A Blessing

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She sighs and rests her little hand on my chest as I protectively curl my body around hers. I gaze into her peaceful slumbering face and realize how blessed I am. It’s staggering. This beautiful miracle that sleeps in my arms each night and finds comfort in my presence – she is mine. My body grew her. My body nourishes her. My body comforts her, protects her.

This is my dream come true. I am a mother. I felt the flutters in my belly that became strong kicks. I pushed this little person out of my body and into the world. I feed her with nothing but my body, as God intended. I feel her pain when she cries, soar on the wings of her laughter, and revel in each new discovery she makes. I know what she needs and when she needs it. I understand her moods and feelings. I never want to leave her side.

But I have to work, to buy food and to have health insurance. For the basics, not for luxuries. So I must leave her, after having her in constant contact with me for a whole year. Eight months in my belly. Four months in my arms. Forever in my heart. This is the only life she knows. It feels like the only life I know – it is the only life I want to know. But I must leave her and go to work. Yes, she’s safe and well-cared for while I’m away. But how I miss her. And she cries for me. It’s not just gas, I know, because I know her as no one else can. And my arms ache to hold her. The drive home has never been so long.

I’m here, my love, my little one. Mommy is here. I bring her to my breast and she giggles with anticipation. She touches my face and smiles. And the long day melts away. We are together. Nothing else matters.

It took a long time to get here, to motherhood. It is worth every tear, every sacrifice. I know how blessed I am and I am deeply thankful. So tonight, the 147th night of holding my heart in my arms, I say a prayer of heartfelt thanks for the most precious of gifts – my daughter.

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Random Thoughts, Quotes, and Pearls of Wisdom

• Good friends are truly priceless. Treasure them.

• The ability to walk at a vigorous pace for any space of time is something to be very grateful for.

• Take full ownership of your health. No one can take care of you better than yourself. (Except God.)

• There are few things as endearing as a fuzzy Greyhound snout in your face; chattering teeth telling you “I’m so happy you’re here! I love you!”

• Banana pancakes are special, not just because they taste good, but also because they represent slowing down to enjoy simple pleasures. (Just ask Jack Johnson.)

• There is nothing as precious as a child. If more adults put children’s best interests ahead of their own (truly, not spoiling them) the world would be a much better place.

• Fathers, be good to your daughters; daughters will love like you do. Girls become lovers who turn into mothers, so mothers, be good to your daughters too. – John Mayer

• Animals are one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind. They make us laugh, they show us beauty and nobility, they comfort us.

• The Lion King is full of important life lessons: the Circle of Life, the past can hurt but you learn from it, life’s not fair, leave your behind in your past (or something like that), and Hakuna Matata!

• Be a first rate version of yourself, not a second rate version of someone else. – Judy Garland

• Family is family, regardless of the past, annoying habits, embarrassing behavior, or personality clashes. Love them, just don’t let their mistakes define you. And remember, you make mistakes too – don’t let that define you either; let it make you more understanding.

• Life’s like an hourglass glued to the table… So… Just breathe… – Anna Nalick

• Repeat this to yourself each day until you believe it:

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• Right now I’m looking at you and I can’t believe you don’t know you’re beautiful! – One Direction

• Last, but certainly not least:

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Libraries, Literacy, and Life

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Ah, the library. A sanctuary of pristine silence, disturbed only by rustling pages and the hushed whispers of patrons and librarians. Sitting in a quiet nook beside a window with an aged book in my lap, the outside world becomes still and calm. I feel at peace, transported to new worlds by the prose on the yellowed pages.

This is how I remember my visits to the public library in childhood and early adulthood. Nowadays, it is not quite the same. My local public library was renovated less than a decade ago. A decorative “card catalog wall” stands beside the entrance, commemorating donations to the library’s renovation. There are no cards, the “drawers” are not functional. The card catalog system has been replaced by reference computers, located throughout the building at convenient locations. There are automated book and media drops for returns of borrowed materials. Checkout is also automated, with a slot in which to insert your library card, and a sensor on which to place books and media being borrowed. There is a room lined with computers for public Internet access. Patrons and librarians no longer speak in hushed tones, and although there are numerous signs forbidding cell-phone usage in the library, you can still hear phones ringing and patrons answering them. There is less traffic as the library strives to keep up with electronic readers and other technological advances. There are still the nooks beside windows and aged books with yellowed pages, but the overall feel of the place has changed drastically.

