A Parenting Win

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One joy of having adult children is the discussions we have. Our phone calls will start with an update on how they are doing, but, inevitably, we will go down one rabbit trail after another, based on what we are reading and learning.

As a result of our family culture and my parenting style, my children are lifelong learners. My middle son told me he is always learning something new. He’s never interested in resting on his laurels but is always seeking to improve his skills or further his knowledge.

In our most recent discussion, my son told me about an article he read yesterday in the New York Times, Let Children Get Bored. He chuckled as he read a few sentences of it, reminding me of the many times I let my boys be bored. I never rescued them from boredom. In fact, they soon learned that if they told me they were bored, I found chores for them to do. It didn’t take them long to figure out they were in charge of their own free time, that I wasn’t there to endlessly entertain them.

Car trips meant hours of boredom. We never had videos or devices to entertain us. We played road games, and they had things to read and draw. I broke up the tedium with snacks, and, occasionally, we’d listen to an audiobook together.  Church required sitting still and drawing or reading when not actively taking part. School involved hours of math problems and copybook and reading and writing, some of which was interesting and some of which was important, but dry.

The author of this article comes to the same conclusion I had: in order for children to learn how to approach times when things aren’t like a video game with endless thrills, a person must have time to be bored. Looking up into the sky and creating cloud pictures, facing a blank piece of paper and creating a short story or poem, or building a go-cart out of bits and pieces of trash were all results of my children’s boredom.

One of my children would study atlases and draw cartoons for hours on end.  He borrowed every drawing book from our library and bought atlases with his own money. Another boy entertained himself for weeks with a ream of blank printer paper and a box of new pencils.  My mechanically inclined child created interesting Halloween costumes, invented a game for children in our church, and rigged his room with lasers and mirrors to make a tripwire.

Boredom teaches children to think for themselves, to build a rich internal life, to create and daydream, and to learn how to handle themselves when faced with the inevitable times of boredom that come in life. Every job, every home, every relationship, every event has times of boredom, even if it’s just waiting in line.

My son told me he chuckled over the article because it reminded him of his childhood and that he was now glad I had parented this way. His internal life is much richer and his ability to entertain himself much greater than many people he knows. I am thankful to have grown children who come and tell me the times I got our family culture and style right. It gives me hope that they will also parent their children well.

Have your grown children thanked you for the things you did that were painful at the time but resulted in good fruit? It’s one of the greatest blessings of parenthood.

Remembering Mother

Veda-Young

Each year on November 22*, I remember my mother. The world remembers John F. Kennedy on that day, the anniversary of his assassination, and the Christian world remembers C. S. Lewis, who also died that day. However, while I do remember both of these men, the one I most think about and grieve is my dear mother.

It’s been twelve years since she went to be with the Lord. They say that grief eventually subsides and, in one sense, that is true. I don’t actively grieve every minute of every day as I did that first year after she died. I don’t go to pick up the phone to tell her something and start to cry as I remember she’s gone.

However, it’s not true that you “get over it.” Grief of a great loss never truly goes away. It hovers in the background, waiting to pounce on you when you least expect it. Days like the anniversary of her death or her birthday or, for some odd reason, on my birthday bring her to mind. Milestones in my children’s lives, finding a recipe card in her handwriting, reading old letters or looking through photo albums, finding a purse in her favorite shade of aqua or receiving a gift from an old friend of something my mother made many years ago have also triggered memories. Any and all of these things cause me to tear up and remember the gift that my mother was, not just to me, but to so many other people.

My mother was born a month after the U.S. entered World War II. Her father was unable to fight due to health issues so while they didn’t have a lot of money, she grew up in a household with both her parents and was a much-loved only child. She learned her love of beauty from both of her parents, her ability to create art and garden from her father, her cooking and housekeeping and music from her mother. Her father’s sister was the one who introduced her to the love of books and good writing, which influenced my mother for the rest of her life.

My parents met while Mother was still in college, studying English, and they married before she graduated. She didn’t let a lack of a college degree get in the way of her learning though. She went on to teach herself a multitude of things, such as cut-glass work and quilting. She never passed up an opportunity to learn from someone else.

