You Gotta Have Heart

This is a bit of a Part 2 to my previous post of a few minutes ago. In that post I made reference to C.S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man, and the first chapter “Men Without Chests”.  Over the past 3 weeks my son and I read that chapter and at the close he entered those  concluding sentences in his Commonplace.

Here I go straying again from my original intent, but I wanted to acknowledge how grateful I am to the Charlotte Mason philosophy of slow-reading, and the Advisory of AmblesideOnline that have emphasized this over and over to their users, as well as the counsel of Cindy Rollins and Angelina Stanford for slow, deep, and contemplative reading. I’m reminded of this as I think about the comment I made following the posting on Facebook of my son’s Commonplace entry. I’m reminded that to really understand a quote or idea, much more context and time to contemplate is needed.

And now I quote myself:

I had seen these lines quoted on several occasions in the past few years, but it was in reading this chapter “Men Without Chests” with my son that I understood better (I hope) just what Lewis meant by “chests”. Even with the words “virtue” and “honor” in the quote, I still had this idea of Machismo — Superman puffing out his Chest. But what he’s addressing is men (humans) being robbed of what is associated with that organ in the chest — the Heart. He talks about modern textbooks discouraging beautiful, descriptive, moving passages, and teaching that only the (physical) facts are necessary. Students are robbed of the notion that it is valid to place a judgment of quality on an object or idea. They are robbed of beauty, of noble ideas, of Heart.

And just so’s you know where I got my post title:

 

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Education and The Ordering of the Affections

I have been homeschooling my now 16 year old son from birth. Our homeschooling has involved a lot of reading out loud. Interestingly, although I’m not a nature and sciency kind of person, some of my favorite things to read to my son over these years has been the nature stories. We’ve read many books by naturalists who share their stories of being there, and I’ve enjoyed “being there” with them as I’ve read the stories to my son. I’ve enjoyed reading our school literature selections, as well as our “free reads”. Over the years I’ve judged good writers, such as C.S. Lewis, by how good it feels (literally!) to read their sentences out loud.

As the years have passed, and my son has become an independent learner, I have increased my piano studio and have had far less time to be with him during his school hours. The thing I miss the most is reading out loud to him. In scheduling his days this year, I have reserved one hour before I start my piano teaching day (and some days that means 7 a.m.) to read to him. (And whenever I have a block of cancellations during the day, you might find me running home, rather than staying at the studio, as I ought, to practice my cello and clarinet, and saying, “I’m here! Can I read whatever you’re reading right now to you?”) For that precious “morning hour with Mom”, this year I have chosen to read books such as Plutarch’s Life of Alexander (just a bit each morning), Charlotte Mason’s Ourselves, C.S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man, and when I can steal it from his after-Mom schedule and squeeze it in before I dash to the studio on Fridays, Seven Men Who Rule from the Grave, which is a book not about politicians or business-leaders, but philosophers whose influence is still very evident today. I also do some Grammar, Latin, or Diagramming with him as a part of that hour. Do you really think that those 3 things are not like the others? You have not spent enough time with James, then. The study of language, which involves logic and the need for clear communication, generates a lot of discussion with us.  It’s a bonus for me when I can steal away and read History and Literature and Economics with him, as well, because those “subjects” are full of ideas well worth contemplating and discussing.

Truth be told (as one should), it is perhaps the discussion of ideas and the connections James and I make with them, and then with each other, that I miss even more than the reading out loud of the beautiful words. Sometimes I feel anxious about all the things that I’ve left undone or completely missed in the education of James Dewey Pelham. But then I sit with him and read C.S. Lewis or Thomas Sowell, or simply work on analyzing a sentence or translate some Latin, and I realize what a mature and honest thinker has been raised in our home. Sometimes I think I have harmed him with my concern about the wrong things, that I’ve not focused on filling his heart with ideas rather than his head with facts, and then I listen to this young man who picks up quickly on a logical or economic fallacy or grammatical error because he cares. He cares about Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Ordo amoris – somehow, in spite of his anxious mother, through the years his affections have been properly ordered. His conscience has been trained. He is not a Man without a chest.

From James’ “Commonplace” book

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Look and See: The Study of “Science”

This will be my attempt in the true meaning of Essay to explain what I have learned over these 16 years about Science and the teaching of it. I will be sharing in some kind of orderly fashion many ideas (but not all, by any means!) in my head that have accumulated over the years from studying about teaching and the actual teaching of my son. References will be made but no actual quotes will be made or cited. However, I’d imagine that whole thing will end with a Proverb. It’s inevitable. I cannot help myself.

I stole the title of the post from Wendell Berry. It is the name of a documentary about him and comes from what he would tell his children as they would walk about the land. One of the things that has been made evident to me over and over is that regardless of (or perhaps, because of) how advanced we (think) we are technologically in the 21st century, most of us have lost connection to nature — to what is real. We do not notice what is right before our eyes. We don’t take time to stop and look….deeply. To ponder. To wonder. To be humbled by it all. When you take time to look deeply, you realize how vast is the microscopic. You realize that it all began and continues without you. And the more you connect, the more you realize that although it began and continues without you, that what you do have is the power to destroy — and hopefully, that connection compels you to take personal responsibility to not destroy. Which brings up another point that I didn’t plan to address in this post, but here it goes. Some philosopher type that James and I have read recently made reference to the truth about global environmental issues, but noted that rather than being so focused globally, a person would do better to pick up the trash in his own backyard, as it were. James thinks this idea is from “that poet dude that Mom’s been reading”, as reported by his Dad, and that “poet dude” I’m almost certain would be Wendell Berry. (I said I would have no actual quotes, so forgive me for quoting my son.) I had wondered if it was Thomas Sowell, but I think James is right about the “poet dude” Wendell Berry. Anyhow, I was reminded of this idea when I saw a picture of the trash supposedly left behind on grounds where people were protesting about the lack of concern for global environmental issues. We love a cause. Especially when it’s way bigger than ourselves. But just Look and See, people. It’s all around you. Love your neighborhood.

