Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What I'm into: September Edition

The breeze has taken a cooler hue, night falls quicker and the sun sinks more golden as shadows lengthen and fall approaches. I adore fall in Atlanta: the sky wears a particular shade of blue like a favorite sweater, the temperature hovers right around my ideal (78 degrees, approximately). The front swing has developed a squeak from over-use, and the windows fling open most nights to let in the breeze and the voices of our neighborhood alike.

Today, especially, I brim with joy at sunny blue skies and coffee cupped to ward off the early-morning chill.  Because two of my favorite people EVER are coming to visit me. And I say that with authority, despite having never before actually having met them. Trust me, those of you who know Lori or Shannan can probably agree. All that to say, I don't have long to chat (because I promised them I wouldnt clean up, but I also dont want to frighten them or cause undue anxiety due to all-of-the-clutter) but wanted to pop in with some quick September favorites.

Also, tomorrow happens to be the first day of October. I decided (after much see-sawing back and forth), that I will try and participate. However (as per usual), I make no promises that I'll be here all 31 days. What's my topic, you wonder (the suspense is probably killing you, right?) Pop by tomorrow to find out.

Good reads - around the internets:
How to be friends with supermom - Coffee and Crumbs
It's time to find a better way to protect our daughters - The Perfect Father
What are your favorite parenting books? - A Cup of Jo
This is What Brave Means - Momastery
I'm excited about this whole series (and the e-book), and loved the first post from Micha Boyett on Extending Hospitality to the Word of God
A few people asked about the art project Jayci (and the Blueprint 58 kiddos) were working on in this post. Basically, each girl traced their hand, and then wrote about themselves around their tracing. Then they painted/decorated the inside of their hand. Easy-peasy. Also, I've decided it's the absolutely most perfect snapshot of who Jayci is right at this minute. Adorable, right?

Just finished reading, and loved The House on Mango Street, her voice is just so unique and touching. 
You know there are still protests in Ferguson right? It gets easy to forget, you know? A few articles worth reading:
From Slavery to Ferguson: America's History of Violence Towards Blacks  - The Root
Justice then Reconciliation - Austin Channing Tatum
I need to say something entirely different to white people  - Deeper Story
College football certainly ranks as one of my favorite parts of September, we are going to see these guys play football this weekend, and bringing a few boys along too. I cant wait for them to experience a game Between the Hedges. So fun.

For those of you who read my posts about where we send Jayci to school and why (Part 1 and Part 2), you should definitely go read my friend Shannan (who I get to meet today, wohoo!) and her perspective on sending her kids to their local public school.
If this post feels slightly disjointed and unorganized, welcome to my life. I have been collecting things I think you should read, and trying to curate them into something cohesive just really tends to be an un-scaleable obstacle. Maybe one day I'll be more organized/diligent. Maybe.

Monday, September 29, 2014

FAQ: School Choices in an urban neighborhood (part 2)

Yes, I realize it has been a week since Part 1, which is the very reason I made no promises about when I would post Part II. Because we went to CCDA, and shared a hotel room with five people, meaning I haven't been alone to think in nearly a week. Introvert-worst-nightmare-alert. Seriously.

A side note to kick-off Part II: 
Sometimes when the kids and I go to the park, I see another mom who has packed healthy snacks and even a well-balanced lunch for her children. Immediately, my insides get a bit squirmy because she obviously packed those snacks specifically to point out how I haven’t brought a shred of food for my children; in fact, Caden has pooped and I didn't bring wipes or extra underwear.

Thankfully, I’m learning (slower than I’d like) that her behavior and choices have nothing to do with me. Both of us are actually just doing the best we can for our kids. And I have my unique challenges (like forgetting wipes all-of-the-time), and she has hers.

And so I want to begin by assuring you that I intent not a single word here in judgement of anyone else’s schooling decisions. I have friends who live life really similarly to us, and they send their kids to the public school. I also have friends who do urban missions, and homeschool really well.

