Monday, September 30, 2013

Dumber Than Dirt but One Lucky Pup

I’ve had many dogs in my life, but the one who’s lived with us the last fourteen years had a shaky beginning. 
She came to us from the animal shelter.   My son Robert and I liked her because she sat quietly in her kennel, looking at us with big, sad eyes, while all the others were barking.  The lady at the animal shelter had tied a bandanna around her neck and called her Bandit, but Robert started calling her Bandi. 

The shelter identified her as a “dachshund mix” but she looked more like part Corgi, part Sheltie, and the rest an impossibly long feathered tail which she held up like a sail at full mast.  Her hair was reddish gold and silky soft, and she had four white socks.

Bandi was a "chewer." She gnawed off the bottom corners of the back door frame (and, among other things, her dewclaws) but she wouldn't chew bones; she'd bury them, usually by uprooting plants I wanted to keep.  One evening our internet suddenly went out.  When we discovered the phone was dead, too, we checked the line into the house.  Using a flashlight, we found Bandi had pulled off the wire and eaten most of it.  After that when anything was missing, we assumed Bandi had eaten it.

We had a mesquite tree in the back yard.  The first notch where the branches divided was about four feet from the ground.  One day Bandi forgot she was a dog while chasing a squirrel.  She ran up the trunk and sat in the notch, barking at the squirrel who, of course, climbed much higher.

After that Bandi loved to show off for visitors, running up the rough trunk of the mesquite tree to sit in "her" place.  She also preferred to sit on top of her doghouse a la Snoopy rather than sleep inside.
 One evening when she was about eighteen months old, Bandi was in the backyard when it began to rain lightly and we could hear thunder far away.  She managed to open the gate and run around to the front porch.  Since she had a dog house and it was barely raining, we put her back in the yard and closed the gate.

A little while later, about ten o’clock, I heard a car race up the street, hit something, and then a dog crying.  I looked out the window and saw a dog pull itself up in the neighbor’s yard under the street light.  I thought, “How terrible!  Someone has hit a dog.”  And then I felt sick in the pit of my stomach.  I asked my husband to look outside and see if Bandi was in the yard.  She wasn’t.

I grabbed a big towel and ran outside in my nightgown.  Sure enough, it was Bandi.  I could tell she was in pain, but I couldn’t tell what her injuries were, so I wrapped her in the towel and carried her back to the house.  I laid her on the kitchen floor.  There was some blood, but not a lot.  She tried to bite us if we touched her back leg, and I thought she might have internal injuries.

My husband looked in the phone book and started calling veterinarians.  He found one on call who said to bring her in.  I thought we should all go, because I didn’t want to wake up Robert the next morning to tell him his dog was dead.

We woke Robert and he quickly dressed.  He and I sat in the back seat with Bandi while my husband drove across town.  Bandi was hurting so badly that she nipped at us whenever her leg was moved.  The vet didn’t think she had internal injuries, but he said her back thigh bone had snapped in two.  He would have to keep her so he could insert a rod in the leg the following morning.  He said to come back at four o’clock to pick her up.

When Robert and I arrived, Bandi heard us coming through the door.  I had read about “mournful howls” but that was the first time I’d heard one!  A cast held her back leg out straight, so she had to hop around on three legs.  Before her leg healed she managed to chew through the cast and had to get another one.

But I guess she’s a little smarter than dirt.  She doesn’t try to escape the backyard any more.  She knows bad things can happen outside the gate….

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Writing with Mrs. Jones

My former author name which happens to be my legal name.
It began when a new teacher asked if I would come talk to her classes about "the job of a writer." My favorite part of being a children's writer is classroom visits.

This visit, however, had a unique outcome.  At the end of the day, the teacher called me aside.

"I haven't taught in fifteen years," she confided to me.  "I've never taught sixth grade, and I took this English job because it was the only one open.  Because I'm the new teacher, they gave me the most difficult students, and I don't really know how to teach them to write.  Would you be willing to help me?"  She was willing to pay me out of her own pocket, she was that desperate.  How could I say no?

So for the last three months of school I came every Friday to her three classes, each one two hours long to include grammar and composition.  The objective on the board:  "Writing with Mrs. Jones"

A new boy came to sixth period class.  "John is a troublemaker," other teachers said.  "He has serious problems."  "Don't let him get away with ANYTHING," said the principal.

