Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Reminders from the Constitution on the Blessings of Liberty.

By Kim Bauer

Today’s home school lessons consisted of an all day adventure with my parents and children to the splendid Huntington Memorial Library and Gardens in San Marino, California. For five glorious hours, we pretended to be Henry E. Huntington who earned his fortune as owner of the Southern Pacific Railroad during the pioneering days of the Gold Rush. Notably absent were period costumes and horse drawn carriages—never the less, we were fully engrossed in our fantasy as we strolled around the 120 acre paradise which showcases his vast assortment of botanical species. One of the most important business magnates of his time, Mr. Huntington became a collector of fine art and purveyor of rare books. His world class collection now adorns the walls of the Beaux Arts Mansion and several extraordinary galleries dotting the property with understated elegance.

The timing for our adventure was impeccable. We are learning about the American Revolution, the US Constitution and the larger than life, principle driven personalities of our Founding Fathers. We just memorized the preamble to the United States Constitution which promises to “secure the blessings of liberty”. But what does that really mean to the average American citizen? As a ‘homeschooling-mama’ living in a state ranked in the bottom 10% of American public schools, I am grateful for the blessings of liberty granted to me to educate my children in the manner I see fit which often includes outings like this.

I have learned to set an agenda and then remain open to the possibility for small miracles to manifest. The first miracle of the day appeared when my daughter spotted an original portrait of George Washington hanging proudly over a fireplace in the Huntington family dining room. We’ve been greatly inspired by the selfless service of our first leader, and it seems the Huntington’s also found inspiration in his image. I pictured the Huntington family seated around their exquisite dining table, thanking God for their food and George Washington for their freedom. And for a moment, we bowed our heads in homage to this great man who at the tender age of 21, led the Battle of Trenton, guaranteeing future generations the blessings of liberty through a series of selfless, high-minded choices.

In the Huntington Library, we pored over the personal records Washington kept in an effort to organize the scrappy Continental Army. Miracles continued to appear. We were delighted to find a printed transcript of the US Constitution which was given to the delegates as a “keepsake” commemorating the event. We even discovered an original version of Thomas Payne’s renowned pamphlet, “Common Sense.” We imagined what it must have been like to purchase one exactly like it in those gloriously unsettled times in our nation’s history.

Our education continued at home by taking the US Immigration and Naturalization test—the same test that immigrants are required to pass in order to become a US Citizen. Even though we hadn’t prepared for the test, my intention was to demonstrate that all US citizens, not just those who enter this country as immigrants, should thoroughly understand the content and meaning of the great documents that govern our nation. We will study until we can pass the immigration test with flying colors. We will understand the seven articles of the Constitution and 462 words of the Bill of Rights. We will become familiar with the intricacies of our government and how we, as citizens, can effect legislation. Most importantly, my children will be taught the blessings of liberty and all the rights granted to us by one of the most profound governing documents ever written.

Daily, I watch our precious freedoms, born of the blood and principles of our forefathers, being replaced by policies that drive us further and further into personal and national debt. At a time of such pivotal importance to our country, I wonder why we have stopped teaching our children to value the blessings of liberty above all else. Are we so far removed from the world of our founders that we have forgotten the hard earned lessons of the past?

With the teaching of American History being systematically “written out” of the curriculum in our school system, we begin to slide down a slippery slope. If we continue to take the blessings of liberty for granted, the very freedoms granted to us under the Constitution will quickly and quietly disappear. It’s no wonder self-reliance of our founding fathers is being replaced by a sense of entitlement that now seems to dominate the “American Mindset”.

I fear that we Americans are at a profound turning point in our evolution in which the continual devaluing of our freedoms are giving rise to a nanny state that will make us third rate, credit poor nation. Will we shamefully pass the legacy of our insatiable need for instant gratification to our children in the form of insatiable national debt? Just for fun, check out the international debt clock at http://www.brillig.com/debt_clock/ to see “the blessings” our children stand to inherit. Is this Liberty?

Copyright, 2009: Kim Bauer, wife, mother, and writer www.homeschoolin-mama.blogspot.com.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sometimes You Just Have a Squeaky Eyeball.