For us, our decision rotates on the axis of a God who leads each of us with a quiet voice: this is the way, walk in it. So we are trying to listen. And we came to this decision for our family, for this time, this year, this season. I also try really really hard to live my life in a way that recognizes the complexity of every situation and family and life. No simple answers or pat solutions here. We have lived too long in a landscape riddled with complicated to go there.

Ok, all of that said: consider this post nothing more or less than an answer to a question we get asked again and again: what are you going to do about school? (not, what should everyone do about school?)

If you haven’t already, now might be a good time to read Part 1.

Although you might not guess based on all-of-the-crazy, Adam and I both have a tendency towards compromise or middle ground. Not exactly liberal (my parents) or conservative (Adam’s). We never adhered to a strict babywise schedule with our babies, nor did we attachment-parent.

Charter school appealed to us partly because it felt like that familiar happy-medium. Specifically, between public and private schools. The school we applied to had a diverse make-up of 11% white, and just over 50% of students eligible for free-and-reduced lunch. We particularly appreciated the diversity of socioeconomic status right alongside racial diversity.

And so we settled finally, if still somewhat uncertainly, on a charter school. We filled out paperwork and submitted applications, crossing our fingers that Jayci would get accepted, particularly because friends who lived nearby also had a daughter who attended. Carpooling and free-of-cost both certainly contributed to our decision.

This charter school appealed to us not only because of its diversity, but also because the option of attending there was technically available to all of our neighbors as well. In fact, we convinced a few to apply and agreed to help drive if they got in. Although we also admitted that technically available doesn't necessarily translate to actually an option. First off, one must navigate the application process, which (since we’re being honest) we only made it through because of friends who reminded us of looming deadlines. Transportation, of course, poses another obstacle. We’ve also chatted with a teacher at a local school who mentioned some of the ways that charter schools have only further damaged mainline public schools by attracting all of the parents who were interested and available enough to be involved in their children’s education, but couldn’t afford a private school.

Our back-up plan (which was barely thought or talked about really) became homeschooling. This task (I insisted) would fall under Adam’s responsibilities; after all, he was the former teacher. Thankfully, Jayci ended up getting into our first choice charter school, and we took it as a sign-or-whatever-we-needed to proceed with this plan.
Jayci has such a beautiful spirit, she loves people well, noticing needs before they can even be spoken. She loves Jesus, and gently spills that light onto those around her. We knew that wherever she went to school, we wanted it to be a place where that light could be nurtured, and also shared. (proud mama moment aside: I’m not just saying this, Jayci got student of the month her first month of school, primarily because her teacher said she kept finding her doing caring things for other students, even without being asked or prompted).

We ultimately feel good about our decision. Most days. Sometimes. I don't know. I mean, I still have days where I second guess. When I sob under my covers because Jayci won't eat eat lunch for days after a little girl made fun of her sandwich. And then I'm certain we should yank her out of school and homeschool so I can protect her from everything and everyone forever and ever amen.

Or I contemplate the school that our sweet neighborhood kiddos attend, and wonder what runs through their mind when we tell them Jayci isn't going to their school. They wait for the bus right outside our front door, climbing up to the porch and swinging on the yellow swing and playing cards in the crisp morning breeze. And I think, again, that perhaps we made the wrong decision and Jayci should be sitting in school alongside them.

I'm trying to honor the number of times we get asked this question by giving y'all an answer. But please know that my words are descriptive and not prescriptive. And that I wake up unsure more days than sure.

What I will say with certainty is this: whatever ideas you have about education for your children, hold them loosely. Because in the same ways I need to remember that my identity cannot be defined as homeschooling-mom or my-kids-go-to-public-school-mom, but as follower-of-Christ first and foremost. Unclenching my fists and allowing Jesus to lead us for today, for this year, for this child, has been the best thing I’ve done for growing my faith and trust in Him, and reminding myself that my daughter and son are His both before and much more fully than they are mine.
This post has been hard for me to write, because I want to make it beautiful. I want to frame our decision in words that sound lovely and right, while somehow also reminding us all just how NOT right some of the realities surrounding education remain. Education in our country needs fixing, and I don't know what that looks like. But the schools in my neighborhood are not diverse. They are poor and poorer. Though we haven't decided to send Jayci to the local public school, we still desire to advocate for and serve them, which means Adam and I both try and spend time at the local elementary, middle, and high school on a weekly basis.