Charlotte Mason has been our chief educational guide for the past 14 years. After years of research, discussion and application in her community of educators and parents, she summarized her philosophy of education in 20 principles. Karen Glass has proposed that two of those principles are “the most vital”, those two being that Children are born persons and that Education is the Science of Relations. Relations. Connections. How the various subjects naturally connect with each other. (No forced unit studies, my people! Oh, dear, No! Stop interfering with the natural process!) And how we as persons ought to make a connection with the ideas of the various subjects. Look and See, people. Education is not the filling up of the head with Facts; it is making connections with the Ideas in stories, history, nature, art, music. We ponder. We wonder. We connect. We are changed.

So we come to the subject of Nature Study/Natural History/Science in a Charlotte Mason education. We find ourselves reading “old books”. Some people balk at this idea. The “science” is old. It’s wrong. It’s “bad science”. Aren’t we doing a disservice to our students to teach them these wrong facts? And I realize that these people have little understanding about the teaching of “science” — or really, “science”, for that matter. They may think that they do, but this reaction shows me that they do not. I think being opposed to “old books” with their “old science” is arrogant. As if the facts presented in 21st century textbooks are the absolute truth, never to be overturned. Pardon me, but I’m fixing to quote myself. I said this in a recent discussion: “Perhaps we should teach our children from the beginning that ‘science’ is really our best guess at the moment, and that what we think we know currently should never be presented as absolute fact, never to be overturned. James and I just read the second chapter in Seven Men Who Rule from the Grave where the author goes on about how we can never claim to really know it all — Science can never prove the absolute origin of life, for instance.”

When people oppose the old books they have failed to understand the purpose of teaching science. Perhaps if someone wrote books in the style of these old books, these old books could be replaced. But any new information in the newer books really doesn’t matter. What matters is that we are encouraged to Look and See. And that is what these old living science books do. What we Know at this hour, or think we Know, will be overturned — sometimes in a matter of minutes. And we can never Know absolutely. But we are built to be curious about everything. Even the origin of the species. So we Look and Ponder and Wonder and Connect and Care. That is what we want for our children. That is what we want for ourselves.

And once again:

The question is not, –how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education — but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him? ~ Charlotte Mason

Great are the works of Yahweh,
    studied by all who delight in them. ~ Psalm 111

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. ~ Paul, an apostle of Jesus

Stay tuned. I just know there’s an appropriate Proverb.

In the woods

In the city

Anywhere at any age.  Nature is worth pondering.

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Guest Post: James Pelham, age 16, on Thinking (or not)

In a program, when something goes wrong, the program crashes. It sees its current state versus what its state is supposed to be, then goes ‘Hey! These aren’t the same!’; but rather than thinking about what lead to this difference, and how to fix it, it crashes. It’s a program. It doesn’t think; it follows orders. The best it can do when it can’t do its job is throw up its hands and crash.

Some people do this too.

They think, ‘People in my group are the best people’, but they observe, ‘Here are some people that are better than the people in my group.’ These contradict each other. Crash. They are unable (really, unwilling) to handle this contradiction gracefully, so they ‘crash’ and move on, trying not to think about it anymore.

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways.”  ~ the prophet Haggai

My son, let them not depart from your eyes—
Keep sound wisdom and discretion;
So they will be life to your soul
And grace to your neck.  ~ King Solomon

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Thoughts on Empathy and the Education of James Pelham

What is it I want to say about Empathy? So many things are running through my mind that I want to share with you, but mostly it is that I want you to understand that that is the end-goal of my part in the education of James Pelham. All that my son learns with literature, history, science, math, languages, music and art must ultimately lead to a kind human being that works with all his heart to make his world a better place. For me it is the purpose for all the stories and events that we read about. The study of science and numbers should lead to an awe that is very humbling. Charlotte Mason speaks of the three sorts of knowledge proper to a child as Knowledge of God, Knowledge of Man, Knowledge of the Universe. The results of this knowledge should be empathy and humility, not a great load of facts to pass tests and win scholarships and trivia contests.

As I plan our coming school year using AmblesideOnline’s Year 11, I am revisiting this idea of our purpose for all that we do with books and activities. I have been strongly reminded of it by my experience at AO’s Camp Meeting in April, especially Wendi Capehart’s talk, as well as ongoing webinars,  discussions, and podcasts featuring Angelina Stanford and Cindy Rollins this spring and summer. As my friends make their plans for the school year, choosing books and planning lessons, I remind them that it is ultimately about empathy in the hearts of our children. That’s what those history, literature, geography, science lessons are for. That’s why narration is so important. That he makes a connection to the stories. That she is compelled to step inside someone else’s shoes for a moment. That he learns that it is not all about him. That she will not be timid when meeting someone unlike herself. That he will not think more highly of himself than he ought. That she will consider the repercussions of her actions on the world around her — family, friends, co-workers, anyone she meets along the way. That he will love his neighbor as himself. That she will do to others as she would have them do to her. That he will realize that not everything is as easy for others as it is for him. That she will be patient with others. That they will care.

