The question comes up from time to time, usually in runs. Who owns the term housewife anymore? I do. I did even before I started writing. I chose the term deliberately back in 2007 when my husband first encouraged me to start blogging. The term “housewife” was the topic of my first blog post, An American Housewife in London. (Followed quickly and unexpectedly by furious posts about the American Academy of Pediatrics endorsement of a ritual nick to appease practitioners of female genital mutilation.)
Like most GenX women, I hadn’t thought of using the traditional term while I was growing up. But in September of 2003, while I was nesting through my final trimester of my first pregnancy, I read Caitlin Flanagan’s Atlantic article, “Housewife Confidential“. I had already become a Flanagan fan earlier that year when “The Wifely Duty” made the rounds among my girlfriends. (Actually, it made the rounds because I sent it to all of them. Based on the reaction, I think if social media had been around then, it might have held the Atlantic‘s most read article until Anne Marie Slaughter’s “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” in 2012.)
“Housewife Confidential” was a tribute to Erma Bombeck. I recommend reading it for that. But more importantly for me, it gave words to what I was starting to intuitively understand, that Stay at Home Mothers (SAHM’s) were a very new and not-so-savvy creation of culture. From Flanagan’s opening description:
The notion of a domestic life that purrs along, with routines and order and carefully delineated standards, is endlessly appealing to me. It is also quite foreign, because I am not a housewife. I am an “at-home mother,” and the difference between the two is vast.
Consider the etymology. When a woman described herself as a “housewife,” she was defining herself primarily through her relationship to her house and her husband. That children came along with the deal was simply assumed, the way that airing rooms and occasionally cooking for invalids came along with the deal. When a housewife subjected herself and her work to a bit of brutally honest examination, she may have begun by assessing how well she was doing with the children, but she may just as well have begun by contemplating the nature and quality of her housework. If it had been suggested to her that she spend the long, delicate hours between three and six o’clock squiring her children to the array of enhancing activities pursued by the modern child, she would have laughed. Who would stay home to get dinner on? More to the point, why had she chosen a house so close to a playground if the children weren’t going to get out of her hair and play in it? The kind of childhood that many of us remember so fondly—with hours of free time, and gangs of neighborhood kids meeting up after school—was possible partly because each block contained houses in which women were busy but close by, all too willing to push open a window and yell at the neighbor boy to get his fool bike out of the street.
But an at-home mother feels little obligation to the house itself; in fact, she is keenly aware that the house can be a vehicle of oppression. She is “at home” only because that is where her children happen to be. She does not define herself through her housekeeping; if she is in any way solvent (and many at-home mothers are), she has, at the very least, a once-a-month cleaning woman to do the most onerous tasks. (That some of the most significant achievements of the women’s movement—specifically liberation from housework and child care—have been bought at the expense of poor women, often of poor brown-skinned women, is a bitter irony that very few feminists will discuss directly, other than to murmur something vague about “universal day care” and then, on reflex, blame the Republicans.)
The at-home mother defines herself by her relationship to her children. She is making sacrifices on their behalf, giving up a career to give them something only she can. Her No. 1 complaint concerns the issue of respect: She demands it! Can’t get enough of it! She isn’t like a fifties housewife: ironing curtains, shampooing the carpets, stuck. She knows all about those women. She has seen Pleasantville and watched Leave It to Beaver; she’s made more June Cleaver jokes than she can count. (In fact, June Cleaver—a character on a television show that went off the air in 1963—looms over her to a surprising extent, a sickening, terrifying specter: Is that how people think I spend my time?) If she has seen Todd Haynes’s sumptuously beautiful recent movie, Far From Heaven, she understands and agrees wholeheartedly with the film’s implication: that being a moneyed white housewife—with full-time help—in pre-Betty Friedan Hartford, Connecticut, was just as oppressive and soul-withering as being a black man in pre-civil rights Hartford. The at-home mother’s attitude toward housewives of the fifties and sixties is a mixture of pity, outrage on their behalf, and gently mocking humor. (I recently received a birthday card that featured a perfectly coiffed fifties housewife standing in a gleaming kitchen. “The smart woman knows her way around the kitchen,” the front of the card said. Inside: “Around the kitchen, out the back door, and to a decent restaurant.”)
