I went to the beach last week. It’s counter intuitive, but winter is the best time to go to the beach. It’s a lot less crowded and you can always find the best shells. So at least once every winter, I head out to the beach.
It’s the only place in New England where I can go that I feel like it’s somewhat similar to the prairie where I grew up. There’s a vast, flat horizon I can look out to the very edge of and wonder what’s on the other side. I always loved that about the prairies. They seemed endless, always urging you to take another step forward, to keep going and not give up because you aren’t there yet.
The beach is the same way. The wind beats against you, moving the waves in the ocean, the grass on the prairie. Birds fly overhead, crying to each other before flying away. Masts from far of boats poke up along with craggy islands that could otherwise be the water towers or short stubby prairie shrubs. The salt air is as fresh as roasted smell of the prairie on a hot day. They’re different, but they’re the same.
I always loved the prairie sunsets. The day before I left Kansas for New England, a friend and I headed out to the prairie and sat on my car hood to watch the sun go down while I tried to take pictures of it to take with me. They weren’t any good; my camera was a piece of crap. I’ve never been very visual anyway. We talked about the past, about our futures, about our plans. And we said good bye.
She stayed in Wichita with her mother and husband, though we’ve always met up on visits to catch up. “It’s funny,” she told me once, “I wondered before we got together how different it would be, but nothing’s changed really. You’re still just the same.” We connected then just as well as ever.
This year she moved. The doctor whose office her mom worked at was stabbed and murdered by a patient right in front of her and the trauma was just too much to stay in the same town. Now when I come to visit, we’ll have to go a bit farther afield to get together. But we’ll still meet up. It will still be the same, though different.

I’ve often wondered if beach sunsets are as pretty as prairie ones. Unfortunately, I’m in the wrong place to find out. Laura Ingalls Wilder always loved prairie sunrises; she was always up early enough to catch them.

Beyond the lake’s eastern shore the pale sky was bordered with bands of crimson and gold. Their brightness stretched around the south shore and shone on the high bank that stood up from the water in the east and the north…Shafts of golden light shot higher and higher in the eastern sky, until their brightness touched the water and reflected there. Then the sun, a golden ball, rolled over the eastern edge of the world.

By the Shores of Silver Lake, p. 71-72

One of these days, I’ll have to head out to the beach and see if I can catch a beach sunrise.

Guns are a distraction

Another day, another school shooting. Some outlets report there have been 18 so far this year, but reviewing the data reveals that to be slightly exaggerated. What isn’t exaggerated is the fact that my Facebook feed is now 90% people arguing for or against gun control. They don’t even seem to be arguing with anybody, just AT people. When all I see is post after post from someone about one single topic, it starts to feel like I’m being argued AT. And I’m not even participating here, I’m just trying to see what’s up with people I know. Because god knows I can’t actually interact with anybody in real life; that would involve one of us leaving our house. So, I’m being argued at.

So what should be done? First off, let’s establish what isn’t going to happen. Guns aren’t going to be banned. It’s just not going to happen. Americans own a lot of guns and there’s no way in hell they’re going to support guns being taken away from them. It is, afterall, a right guaranteed by the second amendment, and the first thing you learn as an American is that some amendments are more equal than others. The Fourth Amendment is barely fit to wipe our asses with, but the Second Amendment! Now that one is important. The Third Amendment is the one all the other Amendments make fun of and push in his locker, in case you were wondering.

But for all their belief in its sacredness, defenders of the Second Amendment like to ignore the, shall we say, harder to interpret parts:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

A well regulated Militia…what the fuck does that mean? Most people ignore this because it’s hard to tell why that phrase is there. The Johnson column in the Economist spent an entire article wondering about it, and it made me wonder, too.  The second half is much easier to understand: the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. Gun rights activists concentrate on that bit because it fits their views: they get to own guns, point blank, no restrictions. But…but what if we can in fact only legally own guns as long as we’re in militias, the constitutional role of which, according to the Second Amendment, is to maintain the security of a free state?

Wouldn’t it be the world’s biggest irony if the anti-government militias out in Idaho, of which the FBI is so fond of penetrating, were the only constitutional way to exercise our gun rights?

Maybe that’s too extreme; those groups hardly represent mainstream American views. But at the very least it seems to imply we need to belong to some sort of group whose purpose is to train people in the use of firearms and other weapons. Kind of like the National Guard, only you have to bring your own gear and you won’t actually get sent to serve in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Could we just at least make people take gun safety courses before they can buy a gun? Maybe even learn to shoot? Join a pistol club?

