Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Cautionary Tale

M. Peevie was pushing the shopping cart through Target. We picked up toilet paper, cereal, dryer sheets--the usual stuff.

We passed two women chatting at the end of the bulk snack aisle. I walked ahead of M. Peevie, and she pushed the cart behind me. When we were about one aisle away, I heard one woman say to her friend, "What's the matter?"

The other woman said, "I just got run over--without an apology!"

M. Peevie heard it too. She looked at me, and tears instantly filled her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. "I bumped her with my cart by accident, and I did apologize!" she said. "She was blocking the end of the aisle, and I tried to get past her. I said I was sorry that I bumped her!" She looked stricken.

"Hold on just a second, baby girl," I said. "Wait here." I walked back to the bulk snack aisle and walked up to the lady that had made my daughter cry.

She was looking at something on the shelf. "Excuse me," I said, and she turned and looked at me.

"Apparently my daughter bumped you with our cart. I'm very sorry that you did not hear her apologize, but she did say she was sorry," I said. "She heard what you said, and now she's crying. She just lost her brother three weeks ago, and she's a bit fragile. She would never hurt anyone on purpose, and I wanted you to know that she did apologize. I'm sorry that she didn't say it loud enough for you to hear."

The woman looked at me with the expression of a paradigm shift on her face--if a paradigm shift has an expression. "Oh. Oh...oh," she said. "I'm so sorry. It hurt, but...I'm just so sorry." I think she may have reached out to touch my arm.

I told her thanks and walked back and wrapped my arms around M. Peevie, who still had tears rolling down her cheeks. We stood, holding each other, for a full minute; and then we held hands and browsed the chip aisle.

I couldn't stay mad at the woman who had made my daughter cry, because I have been her. I have not given the benefit of the doubt. I have taken offense when none was intended. I have made passive-aggressive comments designed to inflict pain or provoke anger. I have not given grace, when so much grace has been given to me.

So the moral of the story is, I suppose, stay out of the bulk snack aisle. Or be gentle, and give the benefit of the doubt whenever possible.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Goodbye, A. Peevie

Aidan Kenneth Bradshaw: A Remembrance
November 23, 1997 - November 11, 2012

We have lost a son, a brother, a grandson, a nephew, a cousin, a friend, a little buddy, a student, a classmate, a neighbor. Aidan was all of these things to us, but these words do not even come close to encompassing what Aidan meant to us. I know that each of you has his own memories of Aidan, and I will share with you a few of mine.
Aidan would come into our room every night to say goodnight, hug us, sit in my lap, and tell us he loved us with words and by touching his nose—our “secret” symbol for “I love you.” He would also sniff us.  Then he’d go into his room down the hall. In five minutes he’d be back to hug us again, sniff us, and tell us he loved us, touch his nose, and say goodnight. I would be lying if I said I was not starting to get annoyed when he’d show up a third time for the same ritual: hug, sniff, say I love you, touch his nose, say goodnight—but he had always been comforted by routines of love and connection since he was a young child.

On Thanksgiving Day I will be giving thanks for Aidan’s beautiful life, but I anticipate that at the same time I will be a little, or maybe a lot, angry at God for taking him; and also I think I might be walking in a fog of disbelief and not really being able to imagine a world that does not have Aidan in it.
The next day will be Aidan’s birthday. I found his birthday wish list on his laptop. He titled it 2012 Birthday Wishlist for Aidan Kenneth Charles Lief Dirk Jaffar Vector Stephan Bradshaw. That boy loved middle names, and kept adding them as he came across new names that captured his fancy.

Anyway, his wish list included: Pizza, bass, amp, The Clash CDs,The Ramones CDs, pizza, old horror films (Frankenstein, Dracula,The Creature from the Black Lagoon, etc.), a sword, a dagger/stiletto, Black Ops or Black Ops 2—and then he included this annotation: “The reason these games appear on the list is because of the zombie game. Not the main game, because I know you hate shooting real, living people.” The list continued with, again, pizza (for the third time), Super Street Fighter IV (PS3) and Castlevania Circle of the Moon for Gameboy, Rated T.
He really loved pizza. Every day I’d come home from work and he’d say, “Hi mom. What’s for dinner? Can we order pizza?” The only food he knew how to cook was frozen pizza, which he had almost every day for lunch. I’d ask him, have you had your five servings of fruits and vegetables today? And he’d say, “Well, I had pizza—that has tomatoes on it.”

When Aidan was very young, Mr. Peevie and I were concerned that his empathic development was delayed. We knew he was bright in a very non-traditionally-academic way—and we joked that he would one day grow up to either cure cancer or be the next Una-Bomber.
As he got older, though, his empathy, sensitivity, and compassion caught up to and even surpassed his chronological age. He was super-sensitive to the feelings of the people around him, and literally wept when he saw kids suffering from teasing or bullying or any type of meanness or thoughtlessness at the hands of another person, kid or adult. One of the most heart-warming things I ever heard was when Aidan’s friend GQ told his mom that he really liked hanging out with Aidan because Aidan was kind to everyone. Thank you for that, GQ.

Aidan was not just preternaturally compassionate, but he had an originality quotient that made it seem like he not only marched to the beat of a different drummer, but he marched as though there was no drummer at all. Maybe he marched to the beat of a marimba and waxed-paper-and-comb band. His intelligence had a creativity component that enabled him to think differently about things than most people think. For example, one Halloween, he was contemplating his costume choices, looking over the traditional super-hero options. He picked up a box, cut some narrow slits in it to see through, and put it over his head. Then he searched the basement for accessories, and he settled on being Box-Head with Knife.
Aidan did not want the scary responsibilities of growing up. But at the same time, he had big dreams for what he was going to do as an adult. His list of career paths included being a pastor, a poet, a song-writer, a musician, a novelist, and a game designer. He loved God and prayed for all of us regularly to deepen our relationships with God and love him better. His tender heart caused him to live in a state of spiritual humility and repentance. One time in the middle of the night—of course it was the middle of the night—he was crying and upset because, he said, he did not love God enough, and God expected more of him.

“What’s this coming from?” I asked him, and he said, “I fell asleep reading Romans.” I think it’s entirely possible that the Apostle Paul fell asleep when he was writing the book of Romans, but instead of going down that road, I opened the Bible to passages that remind us that our weakness is exactly why we depend on the saving grace of Jesus.
I have one more little story about Aidan from my blog, called “Warmness, Happiness, and Love”:

A. Peevie, like Peter Pan, doesn’t want to grow up. He likes the safety and protection and relative ease of being a child, and he is hyper-aware that growing up means that things get harder and scarier.
The middle Peevie has already had to deal with many hard and scary things in his short life: open-heart surgeries, other heart-related surgical procedures, and multiple hospital stays for various problems. The boy has seen more "ologists" in nine years than most people see in their entire lifetime.