The at-home mother has a lot on her mind; to a significant extent she has herself on her mind. She must not allow herself to shrivel up with boredom. She must do things for herself. She must get to the gym, the spa, the yoga studio. To the book group. (She wouldn’t be caught dead setting up tables and filling nut cups for a bridge party—June Cleaver! June Cleaver!—but a book group, which blends an agreeable seriousness of purpose with the kind of busy chitchat that women the world over adore, is irresistible.) She must go to lunch with like-minded friends, and to the movies. She needs to feed herself intellectually and emotionally; she needs to be on guard against exhaustion. She must find a way to combine the traditional women’s work of childrearing with the kind of shared housework arrangements and domestic liberation that working mothers enjoy. Most important, she must somehow draw a line in the sand between the valuable, important work she is doing and the pathetic imprisonment, the Doll’s House existence, of the housewife of old. It’s a tall order.
It is a tall order. A ridiculous one at that, in ways big and small.
Big: those who must demand respect do not actually have it.
Small: all of the shoulds seemed like performances. It was irrelevant if I actually wanted to do a book club with like-minded friends. Rather boring, that, a chorus of “oh, me too ” and “I thought exactly the same thing.” I was just supposed to do what everyone else was doing, making much ado about not being June Cleaver.
Not quite home yet—I was an in-house attorney at a major oil company—I knew that I was a housewife. I did not yet know how lonely that would be. Looking back, I’m not sure how I managed, although it does explain how I found time to read. Since we are not the power woman at the mercy of her career track or the SAHM at the mercy of the immediate needs of her children, housewives have more time—if only because we have more control over it.
In addition to being able to zig when required, housewives also trust ourselves more. Yes, I have to do things for my children, of course, but I don’t fret that I should be doing some other modern mother thing whenever I sit down to read or type. And whenever I am doing for them, I don’t fret that I could be doing something supposedly more meaningful than cooking dinner, dousing a tantrum, or changing a dirty nappy. Those things need to be done, and done competently. The good of the family directs me to spend enough time tending to the children that they are well-behaved, happy, and secure, but not to serve them so much that we are slouching towards Lord of the Flies or Heathers.
Doing housewifery the old way is counter cultural these days, and one cannot do counterculture without conviction. True, many play the rebel by doing what everyone else is doing for whatever we have dubbed ‘counterculture’. But rebel cool doesn’t require conviction. It is “cool”, peer approved, by definition. Being a modern housewife is truly subversive. The timid won’t try.
I did not start to find similarly minded mom friends until we moved to London in 2006—English and European mothers are not quite as intense as US mothers—and then when the Free Range Kids movement was born in 2008. It was okay to stop hovering over your kids for the sake of your kids so more women started to do it. House and husband time became pleasantly surprising pluses to the free rangers.
But they were not the goals. It is still easy to see this truth in all manner of mom discussions. We phrase our decisions as benefits to our kids. It is acceptable to pull back from whatever to benefit your kid but not your husband. Never him, June Cleaver. The term “housewife” remains irredeemable.
And so, just the other day, I sat among a large group of women, generally my age and marital, kid, and income status. We were discussing housewifery and stay-at-home-momery, without using the terms, of course. Now it is all ‘do what works for you’ and no term really works for the absence of any standard, in the same way it is hard to define a “not”. But that was the point of the discussion, really. The experienced voices were telling us that the old housewife formula, marriage centered, low on kid activities, high on kid chores and family dinner, that’s what works for most of us, our spouses, and our kids. Switch housewife for househusband, even. The basic successful formula doesn’t change.
Shame we banished the simple terms we could use now, as we rediscover what our grand-parents knew.
Hub Dot is a little over 2 years old. We have opened in a dozen plus cities worldwide and have a membership of 15,000 women and counting. We recently posted how we started and I remembered that I had written about it at the time. I had only a small inkling of what we would become. From February of 2013.
A few weeks ago a friend from London wrote to me about a women’s networking coffee. She wanted me to pass the info to my London contacts. She meant email. I posted it on Facebook. She had me take it down, telling me she wanted ‘high touch, low tech’ networking. No problem, I took it down and sent an email instead. I giggled a bit about email was now “low tech,” but I understood her point.
Old enough to have learned to get news and correspondence on paper—perhaps even the last trained to type on actual typewriters with carbon leaf—many of us have only transitioned to email. (How many readers under 35 know what “cc” stands for?) And many of us have little interest in, or even aversion to, social networking and its ilk.
