Running: Better than Grass-filled Jellybeans

(If you’re here from my piece on anosmia at Scary Mommy, welcome! I’m glad you’re here.)

A thing you know about me if you know me IRL, but may not if we haven’t met, is that for the past eleven years I’ve owned a dog named Bonnie, who is, according to our best guesses — and the sure-if-that’s-what-you-want people at the pound — a border collie mix.

Bonnie, approximately 77 dog years ago. Leave your breed guesses in the comment box.

Many years and three babies ago, when Bonnie was young, she and I would go running together. (If J and I were dogs, he would be a border collie like Bonnie, and I would be something sedate, like a basset hound.) I do not like running and so for the first three quarters of the run I would plod along while Bonnie dragged desperately, and then she’d lag and meander the last quarter.

When lockdown started, I buckled down with running and got more regular. I found myself with more anxiety to manage, so I was going to need to put in more time in my extra-narrow Brooks Ghosts. Because Bonnie is now approximately 129 in dog years, I ran alone, and these little runs became my lonely communes with the pre-dawn — not exactly fun, but something that made my day better once I was in sipping tea and warming up.

But then deep winter came to our valley, and SOMEONE got restless — no, not Bonnie. I don’t know if it’s a boy/girl thing or a Katherine/J thing, but my girls’ behavior doesn’t nosedive with a decrease in exercise, but my boy’s sure does. In December we’d settled back into pretty complete isolation as local numbers climbed, and so I wasn’t able to kick Pip out with friends anymore and for some unknown reason, he wasn’t keen to go wander our suburban yard by himself in sub-freezing temperatures.

And so he started joining me on runs.

Peregrine in his trail-running Saucony Peregrines

It was so completely and utterly like running with my border collie all those years ago — straining to race ahead at the beginning, with a smattering of good natured trash talk, followed by whining and trailing in the last quarter. (On our first run, he actually claimed that it was possible for your kneecaps to fall off and that he’d seen it happen in a cyclocross race.)

But with important differences: no constant pausing (ok, only for really irresistible ice puddles), no leash aggression, and with a breathless constant stream of mostly one-sided conversation.

Before Pippin started running with me, I would not have claimed I was in need of any more time with my children. It’s the middle of a pandemic and I homeschool, so they have been with me approximately 98% of the last year.

It is a family joke that I hate running and am given to snorting in derision when someone wishes me a good run. But then the other day, Pippin added to the recorded list of interests I keep for his homeschool report “runing with Mama.” And I was so flattered I brought it up, wheezily, on our next run.

“It’s a little bit fun, isn’t it, Mama?” he prodded.

Grudgingly, I admitted that it was better with him, at least.

“Better than lots of things!” he encouraged. “Better than jellybeans. Filled with grass!”

And it is, dear reader. I don’t love running, but I don’t hate it anymore, and it is better with this tiny companion, not so tiny anymore, full of ideas and fun, excited for a frosty sunrise run with his mom, even if she goes entirely too slow.

The most improbable alliance: running buddies

Packing and Preparedness

Very glamorous silicone laundry line in our London flat

I don’t think it would be an overstatement (though it could be an embarrassment) to say that one of my greatest accomplishments of 2019 was packing for six weeks abroad as a family of five in just two checked bags. But it’s true! I researched, and tested out scenarios on a week-long spring break trip to Alabama, and revised. We ended up with tiny wardrobes that saw us happily through London, Kendal, Edinburgh, York, and London again, with only occasional muttered profanity when the complicated luggage arrangements we hauled toppled over while we wrangled three kids in crowded public transportation.

I’m just going to be honest here; this stroller is amazing but we overloaded it enough that it tipped over with a child inside it more than once.

I have always been a methodical packer. As a newlywed, I spent a whole summer putting things into and out of suitcases ahead of our trip to Uganda; J packed his share during a single conference call. I spend so much time thinking about packing that I’ve written a post about it before. My whole adult life, packing has seeped into many of my most boring and stressful dreams. (Whatever, I’m a cool mom.)

Brilliant packing move: one coloring book per kid, even in our very minimalist luggage. Pictured here rolling along en route to Oxford.

In 2019, we spent a full quarter of the year traveling. In 2020, we, like many of you, went exactly nowhere. We arrived back from our annual tour of the South on New Year’s Eve. The next day I found out I was pregnant. I canceled our plans, waited to start puking, then miscarried. By the time I’d scraped myself up off the floor, the world immediately fell apart. So yeah. I was in my very own bed every night of 2020, excepting the one I slept in a tent in the backyard with the kids.

