Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Hey, We Had Dinner Together, Didn't We?

I pull into the Wendy's parking lot, make almost a full circuit before I see an empty spot and pull in. I'm a little late, but it's fine. At least I'm here.

I walk in and scan the restaurant, all plastic and shiny and smelling like crispiness and sugar. I see her at a booth and head over.

"Hey!" she says, getting up to hug me.

"No, don't get up," I say, smiling distractedly. "Er, well yeah, get up." I laugh as I pull out my phone. "We need to order, I guess."

We get in line and she starts asking me about my day. I deflect mostly, just trying to get to the cashier.


"TFor here," I say. "Lemme get a 10-piece with sweet and sour and a water."

I text as we take our food back to our booth. I'm not trying to be rude, this text is just about work.

We sit down.

"So," she says, smiling. "How--"

"Aren't you gonna eat?" I ask, nodding at her burger. I can't point because I'm holding chicken nuggets in both hands.

"Yeah..." She picks up the Junior Bacon Cheeseburger. "So--"

"One sec." Another text, but it's work again, so it's not a legitimate diss. It's just--sorry. "Okay." I set my phone down with an air of finality. "I actually only have like five minutes before I need to head out, but what's up with you? Oh, but lemme tell you about what happened yesterday. You seriously would not believe..."

Between bites of whole nuggets, I fill her in on my day, ending with a modest request for her to drop off some milk at my place later. I want to make the really good hot chocolate.

"So this was fun!" I say, raking my trash onto the tray and standing up. "Dinner tomorrow, same time and place?"

She smiles, looking a little sad, which is ridiculous because I just offered her my time again for tomorrow.

"Yeah," she says. "Tomorrow. Maybe I can call you later toni--"

"Gosh, I don't know," I say. I speak over my shoulder as I dump my wrappers and containers into the trash. "Tonight's kind of busy. How about I just see you tomorrow? Okay? Great."

In Jesus' name,

I would never treat my friends this way. So why do I treat God this way?

Feeling convicted this morning.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Grammar Fallacy: Yeah, but does she know what it means?

This isn't what I'm being paid to do right now, but hey, I will work until 5:30 and happily call it worth it.

You know how sometimes you'll see or hear something that gets under your skin, and you feel as though you absolutely cannot think of anything else until you respond? Something that makes you fidgety, like you need to stand up and move around, cool off a bit? Something that makes your heart pound and your tongue wedge between your teeth?

Well, that's happening to me. And it isn't even something big. In fact, most of you will probably be disappointed when you find out what's bugging me, because it isn't a big political issue, or a body image issue, or a feminist thing, or even something you already know outrages me, like sex trafficking.

It has to do with four-year-old Brielle who has appeared on The Ellen Show. I saw this video on Facebook this morning, and loved it. Brielle is confident and polite and well-spoken, even though she has trouble forming her words sometimes. Oh, and she's an absolute master of grammar ("grammar": the vocabulary or principle elements of any subject).

So impressive, not to mention adorable.

Since she's only four years old and has had time to learn all this, I immediately wondered if she was homeschooled. I started Googling to find the answer, and found other videos of her. She also knows the entire periodic table of elements.

Automatically, because I'm just naturally a glutton for punishment, I scrolled down to see the comments on the article about her knowing the periodic table. Lots of people were nice ("Good girl!! Hope she falls in love with learning...!"), some people--of course--criticized the parents ("Child abuse."), but one comment made me stop cold. Made my heart pound and my tongue wedge between my teeth. I had to stand up and walk around.

"OK, idiot savant... But does she know what the table means?"

*pauses for a moment, collecting self*

Maybe that seems like a legitimate point to you, and if it does, I'm not mad. I'm actually really glad that you're reading this, and I hope you'll read on.

The simple answer? No, Brielle probably does not fully grasp what the periodic table "means." She has probably memorized a lot of words and terms and definitions that don't mean a lot to her right now. She probably doesn't know exactly what protons or electrons ARE. Little kid brains are just wired for storing information. Little kids are THE BEST at memorizing because their brains are trying to collect info to help them understand the world. Memorization is obviously not impossible once you get older, but it is more difficult, especially if you didn't exercise your memorization skills as you grew up.

So right now, Brielle pretty much only knows the words. She knows facts and sentences.

But fast forward to high school, when she starts doing "real" chemistry. Her classmates have never really thought about the periodic table of elements. They don't know the order of elements, and consequently don't know the atomic numbers of elements. They don't know what any of the elements do, except maybe that hydrogen has something to do with water. Brielle's classmates must memorize the table of elements, at the same time that they're trying to learn and practice chemistry. They're trying to get good grades while learning the grammar (the vocabulary) and the dialectic (applying concepts and asking good questions) at the same time.

But Brielle? Brielle thinks back to the "empty" words and terms and definitions she memorized when she was four. The words didn't mean a lot to her then, but now, with her more mature understanding, she can recall that information and quickly attach more meaning to it. Brielle won't have to memorize the periodic table (or the bones in the human body, or where all the countries in the world are). Instead, Brielle already has that information and can immediately move on to things that are more complex than memorization.

The words and terms and facts she has memorized provide "pegs" for her to hang future knowledge on. The words and terms and facts naturally grow with her whenever she learns new information. If she hears something about hydrogen that she's never heard before, the information will not go in one ear and out the other, because there's already a box in her mind that contains "Hydrogen" facts. The box has been created and is partly filled, and she has only to add this new information to her collection.

If you hear a new fact about breakfast cereal, don't you think you'll store that information better than a random fact about, like, the Winter War?

