Monthly Archives: January 2014

The God Who Pokes

God from The Creation of Adam (poking)

Part Two

So if you don’t already think I’m nuts for homeschooling my daughter this year, you might when I tell you why.

You see, I was resisting the idea a lot.  It was a stupid, harebrained scheme.  Who homeschools?  How would I even begin to explain this to people?  How was I going to cope with it all?  Would the school be upset with me?  But God kept poking me.

What is a God poke?  Well, it’s not like I hear the voice of God and he tells me to do things in a deep, rich baritone, or there’s this big thunderbolt and I fall off the horse I’m riding and the statue of Mary gets all weepy and the fish poke their heads out of the water to listen to me preach and it starts raining flowers.  It’s kind of like this persistent gut feeling every time I pray.  And good people seem to turn up in my path with the right advice at the right time.  I know that I can tell God to back off with these crazy suggestions and he would.  But I don’t want to tell him to back off, not right away.  I’m curious and a little excited.  I know that in the past when I’ve gone along with God in his ridiculous suggestions, it’s turned out to be the best thing I could have done.

This all might sound mental, but it’s not really.  It’s not like some compulsion – like I have to do something right now or something bad will happen.  And it’s not like I feel compelled by creepy voices in my head.  Nothing bad will happen if I don’t listen to God and his quiet suggestions (except I might miss out on an adventure exactly suited to my personality and stage of life.  I might miss an opportunity to grow and reach my true potential).  And I don’t feel compelled (or hear voices, for that matter) – like I said before, I feel really conflicted.  I keep telling God his ideas are mental and he keeps bugging me.  I need to really trust God, there’s always that leap of faith required, I guess.

I should probably point out here that I don’t think I’m some child of destiny, that God has a plan for me and me alone.  Everyone gets poked by God at some time or another.  Some of us ignore it, some of us don’t call it ‘God’, but ‘intuition’ or ‘conscience’ or some other name that best fits our chosen religion.

I can hear as I write this what my atheist friends would say to all this.  What about all those awful people who commit atrocities and say they were doing God’s will?  Surely it’s dangerous to blindly follow an idea like this?  It’s true.  Not all ‘gut feelings’ come from God.  I don’t like to give him too much attention, but there is an evil mischief-maker out there who likes to trip us up.  That’s why it’s important that we don’t follow our concept of God’s will blindly.  Here’s a helpful test set out in the beautiful form of an ordered list:

  1. What is my motivation for taking this path?  Is ego and vanity a big factor?  If the answer is yes, it’s probably not God.  If the answer is no, proceed to question 2
  2. What are the fruits of this ministry?  Of course, there will be obstacles, but are good things happening because of it?  If you have declared war on another nation and are claiming it’s God’s will, you might have some trouble finding good fruits.
  3. Did I take this on because I really feel it’s where God has called me to be, or am I loading up with more commitments for ‘extra credit’, so that I might impress God?
  4. Do I feel a healthy measure of doubt about this?  I would worry if not.

Of course, I always try to make God fit into a box, but God does not conform to ordered lists, and the best way to discern his will in a tricky situation is to pray, pray, pray.  Read the scripture and pray,  Sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament and pray.  Peg out the washing and pray.  Pray formally, with the rosary or a novena.  Pray informally, in silence or amidst the noise and mess.  Ask others to pray for you.   Ask Mary to pray for you (she said yes to God’s harebrained scheme too, remember?).  Just pray.  Pray lots.

Then maybe it might be time to poke back.

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Matilda’s Gap Year

Woman and child reading

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cassatt_Mary_Nurse_Reading_to_a_Little_Girl_1895.jpg

Part One

I’ve been putting off writing this post for a while now.  I’m not sure how to tell you without making you thinking I’m totally bonkers.

See, this thing is, this year, when Christopher Robin trots off to Grade One, at our local Catholic Primary, Matilda will be doing Grade Four.

At home.

With me.

A few months ago, I was sitting with Mr Knightley on what we lovingly call our front ‘porch’.  Those of you who have visited me physically (and not just virtually) will know that this description is rather generous, but we love the chairs and table squished up next to our front door very much indeed.  As we sipped our coffee, we watched Matilda playing in our front yard, lost in her own happy world.  I sighed.

“I just don’t want her spirit to get crushed.”  I announced suddenly.

Mr Knightley looked at me and looked across to Matilda.  It’s not unusual for me to burst into a new topic of conversation like this.  I didn’t need to explain.  We both knew what a rough year Matilda had suffered.  The constant undermining and alienation from a group of girls who, while I’m sure are lovely individuals, seem to create a toxic culture when put together.