Between the miscarriage and stay-at-home orders, almost half the year passed before I had to pack more than a diaper bag. But when we finally started to venture out on day trips again, I realized that none of my previous packing experience was all that relevant.

The rules had changed. Now we needed hand sanitizer and masks — and should we bring some disposable gloves just in case? We needed a plan for the bathroom, because now, when it was least convenient, everyone was finally potty trained. (I mean, mostly.)

The water fountains are turned off and the bathrooms are closed. PLAN ACCORDINGLY AND BRING A MASK.

What was worse, we had changed. We were rusty, accustomed to never having the things we needed — the extra layer, the change of pants, the spare snack — out of reach, having spent months on end confined to our immediate neighborhood. We’d lost the make-do attitude we’d cultivated traveling so much the previous year, and at the same time we’d lost the freedom to easily run into a store for a replacement if a forgotten item proved essential.

Most of all, we’d lost the confidence that the future is knowable, something that can be planned for. (Given the average weather of London in May and Edinburgh in June, it follows you should pack the lightweight merino leggings and the sundress.) Instead we were faced with the uncertainty that had always been there: maybe you pack all the right things, but it doesn’t end up mattering, because the unpredicted occurs. You can plan for what you might need on that trail, given hungry little bellies and a boy who will wade regardless of the temperature, but you can’t game out what you’ll need if that trail is too people-y and you have to go someplace else, if your kid needs to pee and it’s still densely populated and you don’t want to set foot in the sketchy gas station bathroom in the middle of a pandemic.

Packing has become a lot more like those monotonous dreams that plague me at night — a shifting and uncertain task, without any real guarantee that hard work and forethought will pay off. It’s also probably socked me with some violent grace, though, reminding me that perfection isn’t achievable, that we have always lived at the mercy of outside forces and that the perfectly packed picnic is no guarantor of a pleasant outing. We travel through life, trying to hang on to the things we think we need, but in the end, so little of it is about our own striving.

Still, it never hurts to pack an extra snack.

Melting her brain with Frozen on the way back to the States

2020 in Books

Total: 64. That’s significantly more than in any year since I started tracking. Thanks, pandemic??? (Past lists linked to here.)

Fiction Favorites:

  • Kindred by Octavia Butler: knocked me on my butt and kept me completely horrified and obsessed through early fall as I drove to physical therapy.
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson: I’m always interested in speculative fiction that explores what our lives mean and how changes in their trajectory might affect the wider world (My Other Children is another good one) and yet I couldn’t get through the bleak sequel to this at all.
  • These Nameless Things by Shawn Smucker: a fascinating contemporary companion to The Inferno and The Great Divorce.
  • The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel: I’ve liked everything I’ve read by her (Station Eleven and The Lola Quartet so far); the nuanced characters with haunting backstories, the unexpected overlaps, and the events and characters that resist overlaps. I don’t always know why she’s doing what she’s doing, but I’m along for the ride.

Nonfiction Favorites:

  • Drawn To Nature: Through the Journals of Clare Walker Leslie: completely inspirational without being intimidating. Should be required Charlotte Mason reading — teaches how to keep a nature journal in a very casual, approachable way.
  • The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture by Wendell Berry: read to me in the dulcet tones of Ron Swanson, no less. Seriously, though, 2020 was the time to really think about the disservices our global, consumerist economy has rendered and consider how we might build a more robust and loving local community.
  • A Mother’s Ordeal: One Woman’s Fight Against China’s One-Child Policy by Steven W. Mosher: fascinating and horrifying. I can’t believe I read this in the aftermath of the miscarriage, but it helped reinforce the tragedy of any life lost, somehow, and completely pulled me out of myself when I desperately needed it.
  • Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World by Anthony Doerr (of All the Light We Cannot See fame): just eclectic and beautiful and uncategorizable.

Notes & Trends:

  • % digital (audiobook/ebook): about 55%, across platforms: Librivox, Scribd (audiobook and ebook), Libby (audiobook and ebook).
  • % reread: 24% I re-read most of Jane Austen this year, which makes sense — comfort and wisdom and escape all rolled into one. Some Anne, no Harry.

What were your reading habits like in 2020? Did you find yourself unable to focus in the face of the headlines, or diving into more books than ever?