I’ve seen many discussions and changes aimed at attracting more viewers for websites, but always from the stash of people already on the web. Considering their political impact, I’m surprised by what little effort outfits make to reach the low-tech Gen X women.
We don’t have an outright aversion to the web. In fact many figure—correctly— that if we could just figure out where to go, that the web is a more efficient source of news. But we like neat and clean, and we want substance. Since information and news services have the same problem as the porn industry, free availability, websites fill our pages with little bites of info and advertisements and often get revenue based on metrics that no one really understands. (More here.) The result is just a barrage of visual noise that repels some readers.
Yes, HuffPo and The Daily Mail have wildly successful websites, but there is an unserved audience that those information gristle mills will never reach.
Speaking of coffee, I am addicted. Right before I met my friend for lunch, I was writing at a new coffee shop—one that lacked wifi, but that’s a comment for another day—but even I couldn’t finish this Texas size latte.
Around the same time, a friend and I were sitting in a niche coffee/wine bar, just the kind that could survive next to a Starbucks, and discussing the closure of another Barnes and Noble. We remembered the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan reunion flick, You’ve Got Mail, in which the giant bookstores put the little niche bookshops out of business. But then the colossus, Amazon, and e-readers came along. The big bookstores added coffee shops, but lost revenue. They merged with companies like Paper Chase trying to prop up store revenue with stationary and stocking stuffers. It didn’t work. Now the companies that will thrive are Amazon and the little mystery bookshop with the good coffee, inviting seating area, and Tuesday and Thursday night mystery dinner theater.
So will it be with news. It might seem like the web has taken over the information world, but it hasn’t. I don’t think it ever will, not fully.
There is, and always will be, a hunger for no-gimmick in depth reporting. In the new tech world, someone will eventually figure out how to deliver it. I’d ask for comments or suggestions, but the women I’m writing about won’t ever read this post, unless I email it to them. And then they might reply in an email, but more likely will bring it up for discussion the next time we have coffee. They prefer low tech, high touch.
By the way, my friend’s low tech, high touch coffee saw 450+ women from all over London networking in a dress shop on a rainy Tuesday night.
The next month I flew to London and joined the Kitchen Table (Simona’s kitchen is the board room.) Hub Dot expanded to Milan, Luxembourg, Barcelona. To the big events we added supper club and smaller themed events about art, parenting, health, and others. About a year and a half later, we opened in Houston. You can find out about Hub Dot and if we are opening near you at: hubdot.com. I recommend starting with the What is Hub Dot? video. Here’s our latest article in The Times of London, “Joining the Dots for a Bigger Picture“.
A few of our speakers and planners watching Simona open the evening. From left to right, Magen Pastor of MagenPastor.com, Sophia Jorski’s mother (Sophia runs thesummertimecakery.com), Lisa Graiff of Hub Dot Texas, Dorothy Gibbons of TheRose.org, Caroline Leech of inspiringhoustonwomen.com, Rev. Jan Dantone of sjd.org, and Anita Kruse of PurpleSongsCanFly.org.
In the summer of 1999 I had life sorted. I was living in one of my favorite cities, Austin, and about to enter my 3L year at the University of Texas School of Law. I had a very serious boyfriend, a lawyer heading up the Gulf War claims tribunal at the UN in Geneva. I would leave one favorite city to spend holidays with him off Lake Geneva. In the previous summers I worked in the British Virgin Islands. Life was good. I expected a proposal anytime and 3L years are notoriously easy. I would be taking various maritime classes from favorite professors. I had life sorted.
A little less than 10 years before, I had entered into that I don’t need God or external rules phase that so many young Christians hit. With the cushy life I had working in the late-90’s, I didn’t have much reason for doubt. I was cocky. God kept whispering things in my ears and I had all sorts of fears that I ignored whenever possible. Mostly I tried not to sleep and avoided the quiet. I remember once telling the voice that I didn’t need any help. I could do this myself.
A few days before term started, I went to the movies with a friend. I can’t remember what we saw, but we went to the Central Market on the southside afterward. I needed her to do my measurements for a friend’s bridesmaid dress and CM had a good bathroom for it. (Weird, I know. In Austin it made sense.) As we walked in we passed a father and his young daughter giving away three puppies. They had found them covered in ants in a box at the door of a closed animal shelter in the August Texas heat. They were about 5 weeks old. Dad and daughter had tended their bites, but they couldn’t keep them. Dog lover that I am, I cuddled with them for a bit. Then, Amy and I walked into the bathroom to do the measurements.
