“What’s next?”

My youngest son dreams fire fighting. He belongs to the Fire Explorers. He is now serving on a volunteer department, gaining more certifications and moving towards his goal of becoming a fire fighter. He used to want to be a pilot (and belonged to CAP, the Civil Air Patrol), but somewhere along the way he discovered search and rescue, and that, in turn, led to fire fighting. He loves it. He loves everything about it. He has gone on his own, studying and testing, and earning certifications through FEMA, above and beyond his class requirements. We are blessed here to have a specialty school for high school students to take courses that interest them, and help to prepare them to enter the working world. They have hospitality training, and a beauty school; they have culinary arts and auto shop; they have welding and computer programming. Do you want to become a travel agent? A TV journalist? A policeman? A seamstress? A plumber? Aircraft mechanic? You can gain certifications and skill sets that prepare you to get a good job, right after graduation from high school. We were thrilled when he was accepted into their Fire Science program. By going there, he was able to get his EMT 1 certification, and in 2 more days, his Fire Fighter, Search & Rescue certification. It has been such a blessing.

Last night we had the annual Family Night at Fire Explorers, where they demonstrate what the kids have learned, showing us their new skill sets, and they pass out awards. My son won two awards this year and we were so proud. He won, “Most Enthusiastic Explorer” and, “Class Clown.” He is a joyful person, and is always making people laugh. And as I said, he lives, eats, and breathes fire fighting. He truly loves the life and culture of first-responders. He is always volunteering for ride-alongs and will drop everything to volunteer at a fire event. He loves this so much and it makes my heart swell to see him so happy. We have definitely encouraged it. He does not, however, plan to pursue any schooling past high school. And you know what? I am perfectly okay with that. I didn’t think I would be, but I truly am.

As we have homeschooled our sons, and then placed them in high school programs, and watched the older ones attend college, we have learned a lot. Our schooling experience has spanned more than 27 years, and has had many expressions – public, private, and homeschooling. Parenting does not come with books (well, the pundits and experts write books, but very few of us in the trenches have the leisurely time to read them) and we learn as we go along. It’s funny how your dreams and expectations for your children change as you get to know them as individuals. I was raised to pursue college; I was enrolled in “Courses for the college bound” in high school. My brother majored in sports and girls, and lasted 2 semesters at a junior college. But he has been a business owner and is very successful in life. I lasted 10 years, off and on, at a local university. But neither of us completed our studies (I could not major long enough in any one area…I love learning!!). I am a housewife and homeschooling mom who blogs. My husband is degreed and is working on further certifications even now, in his late 50s. My older son has 2 AA’s and uses neither of them, but rather, found a career as an electrician and only just completed his 5-year apprenticeship program. Literally a week ago, he passed the state exams and is now a certified electrician! Our middle son went to a 4-year college and graduated with high honors. But he does not use that degree in his life…he is a 9-1-1 dispatcher, paying off college loans and raising a family. My point? Not everyone needs college or university. I am totally fine with who my sons are as men and have become, as breadwinners and citizens. I am a very proud mother!!

I really don’t agree with how our schools have morphed over the years. Kids get very little recess time and we have a preponderance of ADD and ADHD….I know there is a correlation. And we removed music and band, choir and art. We took away shop class and cooking class. We replaced it all with Common-Core-aligned academics that are producing students who cannot pass basic English to attend college. And they can’t change a tire or fix a meal. Nor have they been taught basic civics, in order to take their place, responsibly as voters, or even as members of our military or government.

As in the above photo, I have this in an old milk bottle, on the shelf above my kitchen sink. Whenever I touch it, I think lovingly of my grandma and her mom, my great-grandma. My youngest son asked me, when I touched it the other day, what it was. I have had it my whole life. And I have had it displayed my entire marriage. And he is just now, at 18 years old, asking me what it is. I thought he knew. It surprised me. I had to take it out of the milk bottle and explain what I meant when I said, “It is a sock-darner.” His reply? “Huh?”  I had to explain that when our socks got holes in them, we repaired the holes – we “darned” them. We did not throw socks away. He was shocked. And it made me think of all the things we have lost along the way.