Sadly, there are some who have never set foot in a public library; they cannot read well enough to enjoy a piece of literature – some cannot read at all. Worldwide, nearly a billion people are illiterate. Two-thirds of that number are women. In 2003, the National Assessment of Adult Literacy measured literacy in the United States by the percentage of adults who performed at one of four levels of reading: below basic, basic, intermediate, and proficient. Literacy was defined by the NAAL as “using printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.” Only 13% of adults scored at or above proficient. An appalling 22% scored below basic.

What does this translate to at a societal level? Illiteracy and crime are closely related. The Department of Justice states, “The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure.” Over 70% of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level. Over 60% of inmates are illiterate. Two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare. Three out of four food stamp recipients perform in the two lowest levels of literacy: below basic and basic. 16 to 19 year old girls with below average reading skills are six times more likely to have out-of-wedlock children than their counterparts with proficient reading skills.

Many public libraries offer adult literacy programs, free of charge. Yet with all the access to education available in this day and age, we still see levels of illiteracy that are incongruous with the modern information age. Why? Simply put, this ignorance is passed on from illiterate parents to their children. Conversely, “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents,” as Emilie Buchwald aptly stated. Literacy is learned. So is a disregard for the vital importance of literacy. If, from a very early age, children were taught that books are a portal to wonderful new worlds, and that learning is an empowering experience to be sought after, these statistics would be very different.

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The ability to read is an essential life skill, one with the potential to enrich the lives of those who possess it. Proficiency in reading and comprehension not only affords us the opportunity to improve our minds through literature, but it enables us to interact with the world around us and perform simple daily tasks. As the information above shows, it is also a vital factor in producing a more harmonious society.

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For more on the topic of literacy and education, see “Bored” of Education here on Diverse Philosophies.

Thank you for reading.

A Woman Without a Child – Part 2

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“So, she did all the hard work and you get to kiss the baby.”

Ouch.

No, I have never carried a fetus in my womb, nor have I experienced the agony of childbirth pains. I deeply appreciate all that women endure to bring this priceless treasure to birth. I acknowledge, recognize and commend every mother for all she has done, currently does, and will do for her child(ren).

But the fact that I do not have a child of my own does not make me less of a woman. Is my heart colder than others? Do I hear the cry of an infant with less compassion than a woman who has borne a child? Do I care less for the “minor” accomplishments of a small child, knowing that in their young reality, these accomplishments are HUGE?

I would daresay that there is little in this life that warms my heart more than the sights and sounds of happy, healthy, polite children. There are a few children in my life that I consider myself very blessed to be quite close to, through family and friends. These precious little ones are in my thoughts more often than not, as I think of ways that I, as “Auntie,” can bring a smile to their faces and remind them how much they are loved.

When the dear infants cry, my heart aches with the need to make them as comfortable as possible. When the kindergartner wants to draw a picture, I stand ready, crayons in hand. I regard each piece of juvenile artistic expression with awe at the promise of talent displayed. I marvel at how well words and letters are sounded out. I swell with pride. But “I didn’t do any of the hard work.”

In this day and age of instant (or as near as possible) gratification, few people understand why, if I love children as much as I seem to, I do not have one – or more – of my own. And I can’t explain my reasons without inadvertently offending or causing pain to those who already have children. Interesting predicament? That would be an understatement.

No, my reasons are not selfish. I’m not concerned about keeping my girlish figure or having time for a social life. I’m concerned for the health, upbringing and welfare of my child. I’m concerned about genetic defects that would seriously impair my child’s quality of life. I’m concerned about paying strangers to care for my child. I’m concerned that there could be trouble making ends meet. For myself alone, I could face uncertainties and difficulties. But I cannot in good conscience knowingly subject an innocent child to these difficulties, when that child has no choice in the matter and certainly deserves better.

So my cherished unborn, unconceived child will wait for me until I can give him all he deserves. In the meantime, I give of the maternal love that flows unendingly from my heart to those little ones I am blessed to know right now – precious treasures that never fail to bring joy and wonder to my life.

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* See previous post, A Woman Without a Child for more on this topic.