Moms are amazing multi-taskers! Evidently, we’re also worth about $508,526.32 per year according to one source who decided to translate ‘the typical mom’s’ daily task list in a monetary remuneration just for fun. Ouch…Salt in open wound hurts! But since we are not paid, we’re often labeled, simply… ‘miracle workers.’

If you inventoried a typical house full of items, I’d venture to say there are well over a million trinkets and treasures of various shapes and sizes. Why does everyone assume that moms can keep track of each and every one of those million things with her one, overly tired, nearly menopausal mind? Probably because we can, and we do and when we don’t, we blame it on dog or the maid making it absolutely essential for the average mom to have both.

Today, I agreed to make Pac-man sugar cookies with my son who loves the kitchen. Tears welled up in his big brown eyes upon his discovering that the round cookie cutter was missing. I patiently dug through the garbage, retrieved the smelly dog food can, washed off the crusted gook, cut off the bottom with a can opener and voila—one round cookie cutter. Big smile. Pack man sugar cookies materialized. “Mom, you are really creative in the kitchen,” he commented. “Years of practice son. Years of practice.” I chuckled thinking to myself, I should be paid for this level of resourcefulness. But I am a mom. I am a miracle worker.

I asked my daughter to put out the salad for dinner tonight, you know, as a small gesture of cooperation and gratitude for driving her to dance camp for three weeks straight. After all, I was simultaneously baking sugar cookies, preparing scallops that would impress Chef Ramsay, thickening Alfredo sauce, and tossing salad and arranging her social calendar. It wasn’t too much to ask.

“But where is it, mom?” my daughter whined while staring blankly and helplessly into the open fridge. I kept stirring, tossing and talking. “Raise your chin about an inch, look slightly to the right, tilt your head a little, squint one eye, and it should come into focus for you. Now, look for the green bowl, behind the cottage cheese and the ham shank. Take them out carefully, now. Got it?” Yes, she got it, because it was exactly where I said it would be. We are mothers. We are miracle workers. And off she ran to the hammock…my additional request to set the table trailing in her dust.

Two minutes later I heard a muffled scream from outside. All stirring stopped instantly so I could determine if they were screams of pain or pleasure—decidedly pain. Two seconds later, burners were off, pans removed and I was sprinting to the hammock. How did I know that pain had been caused by one dad swinging two children wildly on a hammock strung precariously between two trees by an undersized rope? I am a mother. I am a miracle worker. Two kisses and a reassuring word later I was back to the burners, scallops saved, dinner preparations resumed.

Later that evening I sat down to check email and make plans for our 17 year wedding anniversary. An actual evening alone required an elaborate strategy of pawning my darling children off to two different families, trading favors that I’d have to keep track of in another part of my over crowded mind and then obligingly return at some undetermined future date. My daughter, interrupting my email negotiations, said with genuine concern and elevating panic, “Mom, how come my eyeball is squeaking?” She had me on this one. I thought about it and gave it my best answer. “Well dear, sometimes you just have a squeaky eyeball.” I tiredly replied. She was quiet. Problem solved. I am a mother. I am a miracle worker.

Not so fast…

Later that evening as I was tiptoeing quietly out of her room, thinking she was asleep, and she said… “Mom, I just pushed my eyeball back into my head. I fixed it.” They were words of wisdom, uttered sleepily from a next generation miracle worker. Life is good, even when we don’t get paid.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Frankie and the wonderfully awesome, fabulous, very good day!

“This is a really great day, Mom,” my son announced to me as we were driving home from the grocery store with a few odd grocery items we needed for our ‘date night’ project of baking cinnamon rolls. The words were music to my ears. For every great day my son has, there are five bad ones. There is a really great children’s book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst (Author), Ray Cruz (Illustrator). I am reminded of this book when son is having one of what he calls his ‘worst days’.

Don’t get me wrong. My son has a GREAT LIFE! I have often worried that he just doesn’t have the perspective to realize it. “There are starving children in Africa who would love those (fill in the blank)” is a phrase that escapes my mouth more often than I would like to admit. There are many instances, when I hear my son utter the words, “This has been the worst day of my life” that I pray for God to grant him a little ‘perspective.’ Today, I was blessed enough to discover that his nine year-old mind is getting it.