 

So how do we bring this about? As my friend Angelina said recently, when references were made to books on behavior management, “Save your money. Read some fairy tales.” Wendi Capehart warned us at the AO Camp Meeting to stay away from heavy-handed books, as well as twaddly stories, because neither will help to develop the moral imagination, nor encourage you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, but rather they tend to make their readers judgey. And cynicism too young makes for an arrogant human being.

Stories will save the world, Angelina says over and over. Good stories. Well-written, not heavy-handed nor twaddly. People often steer away from fiction, thinking that the answer is in non-fiction character-building textbooks. How sad, for it is in great works of fiction that the gold is really found. The fairy tales and the stories of mythology. Even in fantasy stories we see the truth of human relationships. Maybe the unreal stories work best because they take us away from the material and familiar trappings around us and reveal who people really are. It’s not about the stuff.

And then you allow children the time to play. To work with their imagination and these ideas. Wendi also suggested that we get rid of toys. Don’t accessorize their play. Don’t rob them of time to imagine and create their own. No talky-talky from the teacher, Charlotte Mason says. (Oh, yes, indeedy, she uses those words. See p. 52 of Vol. 6).Don’t explain every detail of a story and push the moral on him. Give him freedom to ponder and make connections and get the ideas in his heart.  Allow her time to be moved by the events in a story.

I could go on about the How, but all of that doesn’t matter if you are not convinced of the

Always figuring. Restaurant napkins left like this all over town. Grandpa would be proud.

Why. My heart breaks when I see the textbook crap my fellow home-educators buy, and when they worry over scores and competing in the STEM world. My son is an amazing mathematician, has numbers running around in his head all day long, probably waking and sleeping. But none of that matters if he is not a decent human being. If he does not have empathy for those unlike him. If he will not reach out to someone in need right before his eyes. If he will not respond respectfully to authority. If he thinks more highly of himself than he ought. If he doesn’t care.

 

The question is not,––how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education––but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him? ~Charlotte Mason

So much more to say. Sorry for this jumbly mess. I had to make myself write today. Hopefully better next time. Stay tuned.

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Towards a Philosophy of Remembering

I wrote here about the value of remembering and my own failure to have as much written on my heart as I think I should. My friend Cindy is a big proponent of Remembering. In her “Morning Time for Moms” summer class we are memorizing a poem and a Psalm. She delights in Stratford Caldecott’s calling the elementary stage of learning “Remembering”. She often shares how lines from memorized poems have come to her or her own children in times of need for encouragement.

One of the books that we are reading together in this summer class is A White Bird Flying, which is the continuing story of Nebraska pioneers begun in Bess Streeter Aldrich’s A Lantern in Her Hand. I shared some thoughts about Lantern in my previous post. That post ended with a quote showing an aged mother’s delight when reading of her banker son’s influence in bringing Shakespeare plays to Omaha:

For a few moments Abbie saw, in retrospect, a freckle-faced boy in a sod-house, hunching over a thick volume of plays and saying, “Aw, what’s the sense in this?” “Dear, dear,” she said to herself, “‘There is a divinity which shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will.’ ”

In A White Bird Flying, we see Abbie’s attorney son John leaving the office after a weary day of work.

And so, as John Deal closed the office door, the words of the old poem came to him:

‘And the cares that infest the day
Shall fold their tents like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.’

He wished it were possible that they would do so. But he could not shake them off. They rode home on this shoulder, like so many little red devils. He had always been that way. He guessed he took life too seriously. Other men seemed to be able to leave their business cares behind them like lizards’ skins.

Although John feels he isn’t able to shake off the day’s cares, lines from poetry (that perhaps his mother had read to him years ago) come to his mind of how he ought to be and how he wished he could be. They give him a reality check of his own heart and mind. He goes on to compare himself to other businessmen, including the banker brother mentioned above, who are able to leave the burdens behind. He knows it’s possible. The poem reminds him of this and causes him to reflect.

I purposely mentioned the professions of these two brothers — banker and attorney — to show how meaningful more artistic things (Shakespeare and poetry) can be in the lives of those that do not choose art as a profession. What value does reading Shakespeare  and poetry as a child have for the adult business person? Much. What value does it have to have missed that in your youth, but to find yourself reading Shakespeare and poetry as an adult? Much.

Hymn Singing with the Family on Dad’s 80th birthday

This morning I had a passing thought about how weak I am. And then I heard those words I am weak, but thou art strong. And I am grateful for the years of hymn singing with my family and church friends. Often when I’m struggling with ugliness inside, I hear Purer in heart, O God, help me to be. And when I’m feeling beat down by the world and the ugliness around me, I hear My heart has no desire to stay where doubts arise and fears dismay.  

It is a whole other discussion to speak about Remembering in a Charlotte Mason education. Just know that it doesn’t involve boring lists and facts; rather, it is worthy thoughts beautifully written. You remember because you keep coming back to it. You remember because the worthiness and rhythms of the well-written lines naturally are implanted in your heart and mind.

