Bear (10) was at his best bud’s all day after a sleepover. I haven’t heard much about what happened there, except that his friend’s little sister asked Bear to make her a costume of a character from a comic they both read (he has already made her a hat) and his friend’s little brother pushed him down a flight of stairs. Also, Bear reported that he gave himself a goatee made of electrical tape. When he came home, he set right to yelling at his own little brother for having spread out all of his Dungeons & Dragons maps. Now he’s reading The Mean and Vulgar Bits, a book about fractions, decimals and percents.
Verdi (12) worked on Terran’s (7) bike this morning (but failed to get it roadworthy, an issue of lack of tools, not lack of skill). He also helped me clean the house today. He is a terribly helpful child but we didn’t get anything academic done, again. (I’m considering officially becoming an unschooling family. More on that in its own blog post.) He reports that he played Stick Ranger while I was out of the house. He also read about how manual and automatic transmissions work. (“They’re VERY complicated,” he reports.) During our post-suppertime reading period he started, and finished, the graphic novel version of Game of Thrones, then started How to Be a Superhero by Doctor Metropolis, but defected when he remembered I had just bought Bear the new Lemony Snicket, Who Could That Be At This Hour? It’s good to see him enthusiastically devouring books again. He used to be my one-chapter-book-each-day kid but when he went to school for a year his joy in reading died a deadly death.
Terran and I set out early this morning on my bicycle (an Xtracycle, so he can ride on the back like these kids) to collect the twenty-five hundred books that I requested at the library. Beforehand we hit the local coffeehouse for some road fuel. Terran had a chai because he’d just eaten at home and I had chili because I had not. The news blaring in the background was all about the new pope. Terran, of course, needed to know what that was all about. The conversation started like this:
“Do you know about the differences between Catholics and other types of Christians?”
“Do you know about the differences between Christians and other religious people?”
“Do you remember what the Roman Empire was?”
“Yes. Oh! Are the Christians the people who stole all the pagan holidays when the Roman Empire was dying?”
From there I was able to explain the differences between Catholics and other types of Christians, a brief history of the influence of the Catholic church on the world, another brief history of the good and bad Christians have done in the world, what the Vatican is like, and what “Rome” means now. After we were finally able to get into who the new pope is, I had a chance to explain my own feelings about poverty versus wealth and whether there’s value in what Jesus taught, who Saint Francis was and what he’s famous for and what he taught, and what the Catholic Worker Movement is about. After listening to all this, Terran told me that when he grows up he wants to earn just enough money to apply for a license to keep lots of cats in the city and then he will give all the rest to the poor, because, “When you have cats to cuddle, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have material possessions.” He also confessed that he’d “had a feeling” he didn’t like “that god Jesus” but he said he “wasn’t really sure why.” I told him to let me read him some stories of Jesus’ life before he decided whether his issue was with Jesus or his followers.
I want to mention that at one point this conversation was interrupted by Terran whining about his chai being too hot. He told me he was too shy to go ask for milk to cool it off. I wanted him to do it himself. We compromised and I walked with him but he asked. His confidence level skyrocketed after that, so when it came time to pay, I gave Terran a twenty and had him go do it himself. He did it with pleasure and came back with an accurate and specific description of what it had cost and how much change had gotten. The owner of that coffeehouse, Scott, knows us, and knows Terran, so I was surprised the kiddo needed warming up. I’m glad he was finally able to do that himself.
When we exited the coffeehouse it was bitterly cold so we only went halfway to the library before taking a warm-the-fingers-and-cheeks break at a convenience store that is also an ice cream shop. On the way up the hill, Terran asked me why people rent houses instead of buying them. I explained what a mortgage is, the pros and cons of renting, how property owners make money. At one point I used the word “investment” and he wanted that defined, so I explained other forms of investing too. We talk a lot when he’s on the back of my bike.
At the convenience store there are only a couple of booths for sitting so I wasn’t surprised when an old man with a slight Irish accent asked Terran if he could sit with him. Terran looked at me. I nodded. Then Terran said, “Yes, please do.” I stood back by my bike, guarding it so I wouldn’t have to lock it for what I hoped would be a short stop, and listened to Terran tell his entire life story (“My parents were never married so I live with each of them half the time…”) to this guy, then Terran’s plans for his future (“I might go to college for robotics or I might just invest in real estate, I’m not really sure…”). The poor old guy was just trying to read his newspaper. When I finally shoo’d Terran up and out the door, the man told me my son made very intelligent conversation.
Soon enough we had made our way to the library. While we were there, of course, Terran wanted to read. He picked something bright and shiny off the shelf, discovered it was a spoof of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, and sang it as he read. One of the things the monster swallowed was a jackal. The illustrations were quite cartoonish, so Terran asked if jackals really look like that. I grabbed the J-L World Book to show him. He’d never seen an encyclopedia before and was fascinated. I had to explain it to him by saying, “It’s like Wikipedia except…”
Then he went to say hi to his librarian friend and she invited him to participate in their afterschool storytime, craft, and math game. It was a St Patrick’s-themed hour. The math practice was on multiples and the craft was mosaics. He helped set up for that (since he was early) and stayed afterwards to help clean up, too. While he was in the library’s classroom, I read an entire book — Persepolis, finally — and started a second one, Deathless. I love them both. Catherynne Valente’s words are so finely pretty. I kept wanting to stop and text my friends quotes from the first chapter. Stunningly heartrenderingly beautiful, that book. So far anyway.
While we’re on the subject of my own education and upbringing, I’ll mention that I bumped into a wise lovely friend completely randomly as I was bicycling home. I told her removing all drama from my life was kind of my theme in the past few weeks and I was feeling completely uncertain of which actions would reduce it rather than escalate it. If there’s slander, do you sue to stop it, because that’ll stop it, or do you ignore it? Which stops the drama more effectively? She said that in her experience the only thing that stops drama is to do nothing. I thought she meant do no activity in the world, which isn’t really an option for me, even though I’m trying to do less in the world and more in my house. (My other theme these past few weeks has been that.) She clarified that she meant just don’t respond to the drama. Don’t let it change what you do. Don’t try to interact with it. I got it, heard it, but set it aside to ponder later, or maybe set it in my quiet subconscious pondering place. These few hours later, though, it kind of feels like it is sitting right and good in me to do just what she said: nothing. When I think of going that way, I feel this total, wide, pastel-desert-sunset peace. When I think of all the ways I could interact with the drama in an attempt to stop it, I feel uncertain. So maybe she gave me my path.
As Terran came out of the craft/game/storytime activity, he asked if he could check out more Amelia Bedelia books (only he pronounces it “AM ill lah BED ill luh” instead of “UH meel yah buh DEEL yah”), then took a few minutes to pick out the three that looked most enticing. I gave him the library card and had him go check them out himself. During that process he got into a discussion with the librarian about why we say “check them out”. She reminded him that many words and phrases have more than one meaning. I came in about then and reminded him that we could use an etymological dictionary to research that.
At home later, Terran read more Franny K Stein and a title from the library called Beautiful Oops. He also helped me unload all the library books.
Dinnertime conversation was scattered and by that time I had developed migraine aura, so I’m not really sure I remember if we discussed anything educational. I think it was mostly about catching up on the days we had all had and reminding each other of what we would all be doing for the next few days. There was a lesson on how to fold one’s burrito so the guts don’t spill when you pick it up, though. Also, we laughed pretty hard at the cat, who sat in a chair rather too close to the food on the table, looking away from the food as though he was quite interested in the contents of the bookshelf behind him. His tactics fooled no one. We guarded our plates.