As I mentioned, we were beginning our date night. It’s a tradition my husband and I began when our kids were two and three, and it has survived our busy chaotic schedules without interruption every Wednesday night since then. It’s a tradition that trumps even the biggest holidays like Christmas and Halloween in our family. We alternate children and let them choose the events of their special evening. It was my night with my son. He was in one of his chatty moods which usually indicates that things are going great.

I asked him why it was such a good day. “Well, I got to garden and cook on Runescape.com, I had a good day in school, my tomato plants finally sprouted, I got more plants to plant in my garden, and we’re going to make cinnamon roles on date night and watch the American Idol finals. It’s just a really great day!” he said.

I love the fact that his ‘perfect day’ involved the simple pleasures of life. When I really think about it, mine are too—breakfast in bed, a long walk in the morning with only my iPod and the dog, yoga, time with the family, an afternoon under an umbrella on a blanket at the beach with a good book, a simple dinner watching the sun set, and sitting by the campfire with my husband drinking a great glass of wine. That’s my perfect day. It’s true that the best things in life are free, and yet it took me 40+ years to discover what my son understands so clearly at nine. (And I thought he was the one who needed perspective).

Then, in a sort of nine year old encore, he said this in response to yet another piece of depressing news resounding from the radio about the state of the economy. “Mom, in some ways I think this bad economy was a gift from God. It’s making people more aware of the things that they do have. Its making them find ways to save money and scale back on stuff that they don’t need. When they have to take care of things themselves, and find simpler ways to do things, that’s good. Sometimes I think God wanted it… No, I know He made it happen that way so that we would all realize what is important. And I think some of the crazy stuff going on with the politicians is making people remember some of the important things about our country and the way our Founding Fathers wanted it to be. I mean, it’s bad because I know some people are really hurting and losing their jobs and stuff. But, if they can just stick it out, they’ll see that this is really a great thing. They’ll be happier when it’s all over.”

This is what he said, almost verbatim. And I was stunned…Stunned at his perception and interpretation of world events. Stunned that he could see such trying times as an opportunity from God. Stunned at his awareness of the gift of change. Stunned that at nine years old he understands that the simple pleasures are the most important things in life. And relieved, that in all his pessimism, he can recognize and appreciate a wonderfully awesome, fabulous, very good day!

Copywright, 2009: Kim Bauer, wife, mother, and writer

Sunday, May 10, 2009

This Mother’s Day, May You Celebrate Your ‘Interdependence’

I watched a movie with my family last night that left a deep impression. It was not a huge box office success and it went quietly to video with no awards or fanfare, but it left a tremendous impression on me. The movie was Marley. Maybe you have seen it. If not, here is the basic story line.

A young married couple embarks on their lifelong journey together with promising careers as journalists. They are young, happy and in love, and she, the more disciplined and ambitious of the two, systematically checks the boxes in her 7 step plan for life. They are approaching the ‘children box’ at a different pace, so the husband decides to stall the inevitable by getting Marley, better known as ‘the clearance puppy.’

Marley is ‘the worst dog in the world’ and destroys nearly everything he touches except their hearts. Surprisingly, the husband finds his voice and his fame as a columnist in writing about everyday adventures of their life with Marley. His career flourishes. The couple is eventually blessed with children, three of them in fact, and life changes. It is not bad. It’s just not at all what they expected. Upon the arrival of child number two, she decides to sacrifice her career to be a full time mom and discovers that motherhood is more challenging than she could have possibly anticipated. At one particularly stressful period, they are all ready to throw in the towel.

In a defining moment, she admits to her husband that it is all more overwhelming than she imagined. “I have given up so much of what it is that made me, me,” she confesses. This is the turning point that every mother reaches. We have lost our self. Or at least we think we have, because we are looking in the wrong places. We are measuring our lives in terms of our ‘independence’ instead of our ‘interdependence’.

