Sunday, August 30, 2009

To homeschool or not to homeschool...that is the question

Lately, it seems like everywhere I go I run into friends who are choosing to homeschool. This was a phenomenon I had never even heard of until I was an adult. Now, suddenly, everyone (or at least everyone I run into lately) is discussing whether or not they're choosing to do it. And I have to say, homeschooling is starting to seem downright trendy among a certain set of moms. This is sort of surprising and sort of not. It seems like so much of our generation of moms looks at mothering as a series of choices. Breastfeeding vs. formula, working outside of the home vs. working inside, cloth diapers vs. disposable, organic vs. whatever's-on-sale, crying-it-out vs. attachment parenting.

I would argue that homeschooling vs. traditional school has made its way to that annoying list of choices we must make as mothers. How did this become the case? Is there some kind of book (or preferably short magazine article) that will explain to me why we are all suddenly trying to teach our children at home rather than send them to school?

I'm sure it's a combination of many different cultural phenomenons all intersecting at once that make homeschooling so appealing to so many. And I have to admit, I'm one of those people to whom it appeals. When I close my eyes and imagine what it would be like to homeschool, I envision this idyllic scene of my children and me sitting around the kitchen hearth, reading to each other, taking breaks occasionally to do our handwork or bake some fresh bread. Basically, I imagine something out of a scene from Little Women when I imagine homeschooling. Never mind that we don't have a fireplace. And never mind that I happen to have more Little Men than Little Women at my house.
Instead of something from Little Women, the homeschool scene at my house would play out more like a scene from Raising Arizona ("She's got more than she can handle") or that scene from Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood where all of her kids are throwing up at once. In other words, I think homeschooling at my house would be slightly chaotic and not so productive.

Emma has learned to read pretty much on her own, though. And the kids love to sit and draw and make stuff all day long. They're great at having tea parties. Maybe my homeschool could be sort of a charter school that specializes in reading, making paper airplanes and having tea parties? We would blow everyone's socks off!

After visiting Emma's new elementary school many times in the last several weeks, I am more than convinced that those people have their act way more together than I do in the school department. I am not even going to try to compete. She will be in a Spanish immersion classroom where half of her day will be in Spanish. My semester in Sevilla in college was awesome, but I'm not sure it qualifies me to teach kindergarten in Spanish. I can order a "ron y coke" like nobody's business, though.
At Emma's school there are also lots of opportunities for art and drama, a great library, a cafeteria, a big gymnasium, music room, orchestra, and two playgrounds. Not to mention hundreds of new potential friends. Again, I can't compete.

I realize that everyone is different and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to educating our children. I do question some people's interpretation of teaching at home though. I used to tutor a little girl who was "homeschooled." Basically she did a computer program by herself while her parents went to work. The program was designed for a second grader...and she was in middle school. I've also talked to another mom who bragged that homeschooling wasn't that hard because she just had her children watch videos to learn what they needed to know. I know there are tons of parents out there who are doing a great job with homeschooling and their kids are probably as smart as they come, but I think there's a good chance that with homeschooling becoming so trendy, some parents could wind up doing it because they want to be like the other parents they know who are doing it or because they believe it is the "right" thing to do, and that doesn't necessarily qualify them to be their child's only source of knowledge.

I should've reported the parents of the girl that I tutored. It has always bothered me that I didn't do more for her. Her dad fired me because I tried to get her to read books rather than do her computer program. He told me that reading wouldn't get her anywhere. He wanted her to be a vet tech.

The main reason I want my kids to go to school is because I think it will be good for them to be away from me. I'm great and all, but there is a whole world of great people out there who I believe have amazing things to offer them. Likewise, I think it will be good for me to be away from them. I am, after all, more than their mother, or so I hear. And they are more than a reflection of me.

When Emma gets on the bus on Tuesday and waves goodbye, I'm sure I'll be sad. I'll be saying goodbye to a chapter of her life where our family was pretty much her whole world. She'll be spending a lot of her waking hours away from home, learning things from someone else. Meanwhile, my own life will be freed up a tiny bit more to write and think and grow. I'm really looking forward to that. My hope is that we'll come back to each other at the end of her school day with a new appreciation for who we are and who we are becoming.

