Sunday, September 23, 2018

Why my home and family need my full attention

There are a few things that have struck me in regards to my kids and my role since we have been in the USA.

One is that time moves quickly. In the middle of long hot days with kids all over and food to cook and to-do lists to get through, it moves painfully slowly. The time stretching out ahead of me until they are out of the house or at least all working mostly independently from me seems awfully far away and I found that immensely discouraging.  But you know what? I don't feel like it was that long ago that we moved to Dallas and got involved here. And yet the elementary aged children of my bosses in those years are starting college! And today I walked out of church amazed to see two boys that were in the middle school program when I started as a leader there, now walking around with their wives and babies! [Side note: this makes me feel incredibly old. Also that growing grey streak I am hiding by parting my hair a certain way] It just hits home that it will actually pass, that children grow up.

Since we've been in the USA we have also seen all of our living grandparents. My grandfather on one side is deep in Alzheimer's and can only get out a few words. My other grandfather's 90th birthday was a wonderful gathering and I treasured hearing him tell his life story. But seeing him, and my grandmother, and all of everyone aging, really, really hit home the lessons of the legacy that we leave our family. The legacy is very unchangeable once that time has past. If I am 80 or 90 and looking back on my life, the time at which my children were home and small is just one small time frame and yet it resounds throughout the legacy and relationships in the rest of life. Let not my struggles with feeling unfulfilled tarnish the great opportunity that I have right now in nurturing my kids and our relationships.

Then there's dyslexia. An assessment of Judah and doing a lot of learning and speaking to experts about dyslexia, how to teach to it, and what it means for the learning process has reinforced some things. While there can be great academic success down the line, on the front end dyslexia hugely complicates the teaching process. Judah needs structure and focus in order to learn and that does not come naturally in a home with small children set in a culture without structure that enters and exits our home at will. It will take quite a bit of effort on my part to create an effective learning environment for him. Learning and memory will take a lot more reinforcement, more repetition, more teaching in multi-sensory ways in order to make things stick. I will have to teach more, and more creatively, than I would otherwise have to. Non-language arts subjects where I might otherwise have a kiddo go and read themselves and then write out answers to be checked later will sometimes require me reading to him myself and taking his answers in dictation in order to have completed lessons without overwhelming his brain and preventing learning. All in all, this whole homeschooling thing will, for a good while, take more effort and attention than it might otherwise have taken, if dyslexia were not at play.

Finally, furlough has driven home again the rootlessness of the third culture kid life. In Papua my kids are foreigners. I am so thankful for the friendships they've built and man I will pray my heart out that these friendships will continue even when their neighborhood friends start going off to school. However the reality is that my kids will be somewhat rootless and foreign in the culture we live in. And when we return to the USA, our family travels and my kids see people that we introduce as friends and then they never see again. As a result my kids look at most other kids with interest but never as potential long-term friends. Thus far they don't engage in relationships because they don't really know relationships are an actual option. Their lives are incredibly transient. The people and the physical spaces around them change constantly. Given that truth, they are doing remarkably well. They'll sleep wherever, they don't depend on a consistent environment. Change is unsurprising to them and honestly they don't show grief about that yet really. But that's because they have a rhythm and boundaries and family culture and bonded warmth and love that is still consistent and provides them a stability as we travel.

Put it all together and here's the thing. I am still right in the center of doing a lot of reading and research on gender roles, trying to come to my own conclusions on what scripture says about that and how to apply it to my life. But the reality of all the things above leads me to say that ultimately the question of gender roles does nothing to affect the fact that to sustain, in Manokwari Papua, a vibrant, joyful, stable home in which my children are well-educated and thrive and are deeply and lovingly connected to their parents?.... that will take the pouring out of the heart and life and efforts of one whole parent. Not to say that Isaac is not deeply involved, he is. But for me this is a) worth it and b) immense and so my focus must be in my home for now. I am turning my eyes back to life in Papua with this question somewhat settled in my mind. Not to say it will not continue to struggle within my task when we return to Papua. I am just convinced of how it needs to be for a while given where we are and the needs of the kids.