Sometimes, when I volunteer, the administrators will ask me to sit in on things like re-writing their purpose statement. And they all shoot glances at me awkwardly, until we laugh a little when they write about valuing diversity and my white skin glares solitary.

We are trying to fight for justice in a high school with over 100 freshman and only 18 seniors, which sounds to me like a graduation rate much lower than the reported 42%. And so we volunteer and advocate, and file paperwork, and stand awkwardly in the packed silent-lunch-detention, regardless of where Jayci attends school. Because we are sorely mistaken if we believe that Jayci (and our family, and all of us really), is unaffected by the inequalities in education. Because I'm not quite sure any of these students should be here. Not to discount the amazing teachers, members of the vibrant and beautiful staff who haven't yet been beat back by the day-in-day-out hard that simply defines reality in an under-resourced school.

Wherever our kids go to school, the reality is that there are no-easy-answers. We have entered into the world of complicated. Of terrible and of beautiful. Of the Kingdom that is here, and not yet.

And so we pray and we lament, and we hope. Always hope. For Jayci to find her feet and her voice in a school that seems far too big for her tiny-little-self. And for her to keep caring for her friends in loving and beautiful ways, at her school, in her neighborhood, and in our home. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

FAQ: School Choices in an urban neighborhood (part 1)

It turns out that this answer, to what appears quite a simple question, might be longer than I thought. Which means I’m splitting it into two parts. You’re welcome.

Jayci was not even two years old when we decided for sure we were going to move downtown. As her hair grew even blonder and less baby-fine, her legs grew longer, and the crazy dream inched (oh-so-slowly) towards reality, we got the same question with increasing frequency: What are you going to do about school?

Despite how often we get asked this question, I’ve avoided answering it, particularly in such a public forum. People have all-of-the-strong-feelings about schooling: public vs private vs homeschool vs unschool. And my feelings, as it turns out, don’t run especially heavily in one direction or another.

For us, the answer was generally a shrug and a good-natured quip about having a few years to figure it out. Then, we would invariably shoot each other slightly-panicked looks because, what were we going to do about school? And time marched by, with kindergarten looming ever-closer. We researched a few schools with somewhat half-hearted luster, uncertain of how exactly to proceed.
Basically we narrowed down our options to the following somewhat simplified list: public school, charter school, private school, or homeschool.

I, of course, wanted to immediately cross homeschooling off the list, because I am unorganized and impatient and everything I imagined a homeschooling momma should NOT be. Adam refused to let me nix that idea, so we kept it on the table.

Without being too organized about it, we researched (read: googled and talked to friends and visited) our options. And then we talked a lot about what our priorities were for school for our kids. We prayed some, and then prayed some more.

For us, we knew that diversity was one of our primary considerations: As I’ve mentioned before, we wanted Jayci (and eventually Caden) at a school where they could sit under teachers of color, and learn alongside people whose skin-tones spanned the rainbow. We know the Kingdom of Heaven will certainly not look a whole lot like us, so why should our walk here on Earth?

Both kids attended preschool at an amazing and wonderful private school, where they got scholarships (which they could have continued into elementary school); however, we began to feel an emerging uneasiness with the divide becoming evident in our lives and our kid’s lives. This divide basically amounted to the fact that all of their peers and friends looked a whole like like them; but the kids with brown skin in our neighborhood were the ones fed and helped with homework, and otherwise cared for. This means no matter how carefully we treated those around us at home with dignity, there still emerged a clear demarcation of white skin = peer, and brown skin = poor. Obviously, this was nothing we were intentionally cultivating, but we felt worried that the choice of a private school for the rest of their school years would perpetuate and strengthen this assumption. And this worry didnt even begin to touch the prickly feelings I felt about lack-of-diversity in many of the private schools we looked into. That, I suppose, is another story for another day.