I feel like I wanted to say so much more in this post, but wasn't able to say it the way I wanted to. I would love to hear your thoughts about school. I've probably unwittingly offended some of my friends who homeschool. I hope that's not the case. Feel free to challenge my assumptions and tell your side of the story. Happy new school year to all!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Does everyone make boef bourguignon after seeing Julie & Julia?

I saw Julie & Julia and I have to admit, most of it was too delightful for words and you would really have to be a terrible curmudgeon of a person not to like it. I was absolutely starving after I saw it. I wanted to go straight to Whole Foods and buy the ingredients to make the sumptuous boef bourguignon that they were torturing us with throughout the entire movie. Yum...

Julie came off as lovably self-absorbed...I could totally relate to her narcissism and her worries that she would never be considered to be a "writer." Although, I would say that her writing/cooking scenes just didn't really look that hard. Okay, so she had a small crappy kitchen. She should try doing all that stuff with three kids in the room. Now, that would be a real challenge. The scene where she comes home after having blogged for several months and having a New York Times piece written about her, and has 63 messages on her answering machine all from publishers and literary agent types, made publishing a book seem about as easy as hitting "enter" on blogger. And then we see Julia Child struggle for years to have her book published. Not surprisingly, Julia Child's moment of literary validation felt much more satisfying and deserved (maybe I'm just saying that because I didn't go to high school with Julia Child?)

All jealousy aside, the movie inspired and encouraged me a great deal. It made me want to come home and cook and write and get things published like crazy. Now, if kindergarten and preschool would just begin...

In the spirit of the Julie/Julia Project I thought it would be fun to blog about what we ate last night. Emma and I went school supply shopping yesterday and when I came home I had to make something for dinner, but was out of just about everything (except for school supplies). Is Sunday night like that at your house too? We are out of usual staples and just have to make something out of nothing. I kind of like those types of cooking challenges. They remind me of writing poetry, where the limitations force you to be more creative. So, anyway, I had ham and turkey and swiss cheese, bacon...and one egg. That was it (except for random veggies and fruit) in the fridge. Brandon suggested I make some monte cristo sandwiches, which is exactly what I was thinking could be made out of those ingredients. After I got over the initial shock that he knew what a monte cristo sandwich was, I agreed that would be a good plan.

We put the kids to bed (they had eaten grilled cheese sandwiches earlier) and then dug into our sandwiches. Wow! Delicious! So delicious, I have to share the recipe (or really method) for making your very own monte cristo. This sandwich pairs well with ripe peaches, a cute husband and a comfy couch. Bon apetite!

Monte Cristo Sandwich (adapted from Rachael Ray's original recipe)
4 slices bacon
1 egg (really 2 eggs would be better, but I only had one)
splash of milk
pinch of ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
tablespoon butter
4 slices of bread
Grey Poupon mustard
plum chutney (this, oddly, is what I had on hand and it was fabulous, but any good jelly/chutney type of thing would do)
deli sliced ham
deli sliced turkey

Cook bacon until done and remove to paper towels. Drain off fat.
Reheat skillet over medium heat.
Beat egg(s) with milk, nutmeg and pepper. Add butter to pan and let it melt.
Turn bread in egg batter and then place in pan.
Turn bread after it browns, 2 to 3 minutes; spread mustard on 2 slices of bread and spread chutney on other 2.
Place a slice of cheese on 2 slices of bread. Add bacon, ham and turkey to remaining 2 slices and then set tops in place and press sandwiches together. Turn a couple of times and let set a minute or two to melt cheese. Cut sandwiches from corner to corner to serve.

You can dunk them in maple syrup if you want, but Brandon balked at that, so we didn't. Yum, yum, yum.

Do not be afraid of the bacon and the butter. If you are really that worried about it, go running or something. : )

Tonight, I want to make boef bourguignon, "Julia's boef bourguignon." I'll let you know how it turns out!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Let's give em something to blog about...

