Monday, August 23, 2010

Flying Pants

You might have noticed a distinctly large pause in my retelling of our lovely Ireland trip. I'm not attempting to chuck it out the window, but I also feel that I shouldn't keep you waiting for the next installment of What's Happening To Beatrice.

I started homeschooling my kids today. Well, 2/3 of them. The remaining 1/3 took a few tentative crawling steps today, so I guess I could claim that I'm teaching her something. Mostly she just wanted to get her chubby little fists around another pair of Polly Pocket pants that would cause her (again) to choke and me to run (again) for the phone to (again) call 911.

But back to the 2/3. Just as an interesting side note, I've always liked fractions. I cannot explain this, but I've always felt that in the mysterious and yet still frighteningly dull world that is everyday mathematics, fractions are the most like letters. I've always had somewhat of an obsession of counting letters and syllables and separating conversation into equal or comparable parts (fractions!).


I would like to tell you that I spent hour upon hour researching the best method of teaching for my future Rhodes Scholars. I should have color coded schedules of WHEN to implement, HOW to execute, WHY to teach. I would also like to tell you that I read the introduction to each textbook, and have lesson plans for at least the next month.

But I don't. I'm putting that out there because...well...because I am. I'm hoping that other parents might read this and feel really, really good about their own parenting and/or teaching skills. *Or* they just might feel that they aren't the only ones who are flying by the seat of their pants. And then, if they are even more like me, they will wonder how you fly by the seat of your pants anyways. Where on pants should one fly? In my opinion, pants should be stationary objects. Legs inside the pants can of course be called upon to walk...but pants moving about of their own volition would be terribly frightening and a reason to go inside and lie down until you don't see moving pants anymore.

I'm excited and terrified and ready and unprepared to be teaching my kids this year. I don't want to wax poetic/insane about why I'm choosing to keep them home. Let's just say that the matter is complicated and this seemed the best option.

But in parenting, as in life, I find that the rules and the expectations are sometimes too complex that I cannot even bear to think of how much more I can take before utterly breaking apart and writing wax poems about flying pants.

Should I be frank? I'd rather be hazel. But I'll go with conventional wisdom here.

My house burned in June. Not a kitchen fire that you might expect from one who literally burns the first grilled cheese every stinking time. Not even a contained fire that has us renovating the downstairs bathroom. Short of the entire house burning to the ground in a pile, our house is ruined. The outside seems the same, aside from a black flame of cakey smoke on the garage brick. But inside...inside, my house is gone.

The insurance will fix it, so they say. Most days, I'm pretty hopeful that no matter how difficult Allstate Insurance has been, (you read it here folks!) they will make the house livable again.

But first we had to wait. We had to step through puddles of grimy muck and recognize the Monet print that my dad bought me for Christmas when I was 15. We had to look at the perfect shade of red paint, peeling now in patches to reveal that all of Painter Austin's hard work last year was now literally up in smoke.

We talked to an adjuster. Then another. Then the first one. Then the second one's boss. Then another and another and another and I'm not exaggerating.

Our amazing friends and church family helped us clean the refrigerator that Austin swears was more disgusting than the time he had to peel a fried cat off our car engine. (Sorry...hope you aren't eating.) They pulled our things out of boxes, took pictures, wrote down each item, and made jokes while we tried to feel lighthearted about this ridiculous new project that we don't really have time or heart or stomach for.

And it all seemed to be ok. In fact, it seemed almost comically unbelievable.

And then one Saturday, while working in the heat of a hideously warm southern summer, I pulled two small hats out of a dirty box. Flies swarmed around my hands, covered in gloves, covered in black ash. I had written down individual brands, sizes, colors of pants, shoes, toys, dishes, pictures, dolls, books, blankets. I felt sad sometimes, but really...I know that life is so much more important than the things we keep.

But the two hats...they were something different. I held them, sat on the dirty floor of the burned out room that used to be our garage. And, hopefully kept secret by my breathing mask and sunglasses, I cried. I cried and couldn't stop crying. The little pink Mickey Mouse hats had my girls' names sewn on the back, recalling a lovely Disneyland vacation. And for whatever reason, they made it hard to breathe, made the fire hard to bear. The rivulets of grimy tears were still etched on my face hours later when I came to my parent's house, now my home, to bathe.

