His scream punched through the room where I was hiding for my life and sucked me cold out of sleep. It had just turned midnight Saturday and as the dream evaporated, I did not know I would rest again only after dawn. My son had woken – for the umpteenth time – in pain and spit his thick, cloudy cough into the waiting mountain of Kleenex. Tennyson cried, holding the ice pack down on his head, wiping at watery eyes. How much can a kid take? How much could I? Unrelenting 16-hour-shifts nursing him hand and foot and chasing down every possible remedy, days of aborted sleep. I was now battling the flu.
This thing that’s mowed him down unflinching in the face of the best practitioners and products turned out to be a seasonal pollen allergy. Which is why it stealthily flared all last month as the pollen count here rose, and let up the two days it fell. Spring comes early in Southern California. On the way home with the diagnosis the other day, I decided to grab some plants to filter the air in Tennyson’s room. We picked out a big, tall palm and a cute little guy who made us smile, a Money Tree. Ten minutes later on our driveway, Tennyson was clutching his throat, hands wet with desperate tears. His throat tightened and hurt. I was afraid he would stop breathing. OTC antihistamines didn’t work. Eucalyptus and peppermint oils opened up the passages. As it happens, he was allergic to the plants. How sad is that, being allergic to the Money Tree! And a virus came along to kick him while he was down, sending him flying off a cliff, making sure not to neglect his parents. I didn’t remember my boy being so sick. But reserves are not bottomless. It’s incredible what life asks of us sometimes.
Where’ve I been? I’ve been stressed, if that isn’t obvious. We’re behind in school. Testing for Memory Master lies around the corner. The TV network PBS is also doing a feature on our music school and Tennyson was to be at the drums filming next week. The best laid plans of mice and moms, see them wheel away like chaff in the wind. It will be hard to swallow those events passing us by. The little mister has missed every baseball practice and Saturday’s opening game. We’ve been so disappointed, but the email from the coach touched me deeply.
No worries. I hope he is feeling better. His health comes before baseball. We are praying for him.
I wish this man knew the gift he was giving me. I’m sure he inspires kids to love baseball and teamwork, but his humanity and ministry to me meant everything. He’s played professionally, but didn’t forget it was about people, not the game. It takes so little to help someone up. You persevere in hope but how long? And how, in the teeth of it going from bad to worse? Answers can come from the most unexpected places. Some background on this one.
Flowers don’t like me. I can’t seem to coax them to life. I’m sure they sense the Tiger Mom presence, accordingly suffer performance anxiety. Or maybe they become passive aggressive and decide to just wilt. It also doesn’t help that I forget to care for them. And so looking up from the dishes, I was stunned at the sight of the bold blossom on my windowsill. I had given up on the orchid that dropped all its petals some six months ago even though it was said to be only going dormant. How foregone it’d looked, stripped of promise. But here was a triumphant awakening, the white silk so fragile, so strong. My eyes smarted. How…under my watch? In the midst of this despair? The tenacity not only of life, but of beauty. The insistence of hope.
Goodness, is it only March? I can do this. Nine more months and I get to reset and wish myself another happy, hard year.
“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than Good Job,” intones Fletcher, the monomaniacal music instructor in the film Whiplash. Isn’t good the enemy of the best? Fletcher’s psychopathic devices sucked me right into the vortex of the questions I ask as my son’s teacher. How much do I push? And how? With the promise of Pokémon cards? There’s the drum student Andrew. His single eye upon Whiplash, the jazz piece he determines to conquer, he denies himself even the distraction of girlfriends. Would I have my boy bleed in the pursuit of excellence? Of course not. Except – the first time Andrew plows right through practice as the blood on his finger oozes from useless bandaids would’ve been cinematic cliché if he were Korean. Because falling short would’ve hurt more. So logic and genes say I should at least allow my son to bruise a little.
Last year when he was not yet eight, we went for the optional Memory Master challenge in our Classical homeschool program. Tennyson had to recite the hundreds of facts he had learned in seven subjects (English Grammar, Latin, History, Science, Math, Geography, Timeline of 161 events in human history) through four rounds of testing. Beyond the 1 mistake allowed per subject in the second round, he had to come through with 100% accuracy in the last two proofs. He was so close but made more than the 1 error in the second sitting. He had rocked the memory review games in class and the teacher told the director he knew his stuff. The director was willing to give him a chance at the next round of testing. I bowed out.
