Third Sunday of Advent

This was the Sunday of the pink candle. It is “Gaudate” Sunday or Rejoice Sunday. This week we rejoice, according to the bishop, under all circumstances. He spoke of his mail: how sometimes he receives letters of praise for his work and sometimes the letters contain language he can’t repeat in the homily. But he rejoices in the ability to do the work of God. I, too, can point to joy and frustration both in my everyday life, from lost keys and household worries as well as loving friends and family, good jobs, warmth and light in winter. In all things we rejoice, because the Lord is coming.

IMG194But we are still waiting. The shepherds are still watching their flocks.

IMG196The three kings are still trying to get that camel to stand up so they can continue their journey to meet Jesus. (I can only imagine what they are saying to it!)

IMG195And the stable is empty. We intrepid homeschoolers are still in school, getting our work finished so we can prepare for the feast day of our Lord’s birth. In a few days  we hope to finish shopping, make a gift or two, decorate the tree and celebrate.

Rejoice!

“I Can’t”

I am reading Anna Quindlen’s book Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake for book club this month. It’s her memoir thinly disguised as a book of her musings on aging. In it she says “Failure is terrifying to the young.” She precedes this by noting “The older we get the more willing we are to follow [paths we didn’t see coming], to surprise ourselves. After all, all we can do is fail, and failure loses so much of its sting over time.”

She follows this with a chapter on the little stories we tell ourselves. I’m very familiar with these: the “I can’t” stories. Some would call them the “I don’t” stories: I don’t run, I can’t cook, I’m not good at learning languages. Quindlen seems to think that old age is the time to challenge these stories, but I don’t agree. You have to challenge them earlier than that. You have to challenge them as a teen.

“I don’t” stories are self protective. A teen that fears failure might as well say up front that he or she can’t/doesn’t do something so as not to be disappointed. In a world that gives you no points for being basically competent at anything, being good enough just won’t cut it. Teens who are used to having their work compared to others and found wanting may build up huge walls of “I don’ts.”

They serve another purpose, too. We live in an era where everything about our identities is up for grabs, even to the point of gender. This isn’t necessarily freeing for all of us. It was easier in earlier generations, and, I believe, healthier to have some things about ourselves decided already. So “I don’t” or “I can’t” is a form of setting boundaries around who we are. We will do it ourselves if it isn’t already done for us.

Charlotte Mason’s school motto is different. It is “I am, I can, I ought, I will.”

I have started the practice of keeping notebooks with my teens, and have run up against a fairly significant “I can’t.” I can’t draw. I can’t paint. Pretty much everything I attempt looks exactly like it did when I was 8.

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I personally have had a long history of challenging my notions of what I can and can’t do. Although I never considered myself athletic, I played basketball with friends in middle school, and even tried out. I wasn’t good enough for the team, but I got good enough that I wasn’t picked last when we played for fun. I learned to sail in my 20’s. I have been known to lead instead of follow. I occasionally sing solo. I’m working on a science curriculum for my daughter despite dropping out of physics in high school. So I accept my drawn work as roughly representational of the object in front of me and leave it at that.

But my kids have inherited my artistic challenges, and they aren’t so willing. Drawing is not something they choose to do for fun, it is not part of their self-identity, and their failure to do it well is discouraging to them. So what does it take?

Here is where Mason’s saying “Habit is ten natures” bears fruit. When “I don’t” is replaced with “I do,” then “I can’t” is replaced with “I can.” If you believe keeping notebooks is important for your homeschool, and there’s a good case for that, then you make time for it and it gets checked off along with readings and narrations. This is the key: if it is important. Once you are convinced that it makes a difference, you don’t give up.

Mason’s other saying, “Never give a child a task they cannot do perfectly” is also reasonable advice, and I’ve had to relearn and reinterpret it again and again for myself. An artist friend told me that I should not expect to paint a landscape or even a whole tree when working in my nature notebook. She said to pick just one leaf or draw just the bark of the tree. When asking a child or teen to draw, have them reproduce a simple drawing or choose an article in the museum they feel confident reproducing.

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Finally, don’t compare. Honestly, because I am weak, I could not look often at blogs where the author happens to be a good artist. Once we can accept ourselves as basically competent and be happy with that, we’ll be better able to rejoice in the work of those with real talent. Kids are no different. I had thought to keep a family Book of Centuries so as to have fewer notebooks to keep track of, but Mason had her students solely responsible for their work. Therefore, keeping a family notebook may be difficult. I may have to cover over my work so that my kids can be happy with their own, or work in entirely different centuries.

Here’s to praying that my kids’ future “I don’ts” are not because they ever thought “I can’t.”

Dear T-Mobile

I think it’s time you educated your customer service staff.

Let’s come to a mutual understanding of the word “free.” Even better, let’s talk about what I, the customer, might deem a good value.

My husband, son and I come into your store with my son’s cell phone, one we purchased at that same store in August. It doesn’t work. When we say it doesn’t work, we mean it neither makes nor receives phone calls, which are what phones are intended to do. It is an Alcatel, admittedly your low-end model, but all I want for my son is that he be able to send and receive texts and phone calls.

Jaime is very friendly, and he is able to get the phone working again, but he is unable to say exactly why the phone would not pick up your signal. This is disconcerting; it’s nice that it works, less nice that we have no idea how long it will work until it quits again. He says it should be working fine now, and when it quits just bring it in again.

Then he says the magic words: “How would you like a free tablet? We’re only offering them today.” Okay, let’s look at this free tablet. Hmmm, it’s an Alcatel. He says it has so much memory, we can play Minecraft on it. I don’t need Minecraft, my son has a tablet, so the tablet would be for me, as I still do not have a smart phone. But here’s the catch: we’d have to add $10 per month to add a data line for the tablet.

I don’t know if I can add another monthly fee, I tell Jaime. We’re still paying for one tablet. This isn’t looking all that free.

“Maybe I can look at your plan and help you. Sometimes new plans come out and we can offer our customers a better deal.” And he takes us to the front desk. There he discovers we’ve blocked data.

“Oh, I see you have data blocked. We’d have to unblock data. We can put you on an unlimited data plan for $20, for all your devices. And then we add the $10 for a line for your free Alcatel tablet.”

“I don’t want data,” I say.

“Why don’t you want data?” Why would we want data? I tell him, when my kids go somewhere, when I go somewhere, I want to be present to what we are doing and who we are with. I don’t need another distracting screen.

Fine then, it’s still $10/month for the free tablet.  “So, when this breaks (it is, after all, an Alcatel) do I pay $10 a month for the rest of my life?”

“Oh, no. You can stop the service after 2 years. But the tablet is free. You could always sell the tablet.”

“Uh, no. That would make the tablet $240. Then I would have no tablet and service I won’t use.” And who would buy a low-end tablet after 2 years? 

Still, I comment, $240 is pretty cheap for a tablet.

“Yes, Alcatel’s strength is that they produce quality products for a very low price.”

“Like my son’s phone?”

“Well, that’s an old model.”

“It was new when we bought it in August!”

“Well, it wasn’t their best model.”

“That’s not what the salesman said when we bought it.”

“Look,” says Jaime, “If you don’t want the plan, you can just buy the tablet outright.”

“For $240?”

“Well, actually, they run for $168.”

“Every day?”

“Every day.”