I whined that I wished I had time for a puppy. In two years we’d known each other, I’d done a fair bit of whining to Amy about what we would now call #firstworldproblems. She had lost patience with me months before and had taken to giving me direct advice. “Leslie,” she said, “Time? Do you think you would have more time for a puppy next year after we start working?” I looked at her, gave it 2 seconds of thought, walked out of the restroom, and chose the black and white little girl with the perfect nose.
Excited, I called Jim in Geneva and left a middle of the night message that we needed to talk. I wanted to surprise him and tell him that we got a dog. Instead I panicked him. He called me at 6 AM Central Time after a morning of worrying that I was breaking up with him. And so our adventures with Ripley started.
As a careful reader might gather from the previous paragraphs, and the toddleresque “I can do this myself” declaration, my having life sorted was an illusion. I only thought I knew what I was doing. And oh, the mistakes I made with Ripley. I cooked for her and coddled her. She slept in a crate at the foot of my bed for a short while, until she sleep on the bed. I used positive reinforcement only. Do you know what happens when you coddle a Border Collie pup in the city? If anyone in Austin happens to recall a young brunette woman in a nightgown chasing a speedy young dog in the middle of 38th near Lamar at 11 o’clock at night in the winter of 2000, that was me.
When I realized that all my positive, intelligent ideas had gotten me to a place where I could not protect her, my doubts started. Perhaps I didn’t know everything. I couldn’t even handle a puppy—and I had no illusions that this wasn’t on the easy end of the life’s challenges spectrum. Slowly I started to look to God again.
That lesson was big—the biggest really—but over the next few years, Ripley taught me even more. She also saved me, physically. First, she kept me away from a snake on Lake Travis. She positioned herself between me and the large water snake I did not see. I noticed that Ripley was oddly still. One year old Border Collies are rarely still. She was concentrating on the snake, specifically staying between me and it.
She saved me from a fire, twice. The first time we had just returned from a walk. She hated being on a leash and was usually glad to get home, especially since she was afraid of bikes, and men with hats. (Two tons of longhorn steer, no flinching. A guy with a hat, she’d almost jump out of her skin.) When we got home that night, she wanted to go right back out. When I asked her what was wrong, I swear she rolled her eyes at me before going to sit before the closet door. I opened it and smoke rolled out. A short in the water heater had set the insulation to smoldering. The flames started just as the firefighters arrived and made quick work of the tiny fire. They tried to thank Ripley, but men with hats, tanks, and masks? Ripley was having none of it.
One of my favorite stories is the day I had to fake an injury to get her home from the park. All that positive reinforcement I had done, well, that had failed by the time she could out run me, which for a Border Collie is really young. (It was that night on 38th Street.) When I took her to dog parks, we couldn’t leave until she was ready. If Jim was there, then this was not a problem. He was not an arrogant fool. He had established himself as the alpha when he first met her. At the time I thought it was his James Earl Jones voice advantage, but really it was that he meant business and I didn’t. (She spared me a steep learning curve when we had children.) On that night in the park, she didn’t want to leave. I chased her for two hours. I finally feigned an ankle injury. When I collapsed in crocodile tears on the track, she came to check on me and I nabbed her.
Among the many things Jim and I owe to Ripley is our marriage. Our first year of marriage was hard in the way that most modern marriages are hard. We have unreasonable expectations of what our spouse will do for us. We have assumptions about how marriage will be great. We think more about the kind of spouse we have than the one we are. I had this problem in spades when we got married. About nine months in, I lost it about him not making the bed. My “why can’t you see what needs doing” accusation spiraled into a full out row about everything else. At one point he was so furious that he walked across the room away from me and sat down on the couch, probably so he couldn’t throttle me. I was yelling. He was yelling. He rarely yells. When he does, everyone knows it. When he sat down, Ripley jumped into his lap, put her paws on his hands, and then turned to face me. She was scared. She wanted us to stop fighting. She made us pause. We had scared our dog. What would this kind of row do to children? We calmed down. I spent the next day on the phone to my marriage mentors, Maverick and Sherri, seeking marital advice. I got that advice. I doubt that Jim and I have had even 5 arguments approach that intensity in the 15 years since, and they were about things of far more import than chores.
