Category Archives: Parent

For The Love Of Handwriting

Sometimes I see this kind of post on Facebook:

I love handwriting. I think everyone should have a good, fluid, readable handwriting style. But. I can’t subscribe to this knee-jerk ‘we must teach loopy handwriting to seven year olds so they can read the Constitution’ mindset.

I’m Pretty Smart But…

When I went to university as a joint English/History student, I couldn’t read this:

I certainly couldn’t read this:

(in cast you’re wondering, it’s the Magna Carta, one of the most important governmental documents in my country’s past, and still hugely important in the history of most modern democracies).

People Who Can’t Read Cursive

My husband, who can get by in French, can read scientific documents in German, has a PhD and did postdoctoral research at Harvard, has invented a couple of drugs, and makes the world a better place every day, didn’t understand why he could no longer read our son’s writing when the boy hit second grade.

The school had taught him cursive…which my drug-designing, guitar-playing, Latin-reading, grammar-correcting, polymath husband had never been taught.

It hasn’t exactly held him back.

And if he needed to know what the Constitution said, he would learn cursive. Or ask a trusted source.

Which brings me to Point A and Point B of this blog post.

Point A – The Love of Learning

Should we really be spending valuable time in elementary school, forcing children to learn an archaic type of handwriting that they may or may not ever need?

What better way to squash the love of learning in children who may not have the manual dexterity (from the Latin for “right-handed”, dating from a time when left-handedness was considered a sign of being in congress with the Devil) to master it? I know both my boys have HORRIBLE handwriting, in spite of their teachers’ efforts to make them write like 18th Century schoolgirls, because they lacked the interest or fine motor skills to master the form at such a young age.

I understand that it’s a good thing to be able to be able to read your country’s founding documents in the original.

But it’s not essential.

I learned to read Middle English in order to appreciate Chaucer…but I was 19 at the time, and had elected to study English Literature full-time at university.

I learned to read early moveable type fonts (think: Gutenberg. All those elongated “S”s!) so I could read explorer’s journals of their voyages to the New World…but, by that time I was 20 and thrilled to be given the opportunity to do so (white cotton gloves, no backpack, and frowning, supervisory Rare Book Librarians, and all!)

More importantly, I learned to rely on translations of things that are considered the founding documents of their disciplines. I read Beowulf (arguably the first great English language epic) in translation (fabulous translation by the poet Seamus Heaney) because I can’t make heads nor tails of the Old English. I trust the scholars to have done that for me. Scholars funded by public and private funding sources. Scholars who are (ideally) free to concentrate on the work, not the politics or economics of doing their job.

I was developmentally ready, and I was excited, to learn these things. I wasn’t 7 years old. I wasn’t trying to learn to decode and to compose at the same time as I was trying to read these new forms of writing. I was mature. I could handle it.

Point B – Trust, But Verify

If we are to have any hope of living in a society, we must learn to have trusted sources, to trust each other. We must learn to allow people to be experts, and trust that their motives are no less impure than our own.

I don’t read the Bible in the original languages; I trust 2,000 years of church scholars to come to some kind of understanding of the text that represents The Truth (even in 14 years of Catholic school, the only time I really learned any Latin was in the music room!). I trust Seamus Heaney to represent the spirit and the letter of the poetry of Beowulf. I read side-by-side versions of Chaucer and used scholarship and judgment to figure out if the ‘translation’ was trustworthy.

No, we shouldn’t rely on one or two people to tell us what’s in our historical documents.

Yes, we should fund robust and independent scholarship, so that we alway have experts who can give us diverse (and probably argumentative) arguments about what they mean.

We do not ALL need to by polymaths, Renaissance Men, or Jacks of All Trades.

It’s OK to be an expert and trust other experts. (For example, I don’t want my hypothetical heart surgery to be performed by my General Practitioner/Family Doctor, and I’m fairly certain she’d be much happier to recommend whichever “nice Jewish boy” — her usual, impish referral — she respects the most.)

I Love Handwriting

I’m not against teaching handwriting. Far from it. I think it’s important.

  • Handwriting lights up parts of the brain that typing doesn’t, boosting both creativity and memory.
  • Handwriting allows you to slow down and consider what you’re saying, compose sentences before you write them down.
  • Being able to write with a pen, means putting your hands all over the paper, which you can then send to someone miles away. They can hold it, knowing that you held it. They can touch it and feel a thrilling connection to the physical reality of you.
  • When I look back at my handwritten notes and journals, I can see what mood I was in simply from the size and shape of my handwriting.
  • It’s important to be able to write fluently, fluidly and in a way that can be read by yourself and the general population, because computers and keyboards are not always practical or optimal. (For the record, I recommend learning to write in a nice, clean italic, joined-up style. If you have already learned to write, you can still teach yourself this style as a useful alternative to printing or cursive.)

