Homeschooling: It's not what we do, it's how we live.

Secular Thursday

13 Reasons Controversy

It’s been a while since I’ve come across something in the homeschool world that makes me sit up and take notice, but this is one of those things that compelled me to write about it. There’s a new series on Netflix that you may have seen. It’s called 13 Reasons Why, and it’s based on a YA novel of the same name by Jay Asher. It’s about a high school girl who commits suicide, but leaves behind a series of audiotapes intended to be passed around to the people she holds responsible for her death.

**general spoiler warning** If you haven’t read the book or watched the series and don’t want details, you should probably stop reading this post until after you’re read/watched it. 

Also, to clarify, I am not advocating either watching or avoiding the series for its own sake. If your child is talking about it; if their friends are watching it, then I absolutely advocate watching it, because chances are your child will see it one way or another.

Apparently, there are a lot of feelings about this series; A LOT of feelings. From the outset, I’ll say unequivocally that material that sparks discussion about mental health, depression, bullying and other issues that teens (and young adults) face has a place in the public eye, period. Even more-so if it engages teens, who tend to be most at-risk for suicide. Whether you agree, disagree, like it, hate it – whatever: discussion about topics that we, as a culture, tend to file under ‘taboo conversational topics: Do Not Engage!’ is a good thing. It’s a necessary thing. And it’s about damn time.

Full disclosure, I’ve watched the series; I have not read the book. My children (13.5 and 15 at the time of this writing) have neither read the book or watched the series*, but both said that they ‘might’. I’ve told them that it’s fine if they do; to let me know if/when they do so we can talk about it. I also gave them a synopsis of what it’s about, gave a warning about graphic rape scenes and drug/alcohol use, and mentioned that there are things that Hannah (the main character) says, thinks and does as a result of disenfranchisement/bullying/potentially undiagnosed and untreated depression that aren’t ‘reality’; and that we need to talk about it during and after they watch it. We don’t generally censor what our kids watch; I’d rather know what they’re watching so we can decide if we need to intervene or talk about it than have them sneak around watching things behind our back. We’ve set standards for them that have gotten more permissive as they’ve gotten older; I don’t think we let them consume anything that isn’t age-appropriate. You may disagree, which is why if my kids come to your house, they’d have to follow your rules (or the lead set by your kids, which may be very different from your ‘rules’… but I digress). And before you lose your mind over that, we a) have developed trust with our kids based on communication and experience and will continue to base our decisions and permissions on that trust; and b) can still monitor when we feel the need to, because parental controls and history/system checks on media are a thing that exists and we reserve the right to record and check as needed. Also, to clarify, I am not advocating either watching or avoiding the series for its own sake. If your child is talking about it; if their friends are watching it, then I absolutely advocate watching it, because chances are your child will see it one way or another.

In any case, my point is that we talk about mental health issues fairly often in our house. I was diagnosed with clinical depression (major depressive disorder) in 2006, and with severe generalized anxiety disorder in 2011. I take medications, supplements, use tools like apps, meditation practice, journaling and a focus on self-care as part of my management plan. They’ve seen me manage my own mental health issues and heard me talking about it with others a lot. Along with some of the other moms in our homeschool group, I went to a teen mental health first aid course and got certified as a ‘teen mental heath first aid practitioner’, and our teens are participating in a semester-long mental health course through our homeschool co-op, using curricula and resources from TeenMentalHealth.org and other similar sources. I say all of that to tell you this very scary fact: seeing and knowing and doing all that doesn’t make my kids suicide-proof. That’s hard to read; it’s hard to admit. But it’s the truth. I’ll come back to this in a bit.

The reason I started writing this post is because, like many homeschooling parents, I’m in quite a few internet support groups that focus on homeschooling. It’s generally helpful, and sometimes I learn new things there, or find tidbits of new information that I want to use in our school career. other times, I come across things like this:

 

Okay, fine. You don’t want to watch it, then fine. But let me tell you this: if your kids want to watch it, and their peers are watching it, then even if you think it’s ‘poison’, then you should damn well be watching it, too. If for no other reason than because you should be informed of what’s going on in and around your child’s world. Changes are, if your kids’ peers are recommending it, then your child is going to figure out how to watch it, with or without your approval.

And hear this: if your opinion is so strongly negatively stated, do you think that your kid is going to come to you to talk about what they saw if they watched it without your permission (or in spite of being explicitly told not to watch it)? Nope. So your precious snowflake is going to be left alone to figure it out, or have only the influence of his or her peers to guide how they process the show. Not only that, but as a parent, you’ll miss out on being able to clarify the points that need to be made throughout the series about how Hannah could have made different choices, or how her friends could have, or what your child’s options are in different scenarios.

And then there’s this, which makes my eyes want to roll right out of my head.

ARE YOU FRIKKIN’ KIDDING ME?? Also, it’s extremely bad form to tell a parent who literally has experience with this situation that it’s not reality when it is very much their reality. I can’t even imagine how awful it would be to have your child survive a suicide attempt. I can imagine it would be harrowing, and that you’d be on red-alert all the time. To have your child attempt it again? I can’t even imagine that kind of pain and stress and anger and hopelessness.

To their credit, the moderators of that group very quickly deleted that comment thread. The post itself is still up, with decent discussion both for and against allowing/encouraging/discouraging (and some outright forbidding) students to watch, and decent discussion about whether the series addresses teen suicide and bullying appropriately or not. The discussion was relatively civil and productive, with good points on all sides.

From the message thread, the article lists these reasons why ‘not’ to watch (edited for clarity):

  1. This show was overly graphic. …  These rapes are gritty, horrifying and not something your children need to actually witness just in case they need to deal with something like this. They did a good job of showing Hannah (the girl who committed suicide) and how she felt during the rape, but watching her body writhe with each “thrust” was completely unnecessary and not something we needed to watch in order to understand the gravity of the situation.

  2. The suicide toward the end of the series might as well have been a handy dandy how-to graphic for how to kill yourself.

  3. The other big problem I had with the suicide was the build up, the entire series lead up to Hannah killing herself. Which isn’t different than in the books, but for some reason, they made it feel like a big reveal, an event that you were waiting on. Something exciting. Suicide should never EVER be exciting. And I was disappointed that they depicted it as such.