When I was a child, we lived next door to an Indian family, and my mother received recipes and help from our neighbor to learn Indian cooking. I still have the recipes and still remember the assortment of colorful lentils and flavored curries that Mother made. When my brother married an Italian girl, Mother went to the local community college and took Italian so that she could communicate with her in-laws, whose English was fragmented, at best.

Mother was always doing something. Like Martha from the Bible, she was busy with many things. She often said that while my father was working hard at work during the day, she should be working hard at home.

A few things I remember her doing: dipping pine cones in wax in the autumn for the fireplace each winter, standing over the kitchen sink soldering pieces of glass together, sewing something on her Singer sewing machine, and gardening. She had a large vegetable garden when I was young and after she gave up the large garden, she always had a small plot for herbs for cooking. And her cooking! She was a gourmet cook. Countless meals and gifts came out of her kitchen. I know she touched the lives of hundreds of people through her cooking alone.

She spent her odd moments of leisure doing needlework and taught me how to do embroidery, needlepoint, and counted cross-stitch. She sewed many of my clothes, my dolls’ clothes, and many of her own garments as well.

One of our most cherished memories was of the time we were walking through our favorite department store. One of the saleswomen in the suit department admired the suit I was wearing and asked me if I had bought it at their store. When I told the woman that my mother had made it, she was astonished and said that the suit was as beautifully made as any the store carried. What a triumph of Mother’s skill!

Mother was a letter writer. Before I was even in school, I called our typewriter a “type-a-letter” because that’s what my mother used it for. When my brother and I went away to school, we could count on at least one letter a week. She sent some emails but even when she used a computer in later years, she often printed the letter out and sent it in an envelope along with articles and other little things she had clipped and saved. I have years of letters in her beautiful handwriting that I treasure for the glimpses into her life, for the wisdom of her advice, and for the love that poured out to me in her words.

Mother believed in the idea of anything worth doing is worth doing well. Her gifts were wrapped as if they were done by an expert. Her home was always warm and inviting. The backside of her needlework creations was almost as beautiful as the front. Every garment she made had finished seams, so you never had to worry about loose threads, and I don’t remember ever losing a button off one of the blouses she made me. When she started quilting later in life, every quilt was beautiful—all her points came together in the piecing and the quilting was always perfect.

Every year, she made dozens and dozens and dozens of homemade Christmas cookies. Some were for the Christmas brunch she held for many years, some were to give as gifts, and some were for her family. Each cookie was beautiful. Se would spend hours on finishing touches to make them more than just something to pop into your mouth.

Best of all, my mother loved people and would go out of her way to befriend them and care for them. She spent her time, listening, advising, and serving her friends and acquaintances. After she died, many people told me how much Mother had meant to them. I only knew a fraction of them because her circle of friends was so wide.

How does one get over the loss of your mother? I remember my pastor once commenting that losing your mother is one of the greatest losses. He said that on his birthday, his mother would buy him a shirt and after she died, he missed those shirts. Your mother is the one who has known you from the beginning. Very few, if any, people will know and love you the way your mother does.

A good mother knows her children—their likes and dislikes, their weaknesses and strengths. A godly mother instills the truth of the gospel in her children from the time they are very small, she prays with and for them, and she teaches them the ways of God in her words and deeds. A loving mother spends time with her children and does many things for them. She encourages them when they are struggling, advises them when they are confused or lost, and is their greatest cheerleader.

Years ago, my mother and I read a book that said that our fellow Christians are our “balcony people.” The author was talking about Hebrews 12:1:

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

The author pointed out that the great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11 are the saints who have run the race before us and who are now standing in the balcony of heaven, cheering us on as we run the race of the Christian life.

Mother said that she would always be my balcony person, that she would always be cheering me on, no matter what. She knew me better than anyone else in the world and was my friend and advisor and support until the day of her death. And, I suspect, that she is still cheering me on from heaven.

When I lost my mother, it left a hole in my heart that will never quite be filled on this earth. But I can cherish the memories of her, share the good things she shared with me, advise my friends and family with the wisdom with which she advised me, and tell the world about what a good mother can be by telling the world who my mother was.

Go give your mother a hug. She is your first and best friend in the world and no one can ever replace her.

*Although I wrote this post on the anniversary of my mother’s home-going, it seems appropriate to post it on her birthday.