And I think it probably is fine to teach cursive handwriting in schools.

But I think it’s probably much more useful to teach them a less-convoluted, more practical form of joined-up writing that lets them take notes quickly and efficiently, and then teach them cursive in the middle school History class and the art room; Latin in the music studio (andante! Edit: Thanks to Craig for gently reminding me that I also learned Italian there too!); and most importantly, let them learn enthusiasm for scholarship and expertise in every room in the school.

To The Woman Who Felt The Need To Correct My Ten Year Old At A Concert

I know it’s a wonderful thing to listen to classical music live.

That’s why I brought my nearly–11 and just-turned–13 year old sons to the school auditorium for the 2pm Sunday performance.

And I know it’s annoying when people distract you.

This is why I’m sure you’ll have noticed (since you were obviously watching us) that I was silently correcting my 10 year old when he got fidgetty: stilling his hands with mine, making sure he wasn’t kicking the seat in front, quietly prompting him between pieces as to how many more movements were still to come.

What Went Down

Towards the 1 hour 10 minute mark, I admit he was moving around a lot. I’m sorry it distracted you. It distracted me too, especially as I felt a responsibility to correct him over and over again, so that he wasn’t disruptive.

Having got to the last piece in the concert, you felt you needed to lean forward and tell him that there was only one piece left, with the unspoken “so for goodness’ sake sit still” hanging in the air.

Thanks.

Thanks for making me really uncomfortable.

Thanks for making me miss most of the last piece as I tried to figure out how much we had annoyed you, or whether you were trying to be supportive. And wondering why you waited until the short, last piece to make your displeasure known.

I’ll bet you didn’t notice the way my boy was squeezing my hand in time with the music. Or the way he shared your chuckle of glee when the motif from the first piece came around again at the end, in a piece by a completely different composer.

I’ll bet you didn’t consider that I’m trying to bring my boys up to be well-mannered, cultured, and excited by the passions of others (wasn’t the violinist amazing, by the way?).

What The Future Holds

I know it’s annoying to be distracted during a concert.

I also know that I was one of the youngest people there, not counting my boys. And I’m 43.

If we want live orchestral music to survive as a form, we need to make concerts (afternoon concerts, at that!) a hospitable place for people with children and for first-time concert-goers. The soloist did. Remember? He told us to go out to the bathroom whenever we needed to; he wouldn’t mind. He said he’d cue us when to clap and, when we got it wrong, he laughed and said “We’ll take it!”. He was the perfect host.

Without people like me — paying full price and bringing along the next generation of fans — orchestras will not survive.

So. I will continue to take my kids to this regional orchestra’s Sunday afternoon concerts in the middle school auditorium. And yes, the 13 year old will read his book for a while. Yes, the 11 year old will fidget towards the end of a long concert without breaks. And then, one day, they’ll be ready for the big city orchestra’s Saturday night concerts, where they will pay big money to hear amazing music, I hope, for the rest of their lives.

If, that is, there are enough people willing to brave the tutters and the sighers to keep orchestras alive that long.

SuperHero

I’ve cooked three different breakfasts (none for me); got medicine into two boys; packed a lunch; dealt with The Mystery Of The Missing Sheet Music (outcome: it’s missing); prodded a boy to do last minute homework we didn’t get to last night because of Prep and dinner and other homework; and been one half of a team that got two boys up, showered, dressed, fed and out of the door with bags, lunches, percussion kit and smiles on their faces; filled in a form and an SAE for dental records for the school; finished a half cup of cold coffee…and it’s 7:35 AM!

And we live within a mile and a half of both schools.

Now I have to get the dishes done, shower, and start my day.

There’s an 8 AM mass I might go to. I know that sounds like I’m adding things to a crowded morning, but I suspect it might actually get me back on course.

P.S. How does a sheet of music evaporate overnight?!

My House Is Empty – Song Of Praise

I’m not saying I dislike my family, or resent them being here.

I’m just saying that there’s a moment, when I close the door behind them, that feels like this:

by Julie Duffy (c) 2015

creative commons noncommercial

Creative Commons License: Attribution, NonCommercial, ShareAlike

My House Is Empty
(to the trad. tune Bunessan, a.k.a. ‘Morning Has Broken’)

(with alternate lyrics for work-outside-the-home parents)

My house is empty!
My house is empty!
I’ll be the only one here all day.
No one to say “no!”;
Ask me a question…
I can do everything my own way.