I posted in another blog about all my stuff and how my kids will not want it. I also inherited my grandparents’ keepsakes. Like the sock-darner. I will have to explain what some of these items are because the arts of home-making and keeping a house (as in basic repairs) have been lost. In home economics in school I learned basic stitches, so I could hand-sew buttons and darn socks. Ha-Ha.  I learned how to do some basic repairs in that class, “in case our husbands were not around.” My brother did shop class and developed a love for engines and the smell of gasoline he still has. My sons were taught some basics by my husband, around the house and with our vehicles. They grew up, for the most part, on dairy farms and were riding tractors and working in milking barns by the time they were 6 and 7 years old. They worked on tractors and tossed hay, fed cows and cleaned barns. It was a blessed way to raise boys. The past few weekends my youngest son has learned to replace his brakes and to change his oil, and to check for all the fluid levels in his car. But so many of our kids know nothing about these basic skills. My dad can barely make a cup of tea and burn some toast. He never had to learn the “womanly arts.” His mom or his two wives did/do all that for him. I don’t think he has ever vacuumed or washed clothes or windows. But he can replace our garbage disposal and garage door. He can fix the A/C in the house and in the car. And he still remembers doing that, at 90 years old. I taught my sons to cook and do laundry, as well as how to clean a house and wash the windows. I did not want them to leave that to their wives/girlfriends, or to have to hire someone to do it for them, when they were adults. I wanted them to be well-rounded men. In part, I think I was a success. But their skill levels in laundry are still not that good…even as married men! Ha-Ha.

As my grandchildren prepare to enter the school system, I am taking pause to think about the direction in which education is going. Who will become our mechanics and plumbers? Who will be able to put a man on the moon? Who will discover the cure for diseases plaguing us now? Who? With our alignment with Common Core standards, we are eliminating so many things that help kids think. They are now providing reading material that is aligned with the Common Core testing. Most of it is not fiction, it is technical. It is not about fantasy adventures where there are swords and damsels in distress, or where heroes are facing giants and lands are discovered. It is about how things work. It is basic linguistic patterning. It is not the language of artistic expression; poetry or some of our sagas and myths. There are plenty of facts (many of which do NOT match the facts I was taught) to remember and stories of recent events (which don’t jive with what I recall). I have been researching Common Core and to tell you the truth, there is good in it. But the vast majority of it, the way in which the information is disseminated, and the testing procedures, are all bad. Unfortunately, our SATs and ACTs, as well as college entrance requirements, are all CC aligned, too.

So what is next? Where do we direct our children? Personally, I loved college. But I also know not everyone is wired that way. Some kids needs to be physically active and do things with their hands and brute strength. Some adults prefer to look at their jobs as jobs, and not careers. As a way of providing the life they want to live, not the career they want to have. Some people want to be that famous scientist or engineer that figures out how to run cars without gasoline, or to reach the moon and colonize it. Are we providing the tools necessary to our young children, in order for them to realize these dreams? I would opine that, in our current state of schooling in America, we are not. We have lost our focus on what learning should be; what education should be. I am privileged to have been able to homeschool our children. We have gone back and forth for their high school with private school and homeschooling. We are blessed to live in a state that supports homeschooling 100% and then some. We have a state that has these specialty schools that teach kids the skills they need to seek immediate employment upon graduation. But not everyone is so blessed. We need to embrace, actively, making our school system better. Throwing money at the problem does not fix it. I think we all need to seriously look at it and answer the question, “What’s next?”

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“And just like that…”

It’s so interesting how our minds work. I had a horrible nightmare last night..well, technically it was extremely early this morning…and woke to my 15-year-old dog barfing his guts out at the foot of my bed (luckily into his dog bed itself). To tell the truth, it was almost worse than the nightmare. Reality can do that to you, every once in a while. Your mind has you reeling and you’re breaking out in a cold sweat, thinking life is pretty bad, and then your dog throws up at your feet. And this morning, it was so very dark. It was black as night, which is why I was so confused.  It’s just week one of Daylight Savings Time – I really dislike the time change – and I am exhausted. Not only that, it is pitch black at 6:30am. So I had to find my way to a light to see what I was dealing with. Meanwhile, I was sweating over my nightmare and not fully aware of what was happening. And to be honest yet again, I think dealing with a sick dog is preferable to my dream, in many ways. In this particular case, once I was fully awake, I would much rather deal with my sick dog.