  4. They glamorized Hannah, the girl who killed herself. They made her out to be this big amazing person that everyone remembered and was heartbroken about after she left. ….  the series made this about her, like she left some sort of legacy only a dead girl could leave behind. Why would you want kids to think their lives will only have meaning after they die?

So, obvious warnings are obvious; Netflix rates the show as TV-MA, and included content warnings on the episodes that have the most graphic content. The author of that post’s child is in 6th grade… so, not 17… but she may be mature enough to handle watching the series with her mother nearby; that’s a decision that each parent needs to make. I don’t necessarily disagree with the author’s assertions in the context of her particular child. But to give all parents a ruler by which to measure their own children is ridiculous.

But to take this one point at a time… first, I don’t think it was overly graphic for the audience intended. As mentioned previously, the rating is TV-MA. It’s more subject matter than content that garners the warning. There’s no nudity; they do a damn fine job of conveying the horror of one girl (Jessica) being raped while under the influence of alcohol, and of (Hannah) witnessing it but being unable to say or do anything to prevent it due to her own trauma without being, in my opinion, overly graphic. They didn’t rush through it; they didn’t gloss over it; they didn’t give you an out as a witness to what was happening, either visually or audibly. You, as the viewer, endured it with them. Not only that, but you were flashed back to it at different points – just moments or glimpses – but the trauma is revisited over and over again, unpredictably…. just like in real life. That, to me, is one of the biggest arguments FOR watching it – exactly because of how well-done this particular aspect of it was. Not only that, but in the production commentary (the last episode of the series), they specifically talk about how Hannah never said the words ‘no’, or ‘stop’ or anything, really, when she was raped. It was clear that she did not want to have sex, but she never said no. That makes a conversation about ‘victim blaming’ necessary. Talking about it is one thing. Seeing how it happens is another. Was it rape if she didn’t say no? After seeing it, it’s painfully obvious that she was, in fact, raped. In some religions, because she didn’t scream, or say no, she is considered guilty of fornication. That scene puts an entirely different face on that circumstance, and is fucking *necessary* if you’re a young woman growing up in a religion that teaches that.

Secondly, you don’t need to give kids a ‘how to’ guide to commit suicide. If it’s on their minds, then they’ve already thought of it or imagined it or planned how they’d do it. I was about 12 the first time I ever thought about killing myself, and by 14 I had a concrete plan. I was raised in a pretty strict household as far as what we were allowed to watch – nothing rated R, no horror movies, nothing overly sexual or violent. I never needed anyone else to tell me what to do. I never got as far as an actual attempt, but  I didn’t need to be ‘influenced’ by outside sources. All those thoughts and ideas came from right inside my own head. Showing it isn’t going to ‘give them ideas’ or convince them to ‘give it a try’. That’s a huge myth, and yet it persists because people – parents – don’t ever want to face the reality that kids have very real pressures in their life and may lack the tools to deal effectively with them. A further truth is that some teens have mental health issues that are undiagnosed.

Today’s kids, younger and younger every year, are under an enormous amount of pressure. Their brains do not work the same way that adult brains do; they process information and experiences differently than we do, and they lack both life experience and time to understand that what they feel today isn’t going to last forever. As an adult with depression, I can tell you that in the depths of a depressive episode, even with life experience and the clear understanding that those dark feelings don’t last forever, sometimes forget it. That’s why depression is an illness – because it messes with your brain. Not talking about suicide because you ‘don’t want to put ideas in their head’ is stupid and reckless. By the time I was 18, one classmate and 1 friend had committed suicide, with several others hospitalized after suicide attempts…. and this was back in the 90’s.  Now, there are things like cutting and other forms of self-harm. It’s a real thing. Real kids do it. Your kids might do it. My kid might do it. We might not necessarily know about it. Again – there’s that scary place to think about – that our child might be in pain and in harm’s way. But avoiding it doesn’t make it go away; it makes it more dangerous.

Here’s something it’s important to understand about suicide: people don’t do it because they’re healthy and thinking clearly. People who commit suicide see death as the only way out. Out of suffering, of being a disappointment or a burden on others (friends and family), out of the confinement of struggling every day just to live. I also think it’s important to understand that unless you also struggle with depression or anxiety or another mental illness, you can’t know what it’s like to reach that point; to get to the point that thinking or feeling like ending your life is the only way to be free. This is probably one of the best images I’ve ever seen that illustrates that feeling – everything is so awful that death looks peaceful in comparison. But, because of the stigma that depression and mental illness carries, it’s incredibly hard to talk about. That’s okay; talk about that, too. Tell your kids that you’re scared for them. They need to know that.

The third point is an idiotic one, imo. You begin the series knowing that the girl killed herself; but one can hardly tell the story without flashbacks. As the viewer, you get multiple insights to the story – Hannah’s perception as she tells it on the tapes; the recollections of her friends and classmates; and a ‘narrator’ view, which features Hannah in a somewhat less than ‘perfect’ view. I disagree that Hanna’s suicide was built up to in order to sensationalize it; I think the flashbacks gave a fairly well-laid out progression of the deterioration of Hannah’s mental state and circumstances that led to her making the decision to kill herself. Starting off with the suicide scene, or downplaying it wouldn’t make sense. I think showing it the way that they did was appropriate; it was graphic and horrific and terrifying and lonely and sad – everything that suicide is. This feeds into the next point – they didn’t glamorize her; quite the opposite. I saw a bunch of people who gave lip service to mourning a girl they barely paid attention to when she was alive. That’s not glamorization; that’s tragedy. Her life didn’t have meaning after she died; her life ended. That’s what death means – you’re dead. No more life to live; no more chapters to your story.

Here’s what I saw, first and foremost: I saw a lot of kids with a LOT of problems, and mostly absent or distracted parents. I saw a lack of communication; a lack of courage (courage to speak up when you see something that you know is wrong, to defend someone else, to start a conversation, to say the thing you want to say, to have a voice at all); a lack of trust and confidence in the adults in the kids’ lives. I saw obvious warning signs (drinking, drug use, heavily tattooed under-aged teens – you don’t get those from hanging out with fine upstanding citizens… because it’s illegal) that no adult acted on. There are SO MANY things to talk with your kids about… for me to talk with my kids about.

