go for a couple hours at a time, now, but I have looked forward to full days of being kid-free.)

Here in small-town Utah, I don’t feel the pull of homeschooling for any of the other reasons I have previously thought would make it an easy decision — here the other kids are, for the most part, good influences on my kids. I don’t worry about drugs and sex and that sort of thing. Of course it goes on, especially in the high schools, but it’s not something that can’t be avoided quite easily, and it’s not something that’s accepted as, well, acceptable. The values and lessons we teach at home are taught in the other homes around us.

I also have no complaint about the school Sally attends. As far as public schools go, I couldn’t ask for better, except for the large classroom sizes, but that’s kind of an insurmountable problem in Utah, and not as important in the long run as a cheerful, enthusiastic, receptive teacher, something that Sally has always had.

So why even think about it? In the past I’ve always been able to shrug it off, or wait a few days, and the idea goes away. Maybe it will again this time. Before, I’ve known it was time for summer vacation because homeschooling was sounding better, and that it must be August when I am dreaming of class lists and packing sack lunches.

I need to do some more research. Observe Sally’s classroom (though I have “volunteered” for parties when cornered and attended parent-teacher conferences, I’ve never sat in on a lesson), and read some books. My sister-in-law recommended The Call to Brilliance, but I’m finding it too mystical so far to be inspiring. On Twitter I got recommendations for A Thomas Jefferson EducationThe Homeschooling Option, The Well-Trained Mind, and The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling. Let me know if you have a book that changed your life. I’ll probably read Free at Last again (hoping it won’t have diminished as I got older).

And in the end, maybe I’ll revert to my default position, which was similar to my mother’s — that of support and interest in whatever my kids need, with intense relief that they are getting older and are (always have been) good at entertaining and “educating” themselves.

I asked Sally about it yesterday. What would you think of homeschooling? And she nodded, “That would be good.” Why? “Because then you could answer all my questions. Sometimes I have a question and the teacher doesn’t have time to answer mine, and that’s not good when you have a serious question.” Then she turned to me and said, “But would we still have recess?” And I reassured her that recess could be arranged.

—-

I wanted to add a link to one of the best posts on Homeschooling I’ve ever read, by Mrs. G on Pioneer woman.

I guess this would only be ironic if I normally spent lots of time and money on my clothes

I got more compliments on this outfit today than anything I’ve worn to church in years:

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(Mr. Bennet always had this thing about marrying a girl with really long legs. Sorry about that. But I didn’t get an independently wealthy gourmet who disdains professional sports, so I think we’re even.)

pinstripe jacket: DI, $4

gray wool skirt: DI $6

3/4 sleeve black tshirt: DownEast Basics $12.99

shoes: DI $4

The jacket is too small; I can’t zip it, but I loved the pinstripes. The skirt is dry clean only, so I don’t plan to get it dirty. I would never have bought these pieces in a regular store (having rules against too-small stuff and dry clean only stuff), but at these prices, rules are made to be broken! This DownEast Basics shirt is my new favorite shirt; I wear it with everything, since I hate long-sleeves, but it’s cold and my upper arms are a bit . . . fleshy. I bought another one on Saturday, so now I only have to do the wash once a week!

I drafted Sally to take pictures while Mr. B. made our customary after-church cheese toasties (grilled cheese sandwiches). Here she is with her favorite feline:

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And Susan:

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And here is a possible explanation for Skippyjon Jones’ sudden turns to the maniacal scratcher-biter (Other theories being that he needs a certain surgery recommended for male cats around 6 months of age):

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Just a girl and her cat.

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Getting a little distracted by the snow.

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Smiling for pesky Mom.

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And getting distracted again. Poor kitty.

Push-Pull

The domesticity in this house, the past few days, is staggering. I stirred my compost and ground wheat. I baked bread and made yogurt. We planted bulbs (allium, tulips, hyacinth, and daffodils). We carved our pumpkin, finally, and toasted the seeds. We made gingerbread girls (and pigs, ducks, chickens, cows, and lambs). I laundered the clothes and scrubbed the dishes. I wore my apron for hours straight. (More on my self-sewn apron and how it is a feminist symbol, later).

Mr. Bennet has been busy with work and church and this and that, and preschool has been cancelled, so I have been not only primary caregiver, but sometimes the only not-going-through-premature-pubescent-hormonal-surges person it seems.