The great Stephen Covey writes about this in his book, “The seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He reminds us that we come into the world dependent on others, then transition to a phase of independence and eventually, through maturity, we reach our most important and meaningful phase—that of interdependence. Interdependence is the power curve of life, in which we realize that our contribution, gifts and relationships create and shape our life much more than our ‘independence’ ever could. This is the essences and beauty of mother hood. I bet almost every mother can remember the exact moment in which she realized this simple truth. And even though it seems we have given up our independence, we really find ourselves in our ‘interdependence’.

To most, the movie Marley was about the joys, sorrows and unconditional love that our pets provide and the unforgettable imprint they leave in our hearts. To me, this movie was much more. Mother’s Day is a celebration of our interdependence. On Mother’s Day, our loved ones engage in a valiant and heartfelt effort to create for us “the perfect day.” This mother’s day, I got breakfast in bed compliments of my son and received a beautiful necklace he made from herbs from his garden. I am wearing an exquisite pair of beaded earrings made by my daughter, and received an early morning surprise from my husband of 15 years. They even allowed me an hour of writing time so I could make this tribute to the mom’s of the world. My family is giving me the perfect day!

As Mother’s, we must embrace these tributes from our loved ones while remembering that while Mother’s Day is special, each day is a perfect day. For it is in the journey, not the destination that mothers make their biggest impact and are at their interdependent best. May God bless all the mothers on the planet and allow them to enjoy their perfect day!

Copywright, 2009: Kim Bauer, wife, mother, and writer

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Another Great Aspect of Home School—Self-Taught Side Yard Science Class

My heart pounded and I hastened my pace to a frantic jog while searching the house at 7:00 am for my 9 year old son. “Did I forget to lock the doors last night?” I wondered as I mentally recounted my nightly house closing procedure. The irrational side of my brain repeated relentlessly, ‘he’s been kidnapped’, ‘he’s been kidnapped’. I pushed aside the thought of that possibility while continuing to search his favorite inside hiding spots to no avail.

And then, by remote chance, I glanced out the second story window to the yard below and witnessed a sight that will be forever engrained in my mind. There he was, (in stark contrast to my state of near hysteria), sitting cross legged and peaceful on a small bath towel, posture erect with his science notebook on his lap. He seemed to levitate in the glow of the early morning sun and he had managed to find inspiration in a place I seldom visit--the side yard of our home. I was overcome by a feeling of relief and gratitude as I watched, completely intrigued by the forces that were holding him captive.

He gazed repeatedly towards the rising sun and then down to his science notebook….up at the sun, and then down at his book, scribbling furiously each time. I left him there a few moments in his state of “divine inspiration” before daring to join him. I approached cautiously, attempting to mask my combined sense of panic and awe. “I do this sometimes, mom,” he casually responded to my inquiry. “I climb through my window with my towel and my notebook to think about chemistry and nature. It’s just so beautiful out here in the morning. I wake up looking at the sunlight coming through that tree and it’s like it’s inviting me outside,” he explained. “I think about the plants, and how we can keep the pollution from hurting our planet,” he shared.

My grandfather, an artist and great observer of human behavior, used to comment that my son seems to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. After witnessing this early morning attempt at “pollution resolution”, I couldn’t help but think how accurate his observations were. I also couldn’t help but recall fond memories of my grandfather’s very similar endeavors as he sketched intently in his sketch book. “It must be deeply engrained in the genetic code,” I thought.

My inquisition continued. Evidently, these sessions allow my son to study nature and theorize about the chemical structures and processes that exist in delicate balance in our world. He shared pages and pages of chemical theories and equations that he had been calculating, and theories he was developing that might lead to resolution of the problems as he understands them. Were his equations correct? Maybe, maybe not, but it didn’t matter, because the process of self-directed learning was ultimately more valuable than correct answers.

I was dumbfounded but not surprised. We have been reading the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and my son is learning first-hand through examples and stories of Franklin’s own telling, how he relentlessly pursued self-education throughout his entire life. From this, my son was able to connect the dots and realize that one doesn’t need a teacher or a classroom to learn. School is wherever you make it—even if it is a self-taught side yard science class.