I think Hannah is responsible for her own death. She kept things to herself when she could have talked – at any point – to the people around her. If not peers, then adults. She felt like she didn’t have options, and that’s where the adults in her life failed her. But it wasn’t a one-time thing; it was systematic. It was something that went on and on for a long period of time. Her parents were distracted by real problems, but they were distracted nonetheless. Her friends also had real problems, but each person in Hannah’s life that she sent the tapes to also had options. Not necessarily a responsibility towards Hannah, but options for how they handled their own situations that led them to whatever thing they said or did that Hannah ended up blaming them for. Hannah did a terrible thing… several, actually. Playing the ‘blame game’ helps no one; absolves no one; is fair to no one. Suicide is a tragedy, but ultimately, the person who ended their own life is the one responsible for that decision. There’s a discussion on ‘suicide revenge’ that should probably happen as well. This isn’t a new concept; Marilyn Manson’s Coma Black has the line ‘I kill myself to make everybody pay‘. Hannah left tapes to explain/punish those she held responsible, and ultimately let herself off the hook for her decision in both deed and via the tapes. That was a shitty thing to do.

As a parent: TALK TO YOUR KIDS. Tell them that you have issues; that you don’t understand them or their culture, but that you are trying. Let them teach you. Don’t play the disinterested parent-role; don’t let them think that you have all your shit worked out. If you haven’t learned shit-management techniques in your 30+ years on the planet, then you probably didn’t pass any down to your kids, so they’re likely in need of those tools anyway. Let them know that life doesn’t just magically work itself out when you turn 20 or 30 or 40. It’s still a struggle, BUT you learn coping mechanisms on the way that can make it easier. Be an example – take charge of your own issues. If your issues are affecting you kids, then for fuck’s sake, get help, and include them in the process. The other half of this is LISTEN TO YOUR KIDS. Trust them when they tell you that their life is horrible (instead of giving in to the righteous anger that we love to fall back on and list all their privileges and blessings so they’ll see how entitled they’re acting and shape up). Getting angry at them for being ‘ungrateful’ instead of listening to what they’re telling you can lead to a teenager who doesn’t feel like you’re a source of support. Trust that they’re using the best vocabulary that they can, and help them find better words to express what they’re feeling. Ask questions and LISTEN to the answers without giving in to the temptation to be all judgmental or looking for ways to punish them to opening up to you. You can’t have open, honest communication with a teenager and then censor how they talk, or try to shape their expression into your worldview. Listen to see where they are at and meet them there. Then cover new ground together. It’s okay to be lost, or not know what to say. Tell them that; they need to know that we don’t have everything all figured out either, and that it’s okay to learn new things (like how to handle intrusive or overwhelming negative thoughts). It’s also okay to seek outside, professional help. In fact, that’s something your kids should already have – access to suicide hotlines and a network of adults that they can trust to talk to.

In closing, I think people tend to forget that TV and book characters aren’t ‘real’ people; they’re amalgams of multiple people, or archetypes that real people don’t fit into exactly. Real people are so multi-faceted and multi-layered that no book or TV character could ever get it just right. No real person is as one-dimensional as a character; and no situations are quite as simply laid out as real life scenarios are. This book and series, and others like it, create discussion opportunities for parents to guide their teens., and I believe that’s what the series is intended to do. Whether you allow your child to watch it or not, there are some real-world things that today’s kids face. There are real-world situations brought up in that series that I believe it is entirely worthwhile to talk about with your kids. Whether you choose to use the series as a conversation starter, or some other method is up to you – but have the conversations with your kids. Please.

Warmly,
~h

* When I started this post, they had not. After I asked, I guess that brought it to their attention, and LBB (15) decided to watch it. At the time of this post being published, he’s about halfway through the series, and we’ve had multiple discussions about it – big ones, little ones, talks at the dinner table, talks in the car… sometimes just a comment here or there, sometimes more drawn out.

 


Mid-March Update

I thought that it was April that was supposed to bring spring showers, but this year, March is taking all the credit for rainfall. I’m sure you’ve probably seen it on the news; eastern Texas and western Louisiana are pretty much submerged at the moment. Interstate 10 was closed for several days at the Texas/Louisiana border due to severe flooding – in fact, I think at the time of this writing, it’s still closed. I’ve gotten quite a few messages and emails from concerned friends wondering about our safety. I appreciate your love and concern, but we’re well out of the flood zone. Luckily, everyone in our local group is also safely out of the flooded areas as well. Unfortunately, many families in our area have been affected though, and it’s nice to see the communities around Orange rallying to support those who lost everything. If you’re interested in helping, The Orange Leader has a couple of options, or you can donate to the Red Cross for the Texas Gulf Coast Region. Our local Humane Society also recently had a fire, and is accepting donations through their GoFundMe page.

This month hasn’t been all doom-and-gloom, though. Even though there’s been quite a bit of rain, it hasn’t had that much of an impact on our activities. Even so, we’ve missed a couple of things this month. It seems like the first of the year was a constant host of activities, but things seem to have leveled out just a bit lately. It’s been nice having a bit of a break. We needed the ‘catch-up’ time. I’m happy to report that we’ll start fresh this coming week with no make-up work! It’s been about 3 weeks since we’ve been able to say that. Unfortunately, I am having dental surgery next week, so we’re probably going to have to take an unexpected break to deal with that… but we’ll see what happens.

Earlier this month was our group’s art class. The book we’re using for the basis of the class is Discovering Great Artists by Kohl and Solga, which is a hands-on approach that we’ve been testing for the last few months. During the 6 weeks between classes, we study the artist, and at the group class, we watch a video or have a presentation on the artist and then the kids (and some of the moms too, if I am honest), attempt to create a work of art in that style. This month, our artist was Henri Toulouse Lautrec, and the project was an Event Poster. The lesson was great! I had no idea that he was responsible for the kind of advertising that was so popular in that time. It was also quite an interesting experience to cover an artist who featured prostitutes so often in his work with a group of kids. Le sigh…

 

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It was a super fun project – I get frustrated with the kids because they don’t put as much effort into it as I’d like to see, but what’cha gonna do? Art’s my ‘thing’, but I know it’s not theirs, so I try to rein it in. I’m actually not all that displeased with what they did (I just know they could’ve done better). LBB’s been on a Bob Ross kick lately, so it was nice to see that represented in his project.