It might go without saying, but I’ll go ahead and say it anyhow — If a person is going to have strengthening thoughts to access in his time of need, they’re not just going to be there by chance. I suppose every human has words written on their heart, but just what are those words? You choose. It’s never too late. And that storehouse of the mind and heart is never done being filled.

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. ~  Paul, an apostle of Christ

 

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A Divinity Which Shapes Our Ends

“At the age of seventeen, Abbie must decide whether to marry Ed, and live a life of comfort, or Will, who offers a sod shanty on the Nebraska frontier.”

That’s the one sentence description at Goodreads for Bess Streeter Aldrich’s A Lantern in Her Hand. I’ll attempt to not give any spoilers as to which she chose, but either one could have led to hardships and disappointments, and this story is full of both of those. It also has hopeful and loving moments, but it takes some healthy thinking (not prone to dwell on and be overwhelmed by the sad things) to not be unaware of those.

It was a hard book for me to read as a mother and as a daughter. It was a hard book to read as a life-long dreamer of things I’ve wanted to do and be beyond “the normal”. There are some very sad deaths that occur in the story, but the over-arching story to me was of Abbie’s constant (at least it felt like it to me) putting aside her own desires for artistic endeavors in order to take care of her family and their needs. There were times when she was so close, and just like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, something would happen to block that dream. But it was always ultimately Abbie’s decision, just as it was George Bailey’s. I still struggled with the unfairness of it all. Every year with George Bailey, too.

John Adams, one of America’s founding fathers and leaders in the ideas that led to the U.S. revolt and independence wrote in a letter to his wife, Abigail:

I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.

Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.

And so Abbie does what she does (I can’t tell you what because that would give away what I’m attempting not to give away) and watches as one daughter takes her paints and becomes the artist that Abbie had wanted to be, another insists on studying music and becomes the singer that Abbie had wanted to be, and a granddaughter seems poised to do the writing that Abbie had wanted to do.

I understand what John Adams was saying, and I see the good results of Abbie’s choices, as well as the many, many generational examples I’ve witnessed in my nearly six decades. But it still makes me sad. And I ponder over what becomes of the generations that don’t have to fight the battles. Do they really appreciate what they’ve been given by the sacrifical generation before? Must we continue in a cycle of War, Mathematics, Poetry, War, Mathematics, Poetry….? Or should each generation have real battles to fight? Could it be that we can have all three in one generation? How do we get Generations 2 and 3 in this cycle to stay grateful and ever alert?

Throughout the story, we are shown through her thoughts or spoken words moments of regret for Abbie, such as this statement in her 80th year:

But when I saw . . . when I saw the lovely lady that I used to dream about . . . it just came over me . . . in a sort of wave . . . all the wonderful things I planned to do when I was young . . . and never did.

But mostly Abbie appears to be resolved that though she gave up some dreams, it really was a wonderful and bountiful life after all. [And watch out, for here be potential spoilers.]

Grace was loath to accept the decision. “As I said, I’m sorry. You owe it to yourself, if you possibly can go. Your life has been so narrow, Mother . . . just here, all the time. You ought to get out now and see things.”

Unwittingly, as so often she did, Grace had hurt her Mother’s feelings. For a moment Abbie nursed her little hurt, and then she said quietly, “You know, Grace, it’s queer, but I don’t feel narrow. I feel broad. How can I explain it to you, so you would understand? I’ve seen everything . . . and I’ve hardly been away from this yard. I’ve seen cathedrals in the snow on the Lombardy poplars. I’ve seen the sun set behind the Alps over there when the clouds have been piled up on the edge of the prairie. I’ve seen the ocean billows in the rise and the fall of the prairie grass. I’ve seen history in the making . . . three ugly wars flare up and die down. I’ve sent a lover and two brothers to one, a son and son-in-law to another, and two grandsons to the other. I’ve seen the feeble beginnings of a raw state and the civilization that developed there, and I’ve been part of the beginning and part of the growth. I’ve married . . . and borne children and looked into the face of death. Is childbirth narrow, Grace? Or marriage? Or death? When you’ve experienced all those things, Grace, the spirit has traveled although the body has been confined. I think travel is a rare privilege and I’m glad you can have it. But not every one who stays at home is narrow and not every one who travels is broad. I think if you can understand humanity . . . can sympathize with every creature . . . can put yourself into the personality of every one . . . you’re not narrow . . . you’re broad.”

And this is why I mentioned earlier about a healthy mind that does not become overwhelmed by what was lost and therefore does not miss out on the bountiful blessings that they have experienced in this life. Life is short, as you probably know, and sometimes you have to decide what really has value in this life. Sometimes the hardest work in life is keeping on the sunny side.

Abbie took Lincoln, Omaha and Chicago papers, and with the same scissors that had cut out their homemade clothes, carefully cut out every item concerning her now rather well-known children. Sometimes she would run across one which gave her a few moments of almost wicked glee. One such was: “Perhaps more through the influence of Mackenzie Deal than any other single person, this series of Shakespearean plays is being brought to Omaha, . . .” For a few moments Abbie saw, in retrospect, a freckle-faced boy in a sod-house, hunching over a thick volume of plays and saying, “Aw, what’s the sense in this?” “Dear, dear,” she said to herself, “‘There is a divinity which shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will.’ ”

My mother and her story-teller, artist, music-maker, and mathematician. Missing is her 5th, another artist, who she lost in his 31st year. She worked hard so we could have the freedom to do what we have done.

