Friday 25 October 2013

Surviving home education

“No school today for this lot?” The woman behind the counter peers curiously at my children. “Nope,” I sigh, “not today, not any day...” and taking my change I head out the door with my little brood behind me. I'm usually far more patient – honestly I am – but we are still 30 minutes from Seamus Heaney's grave in County Derry and have been driving for almost three hours in the rain. Today isn't the day to explain to every stranger perplexed by the sight of free range children during school hours how wonderful home education is: we're too busy living it.

Seamus Heaney's grave, St Mary's Church, Bellaghy, Co. Derry
Heaney's grave, Bellaghy, Co. Derry

At Heaney's grave, shared with his parents and brother Christopher, we read “Mid Term Break” (about his baby brother's death and funeral) and pray a Rosary in Latin for the repose of all their souls, ending with a sung Salve Regina. Heaney loved Latin: famously, his last words to his wife, by text message, were "Noli timere". Other visitors to the grave, local men who were Heaney's contemporaries, join in with our Rosary and thank us afterwards for praying., apparently very few people do. After signing the book of condolence in the church, St Mary's Bellaghy, we drive due North toward the coast, pausing briefly at Bushmills to consider the science of distillation, before arriving at the Giant's Causeway – a World Heritage Site and natural wonder of volcanic basalt eroded into astonishing hexagonal columns like a giant three dimensional honeycomb. In addition to the fascinating hands-on geology, we learn about the kelp industry, about Irish mythology and that you get more soaked standing on the Antrim coast in a blowing gale than you do by plunging into a swimming pool. Fish and chips a little further around the coast, then a long drive back in the dark, home to our holiday cottage. A good day.

Giant's Causeway, Co. Antrim

Not every home education day is an adventure. For each day like yesterday, there's one where my children drive each other (and me) crazy. Where the house is a mess, where someone has fed playdough to the cat; where the dog has chewed the eyepiece of one of the microscopes, and we can't find the answer key for the Latin workbook.

That's when the September not-back-to-school doubts start to creep in. Will my children suffer or benefit from the choices that we, their parents make? Will they end up illiterate / happy / unemployable / holy / overspecialised / expert / only fit for employment in a circus? Are we doing the right thing? Can any parent ever answer that question with 100% certitude?


Then the Angelus bell chimes. The rhythm of daily life masters us gently and our family prayer leads to calm and resolution as I hand my fears over to Sede sapientiae – Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom to whom we've consecrated our home education undertaking.

Nothing is perfect – no school, no home, no family. In choosing to home educate we do two things: the first is take full responsibility for our children's education, for better or for worse; and the second is to place our hopes and fears into Our Lady's hands. But really, no matter where or with whom their children spend their weekday hours, these are two things that every Catholic parent, as first and primary educator,should do. We are in the business of educating souls: Sede sapientiae, ora pro nobis!

A version of this piece first appeared in Catholic Family News


Monday 21 October 2013

"Just stick with Hans Kung...": Surreal petrol station conversations OR Tales of Z-swag in the wilds of South London

After our van was stolen in a burglary last year, we replaced it with another, slightly less snazzy, one. I was determined to make this new one unstealable, and so applied a selection of stickers that would take hours to remove thereby making our van immediately recognisable and, hopefully, less attractive to any thief. I mean, can you imagine a car thief bombing down the road with "Lex Orandi / Lex Credendi" on the bumper, "We love our priest" on the side window and a large image of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour on the windscreen? Didn't think so. And that's only a small selection of the adhesive novelties bedecking our vehicle.

We also had it blessed. Fr Finigan blessed our van using the formula for the blessing of chariots. In Latin.


We also named it -- Nino, after the virgin saint -- as we collected it on 15th Dec.


...and so far our precautions appear to have worked: we are still in possession of our van. It has not been stolen. It has, however garnered a few puzzled looks.

