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A Fork in the Catholic Homeschool Road

A Fork in the Catholic Homeschool Road 

IT WAS WEIRD

Discernment has always been an easy thing for me. I’ve never been one to jump headlong into life-altering decisions without considerable time spent in prayer, confession, and consulting my spouse, as well as my spiritual director. I am a true aries in that I live for lots of new ideas and changes and exciting projects – I love the thrill of a new idea and fleshing it out from idea to product or campaign or movement. I’m also an INFJ, practically a Sasquatch in terms of personality types! So, what this all amounts to is that I am slow to warm to an idea that will require a LOT from me – or my family. It needs to make sense in all applications, spiritual and practical. But when I’m in, I’m all in.

And that’s how it was when we discerned homeschooling. I took a full year to discern its place in our home, our life, and examine its impact on the children. I wrote about it here, here, and here. We are spoiled where we live in terms of education choices. There are plenty of Catholic school options, homeschool styles {stay at home, to co-ops, hybrid schools, etc.}, and even public schools around here come complete with the option to explore the various charter schools, even outside of our local school district.

So, imagine my surprise on the heels of seven years of homeschooling last year when I seemingly made a hasty decision to enroll my then 10th grader – well, rather I applied for him to get a seat at a local charter school.

This one school had become the hot topic among many many circles of Catholic friends. Friends whose kids were in public school; friends whose kids were in Catholic school; and, friends who were solidly entrenched in the Catholic homeschool community. It had been in the back of my mind as a possibility going back as far as the day when the doors of the school first opened and a friend was singing its praises.

In true INFJ skepticism, I reserved my judgment, but happy that a steady trickle of friends were starting to lean toward this school. It must have ultimately been a subconscious discernment. It had to have been.

I met with the friend whose kiddos have been enrolled since day one for a completely unrelated matter, and the conversation eventually rolled over to some academic challenges we were facing with our high schooler. We had reached a stalemate with my ability to get him to do his work and the result was a quickly deteriorating relationship.

An unaddressed problem 

The problem, as I saw it was, as his momma, I knew what his potential actually was. This was affirmed by many people at church who worked with him and trained him as an altar boy. He was the silent leader, the kid who was excited to attend the altar server retreats to help and to mentor and train incoming servers. He was the type of kid whose solid work ethic gave funeral directors a sigh of relief as soon as they saw him arrive to serve at a funeral Mass. Or a visiting priest who didn’t know his way around the sacristy – our son was there to assist and make the priest’s job as easy as possible. He was also the kid who willingly served eight funeral Masses in a span of just 10 days. Willingly served. Our parish is crazy big – the largest in the Austin diocese, and there he is up on the altar almost every Sunday, able to work without any thought to how many people were all looking in his direction. There was so much to proud of as his momma, and yet the schooling situation did not exemplify his best. He needed something else.

He needed a place to continue to strengthen those skills and I had to come to grips with the fact that we had come to the end of the road with homeschooling – him. I wasn’t sad about this realization, though. I was relieved to let it go. 

We have homeschooled in the face of true adversity

I had decided from the beginning that I would not be a homeschool purist, or duro homeschooler. It was never about homeschooling because it was “the perfect way to educate my children” because I don’t believe there is one perfect way to educate my children. I realize not everyone feels this way, but I share this because I feel like it better paints the picture of the decision to transition out of homeschooling. I have always believed that homeschooling was the best decision for OUR FAMILY as long as it made sense. And that would require ongoing or rolling discernment each year. There was one time in our lives when it could have made sense to put all the kids in public school. And I might have. When your pro-homeschool in-laws suggest you strongly consider it given all the chaos in your life, you know you’ve got some straight up legit reasons to look elsewhere.

You know what stopped me? It was April. The idea of putting them in school for the last two months of the school year seemed like more of a disruption to the kids – and an unhealthy idea at that. It was a time when we really needed to go inward as a family and I needed to pour into my family. So, we plugged along with the basics (math, reading, spelling, English) and were able to pick up full steam again in the fall.

