Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Educating Savages

I am a homeschooling mom.

How I wound up here, teaching these three little Savage boys instead of doing whatever it was I was supposed to do after 5 years of graduate school, I have no idea.

All I know is that it's a lot harder than it looks.

Not the school part, of course. The school part is actually quite easy and fun. We have a great Cyber-school curriculum and the kids are learning all kinds of cool and interesting things. My 1st grader spent the year learning about things like ancient Mesopotamia and art history. He already knew how to read and he was able to skip 1st grade math completely, so for those two reasons alone he was glad not to be stuck in a first-grade classroom all year long. My 4th grader is also a year ahead in math and spent a lot of time this year working on literature and composition, his weaker areas. We ALL started learning Spanish together. Teaching this stuff is loads of fun and I love doing it.

The hard part is the little Savages themselves.

Sitting them at a table together keeps them both within view and helps me answer their questions without having to run all over the house. So when they are doing independent work, this is where I like to keep them.

Unfortunately, the minute I turn my back to unload the dishwasher, wipe the bottom of the littlest Savage, or (gasp!) do something as daring as answer the phone, my quiet homeschooling kitchen-table of knowledge turns into a chaotic circus of pencil throwing, taunting faces, paper-stealing, and of course, tattling.

"He's making the loser sign at me!"

"He's tapping his pencil!"

"He won't stop making that popping sound!"

"He wrote on my paper!" "That's because he wrote on mine first!"

"Ow ow ow - he threw a pencil at me!"

"Ow Ow OW! He broke my arm and now I can't do my math!"

And that's all before I get the silverware unloaded.

Separating the boys solves this problem, but creates new ones. I used to be able to work together on the computer or at the table with one of my students while the other one played or worked quietly on his own.

That was before Little Savage turned 3.

I never could understand why the term "terrible twos" ever became part of the cultural lexicon - I think two-year-olds are the cutest, sweetest, funniest little things on two legs.

It's when they turn three that they become possessed by the Devil.

I'm not saying that they're possessed all the time - if that were the case, we wouldn't keep them. No, in order to secure themselves a continued presence in the household (or on the planet, for that matter) they cleverly intersperse their evil behavior between bouts of the most adorable behavior ever, and they look especially angelic while they are sleeping, so that even during the most frustrating moments, we still want to keep them around.

My own Little Savage has the most adorable little face, the sweetest little smile, and when he looks up at me with his big, innocent, blue eyes...

...I can almost forget for a minute that he has a death-grip on the hair of Numero Dos, who is screaming and writhing on the ground in a dramatic fashion befitting a persecuted middle child.

This Little Savage is, by far, my easiest child, I remind myself as I dive across the room to remove from him the broomstick he is wielding at his cowering brother. When you tell him "no" he says, "okay" and finds something else to do. When you say it's time to go, he takes your hand and leaves. When you tell him to share a toy, he cheerfully walks over and offers it to another child. He's a sweet, amiable little guy who loves to give hugs and kisses and loves everyone.

Especially his brothers.

When he's done pulling their hair and throwing heavy toys at their heads, he gives them a big squeeze and a kiss and says with total sincerity, "I'm thorrwy!"

Having such a child certainly livens up the day, but also makes for a logistical nightmare when trying to teach two others. If I am working with Numero Dos, Numeros Uno and Tres do pretty well together, as Uno at age 10 is almost as big as I am and can control the Baby Savage with brute force if necessary.

Numero Dos doesn't do as well when left alone with said Baby Savage. He will let himself be pummelled, pinched, pulled and provoked until he is screaming and crying, but he won't leave. We've pointed out to him that even the dog, who is 65 steps lower than him on the evolutionary ladder, knows to get up and move when the baby starts to pull on his ears, but it's no use. Needless to say, Numero Uno has not had the level of individual attention I would have liked to have given him this year.

He doesn't mind, of course. Especially when we're right in the middle of something as exciting as finding out the area of a triangle and I have to leave to go break up another fight. When I finally return to resume our lesson, nine times out of ten he's gone and I have to spend the next 20 minutes a)finding him, b)getting him to stop the new activity he has started and c)convincing him that he still doesn't know how to figure out the area of a triangle and that he needs to come back.

By now it's time for another fight between the other two, so at this point it is often easier to rationalize that playing fetch with the dog is actually as educational as calculating area would have been anyway.

Which is my theory on the invention of unschooling.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Movies I Could See a Hundred Times (and in some cases have) : Thoughts on Jerry Maguire

Here's a movie with something for everyone.