As a result of all of these scary things, A.P. has more anxiety than Woody Allen and more phobias than Adrian Monk. He knows better than most nine-year-olds that the world is a scary place. A couple of years ago, he went through a phase when he talked about death and dying all the time. “If I die, will you still think about me?” he’d ask. Or he’d lay awake for hours at night because he was afraid if he went to sleep, he wouldn’t wake up in the morning.
He's doing better now. A. Peevie is comforted by rituals, such as the hug, kiss smile ritual. Every separation—and I mean EVERY separation, whether it’s going to bed at night, getting dropped off at school, or watching me leave for a 20-minute grocery store run—must be preceded by a hug, a kiss, and a smile. I’m not complaining.

Another comfort ritual is the morning cuddle. A. Peevie made me a Mother’s Day card, in which he noted that his mom was good at “cuttling,” he likes it when he and his mom “cuttle,” and his favorite thing to do with his mom is “cuttle.” What more could a mom want in a Mother’s Day card?
“Why do you like to cuddle?” I asked him this morning. “What do you get out of it?”

He was thoughtful for a moment, and then he snuggled in closer to me. “Warmness, happiness, and love,” he said.
I’d like to mention by name just a few of the people who made Aidan feel safe and loved:

Our friend Lynnie, who practically raised him as one of her own;

Our friend and Aidan’s “talking doctor” Dr. Gary, who helped Aidan face and conquer his fears;
Our lovely friend and former manny, Jon, who made dozens of homemade waffles and modeled Jesus for all of us;

Aidan’s closest buddies from St. Andrews: Ben, Alex, Nicholas, Gabriel, Brandon, and Raymond; and his science buddy Lorenzo; and our family friends Sam and Eli;
Aidan’s buddies from our neighborhood: Matt, Alex, and Kevin; plus Colin’s friends who sometimes seem to live in our basement and who treated Aidan with gentleness and kindness: Nate, David, Sean, and Matthew;

Aidan’s cardiologist, Steve, who not only treated Aidan’s heart, but also cared for his spirit and helped him live a full, happy life that was not defined by the scars on his chest; and finally,
Colin and Megan, who as Aidan’s brother and sister grounded him with normal sibling laughter and bickering, annoyed him and were annoyed by him, listened to music with him, and played “kapik-kapok” with him (that’s what Aidan called ping-pong).

We have all been touched by Aidan’s beautiful life. I think that now that we are sharing the experience of his loss, we should honor Aidan’s memory by being more like him: more tender-hearted toward people who are hurting; more gentle; more kind; more silly; and more creative. And we should definitely eat more pizza.

Someday, Maybe, I Will Be

SURPRISED by joy--impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport--Oh! with whom
But Thee, deep buried in the silent tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind--
But how could I forget thee? Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss?--That thought's return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart's best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.

--William Wordsworth

Saturday, August 25, 2012


When we first started investigating home schooling A. Peevie for high school, I met with my friend X-Mom several times. X-Mom homeschools four kids, and is my go-to girl for all things homeschool--but I was getting panicky because I was not getting the answers I needed.

I kept asking, But how do we do it? and she would just ambiguate: "There are SO MANY options! SO MANY ways to do things." I wanted answers, but she knew that we had to discover our own path. Meanwhile, the part of my brain that requires certitude was starting to need an adult beverage.

We kept on talking. I kept on reading. I joined a homeschool co-op. We learned about multitudinous opportunities for learning, and unlimited permutations of homeschool choices. There's Kahn Academy; RadioLab podcasts; high-level online learning opportunities from Coursera, Udacity, and EdX; LiveMocha, or a free online language learning program (Mango) from Chicago Public Library; and tons more.

Meanwhile, well-meaning friends, family members, and others kept saying, "But what about socialization?" and "What about transcripts?" and "How will he get into college?" and "You will be such a great teacher!" Ack. That last one is the most disconnected from our reality of all. If homeschooling depended on me teaching A. Peevie, then we would both be doomed. I could not even teach my kids to use the potty, let alone teach them polynomials or the periodic table. (They had to potty train themselves, when they were ready.)

Quinn Cummings in the Wall Street Journal calls homeschooling "roam schooling," and describes a high school schedule that combines classes in a brick-and-mortar high school, a variety of online learning opportunities, community college classes, park district activities, and non-traditional learning settings. This is the multi-faceted approach that home school is becoming for us; and this is the reason X-mom stuck to her ambiguity: she couldn't tell us how to do it, because she didn't know what options would work for us, and in what combination.
We finally have A. Peevie's schedule mostly ironed out for his first semester of high school, and I am feeling MUCH less panicky about potentially ruining his life.

Here's what we've got on tap for A. Peevie's fall line-up:

  • Writing and Poetry (taught by a Ph.D. instructor in a private home)
  • AP Music Theory (homeschool co-op class in a real piano lab in a private home)
  • Introduction to Christianity (Gospel of John, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, and a study guide; supervised by E. Peevie)
  • Some kind of science, still undefined

Friday--homeschool co-op 10-week classes including:
 Now tell me that schedule doesn't make you want to become a homeschool student yourself!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Huge Win

M. Peevie's softball team, the Hurricanes, were making a valiant effort to pull out a win in the last game of the season. They were down 3-1, and the Orange Crush were (was?) up to bat. 

Being down by only two runs was already sort of a victory. We had often found ourselves down by 30, 40, even 50 runs this season--so we could already taste the sweet, sweet honey of not being slaughtered.

But the girls really wanted to record an actual statistical win, not just a moral victory; and they were in ready position, gloves on the ground, chanting support for the pitcher, hoping to make a big play that would end the inning. 

The Orange Crush batter hit an infield fly, which soared up over the pitcher's head, making a high arc toward the short stop. It moved in slow motion; we held our breath. 

Just as the ball plopped into her glove, a fan from the other team yelled, "Drop it!"

She held onto the ball, and ended the inning. Phew. But now there was the matter of poor sportsmanship from the adult fans on the sidelines, which I could not let pass without a correction. I got out my brass knuckles and headed over to the group of Orange Crush parents and grandparents, ready to teach somebody a lesson.

"Did somebody over here yell out, 'Drop it!'? I asked pleasantly. I looked at the most likely culprits, what looked like a grandpa, plus two other adults sitting on the fan bench. I expected a conflict, because sometimes--you may not have noticed this--people are stupid. But instead:

"Yes, he did," the woman on the bench said, not disclosing which guy made the comment. "And we told him that it was not acceptable. It won't happen again. Sorry about that."

Oh. Well then. That was exactly right.

"Oh," I said, "Well, thank you for that. We appreciate it." I walked back to our bench and told the team, who had heard the heckle, that the guy had been corrected by his own people. End of story, time to concentrate on getting some hits.

But it wasn't the end of the story. A few minutes later, the grandpa walked over to our bench. He walked straight up to me and looked me in the eye. "It was me," he said. "I was the one who said, 'Drop it!'." I shouldn't have said it, it was wrong, and I'm very sorry."