Yes, there is cleaning.
Yes, there is laundry.
Yes, there are errands that I must run, (alt: Yes, there’s a day job and I must run,)
But there is no one
To interrupt me (alt. Here to detain me);
I am in charge of when they get done (alt. I am in charge of what I get done)

No one will bicker.
No one will rampage.
No one will knock on my bathroom door.
After my six hour (alt. eight hour)
Mental vacation
I can be pleased to see them once more.

You say I’ll miss this
When my nest’s empty,
“Never forget these days are a gift.”
I will endeavour
To count my blessings
As 3pm brings my second shift (alt. As 6 pm brings my second shift)

You may also like: The Parents’ School Morning Lament

Writer, Interrupted

I was having a great writing morning, after a day when I couldn’t get my head to either wake up or focus on one thing for more than four seconds (I think that was, actually, my personal best).

I had just written most of a short story (a new episode in the Forgetown series) and was firing up my laptop in order to transfer my handwritten version into Scrivener (the program I’m using for this and most of my writing now).

“Just about to” I say, because then my 11 year old (wow, that still shocks me. I did so much blogging when he was a baby and toddler, that typing about him as an 11 year old seems weirder than looking at the evidence in front of me) burst out through the door to the deck, clutching handfuls of fabulously creative figures made from bits and pieces of Lego Hero Factory in a cross-over (in our minds at least) with Doctor Who. He wanted to tell me all about what he had created.

And really, how could I say no?

I see it as a mark of my increasing maturity that I did not run flailing around the deck, stamping my feet, wringing my hands and crying ‘No! No! No! But it was all going so well!”. Instead I listened to my child tell me all about his daydreams, made manifest in shades of plastic.

Eventually, of course, I dismissed him with the excuse that I had to get some stuff done before we went out to pick up his brother, and that was perfectly true. But I did listen and nod and even offer a thought or two during the 25 minute oration, which shows I was paying attention and not merely thinking about my own story behind fake-interested eyes!

In the Good News department, I finished the story and typed it up (with roving edits) this afternoon while said brother rotted his brain on a new twitch-video game. Will make amends later.

I’m up to 9 episodes complete in the Forgetown saga. When I get to 10 it might be time to start putting them online.  What do you think?

 

The Parents’ School Morning Lament

Sometimes you just have to write a thing down, so here, in all it’s audio glory, is my Parents’ School Morning Lament, recorded and mixed for you, this morning.

Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 12.14.06 PM

Sound familiar? Leave me a comment!

 

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You may also like: My House Is Empty – A Song Of Praise

Life Skills List

Here are some things I will teach my kids before they leave home (preferably in the pre-teen years). What would you add?

How To:
Sew on a button
Sew a hem
Repair a tear in cloth
Use a sewing machine
Iron a shirt, t-shirt and trousers
Fold their laundry
Sort and wash their laundry
Bake bread
Bake a cake
Make a white sauce
Roast a joint of beef
Make fish & chips
Rehydrate and cook beans
Grow vegetables from seed
Transplant a store-bought plant
Knit
Weave
Three or four different knots
Paint a wall
Sharpen a knife
Basic car maintenance
Budgetting
Write a thank you note
Use a soldering iron

They’ve had a shot at some of this stuff so far, but maybe we need to design an actual course with a checklist on Pinterest and everything :)

What would you add?

Let The Summer Time Roll

I enjoyed our two weeks away, and it was definitely long enough for me to start thinking about all the things I wanted to do when I got back.

There are many writing-related things, of course, but I’m trying to let them take a back-seat to family life, since I have my boys (9 and 7) all to myself for two and a bit more months. That’s a backseat, not ‘getting out of the car and wandering off’, Write-Brain, ya hear me?

So anyhoo, today was the first day of Operation Summer.

MUSIC
Before we left I had purchased three recorders (yes, the musical kind) and two instructional books with the plan of getting the boys good enough to play from the Star Wars and Harry Potter books I had also bought. A has already had some recorder lessons at school and scurried off in an ‘it’s-too-early’ grump this morning, but I managed to snag the sweetly-enthusiastic 7 yo, G. I got him to stop making hideous screeching noises by showing him how the holes make impressions on your finger pads — if you’re doing it right. He was quite tickled by that. Then we went through the book’s lessons on note-length. I’ll say it one more time: the boy has rhythm!

He managed to successfully, if not consistently, play B, A & G, and I left the lesson there for today.

LIFE SKILLS
I confess to being a complete wimp when it comes to grocery shopping and doing it almost always when the boys are at school. So much so that the thought of having to take them with me today filled me with a kind of cold horror reserved by most people for public speaking and death. But I know that part of my job as a parent is to prepare my children to take their place in the real world and function without a mum or a wife or a paid staff to manage their affairs. So I made a list and told myself that I would take them to the shop and send them out to find things and all would be well.