He proceeded to show me a drawer he had cleared in his desk to hold “his required materials” and demonstrated his methods for escaping the confines of his room to embark on these early morning adventures. I was inspired beyond words at the mental capacity and gestalt learning children are capable of when given the chance to explore and develop their interests.

Of course, I am proud of what I am seeing, as all parents are when their children uncover a new talent or reach a major milestone. I share this story with great humility. The expanded moments of inspiration happening with both my children now that we are home schooling, are contributing to an emerging theory I have about self-directed learning which is that children need structure and repetition, but they also need freedom to pursue their own emerging interests and challenge their creative and problem solving abilities.

This, for me, is one of my favorite aspects of home schooling—fanning the flames of creativity and inspiration and watching them become an intense, raging fire!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Wanted! A little good old-fashioned, genuine authenticity!

“Authenticity” has been at the forefront of my mind for a few weeks and I have been thinking about its role my life. This week in home school, we are learning about “success” and “failure”. The speed at which the proverbial “rug” has been yanked out from under many unsuspecting folks due to the global economic crisis has left more than a few of us confusing bad luck and extenuating circumstances, with personal failure.

As our economy crumbles and our government continues to abandon common sense and founding principles, my world has been shaken to the core like a 10 point earthquake. As a result, I have stopped trusting what I once trusted, I have stopped believing in things I once believed in, and stopped assuming that everything will be okay if I work hard and plan well. The last time I remember feeling so “shaken up” and uncertain about the future was after 911. That’s a scary place and many of us, unfortunately, are here again.

We all have our own ways of dealing with crisis. I have found myself resorting to my favorite coping mechanisms; protectionism, personal accountability, and self-reliance, topped off with a healthy dose of prayer and positive thinking. I am creating my own personal “stimulus package”. At the coverage of the nationwide tea parties, I noticed a woman with a protest sign that read, quite simply, “I can stimulate myself, thank you!” It was just priceless and so well stated. And what must one do to stimulate oneself? I know what you are thinking, but this is the G rated version.

About two years ago, I realized that the lifestyle I had spent decades creating, wasn’t working for me anymore. My habits, my focus and my day to day life no longer reflected my AUTHENTIC priorities and values. In fact, the gap between the two resembled the Grand Canyon. What could I do? I decided to be like Madonna, and reinvent myself. After a thorough and “authentic” self-audit, I was left staring dazed and confused at a blank canvas called “my new life”. This confronting scenario triggered a temporary onslaught of fear, panic, anxiety, stress, sleeplessness, nausea, procrastination, denial and avoidance topped off by a strong (but unfulfilled) craving for brightly colored little pills.

Being an artist by nature who has faced a few of these blank canvases, I have learned to view them as divine opportunities to create something of beauty that will inspire others. This requires a certain mindset about success and failure and a belief that life is simply a reflection of a series of choices.

The words “success” and “failure” are the labels of meaning that we assign to the results we produce in our lives. Sometimes, the results are tremendous and we delude ourselves into thinking we are “da bomb”! Sometimes those results are horrific and we delude ourselves into thinking we are deserving of “da bomb.” Either way, the danger of labeling a result as either a “success” or a “failure” is that it directly influences our often fragile egos. If we have “succeeded”, it may go to our heads which causes a false sense of security and complacency. Likewise, when we fail, it goes to our stomachs causing discomfort and disease. We become paralyzed with fear, and have a difficult time functioning. “Analysis paralysis” thrives in this environment. That is the state in which many of us have found ourselves. Deep breath…

In order to bypass my own delicate ego, I am learning to remain emotionally detached from the results I produce. I don’t mean to imply it is okay to deny or avoid the consequences, (especially the negative consequences) of my actions. Ultimately, to be the best I can be, I must accept full responsibility for what I create in life. I simply mean, that I am learning not to view my own results in terms of “success” and “failure.” When I manage to do this, I can take a more “authentic” look at my life, make better choices for myself and progress confidently in a new direction.