I practically burst into tears. I grabbed his hand and shook it, and said, "It was really good of you to come over here and say that. It's very honorable, and I appreciate you doing that." He said again that he was sorry; he was caught up in the game; and he knew it was wrong. "We all do and say things that we shouldn't," I said, "but very few people step up to take responsibility. You are a good man."

The Hurricanes ended up losing that game after all. But a few of them got to see a beautiful example of an adult taking personal responsibility for his mistake--and that is a huge win.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Bi-Polar Home Schooling

I'm home-schooling myself in the art and practice of home schooling. So far I've read two books on the topic, and they are diametrically opposite in many ways. One is an unedited, self-published, self-indulgent 400-page verbal emesis: 60 percent diatribe, 30 percent anecdotes, and 10 percent ideas.

The other is a 700-page, well-organized thesis that documents the history, method, and curriculum of a classical education.

One of them makes me want to hug a filing cabinet; the other makes my stomach hurt from insecurity and anxiety. Is there a Middle Path?

The first book, The Teenage Liberation Handbook, inexplicably gets a 4.5 out of 5 star rating on Amazon. It's inexplicable because the organization, writing, and editing are terrible--but it's also understandable because it has a powerful, counter-intuitive message to teenagers and parents. The message is this: schools don't have all the answers. They may not even have some of the answers for some kids; and many kids will be better off, and get a better education, through home schooling and/or unschooling.

I asked A. Peevie and Mr. Peevie to read "Chapter 16: Starting Out: A Sense of the Possibilities," because it offered a glimpse into the first baby steps toward homeschool, or as I'm starting to think of it, self-directed education. This chapter attempts to describe a different kind of educational structure, one which is goal- and student-directed. I don't find the "morsels of advice" from unschoolers and their parents to be particularly helpful or informative; but if you wade through those, and through the lessons in Chinese philosophy, and if you get past the author's overstated aversion to "school-style structure"--there are one or two nuggets of helpful advice, such as this:

If you are completely confused as to how to start structuring your life, here's one way: do "academics" for two hours each day--not necessarily lots of subjects, or the same ones every day; you are not going to dry up if you don't do 45 minutes every day of "social studies." Do some kind of work or project for four hours. In the rest of your time, read, see friends, talk with your parents, make tabouli. Take Saturdays and Sundays off. Sound arbitrary? It is. I made it up, although it is based on a loose sort of "average" of the lives of a hundred unschoolers, most college-bound. Once you try this schedule for a month, you will know how you want to change it.

The next chapter, "Your Tailor-Made Intellectual Extravaganza," presents a couple of good thoughts as well, explaining the method and value of interdisciplinary studies and offering a few strategies to enhance learning. "Create a small museum that relates to your interest," Llewellyn suggests; I could totally see A. Peevie doing this--although his museum might include gross things like a box of toenails, or things with questionable museum value like used cream soda bottles.

"Write letters to people and organizations, asking thoughtful questions"--also a cool idea. As a member of the Save the Manatees Club, and A. Peevie could initiate correspondence with someone from the Club to ask questions or even organize a fund raiser. I'll bet they don't have very many fundraisers in the midwest to benefit manatees. 

I think A. Peevie might find some useful ideas in the second half of the book, which focuses on "how to study all the school subjects without school." Handbook is over-written and under-edited, but like an all-you-can eat buffet, we will find something to meet our needs, and ignore the rest.

The second book, The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (TWTM), offers a "step-by-step, grade-by-grade, subject-by-subject guide to the classical pattern of education called the trivium." And yes, it is as detailed, systematic, polysyllabic, and guilt-inducing as it sounds.

The classical education is language- and history-intensive; it helps students learn to analyze and draw conclusions; and it requires self-discipline and dedication. The trivium structure "recognizes that there is an ideal time and place for each part of learning: memorization, argumentation, and self-expression." These three stages, or methods, of learning are known as grammar, dialectic (or logic), and rhetoric.

Grammar refers not just to the grammar of language, but in a broader sense, to the building blocks of all subjects: words, facts, and dates. The dialectic, or logic stage, teaches children to "connect the facts she has learned and to discover the relationships among them. The first grader has learned that Rome fell to the barbarians; the fifth grader asks why and discovers that high taxes, governmental corruption, and an army made up entirely of mercenaries weakened the empire." This critical thinking stage builds on the foundation of basic skills and knowledge. The third stage, rhetoric, refers to expression. It is dependent upon the first two stages of the trivium: "the student uses knowledge and the skill of logical argument to write and speak about all the subjects in the curriculum."

The massive text of TWTM applies the trivium step-by-step to each subject in each grade. Most chapters include comprehensive reading and resource lists that will make your eyes water, plus examples of daily schedules, methods, timelines, and activities to create the most perfectly educated robotic child ever known to mankind.

OK, that was a bit harsh. I'm sure that anyone who chooses to apply TWTM will nurture well-rounded and well-educated children--but if you check the index, you won't find any reference to child development, play, or fun--except for Fun With Hieroglyphs on page 311. In fact, the authors go so far as to say that if you find yourself hooked up with a group of unschoolers, you may want to find yourself another group (p. 617).

I'm sure this kind of home-schooling is great for some people--but on the continuum of unschooling to classical education homeschooling, we will fall far closer to Liberation than Well-Trained.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Still Got It

I arrived late at the hotel one night last week, and as I waited for the elevator, I made small talk with a fifty-something guy who was also waiting. He mentioned Dorney Park, which evoked fond memories.

"I remember that place!" I said happily. "You have reminded me of my long-lost youth!" We chatted for another minute until the elevator doors opened on the third floor and we both got off.

"So," he said, as we turned in opposite directions. "You have your own room, then?"

"Um, yes," I said, a bit startled, but also a bit awestruck because that sounded like it might have been a pick-up line. "And there are three kids in it."

"Heh-heh," he said, getting the message. "Have a nice night."

I told Mr. Peevie about this conversation later. "Do you think he was trying to pick me up?" I asked him.

"Oh, yeah," he said. "Definitely."

"YES!" I Macauley Culkin-ed.

"I'm happy for you," Mr. Peevie said drily.

And he should be. I am a past-her-prime, overweight, mini-van driving softball mom with very few pick-up lines left in my future--so I will not pass up any chance I get to accept independent confirmation of my fading pulchritude.

Even if the pick-up line springs more from middle-aged lonely desperation than from any actual attractiveness on my part.

/ /

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Eulogy: Alfred Charles Meyer

I’m not an expert on my dad, but I can tell you a few stories that will give you a pretty clear picture of what we have lost and what heaven has gained with his passing.

First of all, we know that dad and mom had the most perfect of marriages, and never had an argument in 64 years, one month, and one week of wedded bliss—or at least, not one that they would admit to. Their marriage was a union of best friends, and they always presented a united front in parenting us five kids. This meant that sometimes they were both wrong.