So, I am not yet sure where I stand on traditional gender roles. Because of life overseas and the needs of my kids, though, I will enter into a traditional stay-at-home mother role.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Writing Again

I have pondered many ways to begin writing again. I sometimes write for our family blog, but the audience is quite different and focused on our life and work overseas, and I don't want to take that over with my own processing. I do a lot of instagram posting with thoughts, but I frequently need to write more. I've thought of starting something private, but really my writing is usually a conversation, either with God or with whoever cares to listen and interact. I wish it were easier to comment and have blogs be a communal writing space, or to perhaps add a bit of privacy. However it's hard to add privacy without it being a bit of a forced space, people who must read what I've written because I've added them, rather than their own choosing to be interested.

Much time has gone by from when I started blogging, enough that what I wrote years ago is sometimes no longer representative of what I think or feel. I'm now writing as a mother living overseas, then I was a young married professional in America. And so, I'm going to try to start writing again but I've cleaned up my archives and am starting a bit fresh.

When we arrived back after our first term overseas we were quite in need of furlough. Stretched and stressed, me wrestling with much anxiety over my responsibilities with processing our team's visas, struggling to sleep and finding myself panicky and having frequently felt deeply discouraged.

Despite the constant transition of the past few months of traveling around America, being away from the regular responsibilities is still a break from those points of stress overseas, and over time I have found myself settling, my mood lifting, the anxiety draining away. One of the most healing things is meeting with a few key close friends and really talking. I had to process my role and my struggles around that in our first term, I've been reading and researching the theological perspectives around women as well. I have had Judah evaluated and come away with the conclusion that we are looking at dyslexia, and I am taking that into account as I look back at Papua and prepare and plan for ... what's next. And, most of all, I feel as though God has spoken to me and encouraged me and filled my heart with a certain amount of clarity that I've lacked for a while.

One of the things a dear friend said to me is that I need to be creative, not focused on structured, formal work but nurturing my soul with creative outlets. And that's why I'm back here. I'm really clear on the fact that if I'm going to thrive overseas, if I'm going to nurture a home with joy, I'm going to have to do a better job at self-care, rest, and rejuvenation. Writing and thinking is necessary for me. It's tough to do with little ones, but it's essential if I'm going to continue to nurture little ones well.

So... here we go. An outlet for thought and processing.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Homeschooling Thoughts After the First Year

We are almost done with our first year of homeschooling. Judah was in kindergarten and Elly tagged along wherever possible. We used Sonlight, although we ended up with P4/5 since my order for preschool was delivered a year late (long story). I added in Getting Ready for the Code for reading preparation, and Math-U-See Primer for math. After finishing with the Code, I ordered the Kindle version of "How To Teach Your Child To Read" by ___ and have been creating our lessons each day on my own.

Along the way I have done some reading and research on the Charlotte Mason method and Classical educational philosophy.

I've learned some. My own style is to be extremely flexible. If I look and see that the activities in P4/5 are a bit young for my guy and I'm not that interested in doing them, I throw them out. I look at a week's schedule for reading and completely mix it up. I start a book, decide it's a bit too advanced, and bump it back to the end of the year. I feel completely unconfined by the boxes and do not at all feel the pressure to get it all done at the exact time or in the exact way it is listed. However, I really like having a pre-set structure to begin with that I can modify freely.

My kiddo is a very active guy and I completely believe that is most healthy for him to have lots and lost of play time and outside time right now. Plus I've had a newborn this year. Free play is the vast majority of their time, especially building with legos, constructing forts, and running around the house and yard. We go on walks. My kids play with neighbor kids for hours every day. I totally encourage his activity, being outside, and free play.

However I am not an unschooler. I believe that because he's so active and not prone to sit down and color or read, I believe in building in bits of structured teaching. I don't want him to sit down and be forced to learn for hours and hours every day, but I want to consistently teach a bit every day so that the building blocks are being put in place for when his brain is ready to put the pieces all together. So yes, I do discipline him to sit and learn with me even when he's not inclined to.

I am not anti-technology. Judah LOVES movies and shows and the ipad and games. So does his daddy. I believe technology can be harnessed and used to teach as well as to simply have him exist as a part of this brave new world in which so much is technology. So, I am trying to find shows and games that are high quality and educational (but they don't have to be blatantly educational if they are well made). Then, the time watching and playing is limited. If it's unlimited, I think he'd be a total couch potato. So I try to make quality technology and media available and then be sure he's limited in his access.