Tilly isn’t your typical eight-year-old girl.  She is an individual.  While she is articulate and has well-developed social skills, she would probably prefer to attend a political rally than a One Direction concert.  At my birthday party, after getting fed up with all the bonfire smoke blowing in her face, Matilda disappeared inside briefly, only to reappear nonchalantly sporting a pair of swimming goggles.  She was the hero of the party and pretty soon the other kids sent her back inside to fetch goggles for them too.  She wouldn’t have dared to stand out so much with her group at school.

It wasn’t often these days that we saw her relaxed and cheerful like this.  Over the course of the year, Matilda’s confidence had plummeted whilst her anxieties soared.  The school had valiantly tried different strategies, but none had worked for longer than a week.

The lowest point came a few months ago when Matilda confided in me that some of the girls in her group had accessed hard-core fetish pornography on their computers at home and were describing it in graphic detail over lunch time.  When Matilda objected to this topic, she was branded a baby.  Eventually, she made some excuses and nicked off.

I tried to write a post about this when it happened, but it was just too difficult.  Besides, I try hard to keep this blog PG-rated and I don’t think that would have been possible if I’d gone into any more detail than I have here.  It’s not that I’m prudish and think that eight-year-olds shouldn’t be curious about sex, and I’m happy to answer any questions (Matilda thanked me politely but said she didn’t feel she was ready to learn about sex yet.  She promised that when she did she would come to me, and not YouTube…), but I find it deeply disturbing that they have access to such damaging misinformation as porn.  It also struck me that, while I can go nuts with passwords and filters and monitoring screen time, I have no control over the boundaries that Matilda’s peers have with their computers.

Of course, I spoke to the school and the school spoke to parents (and I felt like a rotten snitch) and everybody was very shocked.  But a few months later, the girls were still talking about it, only this time, they banished Matilda from the conversation so that she wouldn’t dob on them again.

Mr Knightley sipped his coffee, “We could always try homeschooling,” he suggested.  I laughed.  Mr Knightley had been extolling the virtues of homeschooling since before Matilda was born.  But this was no off-hand comment.  Mr Knightley went on to put forward some very convincing arguments for giving Matilda a year of homeschooling, to give her a break from the stress, to challenge her gifted brain, to lean in to the relationship, and to give her back her childhood.  But it wasn’t this that convinced me, nor the excitement I felt bubbling up as I thought about curriculum and excursions and the fun we could have together.  A classroom with one student who itched to learn.  There was something else, quiet but persistent.

It was God.  He was poking me.

Nativity Fail.

nativity set

Every year, just before Christmas Eve Mass, my parish puts on a little children’s nativity play.  And this year, Harry was old enough to join in.  I watched him with pride at the rehearsal as he sat on the altar steps next to his big brother, solemnly clutching his assigned wooden sheep and singing carols very dutifully.  I could already see how it was going to be.  On Christmas Eve, all the otherwise stern-faced parishioners would be nodding at each other indulgently and pointing to the altar.  There sat the quiet and obedient little three-year-old with the mop of golden hair and enormous brown eyes as he performed Away in a Manger in Australian Sign Language.  “That boy has come good,” they would mutter to each other, “he used to turn up to Mass late and without shoes on and shriek abuse at Father during the consecration, but no more!  Just look at him sitting so still!  I call that fine parenting!”.  My heart swelled.

The rehearsal was a long one.  Annie was getting tired of being strapped in her pusher.  When I unclipped her, she promptly trotted over to the altar steps and sat down amongst the other children.  It was all very cute and she looked very proud of herself.   I let her stay there for a little while, but I soon began to sense her presence was making the co-ordinator rather anxious, so I coaxed her back to my seat with toy cars and kept her there.  I could tell from the smile of approval and relief the co-ordinator sent my way that I’d done the right thing.  It’s true: I do value other people’s approval far more than I ought.  Annie, realising she’d been duped, began to howl piteously.

When the rehearsal ended, it was time to fit the children for their costumes.  Being one of the smallest, Harry was last to be fitted.  As we approached, I could hear him murmuring to himself: “but I don’t need a clothes.  I don’t want one.  I just don’t need a clothes”.  The kindly parish lady held up a small brown robe.  Harry’s eyes widened:  “No.  No.  No, I don’t need it.  No!  No!  Take it off!  Take it off!”.  I didn’t want to make a big thing of it or – for that matter – tear a hole in the lovingly handmade costume.  Harry can have a bit of a thing where clothing is involved.   In the end, we held the robe against Harry’s wriggling form to measure it.  “Never mind,” said the kindly parish lady as she pinned a label with Harry’s name on the costume’s coat hanger, “it’s been a long morning.  He’ll be fine on the night.”