Ripley was my first baby, the angel on my shoulder, and the reason I didn’t make a bunch of mistakes with my kids. I made those mistakes with my dog. Actually, that was a piece of Sherri wisdom, you could spoil dogs because you didn’t need to worry about what kind of person they were at 35.
Readers can probably guess from the long post and the past tense, we lost Ripley today. She was almost 16. She had done the slowly, slowly then all at once decline. Last night she woke me in the middle of the night. She had fever and was in general pain. She was scared. I called our vet this morning. The office was wonderful. She left us early this afternoon.
When we get her ashes back, we will scatter them at the ranch. She loved it there, and my major regret for her is that we never got her a herd of goats. When she was about 2 years old, we took her to a friend’s property where they had about 30 head of tax cows. A couple of loops around a calf, and her genetic memory kicked in. She herded cows for almost 36 hours straight. At another friend’s she tried herding horses. They don’t herd so well. She thought maybe they could smell her, so she rolled in horse apples. She was so proud of herself for that bit of smelly inspiration. Took two baths to get the yuck out of her hair. She was a great kid herder though, especially when Calvin was our only. They were buddies. But our plan was to one day get a ranch, buy some goats, and make goat cheese. It just took longer than expected. We’ve not gotten the goats yet.
So my lovely girl, I am sorry we didn’t get you a herd of goats. I thank you for everything you did for me, for us. Goodnight, my angel. Sleep well.
And if readers ever find a cheese named Ripley’s Herd with a picture of a beautiful black and white dog, that’ll be ours.
I have become my college mentor. Her daughters and I used to tease her for overcommitting. (Note to young people: oh, how we do end up eating our words as time marches on.) She was always busy, not with crafty mom stuff or with a formal job, but with various committees and initiatives. That’s how we met actually. She was my Pi Beta Phi alumnae shadow advisor when I was on our board.
Sometime after I graduated, I went for a visit and she showed me around their upstairs redo. In all the renovation, she hadn’t made a formal office for herself.
The trend at the time (the mid 90’s) was to expand and make a uni-task space for everything. Magazine spreads were full of fancy home office ideas, and the architect behind the sanity of the Not So Big House had not yet published her book. Yet, Sherri’s office was just a nicer closet with a window between her daughters’ bedrooms. I asked why. By this time I had learned that Sherri’s advice was well worth seeking.
She told me that it was her job as a mother to stay in her children’s sphere, although not necessarily in their business. She didn’t directly monitor everything they did. She didn’t hover. But since she was in their space, she heard, she felt, she anticipated, she deterred. She was available to them. She knew about their lives without interceding out of habit. And she still had her own pursuits.
I remembered this, and a fair few other bits of wisdom that she passed on to me, when I had my own children. In England, I officed in the foyer and then the kitchen. In Texas, we have one of those 60’s ranch houses with the long hallways, part of which has a large window alcove. I put my office in the alcove. The children’s bedrooms are directly behind me.
It all works just as Sherri said it would. As a mother, I love my office arrangement. Most of the time, I even love it as a writer. But this arrangement does not work for deadlines.
Some Most of the things I hear from the children is bickering. It is just low level bickering, sometimes about whether they are bickering. This does not aid concentration.
I kick them outside, but today the rain started again. I have a few remote offices—a coffee shop and a Tex-Mex restaurant—I can use in a pinch and if someone else is here. I also have some noise canceling headphones. But sometimes, none of my zigs work. If I’m not on a deadline, I just put work up until later. But if I am, “Argggggggggg!” (That’s my Charlie Brown football kicking scream.) Today, it is a deadline at the start of summer in a post Memorial Day 2015 flooding thunderstorm when I might lose power or have to bail something out. I should add a few more g’s to that arggg.
NOTE: Because I’ve been asked, the window desk behind the chair, I got it on etsy. A guy made one for his kid studying for finals. Many asked about it, so he made more and started a shop. I love mine. It easily holds a keyboard, iPad, and a notepad and pen so I’m not always sitting to write.
Today was a work day. I had planned to start focusing on math facts with the twins. In eight weeks home, their reading is rolling and their handwriting is almost as good as their 9 year old sister’s.
But Calvin woke with fever. He is home and needs a little mom TLC, and Yasha had spent part of the weekend installing our new router.