Obscure Advent Recommendation #3: Family Man

Watch The Family Man | Prime Video

This one is for my dad, who loves to watch this movie each year on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Family Man is a sweet and under-appreciated movie from 2000 starring Nicholas Cage and Tea Leoni. You can watch the trailer, but the basic premise is: Jack is a highly successful businessman, basically decent if superficial, living the high life until an unthinking moment of heroism on Christmas Eve launches him into a “glimpse” — a vision of what life might have been if he had passed up a career opportunity as a young man to marry his first love. Waking up as a family man in the New Jersey suburbs that Christmas morning, Jack initially panics and tries to escape the glimpse, but gradually settles into the alternate world. But, given the choice, would he choose to stay? And can he?

If it sounds a bit like It’s a Wonderful Life, good for you, you’ve clearly had a much more cultured childhood, because I didn’t watch that until just last year. But it’s a cozy Christmas movie that celebrates the life of quiet sanctification of a man who lays down his life for his wife, his children, his community of friends, setting aside the path where talent and ambition might have led. It’s the life my dad chose, the life I struggle each day to choose for myself.

That said, our family is the only people I know who have seen/liked this movie. By and large the internet has forgotten and/or actively hates it — the New York Times called it “a piece of moldy wax fruit,” which is a charming but perplexing insult. This 2019 piece argues the movie is making a comeback, but offers absolutely no evidence except that the author likes it.

Family-friendly? We haven’t let our kids see it. There’s a suggestion of an affair, some mild bedroom talk, some obscured nudity, etc.

Where to get it: Rent from Amazon for $3.99

Obscurity level: 8/10 — I guess they made another movie with the name Family Man in 2016 and that makes finding this particular Family Man even harder.

Obscure Advent Recommendation #2: Children of Men

Children of Men - Wikipedia

OK, for our next stop on the Obscure Advent Recommendation Tour, let’s visit a slightly less obscure but definitely controversial pick: Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 movie, Children of Men. Let’s take it as a question and answer:

  1. Haven’t you written about this before?

I thought I had! But now I can’t find anything about it aside from a mention about how haunting it was to recall in the early days of the pandemic. Maybe Instagram?

2. What’s it about?

It’s based on a novel by P.D. James. (Not as good, FIGHT ME.) The premise is that worldwide infertility is creating a world slumping into despair, unrest, and suicide. It’s 2027 (!) and a baby hasn’t been born in eighteen years. When alcoholic everyman Theo Faron is tapped to help on a desperate mission, he’ll brave the dystopian world outside to find hope for himself and the world in what one review aptly calls a Via Dolorosa.

3. That doesn’t sound like an Advent movie.

Ok, friend, that’s not a question. But to answer your non-question, an Anglican priest friend first introduced it to me, actually, as an Advent movie. Even though it’s extremely violent, it has a lot to say about hope and human frailty and the joy a birth can bring. (For instance, this post traces how Theo’s name translates to “God-bearer.) There are a lot of allusions and visual references to the religious themes — though you can also watch it as a film connoisseur (which I am decidedly not) for its famously long and complicated shots.

4. You said it’s violent?

I don’t want to understate this. It’s very hard to watch, but valuable viewing. I mean, I think it still would be. It might be kind of haunting to watch after our pandemic year.

5. How should I pair this?

If you’re watching it with people, be prepared for everyone to sort of stand up dazedly at the end of the viewing and wander away to think through it. Not a cookies-and-cocoa viewing, for sure.

The world of Children of Men
O come, o come Emmanuel, yes?

Family-friendly? ONLY LATE TEENS AND UP. This is outside edge of “hard to watch but worth it” for me. (Though I’m a bit of a weeny.)

Where to get it: It looks like you can rent it on Amazon for $3.99; I got a copy from the library without having to deploy interlibrary loan.

Obscurity level: 6/10 — not on a lot of cozy blogger mom lists of Christmas movies, but plenty of other people agree with the Advent take. (There’s a good review here.)

Obscure Advent Recommendation: The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman

The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman (Laurel-Leaf Books) (9780375895210):  Plummer, Louise: Books - Amazon.com
My elderly copy

Ok, stick with me here — I am about to make a recommendation so obscure, I know it’ll need a little explanation.

So here goes: Louise Plummer’s under-appreciated 1995 YA rom com masterpiece, The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman, is the just-for-fun book you should read this Advent. (Or Christmas. Or whenever.)