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March’s Teen Homeschool Book Club was a lot of fun. The kids were supposed to read either a fiction or non-fiction book about Texas, in honor of Texas Independence Day, which is March 2nd. We visited the San Jacinto Monument earlier this month, which was fantastic, and bought a couple of books from the gift shop: Mirabeau B. Lamar, Second President of Texas by Judy Alter, and Davy Crockett: His Own Story by David Crockett. After hearing the boys flounder on their recitations for the book club, I am not sure if they actually did the reading they were assigned, so we’ll be going over those again, but afterwards, they got involved in the LONGEST game of Uno, ever… and loudest, too – at the library, no less!

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We went back for our second game of D&D, and our mission is going well! We’re getting the hang of it. It’s slow-going though (as I am sure it always is with newbies), and I so appreciate our DM’s patience and understanding with us as we learn/play. I have also discovered that playing any game with kids that is as involved as Dungeons & Dragons is can make for a very long evening. Between distractions, side conversations, snack breaks and bathroom breaks, even though we’re playing for several hours at a time, not much gets accomplished ‘in-game’. Even so, we’re making progress – slow- but measurable. We added a new player to this round, too – an orc!

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My very dear friend, The Hauswife, had her 30th birthday last week, Her husband contacted me about creating a custom planner for her, which was so much fun to work on! I had it printed and wrapped, and we threw her a surprise dinner party. I also made her a set of custom planner stickers so she can keep track of her life in style.

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We also had our third D&D game night. LBB ended up with a set of magical keys (that somehow disappeared when no one was looking), and PeaGreen was less than thrilled with my photo-documentation of his game-playing. We did manage to make it through a third battle, with our merry band in tact (barely). I think our DM is taking it easy on us! We added a new player this round as well, The Hauswife.

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I wanted to show off my newly-made dice box, too! I started with a small wooded box from the craft store. I used ‘ArtMinds square wood box (4.13″ x 3.942″)’ item# 10308297 at Michael’s. (I am not affiliated with them; that’s just what I used – I don’t get any kickbacks from them for linking to them or anything.) I found a picture of a mermaid that I liked, and re-drew it, then burned it into the wood with a wood-burning tool. I also found an art-deco pattern for the sides and front, and then burned those sections as well. Then I painted parts of the box with watercolor, and painted her tail with a glitter glaze to make it stand out. It holds a set of Chessex dice, as well as several loose dice and miniature figures inside quite nicely. It’s bigger inside than I’d have thought, and is perfect for storage as well as carrying things back and forth.

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The last thing on our list was our group’s Social Studies Club. Our country of discussion was Turkey this month, but we weren’t able to go to class. I did find this lovely little drawing though, and still wanted to use it, so I am adding it anyway. Istanbul-travel-illustration

Hope your spring is off to a lovely start!
Warmly,
~h


Back to School – January 2016

There’s nothing quite so disheartening as getting back to work after a vacation. In our case, since we get a month off, the first week ‘back to school’ in January seems especially daunting. Combine that with all of the good intentions and NYR’s that we all (consciously or unconsciously) set, and the first weekend can’t come fast enough!

On the other hand, I will admit that it’s nice to get back to routine. Loverly Husband was off work as well, so the last week or so of December seemed extraordinarily relaxed. I found myself longing for the predictability and busyness that normally defines our days. Another plus is my new planner – fresh and clean and just waiting to be filled with activities!

Now that our kiddos are older, Loverly Husband and I have been trying to work in a little more romance. This year has been exceptional in that regard, with not one, but TWO weekend mini-breaks without the children. The first was a trip to the Texas Renaissance Festival a few months ago, and the second was a trip to Austin to see Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. We’re big QT fans from way back, so the opportunity to see the Roadshow performance at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema was too good to pass up. We stayed at The Driskill and spent a couple of days prowling around the city. It was a fantastic way to spend the post-Christmas slump!

 

 

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Holidays notwithstanding, since we school throughout the year, we still had a couple of events with our homeschool group that fell during our holidays. Our Public Speaking Assembly was on Dec. 30, and the boys both decided to work on speeches that reflected the Holiday spirit. It was funny to me because they chose their speeches without consulting me, and both came up with something fairly similar.

 

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The first week of January was ‘back to the daily grind’ but I was at a total loss for what to do for our field trip the first week back, so we decided on ‘movie day’. We chose Star Wars again, and it was just as good the second time around! Afterwards, we went for coffee, where PeaGreen grabbed his coffee and the paper and hunkered down to read while LBB and I sat across the room teasing him mercilessly (all in good fun) for his old-man tendencies.

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The first Friday of the new school year was spent with the teens in our homeschool group for our monthly Teen Social. Of all the new things we’ve done the past year, this is one of the ones I am enjoying most. Mot only is it great for the kids, but it’s allowed me to spend some one-on-one time with the moms of older kids in our group. It’s been great getting to know them better in a smaller group. The kids love it, too. 2016-01-08_23.17.00

Next up was our Social Studies Club, where the kids were studying Australia.

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SETX AHH January Event – I didn’t get many pictures from this event, and we missed the big group picture, but we had a great afternoon getting to know some of the fellow volunteers and chatting with some of the people we were there to help. It’s always interesting to hear their stories. If you’re interested in donating, the group has an Amazon wishlist that’s updated regularly. You can also check in your area to see if there’s an Atheists Helping the Homeless organization close to you (or start one!). There are several in Texas, and a few other areas as well. Our homeschool group made ‘care kits‘ to keep in the car to hand out to people at stop lights a while back. If you’d like to help, there are lots of lists with suggestions on what to put in them.

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The January Teen Book Club was, as always, lots of fun. Last month was a free-reading selection, and the boys both read a Sherlock Holmes story; The Empty House. Afterwards, we played a few rounds of Apples to Apples, and headed back home to finish the day’s desk work.

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That’s pretty much the gist of what we’ve been up to in 2016!
How’s your new year starting off?