As I have covered elsewhere, we have tried every type of parental controls avaliable. All are exploitable, and regardless, the best control is still human. So what I have wanted for a long time is just time blackout control, a way to limit their internet access to hours of our choosing. Specifically, we did not want our kids waking at night and watching videos or playing Minecraft into the wee hours.
(We do monitor their history and a few weeks ago Calvin stayed up until 1 am reading the Wikipedia entries for all the major battles fought by Napoleon. We object becuase first, he needs his sleep, and second, there are better sources than Wikipedia.)
Desktops had blackout control, but as people have moved to tablets, that simple limitation was not available. I’ve read bits here and there about how this is harder to do on tablets. As I’m not a programmer, I basically take their word for it, although I don’t see how difficult it is to shut off the wifi or Internet for certain hours. Force it into airplane mode like we set sleep mode. Sure, they could still play Fruit Ninja, but they couldn’t get into online trouble.
Yasha did the research, and found a router that allows us to blackout certain devices from the router side, rather than though the device. So now Yasha and I have high speed, secure access, with storage (like your own personal cloud) and the kids have access for only a few hours a day.
But of course, with technology upgrade comes setup hassles. Either I’m not entering the passwords correctly or we did the block out in reverse—or maybe both—but right now I have no wifi access. Nor does feverish son who wants a little mindless distraction. Like many other households, our TV uses wifi. He hardly knows how to flip channels. He enters queries on YouTube or Netflix.
So whether I trouble shoot the new wifi this morning or I do something that doesn’t require Internet, I will not have the productive day I expected. I might have a different productive day, but not one online. As soon as I finish this, I will move around the house looking for enough bars to post via our phone network.
I see a little twitter and email activity I need to address, I need to Skype with the Kitchen Table @HubDot, and I need to post the Commission to establish a White House Council for Boys and Men video from this weekend, talking boys and men with the Perry camp, but technology is not cooperating. Where’s that Better Off book?
When we planted our kitchen garden last fall, the twins got a little too enthusiastic about scattering seeds. Areas and spacing within areas went by the way side. This is Houston, so any seed stuck in the ground will grow—it might not survive the heat, but it’ll sprout. As our plants sprouted, we lost track of what we had planted where. So I completely missed when the carrots came up. They grew until the stalks were really huge and long and I wondered what weed those little white flowers peeking up over our wall were.
I didn’t realize they were carrots until I went to the garden to get some thyme. I noticed the top of the root on those crazy-tall weeds. I pulled them up and got the COUSs, Carrot of Unusual Size (and Shape).
I almost need a wide lens to get the carrot tops in a photo.
I also got Siamese carrots too. I figure this is from the lack of spacing control. They grew together.
They might look ridiculous, but they are still tasty. Pretty produce of consistent shape and size—it rarely tastes like much, much less what it is supposed to taste like. Funky looking and tasty is better, though next fall I will monitor the seed scattering more closely.
POSTED ON Apr 14th 2015 BY LESLIE LOFTIS UNDER Blog Admin
I’ve been on maintenance mode off and on for a few weeks so the lovely Anna Moore of Anna Moore Designs could get the new format up for me. It is still a work in progress as I add the links. Homeschooling has cratered my work time and my writing has become like gardening, in the sense that it is never done, although I have finally come up with a garden plan. (More on that later.) I am adding links on the “Links” page now. Soon “Other Feeds” will have links from Twitter lists that I’ve put together for a variety of topics.
It’s not a personal tragedy that interferes with my ability to do good hair.* It is a lack of talent. I am not, nor have I ever been, a hairdresser. And I think the character building day my son had last week is a right of passage for sons who do not have a hairdresser or a barber in the family. I will not be posting his picture, but he calls it his “Dumb and Dumber” hair. I did not intend to give him the Jim Carrey bowl cut, yet…
As I tried to fix it the next day—we did not have time to go to a barber and he told me that he was not going to school again without a fix—I told him this was payback for what he did to his sister when she was three. As so much time has passed, I feel comfortable posting a picture of that piece of handiwork.
This is actually her second shearing by her brother. The first time, he cut pieces out of her long locks. They were blowing in the wind and he was “cutting the wind.” A cute page boy cut later, and all was well. But then, he decided to cut it again. There was no saving style this time. This picture was taken just after Calvin’s second adventure in haircutting. I’m in the background trying to set up the first available hair appointment.