 

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Moments at AmblesideOnline Camp Meeting 2019

I wrote the following last month. Now that our web hosting company, who shall not be named, has fixed its glitches, however temporary that may be, here you go:

From April 4 -6 I attended the AmblesideOnline (AO) Camp Meeting at Camp Garner Creek in Dickson, Tennessee. I’ve had many thoughts (and plans for blog posts) since that time as I continue to process what I saw and heard there. While I intend to get to each of the talks that I heard and what I took from them, today I want to share not about words but moments that impacted me.

The first is not connected with AO in particular, or my life as a homeschool mom/teacher, but more with my life as a human — emotionally and spiritually. Rather than rewrite the story, I’ll copy here what I shared on Facebook a few weeks ago:

Just before we said goodbye Saturday afternoon. With my red face from sobbing as you will read below.

When I went to the AmblesideOnline retreat last week, I was looking forward to seeing the AO Advisory and Auxiliary members again that I had met previously, as well as meeting many of my online friends again, and some for the first time in person. There were two people that I particularly wanted to meet in person that have been a special encouragement to me in these past few years as a woman, a mother, a teacher, and human being. On the first night of the meeting, I found myself about 4 rows back, house left. The “lanyard people” (AO Advisory, Auxiliary, and special guest speakers for the event) were finding their places in the front row, and there I saw for the first time the back of Cindy Rollins head. Oh, yes, I’d recognize that head of hair anywhere. And then a few minutes later someone was being ushered into our row, being a non-lanyard person, and she sat down in the empty chair to my right. Y’all, it was Angelina Stanford. I cannot tell you how extraordinarily special I felt at that moment. Not that I’m special sitting next to a celebrity of sorts. No, it wasn’t that at all. I felt that God himself was wrapping his arms around me because this was someone I wanted to meet, and of all the 400 people in that room, she was seated next to me on that very first night. I don’t feel special hardly at all, ever. I for the most part feel overlooked. I feel lonely in this world. I feel sad. There are so few people in this world interested in Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. So few honest and humble people. And I often wonder where is God in all this. Is he listening? Does he care? Then I listen to these podcasts where Angelina talks about the stories that she’s passionate about, and I hear her address challenges without guile, and tears come to my eyes because of that lack of guile. Here is someone in this world who does care. I cannot know what supernatural powers were at work for me last week, but I can tell you what I felt, and what I continue to feel about that moment. It was as if Heaven was saying, “We’re listening. We care. Here’s a gift.” Poor Angelina. So innocent. She was just sitting her possibly weary tush down. She had no idea how powerful that moment was going to be for me.

From the AO Camp Meeting booklet

Wendi Capehart is a member of the AmblesideOnline Advisory. She, like the other Advisory, wrote and continue to revise and make better the AO curriculum. Her talk: Of Imagination & Moral Insight, which was given Friday morning, moved me the most of the main talks and continues to stay with me. But that is for another post. What I want to share about now is Wendi standing before the room of 400 later that afternoon to teach us a folk song. I know that Wendi is into folk songs (and all “the riches”), but I can’t recall hearing her sing before. (If she led some songs in 2016 in Dallas, I don’t remember.) Anyhow, she tells us a little about the song (I was familiar with it, thanks to the piano books from my youth) and the value of folk songs, and then tells us that she is not a singer. She is going to sing the first verse and chorus for us, and then we will all join in from the beginning. She promises us it is an “earworm”. Now back to that part about her not being a singer. She starts that first verse, “I love to go a-wandering…” and the most amazing and unique belting voice I have ever heard comes out of her. It’s a folk sound, but definitely not that out-of-control high vibrato of some 60s-type folk singers. No, this is full and husky and just beautiful to me. It was perfect. She may not consider herself a singer, but her heart for the music is loud and clear. And, I’m sorry, Wendi, you are a singer.

On Friday afternoon, we had the only breakout session of the weekend. I chose to go to Naomi Goegan’s Learning with Delight: Preserving Wonder. In the late afternoon, all 400 campers went on nature walks. We had two leaders: Jeannette Tulis and Naomi. Jeannette, a Tennessee resident, was going to focus on wildflowers; I chose to follow Naomi, a California resident who had never been to Tennessee, to the creek. Remember that this post is about moments, and not words, that impacted me. I follow Naomi on Instagram and see all her nature walk pictures with her kids — mostly oceanside pictures, I’ve read her posts and comments on nature study for many years, I’d just been to her class on Wonder, but to watch her as she demonstrated wonder and excitement while discovering the native Tennessee flora and fauna was a bigger lesson to me than all her pictures and previous comments and talks. She is the real genuine deal, and I want to be like her when I grow up.

Saturday morning was “The Progeny Panel”, where the children (all in their 20s and 30s, and all AO graduates) of the Advisory answered questions about their memories of their upbringing and education and the various paths they’ve chosen since graduation. Donna-Jean Breckenridge followed with the last main talk, and again, more about that in another post. Her talk was very good, but what happened at the end made me sob, and sent her message and, really, the whole weekend “on home”. After having heard both her daughters answer questions in the panel earlier, then Donna-Jean sharing about her years as a mother and teacher to those daughters (and her sons), and how she would sing specific songs (she named some titles) to them when they were little, Bethany and Hannah joined her on stage and sang with her:

He is able, I know he’s able. I know my Lord is able to carry me through.