Great.  Sixth period already had its share of troublemakers.

Enter John:  a tall, lanky boy, older than the other kids, nice-looking but craving attention so badly he didn't mind disrupting the entire class--even the entire school.

Friday came:  "Writing with Mrs. Jones"

"Who are you?" asked John.  "Are you like Judy Blume, or something?"

"Or something," I said with a weak smile.  "I'm a published author.  Someday I plan to be like Judy Blume, or something."

At first he resisted.  At first he was sent to the principal's office every Friday because he wouldn't cooperate and would not let the others write.

Without John we wrote first-person narrative, using all five senses.  We wrote "telegrams" to find the theme of a piece.  We cut and pasted sequences.  We cut and pasted objective/subjective terms from magazine ads.  (These tough-acting sixth graders really liked using scissors and paste.)

With John we learned how to dig for facts, write a rough draft, and then a final draft for a report about whales, with colorful illustrated covers.  We wrote poetry and made our own poetry books.  We learned how to write "an awesome essay."

Some of the students wrote well.  Even the most hardened kids showed glimpses of coherent, almost brilliant thought.

John enjoyed expressing himself in words.  "How does this sound, Mrs. Jones?" he would ask.  "Do you really like it?"  He turned out to be a promising artist, too.

I lost sleep worrying about John.  I wished I could make such a positive impact on the boy that he would turn away from the self-destructive path he was bent on pursuing.  We did become friends, at least.  He always greeted me whenever our paths crossed in our small town.

Though I did not influence John in a big way, he has kept a piece of my heart all these years.  When the press of life tries to crowd out my love of writing, I remember him, and I realize I can never quench this fountain of words.  I never know whom I may reach with a word of hope, no matter how fleeting.

Besides, I promised John that someday I would be like Judy Blume--or something.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Reflections on 20+ Years of Homeschooling

By the time our oldest son, David, was 18 months old, I knew he wouldn't make it in a regular classroom environment.   He scared me!  He had an insatiable curiosity and a photographic memory coupled with an extremely strong-willed personality.  He learned his alphabet and numbers before he was two years old and taught himself to read at age three, even though he was so active it was hard for him to sit still for more than thirty seconds.  I went back to college to finish my teaching degree so I could open a private school, but my husband lost his job and we had to move.  I never did finish that degree.

David age 18 months
This was 1984 and I had never heard of homeschooling.  Providentially a friend took me to a Gregg Harris convention in Austin.  Wow!  I was hooked!  We began with "preschool" in 1986 while I worked on a homemade kindergarten program, which we started in August 1987 (we couldn’t afford curriculum at that time, and David didn’t need more than thirty minutes each day of “formal instruction” anyway).  He and I went to the library once a week and loaded up on books.  I made math manipulatives out of whatever was handy.  We made craft items almost daily to help with fine motor skills and to use for gift-giving on our extremely limited budget.  And beginning that year we invited other homeschoolers to a weekly music class in our tiny living room.

In 1987 the Leeper case was not yet finalized, so it was still a scary time to be a homeschooler, especially in Waco, where the local superintendent was actively looking for homeschoolers to charge with truancy.  Although we joined the small local group, we all kept a low profile during school hours.  We met twice a month, for park day and roller skating.  Several of us participated in homeschool rallies at the Capitol and became involved in local politics, facing belligerent older people at the precinct and county conventions when we introduced our resolutions on homeschooling to be added to the party platform.  We did what we could to “educate” the skeptics, but most of the time it seemed an uphill battle.

One incident stands out from that time during the Presidential elections of 1988.  I took David with me to vote that Tuesday in November.  The election clerk at the desk frowned when he saw this just-turned-six-year-old roaming around during school hours.

“Why aren’t you in school?” he asked.

“I have school at home,” David answered.

“Hmph,” said the man.  He pointed to the word “READ” on the sign in front of him.  “What does that say?”

David did not know he was being “tested.”  He glanced at the sign and read the whole thing:  “Please read through your entire ballot before you begin marking.”

The man’s eyes nearly popped out of his head.  “That’s a fine boy you have there.”