Dad had some fun dating an identical twin. You’d have to look pretty close at mom and her twin, my Aunt Jean, to tell the difference. Somebody once asked dad, “When you go to pick Joyce up for a date, how do you know you’ve got the right twin?” and dad said, “Who cares? They’re both cute.” Mom hated that story. Probably still does.

Dad was not a believer when he first started dating his cute girlfriend, Joyce. After they had dated awhile, mom told him she could not go out with him any more unless he came to church with her. So he did, and he fell under the spell of the great preacher Donald Grey Barnhouse at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He heard the gospel, and believed it, and turned his life over to Jesus.

Dad loved to tell the story of how Pop-Pop, mom’s father, gave his permission for dad to marry her. Pop-Pop said he would not give his permission until dad went to Bible college for one year, so mom and dad both enrolled in classes at Philadelphia College of Bible. Dad ended up continuing there not for one year, or two, or three—but for nine years. That nine years laid the foundation for 40 more years of Bible study, and an unshakable faith.

Not only did mom’s influence bring dad to the gospel, but she took good care of him in every other way as well—and even at the very end of his life, as he held her hand in the Intensive Care Unit at Grandview hospital, he wanted to make sure she knew how much he loved her. “I love you, Daddy,” she said to him, and even though his voice was weak and blocked by a tube down his throat, we could all hear him say, “I love you, sweetheart.”

Dad was not a perfect parent, and each of his five children is messed up in his or her own way. But we don’t need him to be perfect to remember him with deep love and admiration, and miss him. He was ahead of his time as a hands-on dad who changed diapers and did housework. He would load all of us into the car on a summer Saturday morning, pack the cooler with sandwiches, fill the thermos with sweet iced tea, and drive us to Ocean City for a day on the beach. Every time he’d bring his garden spade and dig a giant sea turtle in the wet sand, and kids would come from up and down the beach to admire it and climb on it. The day on the beach would be followed by an evening on the boardwalk with bumper cars, skee-ball, Taylor’s pork roll, and salt water taffy.

I’m grateful for these kinds of growing-up memories of my dad. There are other images of dad emblazoned in my mind as well: Dad pulling weeds out of the yard, muttering about “bodacious dandelions” the whole time. Dad playing ping-pong with us in the basement. And then, in December, setting up what we called The Platform—that’s Platform with a capital P—a flat plywood table, with trains and winter scenery and battery-powered racecars with hand-held controllers. Dad setting up the artificial white Christmas tree year after year until it was actually sort of yellow, controlled by the kind of frugality comes from living through the Great Depression.

If you knew dad for very long, you learned that his faith was his top priority. I often found him, in his bedroom, on his knees, praying. Or he was sitting in his chair, reading his Bible, and perhaps referring to a devotional guide. He made some notes about his preferences for how we would remember him after he was gone, and these notes included a reference to I Corinthians 15. This chapter contains an eloquent summary of the gospel: Christ died for our sins. He was buried, and he was raised on the third day. And then this: “By the grace of God I am what I am,” Paul wrote, “and his grace toward me was not in vain.”

Maybe dad was thinking of this chapter in his last hours. He was resting peacefully; his eyes were closed. Mark said, “I wonder what he’s thinking about.” I leaned over Dad and asked him, “Hey Dad, Markie wants to know what you’re thinking about.”

He opened his eyes and looked in mine and said, “The cross.” Maybe he was thinking of these verses in I Corinthians 15:
For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
 “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
 “O death, where is your victory?
  O death, where is your sting?”
Later that same day I asked him, “Dad, are you looking forward to seeing Jesus?” and he answered without hesitating: “Amen.”

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Let Me Go

Six months ago Dad was in pretty good shape for a 91-year-old: taking regular walks, eating well, reading books and magazines, and making sarcastic references to our first Arab-American president. He was well enough to post a Romney bumper sticker on his bookshelf, do the New York Times crossword puzzle in ink, and recycle his papers.

Now he's in hospice at the luxurious Grandview Hospital in Sellersville, PA. He mostly sleeps, occasionally coughs, and gargles phlegm in the back of his throat until the nurse suctions it out.

He woke up Sunday and said through his NG tube and oxygen mask, "Let me go. Let me go."

"You want us to let you go, Daddy?" I asked, leaning close to hear his voice over the sound of the oxygen and machines. My tears fell on the sheet covering his scrawny shoulder.

"Yes," he said in a voice obstructed by tubes. "Yes. Let me go." He looked into my eyes, said my name, and knew what he wanted.

Later that same day, he communicated the same desire: "No extremes," Dad said. "No extremes." The tube in his throat obstructed his consonants; I leaned in close and repeated his wish: "You don't want any extreme measures to help you stay alive and get better?"

"No," he said. Then he looked over to Mom, sitting next to his bedside. "Is that OK?" I looked over at her; she nodded mutely, helplessly. She reached out to hold his hand. "I love you, Daddy," she said, and he replied, "I love you, sweetheart."

The hospice nurse came to the room to explain hospice procedures to my dad, my brothers, my mom and me. "We'll stop all medications except those that will help him be more comfortable," she said. She put the papers in front of my dad, and he signed his neat but wobbly full signature. Mom, dazed and unable to comprehend a future without her partner of 64 years, leaned her head against my brother Turtle, who wiped tears from his eyes.       

They stopped Dad's meds, and his blood pressure and respiration rate are slowing down. He rests comfortably, but has stopped being able to open his eyes or respond when we talk to him or stroke his head or his arm.

"We're here, Dad," we tell him. "We're letting you go, like you asked. We're going to take care of mom, so you don't need to worry about that."

The nurses say, and we like to believe them, that he can still hear us, and feel comforted by our presence.

"Are you ready to see Jesus, Daddy?" I asked him on Sunday, while he was still alert and able to respond.

"Amen," he said.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

In Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, Eric Metaxas has produced a compelling hagiography of Bonhoeffer that is accessible to the non-academic reader. In fact, I heard from an Inter-Varsity Press rep that the club of Bonhoeffer scholars is miffed at Metaxas for making it to the New York Times best-seller list. Their pique might also have to do with the fact that the author presents Bonhoeffer's theology as consistently orthodox and Jesusy--a characterization that falls far from the camp of liberal theology. He has received criticism for "hijacking" Bonhoeffer, giving us a "counterfeit" Bonhoeffer to make his theology more palatable to the evangelical mindset.

I can't address the potential theological and historical miscalculations in Metaxas' biography, but I found Bonhoeffer to be compelling because of the story it tells of a life of vibrant faith in turbulent, dangerous times. Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived in Germany during both WWI and WWII. He knew by the time he was thirteen that he would study theology, and as an adult he pastored churches, trained young pastors, and wrote prolifically about spiritual topics.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer's life story is replete with educated, accomplished, and influential figures: His father was the chair of psychiatry and neurology at the university in Breslau; his brothers excelled at law and physics; he counted among his friends, acquaintances and colleagues Bishop of Chichester George Bell, influential theologian Karl Barth; Martin "First they came for the socialists" Niemoller, pastor and theologian Franz Hildebrandt, and his best friend and biographer, Eberhardt Bethge. To read Bonhoeffer is to encounter the dominant thinkers and sculptors of 20th century protestant theology; and Metaxas weaves these characters into a detailed yet coherent and absorbing narrative.