The obvious swing-in-the-other-direction option would be our local elementary school. I still spend many days where my mind grows troubled by the thought that we should have sent Jayci there. That she could walk to school (literally a block away) with her neighborhood friends (and us too obviously). That nothing will ever change or get better unless we are truly, fully, willing to enter into the places where clamor for change grows loudest. The truth is that our local elementary school is low-performing and at-risk and Title I and failing and all of the other labels you might imagine. It’s 99% African-American (although for all the time I’ve spent there, I cannot quite figure out who comprises the other 1%), and 100% free-and-reduced lunch.

One of the best pieces of advice we received from some veteran urban-missionaries at last-year’s CCDA conference was that there is no one perfect answer for every child, every year. That we could rest in the freedom to be led by the Holy Spirit and to switch schools if we felt that leading changing. That our kids could go to two different schools if we felt that was best for them and for our family. That we were not making this decision in a terrifying vacuum of “the rest of our lives,” or at the very least the next thirteen years.

That said, Jayci is shy and timid. She’s not particularly confident or loud, and she embarrasses easily. Despite a certainty that we could supplement any lacks in specific learning-areas at home, we felt a certainty in our hearts that Jayci would not weather well being the solitary cream-colored girl with bright blonde hair and shy blue eyes in a school full of braids and soulful dark eyes and chocolate skin. Based on some of the events we have attended with our children at Gideon’s, our children would be singled out in this environment for special treatment. They would get sent to the front of the line rather than having to wait their turn. Singled out, for Jayci (as for myself), just might be the worst-possible fate. Understanding that none of these reasons even begin to scratch the surface of inequities in education and the fact that we, because of our socioeconomic status and skin-color, have far greater range of options and considerations. I could preach for days about low-budgets and lower performance, of kids who deserve far better, of classrooms without books. But for now, I’ll climb off that high-horse and try not to apologize for not choosing this school for Jayci.

I'll stop here for today, more coming tomorrow (or possibly the next day . . . you know how hard it is for me to make promises).

Updated to add: You can go read part 2 right here).

Monday, September 22, 2014

Links to start your week off right

In just a few days, Adam and I (and a few friends) are headed to CCDA in Raleigh. We are pretty excited about connecting with other people who are doing urban ministry and to learn and grow in what we are doing here in Atlanta. Last year's CCDA conference resulted in us starting our own football league, so I'm also a little nervous to see what comes out of this year. A short week means I need to do things like clean the house before the in-laws stay here with the kids, and also pack and organize things in some semblance for while we are away.
Anyways, a few good reads from around the internets to get your week off to a great start.

Who gets to graduate - NY Times
The Racial Parenting Divide - Salon
Cradle-to-Prison vs. Kindergarten-to-Graduation - Sojourners

Also, I've already been obsessed with Humans of NY for quite some time now, but currently he's doing a world tour. Y'all, every single picture is beautiful and moving and the words? incredible. Seriously, you should comb through them. I mean it.

Thoughts on Writing - Shauna Niequist
15 Career Tips from Smart Women - A Cup of Jo

"I have a feeling that the kind of parent we are will always mirror how we believe God sees us." Yup. This (from Micha Boyett for A Deeper Story.

How to Talk to Your Own Soul - the Runamuck

The Book - DL Mayfield

In book form, I just finished this book and adored it: These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, and started this one: Jesus Feminist - Sarah Bessey

In other news, is anyone else doing 31 Days in October? Last year I did 31 Days of Listening, and the year before I did 31 Days of Margin. Any ideas for what I might/should write about if (if) I decide to participate?