My Reading Life

You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me. —C. S. Lewis

Bookroom corner

For anyone who has read my blog for any length of time, I’m sure you’ve discovered that I love to read. I cannot remember a time when I didn’t love books or have time for books in my life. As a child, the bookcase in my room was a never-ending source of delight. I read and reread favorite books. Every year a friend of my grandmother’s gave my brother and me books for Christmas. The Velveteen Rabbit, the Little House books, The Little Princess, and a set of six matching hardbacks, including titles such as Mary Poppins and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe were some of the titles I remember receiving from her.

My mother took us to the library regularly and once I was big enough and strong enough to bike there myself, I would go on my own. We lived in a small town for several years and the library was only a few miles away. By the time I was in junior high, I could go by myself.

I still remember that library. It was a little house on the town square, filled with books. I first read the Anne of Green Gables books and The Scarlet Pimpernel there. It’s funny that I remember no librarians, just stacks full of books to browse and borrow.

When I was in high school, we moved to a different state and I had a job at our town’s public library. That meant that I could bring books home every day after work. I didn’t have to wait for the once a week trip. It was in high school that I discovered Agatha Christie books, selling for 10 cents a piece at our library book sale. I spent many happy hours reading when my schoolwork was done and on weekends. I remember taking a book out with me to the woods, sitting in a chair with an apple and a book on a rainy Saturday, curled up on my bed one weekend with Gone with the Wind and astonishing my mother when I finished it by Sunday evening.

In the library where I worked, the fiction collection started on the left-hand wall, continued around the back wall, and finished on the right-hand wall. I started the A’s with Jane Austen and spent the last two years in high school working through classics like Sense and Sensibility, Jane Eyre, Les Miserables and many others. I also fell in love with the historical fiction books by Thomas Costain, Anya Seton, and Leon Uris.

Despite my studies in college, I still found time for pleasure reading. I mostly had to rely on the books that I had brought from home until my last year in college. The summer before my senior year, I moved to a house within walking distance of the university with a bunch of other girls.

Just around the corner, there was a tiny public library extension and any time I wasn’t at work that summer, I was reading. Our house didn’t have air conditioning and the nights could be unbearably warm so a book to read until 2 a.m. was a help in making myself tired enough to sleep in the heat.

I worked at my university after graduation. On weekends, I poked around used bookstores and made a trip to the main downtown library for something new to read. My collection of books was growing. I started branching out from historical fiction and mysteries into poetry, plays, and literary fiction. I first found Miss Manners and learned etiquette while giggling over her snarky attitude. I read biographies. It was at this time that I first discovered Anne Morrow Lindberg’s books of journals and letters that made such an impact on my life. I was single and not a party girl. I would go to work and afterwards my books would keep me company in the evenings.

I did finally get married, but I didn’t stop reading. My husband was in school so we spent evenings reading—me with my beloved classics and mysteries and he with his school books. This worked out well since it would have been hard if my new husband hadn’t understood my love for books.

After our children came, I was busy most of the day caring for them and the house but I still carved out time for books. With just one baby, I could find time to read while nursing, while he napped, before bed. However, when the second little guy came along, it was much harder. I was on the go all day. Every time I wasn’t doing something, I was exhausted and only wanted to sleep.

I was feeling starved, intellectually and spiritually, without time spent reading, reflecting, and writing. One day, I realized that after the baby’s early morning feed, he went back to sleep and I had an hour before my oldest woke up. Rather than go back to bed, as I had been doing, I used that time to read my Bible, to journal, to read uplifting books. I rediscovered my core being again as God’s Word nourished my spirit and mind, as I read good fiction and edifying nonfiction, as I reflected on new ideas, and wrote about what I was thinking and how I was growing.

When we started homeschooling our children, I introduced reading as a pastime to my children. I had read aloud to them for years, but now we spent long hours every day with books—reading, discussing, narrating. The boys would look forward to library day when we would go for library programs, gather a new stack of books, and spend the evening together, everyone with the book of their choice.

People asked me how I had time to read while homeschooling three children and running the house. My response was that I needed to read in order to do those things. Reading and studying was key to my ability to grow in my faith, teach my children what they needed to know, and to keep my sanity. Studies detailed how many women were on anti-depressants and other drugs in order to cope with the stresses of modern life. I found that if I kept learning and reading and regularly interacting with good ideas, those pastimes helped me with stress. I found strength in the nourishment I was receiving intellectually, emotionally, and, most importantly, spiritually.