I also tried to comfort him with the fact that I had done this to myself a few years ago. From my last blogpost at my original blog, An American Housewife in London:
Like most people, I had over indulged over Christmas and never made it to the gym. Two weeks of neglect is usually no problem, but by the time the kids were well, I was heading into week 4 without exercise.
The first glance at myself in the aerobics mirror was the first time I noticed the storm heading my way. I was…dissatisfied with my appearance. Then, in a leap of logic that only makes sense to mothers of young children, I thought perhaps bangs would help. They were supposed to balance out my slightly fluffy face. Of course, I was way behind on all of my to dos and couldn’t make it into my hairdresser for a color a few weeks previously—I had my mom teach 7 year old Cupcake how to color my grey, but back to that in a moment—so I cut them myself.
I think I have mentioned previously that prior to post-pregnancy hair loss, I had straight hair. Now I have curly hair. Do you know what happens when you cut long curly hair? Yes, that is correct, the curls tighten making the hair shorter than where your scissors snipped.
Compounding my problem: the color.
Cupcake had done a fine job coloring my hair. I don’t do highlights, I just cover grey, and for that the modern box stuff is much cheaper than a salon job and up to the task. It was my first time, however, and like wall paint color, the box color is deceptive. I had chosen a color perhaps 2 shades darker than I wanted. Complicating matters, since Cupcake was learning, she went slowly, so the color stayed on about 15 minutes longer than the recommended time for typical hair. In short, my hair is very, very dark. This only accentuated my now too short bangs. I look ridiculous.
Happily, that haircut grew out, as bad haircuts do. My son’s will as well. Actually, after I called my friend who happens to be a hairdresser and asked her to tell me how to fix the bowl, his hair looks better and I now know what I’m doing. I told him next time it wouldn’t be so bad. He said there will be no next time.
He is a wise boy.
* Steel Magnolia reference paraphrasing Darryl Hannah’s comment to Dolly Parton. It’s been years since I’ve seen that movie, but the phrases still play on repeat with certain trigger words: hairdo, freezes beautifully, red velvet cake…
Remember some posts from a few months ago, one about how I was a once and future housewife and the other about the lack of rhythm in motherhood? I wasn’t kidding. I had just gotten settled in three part-time/freelance jobs, when…
We pulled our 7 year old twins out of school for homeschooling. This is week three of the Homeschool at Wit’s End. I am writing a long-read on How to Make a Homeschool Mother, one complete with research on curriculum fads’ failure to teach. (In our case, we have Texas standardized testing, STAAR, and a version of common core math called Math in Focus. It is one of the many spinoffs of Singapore Math.) I will cover the curriculum details soon, but until then—my writing time had severely contracted, obviously—a few initial observations and a short “why?” answer since many have asked.
- Telling my peers, especially my conservative peers, that we’ve started homeschooling gets the same type of reaction as telling them I’m expecting. “Oh, congrats!” “You’ll do great!” “Exciting news! Be sure to check out [website, curriculum, blog]. They have a ton of good info.” They have been helpful, supportive, and encouraging to a one.
- If I’d known homeschooling was going to be this easy, I would have done it last fall. Granted, I’ve now seen enough to know that “easy” highly correlates with “schedule”. Luckily for me, designing a schedule and sticking to it is one of my strengths. One day, when I turned over the morning start to my mom so I could hop on a conference call, I learned exactly how important a schedule was. Scheduling is not her strength and the bickering started not even 5 minutes in, while they were still in their pajamas. (Having them get dressed is part of my schedule.)
- A friend told me that I would find homeschooling much easier than the after school homework hassle. She was absolutely right. The homeschool bloggers type the truth—you can do a full day’s curriculum in under 3 hours leaving the rest of the day for play, field trips, or hands on learning. And I know that the work we are doing will teach them skills beyond test performance. Which gets us to the why…
So why did we pull them home?
Our elementary school has changed. It is trying to keep up with the new fads in education, specifically the quest for test scores. In the school’s desire to enhance test scores, they are not only doing Math in Focus’s ‘5 ways to solve a problem in 5 minutes when a flash card memory and 5 seconds will do’*, but also have upped the standards for reading and writing. Pushing skills forward sounds great and is all the rage in education theory, but it is a failure in actual education.** Furthermore, teaching a child to read is not the same thing as teaching a child to perform reading on a test. These may sound like synonymous goals, but they are not.