Homeschooling is one of those things that has been what I call a rolling discernment. Did it work this year? How effective was I as a teacher? How did each kiddo respond? And then we would continue forward. What looked like seven years of solid homeschooling was really piecemeal if you were behind the scenes. Can you relate? Does your homeschool also look seamless from the outside?

Why I drag my feet out on discernment 

One of the reasons it takes me so long to discern, is because there is typically some element of processing the change. For me, I need time to process it on the front end as much as possible. I don’t like sudden change. I feel a loss of control in that I didn’t get to think things through. It ends up feeling like a rug is yanked out and super chaotic to me.

Somehow, this decision was prompted when the boy asked about going to the local high school.

Oh, and did I mention we had just had a baby AND we were in the middle of selling our house? And buying another?

I believe my response was something along the lines of ‘oh sure, just throw another log on the bonfire!’ I told him I’d research options and that the local high school {read: freakishly large high school that my cousin attended some undisclosed number of years ago} was likely not going to happen.

And that’s how it began. I found myself on my laptop registering my son for the charter school so many friends had sung its praises when that wild hair crept in:

“Go ahead and enroll the rest of the kids.”

“The wait list is really long.”

“You don’t have to say yes if they get in.”

And that was the extent of my active discernment, y’all. And it was just this one charter school that I considered.

Classical curriculum {Great Books – holla!}

Education for its own sake

Not technology based {can I get an Amen?!}

Small school {perfect for transitioning out of homeschooling}

Kindergarten through 12th grade – same start time and end time {logistical dream}

Uniforms {my Catholic school raised husband likes this!}

FREE!

Two weeks later, we found out our son was offered a seat to this school. This was one week before we moved. We met with the headmaster {see, how cool is that title!} prior to his acceptance after we moved and it was done. He started school less than a month later.

The other kids? They were moved from being 40-55 on the waitlist to 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th.

SHEW. No other immediate decisions needed to be made with the other kiddos! I was able to continue to process this eventual change to our family.

Then my sweet Mary Jo was accepted to start the last quarter of this school year. I was pregnant with her when we started homeschooling and her big brother – now at the charter school – who was the catalyst for homeschooling. They would be together at the school. While I was weepy about the sudden change, I was happy for her to have this opportunity.

I cried anyway. I had to. I’m Mom and Mexican American – it’s pretty much my thing to be a hot mess of emotions. ?

We had already opted for public school for our youngest son as a means of being able to continue homeschooling the others, so we already had feet in different schooling options. The beauty of homeschooling is you learn to recognize what education style works best for each kiddo. Our kindergartener has also been accepted to the charter school for the fall as well.

The remaining two of the five school-aged kiddos are #1 and #5 on the waitlist. I am told this means one kiddo has a seriously good chance of getting in and the other has a very decent chance of getting in for the fall.

This is my life right now.

ENCOURAGEMENT – I NEED IT, YOU NEED IT

I want to offer encouragement to any other parents out there who may be considering other options. We tend to fall for ideas that tell us we are “less than” if we don’t do x, y, or z as Catholics. And that can be the case when it comes to homeschooling.

But let me tell you this – there is a season for everything. Go to confession to create a clear pathway for discernment and take it to prayer. If you have one, speak with your confessor or spiritual director about it. And then rest in the confidence that if God has provided the path for you, that He will give you the strength to see it through.

Our season for homeschooling will have lasted for eight years by the time it’s all said and done,

and I have peace about the decision to move the kids to this one school.

 

Has there ever been a time when you were discerning a major change for your family and felt a clear tug from the Holy Spirit to change directions? 

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Current Events Ink Slingers Misty

Bruce Jenner: What Does Love Demand?–Part 2

transgenderIn Part 1, we talked about how a person knows he’s transgendered. This is important, because we must ask ourselves if as a society we’re going to accept and accommodate individuals’ subjective realities, as we’re increasingly being asked to do with the transgendered.

Bruce Jenner says he’s a woman named Caitlyn. Are we required to accept him as such? And what do we do about transgender people–pre-op and post-op–using bathrooms, living in dormitories, and competing in athletic competitions? As Catholics, we need to wrestle with these questions, because transgenderism is a thorny issue that will have far reaching legal and social consequences.