Some of the moments have looked like a scene from the fake magazine stories in Christmas in Connecticut. This afternoon I watched three girls, my tall Sally, my cheeky Susan, my gleeful Spot, watch the fat flakes of snow, Sally teaching Susan and Spot to tilt back and catch the first flurries on their tongues. Then we huddled in my bed to read our way through our new library haul.

Forget wine and song and thee. I relish a good book, a soft bed, warm covers, and, well — then I did sing a couple Christmas songs from the book Susan chose. They got all quiet when I couldn’t make it through I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day without crying.

It was beautiful. What a miracle! These fruit from my loin who love words and reading and snuggling and each other. What joy!

And then someone kicked someone else and someone hogged a blanket and someone looked at her sister and someone whined why does everybody hate me?

And I said a bad word. (Or two.)

But hours later they unloaded the dishwasher and set the table and showed their father eagerly their work. And we ate the food I made from scratch around our table where everyone has a place (except the cat, who gets sprayed with water at least once each meal), and I told them all (especially their father who watched some football and took a nap earlier) to clean up that well-used kitchen double-quick and leave me to write this post in my bedroom, which has a lock on the door and a now-empty bed.

The Unparalleled Pleasures of Home

We just spent ten days in central Florida, and it was glorious, but even glorious-er is coming home, where the jersey knit sheets brush my skin with softness and everything fits — from the remote in my hand to my bum on the toilet seat.

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We took the kids to SeaWorld and Busch Gardens and Disneyworld (thanks to Dick’s colleagues) and our kids said their favorite place of all was the (free) beach. If you’re near St. Petersburg ever, make sure to go to Fort DeSoto. The water is cold in November, but we showed our Florida cousins what was what, keeping my old family tradition of submerging ourselves in the nearest body of water no matter the temperature.

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A few notes for next time we travel:

1) Even “easy” kids don’t appreciate twelve hours of travel, so resist Dick’s impulse to save (a little) money by not flying out of the closest airport and ignore any ideas that involve any unnecessary layovers.

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2) If exercise and eating healthy are important to your happiness at home, why would I think being on vacation means lazing about and eating junk? Also, if caffeine is verboten at home, wouldn’t it be a good idea to stay away from Mountain Dew in times of upheaval? Why do I allow myself “treats” that aren’t really treats at all?

3) Whenever I have an excuse/reason to be offline, I find that I usually embrace it. And then the longer I’m disconnected, the more I don’t want to blog or tweet or anything, but then I catch a glimpse of my reader or my gmail over Dick’s shoulder and soon I am happily clicking. But not posting. The longer I go without posting, the more insignificant anything I have to say seems. Which is fine, because I strongly believe people should resist blogging if they can at all help it, but this actually is kind of like exercise and eating healthy for me. I feel better, more like myself, more reflective and centered, if I am writing daily or semi-daily. This is the hardest part of the situational depressions that I’ve experienced (after miscarriages and surgeries). A burgeoning cycle of not writing, feeling like I have nothing to write, and then not writing some more. So I have to learn to balance my (good) desire to (cliche warning) “live in the moment,” which is especially rewarding and important while on vacation with family, and a need to examine that life through writing. I did jot down some notes here and there, but I am pretty sure they’re not legible.

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4) Even if I’m sick with swine flu and toothache (resulting in a life-saving, fantasmagorical-in-the-pain-reduction-department root canal) right before a trip, I should probably inform Sally’s teacher that she’ll be missing a week and a half of school. (Luckily Sally mentioned it to Mrs. W. right before walking out the door, but responsible mothers probably make a point of discussing these things, though I wouldn’t have taken homework along anyway.)

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5) Leaving a 4 month-old male cat at home for ten days will probably make him AGGRESSIVE. I haven’t written about Mr. Skippyjon Jones yet, but boy! was he missed and subjected to an orgy of cuddling when we got home.

6) Even with super-generous relations who have timeshares and buy dinner every night, vacation is expensive. Maybe we should, like, save up for it, or something.

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7) Sally really, truly does not like roller coasters. It is not worth it to trick or bribe her into riding them. Susan, on the other hand, is now asking for a flying motorcycle. Why does this not surprise me?

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8) Don’t be shy about asking someone with a cute haircut to pose for a picture. I got side and back shots, but had a temporary chicken-out when it came to getting the front (which may have had something to do with having already taken seventeen pictures of my family from a weird angle right next to her).

9) Don’t blame Dick for losing Susan at SeaWorld for 15 minutes. As a man, he’s probably incapable of the multitasking required to keep track of three children in a place with that many fun! distractions! Squirrel!