By November my girls’ home behavior turned south. It took me a while to figure out it was stress from the sense of failure for only doing 1 out of 5 things well on any given day. One twin had a particularly hard time. She works in streaks and the teacher was unable to let her establish one skill and then move on to the next. That is what my son’s teacher had done at our beloved London school.
This kind of problem is more common for boys. Calvin would have been crushed here. Since he and his sister have a similar learning style, however, I can compare tactics. Mrs. Hindson, Calvin’s teacher, had experience, classroom autonomy, and no standardized test looming. She was able to nurture Calvin’s love of learning rather than quash it. She saw his streak learning and his late bloomer pattern. She worked within it, establishing his reading first. Plus, the school taught phonics. (It was an education fad resistant school. I knew Hill House was great, but I continue to learn just how great it was. I not-so-briefly considered returning to London, just for the school.) As anticipated by Mrs. Hindson, Calvin bloomed late and all at once. Now he’s the kid who reads The Transom and talks Napoleonic battle tactics with the dads at Laser Tag. He loves learning. I don’t have to do much with him but point him to the good books.
Back here in the now, however, the school’s goal is the STAAR test, and so a kid like Calvin, who is inclined to master one complete skill at a time, looks like a potential score drag because if your goal is testing a kid, then you can’t back off of math pressure to establish reading–which is all the more nonsensical since some of the early Math in Focus skills are word problems. Seriously, we parents would get notices on top of the regular “how to help your kids with their homework”—a bit of helicopter pressure I reject on principle— reminding us that we would need to read their math homework to them because they didn’t yet have the reading skills to read the homework themselves. The common sense idea that kids should perhaps work on their math facts while learning to read and then start word problems after reading was well established? Gone. And don’t even get me started on creative writing as handwriting practice.
Whereas, my son started reading later than his peers but loved school, my youngest daughters are reading later and they feel stupid. More than anything else, that worries my husband and me.
If this new curriculum requires me to go to take tutorials to learn the new “improved” methods so I can drill my deflated children after 8 hours at school because the new methods have so many options or are otherwise unreasonable that they cannot be mastered in the school day in time for the children to perform for the standardized tests upon which they think their intellectual self-worth hinges, then I’m going to teach them myself, my way, without smothering their natural desire to learn.
So, in mid-Febuary, we opened the Homeschool at Wit’s End. It is going quite well. They’ve improved in skill and attitude. No regrets. Just a lot less time, temporarily. Remember, there is no permanent rhythm in motherhood.
My husband on the Chelsea Mum Run, taking our elder children to a school we loved. I miss this school run.
* That’s my tagline for Math in Focus, not theirs, obviously.
** Read the whole thing, but the link is for the bit about Head Start’s failure to deliver on it’s purposes and the bit about comprehension, teaching to the test, and 3rd grade failure. The last is something all of my elementary school teacher friends have talked about for years.
I’ve recently reorganized my Google Alerts. The one that riveted me the most from last year was my alert for “gang rape”. I received daily collections of 5 to a dozen articles about gang rape from places like India and Pakistan. The stories often ended in in murder or suicide of the victim. It was overwhelming and so out of line with the occasional flurries of gang rape articles in the United States, which were usually multiple reports on one domestic event in which the accused had already been arrested. The only time US links drowned out links abroad was during the Rolling Stone journalism scandal.
The US media only covered a small fraction of the stories from abroad, and not even the worst of them. That’s partially why I was surprised. I assumed they had covered the most sensational but not all. Actually, they cover hardly any, and those aren’t the worst. The US media has a well-earned reputation for going for the drama, except it seems in the cases of gang rape outside the US. The public might be forgiven for not knowing how difficult life can be for women in other parts of the world.
When I added Google Alerts this year, I didn’t expect any of them would surprise me more than the “gang rape” alert had. But I added an alert for “Christian persecution.” Not only am I getting more links than for gang rape–covered by specialized outlets not news organizations, of course–but also, some of the links are compilations compilations, long compilations, of reports covering everything from burning alive, to sports teams removing crosses from soccer jerseys so as not to offend Muslim sensibilities, to price lists for kidnapped Christian women and girls. Nine year olds are the most expensive. They cost about $175. It’s all at the link.
Below is today’s update.
The War On Christians
While in 2014 the days of throwing Christians to wild beasts in the arena may be behind us, the persecutionof Christians around the world isn’t. In fact …
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