Christmas Eve was a day that went by in a bit of a desperate whirl.  A couple of days earlier, my mum and I decided we would move the family Christmas to my house (Mum and Dad are getting their kitchen renovated and, whilst the builder had given them many reassurances that the kitchen would be ready by Christmas, it would seem he had not specified which Christmas).   I was feeling quietly jubilant by this prospect.  I still feel the novelty of having a home of my own and now I would have the chance to get it all dressed up for Christmas.  Surely this was some sort of housewives’ rite of passage?  My head spun with the possibilities.  What about this?

hand made ornaments

Image credit: Mollie Makes, http://www.molliemakes.com

Or this?

decorated jar

Image credit: Craft & Creativity, http://craftandcreativity.com

Or this?

little wreaths

Image credit: http://www.welke.nl

My home would be so beautiful and charming.  Everybody would exclaim over all of the sweet details and thoughtful touches.  But before I could let loose with the decorations, I needed to tidy up.  After all, an artist must always begin with a clean canvas!

By the time Christmas Eve rolled around, I had modified my expectations a little.  OK, so I probably wasn’t going to get a chance to make beautiful, bespoke decorations and create a Pinterest wonderland here on earth, but at least I could focus on making it fresh and tidy and welcoming.  So I wrote a list a mile long and got lost in a frenzy of sweeping and dusting and endless picking-up-and-putting-away (or picking-up-and-scratching-head-over-random-objects-that-seem-beyond-classification).

It soon got to the point where I realised I wasn’t going to get the house tidy in time for Christmas.  My delightful children were expertly manufacturing mess at a faster rate than I could possibly dispel it.  I decided on a new goal – I would make the kitchen functional.  My family had suffered weeks in a house without a working kitchen, it would be a relief for them to work in a shiny-clean and clutter-free space.  I might even clean the oven (hey: there’s a first time for everything!).

But as we hurtled towards the end of the day, I realised forlornly that I was not going to accomplish any of my goals and now had to focus on force-feeding dinner to my children before getting them to the church by 6:15-no-later.  I had sort of hoped to coax Mr Knightley into taking the children so that I might have some child-free time to get some stuff done and – hang on! – get dressed for church.  But, as Mr Knightley ruefully pointed out, he had been working in the garden all afternoon and was covered in dirt and grass clippings.  He would need the time to have a shower.

We were already late.  There was no time to discuss matters.  It was possible that I fumed a little as I strapped Annie into her car seat (she was looking very sweet in a bright green fairy dress Matilda had found for her) and muttered to myself about my husband’s tendency to find urgent things to do in the safety of the garden whenever I go into stressed-out-cleaning-banshee-mode, but this is not the place to document such grumblings.

As we raced towards the room with all the costumes, I took note of the pretty dresses and floaty blouses all the other mums were wearing.  The earrings and the makeup and the high-heeled shoes.  I was wearing a faded peasant top that makes me look a little pregnant and my jeans with the frayed bit at the bottom.  The co-ordinator (looking spectacular in a black lacy number with red lipstick) made an elaborate display of relief when we burst in the door (eleven minutes late) and ushered us to the dressing room where the kindly parish ladies were waiting.  I shared a brief look of solidarity with the KPLs and gamely girded my underdressed loins.  Harry had already started to shake his head.

As I cheerfully approached him with the robe all gathered up and ready to pull over his head, Harry shot one look of disgust and pure loathing at the proffered garment and bolted.  I somehow managed to rugby-tackle the miniature maelstrom as he ran laps of the room shouting “No-no-no-no-no-no!  Help!  HELP MEEE!” and began to wrestle arms and legs and heads into sleeves and neckholes and skirts.  It was just as I stopped applying the costume and picked up the tea towel headdress that Harry managed to fling the small brown cloak off in one swift movement and resumed his protest march around the room.

By now, everyone else had departed for photos-on-the-basketball-court.  So, with one arm dragging Harry and the other pushing the stroller (which contained both Annie and the wretched costume), I proceeded outside to resume negotiations.

Harry and I sat facing each other on the asphalt.  I had managed to poke Harry’s head through the costume, but that was as far as I’d got.  I gestured helplessly at the other little shepherd boys as they posed together for a photo.

“Look, Harry,”  I coaxed, “all the big boys are wearing their costumes.  Don’t you want to be like a big boy?”

Harry glared at me mutinously.  I tried again.

“Do you want to sit with me and Annie like a baby?”