The book's portrayal of the plot to assassinate Hitler is action-movie material; no doubt someone has already acquired the rights (Sean Soul Surfer McNamara? David L. To End All Wars Cunningham?). Bonhoeffer himself was never the guy in the room with his finger on the trigger --but his collaborators were; and Metaxas' detailed chronicle evokes suspense and intrigue.

I admire the Bonhoeffer that Metaxas depicted, but I began to wish for a bit more transparency around Bonhoeffer's struggles with sin. Was he ever lazy, selfish, or proud? Did he ever have one drink too many, or get angry or defensive? Did he ever swear, or cut someone off in traffic?

There is one account of Bonhoeffer regretting and repenting his behavior: He was asked to preach at the funeral of his twin sister's Jewish father-in-law, and sought the advice of his district superintendent because the decision was fraught with social, political, and religious ramifications. A few months after he declined, he begged forgiveness from his sister and her husband, writing "How could I have been so horribly afraid at the time?...It preys on my mind...I know now for certain that I ought to have behaved differently."

I found Metaxas' writing style to be occasionally lazy and distracting. He uses a limited vocabulary to editorialize unnecessarily. For example, "The three lectures are impressive, especially for someone only a few years out of high school..." Metaxas wrote, inserting himself as the arbiter of academic and theological value, rather than relying on an authoritative source. Two pages later: "Bonhoeffer's sentences could be impressive," Metaxas said; and in the next chapter: "...the list of speakers was impressive" at the funeral of his former teacher Adolf von Harnack. I began to think to myself, "Show, don't tell."

Metaxas' editor allowed him to get away with frequent use of cliches, a lazy device that a more dedicated writer would avoid like the plague (See what I did there?): "...(Bonhoeffer) ran a children's service, though this did not begin with the bang he had hoped."

He also writes as though he is an omniscient narrator who knows his subject's inner-most thoughts and motives; and I find this device to be untrustworthy in a work of non-fiction. For example, 

On February 4, 1936, Bonhoeffer celebrated his thirtieth birthday. He has always felt overly conscious of his age and thought thirty impossibly old.

and this:

A new decree required all Jews in Germany to wear a yellow star in public. Things had now moved into a new realm, and Bonhoeffer knew it was but a foretaste of things to come.

But these criticisms aside, I would recommend Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy as thorough and fascinating story of an extraordinary, courageous, and faithful life. I think now I will read the original biography of Bonhoeffer by Bethge -- which gets nine five-star reviews on Amazon in spite of its prohibitive 1000+ pages.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


I did not invent that term,but I plan to re-invent it starting at 5 p.m. today.

Here's what my staycation is going to look like:

1. Get up at crack of dawn* to take kids to school.
2. Come home and get back in bed for first nap of the day.
3. Then, do some combination of the following for as long as I feel like it:

Play the piano
Take walks
Have lunch with a friend

4. Take another nap.
5. Pick up kids.
6. Make dinner.
7. Coach softball
8. Stay up late watching my TiVoed TV shows
9. Go to bed.
10. Repeat steps 1-9.

What I am not going to do is spend my staycation cleaning, running errands, doing housework, and generally not relaxing. I'll do some of that shit, of course; but the plan is to be intentionally, lazily self-indulgent.

I'm looking for a Bible verse to proof-text this plan. Any thoughts from the Bible scholars out there? I'm thinking it might come from the Year of Jubilee instructions to Israel in the Old Testament.

So far, on Day Three of the Stay, I've read two books, written two blog posts, cooked a couple of great meals, taken a walk, napped, watched TiVo, coached softball. Still to come: more of the same, plus gardening, piano-playing, and lunch-having with a friend.

This is the best vacation ever. No packing, no driving, no last-minute laundry-doing. No staying up late the night before to finish getting ready, driving all the next day, and arriving exhausted.

Why did it take me so long to figure this out?

*7:30 a.m.

Six Shopping Days Left

My birthday is coming up, and I don't want my friends and family to be caught unprepared; so here's my annual birthday wish list:

1. World peace.

2. Diet Coke. Always.

3. A spice grinder such as this one or possibly this one so that I can make these delicious-sounding fish tacos. I believe the first grinder is exactly like the grinder we already have for coffee--and my question is, how do you get the blades clean so that one spice does not contaminate the next? Is there a grinder that deals with this problem?

4. A tortilla warmer such as this one. I've been cooking with tortillas more often lately, and I solve the problem of keeping them warm with the hand-towel-covering-a-warm-plate beginner's method. I'd like to become a bit more authentic and efficient in my approach.

I'm always trying to grow, you know.

5. A contribution to this excellent organization that is working toward gospel-centered renewal of lives and communities in Chicago.

6. Car-Talk Re-Usable Shopping Bags, so that I can show off my "dubious taste in radio entertainment."

In other birthday news, did you know that the following famous people share my birthday?

  • Dennis Haysbert, my favorite pretend U.S. president; 
  • Dana Carvey, the church lady of Saturday Night Live, among other characters.
  • Dr. Cornel West, a provocative progressive intellectual who I follow on Twitter.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

One More Reason to Hate School

I was looking through M. Peevie's online grade-book, and noticed a big fat zero for her latest assignment in reading, a short story. I knew she had worked hard on this story, as she always does on her homework assignments. I knew that she wrote a messy first draft and had copied it over neatly on another sheet of paper.

"M. Peevie," I said, "Why do you have a big fat zero on your short story assignment?"

M. Peevie's normally cheerful countenance clouded over. "When Ms. Swamps asked me for it, I didn't have it at my desk. I said, can I please go to my locker to get it, and she said I had to give it to her right that second or I would get a zero."

"You are freaking kidding me," I said.

"No, Mommy," M. Peevie said, worry lines creasing her forehead and tears filling her eyes. "I had one more sentence to copy over from my rough draft, and she wouldn't let me go get it. I wanted to turn it in, but she wouldn't let me!"

Grrr. I would like to know what philosophy of education, what principle of child development, this punitive stance is based upon. I'm guessing it comes from a German authoritarian and Lutheran dogmatic perspective that elevates discipline, responsibility, and obedience above all other developmental goals.

Don't get me wrong: I want my children to learn discipline and responsibility. But this hyper-punitive approach completely negated the effort, compliance, and creativity that M. Peevie had brought to the assignment to that point. Couldn't Ms. Swamps mark M. Peevie's paper down a grade or two for being late, instead of giving her a zero?

Mr. Peevie has addressed this very question to the teacher, and we await a response. I will keep you posted. I'm not optimistic.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Parenting Lessons

M. Peevie had a big bat in her softball game on Sunday, and I complimented her on her excellent hitting. "I know!" she said happily. "My first-ever home run."