The stickers have attracted attention. A few days after I put a "Thank you Pope Benedict" sticker on the boot (that's "trunk" for readers across the pond), I was filling up with diesel when an older lady in a car at the pump behind started gesturing rather excitedly at me. Her husband was dressed in North African type clothing and she was wearing a veil over her hair so I assumed that they were Muslim. Perhaps my assumption was wrong: as I looked questioningly at her she gestured again at the back of the car and clearly mouthed "Pope Benedict! Pope Benedict!" then gave me repeated "thumbs up" signs with a huge smile on her face.

More recently, my husband parked at a petrol station to nip in and buy something. As he parked the van, a man in the car beside him gestured and said something out his window in my husband's direction. As he was in a hurry, and it was clear that whatever the man was saying was friendly, my husband smiled, parked the car and went into the shop. He was standing in the queue to pay when a voice behind him said "So: 'Save the Liturgy / Save the world' -- what does that mean, then?" Rather surprised (as well as caught somewhat off guard -- I should point out that *I* plastered the vehicle in stickers, not my far more sensible husband), he turned around to see a pleasant looking chap in his late 60s (spoiler: dangerous age) behind him. In answer to the question, hubby explained that if we start to erode the things that really matter in the liturgy, we can start to let other things slip as well, so that no only the quality of our worship but our relationship with Truth itself is eroded (actually, when he told me the story Hubby was far more lucid and eloquent, but he declined to write a guest post so you'll have to make do with my bodged retelling). The well dressed man who had asked the question looked intrigued: "you mean like what's happened with the Anglicans?" he said. As my husband is far more tactful (and sensible - have I said that already?) than I, he refused to be drawn on this replying "some people might say that". "Well," retorted his questioner, "I'm an Anglican priest (sic) and I think that the most important thing is to spread the message of Christianity as widely as possibly by any means" (or words to that effect). My husband acknowledged the importance of evangelisation, (and, don't forget, was in a hurry) and turned to pay for his goods. As he passed the man on his way out he heard the words "Just stick with Hans Kung and you'll be fine". This stopped hubby in his tracks. He wasn't sure whether he had heard correctly. "What?!" The man repeated his words. Hubby shook his head. "I'm no expert on Hans Kung" he ventured, "but it seems to me that Kung's goal is the utter annihilation of the Catholic Church". The man from the car looked shocked "Oh no, he said, Hans Kung will be the saviour of the Catholic Church". As I may have mentioned, my husband is far more sensible than I am, and he did the only sensible thing under the circumstances...
...he told the man that they'd have to agree to disagree on that point, then hopped in the van and drove home to tell me the story.

And that, folks, is what happens when you take Z-swag out into the wilds of Kent. You've been warned.


Proud Mummy moments...



My eldest child was Master of Ceremonies today at High Mass celebrated by Fr Finigan at Our Lady of the Rosary (Mac, who is far defter at taking photos than I, has some lovely ones on her blog). For an 11 year old he's racked up a fair bit of serving experience, so he was much less nervous than might be expected: he started serving Holy Mass in the Novus Ordo after his First Holy Communion in May 2010 and started serving the Vetus Ordo a few months later. He served low Mass at the Altar of the Transfiguration in Saint Peter's Basilica last year when we were in Rome for the Una Cum Papa Nostro pilgrimage, in France with the Institute of Christ the King and in various other parishes on our travels. MC is a different job though, complicated, detailed: not only does he have to know where everyone on the sanctuary needs to be at any given moment in the Mass, he also needs to remember all the responses in Latin and find the right pages in the missal at the right moments to ensure that everything happens when it should: a massive responsibility on those small shoulders. It's funny, I look at this little boy, who loves his Lego Hobbit set and his pet mice and who spends his days climbing trees, up there on the sanctuary: utterly capable, completely absorbed in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and I thank God for the many blessings in our lives: our parish, our priests, our friends, our return to the Faith, our marriage and our family. Deo gratias!