Warmly,
~h

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Happy Holidays 2015

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The last couple of weeks have been packed to the gills with ‘end of the year’ goings-on. I generally have a rule of sorts – I am a doula, but I don’t take birth clients who are due during the month of December, but I talked to the sweetest mama back in the summer and when we signed her contract, it didn’t occur to me that her due-date was smack in the middle of the month – usually my busiest month of the year. We purposely plan for December to be school-free just because it’s always SO busy. But, it all worked out – she had her beautiful sweet new baby a week before her due date, so that made the rest of the month stress-free. I celebrated with a glass of red – and a toast to the last baby of the year for Whole Mothering Center!

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Next up was our homeschool group’s Christmas Party. We’ve had quite a few of our group parties at the same park, and the pictures always turn out great. We had a nice-sized crowd, and tons of food. Each family brought a game, and the kids played the game where they got to steal a prezzie, or open a new one. The older kids loved it; some of the littles had a hard time with the concept, poor things. But it all worked out, and everyone left happy.

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The big event last week was, of course, the premiere of STAR WARS VII! No spoilers – but it was really good; surprisingly so. I was pleased. My Loverly Husband decided we should go at the last minute, and I was so worried the we’d get there to find tickets sold out, but we waltzed right in, got great seats and enjoyed it immensely. My other fear was that fellow movie-goers would be talkish or otherwise obnoxious during the film, but the theater was quiet and it was an all-round excellent experience.
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Over the weekend, my friends and I got together for what we call ‘Friendsmas’ – another gift exchange with the stealing game; I left with a plum colored scarf and gloves set, and PeaGreen left with a game called Exploding Kittens, which is a game ‘for people who are into explosions and kittens and laser beams’, apparently. It’s created, in part, by the guy who writes The Oatmeal, which we love, so I anticipate great fun to be had by all at our next Family Game Night.

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This week has been just as busy. We started off with a bang – Monday was our homeschool group’s monthly Park Day, and we are starting an art history/art class in 2016, so we had a planning session for that while we were together. I’m really excited about that; we’re basing the outline on Discovering Great Artists, and holding class every 6 weeks. We’ll cover history, biography and create a work of art based on that artist’s style.

We try to do Family Game Night a couple of times a month. We got to try out Exploding Kittens, which made PeaGreen’s night. We had a mixed bag of reactions; PG, of course, loved it. LBB was iffy (only because he lost a round) and Loverly Husband and I both give it 3 out of 5 stars. It was fun, easy to play (after you got the hang of it, and a few rounds under your belt).

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Christmas Day was great – lots of smiles and happy kiddos. After prezzies, we went to visit family, then the kids and I met up with some friends from our homeschool group and other volunteers with South East Texas Atheists Helping the Homeless for their Christmas Day Caravan. We loaded up blankets, coats, hats, gloves, scarves and personal items, along with bagged lunches, hot chocolate (and lots of iced bottled water since it was 80 degrees out), gift cards and wrapped presents to hand out. We had 10 cars, with nearly 30 volunteers and drove to several places where the homeless in our community gather to hand everything out. It was a great experience!

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SETX – AHH Caravan

We had a great week, and a lovely holiday – hope you did, too!

 

thomas 2015 card

 

Happy New Year!
Warmly,
~h

secthurs


Secular Culture’s Attack on Christian Homeschooling

Homeschool World/Practical Homeschooling has an image with a quote, ‘Secular culture is trying to remake homeschooling in its own image. Time to get back to Christian homeschooling!’ I have to admit that it caught me unawares; I recognize that some factions of the Christian sphere like to project the notion that they’re constantly under attack and being persecuted by silly little things like ‘equality’ and ‘civil liberty’, but I hadn’t realized that secular homeschoolers were trying to oust Christian homeschoolers from the scene entirely. I was under the (apparently, grossly mistaken) impression that secular homeschoolers were attempting, with best foot forward, to eek out a small place for themselves within the predominantly faith-based homeschooling world – and not even a separate, ‘atheists only’ (or whatever equally ridiculous segregated dynamic) space, but just to be allowed on the homeschool scene at all.

I’ll admit that much of my commentary on this topic is sarcastic, partially because it baffles me that anyone actually feels this way. I fail to see how this is even a legitimate complaint, but I digress. If you’re offended by my sarcasm, please feel free to refer to the author’s notes in my sidebar for available options for remedying that. The article goes on to state:

In some of the new “secular” homeschooling titles that are beginning to show up, the immense influence of Christianity on the modern homeschool movement is largely ignored. It would be fine if these books were honest enough to challenge the Christian influence in homeschooling, or even attempt to discredit it, but they simply ignore it. No one should be surprised by this – it’s certainly a publisher’s or author’s prerogative to include or
exclude whatever they want. However, we should be concerned.secular

I’m confused about what sort of challenge these people want. Most homeschool material is curriculum and doesn’t cover the history of education and how homeschooling really got its groove on. If you want to look into the history of home education, specifically, then yes, I’d probably agree that Christian homeschoolers had a lot to do with either challenging state laws that made homeschooling illegal or helping to clarify where the law was vague or didn’t address it at all. I just don’t understand what obligation anyone could possibly have to the original (Christian?) political activists from years ago, or what challenge they’re after. No one, to my knowledge, is denying that Christian activists paved the way for homeschooling to become more mainstream. But I don’t go around thanking the descendants of the Revolutionary War for establishing American’s independence (although I could – <looks in mirror> Thank you, Heather, for your ancestor’s service. Why, you’re most welcome, Heather! Cheers!!)  And just who is it sitting around wanting acknowledgement – those who fought those battles likely have grand or great-grandchildren by now – haven’t they moved on to bigger and better things?? I just don’t get it.

And what does that even mean, ‘remake homeschooling in its own image’. Do they mean ‘secular’? Because that doesn’t mean ‘anti-Christian’. Literally, the definition of secular is: denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis. You know, like school/education… which can have a spiritual or religious component, but is not, in and of itself, a religious activity. I would love for one of these alarmist articles to use the word ‘secular’ correctly just once! Lots of things are secular – baths…baths are secular. So is mowing the lawn and feeding the cat. Secular doesn’t mean ‘bad’, nor does it mean that you are in any way prohibited from bathing in Holy Water, or asking the Lord’s blessings upon your lawnmower or praying over your cat’s Tuna Delight. It just means that they’re mundane things; not inherently spiritual. And that’s perfectly fine.