Jesus never fails. Jesus never fails. Heaven and earth may pass away, but Jesus never fails.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus.
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace

Photo Credit: Mary Jo Tate

It was the most beautiful singing, with lovely, warm harmony. That would have been true with or without the previous messages. But for me, I had just heard words that told me that it will all be okay, “however imperfectly”, it will all be worth it. And then to have those women, both married and one a mother, walk up to that stage and sing the very songs she had spoken about, remembering words that their mother, who I don’t think claims to be a singer, sang to them over and over so many years ago, because she loved them, and she loved the Truth and the Life, and all that really mattered is that they would know that — beyond any grammar, history, science, writing, math lesson that she would teach them — and her heart’s desire was that her daughters would choose to believe and love the Truth. To look up there and see, Boom! Here it is. This is what it’s all about. This is what those lullabies of 20 and 30 years ago were all about. Here was beautiful, musical evidence that all those years of struggling but still believing in a chosen path of education for your child, which so many don’t approve of, will bear fruit. Good fruit. Fruit that will last.

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As much as I would like to believe that I’m a Words person, leaning more on the intellectual side of life, it has become evident to me that that is not really so, and probably never was. I am an introvert, and do find energy in alone reading and thinking time, and time with small groups, talking about ideas; I am very attracted to philosophy and learning about how humans think and act, and why they choose to think and act in various ways. But for all that, it is moments, often ones that reflect the genuineness of words spoken by an individual, that really impact me. They move my heart and inspire me to think differently and to be different. Angelina Stanford is a brilliant and passionate talker about literature, and although her smarts definitely got my attention a few years ago, it was the humility I heard in her response to a challenge on a podcast last year that brought tears to my eyes. It wasn’t what she said in response; it was how she said it.

In the Charlotte Mason education world of which I’ve been a part for 14 years, there is talk about Principles and Practices. Some people focus more on the Practices — just tell me what to Do to give my kids a CM education. Many others, including my favorite people, warn that the practices are mostly worthless without understanding the principles behind them. The Principles — they tickle my intellectual side, but they ring true to my heart side, and that is what keeps me planted in this educational philosophy — this life philosophy. “Why are you here?” Charlotte Mason asked one of the students at her teacher’s college. “To learn to teach,” was the response. “No, my dear,” Miss Mason corrected, “you are here to learn to live.”

My favorite CM passage just cannot be quoted enough:

“The question is not, — how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education — but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?”

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I’ll take Liberty

I posted the following on Facebook a year ago today. It came up on my FB memories, and I thought, “Hey! this sounds like a blog post.” So here you go, in all its original, unedited glory:

“I was in [another country] preparing to go on [a talk show]. The day prior to the live studio appearance, their lieutenant interviewer called to feel me out and select the themes and issues that would be most interesting for the show. After having me explain a little about our farm, she went after the food processors…’Don’t you think the government should forbid them to process food like that?’ she queried.

‘No,’ I responded. ‘Nobody is holding a gun to consumers’ heads demanding that they buy frozen DiGiorno’s pizza. Nobody is requiring people to buy food with MSG in it. Nobody has to buy Coca-Cola.’

‘Well, don’t you think the government should protect people from these products?’ she pursued.

‘No. It’s a big free country. People are responsible for what they eat. They are the ones who decide what goes into their bodies.’

‘Oh, we couldn’t say that. That would offend our listeners, to be told that they are responsible,’ retorted the miffed journalist.”

~ Joel Salatin
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I’ve been very busy and sadly have not been able to read all that James is reading for school this year, but I’m grateful for the time that I have had to read along with him as he reads about the early years of this nation, and the ideas with which those men and women were struggling. James has read general narratives on the events of that time period, as well as some biographies, speeches, letters, and documents (such as the Declaration). While it is hard to grapple with the fact that these so-called lovers of liberty and justice would not deal with slavery as they should have; for the most part, our history, and thus the culture handed down to us generation after generation, is one of freedom to live as we choose. So many of the Europeans that came in the beginning were looking for a place to live and worship as they believed. And when it got to the point that the rules and regulations and control had followed them across the ocean, they aired their grievances and said they’d had enough and bye-bye Motherland. Then they had to decide what to do now they had that independence. Do we all stick together and form some union, or are we 13 completely separate sovereign nations. Stronger together, they decided. (It really got me thinking about how they had to battle over the idea of the Union, and what happened four-score years later. Did you know there were threats of secession from the beginning? And it wasn’t the southland.)

But anyhow, if you got down this far, I’m musing on the ideas of liberty that are the culture in which I was raised, and how it seems like a no-brainer and that these ideas are universal, but they really are not. The reason that Europeans came here in the 1600s and beyond, and how this country became an independent nation, are very unique in the world. From what we can tell from their writings, those guys and gals of 1776 and beyond were very aware that it was a pretty significant moment in time. This Republican form of government. This American experiment. People of other countries (cultures) don’t really get us. And we don’t really get them. I don’t know if we’re right, or if they’re right. Or we all are right for ourselves. We choose here in the U.S. to be independent and sovereign individuals. Others choose the security of more oversight and regulation in their lives. Well, being a descendant (philosophically speaking) of Patrick Henry, I will probably forever (or at least for the remaining 40 years that I have) be a Give me Liberty or Give me Death kind of gal.