Right-wingers in the US like to talk about how pussified Europeans are because they don’t have guns. I still remember one such moment after I got my gun and was taking a basic pistol safety course at the NRA. Among us newbies was a guy from Manchester, who had immigrated to New England for loooooooooove. When we went to lunch, one of the other students started ragging on him about the gun laws in Europe and how horrible they are.  As though he himself were responsible for them. The thing is…guns aren’t 100% illegal in the UK, nor even in Germany. You just have to meet certain requirements to own them.

In Germany, you have to be part of a shooting club and thus have a proven need to own a gun. You also have to have an approved safe and always, always, always keep the guns in that safe. There are probably some other requirements I’m forgetting about, but on the whole it’s not unreasonable.

And before Americans start talking about how disarmed Europeans are or Germans are and therefore how wimpy they are, remember: you’re responsible for disarming the Germans. Up until the post-war occupation, Germans were quite well armed. But oddly enough, foreign military powers don’t like the idea that the country they just defeated could shoot them. And when the new German governments formed, they decided they didn’t like that idea either. I suspect that the East German government didn’t want that because the June 22 uprising was bad enough without guns. The west German government? Probably their commitment to peace and not invading their neighbors, crazy moral principles Germany still sticks to today.

The Economist’s article also points out that the first part of the second amendment doesn’t actually hold water: owning guns is not really necessary to maintain a free state. They argue the existence of many free countries without broad gun ownership proves there is no correlation. Indeed, if you look at the latest Human Freedom Index, the top ten freest were Switzerland, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Ireland, Australia, Finland, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and (tied) the UK. The US came in at 17th. Interestingly, the top ten span a wide range in gun laws from restrictive (UK) to everyone must have a gun in the house (or so I’ve heard is the case in Switzerland). Switzerland, if the information I haven’t bothered to double check is correct, probably has the closest system to what the founding fathers had in mind when it comes to militias: all males receive military training and keep arms in their house in case they have to remind the Germans why invading Switzerland is a bad idea.

This data lends credence to the belief that a free state and the right to bear arms do not correlate. Perhaps what the founding fathers took for granted as necessary for freedom was not so much the right to bear arms, but the desire of the people to be free. Americans don’t really seem to care much about that at all. This may strike you as odd, but bear with me.

Americans care very much about the idea of being free. The idea of liberty sounds great. It’s a wonderful soundbite. But the actual practice of it (allowing people to live their lives as they see fit, minimal government, accepting that football players have the right to protest peacefully, that the first amendment cannot be limited to Free Speech zones, that we have the right to live within 100 miles of the border without being subject to warrantless searches by the border patrol.

But what are we all talking about? Fucking guns. GUNS ARE A DISTRACTION. This whole debate about banning guns, restricting guns, don’t you dare take my guns, arm teachers…it’s all just a distraction to keep us from talking about the issues that really matter. Namely, the fact that we are not free. And we are getting less free. The fact that Russian troll bots have taken to twitter to drum up outrage on both sides of the gun debate is proof of this.

At any rate, I can already tell you what is going to come of all this arguing at people going on on Facebook: Absolutely nothing. There will be no new gun laws, at least not on a federal level. There may be some on a state level, but I can guarantee that any laws passed that are more restrictive will be balanced by laws passed in other states that are less restrictive.
I can also predict that at some point more restrictive gun laws will be passed in the next 20 years. As the US continues to urbanize, it’s going to move further away from its rural gun culture. As the survivors of these mass shooters grow up, they are going to be very anti-gun. It would be a good idea to compromise now and save some lives and arguing in the meantime, but I’m sure as hell not going to hold my breath.

Schooling, unschooling, homeschooling

One thing that really annoys me about unschoolers is their need to take every little thing they do with their kids and turn it into Who Unschooling is Awesome. “I went to the science museum with our kids today! #unschooling”

Wow. I take my kids to the science museum, too. Does that mean I’m unschooling? Am I an unschooler now? Bob Blow takes his kids to the science museum, too. Does that make him an unschooler, too?

Then again, this is something regular, run of the mill homeschoolers do, too. “The great thing about homeschooling is that you can just go on field trips to learn about things. Like we’ve been learning about animals, so we went to the zoo! It’s so hands on! Homeschooling is awesome.”

Non-homeschooler can then reply, “Oh! I take my kids to the zoo, too! So I guess I’m homeschooling, too! Hahaa.”
And the homeschooler frowns. This was not what they meant at all. “No no no, you send your kids to school, so you’re not homeschooling when you take them to the zoo. You’re just…going to the zoo.”

It’s a matter of definitions, but also a territorial issue, too. Homeschoolers want people who send their kids to school to know how awesome they are as homeschoolers. They want them to know that yes, they, too, could homeschool. But as soon as the non-homeschooler points out that the things they do are hardly exclusive to homeschoolers, the homeschoolers immediately get defensive and try to mark out boundaries as to what makes them special. And more importantly, what makes them better.