You see, in my dreams, I lost one of my sons. He snapped; he became someone he never was, nor anyone I had raised him to be. He exhibited behavior I had never expected of him. I was begging him. I was yelling at him. I was losing him and there was nothing I could do to stop his decisions. In my dream, I was cowering in my closet, crying and inconsolable. I think losing a child to poor choices is probably the worst thing I can imagine. I know people who have children who have struggled with addictions and who have served time in prison, or who have been admitted to rehab over and over again. I have seen families split apart who have not returned to a cohesive unit. And I have seen the pain in a parent’s eyes over their lost children.

And I cannot help but think of the world, and our country, right now. It feels like we are turning our backs on God. We have walked away from the basics of our faith. We have allowed the world in, so much so, that we have forgotten God. We have chosen to live life as we choose, away from His Word for us.

In the Ladder of Divine Ascent (the Icon depicted above) St.John Climacus exhorts us to pay attention. If you look at the icon you can see how decisions are affecting the eternity of those climbing. There are many ways in which we can see how, as a culture, we have chosen the world over its creator. The creation has become the master of the creator. It is usurped and upside down. And it can only lead to disaster. It can lead to each of us falling off the “Ladder of Divine Ascent,” our own pathway to heaven.

I read an article today by a young woman who was raised by her German grandmother. Her grandmother warned her that war was coming to us. As a young girl, her grandmother had tried to warn her own family in Germany, prior to World War 1, of an upcoming war, but none of them listened to her. So she fled to America via Ellis Island. She saw the “writing on the wall” (Daniel 5).  And she raised her children and grandchildren to be aware of the world – the history, culture, and markers that signal disaster is coming. And she believes we are, once again, headed for international disaster. Quite often, I feel that God needs a 2×4 to get my attention; I see these markers and yet I disdain them and blow them off. This dream, which was making me extremely upset, was stopped by my dog, before I could take the imagery further. Why did I dream about my son like that? I think it is because I realized his entire school experience, the sum total of all my years of schooling my children, is due to our homeschool by May 1st. The final grades for his last year of homeschooling. And that is so very close. As in 6 weeks close. As in my entire brood will have graduated from High School and be making their way into the world. And it scares me. For a variety of reasons. My babies are all adults. All of them. And here I sit.

You know, God experienced the “empty nest” syndrome, too. He had to expel Adam and Even from the Garden of Eden. As a parent, we sometimes have to make those tough calls. Of course, God knew that He was setting mankind on the pathway back to Him. He granted us free will, which allows us to follow or reject Him. Our children have free will. Eve was easily tempted by an apple, because of her free will, and the demonic presence whispering in her ear. She then infected Adam with the need to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, the one plant the Lord asked them to not eat. Isn’t that how it goes? What we are told we cannot have, we want all the more??  God gives us ample opportunities to choose Him. He allows us the opportunity to experience what the world has to offer. He allows us to feel sated by the world. To our “in the moment” minds; to our “if it feels good do it” mentality; to our “it will be fine, you will see” logic, we choose the pathway that is easier, wider, simpler. Being a follower of God, of Christ, is the single, most difficult thing I have ever chosen to do. But I cannot deny the pull of my heart; that emptiness that no amount of anything in this world fills, but God. The fear of my son making poor choices for his life? Isn’t that the fear all parents share? Most especially our God? He saw how our poor choices mounted, again and again. And He sent us His Son, to lead us each to salvation. Each of us. I can worry all I want about my kids; in fact, I always will. I may have sleepless nights until my eternal sleep, worrying about my children and grandchildren. Because as a parent, we never, ever stop worrying.

Once again, God has directed us to Him through the gift of Lent. He never stops worrying about us. I will never stop worrying about my family, or my friends. It’s part of who I am, as a woman, and as a mother. Each year, we are given a wonderful opportunity to re-direct our lives away from this crazy, inviting, world and direct ourselves towards God. We have this chance for more prayer, for reflection, for a metanoia of the heart, mind and soul. So even if this world is careening out of control, we firmly stand on the Rock, the Church. We have our faith to ground us, prepare us, to set a wall around our hearts. We don’t know when things will occur. And we need to always stay prepared. God has our best interests at heart as the Creator of all of us. He will never stop welcoming us Home to Him. And that one thing helps me sleep at night, and helps keep most nightmares at bay.

I know my kids are growing up and moving on. I know it. It’s just hard to deal with it some days. But facing these fears, in the light of day, and the Light of Christ, gives me strength. And just like that….