But to say that they are an ignored population or imply that they are in any way under attack, is baffling. In my city and surrounding area, for example, at one point there were thirteen homeschooling groups/co-ops. Of those only ONE was secular/inclusive. I also am part of a Texas-wide secular homeschooling group, and there are places where there is an active homeschooling community but only one family that isn’t faith-based for a hundred miles or more. I hardly think that by any stretch of the imagination, the Christian population of homeschoolers is in any way under-served. Not to mention that it’s pretty presumptuous to assume that all homeschoolers are Christian (or white, or mom is the primary teacher, or that the students are her own children – assumptions are bad, m’kay?). Homeschooling has attracted so many more types of people and families since the early days.

The article continues:

Potential or new homeschoolers who pick up the latest secular tome claiming to be the greatest ever guide to homeschooling will receive a distorted picture of the movement that overlooks the enormous impact and influence of Christian culture on homeschooling. Many new and veteran homeschoolers will pick up these books because they have “homeschooling” in the title, and may undiscerningly recommend them to others, tacitly endorsing the secularized viewpoint of these publications. Large bookstore chains will carry these books, often to the exclusion of books published by Christian publishers and authors, throwing the weight of their reputation behind this new and more “PC” brand of homeschooling. This could, potentially, influence public opinion, and even legislation.

The reality, of course, is that this is business as usual in our culture. But the net effect of this in a decade could be the co-opting of the national homeschool movement by secularists. Christian homeschooling would not go away, but in the new institutionalized, culturally acceptable form, it would likely be marginalized.

Again, unless you’re specifically looking into the history of homeschooling, most ‘homeschooling 101’ manuals don’t cover the start of the homeschooling movement. Even if they did, homeschooling has changed so much since the ’70s and ’80s – even the ’90s for that matter. It’s hard enough keeping up with the legal requirements year to year – who has time, and it it even necessary to read up on how homeschooling became a thing? If you’re interested in it – sure; but I’d be willing to bet most people don’t care. Even when I started homeschooling my own kids, researcher that I am, I don’t recall ever feeling like I needed to delve into the history of homeschooling; all I really needed to know about homeschooling was: is it legal? what do I have to do? how do we get started? Short of knowing that the case that made it legal in Texas was TEA v. Leeper 1991, I have literally not looked any deeper into the history of homeschooling than that.

Do Christian homeschoolers get a nod of thanks for the work they did to legalize homeschooling? Sure; maybe. But Christian homeschoolers, despite making up the majority of the homeschooling population overall, aren’t the only ones out there. Their presence is obvious; their impact and influence over the materials isn’t likely to go away anytime soon. Take a trip to any homeschool store or convention, and the stacks are overflowing with Christian-based materials – I can’t even say ‘faith-based’ because the overwhelming majority of the material out there is Christian-influenced. So color me very confused when I ask what in the name of Merlin these people are even talking about. Most of us who prefer a secular curriculum have to look long and hard to find resources; and if you’re looking for resources within a particular style of homeschooling (like Charlotte Mason), essentially your only option is to ‘secularize’ a Christian resource.

Of course companies have started capitalizing on homeschool culture, and thank goodness they did or we’d all be trying to adapt other resources still (which sucks). My siblings and I were homeschooled in the early/mid ’90s, and my cousins were homeschooled throughout (so from roughly 1982-1998-ish). I remember my aunt sharing resources with my mom, but most were classroom-designed materials that were adapted for homeschool use. Nowadays, there are myriad resources that start out for homeschool use.  Most are Christian-based, but more and more come out every year that are secular, which is awesome! That doesn’t mean that Christian resources will go away. I dare say that most secular homeschoolers look at some of the models of Christian homeschooling and shudder – their goal being to move in as far opposite a direction from that model as possible. Even some mainstream curriculum options are often shunned by some Christian homeschoolers because it’s based on a 6,000 year old Earth model rather than based in fact. While I disagree with that, personally, I recognize that it is your right to use those materials if you choose to, and I’m not out campaigning for laws to restrict their use. I think it’s a fair application of ‘live and let live’.

Obvious disclaimer is obvious… there are a great many – the majority, even – Christian homeschoolers out there who want nothing to do with this kind of crazy-pants fanaticism. I recognize that the worldview perpetuated by the image that set this post off is a small, but unfortunately vocal, population of faith-based homeschoolers, and that this stereotype is just as damaging to the overall perception of Christianity as terrorists are to Islam and Muslim people and culture. I think most people get that. It certainly isn’t the responsibility of the normal/average Christian to dispel these kinds of perceptions, and I don’t expect the average/normal Christian homeschooler to do that. I can only ever speak from my own experience, and over the last decade, I feel like homeschoolers that aren’t faith-based have finally started to make themselves known. Homeschooling is SO MUCH MORE ACCESSIBLE now, and that is amazing. There are all kinds of people homeschooling – working moms, stay at home dads, single parents, parents who work/school cooperatively with other families, virtual-schoolers, unschoolers, straight parents, queer parents, non-traditional families, faith-based homeschoolers, Christians who use secular resources, and literally every other niche dynamic I can think of… it’s incredible and wonderful and diverse and I am happy to be part of it… and it bothers me that there are still people who want to take that away because it’s not exactly ‘their’ perception of Right™.

Y’all go out and play nice! Follow Jesus’ example of ‘How to be a Compassionate Adult in 1 Easy Step’ (spoiler: Step 1: Don’t be a dick.).

Just food for thought.
Warmly,
~h


Sex-Positive Sex Education

 So here’s a topic that’s been on my mind a lot lately. With two pre-teen boys in the house, I think it’s a good idea to check in with them periodically to see what they’re thinking and going through, and to reiterate our family’s position and expectations on various topics with them. As they get older the topics of puberty, sex, and related issues come up, and if they don’t then I feel like it’s my responsibility to bring those topics up with them.