Kate Bjorkman is doing just fine. She’s a high school senior and lives with her pleasant, humorous parents in a close-knit neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota. She classifies herself in the second tier of Christmas happiness, even with Coke-bottle glasses and a 6′ frame, but when her big brother arrives home for Christmas unexpectedly with his new wife and old best friend — the one Kate’s had a crush on for years — suddenly she’s in the running for the top tier of Christmas bliss. But does Richard feel the same way?

I’m really picky about rom coms, both on film and in books. The very best ones, in my opinion, have relatable narrators and likable love interests, but, at least as importantly, a rich community of quirky characters. (Think You’ve Got Mail — or even Notting Hill, where, as far as I’m concerned, the side characters are the only thing that save the movie from its tedious leading couple.) Unlikely Romance has just such a cast: a capable but not obnoxious Pinterest mom (before Pinterest was a thing), a sleepy linguist professor father, nuanced friendships and a life-changing teacher who flits through the pages. Characters offer glimmers of backstories and inside jokes and complicated histories that just might make the villain a little less villainous. This community surrounding Kate makes the stakes both higher and lower: an enduring relationship leading to marriage is the unstated goal, but she has a full life even if Richard never declares his love:

“Anyway, the minute I began walking down Folwell Street, I felt glad to be alive. Even before the hero entered, I was pretty happy with my life. I’m not the sulking type. My father, the linguistics professor, had been playing one of the Brandenburg Concertos when I left, and I felt as if the flute music were trapped inside me and that if I opened my mouth, it would trill out into the night air.”

It’s a funny book, with the kind of whip-smart dialogue I love in Love Walked In, and Kate, a very self-aware narrator, often draws cutting comparisons between real-life romance and the stories she read in her friend’s favorite romance novels. But Plummer’s book is also noteworthy for raising serious questions about romantic love, contrasting the will-they-or-won’t-they romance between Kate and Richard with her newlywed brother’s relationship and her parents’ longstanding marriage. Characters cast a critical eye on romantic overtures and grand gestures and instead try to get to the bottom of what makes a real, warm love. It’s a consideration that rewards re-reading at different life stages—I loved it when I first discovered it in my early teens, and I love it still, even when my life stage is much more that of Kate’s parents. I can’t think of an example of another YA book that inquires so seriously into the real work of love — can you?

Family-friendly? I think the book suggests ages 12 and up; I’d skew a bit older for references to virginity, even though the protagonist doesn’t lose hers.

Where to get it: Bookshop.com has it; a lot of local libraries seem to have weeded their copies.

Obscurity level: 9/10; the only people I know who know it are ones I’ve made read it.

The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman : All About Romance %
Bringing the cover into the 21st century?

30 After 30 at 35

I’m trying to make my motto for this hard time Flannery O’Connor’s, as she struggled with lupus:

“I can, with one eye squinted, take it all as a blessing.”

So, that being said, I’m trying to look at my thirty-fourth year as a time of growth and blessing, even with the losses it brought. (To see my original list, click here.)

Not a fashion blogger, but: the Rowena Wool Dress from Wool&, belt: vintage; glasses: my unfortunate $10 backup pair

Work on refining my signature style. I used ThredUp during the spring to buy a half dozen cotton, knee-length, washable dresses to get me through the summer, embracing the size I am and not holding off in the hope that I’d be immediately pregnant. (ThredUp sharing code here — $20 for each of us) For my birthday, I’ve ordered a merino wool dress and I’m thinking of trying the 100 Day Challenge.

Learn how to cook at least five cuts of red meat well. We got another 1/8 of a cow, in addition to about 40 pounds of chicken breasts through a farmer friend.

Making an Advent wreath with the help of Baby Yoda

Celebrate one liturgical event a month. I haven’t kept track, but we have done weekly readings of saint biographies and some baked goods to celebrate — and we said a prayer for the dead every time we ate a piece of Halloween candy in November LIKE WEIRDOS. (I loved it.)

Find a church ministry I can be a part of. I led a book club for our parish chapter of Blessed Is She, reading In This House of Brede, The Color of Compromise, and The Awakening of Miss Prim.

Fit in long walks at every opportunity. Hey, thanks, pandemic!!

Discover new shared interests with J. We’ve done a lot of hiking this year, and for awhile we were baking a lot of Great British Baking Show-inspired desserts.