In trying to influence the culture, however, we must never lose sight of the fact that at the heart of the transgender issue are men and women who are children of God. While lawyers and politicians duke out whether a trangendered man can compete with natural-born women in the Olympics, we need to consider the very real people who identify as transgendered. What is the most loving way to respond to transgenderism when we encounter it in our brothers and sisters?

Reading the stories of transgendered people, I’m convinced that the core issue for transgendered people is acceptance. In reading the 1,200-page journal of Melanie Phillips, who transitioned from a man to a woman, I noticed that every time a friend, coworker, or even stranger accepted him as a woman, his self-esteem soared; he describes feeling emotionally high for days whenever a colleague called him by his chosen female name or a stranger believed him to be a woman. Phillips reveled in being “one of the girls” when in a group of women, and even felt “honored” when asked to do traditionally feminine tasks like making coffee for male coworkers. He even enjoyed sexism, because it meant he was “really” a woman.

Why would encounters like this mean so much to Phillips? Because they came after a lifetime of feeling inadequate and rejected as a man.

Transgender people often describe feeling “different” from their peers from a young age. And most of them really are different, in that they possess traits atypical for their sex. Phillips was an emotionally-sensitive and naturally empathetic little boy who preferred “gentler” pursuits, which stood in stark contrast to the rough-and-tumble masculinity he saw in his male peers. He gravitated toward and identified more with girls. Transgender women-to-men often describe a similar if opposite experience as children; as little girls, they never felt “feminine” or enjoyed the activities most other girls did.

Phillips and others’ descriptions reminded me of my son’s 11-year-old friend, Noah, who has Down’s Syndrome. A few weeks ago while we were visiting Noah’s family, the father said to me, “Other kids sense that something’s different about Noah, but they don’t quite know what that is. So they avoid him. Noah senses he’s being avoided–even if it’s subtle–and that makes him act out and do something obnoxious to get their attention. Which only confirms for the boys that he’s to be avoided.”

Transgendered people often experience a similar scenario. The boy isn’t masculine (as society defines it); the girl isn’t feminine. Other boys instinctively feel something is different about the effeminate little boy, so they either openly or subtly ostracize him, as they do to Noah. The boy may even be harassed for being a “sissy,” as Phillips was. Gender norms for girls tend to be more flexible, but the tomboyish girl still isn’t likely to be included in female conversations and rites of passage. By the time these “different” children reach adolescence, then, they’ve endured a thousand subtle and not-so-subtle peer rejections.

In story after story written by transgendered people, I saw no evidence that they were objectively the opposite sex trapped in the wrong body. But I did see an almost universal experience of being rejected as children, either by their same-sex peers or adults, which had understandably led them to reject themselves and gravitate toward the opposite sex.

As a boy, Phillips was much like my friend, Kevin: his smaller frame, emotional sensitivity, and effeminate gestures led other boys to avoid or bully him. He describes being forced to wear a dress for Halloween by his mother, his initial shame giving way to happiness as strangers opened the door and pronounced him an adorable little girl. His insecurity about his manhood followed him into adulthood:

“As an adult, when crossing the street, I would never know what to do with my hands or arms. I was always afraid I would be laughed at for being skinny or not ‘male’ enough. I would pretend to scratch an itch on my face so I could hold up my wedding ring as proof that someone thought I was worthwhile enough to marry.”

Many transgendered people describe desiring to be the opposite sex even as a child and I’m sure they’re being truthful. But is it likely those feelings and desires stemmed from the objective reality that they are the opposite sex trapped in the wrong body? Or is it more reasonable that having experienced profound rejection for not meeting societal gender norms, they sought emotional comfort and social acceptance by embracing the other sex?

In reading transgender stories, I couldn’t shake the sense that becoming the opposite sex gave these wounded people a social “do over.” Having always felt like a rejected failure as their natural-born sex, they finally received the affirmation they desperately craved as the opposite sex. This is no doubt why transgendered people describe feeling “happy” and “free” once they’ve transitioned. When living as your biological sex is emotionally and psychologically torturous, I imagine it is a profound relief to be free of that particular burden. (Perhaps, too, this is why so many of the transgendered I read about described feeling the greatest peace when alone in nature–unlike society, the natural world places no masculine or feminine demands upon them.)