Sex is by no means a ‘new’ topic for my children; I’ve been a breastfeeding counselor and worked as a birth doula for a many years, so they’ve had access to age-appropriate information about the birds and bees all along. When they were old enough to start asking questions, we always answered factually, but let them guide the depth of the conversation. We started with simple, factual answers, using proper names for body parts and terms – no ‘cutesy’ stuff that might muddy the waters – because I feel that information is good for them. It also normalizes those conversations that have the potential to become ‘uncomfortable’ if you wait until kids are old enough for body-awareness and self-consciousness issues to come up. Not to say that it erases it completely, but open communication as a staple of family life is important, IMO.

Once we started homeschooling, we added in a more ‘formal’ health class, which included use of the FLASH curriculum. We’ve gone through it once already, and will be covering it again this year, with added material from Planned Parenthood and other websites (most of which are linked in various place throughout this post). I’ve bought the boys several of the ‘growing up’ and ‘about my body’ books for them to read through at their leisure, and added some kid-friendly health websites to their computer desktops so they can research on their own. We also worked through a lapbook on puberty and sex that I made (which will be posted eventually). We’ve even tackled conversations about having sex for the first time, proper use of condoms, and what kinds of things they would want to do afterwards (like condom disposal and washing up). They’ve never been restricted as far as information goes pertaining to what they ask about, and I’d not have it any other way.

The approach we take is called ‘sex-positive’ sex education. It’s talks about sex as a normal, natural, pleasurable experience. It’s open and honest communication, without the tinge of embarrassment, guilt and shame that often accompanies the topic of sex.

It’s pretty much the polar opposite of what’s ‘allowed’ to be taught in Texas schools, which uses shame and religious oppression in a failing attempt to reduce teen pregnancy and transmission of STDs by promoting ‘abstinence only’ education. I won’t go into how ineffective that method is; the fact that Texas is among the highest in the USA for teen (and even pre-teen) pregnancy (5th, actually), and first in the US for repeat teen pregnancy speaks for itself. If their goal is kids having kids, then I say, ‘Well done!’

Additionally, for many in the religious set, children are often coerced into entering verbal contracts with their parents, peer groups and/or youth pastors to remain ‘pure’ until marriage. This trend of tying a child’s self-worth to their sexual status is disturbing at best; abusive and creepy at worst. For something that’s a natural biological process, supposedly instilled in us by the Creator, to be so vehemently linked to sin and corruption and impurity just begs for sexual dysfunction later in life.  I really love that quote by Bertrand Russell. It states exactly how I feel about ‘biblical morality’.

Before I go much farther, let me address something (because I KNOW this will come up). I am, in no way, advocating that persons under the age of consent (in Texas, see: Texas Penal Code Section 21.11) engage in any type of sexual activity. What I AM addressing is that I believe that all children, including yours, have the right to know what will happen, or is happening, to their body at the onset of and during puberty, and that they have the right to know that masturbation and sex are normal, biological functions, and that their self-worth is in no way related to their virgin status. I believe that they are entitled to factual information, free from constraints put in place by a puritanical history with no medical or scientific basis. Furthermore, I believe that all children, especially those near or undergoing puberty, should have enough knowledge about sex and sex acts to protect themselves and their partner(s) should they find themselves in a situation where such knowledge is critical.

So what level of education is appropriate for pre-teens?

Well, that depends on a lot of things, including but not limited to: your personal beliefs and stance; your child’s maturity level (both mental/emotional as well as physical – meaning that if your child is physically more mature, then s/he probably needs at least some of the information even if you aren’t sure if s/he’s emotionally or mentally ready for the full picture); your environment and his/her associates – is s/he likely to get this information from peers, and if so, is that where you want your child’s support to come from? (not that that’s inherently a bad thing, but you do want to ensure that the information s/he’s getting is factual, and you still want that open line of communication with your kid).

For my children, this includes more detailed information as they get older, including the idea that sex is pleasurable, normal and healthy for adults to engage in. We’ve talked about appropriate speech in company – with friends vs. in mixed company (either girls or adults), being conscious of who else is around them (younger children).

At this age, consent is an important topic. They need to understand what consent is, and what it isn’t. How is consent conveyed? How can signals be misinterpreted? How do you voice your consent? How do you express dissent? Consent is important for them to understand, not only for themselves, to know if they’re being coerced or taken advantage of, but also so they can identify consent in their partners. I believe that consent starts from a very early age. Helping children own their bodies is a key factor in developing the confidence to voice dissent when it matters. The GoodMenProject has a great article that can help parents develop good communication habits that help children understand consent from a young age.

Pre-teens and teens also need to know what qualifies as ‘sexual contact’. This is where a lot of parents get sorta squidgy. Who likes talking about sex acts with their kids? Our parents never had to do that… which is probably an ideal example of why we should talk to our kids about sex acts. If you’re super uncomfortable talking about it, at least direct your kids to something appropriate, like PlannedParenthood’s What is Sex? article. Once they know what sex is, then talks about being ready and protection – for your child, and for his or her partner – can begin. Along with talks about sex, talks about drugs and alcohol, ‘partying’ and what to do if/when they get into a situation where they need help are natural progressions. It’s equally important to talk about being victimized, and to make sure your children know that if they are assaulted, it’s not their fault. EVER. Talk about ‘slut-shaming’ and ‘victim-blaming’. Talk about ‘rape culture’, and about how they can be advocates. Talk, talk, TALK!

And if you agree that information is important for kids, it’s absolutely crucial if your child is gay, lesbian, queer, transgendered, bisexual, asexual or falls in any way outside of the mainstream. LGBTQ kids have all of the same pressures that other kids face, as well as the unique issues that falling outside the mainstream brings. The Trevor Project is a great place to learn about how being LGBTQ affects a child, how to deal with your own thoughts and feelings, and most importantly, how you can help them, especially if you think your child might be suicidal. There are websites devoted to helping parents talk to their LGBTQ child, and others that can help parents understand and support their child. Even if your child is straight, help him/her be an ally. Talking with him/her about gender and sexual orientation is important. Because of how society views sex and gender, including promoting homophobia, sexism, and transphobia by not talking about it, it’s important that children are taught that these characteristics are no more exclusionary than skin, hair or eye color – just another variation of ‘normal’ that makes our world such a  grand, diverse, beautiful place to live in.