That was the same fall we began using ABeka.  I had saved during our first year so I could buy “real” school books for David’s first grade year.  He read through the social studies and science books the first week and said, “Is this all?”  Until he was in high school we only bought math and language books and I made unit studies for the other subjects.  That was so much fun!  I wish I’d had the “nerve” to keep going with unit studies even through high school, but since those grades “counted” for college, I thought we had to use “real books.”  Big mistake!  David used to love history and science until he had to use boring textbooks.

From the beginning I had to "gird up the loins of my mind" and stand by my convictions to teach David against the opposition of nearly everyone around me:  parents, in-laws, church members, friends, neighbors, total strangers.  I felt like I was constantly defending homeschooling, even to my husband, who wasn't fully convinced but "humored me."

The certified teachers said I wasn't "qualified" to teach my son.  A special ed teacher said my son needed "help" because he was obviously ADHD.  Well-meaning church members said he would be socially inept and educationally deprived because of all the "gaps" in our learning and all the "experiences" he would miss.  Our parents were aghast and convinced that I'd ruin their oldest grandchild for life.

I felt like a salmon swimming upstream but I was so SURE I needed to homeschool this boy in order to keep his spirit pure, his active mind challenged, provide outlets for his creativity, and to keep him from being in constant trouble because it was physically impossible for him to sit still for long periods of time (and I refused to put him on Ritalin).
David age 8 reading to his baby brother Robert
Our impatient society demands instant results; we just have to persevere, pray without ceasing, and let the results speak for themselves.  David graduated from homeschool, went on to college and earned not one but two bachelor's degrees.  He is now a well-adjusted, happily married, productive member of society, and he and his lovely wife have been blessed with our first grandchild.  Robert overcame learning challenges, graduated cum laude last December and is currently working on his master's degree.  He too has a lovely wife.  I believe both my sons would have turned out quite differently had they gone through the public/government school program. 

In making the decision to homeschool, if the decision is a commitment (not unlike marriage), then God will grant us the strength we need to make it through the tough times that are bound to come, either from "outside" criticism or from challenges faced as families learn and grow together.  Homeschooling is not just for the children, after all.  I still can’t believe all the things it has given me the courage to do, including the homeschool band I started from scratch and taught for sixteen years.

I will never regret our homeschooling years.  My only regret is that I wasn’t able to have more children so I wouldn’t have to end this wonderful roller coaster ride.  May your journey be as blessed.

P.S.  After listening Dr. Dobson's radio program on the early days of homeschooling several years ago, my husband came home from work, hugged me and apologized for not supporting me during those years of near-constant harassment from family and others....better late than never.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Rolodex of Life

Few people under age 30 probably know what a Rolodex is, but when I did secretarial work in the '70's and '80's, they were indispensable gadgets for keeping track of folks. The little cards were easy to add and remove as contacts came and went. With electronic means of managing contacts, this item seems quaint, but it came to me that a Rolodex is a good picture of life pertaining to generations.

I've been a genealogy nerd since I was a girl, and through I've discovered ancestors I didn't know I had as well as discovered more about the ones I'd learned about from my grandmothers. If we're lucky we get to know our grandparents, but few personally know more than two generations in either direction. The Rolodex cards are added at birth and taken off at death, so our only knowledge of those before us comes from stories handed down.

 Four generations: My mother's grandmother, Lola Caton Wakefield with her oldest daughter (my grandmother was the youngest of that large family), her daughter, and granddaughter, who was my mother's age). Lola babysat my mother until her death when my Mom was only 7, so my Mom has few real memories of her beloved grandmother. And her mother, my maternal grandmother, died when she was only 62 and I, her oldest grandchild was only 11.
Four generations: Now my mother has great-grandchildren and is in excellent health, so these new children may have some memories of her.

Time marches relentlessly and has no regard for individuals. The Rolodex turns, and we can't prevent our card from being removed someday. If we are blessed with a long life we'll move through each season in its turn: youth, middle age, old age. Growing older is not "fun" since our bodies are wearing down and gradually falling apart, but if we approach these changes with the right attitude, we can find many joys. I grieve to see women my age trying to recapture their youth by exercising hours a day, getting plastic surgery, and dressing like teenagers. We've had our turn to be young! Now it's time to embrace the work of being an older (and hopefully wiser) woman, like the worthy woman in Proverbs 31:10-31.

"The gray head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness." Proverbs 16:31