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On the Thirteenth Anniversary of Our Daughter’s Birth

Today I commemorate a day that was never going to be. The baby that would be named Virginia Grace Pelham at about 20 weeks gestation was Trisomy-18 from her conception and although she beat some odds to survive to birth, she did not make it past her 3 week birthday. Our daughter in reality would never be a toddler, never be a little girl that I would read to and teach how to read as I did her brother, and never be a teen-ager that we would guide through the struggles of becoming an adult. And yet here I sit imagining that teen-age girl on the 13th anniversary of her birth. Not an imaginary daughter that little Kay dreamt about for 40 years, but that very girl that was never meant to be a teen-ager.

I don’t really know where to begin with all the thoughts that I have concerning this experience in my life. The recent New York legalization of infanticide seconds before birth certainly has triggered many thoughts and feelings. My daughter was not viable for long outside my womb, and yet she was so loved and so wanted by her mother. I cannot comprehend justifying in any way the murder of a baby by the mother or the people sticking that needle in her and ending the life of that baby. I’ve got nothing, people. It blows my mind how inhuman society has become.

There is often noted the bond between mother and child. Science has studied this. I have observed it at various levels in my half century on this planet. Wikipedia describes it in this way:

maternal bond is the relationship between a mother and her child. While typically associated with pregnancy and childbirth, a maternal bond may also develop in cases where the child is unrelated, such as an adoption. Both physical and emotional factors influence the mother-child bonding process.

Through the years I have noted some mothers who have actually gone through the birth process and yet seem to be lacking this bond.  Perhaps there is some connection, but definitely not near the level that most others exhibit. I’ve spent time pondering what has caused the disconnect of what should be a natural bond. Knowing the background of some — their relationship or non-relationship with their own mothers, family histories of physical or substance abuse — gives me some idea of why what should be a pretty intense and obvious bonding is not happening.

And so I ponder this glorious idea of maternal bonding versus “my body my right”. Whether or not you believe in Intelligent Design or a specific Creator as described in the Judeo-Christian writings, or you believe in an evolution of humans not associated with any specific designer, this maternal bonding associated with most (I know it is not all) females in the animal kingdom, has got to be something to be marveled at — and honored in some form. I consider it also glorious that that life is conceived within my body, that that body grows inside my body, that I can nourish that body inside my body. I consider it a glory. I consider it an honor. It is NOT my body. It is in my body.

When I learned in September, 2002 that I was pregnant through an at-home test, I marveled at this. When a week later I had some blood discharge, I cried because I thought I had messed up and lost that baby. When the ultrasound showed that there was an 8-week living being still thriving in me, I marveled and rejoiced. At 17 weeks the ultrasound showed us a boy. I marveled that I was going to have the James Dewey I had been dreaming of. On May 13, 2003, I marveled that I had survived the birth process and introduced to the world that beautiful 8 lb. 7 oz. boy. Perfectly healthy. And so he has remained. What a wonder. What a marvel. My son is a young man of almost 16 now. What a glorious thing and an honor it is to be his mother. A glory. An honor. A wonder. Motherhood.

When I learned in June, 2005 that I was pregnant through an at-home test, I marveled at this. I’m pretty sure that Jack considered it an honor and a victory of sorts as he raised his arms in a yeah-I’m-the-man gesture. A doctor’s visit (in which we’re pretty sure the nurse ran across the street to get the same at-home test) confirmed the results. When at 20 weeks the ultrasound showed a little girl, I marveled. A boy. A girl. Perfect. How did I get to be so blessed at this relatively late point in my life? I was nearly 44 at that time.

About a week before our daughter’s due date was the beginning of some not so happy news. Although all of our visits had shown a healthy girl growing at normal rates, she was now not gaining weight and actually losing weight. Perhaps there were issues because of my age, and I was not feeding her as I should inside. (These are memories of what I remember being told, or impressions of what I remember.) It was decided to induce labor in 3 days, on Friday, February 3rd. (Our son had also been induced nearly 3 years before. His was for opposite reasons. I was at my due date and he was huge. Although he ended up weighing 8 lbs. 7 oz., they thought he might be 10 lbs at that point.) Virginia Grace Pelham was born at 12:13pm on February 3rd, weighing 4 lbs. and a few ounces. Much easier labor and delivery than her brother. Immediately the doctor knew that there was more than her low weight at issue. Her features told him there was something more. She was whisked away from the delivery room immediately. I can’t remember how much later it was when Jack came back to my room to give me the news. I have a memory that my mother and my mother-in-law were in the room. Was new big brother James there, too? Jack sat beside me holding my hand and telling me that our new baby girl would probably not live long. They didn’t know exactly yet, but she most likely had a chromosomal disorder. He, and later the doctors, explained the possibilities. Turner Syndrome would allow her to grow up with physical abnormalities. Edwards Syndrome, Trisomy-18, would not. Oh, I prayed it was Turner.

They took my baby girl to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, about an hour away from where we were in Lebanon, TN. I spent the first night of her life away from her in the hospital where she was born. I remember nurses trying to comfort us. I remember reading about the Israelite King David crying out for the life of his child and his reasoning without despair after news of the child’s death. I remember Jack being by my side and together we worked through our thoughts and feelings. No matter the results, God still loved us, and it had been an honor to be Grace’s parents even for a moment.