I’m genuinely baffled that doctors, psychiatrists, and the people closest to the transgendered are hearing their stories and NOT seeing the connection between the rejection they experienced specifically through their masculinity/femininity, and their desire to be the opposite sex. Why can no one see that transgendered people are deeply wounded souls whose perception of themselves has become pathologically distorted? These are people in so much emotional pain that they’re often willing to do violence to themselves to find relief–and the compassionate response is to encourage them in that course? Especially when transitioning to the other sex in no way resolves the person’s underlying psychological torment (see this article and this study for more).

“What I love about your son,” Noah’s father continued, “is that he treats Noah like a completely normal kid…they just play together and he accepts him just because he’s Noah.” Would the outcome be different if we embraced and accepted people as children of God regardless of what their masculinity or femininity looks like? Of course. Why, then, aren’t we treating transgenderism as a tragic mental illness, and encouraging treatment so these individuals can heal from their devastating wounds? Surely it’s healthier–and more compassionate–to teach a person to fully accept himself as God made him to attain peace than to help him destroy his very self in that quest.

For every one hater who calls Bruce Jenner a freak, there are three others offering him the false compassion of support as a woman. I doubt anyone will consider that both responses just confirm for Bruce that he was never adequate or truly lovable as a man. Surely, Jesus calls us to something more authentically loving. For only when we teach our children to accept others as God made them, and teach the deeply wounded to accept themselves, will we be able to truly love our transgendered brothers and sisters.

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Current Events Ink Slingers Misty

Bruce Jenner: What Does Love Demand? Part 1

transgenderI was 18 when I encountered my first transgender person: Kevin was a sweet young man with a petite frame, high-pitched voice, and feminine mannerisms who hung around the common area of my all-girls’ dorm to avoid harassment and bullying from peers in his all-male dorm across the street. Kevin called himself a “pre-op queen,” and talked constantly about his desire for sex reassignment surgery. His plan was to become a woman, get married to an accepting man, and adopt a couple of kids so he could “be a mom.”

During those rare times when Kevin wasn’t talking about his future sex change, he was an engaging, intelligent guy that I enjoyed being around. We lost touch after he moved to a co-ed dorm across campus for safety reasons–someone had set off a small bomb in his dorm room.

Before Kevin, I’d never given the transgender issue much thought. And honestly, I didn’t give it much thought after I met him, either. When Kevin told me he wanted to cut off his genitals, grow breasts, and change his name to “Emily,” I privately thought that was a sad, extreme course for him–or anyone, really–to take. But having witnessed his abuse at the hands of male peers, the last thing I wanted to do was make Kevin feel rejected again.

So I supported Kevin’s decision; I even called him “brave” for being true to his “real self” by becoming a woman. It never occurred to me that I was offering him a false compassion or that I could affirm him as a person without supporting what I instinctively knew was a self-destructive path.

As rumors have swirled around Bruce Jenner over the past year, I’ve found myself thinking more about Kevin and wondering what happened to him. Did he ever have the surgery? Did he get married? Or did he commit suicide like many transgendered youth? If he is alive, does he still believe he’s a woman? Did he rejoice or weep when he saw Bruce Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair as a woman?

Facing the transgender issue every time I went by the tabloids this year made me realize how little I really understood about transgender issues. I figured it was time to educate myself, so I started reading everything I could about and by transgendered people. More than anything, I wanted answers to two questions:

  1. How does a person know he’s transgendered?
  1. What’s the most loving way to deal with transgenderism when we encounter it in our brothers and sisters?

Transgenderism: Pure Descartes

I noticed that no matter how many transgender articles I read, not one could explain how a person knows for certain he’s transgender. (And knows so certainly he’ll go through surgery to prove it.) My research led me to The Transgender Support Site, where I spent countless hours reading its pages, including the 1,200-page, 20-year journal of Melanie Anne Phillips, the site’s founder. The journal intimately details the emotional, social, and biological impact of Phillips transitioning from an ordinary married man and father of two kids to a full-fledged, anatomically-correct woman.