For some reason whenever I can't think of anything to blog about, that Bonnie Raitt song "Let's Give 'Em Something to Talk About" always goes through my head, except in my head I sing it "Let's give 'em somethin' to blog about, a little mystery to figure out..." I can't believe I just actually wrote that out loud. I really must be desperate for material.

Here's what I want to blog about, but probably won't be able to very well because kids are constantly and literally all over me:

My very complicated feelings about the new Julie & Julia movie. Complicated? You're thinking, it's a Nora Ephron movie. What's so complicated? "Well, it's complicated," I would probably reply. This movie was made for someone like me. I love to cook, I'm a total sucker for romantic comedies, I blog (on a monthly basis). My feelings about it are complicated because I used to be friends with the Julie of the "Julie" part of the movie. Some background: the movie is about a real person named Julie who wrote a blog about cooking her way through a Julia Child cookbook. The blog became a book and the book became a movie.

Now, the whole blog-to-book-to-movie scenario is pretty much one of my favorite fantasies (in my version Jake Gyllenhall figures prominently). Until now, a movie based on a blog seemed like an impossible feat. The fact that it happened to someone I knew well in high school is weird and surreal and makes me feel very, um, er, happy for her, of course. Happy and maybe just the teensiest bit jealous, self-doubting and depressed at the same time? Does that make me a bad person? Probably.

Another thing I want to blog about is the fact that I can't get a single thing done lately. Oh, don't get me wrong. I do mountains of laundry, piles and piles of it. I just plowed through one of those big Costco-size Tide boxes in record time. I also do dishes, make beds, fold things, and clean out closets on such a continual basis that I'm wondering if it's like the lion, the witch and the wardrobe in my kids' rooms, and there is a whole other fairy tale land on the other side of their closets filled with half-man/half-deer type creatures who are secretly stashing too-small shoes and old onseies in there when no one is looking. I get that stuff done, and that stuff is important and all, but I'm really really aching to get some of my own writing done. Will this ever happen?? The baby is crying, so I'll have to report back to you on that later.

How is anyone ever going to make a movie out of my blog if I can't even finish a sentence?? The only thing tying this mess of a blog post together is my annoying use of the double question mark. What's up with that??

I actually relate to Julie's plight in the blog/book/movie. She's turning 30 and is worried that she hasn't made anything of herself, that she'll always be a lowly office temp, while her friends are making it big in New York. In my darker moments I feel the same way. I'm a very different person from Julie, but I worry sometimes that I've missed some important goal in life, that I have been so engrossed in being a mother, that I forgot to pursue other things and now I'm adrift on this mommyhood raft and can't quite figure out how to make it back to Elizabeth-land. (That's right, I said Elizabeth-land.) Every time I see a trailer of Julie & Julia it feels like this big Julia-Child-sized reminder of my own lack of accomplishment.

Today I got to go to the dentist by myself at 8:30 in the morning. It felt like such a small miracle being dressed and out of the house by myself so early in the morning. Driving to the dentist, I thought, this is what it would be like to have a job. I could just leave every morning with clean hair and a cute purse with only my stuff in it. Should I be looking for a job?? Every now and then I look for jobs online and wonder what it would be like to make money again. I've been at home so long with kids that the working world feels like another planet, like it would have a different atmosphere, different air than the air I am used to breathing. I really can't even fathom going back to work right now, but I like to fantasize sometimes. Maybe I wouldn't be getting paid to get my own writing done, but I'd be getting paid to get something done. Right??

This is what's going on in my head on bad days. On good days, I feel like I am accomplishing tons--it's just happening so slowly and so constantly that it's hard to see it. I wish someone would come do a time-elapsed video of my life with the kids for a year, so that I could see them growing and changing and getting smarter in the span of like five minutes. They could put it to a catchy song, like maybe something from an ipod commercial. Then maybe I would feel more accomplished, or at least my accomplishments would be more tangible.

Right now I have to go because my kids are fighting over an empty vitamin bottle. And everyone needs to eat. Again. And Teddy has a dirty diaper. Nora Ephron, are you reading this??