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Pirate-Fairy 6th Birthday Party

A while ago (many moons/years), I banned Tinkerbell for Jayci because she developed a habit of folding her arms and stamping her foot at me, which mirrored exactly the little tiny sassy pixie. But it turns out the futility of trying to stop Jayci's love for Tinkerbell ended instead with an agreement not to stomp her feet  OR cross her arms with a sassy look in her eye when she's upset with me. So her love continued unabated, and I was not surprised when she announced she simply MUST have a Pirate-Fairy birthday party this year. I agreed, and concocted a complicated spread-sheet to try and figure out when all the family was available. Finally, we settled on a date just before her birthday when only 2 members of the family couldn't be there (sorry Sarah and Hash!), she handed out invitations and we went a little crazy at Michael's. Adam, as per usual, made an amazingly delicious cake. And we ended up with a remarkably easy, low-key, still fun and glitter-filled birthday party.
For favors, bags of their very own pixie dust. With apologies to parents for sending their kids home with hand-stamped bags of what basically amounted to glitter and confetti. Thankfully, I had Samaya to help, with strict instructions not to hand over the glitter to any of the six-year-olds.
The cake (oh the cake, I wish I had some leftovers right now), was this pink lady cake from Smitten Kitchen, and Adam made a chocolate buttercream icing covered with glittery silver sprinkles. Jayci, if you cant tell, was delighted.
 With more presents than she knows what to do with, Jayci is one lucky little girl.
 The older guests were also obviously delighted with the pirate fairy theme. Or else they just wanted cake.
 Make your own fairy-wands and pirate-patches, also a hit.

The food mostly involved small sandwiches, chicken nuggets, and a make-your-own party mix (so easy and such a crown-pleaser). 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Leaning into The Chaos

Always, always, things tend towards chaotic around here. More often than not, the floor stays unswept, the Little Ceasar's boxes emptied and piled on the table by the door, and one or both kids in time-out for various and sundry offenses. You can usually find a teenager or two, occasionally even one who lives here but still wont stop asking for permission to drink the orange juice (hint: I only buy the orange juice for him).
This week has been just basic run-of-the-mill Stanley Clan chaos. Jayci turns six (six!) on Wednesday, and don't even get me started on how that happened so lightening-fast. We celebrated her birthday this weekend, and then Adam left Monday morning for a conference in Ohio. He described his hotel room, with king-sized bed and view of a Great Lake (he couldn't remember which one), and I tried in that moment not to begrudge him all that quiet alone time, even though I know he will not even like it one bit because he hates alone time and wants to be around all-the-people. Oh the irony of it, I think to myself as children climb my legs and the door opens and shuts more times than I can count. Moments later I slice my finger neatly with a large serrated knife, not enough to need stitches or anything, but enough to nearly cause a curse word to slip out. And to need Jayci to fetch me a few Jake the Pirate bandages because I begin to feel slightly woozy from the blood-soaked napkin wrapping my finger (I think we can all agree it's a good thing I switched from pre-med). I remind Adam that night how he should definitely not leave me alone to feed the children, unless he wants to also leave us with some frozen dinners that I can safely and easily reheat. Otherwise, we may resort to macaroni and cheese and Chick-fil-a.
Jayci started homework this week, and I listen to her read me books for what feels like hours (she reads at an adorable and agonizing pace). We run to the park to take pictures, last minute of course, because I didnt QUITE read the packet as completely as I should have (which, of course, is the same reason I typically flub things in the kitchen). The neighborhood kids clamor for pushes on the swings and help across the monkey bars. Caden ribbits at the kids on the playground every time they try to talk to him or pick him up, this has become his default response when feels uncertain. Because who among us hasn't wished we could turn into a frog and hop away from an awkward social moment? By the time I extract myself to head home, we barely have time for teeth brushing before all three of us sink into soft beds. I could sleep immediately, but dishes have piled and glitter sticks to every surface, and morning rush makes packing lunches the night before the more appealing option.