A business associate who is reinventing himself recently asked me for some coaching on how to best position himself during his own “reinvention”. He was of the opinion that he needed “smoke and mirrors” to enhance his credentials. My advice to him felt very “Faith Popcorn-esque” as I shared my observations about the growing trend towards authenticity that is appearing on everything from food labels to cleaning products and the clothing we wear to the books we read.

It went something like this… “Almost everyone, from the poorest of the poor to the wealthiest of the wealthy has been affected by this crisis. Having been cheated, deceived, beguiled, mislead, and duped; either by ourselves or by others, we are now wary of formerly “trusted advisors”. Nowadays, if people sense even the slightest hint of personal misalignment, confusion or lack of clarity in another, they will “dis” (disengage and disassociate) and move on. In other words, if they can’t clearly understand what is on the label and inside the package, they simply don’t want it.

We are skeptical and impatient, desiring a return to simplicity and truthfulness. We are being challenged by deteriorating personal and global circumstances to rise to a new level of authenticity. While this may be painful in the short term, it’s a glorious chance for redemption in the long term. Don’t let a good crisis go to waste. Be authentic, beginning with yourself!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

If Everyone is Talking, Then Who Exactly is Listening?

This week was an education for me in more ways than one. I jumped head first into the world of social media, specifically, micro-blogging. Yes, I am officially “face booking” and “twittering”. Experts say that upwards of 208 million people belong to these sites now (April 2009) and they project as many as 1 billion users by 2011. As a twenty year marketing veteran, I admit that I am shamefully behind on this. I am still evaluating the pros and cons of social media, but my immediate observation is that there is an awful lot of talking going on and not a lot of listening.

Our home school lesson on listening couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. Being deeply engrossed in the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, which recounts 50 years of the life of a man with great capacity to influence and persuade others, I wondered what he would think of “social media.” What would Benjamin Franklin tell his son about listening, and what advice would he impart about the role of social media in our 21st century culture?

I believe he might begin by telling his son that “listening” is a precious gift that we give to one another. Think about it… when someone wants to be heard, what they are really craving is significance. For just a moment, they desire the attention and acknowledgment of another human being. When we choose to actively listen, devoting 100% of our focus to another person, a positive exchange begins. And respectively, when someone really hears us, we recognize and appreciate that gift. Before we know it, we are ready to return the favor. This reciprocation can continue ad infinitum and real honest communication takes place. It is the very foundation for genuine and lasting relationships.

Benjamin Franklin might tell his son that active listening requires that one be in an ideal “listening state”. Being angry, impatient, worried, or distracted is not conducive to listening. One must be calm, present and open to really “hear” someone. Therefore, learning to listen means we must first learn to control our emotional state. Someone much wiser than me said “seek first not to be understood, but to understand.” This statement, to me, epitomizes effective listening. It suggests that a better result will be obtained if we silence our mind and open our ears before engaging our mouth. Even when we are in disagreement, we will be better able to manage our state and move to a positive resolution if we follow that advice.

Next, I think Benjamin Franklin might share the idea that listening, like writing is a learned skill which must be practiced regularly in order to gain mastery. Give and take is an essential component of conversation. This is where the nourishment of the soul and strengthening of bonds occur. If you have been caught in a “one sided conversation” with a “listening leach”, I imagine it has left you speechless, empty and unfulfilled. True relationships are founded on give and take, verbal and otherwise.

As humans, we have an inherent need for significance and will go to great lengths to get it. On this crowded but often lonely planet, is it possible that the need for significance is driving the explosion of social media? What are the long term repercussions of a world where so much of our effort is focused on personal branding and so little on authentic listening? Will talking AT each other heal the planet or hurt it?

For me, the jury is still out on the long term consequences of social media. It’s difficult to ignore a potential 1 billion user trend. However, I believe Benjamin Franklin might advise us to partake at our own risk, to maintain a healthy distance, and to allocate the lion’s share of our time and energy to opening our ears and connecting with one anothers’ souls. He would suggest that we aim to build the kind of genuine relationships that can withstand MUCH more than a power outage, computer viruses, and technical difficulties.

What role is social media playing in your life? Is there any genuine listening going on in your circles?