I could see he’d felt the pressure. From me. After some yoga out back under a full moon, his hippy dippy mother had suddenly shapeshifted into Tiger Mom (from New York, double jeopardy). She kept putting raw meat in front of him. Testing season came and I was my Old Self again, the one who unblinkingly had bled for grades at his age, the one who was now oh, ambitious for her son. On the cusp of the third test, I realized I simply should have started reviewing the material with him sooner. We were running short on time and though the potholes were few, we were cramming. I was drilling Tennyson in the little time remaining and overwhelmed, he got headaches and spilled tears of frustration. Sigh. He had bruised enough. I chewed the last of my raw lamb liver, the mineral taste and feel of flesh a sad memory in the swallowing. And in the privacy of my backyard morphed back into the California homeschooler who wanted to honor the sacred whole child and spare him the pain of that great modern evil, stress. What I really didn’t want was to get in – make the hallowed halls of Memory Masters – by the skin of our teeth. I could’ve kept pushing him and been able to applaud as his name was called in the awards ceremony. But I didn’t want to barely make it. I wanted him to own it. Mastery means mastery, not hope crossing fingers that he doesn’t slip in the testing. I loved how high we set the bar in the program, that we had such tall demands to aspire to. I would submit to them. And when my son reached for them again, they would be his without question.
So he went for it again this year. And he did it. He went up on stage recently, where one-eighth of the students in Kindergarten-Grade 6 received their Memory Master certificate.
I paced the material in such a way as to prepare him months in advance and by the time testing rolled around, the countries and their capitals, the math multiples and linking verbs, each continent’s highest mountain and the history of Western Africa were in his bones. I found myself at peace in the third proof where he could’ve lost it all – fingers uncrossed. After an hour-and-a-half, he came out of the room smiling. I had told him to enjoy himself and the teacher said yes, he had himself a grand old time. Two days later, he did the Hokey Pokey as we got ready to leave for the final test. So I’m not Fletcher. I didn’t throw chairs at my son to get it right. But Fletcher had zero tolerance for mediocrity (well yes, if you despise it) and that’s something to appreciate. I’m still trying to figure out just what it is Tennyson needs to give up while we uphold those standards but I can’t sit with the majority and tell my child he’s doing a good job when he can – and should – be doing an outstanding job. It wasn’t recognition I was after. At the most practical level, the journey was about nailing down a solid foundation of knowledge he can retrieve at will and use in the older years. But the process was really about self-respect. That whatever his resources and abilities, he discovers he can use them to extend into his outer world of possibility and turn it into reality. I love the scene where Andrew’s got it. He’s mastered the impossible Whiplash and, when he finds himself in the band competition, it’s a part of him. He sails through the piece, sticks dancing on the snare still stained with blood. His new reality.
Here’s a glimpse of what Tennyson learned this school year. I threw random questions at him from the year’s work for you. I am proud of him for keeping the joy and must say, of myself for not ruining it.
Math: Counting by 12s
What are the major groups of invertebrates?
Sponges, stinging cell animals, flatworms, roundworms, segmented worms, mollusks, sea stars, arthropods
What are the major groups of vertebrates?
Fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, birds
Latin Noun Cases
Nominative – Subject
Genitive – Possessive
Dative – Indirect Object
Accusative – Direct Object
Ablative – Object of the Preposition
First and Second Declension Noun Endings, Singular and Plural
A preposition relates a noun or a pronoun to another word.
About Above Across After Against Along Amid Among Around At Atop Before Behind Below Beneath Beside Between Beyond But By Concerning Down During Except For From In Inside Into
Like Near Of Off On Onto Out Outside Over Past Regarding Since Through Throughout To Toward Under Underneath Until Up Upon With Within Without
Tell me about the Age of Imperialism.
During the Age of Imperialism, the British established rule over India in 1858, and Queen Victoria was declared the Empress of India in 1877. Before his assassination in 1948, Mohandas Gandhi led the passive resistance movement, which helped win India’s independence.
Tell me about the Heian empire.
As the Heian government weakened in Japan, Shoguns began to rule and expelled all foreigners during the period of isolation. Circa 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry of the U.S. restored trade, allowing the Meiji to modernize Japan.
Some kinds of leaves and leaf parts?
Spines, needles, tendrils, bracts, bud scales, palmate
What are the four kinds of volcanoes?
Active, intermittent, dormant, extinct
What are the five major circles of latitude?
Arctic Circle, Tropic of Cancer, Equator, Tropic of Capricorn, Antarctic Circle
Voices in my house can be loud lately. Or hushed. Both scare me. I like a happy medium.
When my sister sits in the bathtub in the dark, she tells me she is reading. I am small, not stupid. No reading happens in the dark. And I sense pain coming off of her. At age six, I can smell pain like a bloodhound.
But today is one of those enchanted days. Magic will happen. We are not in the house with loud and hushed voices today. Instead, my parents and I go exploring.