Still I managed to stave it off for a while by saying ‘no, no, leave him with me’ when one of the neighbours sent her son over to play then sneakily announced her intention to slope off to the doctor’s. (Really, it was great; the boys burned off some energy and I got to feel like I did a good deed – even though it mostly involved not-having-to-entertain-my-kids-myself. Win!)

But eventually I could put it off no longer (well, I could have. Of course I could have. We could have eaten chicken breast with Kraft Mac’n’cheese instead of with broccoli and beets and I could have fed the boys month-old Frosties for breakfast).

i put on some soothing classical music in the car, to calm things down on the drive to the store. (It actually worked pretty well. I’m sure it will never work again.) All was calm and serene as we piled out of the minivan and scampered across the grocery store parking lot, the soles of our shoes threatening to melt right off on the boiling tarmac (really! It was like that scene from Terminator 2 where the T-1000 gets stuck to the ground by the liquid nitrogen. Except hot. Not cold. And our feet didn’t actually break off. OK it was nothing like that, but we just watched it again and the image is stuck in my head. Sue me. Unless you’re James Cameron in which case, don’t. You don’t need my money.)

The serenity was quickly broken by cries of ‘quit it’ and “he’s touching me!” and all sorts of joys of childhood that MY children are supposed to be above. I don’t know why this drives parents quite as crazy as it does, given that we were all once children imprisoned in relationships with irritating siblings who knew just which buttons to press to get us in trouble for whining about something THEY did, but it does. Maybe it’s the sheer relentlessness of it. I have been poked so often in that one spot, that just hearing the edge of a whine in a voice makes me wince as if someone has punched me.

In the store I let A drive the trolley for a while until my nerves finally frayed (lord help me when he’s old enough to actually drive). Then I sent the boys out on errands for various fruits and vegetables, but confess to losing heart a little when both boys forsook their quest for their stated heart’s desire – raspberries – to instead marvel at (and hit each other in the face with) a fruit that looked like Banakaffalatta from that Spaceship Titanic Doctor Who Christmas Special with Kyle Minogue. Sending A alone into the dark interior of the produce section to find a solitary orange resulted in my having to mount a rescue party and retrieve him from his position staring blankly at the orange display, clutching a little net bag of pearl onions hopefully in one hand. (“We could make pickled onions!” he said, quite truthfully. We still, however, lacked an orange.)

Somewhere along the line G touched something then stuck his finger in his eye, resulting in a frighteningly blood-red orb leering up from among the brassicas, and A managed to convince met to buy more chips and chocolate than were strictly necessary, but we finally made it to the checkout. Where we were slo-o-o-wly checked out by a boy whose mother really should have taken HIM to the grocery store more often when he was 9 or 7. (“Is this celery?” “No dear, it’s broccoli.”)

All I can say is ‘thank you, Reader’s Digest, for placing your humor issue on the supermarket checkout stands this week. Both boys seized upon it and all was calm as “Zack” picked his red-faced way through my spring onions and (heaven help us!) beets.

COOKING

My celery sensitivity has made many pre-prepared foods a minefield for me -soup and stock among them – so I am currently simmering up a batch of chicken stock, and have already made a teriyaki marinade for tomorrow night’s flank steak (hello, barbecue!). I have part of a chicken tikka marinade ready too, so I’m feeling pretty good about this shopping trip and its results.

Tomorrow morning I plan to use some of the bounty of apples I inadvertently let the boys sneak into the cart to teach A how to make apple pie. From scratch. With nothing but a knife and a rolling pin and the able tutelage of Delia Smith. And that’ll give us a good home for the evaporated milk A wanted to buy.

GARDENING

A insisted on picking up some living parsley while we were in the produce section. I was quite surprised when he, very responsibly insisted on planting it this evening. Sadly he decided to do it right when the mozzies were at their most voracious, but hey. We also scratched out a couple of lines in the soil for carrots. A could definitely be a gardener. That’s something to work on this summer as one of the many ongoing little projects.

LANGUAGE ARTS

I’m also planning on making the boys memorize poetry this summer, because it’s awesome and a huge contributor to one’s ability to use the language properly. While I wait for their materials to arrive, I stalked around the upstairs of the house re-familiarizing myself with “Casey At The Bat” which I learned a couple of years ago but then forgot. I’m using the ‘memory palace’ method to assist me (Google it). In my head, the outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville Nine on my front porch, and Casey advances to the bat in my dining room. And if that didn’t make any sense at all, you need to a, read the poem and b, Google ‘memory palace’.

KNITTING

I’m making fingerless gauntlets. Because it’s 100 degrees.

And that’s what I did on my summer vacation. So far.