"It was great, M. Peevie! I said. Then I ruined everything. "But it wasn't really a home run. It was a triple with a one-base error."

"Gee. Thanks, mom," M. Peevie said in a small voice. "Thanks for ruining my good feeling."

Well--what was I supposed to say? Am I supposed to go along with her misconception? Wouldn't that be like letting her win at CandyLand--which I could not in good conscience condone?

So I presented this moral dilemma to my non-parenting colleagues.

"Wow," said Young Master O. "You're that person in the room who always has to be right. Way to ruin her childhood."

"Yeah," said The Psychiatrist's Daughter. "My mom used to do that to me, too. She'd even cheat at Monopoly to make sure I knew what the real world was like."

I was flummoxed. "Really?" I asked. "I shouldn't have said that? But it's true."

Something can be true but not necessarily the right thing to say to an 11-year-old, they said. This sort of made sense to me, but I still needed more clarification. I asked for a script.

"Here's what you could have said," said Daughter, "How about: 'That's great, honey. I'm proud of how you drove those runs in.'"

Oh. I was starting to see a better way.

"But then," Daughter continued, "If she insists that it was a home run, you can say, 'Well, I'm very proud of you for getting that great hit, but technically it wasn't a home run.' That way you're putting the emphasis on what she did well, rather than on the fact that it wasn't as good as she thought it was."

"How do you know all this?" I asked her. "You don't even have kids."

"Years of therapy," she said. "Years of therapy."

I've been doing this parenting thing for 17 years now, and still messing things up. But hey, that's what therapy's for, right?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

What Home School is NOT Going to Look Like

I don't exactly know what home-schooling A. Peevie will look like--but I have a pretty good idea of what it will NOT look like.

It will not look like A. Peevie and me sitting at the dining room table, with me as teacher and A. Peevie as student. For one thing, our dining room table is far too cluttered for that to work.

It will not look like A. Peevie doing spelling workbooks and reading history textbooks and writing papers.

It will not look like traditional school--except when we choose a traditional classroom approach to a particular subject. We may, for example, request permission for A. Peevie to attend the freshman biology class at our local high school. Our initial forays into this experiment in part-time public schooling have been so far unsuccessful.

Illinois law stipulates that public schools are compelled

To accept in part-time attendance in the regular education program of the district pupils enrolled in nonpublic schools if there is sufficient space in the public school desired to be attended. Request for attendance in the following school year must be submitted by the nonpublic school principal to the public school before May 1. Request may be made only to those public schools located in the district where the child attending the nonpublic school resides.

So I called the school, and wrote a letter (from me, the principal of Peevie Academy of Fun and Learning, or PAFL) requesting possible part-time enrollment for A. Peevie for the fall. The counselor said she'd never heard of such an arrangement; and she referred me to the assistant principal. The assistant principal had also never received a request for part-time attendance by a home-schooled student; and he said he'd do some research and get back to me. One consideration, he said, is that the school is already at or above its intended capacity.

[It does not make sense to me that the school would be required to accept him for full-time enrollment, but would be permitted to deny him admittance for one class. Does that make sense to you? I believe that either way, the school received funding for every enrolled student, whether that student is enrolled part- or full-time.]

I hope that most of A. Peevie's learning will be autodidactic and driven by his own passions. I can envision him starting a reading group with other kids who want to read classic horror fiction by Poe, Shelley, Stevenson, et al. I think he might be interested in participating in a Model United Nations program. My friend Zaby directed my attention to RadioLab, a public radio show "where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy and human experience." Perhaps this might become part of A. Peevie's science curriculum.

As the word gets out about this whole nutty home school thing, some people are skeptical--but a surprising number are supportive beyond the call of friendship. The mom of one of A. Peevie's good friends offered to tutor him in math and chemistry. Zaby put together an annotated list of potential resources and ideas for us to investigate. And X-Mom has already offered her insider intel to help me begin to get my brain around the alien notions of home 
schooling and un-schooling; and she has offered to include A. Peevie in her own home school academy as we see fit, and we hope this will be a symbiotic relationship.

This whole process has raised the intriguing question: What does a kid need to learn in high school? and also: What does an 18-year-old need to make his way in the world? What are the foundational pillars of education?

I'm pretty sure that the traditional academic model does not have a corner on the market for the answers to these questions. It's still unsettling, and a bit scary; but also: I'm convinced that for A. Peevie, at least, we will be able to do at least as well, and probably better, than any high school at preparing him for what comes next.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Letter of Reference

When I started back to work full-time in September 2010, the most difficult adjustment involved the early evening hours. The kids would go home with friends or stay in after-care at school. I would pick them up after work, drive them home, and start dinner while they worked on homework. 

At least, that was the plan. What really happened was that our drive home during the worst of rush hour was filled with hunger-and-fatigue-fueled crabbiness: crying, snarking, crabbing, complaining. The kids would be starving (in the first-world sense of the word); they'd be like hyenas finding an antelope carcass in the Serengeti, growling and snapping until they tore off a chunk, dragged it away from the pack, and filled their bellies.

At the same time, we'd be trying to deal with homework, permission slips, and conversations about bullies, hurt feelings, playground shenanigans, and the general unfairness of life. Snack time morphed into dinner time, because it didn't make sense to make a satisfying snack at four and then have dinner at six; and a small snack was never enough.

There was more of the same chaos after dinner, because homework was still hanging over us. And every damn day somebody forgot at least one book or one assignment, which they'd remember at 9 o'clock at night. Then there would be tears and tantrums and self-recriminations until the affected party finally fell asleep.

It was stressful and inefficient. All I wanted to do at night was drink wine and watch TV; and often I fell into bed exhausted, with no energy to even watch one rerun of Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

My pretend boyfriends were starting to miss me.

My friend Director J said, "You need someone to pick up the kids, feed them a snack, and get them going on their homework so you don't have to start dealing with that at 5:30." These words were a gift from God. We promptly hired our manny, Manuel, who has also been a gift from God.

When Manuel brings the kids home from school, they get started on homework while he makes them a delicious and nutritious snack, such as chateaubriand under glass or spaghettios.

They're happy and able to concentrate. Manuel gently urges them to stay focused on homework, and helps them figure it out. He patiently walks A. Peevie through challenging math problems. When they need a break from concentrating on boring homework, he takes them to the park for slacklining (their latest fun activity), tosses a football, watches You-Tube videos, or plays ping-pong. Then they get back to homework.

On afternoons when they don't have as much homework, Manuel will take them to Lisa's for frozen yogurt or to Natalie's for a hot dog. If A. Peevie has a therapy or clinic appointment after school, Manuel takes him, and I don't have to take time off work.

I walk through the door after work, and the house is generally peaceful*. One kid works on homework at the computer, the other at the kitchen table. The house smells like waffles or grilled cheese sandwiches. Sometimes Sufjan Stevens is playing on the I-Pod dock in the kitchen. He (Manuel, not Sufjan) reminds the kids to empty the dishwasher and take out the trash.