Sure, it's a chick-flick with the relationship stuff and Tom Cruise and all, but it's got sports in it too, so the guys at least stay awake. But the main reason I like it is because this movie is about courage - courage to change one's life when it's going in the wrong direction, to risk everything in the pursuit of an ideal, to confront a friend who's on the wrong track, to admit a mistake, to try and open one's heart to another person.

Not that the main characters are any kind of genius superheroes or anything - they are extremely flawed people who have a long way to go on the path to enlightenment. Here we've got Jerry Maguire, the sports agent on top of the world who is losing his soul, and Dorothy Boyd, a 26-year-old widow who longs for a husband and a father for her adorable little boy. Jerry risks his career by impulsively writing up a "mission statement" sharing his idealistic vision of what a sports agent should be with the rest of the sharks in his company. (I love the Jesus-looking all-night copy store guy who says, "That's how you become great, man. Hang your BALLS out there!") Dorothy takes a chance and allows herself and her son to get mixed up with a guy who is clearly not capable of the intimacy she needs.

I said they had courage, not foresight.

After all, we're talking about a guy who, in one night of typing, destroys his entire career and a woman who says things like, "I love him for the man he wants to be - for the man he almost is..." (cringe)
Even without listening to her much wiser "disapproving older sister Laurel" she knows it's a mistake, but she lets it happen anyway.

(Speaking of that, the porch scene is one of my favorites - how many of us can remember how that feels? Knowing something is totally wrong but just not quite being able to stop? The gentle, dreamy Paul McCartney instrumental piece is the perfect background for the aching dizziness of the moment as he's kissing her neck and shoulders and she is trying to decide whether to let go and enjoy it or put a stop to it. Her facial expressions are priceless - What a great scene - I get goosebumps every time.)

As I was saying, these are not the smartest characters in the history of film, but we want things to work out for them because we know they deserve it - and because we admire their courage. Heck, even Laurel (played by the awesome Bonnie Hunt) is pulling for them, against her better judgment.

When Dorothy realizes things are not working out, she does the bravest thing yet. She apologizes for the mistake she has made and takes responsibility for it - a major leap forward on the path to enlightenment.

"I was just on some wild ride and I thought I was in love enough for both of us. I did this... and at least I can do something about it now," she tells him.

"I'm not a guy who runs. I stick."

"Well, I don't need you to 'stick.'"

"What do you want from me, my soul?" he asks.

"Why not? Don't I deserve that?"

"What if I'm not built that way?" He honestly doubts he can do it, as much as he wants to.

"Between my need to make the best of things and your need to be responsible, if one of us doesn't say something about it now, we could lose 10 years being polite..."

He tries to dissuade her, but she knows she is right.

"Jerry, you know how hard this is for me. On the surface, everything is fine. I have this great guy and he loves my kid. And he sure does like me a lot. And I can't live like that. It's not how I'm built."

Wow. What a moment! Now that is a gutsy, self-actualized woman. (At least for the duration of the scene, anyway.)

Being a man, Jerry's steps toward enlightenment are a bit less impressive - after the big football game at the end he comes running back home to her but it is really all about him and how he misses her, with no mention of how he is going to have to change the very core of his being to give her what she needs. I mean, we've established the fact that the guy can't handle being alone - why should we believe that his return is anything other than his phobia flaring up?

Just when I'm thinking, "No way, she's not going to take him back that easily," she comes out with, "Shut up, you had me at hello." Major slide backward on the path to enlightenment. Oh well.

Did I mention that they're flawed characters?

Maybe that's part of why I like this film. None of us does the right thing or makes the smart decision every time, but we still deserve some happiness in life. Could it work out in the long run for Jerry and Dorothy? One certainly hopes so, but I think it would require a lot. Dorothy would have to learn to be happy with what Jerry is able to give, and Jerry would have to really work on extending his borders. The fact that he was capable of his initial moment of greatness with the "mission statement" gives us hope for Jerry, and they obviously both love the kid enough to give it a good shot. (Well, who couldn't love that kid? We used to mess up our own kid's blond hair and stick a pair of glasses on him and get him to say, "A human head weighs 8 pounds," just to get him to look like that kid.)

Maybe sometimes it is okay to love someone for the potential we see. Kind of like buying stock.

Anyway, nothing in life is certain. Choosing to love someone is a risky thing, and sometimes people fall short of our hopes and expectations. Sometimes we fail the ones we love as well. It is not realistic to expect perfection from ourselves or others - all we can do is put ourselves out there, be brave, and try.

As Dicky Fox, Jerry's mentor sums it all up:

"Hey, I don't have all the answers. To be honest, in life, I have failed as much as I have succeeded. But I love my wife. I love my life. And I wish you my kind of success."

Good flick.