“No!”

“Then you must wear your costume”

“No!”

“Then you won’t be able to be in the play”

“No!”

“Are you a big boy or a baby?”

“No!”

“Just try it”

“No!”

And he ran away.

I sat, bereft, on the bitumen.  Two of the dads were regarding me from on high (they were tall and standing up, I mean).

“Nobody would say you didn’t give it a good go.” said one consolingly.

“There’s always next year,” said the other.

I sighed and climbed to my feet.  Mr Knightley appeared by my elbow.  “There’s still time if you want to run home and get dressed up.” he said, “Go now! Hurry!”

So I raced home, pulled my favourite summer dress off the line, flung it over my head, poked my feet into some pretty sandals and raced back to the church.

I fell in the door just moments after the play had started.  As I stumbled to my seat, I took in the scene before me.  Christopher Robin and Harry sat beside each other.  And Harry was in full costume, with only one arm poking defiantly out of his neck hole.

It was a Christmas miracle.

I looked across to the angels.  There sat Matilda, a halo of silver tinsel on her dark hair, singing her eight-year-old heart out.  And there, sitting amongst the Heavenly Host all in white, was a small green fairy.  Annie shot me a warning look that said don’t ruin this for me, Mother.  Mr Knightley smiled indulgently.  The co-ordinator smiled nervously.

I flopped down into my seat.  Meh.  Three out of four ain’t bad.

Christmas Boast

Please excuse my very long absence.  I’m on summer holidays at the moment and it’s been a little difficult to blog amongst the anarchy.  I have a few longer posts on the way, including a Fail post, a God post, a Holiday post and a Newsy post, but in the meantime, here is a completely self-indulgent one.

Here are some handmade gifts I wanted to brag about:

blue star garland

This is a crochet star garland I slipped in with my sister-in-law’s KK present.  It doesn’t really do anything and it kinda looked better in my head than in real life.  The stars are a mix of Lucy from Attic24’s very addictive Little Lacy Stars and my own Star Snowflake.  You can’t see it very clearly in the picture, but the ribbon is a sweet blue-and-white check pattern.

IMG_2138

I made some more Lacy Stars (I told you they were addictive) for my mother-in-law (“Mrs Knightley”?).  Do you remember this tree from last year?  I don’t know why I didn’t choose red the first time around.  It looks so much better.

brown packages

These presents don’t really deserve to be included, as I didn’t make them myself, but I couldn’t resist.  These were Christmas presents for the ladies at Harry’s occasional care.  I gave them Pippi’s handmade soaps (like what I gave away on my blogiversary) and wrapped them in lunch bags with nice ribbon.

jars of gingerbread

Here are the presents I gave Harry and Matilda’s teachers (Matilda had two teachers this year).  This photo is a bit dodgy.  I made the lid covers in purple yarn, but in this picture, they look blue.  The gingerbread is baked from a recipe I found on The Green Dragonfly, which is awesome and I will use always and forever until the end of time.  And I drizzled melted white chocolate on top.  Can you tell from the shape that they’re supposed to be stylised Christmas trees?  Maybe if you squint a little and turn your head to the side?  I get a little tired of rolling out all the waste dough again and again when cutting biscuits, so I chose a shape that tessellates to save me time.  Efficiency plus!  I tried to explain this method to several people over the course of Christmas, but their eyes all tended to glaze over, or dart about desperately for someone who could save them from the conversation.  I think it’s interesting…

Peter Rabbit

And at last, the pièce de résistance.  I made this bunny – who might bear a remarkable resemblance to Peter Rabbit, but for any lawyers from Beatrix Potter’s estate who may be reading, I will refer to only as George – for Lovely M’s son, who is Christopher Robin’s best friend, and who actually happens to love Peter Rabbit, when he’s not trying to act all grown up.  This was one of those situations where the idea for it flew into my head and then I just couldn’t rest until I had created it.  I followed Greedy For Colour’s Flora Rabbit pattern (one of my favourites) and then invented limbs and a cardigan to transform Flora into Peter (I mean George!).  Lovely M’s son was suitably impressed with this gift (although he tried hard not to look too much so in front of Christopher Robin, until Christopher cheerfully mentioned his own favourite toy dog who still sleeps with him) and I’ve been assured that Peter/George has been fed carrots at the table every night and goes to sleep in his owner’s bed.

And that’s it!  I should probably mention, before you start feeling too impressed, that I failed to send any Christmas cards at all this year and I’m pretty sure there are some people I’ve lost touch with who think they’re no longer on my list.  Maybe next year I’ll be better organised…