Grow my own herbs each year. Thyme, sage, basil, peppermint and rosemary, but also tomatillos, tomatoes, potatoes and pumpkin this year.

Start treating myself to fresh flowers each week, even if it’s the bargain bouquet. I still am not great about buying them for myself (especially when I’m not in the store), but between nursing along sympathy bouquets through February, my own blooms from March through November, and now birthday arrangements, I’ve done pretty well.

Hey, that mask really brings out the silver in your hair!!

Keep going gray. Me and everybody in 2020, am I right? My sister trimmed my hair in October, but otherwise it’s just been doing its own (aggravating) thing since the day in January I last had a real haircut, when I was pregnant but not sick and starting to get worried.

Try to get back up to the book a week reading average that’s been my adult standard. Voracious reading post-miscarriage, the inability to concentrate on anything for several weeks as the pandemic unspooled, and then back to my weekly average or so.

Make time to write well. So many letters and emails and journal entries this year, even when I was feeling less sure about what I wanted published for all the world — though I did get published in Dappled Things and Pray Tell.

Give myself and the people around me a little more grace. Mixed progress. I’ve definitely been more tense during parts of this year, but I think I’ve done a good job keeping in touch with friends without taking their lack of communication personally. We all have so much to deal with, we get a free pass to be a little erratic.

The Aptness of Advent

This is it. 2020 is the year Advent wins out against the commercial Christmas we’ve all grown up with, at least for this round. How are we going to gather to rock around the Christmas tree? Is it possible for much of anyone to sing without irony this year:

With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings
When friends come to call
It’s the hap- happiest season of all
.

I’ll be home for Christmas…if only in my dreams. That’s for sure and certain.

This is the December we hunker down, wipe our calendars clear of social engagements. We don’t need to dodge the December 5 Christmas party, don’t have to explain to well-meaning coworkers that it’s not Christmas yet. Instead, we have no excuse not to dive deep into what patient waiting means, in both the liturgical and communal senses.

In this way, Catholics and other liturgical Christians have an edge over non-liturgical Christians and secular people going in to this strange, strange December. We have, though we may not personally have plumbed its depths, a rich history of stillness, preparation, and patient suffering in our tradition of Advent.

Without the premature feasts of a normal December party season, can we incorporate fasting into our observance of Advent this year, directing our prayers to any one of the facets of suffering we see more clearly in the pandemic-wracked world this year? Can we use time freed from extracurriculars and commutes to adopt a new prayer practice or reading plan? Without the jangle of “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” trailing us from our last Target run, can we learn the haunting strains of “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”?

That doesn’t mean we have to pivot to an Advent all sackcloth and ashes, though. Instead, we can prepare with penitence, yes, but also hope, for the coming of our King. O come, o come Emmanuel. We feel captive this year for sure, trapped in our homes as cold weather and darkness and disease close in. But we must remember that rescue will come, resolving, as best we can, to make [our] house fair as you are able / trim the hearth and set the table.

How do we take the opportunity to critique our usual December flurry, while still preparing steadily for the joy of the 25th? It will take effort and look different for each household. The pensive, hopeful mood of Advent will come easily to many of us this year, but the jubilant mood of Christmastide may require effort without the usual signposts of parties and shopping mall music, family gatherings and perhaps even Mass. Christmas cards will remind those we haven’t seen for months that they are still loved. The intentional introduction of Advent reading, crafting, and baking into our busy rhythm of remote (or home-) schooling will prepare the hearts of our children. The lights we string around our homes will point to the hope in our hearts, glittering through the interminable nights. Can we look to Christians throughout time, from the early church to persecuted Christians in corners of the world today, who cling fast to the truth as the celebrate, hushed and alone, in their own humble way?

Come, Thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.

Related further reading: The Homely Hours’ exhaustive collection of Advent hymns; me talking about Christmas cards and my past thoughts on Advent.

Acts of Hope

The other day I was kneeling on our curb endlessly digging holes for a bunch of bulbs a friend had given me. They were bulbs she’d bought me to commemorate the loss of our little one, and they were bulbs instead of a bouquet because she couldn’t just casually run into the grocery store for flowers what with coronavirus. I know you don’t need me telling you this, but — what a year.