Adam and his dad finished the patio in time for the party (hallelujah), but you'll have to wait until it's all gussied up and ready to go out before I'll show it to you. For now, a quick little peek at the pretty bricks laid in a nice-pretty-but-not-too-regular pattern.
The two littlest ones around here act more and more like best friends every day. I mean, the kind of best friends who fight practically incessantly, but also laugh together hard and long, and apologize with hugs only after stomping feet and being sent to their room. But still, friends.
Day after day, the princess dresses stay on, and the glitter doesnt come off. We lean far towards chaos, and I try my best to find space and time to rest in Jesus. To reframe the chores and the monotony, right alongside the crazy and excitement, so the focal point is always always Jesus. I twist my lens and change my stance, bending lower and ever-closer to the gritty grime of everyday life. 
Side note: I joined this, and you should too. But seriously, I signed up WHILE I was eating a somewhat-bootlegged-milkshake (ice cream in a mason jar with milk poured over top). So I feel optimistic about the whole thing. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Writing is a lot like sweeping

Now that Caden goes to school three days a week (three mornings a week, to be precise), I could conceivably find myself with nearly ten kid-free hours every single week. Sometimes, of course, those hours quickly fill up with actual things like photoshoots or meetings or lunch dates, but other times I find myself surprised to be sitting in an empty, quiet house.

The pressure sits heavy on my chest, I should have so much time to think, to write, to say all-of-the-things that I've been pushing to the back of my mind for a hypothetical quieter moment. Suddenly though, the blank screen, the very absence of distraction feels, well, distracting. I'm not quite sure what I want to say, or how I want to say it.

Sometimes I edit pictures for work or for pleasure. Or organize the library. And other times I read. After picking up Stephen King's On Writing, I began to notice what might be called a thematic element to a few of the things I've been reading. Not on purpose, mind you, but mainly by happenstance (if one believes in such a thing). Which sometimes seems to be the Lord's way of pointing out the stubborn things I don't always quite know how to puzzle out left to my own devices.

In his book, King says that writing is a lot more like sweeping the floor than it is like a flash of inspiration from some muse. I ponder his words while sitting in front of a blank screen, looking from my spot on the couch at a floor littered with toys and tiny legos, dust bunnies and tracked-in dirt. I sigh. And get my broom.

So instead of writing, I clean (which, as we have previously established around here, I hate loathe). I put away every single toy. Shelve books and return puzzle and game pieces to proper boxes. I stack school chairs and collect dishes.

My arm begins to ache as the kitchen takes on a shine. I run the vacuum, even mopping under the table, where splattered milk hastily wiped with paper towels has left vague residue. The problem with actually moving things to dust is mostly that you suddenly realize just how much you have left dirty by just dusting around all your decorative knick-knacks.  I also start noticing dirt even more as I clean, and before I know it I'm taking a magic eraser to the walls like a crazy-person. I have literally never before thought, "man, my walls are dirty." In the very act of scrubbing, I begin to notice the grime that has slipped through my mind often before.

All of this feels like a symbol, a metaphor for all of my life and heart. I don't think too hard about it though; mostly I am pleased by the gleaming shelves in the refrigerator. I throw away a combined total of five nearly-empty and slightly-crusty bottles of ranch dressing and hot sauce, the nectar of life around here apparently. The trash, bursting with expired salad dressing and old vegetables, gets to bulky for me to pull out of the can, and I recruit a few boys to get it safely out to the curb.

Here's the thing: I still hate cleaning. But sometimes things just need reframing as a new opportunity, as monk's work instead of mom's-work-that-I-wish-someone-else-would-just-do.

In Barbara Brown Taylor's An Altar in the World, she talks about cleaning too. About connecting with Jesus in physical labor, setting the world to rights. So I listen to hymns and worship music, and scrubbing baseboards feels almost holy. My knees bent and my back curved low, I remember my place. I seldom do this kind of work, and feeling an ache in my muscles connects me somehow viscerally to a Creator who declared it good.
Other times, though, I clean to this song instead. And then we are pretty guaranteed to dance while dusting and picking up toys. Jayci too (only the edited version of course, since I have standards), because we care deeply about healthy body image (every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top), and also we care deeply about a good beat. 

The other key to the whole cleaning-the-house-for-real thing that I've discovered it this: once you finish with all your cleaning, brought on by the hyper-awareness of all the dirt, you must immediately re-lower your standards. Otherwise, you will find yourself following teenage boys and just-turned-three year olds around the house cleaning up the chaos they leave in their wake. Which, of course, will irritate you and leave your satisfaction at a clean house short-lived. So for maximum enjoyment, lower your standards. You're welcome.


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