[*Unless C. Peevie is home, in which case forgetaboutit. It's loud. There is all sorts of music being played: piano, guitar, trumpet; the I-Pod is loud; there are sibling battles raging. I should change his blog name to Captain Noise.]

When Manuel is not in the house, his name is often being evoked. The other night, the whole time I was making waffles for dinner, A. Peevie was "helping" me with "encouraging" suggestions that all began with "When Manuel makes waffles, he..."Apparently, I should have listened, because my first batch of waffle batter went horribly wrong. It looked like a bowl of beige-colored hurl. Where did all those lumps come from? I threw it out and started over. I'll bet Manuel never had to throw out a batch of waffle batter.

Mr. Peevie and I are also grateful for the spiritual influence Manuel has had on our household. When C. Peevie, A. Peevie and I were shopping at the mall for non-existent pants to fit teenage boys with 24-inch waists and 32-inch inseams, we stopped for a nosh. We sat down at a table, and A. Peevie asked me, "Do you mind if I say grace?" In the middle of the crowded food court, we bowed our heads, and he prayed a gentle, thankful prayer over our Sbarro calzones.

And now Manuel is leaving us. He is pursuing his own dreams--which, whatever. I know that's  what young men do. But still. This is horribly inconvenient for me, and tragic for my family.

I wonder if he could commute from North Dakota; and I wonder if that would be asking too much.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


In my first post about homeschooling A. Peevie, I neologized "boxification" to describe how education in a traditional environment sometimes looks.

Everything is boxed up, planned, and rigidly controlled; there is very little room for exploration, imagination, or inspiration in a traditional educational setting.
I'm not saying that this is true in all schools at all times for all students. I am asserting, however, that for some kids, the strictures of a traditional school detract and distract from real learning.

For example: A. Peevie has been studying about WWII in school. He asked Mr. Peevie, "Did the emperor of Japan commit suicide after Japan lost the war?" Mr. Peevie encouraged A. Peevie to do some further study on his own to find out.

The problem is, A. Peevie has tons of stupid homework every night. This is what I mean by detracting and distracting. Left to his own devices, A. Peevie would be researching and learning about post-war Japan. That WWII study unit would not be over just because an arbitrary curriculum said it was over. His interests might take him to the World War II Database, or to the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie; or he might call his grandfather to ask about his experience in WWII, check out his army medals, and research what each one means.

Instead, he spends hours after school working on math problems that he still doesn't understand after two years of traditional instruction, filling in the blanks on spelling workbook pages, and answering questions from a 20-year-old social studies book.

Let's talk about that math situation for a moment. Why is this bright kid struggling so much to understand the basics of pre-algebra? Why are his standardized test scores dropping? He used to test in the 60th percentile, and now he is testing in the 30th. Clearly what we're doing is not working--but what is the response of the school? Do more of the same, in the same way, with the same teacher.

As Albert Einstein famously did NOT say, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. (Einstein may not have said it, but it has verisimilitude, wouldn't you agree?)

There has got to be a more effective way for A. Peevie to learn algebra. We are going to start with the Kahn videos, and go from there. Honestly, I think all he needs is a little bit of compassion, a lot of patience, and a teaching approach that correlates effectively with his learning style--whatever that is. I don't know what this looks like; my own math-phobia precludes me from dealing with algebra any more than absolutely necessary.

I also think I will ask A. Peevie to read Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences. It's been awhile since I read this tiny tome (only 180 pages), but I remember that it made math accessible, interesting, and relevant.

Mr. Peevie and I want A.Peevie to be educated. We want him to have the tools to be successful in college and in life. At this point, I believe that we will prescribe certain learning objectives that we want him to accomplish by the end of his high school years. We will also help him develop and pursue his own learning goals. Our hope is that A. Peevie's high school curriculum will primarily derive from his own interests; and that these interests will lead to an unparalleled learning experience for him.

But I'll also admit that I am terrified. It's possible that this could be a big mistake; and it's unclear what the consequences will be if it is a mistake. We're moving forward on homeschool because it feels like keeping the educational status quo for A. Peevie would be an even bigger mistake.

Fingers crossed.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Their Loss

My last post, Drastic Measures, has generated a bit of controversy.

"You are making a big mistake," one friend offered.

"Don't leave your job! Don't isolate A. Peevie!" another friend worried. (She wasn't the only one who worried about socialization--it's the obligatory objection whenever the topic of homeschooling comes up.)

These comments do not offend me; I know they spring from love and concern. But they are also driven by ignorance--and I mean that in the dictionary sense of the word, and with no rancour.

We started thinking about high school for A. Peevie sometime during his sixth grade year. We knew that the Chicago Public School selective enrollment high schools were out of our reach, and we started researching other public and private high school options. We visited the Chicago Waldorf School, and I posted on my FB page that I couldn't imagine A. Peevie going anywhere else for high school.

And then, guess what? I was a little too honest about his struggles with anxiety and organizational skills, and they turned him down. Here's the letter I wrote asking them to reconsider:
I've been thinking about Waldorf's thumbs-down on accepting A.Peevie in the high school in the fall. I don't know if you have a waiting list or not, but if so, I'd like to ask the admissions committee to reconsider his application.

One of the things you mentioned is that you are looking for students who are self-motivated learners. This is exactly the reason we are looking for a non-traditional school for him. The traditional academic environment seems to crush his spirit and his enthusiasm for learning; but when he is on his own, he takes the initiative to learn many new things. For example, he was learning about Leif Erikson in school, and he was so interested in him, and in the time period and his background, that he started teaching himself to speak Norwegian.

One of his heroes is Albert Einstein. When he learned that Einstein loved geometry (when he was about 11 years old), he decided he wanted to learn it himself--so he went online, looked up related websites, and printed out 15 pages of beginning lessons. He worked through all 15 of those pages on his own because of his own interest and curiosity.

He showed you one of his unfinished games that he had started to create. He has created several different similar games, with characters that he has drawn himself; he made duplicate card packs that he distributed to friends and neighbors, and they have ongoing games and battles using his unique characters and scenarios.

Currently, he is writing an adventure story--on his own, and not for school--that is in the fantasy/adventure genre. It's already about 15 chapters long, with unique characters and names, imaginary settings, and dramatic conflict.

You also mentioned that he might need more help than what Waldorf can give him with regard to his organizational skills. But again, it seems to me that Waldorf has exactly the environment he needs, and the study skills class seems specifically designed for kids like A.Peevie. He also has two very involved and supportive parents who are determined to make sure that he learns what he needs to learn in that arena in order to be successful.

He has managed to keep his creativity and imagination alive in spite of (I'm sorry to say) the stultifying atmosphere of a school that is not equipped to handle kids that fall outside of the traditional academic mold. He struggles, but he perseveres. He has dealt with many difficult challenges in his life, and this has given him a great deal of empathy for other people who are struggling. He is a heroic, charming, beautiful soul who will someday change the world.