It’s the same with unschoolers. They know that on the surface it looks like they aren’t doing a whole lot with their kids. So they end up pointing out every little thing that happens as the learning that must be going on in that moment. And, boy, does it get annoying. “Outside splashing in the puddles! Kids are learning physics! #unschooling.” Wow I wonder how long until they use that to derive the Pythagorean theorem all by themselves! My kids splash outside too! The difference is…I just call it playing. Sure, they might be learning something, too, but they’re also having fun. No need to dress it up.

I’ve started having fun with the labels. Whenever I hear someone talking about unschool this, homeschool that, or how they could never do either of the above, I like to tell them I couldn’t either.
Because I couldn’t. There’s no way I could structure my childrearing around just one of those things. We have our structured learning times (“homeschool”), sure, but I also give my kids lots of time to follow their own interests (“unschooling”). My kids also go to German school, Finnish school, PE class and art (“school”). We divide our time between all of those because all three of them have merits. Parents teach their kids, whether they want to or not. And you’d probably have to tie them up and leave them in a darkened room to prevent them from learning things on their own.

Which brings me to those “homeschoolers” in California who did just that to 12 of their 13 kids. “We need more homeschooling regulation!” people are now screaming. “Homeschooling should be illegal!” Except…well, California is actually quite strict when it comes to homeschooling. Except…they weren’t homeschooling when the abuse started. Their oldest kids went to public school in Texas and former classmates remember them being thin and smelling bad. They were dirty. And still, no one did anything. They fell through the cracks simply because there are so many cracks for children in abusive families to fall into. They’re so lucky one of them worked up the nerve to save themselves because, in the end, you’re the only who can.

But…on the other hand, there has been discussion among homeschoolers I know as to what level of regulation they would deem acceptable in order to prevent homeschoolers from falling through those cracks. In order to prevent educational neglect from occurring. The short of it was…there is none. Homeschoolers want to regulate themselves. They don’t trust the state to educate their children, why on earth would they trust the state to make sure they are actually educating their children themselves? It doesn’t help that the government spent so much time trying to keep homeschooling illegal or that they see homeschooling as competition or one way they lose money (state funds are distributed according to pupils enrolled). Nor does it help that homeschoolers watch the amount of their property taxes flowing into the public schools, which they benefit from and can’t opt out of.

But I’ve noticed whenever people are left to regulate themselves or self-police, they usually don’t. We excuse things in ourselves that we would never tolerate from others and that is a problem.

I am THAT parent

I am not one of those parents, I’ve always told myself. I’m not helicoptery. Sure, I homeschool, but I’m not one of those moms who dislikes activities that are drop off. I don’t hover in the corner, raising my hand and insisting on participating in things right along side my kids. I don’t co-opt their projects, knowing that I can do them better. I wish I lived in a place where my kids could go to the store or library unaccompanied and I wouldn’t get arrested as a result.

I’m also not a Tiger mom. I don’t insist on my kids playing instruments, doing 100% on all their activities and work. I don’t send back drawings I consider to be less-than what I’ve seen them do in other ones. I have my standards for them, but I don’t see them as being insane.

I’m not, I tell myself, that parent who is convinced the sun shines out of their kids’ asses. I know my kids can do wrong. I’ve seen them do it. They aren’t going to be the next Einstein. Simple statistics shows that is unlikely. They will most likely grow up to be your average adult, maybe an above average adult if I’m really lucky.

But…we insist they go to both German School and Finnish school. They need to be trilingual. It’s the minimum. On top of that, they take art class. I have them enrolled in both rock climbing and swim lessons and find occasional fantasies of them joining a swim team or rock climbing team. Maybe they’ll get good enough in it to become recognized nationally! They’ll compete! Everyone will know my kids are amazing. Maybe they can do a spelling bee and win it! And since they’ll be homeschooled people will be impressed!

Aside from that, we’ve spent lots of time and money on Alpha. He’s been in both occupational therapy and speech therapy as we try to get his fine motor skills and speech ability up to snuff. He still has trouble catching balls and I’ve mentally crossed any sport involving that of my mental list of things he could be good at. My Beta almost certainly needs speech therapy as well. While going through phonics with her, I discovered she can’t say “ng.” Her “r” needs help. Her s sometimes goes out her nose. She’s on the never-ending waiting list for physical therapy because she’s knock-kneed and in-toes both feet when she walks. She’s not terribly impaired, but she could stand to fall over a bit less.