“Bored” of Education

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Our modern school system leaves much to be desired in terms of tangible results. I know teachers work very hard to instill the necessary lessons in our children today, and I appreciate the work they do. But whether it’s public, private or parochial school, somehow the children come away little improved and at times even worse for the wear. It is my belief that not only is the system flawed, but parents need to be more involved in the education of their children.

Being fortunate enough to be homeschooled for the majority of my school years, I had the unique opportunity to learn in ways that I enjoyed, and whether I liked it or not, my parents were directly involved in my education. My mother taught me that learning is not a frightening experience, but rather an enjoyable and empowering one. Reading is an ability to be honed and treasured. Each new polysyllabic word was a challenge to face confidently, not an undefeatable foe to hide from. Consequently, my face was in a book almost constantly, satisfying my voracious appetite for the written word. By age eight, I could read at a level surpassing that of a twelfth grade graduate. I do not mention this as a boast of my nascent reading ability; I mention it as a testament to what can be achieved with a hungry young mind when it is shaped and guided by prudent care, taking into consideration the strengths and weaknesses of the individual child.

Conversely, I struggled with math. Not the basic arithmetic, but algebra and other higher branches of mathematics. Contumaciously, I argued that I would never need this knowledge, so why waste time learning it? That did not faze my mother, who simply stated that I would learn it or I would not graduate.

My opportunity to learn in this manner came to me through misfortune. My health was so delicate during my early years in public school that I spent two months of first grade in the hospital. Were it not for my mother bringing my schoolwork to me from my teacher and my fledgling commitment to finishing all of it, I would not have been passed to the next grade. But I had already acquired a love of learning from my mother, even before my homeschooling began.

My mother read to me from infancy and taught me to read and write by age four. My experience proves the truth of Emilie Buchwald’s words: “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” From a very early age, I had learned that books were a portal to wonderful new worlds, and that learning was an experience to be sought after.

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After my hospital stay, I made the casual suggestion that “if I was going to be doing my schoolwork at home, why didn’t I just always do it at home?” That got my mother thinking. She did her research, wrote to the Board of Education, and got to work on a curriculum. That autumn, school was in session – at home.

My mother found hands-on methods to teach mathematics, reading lists that kept me several levels ahead, challenging spelling tests, and the like. My father, a history buff, made historical documentaries and movies required viewing, a move that cultivated in me a love for history and classic cinema as I grew older. Music appreciation also fell within my father’s scope of interests – an eclectic music lover and a fan of classical composers, he exposed my sister and I to the works of Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Wagner, and more.

With my experience of these agreeable lessons, I found it difficult to understand when my friends would complain about school, required reading, and homework. As children, we did not discuss the disparity of the methods used to teach us. We were too busy being children to ponder it deeply. But as an adult, conversing with my husband – he attended public school- about our respective experiences in learning, I find that my experience is a rare one. Others confirm this. Those that enjoy reading as adults seem to have found pleasure in reading not because of their schooling, but despite it. To many, learning is something to be feared and dreaded, a tedious, unrewarding process. What’s wrong with this picture?

It is my belief that a great part of the blame is connected with a system that uses punishment as a motivator. Rather than correlating learning with a rewards, learning is forced in an “or else” manner by the school systems and parents. Because schools follow a homogenous lesson plan, those that do not conform often fall through the cracks, at best earning disappointing grades, at worst failing; either way not enjoying the learning experience. Each human child is an individual, with strengths and weaknesses unique to that person. In the eyes of a school board, it would take too much time, effort and funding to tailor a lesson plan to each individual child. Therefore we end up with a culture where people are termed “educated” if they have a diploma, yet they cannot spell simple words or comfortably read and comprehend a piece of classic literature. Instead of fostering a love of learning that benefits the child and society, we push the child through the system to make room for next year’s class. This short-sighted approach to education has produced a generation of educated simpletons, many of whom can’t fill out a form properly if their life depended on it, and who read tabloids and Cliffs Notes in place of literature, dependent on calculators and spell-checker.

But the blame cannot be left solely at the feet of the Board of Education. Parents also must be involved, taking into account their child’s unique personality and helping them make the most of the education they receive at school, realizing that their support or lack thereof can make or break the academic future of the child. A particularly bright child may actually be bored at school, needing more intense intellectual stimulation, and acting out as a result of this frustration.

It’s never too late to learn. Embrace learning and teach your children to do the same. You will discover new worlds, filled with wonders beyond your imagination.

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