The car smells of Amish country. Cherry pie and coffee. Cows. Cider, apples and cheese.
My parents sing in the front seat. I am still young enough not to cringe, to sing along to “Down by the Old Mill Stream” and “Shine On, Harvest Moon.”
My father drives over the hills, past the horses and buggies, so my stomach will drop and I will giggle on each descent. My mother plays the alphabet game with me. My name is Mary. I’m from Missouri and I went to the store to buy muffins.
When we finally arrive at the festival, my friend and I eat cotton candy and roll down the grassy hill. We listen to the music and brave the Tilt-a-Whirl. My world, at home, feels like a Tilt-a-Whirl. I don’t know why all the big people in my house seem to be spinning, hurly-burly. I don’t like it. But today, the Tilt-a-Whirl brings me a gift. I laugh instead of scream. It’s the same feeling but I know now it’s all how I let it in. My six-year-old self is learning, if only by gut instinct.
Tired from sunshine, running, eating, chasing horses, I fall sound asleep. I do not hear my friend leave the car for her front door.
I wake, softly and lightly, from the most delicious sleep. It is dark and the strongest arms I know lift me in the gentlest way possible. As I start to protest, my father whispers, “I’ve got you, Peanut. It’s ok.” That is all I need to know.
I smell no pain today. And I know neither voices nor Tilt-a-Whirls can hurt me—not now.
I wish the moment would last forever, as he lays me gently on my pillow and sleep comes again.
Kristine at candidkay.com
Pinch me. Go on. Pinch me. You are so kidding me. The house is still but for the clicking of the keyboard. The men are on their first father-and-son overnighter in the mountains.
I am home alone tonight.
In case you don’t quite see it: over three years as a human milk bottle, I’ve also served up 11,984 meals for the Little Person. Eight years of service and I’ve earned 24 hours of heartbreakingly gratifying, suspiciously sweet time to myself. I think I’ll cry. Make that 16 hours, as I need my sleep. (Dang it. I will cry.) My men have freed me up in the past but this will be the first time T’s bed will be empty. Even as I sign my declaration of independence, relishing in my SELFHOOD, my WOMANHOOD, my WRITERHOOD…I miss my boy. No matter how deep in the mountains he goes or how long he stays away, I am a mother. His mother, the one he’ll come home to as long as she’s breathing. I blink back tears.
So. In the meantime, what shall I do with myself??
– Hit the salon & spa. (Nah. I’ll tense on the table over how long it’s keeping me from the blog.)
– Do the dishes. (LAUGH. Laaauuggh.)
– Clean and mop. (And watch Dirt Vader come undo it tomorrow.)
– Organize all these papers. (Tempting.)
– Write my next post.
I can’t type fast enough. (Don’t bother commenting. Let me write.)
Yes, we all have our job. Yours is to study, mine is to cook and teach you, Daddy’s is to make money.
Huh. I have the hardest job of all.
Umma, what is the bottom number? The lowest number….the floor?
*Smile* It’ll be a negative number, right? Way below zero. Only God can reach it because He is infinite.
When I get to heaven, I’m going to ask Him to show me how He stretches from the lowest to the highest number.
*Watching him eat, in amazement*
Where does it all go? It’s a three-mile tunnel in there.
Mom, what is M x X?
Mom, you know what the bottommost lowest number is?
His prayer in Sunday School
Lord, give us joy as we fall at your feet.
At seven-and-a-half, Tennyson memorized
the first seven verses of John 1 in Latin and
English in the homeschooling with
Classical Conversations, a global home
education program based on the ancient
Classical model of learning. I set each text
to song and he downed them like dessert. T
adored the Latin and the third day or so said,
“I heard it last night [in bed]. It was beautiful
in my head and I loved it. It’s one of the most
beautiful songs ever, Mom.” The words in-
grained nice and deep; they’ve become a part
In principio erat Verbum, et Verbum erat
apud Deum, et Deus erat Verbum. Hoc
erat in principio apud Deum. Omnia per
ipsum facta sunt: et sine ipso factum est
nihil, quod factum est. In ipso vita erat,
et vita erat lux hominum: et lux in tenebris
lucet, et tenebrae eam non
comprehenderunt. Fuit homo missus a
Deo, cui nomen erat Joannes. Hic venit in
testimonium ut testimonium perhiberet de
lumine, ut omnes crederent per illum.
In the beginning was the Word, and the
Word was with God, and the Word was
God. He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made;
without him nothing was made that has
been made. In him was life, and that life
was the light of all mankind. The light
shines in the darkness, and the darkness
has not overcome it. There was a man
sent from God whose name was John.
He came as a witness to testify concerning
that light, so that through him all might