So exactly how does a man know he’s really a woman when his body is clearly male? Surely (I reasoned), if doctors are performing radical surgeries to turn someone into the opposite sex, then there must be an objective means of verifying a person’s claim that they’re really the opposite sex on the inside.

What I discovered is that transgenderism actually is purely subjective; in the famous words of Descartes, “I think, therefore I am.” If you think you’re a man, you are, regardless of what your biology declares. In fact, reassignment surgery doesn’t even have to be a part of the process anymore; transgender advocates are increasingly demanding that society accept–and accommodate–a person’s “true gender” based solely on the person’s subjective belief that they’re the opposite sex.

A vet in my own hometown highlighted this expectation in an editorial a few years ago, in which he blasted the state’s DMV for demanding evidence of sex-reassignment surgery before changing sex on driver’s licenses. According to him, the DMV–and every other government agency–should just take your word for it.

I sincerely have to wonder where this logically ends. If the only thing that’s necessary for a person to be accepted as the opposite sex is their belief that they’re the opposite sex, then on what basis do we have for denying anyone their subjective reality?

What if an adult says he’s actually an 18-month-old child on the inside, as this man does…does that mean we can’t hold him legally responsible if he commits a crime? What about the people who believe they’re animals, like this man in Pittsburgh? Does he have to pay taxes if he’s really a dog? What about the “tran-sabled,” who genuinely believe they’re disabled people trapped in a healthy body? And who, much like the transgendered, will physically alter (i.e., mutilate) themselves so that their body matches their interior reality? If a person insists he’s trans-abled, is he entitled to disability payments?

These aren’t facetious questions, folks. If a person’s subjective reality must be accepted by all of us as the objective social reality, then we need to ask ourselves how far down the rabbit hole we want to go.

In every other case of body dysmorphia–in which a person’s perception of themselves doesn’t match the biological reality–we understand that the person is mentally ill. The adult who thinks he’s a toddler, the man who thinks he’s a dog, the healthy woman who insists she’s paralyzed…these are psychologically unhealthy people who need serious therapy, perhaps even medication, to correct their skewed perceptions of themselves. We wouldn’t call them “brave” or laud them for living according to their “true self,” would we? And anyone who encourages those perceptions would never been seen as offering them true compassion, but actually as further harming them psychologically.

Why, then, are so many people applauding for Bruce Jenner right now?

In wrangling with transgenderism as a society, however, we can’t lose sight of the fact that at the heart of this issue is a person–a child of God. In Part 2, which will be posted later today, we’ll look into the heart of the Kevins and Caitlyns of the world, which will help us answer the most important question of all: what is the most loving way to treat transgenderism when we encounter it in our brothers and sisters? Stay tuned!

 

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Transitions

I have been an avid horseman* for as long as I can remember. After turning her back on me for a moment as a toddler, my mother found me surrounded by half a dozen large horses in the pasture. Later, I got my own pony and eventually  transitioned to full sized horses. If I wasn’t riding, I was just with my horse(s). In inclement weather, I read about horses. Even my punishments growing up were related to horses: grounding from riding my pony or from reading my horse-related books. Even today, as a horseless-horse-enthusiast, I constantly use equine terms and practices in my daily life. My philosophe is that life follows the same rules as horsemanship: transitions are key.

My first pony

Transitions, in horsemanship, are changes in speed. The best of transitions look effortless, elegant, and graceful; horse and rider move seamlessly. To achieve smooth transitions, there are several steps communicated to the horse at exactly the right time. Failing to properly prepare the horse results in choppy, ugly, and bumpy transitions. In life, transitions are the changes we go through as we age and mature. Each transition must occur in order to live, but there are small steps that can ease them and ensure chaos doesn’t reign. Skipping these small steps can lead to disastrous consequences.

What’s around me?