These days I still read whenever I can find a few moments. Now that my children have grown up and starting new lives in working and higher education, I work at our local library so I still have plenty of books at my fingertips. Newly published books make their way to my nightstand, piles of books that I’m reading and pondering teeter around my “book room”, and my bookshelves still overflow.

What started as a common pastime as a child has turned into a way of life. I still spend many evenings and weekends with a book and a pot of tea. I do not regret the many hours spent in other people’s lives. I lived a thousand lives, traveled the world, and learned about life from other people’s experiences. Reading has enriched my life beyond all imagining. The reading life is the only life for me.

Letters to Estelle

When my grandmother, Lee Estelle Wood, was 22 years old, she broke her ankle.  While that would normally be considered a painful, inconvenient event, for Estelle it was the beginning of a relationship that would last a lifetime. As she was convalescing, Estelle received a get well card from a childhood acquaintance, Victor Lawrence Doyle.  Thus began years of letters exchanged between Estelle, who lived in Baltimore, MD, and Victor, who lived in Wilmington, DE.

What made these letters special was not the contents, although those were precious to the recipients, but the envelopes.  Each envelope had a pen and ink drawing on it.  Over the years of their courtship and beyond, Victor created over 200 pieces of art on the envelopes of his letters.

The envelope below shows a picture of Estelle, waiting by the phone for Victor’s call.  In the 1930’s, when the letters were exchanged, America was in the midst of the Great Depression.  There wasn’t much money for “extras”. Phone calls were expensive and train trips were even more, which meant that most communication was in letters. By 1935, when this letter was sent, Victor and Estelle had been corresponding for over a year and were including phone calls. Their weekly “date” usually consisted of a phone call at 7:15 P.M. on Saturday evenings.  Between the letters, phone calls, and an occasional trip to Baltimore, Victor courted Estelle from 1933 until 1936.

Telephone call April 3 1935

A New School Year Has Begun

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 Our new school year started last week.  We started a couple of weeks before Labor Day so that we could ease into our schedule and still have some time for sleeping in occasionally (my son) and finishing up some summer projects (me).

Last year was the first year of homeschooling just one child, and I really enjoyed it.  We read Virgil’s Aeneid and Dante’s Divine Comedy together, we listened to Rufus Fears tell wonderful stories about Famous Romans and audio books of classics and fun books, we read history books, science books, and books just for fun, we wrestled with math and delved into astronomy and biology, we sweated over Latin, and I taught my son and some of his friends about Material Logic and Composition.

It was a great year so I’ve been looking forward to this year being more of the same.  I will be teaching my son and his friends Rhetoric this year, which is still a challenge for me and for my students.  For me, because I am essentially self-taught.  That leads to a tendency to second guess myself too much and, at times, wonder if I am truly giving my students what they need to succeed in their writing.  It is a stretch, but every time I teach Rhetoric (this is my third time), I learn so much more about writing, communication, understanding my audience, figures of speech, etc. that I cannot be sorry that I am, once again, stepping outside of my comfort zone to challenge my students with Aristotle.

My son and I will be studying early modern history and literature.  This term we are reading Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, which is an old favorite, and Paradise Lost by John Milton, which I have never read before and am eagerly anticipating.  I have borrowed Leland Ryken’s guide and C.S. Lewis’s Preface to Paradise Lost in an attempt to understand this great English epic.  It only seemed appropriate to read Paradise Lost after reading Homer’s, Virgil’s, and Dante’s epics over the last two years.   For fun, we are reading The Lord of the Rings aloud, which fits right in with all of the other epics we have read and are reading.

There is something special about reading these great epics with my children.  Over the years, they have allowed our family to create a shared vocabulary and history together.  We often refer to children’s books, story books, and great books in our conversations with each other.  Homeschooling has given our family a special bonding of common experience.  As hard as it has been at times and as much time, energy, sweat, tears, and frustrations it requires, I will never be sorry for going on this journey with my children.  These last two years with my youngest will fly by so fast, and I fully intend to cherish each day before I launch my last “chick” into the world.