When I was ten, I memorized a list of 160 historical events. I didn't really know what some of them meant ("The unification of upper and lower Egypt by Pharaoh Menes"?), but now, when I hear something about the ancient unity of Egypt, I'm like "Oh, okay, yeah. Pharaoh Menes did that," and I know that it came around the time of the Tower of Babel and the Old Kingdom in Egypt, because I know what historical events came before and after it.

So to answer your question, "Tonye," no, Brielle probably doesn't know exactly what the periodic table means. But that does not detract from the value of what she's doing. One day, all the "rote memorization" that came easy as a child will pay off, giving her the boost she needs to move on to true understanding.

Never undervalue the power of kids "just memorizing" without true understanding. They are just collecting the light bulbs that will go off later.


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

My Reason in the Rhyme: having kids when I'm selfish, scared, and cynical

Spoiler alert:  I am not pregnant.


Having kids has never been a question for me. Of course I am going to have kids. When I was little, I thought it was just what happened when you grew up and got married. As I grew up, I guess somewhere in the back of my mind (where I stored the information gleaned from The Talk) I knew that I didn't HAVE to have kids, but I always knew that I would. I loved babysitting; I never completely grew out of my love for "playing pretend;" I enjoyed conversations with children. Kids never intimidated me, even the ones "you couldn't do anything with."

As I grew even older, I began to think about what it would be like to raise a mini-me. What would she look like? Would she love to read? (Of course she would love to read.) Would she be allergic to peanuts? Would she be a worrywart like me?

When I fell in love with Gabe, my future wonderings grew concrete in a breathtaking, exhilarating, frighteningly real way. His was the other half of my kids' DNA. Brown eyes are dominant, so my kids would now probably have brown eyes. Gabe is much more patient than I am, more steady. Maybe my kids would have his patience and surefootedness, rather than my peanut allergy and inclination to stress about literally everything. Maybe one kid would be like me, another like him. Maybe they'd all be perfect mixtures. Maybe some would be completely out of left field and we'd have to learn them together.

I've never doubted that I want kids.

But then...

Then we started premarital counseling, and had to put our goals into categories:  short term (3-5 years), medium term (5-10 years), long term (10+ years).

Clearly, at age 22 and wanting four children, the logical category for kids was Short Term. But a spark of panic leapt into my stomach and bloomed into something hot and scratchy.

Three to five years? Gabe won't even be finished with school for three and a half years. What, he graduates and gets a job and then BAM--babies? No time as married adults with regular jobs? No years as DINKS to travel and eat at fancy restaurants and go to movies at full price?

Was I terrible for thinking that way? I really did want kids. I love kids. I want my own kids. I want to read to them, and fix their favorite foods, and take them to historical places, and play pretend with them, and hear their thoughts about the world.

But I already worry about my body. I'm already a bit of a hypochondriac. Can you imagine how worked up and freaked out I'd be if I were pregnant? Still worrying about myself all the time, except ALSO worrying about the little person inside of me, and how my own health would affect him or her.

And, if I'm absolutely throwing good taste to the wind, I might as well say that the idea of being pregnant freaks me out. My stomach is going to swell. There is going to be an ANIMAL (I know, a person, I'm there with you, but it is, in fact, a creature) forming out of tissue and soul in my stomach. Growing. It'll be like I swallowed a person, except that it keeps growing.

And don't even get me started on how scared I am of actually giving birth and nursing not sleeping for months.

Also, the world today. What if my baby has to know Hilary Clinton as his first president? Or Donald Trump? What if my baby's best friend has two mommies? What if my baby tries to tell me that he thinks he's actually a she? What if my baby's brain is skewed by the prevalent use of social media? What if he subconsciously feels like if he doesn't take a picture of an event, it might as well not have happened? I already struggle with that, and I wasn't even born into this craziness.

I feel so scared--and so selfish--when it comes to having kids. I feel like a bad person. Sometimes I want kids RIGHT NOW, sometimes I can't even pretend like I might want kids any time soon. But God is doing several things to keep me sane about this, the biggest of which is my job.

I work for Classical Conversations: a classical, Christian, community-based curriculum program for homeschooling families. Its mission statement is "to know God and to make Him known," and one of its core beliefs is that parents are the best educators for their unique children. I did this program growing up, and its philosophy and content prepared me for college and life better than anything else could have. Seriously, I will have to write a post entirely about this company sometime.

But this is not that post.

I'm the assistant editor for the multimedia side of the company, which means that I get to read a lot of the curriculum and the catalog and the resources and the emails and basically everything that this company is putting out there for parents and students.

And guys, it makes me so excited to have kids.

I want to read Story of the World to my kids. I want to hear their little voices rattling off complex history sentences from memory, the way I did when I was their age. I want to show them the beautiful logic behind Latin, and how fun it is to read original documents. I want to see the light go on in their heads when they see laws of science work in experiments. I want to hear their thoughts on the Dred Scott decision. I want to see the map of the world they can draw from memory.

I want to help them love learning, even more than I did. I want to help them understand the truth, goodness, and beauty of the world even better than I did. I want them to live a life of learning, even more intentionally than I did. I want them to see the connections between Latin and music, western culture and theology, math and literature even better than I did.

I want them to live with more love for and awareness of God than I did. I want them to feel His joy more than I did. I want them to see His connections better than I did.

Every day, I get to work with resources that help kids become the best humans they can be for God. I'm selfish, I'm scared, I'm cynical, but how can I not want to have little humans who will learn and grow and love and explore and understand better than I did? I know it sounds sort of backwards and silly, but Classical Conversations is such a great program that it makes me want to have kids just so they can participate.

I know this isn't the best thinking process, and I'm struggling with whether or not I should even hit "Publish," but this is my truth for the time being. This is my reason in the rhyme. This is how I'm staying sane and wanting kids even though I'm selfish and scared.

*shrug* I'll let you know how I feel in three to five years.