He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether Yahweh will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”  ~2 Samuel 12:22

One little extra chromosome. That’s all it took. I had one perfectly complete and healthy baby, and one that was not because of ONE little extra chromosome. How does this happen? Actually, I was curious. We were told that it happened at conception. That’s why I said what I said at the beginning of this post. From conception Grace was a little girl who could not live long. We were told that there is no way to know who did it — the mother or the father. Jack, knowing my insecurity and great ability to think little of myself, took the blame. He was sure he had done it. Very sweet of him, but we’ll never know. And what does it matter? We were told after the 3-day studies at Vanderbilt, that it was not genetic. Her brother James needn’t be concerned that he might have a Trisomy-18 child.  Yes, that’s what they decided. Trisomy-18, or Edwards Syndrome. We were told that 50% of these babies don’t survive until birth. And then few of those survive outside the womb more than a few days.

We are fearfully and wonderfully made. And so delicate. Each part has its work. Down to the tiniest parts. The chromosomes. One extra one on number 18 throwing so much off. What a wonder. What a marvel. In all this very sad, extremely disappointing time, there is still the awe of how we are made. She wouldn’t be mine for long, but I still marveled, still felt honored that she had been for a little while.

Disappointment. Jack talked about that then. Jack talked about it when we buried Grace twenty-two days after her birth. Disappointment. I didn’t fully understand it then. But I trusted Jack. He was not just trying to make light of what we were going through. He wasn’t just speaking as a father who doesn’t feel things as intensely as a mother. Disappointment.

Oh, and another thing that we were told was that it was NOT my age that caused this. Does it matter? I don’t know, but it certainly was a relief to me. Trisomy-18 are born to mothers of all ages. I had declined the amniocentesis with both pregnancies. They were offered both times because of my advanced age. When we said we would never abort a pregnancy, we were told that knowing of any abnormalities would help us prepare for whatever future that would mean. But we were good, we said. We’d handle it when it came. And what’s the point of taking a chance with that big needle in your belly?! And so it came in February, 2006. Although, with little future. But we handled it. We did have 3 days before they finally confirmed it was Edwards to imagine adjusting our life for a disabled daughter. We would do it. But then we didn’t need to. Instead, it was life without a daughter.

For me, it was waiting a whole year to clean out her room and give away her clothes. Now, that’s not entirely as desperate as it may sound if you consider that in the fall we left for Columbus, OH where Jack worked until a month after Grace’s first birthday. But I did spend from February 24 until our departure in October not dealing with it. Maybe I went in to visit the room from time to time. But I think I mostly kept the door closed.  There would not be another baby. The doctor took care of that a few hours after Grace’s birth. I have never regretted conceiving and giving birth to Virginia Grace Pelham; I will always regret (that’s not a strong enough word for) what I did after. It had already been scheduled. Why didn’t I cancel it???  Oh, my, that is another post.

In case you haven’t figured it out, I believe and I am totally convinced that this is TRUTH — that it is NOT my body, my right. It is another body marvelously, no matter the outcome, growing inside of me. What an honor to be chosen by my Creator to be “the host” and the nourisher for this new life. If a woman decides that she cannot be responsible to raise this child after birth, then make your last responsibility be to see that someone is found that can. Until that moment of birth, you are responsible for that life. You are responsible for Life, not Death. It is not your right to choose Death. No more than me deciding I can’t or don’t want to take responsibility for my 15 year old anymore and going in there and putting a bullet in his head. This is just the TRUTH. REALITY. SANITY. RIGHT. Get over yourself. Be in your Right mind. All of you mothers. All of you legislators. All of you medical professionals. Be Human. REASON and LOVE with ALL your HEART, MIND, SOUL, and STRENGTH.

I ponder from time to time where Grace is now. Having lost my dad in 2015, my brother in 1998, and Grace in 2006, I sometimes imagine them being together now. Maybe watching me. Looking out for me. But I just don’t know how it works. I look for answers in the Scriptures, but although they tell of a life after this life on Earth, I don’t find any details of who we are there, and what we know, and who we know, and what we remember from here, etc. I also haven’t found the answers to when we really begin. The real us. Our soul. I do believe that life begins at conception, but when does the soul enter? And where does God get that soul? When did my particular soul, the real Kay — not just this flesh, come into existence? And I’ve wondered if when a soul didn’t get a chance to make it to birth, whether through an abortion or miscarriage, does God give that same soul a second chance to do life on Earth? How about if they only got a day or 21 days like Grace did? Would that soul get a do over? The other day as I was considering this again, I thought, You know, I’d be really upset if Grace’s soul got a do-over and someone else got to raise that soul when I didn’t. Silly, yes. But it is what I thought. I want to know that there is only one Virginia Grace Pelham soul, and sadly, for us, she didn’t get to stay here long. But she’s waiting up there (or wherever it is) for us. She’s okay that she didn’t get to stay here long. She knows that her 9 months plus 21 days mattered. They still matter. She had parents and a big brother and grandparents and aunts and uncles that cared about Life. That still care about Life. Her family on this planet love and honor their Creator. I know that her parents are different people because of her. We love Righteousness and abhor Evil even more because she came to live with us for a little while. Our grief, our disappointment, brought us nearer to our God.

Amazing Grace, how very sweet the sound.

What a Wonder. What a Marvel.

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