Each day my kids have their work they need to do in writing, grammar, spelling, math, handwriting, German, and science or history that they need to do and I proceed through their lessons with the determination of someone who is not going to move on until they get it, god dammit. We’ve just finished world war two in history, but since it’s my favorite historical period we’re still reading books in it. We’ve read the Upstairs Room, A Thousand Tracings, another picture book whose name I’ve forgotten, and are in the middle of Number the Stars. After that, we will read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes before moving onto reading other things. In the car, we listen to the Economist or one of our numerous audiobooks that are supplementary to whatevery books we’re reading that are also history related. Right now, it’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. I’m probably enjoying it more than the kids since I’ve never read it before. We only listen to music when I’m too tired to properly follow a narrative.

I’m considering private swim lessons simply so that I can save time and get all the kids (I wish) into one half-hour semi-private lesson, even if it does cost me $55 per kid per half hour lesson. Then we could cram all our sport activities into one day and save time.

On the drive home from one of our many activities, it hit me. I am that parent. Not a helicopter parent or a curling parent or a tiger parent. I am a concerted cultivator parent. I tend over my children like an OCD gardner rummaging through the leaves looking for predatory insects and picking off any signs of blight, ready with a nourishing spray or fertilizer should I find they need that edge. All with very little guarantee that it’s necessary or will make a measurable difference in the long run.

Is it worth it? I’m not sure. I know homeschoolers who are much more relaxed and when asked what they’re up to, simply respond that they’re still working on reading. Internally I scream, “YOUR KID IS TEN! If you’re still working on learning how to read, it may be time to get a reading tutor or some sort of external help!” I can’t tell if I’m extreme or they are. It tell myself I’ve chosen the middle way: they do a few hours of proper work each day, have some extra curriculars and then lots of free time to pursue their own interests. I have no idea if this is accurate. As a homeschooler, you have no readily available peer group by which to judge yourself. You’re pretty much floating alone in an ocean by yourself, assuming your the normal one.

I just spent the last week playing civilization 6. Fine, not the entire last week, but probably most of it. As soon as homeschooling and other obligations were done, Alpha and I (but mostly me) played. It’s the first time in 7 years I’ve played computer games at all and holy crap now I remember why. It’s hard to break away from it. You feel compelled to continue just a bit longer to see what happens. Yesterday as I approached the final turn, it started feeling more like an obligation to see it through than fun. My son and husband were both eagerly waiting to see what would happen after the last turn. Nothing much; I came in 4th place on settler mode. I’m not too upset. It was my second game on there. The first one I had no idea what I was doing and spent about 50 turns just wandering around aimlessly before I figured things out. And in my second game I totally dominated in religion, converting three other civilizations to Buddhism. Go me!

My son currently has a game set up with Teddy Roosevelt. He wanted to play America in the worst way, so here we are. Only problem is he can’t get a great person to help him start a religion and he has so much faith built up! I can’t figure it out. He said, “Maybe I can’t get a religion because the US is an atheist country.” I had to correct him. “This US is not an atheist country. It actually has one of the highest rates of religiosity of all western countries. What you mean to say is that the US does not have an established religion. The government isn’t allowed to support religion and we believe very firmly (or should) in the separation of church and state.”

I’m tempted to start another game simply to show off all I’ve learned now and see if I can win. But to be honest, I can’t do the minimum necessary for another week. I think my husband is getting tired of always seeing me playing, too. He tells me he’s glad I’m enjoying it and I’ve been in such a good mood, too, even if I don’t get much sleep, but “I wish I could play this game so much.” Indeed, when his sister was complaining about how busy she’s been in this last year while getting her master’s degree with two kids with her parents, her sister and her husband’s parents helping watch them and both of them going to daycare while she didn’t work and her husband worked one job, he wouldn’t stop asking how she didn’t know what busy was. “We have four kids, homeschool, have only one kid in preschool part-time and have two and a half jobs between the two of us.” Aside from the occasional babysitter, we don’t have anyone coming by to help us with the kids. We are very, very busy. I have to remind him that he’s the one who moved and had he stayed in Finland, he might also enjoy the benefits of having family close by to help with the kids.

I had evil plan to enroll the kids in ski camp over winter vacation. It’s three days and I thought Gamma would be in preschool for two of those. “That means, honey,” I told my husband, “we will have two days with just the baby at home. It’ll be like a vacation! You could take off from work and do whatever we want!” We were so excited.

Then I looked at his school calendar and my face fell in disappointment. His preschool is closed that week! He’ll be home! No vacation! No break. It was crushing. I’ve rallied my spirits since and reasoned that, just like summer camp in the summer, even having the two oldest kids gone results in a much quieter house. And when do I get a chance to just hang out with Gamma and he gets to be the oldest kid? Not very often. It could be a good thing for him.

And maybe, just maybe, I can sneak in some civilization. This time I’m going to play Gandhi and aim for total religious domination. Because I find that terribly entertaining.