Armed with this information, how do we keep them safe? I think that information is the first string of safety precautions. The more open and communicative your family is, the fewer things get ‘stuffed’. Most kids have smart phones, and there are apps that are specifically designed to help them, like the Circle of 6 app, and the Life 360 app. Others, like the bSafe app, even have a feature that will allow you to program an automatic alarm that will trigger if you have not checked in with your friends or family in time.

You might be asking, ‘ How do we keep them from experimenting? How do you keep them from having sex?’

Honestly? The truth is… you can’t. You can, of course, communicate and express your desires for your children. You can let them know what your feelings are as far as sexual relationships go, and what your expectations for them are. Even the dreaded Planned Parenthood has discussion topics and suggested conversation responses to help parents help their teens delay having sex. But I don’t know of any people who wanted to have sex who didn’t because of an external expectations placed on them. Having an open and honestly communicative relationship helps though.

Given the option, I would prefer my children not have sex until they were in a committed relationship and were old enough to accept and responsibly handle the consequences of a sexual relationship. But another hard truth is that my kids’ sexuality belongs to THEM. Not me. It’s not up to me to dictate to them, once they’ve reached the age of consent, what is right for them. But I can influence their choices, and I would *always* rather them have protected sex (and sexual experimentation) than unprotected sex.

Warmly,
~h

 


Fight for Kids, Not Against Them

I came across this article the other day that was about fighting for your boys instead of against them. The post was Christian-based, but made some really valid ideas… up to a certain point.

Some of the first things on the page were amazing observations; that as our sons grow, feeling that we (parents and children) weren’t on the same team anymore; that it’s normal for our children to challenge parental authority as a natural part of breaking from the family unit to seek/establish their own identity; and that emotions can creep in and do their best to persuade Mom that the child is the problem, rather than the situation/behaviour.

I’m totally with her up to that point. I was expecting similarly ‘aware’ progression and advice/solutions to help a parent and a child work through this stage in a positive and productive manner, but what I got was an utter break in rational thought. To be fair, I didn’t realize that this was a Christian-based article; had I known that, I would have been prepared for the abrupt shift from ‘awareness and reason’ to the ‘slam-the-shutters-down’ glaze of reason in favor of the party-line of Christian-based ignorance.

Rather than offer practical solutions, the author completely ignores the *actual* issues like communication, understanding and the like, she introduces unnecessary confusion into the equation by excusing the child’s behaviour completely by blaming ‘Satan’ as the one who’s destroying your relationship with your child and “Jesus/God” and prayer being the solution. Rather than actually DOING anything, she advocates what boils down to making a series of wishes, crossing your fingers and hoping that things will get better while absolving yourself of any further responsibility. After all, it’s not our fault that these issues escalate; it’s ‘Satan’.

I’ve never understood this  mindset – that parents bear no responsibility. Putting the onus on parents to ‘pray harder’ or ‘do more’ (which usually means getting more involved at church, which ends up taking the parents even further away from their kids) makes parents feel even more helpless, and that things are even further removed from their hands to ‘fix’ things. Perpetuating the idea that parents can’t be wrong under the guise of being ‘godly’ only further alienates children from their parents, because the solutions aren’t family-based. All the kids end up seeing is a parent traveling a road that the child isn’t on, doesn’t understand, or isn’t interested in. More effective, I believe, if for parents to be open to the idea that they may have things ALL WRONG. Examine their methods and look for flaws. Admitting to their mistakes, acknowledging their humanity and propensity to make mistakes levels the playing field and puts you all firmly on the same side. How much easier is it for a child to admit to his mistakes when a parent first admits their own?

I believe in helping my children understand that they control their own actions, just as I do. We all make decisions each and every step of our lives, and they aren’t always the right ones. But even a misstep can be re-directed. It’s not some invisible evil that tempts and lures us; it’s decision-making on our part. Sure, we can be led astray, or get lost for a time, but having a family structure that allows for mistakes and is supportive about correcting them can help set things right again. Cultivating an environment within the family of being honest with ourselves about how we feel, what we need, asking for help when we need it, and a host of other issues that both begin and end with the parents. I don’t believe that there is an invisible force that will magically fix things, or in excusing my children’s undesirable behaviours (due to immaturity, lack of experience or hormonally-driven out of control emotions) because of ‘Satan’. Poking your head in the sand never solved anything. Perpetuating a culture of helplessness by shirking the monumental task of raising children to be responsible, self-aware adults who contribute positively to society is detrimental to our future on this planet. It’s even more difficult when the parents are re-working their own childhood trauma to make better decisions for their own families.

The practical solution to this issue begins when they are small. Children understand language long before they have the ability to speak. If even a 6 month old dog can understand basic commands, think how much more intelligent our children are. If we give our children the vocabulary to describe their feelings, help them focus on how they feel as a basis for asking for what they need, imagine how much more concise their communication will be when they’re older. Sometimes, for myself especially, this means learning to do that for yourself is the first step – and it’s a hard one. While this is my ideal, it’s certainly not always attainable; I’m human and fallible, not a robot that can be programmed without deviation to a previous operating system. I’ve also failed in numerous ways to override my first impulse and implement the new ways of communication that I’ve striven to learn. Thankfully, my kids are both understanding and forgiving, and we continue to learn together.

I’m not an expert of child-rearing, but I do know that ‘prayer’, at least when applied to this type of situation, isn’t a solution. It may be part of a solution, but it’s not going to work without the active involvement of the parents and cooperative action from the children. Kids need active parenting – proActive parenting, even. Especially as pre-teens and teens, when they’re going through the agonizing process of separating themselves from their identity as an almost-adult instead of ‘X’s child’. I would so much rather have my children know that they can come to me with mist-steps along the way and know that they will find a hearing (and understanding) ear rather than a disappointed tut-tut and reference to the Nation of Israel, or some other biblical anecdote that vaguely mirrors the situation they’ve come to me with (I always HATED that as a kid).

I don’t ‘like’ organized religion as a whole; that’s no secret. But if you’re religious, that’s fine – pray, pray for your kids, pray with them. But please don’t make the mistake of praying and thinking that you’re done. Offspring are long-term projects; ones that take YEARS to fully develop, and they need you every step of the way.

Warmly,
~h