Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Language Literacy

We are a language-oriented family. That's kind of a no-brainer. In my spare time (insert insane laughter here) I write fiction and short non-fiction pieces. Dh is a reporter for one of the biggest newspapers in the nation. We are always in the act of learning something, reading something or firing off missives outlining our stance on things. We read, read, read, and write, write, write. It's in our blood ... the very same blood that we've passed on to our children. They have books everywhere: in their beds, under their beds, in bags, on tables, stacked in corners. ((sigh)) It's a messy habit, this home education business.

I'm not really surprised that our children have taken up the cause of all learning all the time. Honestly, I think I'd be surprised if they weren't interested in something, KWIM? I really don't care what it is. Obsess over elephants. Research rabbits. Unearth Asia. Whatever floats your boat ... just learn.

What has surprised me is the interest each of the children has in foreign languages. When I say "interest," what I mean is a desire to speak and read in that tongue. Insane, huh? Where did that come from? Must have been all those books we've read from infancy that don't involve talking bunnies reciting the ABC's. ;-) At any rate, my children are each engaged in learning languages. This poses a bit of a problem for dh and I, who mastered French and German, respectively, before closing our college texts and never again chancing to diagram another sentence that started with the masculine or feminine articles.

In other words, I wouldn't say I am fluent in anything but English--although I will admit that my Spanish is better than most Americans. Same for dh, who can tell you a few off-color phrases in French and not much more despite five years of study.

Thankfully, homeschoolers have the time to dedicate to these random interests. And the resources ... oh, the resources. We happen to live in an area where Rosetta Stone language software is accesible online for free. Yes ... for free! This opens the doors my children to indulge their lingophile tendencies without putting dh and I in the position of having them prioritize. Can you imagine the conversations: "Look, son, you can learn Latin or Swahili, but not both. Maybe next year, o.k.?"

So, if you come by my house in the pre-lunch hours, take a moment to stand underneath the open front window and listen. Chances are good you'll hear beginning Japanese (Atticus's current favorite), followed by French (Jo) and Spanish (Logan), then advanced Spanish (Jo), then more Spanish (Atticus), then Greek (Jo) followed by U.K. English (Logan thinks its a hoot). If you're lucky, you'll hear my children call for our dog using the nine different words they know from various languages. And if you're really, really lucky, I'll remember how to greet you in German.


I don't come from the most encouraging family. Both my mother and father are pretty tight-lipped when it comes to pouring out praise. They come by it honestly; neither of their parents were apparently cheerleaders when it came to the accomplishments of their children.

I tend to swing in the other direction. Granted, my predilection to praise is probably directly rooted in the fact that I hungered for a morsel of "atta-girl" from my own mom and dad. I like to think it is just because I am generally pretty aware of the effort others put forward and like to acknowledge that. Wherever the tendency springs from, I know it's noticed. My kids give me a wonderful mirror to look into every time they echo: "Wow, that was hard work, but you did it!" or "How did you figure that out? You sure are smart!"

But as I said, I don't come from a very encouraging family. The best you were likely to get in my house growing up was a "You're better than that" or "I guess that's alright." I still don't count on a whole lot of "You sure are smart!" comments when I talk to my mother. She may very well tell others that she thinks I'm the bee's knees, but she'd never admit it to me. And the closest thing I hear from my dad (when I talk to him once every quarter) is that I made a wise choice in buying a Dodge.

As a result, it takes a lot to really burst my bubble. And I really don't rely on the feedback of others to make or break my mood or day. Growing up without much "building up" leaves you either oblivious or bitter. I picked oblivious. And for the most part, it's not a terrible way to be as long as you pray to keep your heart from growing hard.

So I was caught completely off-guard on Sunday when I hung up the phone and felt the sting of an obvious cut-down.

The perp was one of my mom's sisters, an aunt with whom I spent many a summer growing up. I'll call her Aunt Bea, though she has nothing in common with Andy's beloved aunty in Mayberry. Aunt Bea has never really liked me--as far as I can tell--but then again, she's never really seemed overly fond of anyone in my generation. She is nice enough, don't get me wrong. She housed me and fed me and entertained me for quite a lot of my childhood memories, so I can't complain too much, KWIM?