In terms of curriculum, Sonlight has been good but not like I think it's the best ever and can't be topped. I have twice had shipping issues with them. For P4/5 I have grown to love some of their books that I didn't start off liking, and some of them I have LOVED from the beginning. There are some that I'd switch out and just don't care for much. Math-U-See has been fantastic for us. We'll be moving on to Math-U-See Alpha for first grade and Judah really enjoys math. So far although both the workbooks and my teaching book by ____ have been good, Judah doesn't love phonics and reading. I am not sure if that's just because he's an active kid or if I might find another curriculum that would hit that sweet spot. Some have recommended All About Reading?

I am just fine teaching my kids at this point. The main point to me is to get them reading and doing basic math, keep them active, expose them to lots of books and interesting things, and to teach them discipline and character. Now that it's summer we will continue on doing some basic teaching even though we are through the curriculum. I want to emphasize some habits and life skills. We haven't pushed a lot of chores yet except cleaning up their toys, but I want to get my kids in the habit of setting and clearing the table, sweeping the floor, and doing some basic cooking. And since daddy won't have the same work hours, we'll be doing more family walks. I love art, though I am not particularly imaginative, and I plan on doing more drawing and art this summer.

What is tough for me about homeschooling is the lack of a break overall. I love to read, to write, to walk by myself, to have adult conversations about politics and theology and how people are personally doing. I like quiet desk work, measurable outcomes, being part of a team. While I'm fine with homeschooling, the fact that I am a homeschooling stay at home mother with no end in sight is a bit dismaying. We might work here indefinitely, there is no quality school in this city, and at the moment there is no school for expatriate kids. I would not want my kids at a boarding school for quite a while, if ever. So, I am fine with homeschooling.... but I wish I had another option available for a few years from now so that I could expand other areas of my life and work eventually.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

My Thoughts Post-Election (from a #NeverTrump er)

Well. The internet in most (all?) of our province and most of this island ground to a halt … just before the US election. So while you all have gone to the net to follow news and then run to get away from the online chaos, we have been sitting in a blackout, reeling from the international call that told us Trump won, and wondering how everything was going down back on your side of the world.

Crazy. It was probably healthy to have silence and not be able to get all wound up by feeding off of the media and social media frenzy, but it didn’t take social media to make us horrified, shocked, and worried about the implications of a Trump presidency. In case you haven’t talked politics with me before, I’m a #NeverTrumper and I do indeed think he was a worse option for the country and for believers than Hillary Clinton would have been.

Here are some thoughts I’ve been processing since the elections.

President Donald Trump:
He is going to be President. And so I will speak of him respectfully and disagree respectfully when I disagree with him. I will also speak publicly against actions of his that I think are negative. I wish him well because he is going to be the president of the country I am a citizen of and because that’s what Jesus told me to do. However I maintain my passionate disproval of much of what he's risen to power campaigning for. 

Donald Trump Supporters:
I have some serious disagreements with you all, but I do not think you are stupid or racist simply because you voted for Trump. There were two main candidates. I passionately disagreed with voting for Trump, but I understand that there were some rational arguments that could get you there. Now. Most of you told me that you had serious problems with things about Trump, but he was the better option. Now do the rest of us a favor and put pressure on him in the areas in which you disagree with him. Those on the other side have little influence on him, but he needs the support of those who voted for him, and therefore your voice has power (I hope). Speak out on what you want him to do or not do – your voice matters.

For Christmas last year I asked for a subscription to Foreign Affairs magazine, and I already had the latest edition downloaded on my computer when the internet in Manokwari died. That episode was dedicated to the rise of populist movements in the US and Europe, and it was fascinating. It was written before Trump was elected, and many of the writers seemed to be assuming Trump wouldn’t win. That he DID win bolsters even more the need to understand and address the rise of populist movements. For starters, read here and here. However you'll have to log-in (I recommend you do!). If you don't want to log-in, here's a NY Times article on our populist rise. 