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One thing I do like about the logistics of traveling (I unreservedly love the new things, places — or the nostalgia of visiting a place we used to live) is the necessity of simplicity in dress and belongings. We got by for ten days on one checked suitcase and just a few carry-ons. It inspires me to get rid of more stuff. Because when you travel, you realize that the only thing you really can’t live without is the sticky, sniveling kid in the airplane seat next to you.

Blood will tell

Last night I had a call from my brother. He sounded the same as always: cheerful, a bit abrupt, but then we are a family of abruptness and tersity on the phone. Several months ago my dad copied my cell phone message, so that if you call him you’ll hear him state his name and then suggest you send him an email. (I realized the other day I need to change mine, because there are times I am highly receptive to a message, like when I am trying to score a last-minute haircut from my neighbor or . . . actually, that’s pretty much it for telephonal urgency.)

But Ryan called because he had dislocated his right shoulder while playing raquetball. He said that, and I knew at once that several things would be different for him. I knew he’d have some serious decisions to make before he submits his missionary papers in January. I knew he’d probably never play raquetball, or tennis, again, and maybe never swim the crawl again. I knew that immediately he’d have pain and weakness, and later, a lingering ache.

And right then, I knew we had to get his shoulder back in, because the wrongness of it being out it is almost as distressing as the pain. His roommates were with him, and I spoke with Phillip who, besides being a mechanical engineering student like Ryan and the son of a doctor like Ryan, is also our cousin. I tried to describe the three-dimensional spatial manipulation he needed to do to bring Ryan relief. My dad taught Mr. Bennet and me an acronym (Tension, External, Movement, Internal) to remember the procedure years ago, and I stumbled through that.

I was a bit hazy at first. It’s been a couple years since I’ve needed a shoulder reduction, and we had also just gotten off an airplane. I was simply grateful that I actually had my phone near me, that it wasn’t dead, and that I had felt like answering it, for once. It’s a difficult process to articulate over the phone, definitely something easier to show than tell, even to someone like Phillip.

(Now is probably a good time to say that my orthopedic surgeon says nerve damage is not the concern with our sort of problem, and that this post is not intended as medical advice. Please do not take it as such, and if you do, do not even think of suing me if you hurt yourself. I would be tempted to countersue you for being a dumbass.)

I am the oldest of five children, and Ryan, the youngest, is fourteen years younger. I dislocated my shoulder for the first time when I was only a few months older than Ryan is now. Perhaps his injury is different. Perhaps it was an isolated incident. Perhaps he does not have the same sort of weak connective tissue I have that causes my joints to hyperextend and to be much more flexible than my flabby frame would suggest.

Perhaps he will not require two surgeries, physical therapy, and a slightly altered view of what life will look like, day to day. (Perhaps he will never worry about dropping his newborn if his shoulder comes out at the wrong moment.)

But if it is, if his shoulder is like mine, he should know: 1) It could be worse. (Of course it could always be much, much worse.) 2) Still, it is bad enough, and if it prevents him from serving a strenuous mission, or from joining the military like he is considering and like my dad and my other brother have, then I am sorry. So, so sorry. 3) I know a great orthopedic surgeon, and now that we know what it took to really fix the problem, how extensive the damage can be, surely he can get it fixed earlier and to much greater effect.

Is it true that we have more genetic material in common with our siblings than with our parents or our children? Ryan and I have the same coloring, the same height (he says he is taller, but that is wishful thinking). He goes to the same college I did (but then so does everyone in our family). We share a temper, an arrogant opinionatedness, a way of seeing things in black and white. Though I see more grays every year, I am still partial to the absolutes. I had a talent for making our father mad, and Ryan’s talent was even more prodigious (or he is simply younger).

We are not completely alike, of course. Our childhoods were quite different, even with the same parents and similar DNA. I was told that Halloween was a pagan holiday to be shunned while Ryan was trotted around the local trunk-r-treat from infancy. Our adulthoods will be superficially very different too, mostly because we are what is called traditional.

But this physical flaw we probably (though hopefully not) share makes us seem conclusively alike. And it feels, irrationally, like my fault. Though if I were going to apologize for embodying a foreshadowed flaw fourteen years before my brother, I should apologize for my temper and impatience and susceptibility to addiction.

Because, 4) Physical flaws have much less to do with happiness than the other sorts of flaws.*

*(Unless you need a root canal, in which case, don’t even bother trying to be happy until you’ve been to the dentist. I only mention it because you might have teeth like mine.)