Aunt Bea has always had the same acidic tongue as my mother. She "nit picks" as we Southerners say; she finds a sore spot and hones in on it. Then, like a child who can't keep their hands off a loose tooth, she wiggles and waggles it until you just want to snap. I'll be fair here and say that I really don't think she is aware that this bothers people. I really don't think she is a terrible, awful person. I think it's just ingrained in her--like it's ingrained in my mother--and she doesn't think twice before she sets to picking.

When the phone rang on Sunday and I saw her name in the caller id, I admit that I braced myself. Aunt Bea honestly only calls me when she and my mother are at war, which happens about once a year. I had low expectations when I answered the phone, and I was rewarded. Aunt Bea never asks how I am. Never wants to hear about my kids, my husband, my life. She usually gets right to unearthing the ugly things every family has in its closet ... which is precisely what she did. I dodged and ducked the comments. Finally, after Aunt Bea had pumped me for information about when I might come east and why my brother isn't working, she gave a long sigh and hit me with this one:

"Well, I have to say, you sure seem like you're doing good out there. It surprises me. I never thought you had it in you to turn out o.k."


Did she just say that?!?! She did! She just told me that I was a big old loser in whom she had no faith, and was completely amazed that I'd managed to pull myself up to some level of civility that she deems acceptable!

I answered very sweetly. I'm pretty proud of my reply actually, because it's usually only after a day or two of reliving any given situation that I come up with what I wish I had said. I told her, "Thanks, Aunt Bea. I sure am glad you waited until now to tell me that. You know, if you had said that to me back when I was first married and trying to figure out my direction in life, it would have really hurt me."

She didn't say anything back, of course. She got off the phone pretty quick, asking me to send her a Christmas card. Uh ... o.k. Sure thing.

I write this not to make any big statement. No, maybe I am making a big statement: encourage someone today. Take the time to tell them something wonderful about themselves, or to thank them for the way that they love or live. Even if it feels weird, just do it. Because you just don't know. They may have just hung up with their Aunt Bea. And if she's been spreading her style of compliment, they may really be blessed by yours.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Babies "r"n't Us

I went to Babies 'R' Us today. It was the first time I'd been there in years. I can remember haunting the place when I was expecting Jo; eyeing the adorable little crib sets I couldn't afford, dreaming about the perfect bassinet and wondering if the wee person growing in my belly would prefer the monitor that had sound and lights, or just sound. Somewhere around her first birthday, I found that it just wasn't very fun to take her there anymore. The baby of my dreams and the little soul entrusted to me by God didn't actually line up all that well, and I was beginning to see that that was precisely the point the Lord was trying to impress upon me. As it turns out, she didn't care which monitor we chose anymore that He did.

But I digress.

So, I went to Babies 'R' Us today. It was very much the same as it was a decade ago, when I was venturing into new motherhood. You can still buy wipe warmers and a frightening number of appliances meant to mimic the sensation of being in a mother's arms. There are things you actually need there, too. Like ... well ... diapers. Although, I admit I'm not as keen on disposables as I used to be. But again, I digress.

So ... I went to Babies 'R' Us today.

Oh, come on! Aren't you going to ask what I was doing in Babies 'R' Us?!?!

I was there with my best friend, J. She is the proud momma of three of the cutest boys I've ever seen that don't live under my roof. We were there to look for a shower gift for a friend of hers. And to see if they had any adoption-themed baby books.

For my family, of course.

Yep. After walking away from a disasterous Russian adoption proccess nearly two years ago, we have decided to quit putting our hands over our ears when God talks to us about adding to our family through adoption. We attended a retreat about foster/adopt last weekend and are going ahead with the process. God willing, sometimes in 2007, our family will expand by a little one or two.

So I went to Babies 'R' Us today. And for the first time in a long time, I was an expectant mommy, too. ;-) And while I don't see myself springing for the Guaranteed-To-Soothe-Your-Cranky with Brain-Enhancing Music and Stimulating Colors Deluxe swing ... it was kind of fun to look.