I’m no scholar on this, but it really helps to understand the context and social movements that have brought us to where we are in America (and in England – Brexit, anyone? And all across Europe!). It wasn’t just Trump’s charisma (does he actually have any real charisma?). And it wasn’t purely the fault of the media and evangelicals. This is a movement that is happening in response to major social changes and massive population movement (immigration, automation, etc.) in the Western world. It also really helps to see the various ways populist movements have played out in the past in Latin America and in Europe.

So we have a populist movement on our hands. Now what do we do in response? I majorly oppose the xenophobia and racism that is present in this movement, and I will continue to oppose it in any way I can. I will oppose much of Trump’s rude behavior. I do not want to go the way of, say, Venezuela, which has gone up in flames economically after Hugo Chavez’s populist rule. I do not want to go the way of populism fanning the flames of fascism.

However it’s important to hear and fight for the good of people in our country, the very population that has elected this populist figure. Purely opposing or scorning a populist movement merely reinforces their conviction that the “elite” is out of touch and doesn’t care for them, won’t fight for them, doesn’t represent them. We have to clearly say that we care about people, we are fighting for the good of this nation, and then to fight for wise policies that will actually cause growth and good.

One of the biggest takeaways from this election is that this changing media scene is chaos. It feels like each side is an echo chamber. I wrote about the conservative media, but there’s also an outpouring of soul searching in the mainsream media that recognized that they did not see or understand or predict the results of this election so they must be missing something. This post by Brett McCracken is great about the changing media landscape, and the situation today with everyone sharing on social media and reading only headlines, which have to be catchier and catchier and therefore reflect even less of the actual usually-mundane truth, well…. What’s a responsible citizen to do in this day and age?

I am resolved to always look at the source when I click on an article or news link. I am committed to actually read articles rather than just the headlines. I am committed to seeking sources that have the capacity to report international news, and also some analytical sources whose presuppositions I think are founded in ideology I agree with. There are no perfect media sources.  I want to read more deeply in good sources rather than simply seeing a ton of headlines, but I also want to be exposed to a variety of perspectives, not just my own.

Evangelicals and Religious Identity:
I’m from corners of the Christian world that are frequently called evangelical. Technically evangelicals voted heavily in favor of Trump. My peers have been so awesome. The organizations I am associated with were pretty strongly speaking what I see to be reason. However,  despite the educated leaders, speakers, and public figures in evangelicalism being mostly anti-Trump, evangelicals as a broad social group voted for him. And truly, I agree with Katelyn Beaty (former head of Christianity Today)  and her article about being unable to defend the evangelical community. What this does for me and many of my peers is further identify evangelicals with things that I (BECAUSE of my faith) stand against. The political hypocrisy of the Religious Right, the racism of white nationalism, xenophobia, etc. The dilemma is complicated by the fact that this time, when we say, “Yes, things are messed up, but the local church is the work of God that is active in the world. Well… the local church in this case seems to have voted strongly for Trump for reasons I find unfathomable. 

So, this is a bit of a crisis of religious identity for many in my generation. For me personally, I look back at my childhood and remember the voices of people like James Dobson and Rush Limbaugh and I am now horrified. I have moved, I have changed. The core of my faith, my theology, remains the same, but I don’t specifically identify as evangelical because of what most people think evangelicalism is. Eight years ago when I first voted for Obama I wondered if I was in some rebel swing and I wondered if at the end of his time as president I would regret my choice. I suppose what this election has done for me is that I am less likely to try just blend in or hide where I am different because of being afraid of being judged by religious and political conservatives that I respect (because there are many of those). I will speak honestly about what I think and hope that I will be given the respect that I am determined to give to others. 

The other thing is that the past 8 years since I first voted for Obama in the midst of a bit of a faith crisis, a deep love and commitment to the Church universal and the church local, in all of its beauty and brokenness, has developed in me. What this election did in the USA was to reveal more of that brokenness. I was surprised and sometimes disgusted. Now we get to work, faithfully loving and serving in this beautiful and broken Bride of Christ, knowing that the Spirit is working in and through her, locally and around the world. I have been listening to the podcast “Theology on Mission” from some professors at Northern Seminary and it has helped me to mourn where mourning is necessary and also to be committed to faithful presence, in the church and as the church in the world.