I’m sorry, it’s my birthday, and I can’t bring myself to talk about Mr. Trump, which was my plan for today in this Epic Birthday Week O Blogging. Also, I can’t face the Let Classical Music Die Because Of Its Whiteness which was my backup. It’s all too depressing. Instead, I went down the rabbit hole of back to school videos, because of my self-loathing, and also because I find the phenomenon of random people giving advice to other random people fascinating.
I’m not gonna link to them because that would just be mean, but I did spend an unhelpful amount of time watching a perky, excited person with perfect hair explain to me how to get my kids ready to go back to school when they’re totally not gonna wanna. Granted, all the advice was for people who send their children away to school, and not for rubes like me who decide to keep tripping over them for the whole course of their childish existences. But some of it was applicable, like, if all your teenagers sleep till 11, start making them wake up at 6 a week early so that they don’t die when they actually have to be awake at 8. And, cut everyone’s screen-time in half a week before school starts (blarg). And set up morning and evening routines (no thanks). Then I watched the same person explain to me how to be a happy wife and a happy mother, which apparently is as simple as properly respecting my husband* and choosing happiness every day. After some careful thought, however, I realized that if I did either of those things this blog would not be as good as it is, so I’m going to give that advice a pass as well.
Then I moved on to Rachel Hollis, who is “creating content,” because that’s what we’ve come to as a society, for young teens. Instead of talking to the mothers, in other words, she’s going straight for the babies, which I think must be a brilliant marketing strategy. All those mothers are going to grow up and move on to the next motivational trend, but meanwhile, their daughters are sitting there just waiting to be sold all the things. Her back to school advice for middle schoolers was 1. Be Confident. 2. Middle School will not last. 3. Don’t send pictures of yourself to boys. 4. No one is thinking about you. And, 5. You are wonderful. You are beautiful. You are fierce. You are strong.
Some of this, like not sending naked pictures to boys, is, of course, true. Some of it is ridiculous. Going into middle school with the belief that you are “strong” and “fierce” and “wonderful” is probably going to make all the other little “strong” “fierce” “wonderful” girls hate you. Which will drive you back into your phone, which will make you think seriously about the naked pictures, and so the long day wears on.
What bothers me, though, is how trite all the back to school advice is, even the Christian stuff. Like, (paging John Lennon) imagine a utopian imaginary world where children, when thinking about going back to school, were absorbed in the anticipation of—and stay with me here because I think I’m about to say something insane—what they were going to learn. #crazy
When I sit and gaze over the vast stretch of my life (which, granted, isn’t that expansive, and hopefully will go on much longer than today, because, however much I may dread my birthday, at least having it is better than the alternative) there are two experiences that grip me even now. One is watching my parents waving goodbye and driving away from my school, and feeling again the tightness across my chest, the deep bottomless well of grief that I drink fully from this week, no matter how much I explain to myself that I don’t plan to. The second is the accumulation of bright moments too numerous to count of a world opened up through, and stay with me here, Book Learning. Like you’re sitting in class, and another person is standing at the front of the room, and you’re not talking, or texting, or Instagramming, or anything. You’re sitting listening to another person who knows things. As that person talks, your world stretches past the dismal horizon of your own emotions and troubles. Then you wander over to the library and read books and that world keeps unfolding before you.
So, one reason that I’m really grateful that we’re homeschooling is that my children are not thinking about who is going to hassle them, and how confident they need to be, and what kind of jerks are out there—they find those people other places—but are absorbed already in the classes they will be taking, who their teachers are, what they will be reading and writing. And this was not my own doing, it was the gift of God who made it possible for us to afford some classes at an excellent online classical school.
The qualities I’m searching out in a child as he goes through the year, as she methodically works through her stack of books are
- Good Humor
- Patience in Suffering
What’s my advice for how to get all that? Read a Book. Listen to Other People. Talk About Interesting Things.
“I’m always sort of depressed in July and August,” said my oldest child to me yesterday.
“Why,” I asked, surprised.
“Because I wish school could be year-round. I only need a month off. It’s ridiculous to have so long in between semesters.”
I mean, yes. Learning can be a way of life, a methodical, patient way of being.
I wish the big dream that we dreamed for our children was intellectual curiosity. I wish all these advice videos had books in the background. I wish middle schoolers were thinking more about Homer than sending inappropriate pictures to each other. Oh well. Instead, we can throw away the classical music, make Mr. Trump into Jesus, and dull the pain with another scroll on a bright screen. Happy Birthday To Me!
*I do respect my husband, in my own special bitterly sarcastic way.