My 4-H show pony

One of the first requirements for smooth transitions is awareness. Horses are very reactionary as flight animals. Every change in the environment, vocalization, weight shift, and mood can induce the horse to react. As a rider, awareness is essential to communicate effectively with the horse. Quietness is a prized trait in a horseman because it allows the horseman to prevent negative reactions from the horse. Great horsemen are said to have quiet hands guiding the horse, quiet legs moving the horse, and quiet minds focusing on the horse and the goal. In life, awareness of God is essential. God is not only in control, but also present and more than willing to bestow blessings if asked. However, distractions are everywhere concealing God’s presence and blessings. That’s why it is essential to actively seek God in everything–even distractions. Sometimes God hides His blessings in sadness and disasters, but He’s always present and waiting for signs of awareness. In quiet contemplation, God reveals Himself to those who seek Him.

What am I doing?

My home-bred riding and driving horse

Another key requirement for smooth transitions is a goal. As sensitive animals, horses are capable of easily detecting or abusing the rider’s intentions or confusion. A clear goal, even a simple “go from point A to point B”, gives the horse confidence and almost instantly yields greater harmony between horse and rider. At times, the horse seems to read the rider’s mind simply because the rider is focused on the horse and their combined goal. One of the most used clichés is “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” Often, this cliché seems true as the best-laid human plans result in chaos and confusion. However, the error isn’t the plans; it is the exclusion of God from those plans. God has plans for each and every one of His creations. These plans are written in our hearts and revealed through quiet time with God, prayer, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Mass, and reading Scripture and Faith-filled writings.

Pause and think…

My pregnant with cancer driving horse

Smooth transitions are also preceded by a ‘half-halt’. Basically, a half-halt is a subtle cue from the rider for a minuscule pause from the horse. While it isn’t a specific cue for change, it distinctly alerts the horse to an upcoming change. Large transitions, like from a halt to a gallop or vice versa, may require several half-halts as preparation. They must be appropriately timed for the desired effect. Poor timing diminishes the effectiveness and the transition suffers. In life, the equivalent of half-halts are moments of prayer. Like a half-halt, prayer doesn’t have to be obvious or time consuming to be effective. Prayer prior to large changes in life, like marriage, buying a home, changing careers, etc, is infinitely more effective than prayerful supplication after these changes have taken place. A simple, “God, what do you want me to do with my life?” can suffice as long as there is an opening or slight pause to allow God to answer.

 

Let’s do this…

My borrowed driving horse and his friend

Following the half-halt is the actual cue for transition. Obviously, the cue is very important to the transition; without it, the transition wouldn’t exist. Since horseback riding is a dynamic relationship between horse and rider, change is constant and predictable. Like the half-halt, the cue must be timed very precisely, more precisely than the half-halt. In addition to precise timing, the cue must be proportionate to effectively communicate the command. A large transition or disobedience requires a strong cue; while a weak cue may not produce a transition at all. Similarly, life is a dynamic relationship with God, with God supplying the cues. Many times God’s cues are very subtle, while other times they’re like a 2-by-4. Subtle cues from God are best heard in the stillness after a half-halt of prayer. During trying times, God sometimes has to use a 2-by-4 to combat the inattention, disobedience, and lack of time given to Him. However, He always gives cues to those who ask Him for guidance.

Whew, that’s finished…

Sharing the love with my daughter

Once the transition occurs, the final step is praise. Depending on the rider’s effectiveness, praise can be subtle, almost undetectable to all but the horse or effusive. Since horseback riding is dynamic and training occurs every time the rider is with the horse, sometimes excellent preparation results in mediocre or even dismal transitions. An honest attempt, even without spectacular results should always be rewarded. God also deserves praise even through transitions that seem bad. After all, without God no transitions would even be possible. As the Author of our lives, God knows the plan, and provides ample guidance. For this, He deserves praise and gratitude. He will ultimately reward His Faithful with Heaven.

 

 

Life with horses has helped me live a better life with God. My transitions haven’t always been as smooth as I’d like, usually because what I want and what God wants differ. When I’ve followed the steps to graceful transitions, God has blessed me abundantly. I’ve given God free reign. You should too!
*I use the term horseman because I don’t need to feminize the term to preserve my femininity. I also use the term horseman synonymously with rider because that is the most common form of horsemanship. I based my description of transitions on the discipline of dressage (French for training) and is often the foundation of other disciplines.