A.Peevie would be a great addition to your school, and I am confident that he would thrive in an atmosphere that values individuality and creativity. I hope you'll bring my letter to the attention of TPTB (the powers that be), and that they will reconsider.

I don't know how Waldorf turned him down after that inspiring (if I do say so myself) plea, but we got a two-line response saying, "No, we're not going to reconsider; good luck; try this other school." Bastards.

After I got over being angry, I felt like God was firmly closing that door so that we could move on; and we did.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Drastic Measures

If you have ever met me, you will know that what I am about to tell you is completely and utterly unexpected, out of character, and insane.

We are going to homeschool A. Peevie for high school in the fall.


I sense a whole bunch of blog posts in my future about this decision--which, BTW, just became final this very evening.

As you may recall, we are not satisfied with the experience A. Peevie has had at the little Lutheran grade school he's been attending since kindergarten. I'm sure that most of the teachers and staff are well-intentioned--but that place is almost as inflexible as the character of the Almighty himself--only not in a good way. 

For a kid like A. Peevie, who does not have a typical learning style, and who thinks so far outside of the box that he doesn't even know there is a box, it is a prison of random, painful tortures.

One problem is the rules. They love rules, those Lutherans; they love making new ones, and allowing no exceptions to the existing ones. Even about things that really should not matter. Midway through the school year, for example, we learned that his teacher had banned the wearing of hooded sweatshirts. This was well before Geraldo Rivera infamously blamed Trayvon Martin's death on his hoodie. The reason: Hoodies make kids feel too comfortable, too relaxed.

Seriously, Ms. Lutheran School Teacher? You believe that feeling relaxed is a deterrent to learning? For A. Peevie, who lives in hoodies and finds comfort in their relaxed fit and warmth, this was a terrible blow.

This teacher is very young--which is sometimes a good thing in a teacher. But she appears to have no clue how to relate to adolescent boys. Day after day, A. Peevie would come home with a story about how she embarrassed one boy, spoke harshly to another, or teased another. This is the last thing a boy needs to deal with, when he's already trying to figure out how to navigate the scary, hairy, testosterone-fueled world of male adolescence.

Remember those unseasonably warm weeks of early spring in Chicago, when the temperatures reached the 80s on eight days in March? The principal was unwilling to allow exceptions to the rule on the books that stipulates "no shorts before April 1," and even punished kids who wore shorts on those days.

Mr. Peevie requested a special dispensation, and even offered a script for how this rule exception could be presented; and the response was, "The students will be able to wear shorts on March 23 for Fun in the Sun Day. What a blessing we have with this warm weather!" 

Predictably, and ironically, Fun in the Sun Day turned out cold and rainy.

But these are not really the reasons we are quitting school. Our reasons have to do with the random boxification of education. Everything is boxed up, planned, and rigidly controlled; there is very little room for exploration, imagination, or inspiration in a traditional educational setting. Some kids still learn and thrive and grow--possibly in spite of the boxification. 

But a kid like A. Peevie does not flourish in this kind of environment, and this is the reason we are contemplating turning our lives upside down.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Just a point of interest to my loyal readers--all four of you: Please note that I have added a subscription button to make it easier for you to keep up with The Green Room. My vice president of IT, Director J., helped me figure out how to add this functionality, and this blog thanks her.

I hope you will promptly sign up, and that you will ask all your friends to sign up--that is, if they are not overly sensitive about bodily functions and the occasional profanity. 

Before you know it, we will rule the world.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

M. Peevie: Reflections on Social and Economic Policy

The conversation started with a discussion of Mitt Romney and his piles and piles of money. 
"Mitt Romney claims he's not even part of the one percent," C. Peevie said.

"What?! No way," I said. "Cite your source." That's a favorite riposte in our household.

"Rolling Stone," he said. 

I raised one eyebrow and looked over to Mr. Peevie for a ruling. "I'd need to see the article for myself," he said.

"What's the one percent?" M. Peevie asked.

"It's the people who have buckets of money, M. Peevie," C. Peevie explained. "The rest of us are the 99 percent." 

"M. Peevie," I added, "There are many people who don't have enough money to even buy what they need. Some people have to choose between paying their rent and buying food, or between paying the bill to heat their house and buying the medicine they need."

"But why do some people have so much money, and other people don't?" asked the budding socialist.

"Some people are really good at making money," I said. "But how do they do it?" she asked. She was like a machine gun, spitting out questions without taking the time to reload.

"Well, maybe they start a business..."

"But how do they start a business if they don't have any money?" she interrupted.

"The bank will lend them money if they don't have enough to start their business, and if they have a good business plan," we told her, all of chiming in with totally theoretically observations about the process of starting a business. And then we got back to the solutions for helping the poor.

"Some people believe that the best way to help people who are poor is to ask businesses and people with more money to pay a little more in taxes so we can use that money to set up programs to help them, and to create jobs," I told her. "And other people think that the best way to help poor people is to help the people who run businesses, because businesses make jobs. The more jobs there are, the fewer poor people." Or so they say, I didn't add.

"That's called 'trickle down,' C. Peevie interjected. "And it doesn't work."

"I think they both sound like good ideas," said the 11-year-old sage. "Why can't we do both?"

I looked at Mr. Peevie and he looked at me. "She'd make a good president," I said.

"I do not want to be president," she said. "Too much responsibility, and too much sitting behind a big desk and signing papers all day long."

These kinds of conversations make me anticipate with wonder how this girl will one day change the world.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Crying in the Night

The other night I heard crying coming from M. Peevie's bedroom. Alarmed, I raced down the hall and pushed her door open. She was curled up on her giant beanbag chair, holding her book (Inkspell, by Cornelia Funke), sobbing into her sleeve.

"M. Peevie!" I said, "What is the matter? Did you hurt yourself?"

"No-ooo," she cried. She held up her book, marking her page with her pointer finger. "One of my favorite characters died!"

Phew. I was relieved, and also a tiny bit proud that my most ambitious reader was engaged with a book that had the power to move her that much. It justified my hard-line stance against crappy books written by Disney interns woodenly describing the plot of a kids movie, and insisting that we would only read books that were worth reading.

Later that night, when the kids were supposed to be asleep, I heard more weeping. Again I pushed open her door, and found M. Peevie in bed, reading by the hallway light and sobbing her heart out.

"M. Peevie!" I said, "What happened? Did another character die?"

"Yes!" she wailed, "And this time it was my actual favorite character, who gave up his own life so that the other character that died could come back to life! Waaaah!" She sobbed and hiccupped and sobbed some more.

"Wow," I said. "Very Jesusy. I'm sorry you're sad. Do you want to come and sleep in my bed for awhile until you feel better?"

She inhaled deeply, and exhaled. "No," she said, with a smallish hiccup. "I think I can calm myself down and stop crying."

So I gave her a little pat, and went to bed, and thought about how mysterious and wonderful she is, and how grateful I am for her, and for good books.