So even more than usual when it comes to planting bulbs, planting these particular bulbs felt like an act of hope. Who knows what my life and the world will look like when they finally open their bright faces on the world this spring? Maybe our guy will be in office, maybe not. (Maybe we don’t have a guy.) Maybe there’ll be a vaccine, or maybe we’ll still be waiting. Maybe I’ll be out digging in the garden then, or maybe I’ll be laid up inside with a new pregnancy, not a replacement for the baby we lost this year but a new adventure all his or her own. Maybe not.

It made me think about the other small acts of hope we are choosing right now. Ordering Christmas cards felt like another one this year for me — I always order ridiculously early, and who knows now what might change to make my message hopelessly out of date? But just like I know that whatever happens in the coming months, flowers won’t go amiss, I can be pretty sure that our people will still like getting a reminder of our love for them in the mail. (Provided we still have the mail. We’ll still have the mail, right?)

Maybe you’re hacking away at your own little act of hope right now. You’re growing that baby for the uncertain world she will face. You’re starting the next lesson in math with your kid even though concentration seems impossible or irrelevant in light of the headlines. You’re training for a marathon that may not happen this year. You’re doing the things you’ve always done because they’re the right things to do, and if your stance is a little grimmer, your confidence a little shakier, who cares — the important thing is you’re still doing them.

On Educating for a Provisional Future

I’ve been listening through and re-reading Wendell Berry’s fantastic essay “The Work of Local Culture,” which can be read online here or is included in the books The Unsettling of America and The World-Ending Fire (and you can listen to both read aloud by Nick Offerman of Ron Swanson fame—!!). It’s a long and far-reaching essay, not all of which I think I’ve fully unpacked, but today I want to turn an eye to Berry’s thoughts on education.

As he plumbs just how far America has wandered from a respect for local culture, Berry notes, “The schools are no longer oriented to a cultural inheritance which it is their duty to pass on unimpaired, but to the career, which is to the future, of the child.” Because my husband teaches at a nominally liberal arts college that frequently advertises its job preparation chops, because I attended an actual liberal arts (Great Books) program, and because we are leaning toward at least some elements of classical education in our homeschool, this is an idea we discuss often in the Bowers household. What’s more, a respect for cultural inheritance goes hand-in-hand with Catholicism, I think — Chesterton’s “democracy of the dead” and all that. Though our children may find themselves alone temporally in a cohort where no one else adheres to their faith, they can, with a proper education, remember all those who came before them as practitioners in the faith: Charlemagne and Gregor Mendel, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Beethoven. (It is worth noting here that Berry is at least partially — maybe predominantly — referring to passing on a “cultural inheritance” that is inextricably local. And I have no idea how to pass that on, having transplanted myself hundreds of miles from the [suburban] woods I walked as a child.)

Berry points out the value-neutral methods of education currently employed, an atmosphere in which the greatest good is not human flourishing or the care of a place or community, but rather to “earn money in a provisional future that has nothing to do with place or community.” It’s the whole marrying-for-money-and-career-prep argument all over again.

The educational system as it exists now is designed so that parents may

“find themselves immediately separated from their children, and made useless to them, by the intervention of new educational techniques, technologies, methods and languages. School systems innovate as compulsively and eagerly as factories. It is no wonder that, under these circumstances, ‘educators’ tend to look upon the parents as a bad influence, and wish to take the children away from home as early as possible.”

This alienation is often introduced with good intentions — to break the cycle of poverty, to equip a child with better opportunities. But the separation is also an expression of our cultural obsession with what is new and hip, in this case the newest pedagogical tricks or newest technology. Every child a laptop! we decree, as if concrete improvements have been documented. Instead, what is needed is this:

“There must also be love of learning and of the cultural tradition and of excellence. And this love cannot exist, because it makes no sense, apart from the love of a place and community. Without this love, education is only the importation into a local community of centrally prescribed ‘career preparation’ designed to facilitate the export of young careerists.”

Let me offer the disclaimer that these values of course are not unique to homeschool or embodied in every homeschooling family. But the values do require a knowledge of this particular child, of what will be demanded by him by a local community — which often has less to do with skill mastery and more to do with how he understands his place in the world, how she cares for the lives with which she’s entrusted.

The past year should show us what is really important in education and family life. By now we should realize we cannot prepare our children completely for an unpredictable world, because who among us predicted this? What we have learned to value, instead, is the strength of family affections that, depending on their presence or absence, have made the last few months tolerable or miserable. We cannot educate our kids into safety, but we can love them and equip them to love others through the storm.