Finally in the comfort and security of a hot shower, I tried to wash away the feeling that I had let my children down. I tried to fumigate the smoky feelings of inadequacy and failure. I scrubbed at my nails, I scrubbed at my legs, and I scrubbed at the idea that things matter...but they don't...but they do.

I can't say that I'm over the feelings yet. Every time I visit the burned house (as it is now called in Cagle vocabulary) I try to remind myself that a house is just a house, even when it was a home. Every time I'm away for a few days, I tell myself that it isn't as bad as I am making it out to be. The walls are still there.

So...what does homeschooling have to do with flying pants? I'm not sure. Throw in my sad thoughts about Mickey hats and my wreck of a home and I don't know how to tie it all together.

I guess I will go for the obvious and say that when you aren't sure how to teach your kid math and when you aren't sure why the small stitched hats make you cry, you have to remember that in the probably isn't as bad as you are making it out to be. Right?

I could be bordering on delusion, but what I've told myself is that when it is hard for me to teach multiplication and why we must learn about nomads, I can just set it aside and at least build up the walls of the kids' education. Make them love to learn, and the rest can fall into place. They don't have to know why yet, but they do have to want to know why. Fan the flame of love of learning and the resulting warmth will take them farther than mere facts and figures.

When it is hard for me to wait up for Austin to get home, and when I wonder why I must learn about patience (grocery shopping with three whole children) I can just set it aside and build up those things that make my family what it is. We laugh together. We spend money on hats with our names on them, even though we'll only wear them once.

It probably doesn't make any sense, or, *gasp* sounds like the last section of Eat,Pray,Love in which the author gets so obscure in her desire to make sense that she she borders on Great Aunt Martha kind of crazy.

But I kept the hats. They are full of smoke and are permanently smudged with the thick, greasy nastiness that is fire aftermath. But they are reminders of what is important, even when you are throwing out everything you have.


Anonymous said...

Dearest Beatrice,

"...I scrubbed at the idea that things matter...but they don't...but they do."

When Isabella was born I had a girl show up to visit me in the hospital from London. She didn't fly in from London just to see me, though that I can pretend... no, she had been someone I worked with who I was positive hated me. I continued being my people pleasing, cheery self, and didn't understand why ANYONE could hate me (insert sarcasm here). Nonetheless, I spoke, was polite, and witnessed to the best of my ability. When Isabella was born she showed up, flying into my room out of nowhere (so it seemed) and gave me this beautiful coffee mug and then she flew out as quickly as she'd flown in. I never seen or heard from her again after that moment (last I heard she was back in London and not in a very good 'place'). The coffee mug said, "If flowers were friends, I'd pick you." It touched me to the core. Each time I used that cup I would say a prayer for her. One day, in a fit of rage, someone (who shall remain nameless) destroyed it out of spite along with a precious picture. I tried gluing the shattered pieces of the mug and taping the picture back together from a billion pieces into one, though was unsuccessful with both.

Time heals all wounds (such a cliche but so very true, well time and the love of God)... while I was devastated at the moment, felt as though the very life was sucked out of my soul (over something much less valuable than your home)but things, the memories attached to the things, matter.

"Fan the flame of love...", not just in learning, you're fanning it all you do, in the person you are, in the reflection your children see.

While most times I'm laughing, or agreeing, or at times shouting "I love Beatrice Blount" when reading your words, today I find myself crying. Crying in your pain, knowing the feeling of loss... crying in a grieving spirit in recognition of knowing the loss... yet crying with overwhelming joy in knowing that God has you and your family and He has great things ahead for you.

I am honored and privileged and blessed to know you. Thank you...

Great Aunt Martha

Antonia (Toni) said...

Tiff, my heart was breaking for you! We know it's not things that matter but it is the memories we place upon those things.

Take a day and revisit that day and write your feelings regarding your special day. Save it for your children. They will cherish it!

Lori Buck said...

Aww, I was eating while reading this, so the cat part made me a little nauseous. All kidding aside, I had no idea you lost so much. For some reason I thought it was a small, contained fire. We all say that "things don't matter" but we know in our hearts that they do - to some extent. They don't matter the most, but they do hold places in our hearts and some of them deserve to be grieved over.

As for the homeschooling, I am flying around willy-nilly by my pants, and it's working out okay so far. Post-its stuck on the next day's lesson are my favorite thing. Why write it down and plan? Just open the book and start reading and grab whatever you need then. It's not everyone's style, but it's mine.