Monthly Archives: May 2013

Our first Pascha

Pascha is the Eastern Church’s Easter. This year it came considerably later than the Western Church on May 5. If you want to understand the dating process for Easter/Pascha a little better follow this link.

Sister Paraskeva, one of the nuns we love dearly from St. Barbara’s Monastery told us after our first Pascha service that we will always remember our first Pascha and it will be the barometer or lens by which we see all of our other Paschas.

So, in light of those words of wisdom, I decided I would document some of my thoughts and feelings on our first Pascha experience.

Because of life of late our Pascha plans got jumbled and then reworked. The weekend before, we decided we wanted to spend it on the coast with friends and at the church that began our journey to Orthodoxy, St. Athanasius.

Normally, the whole Holy Week before Pascha is spent by Orthodox Christians in 18 different church services culminating in that Great Sunday. Lots of people we know in Orthodoxy take that whole preceding week off to reflect, pray, and attend daily services. Not so weird, really, that’s what Spring Break is supposed to be for!

Stephen was able to take half of Holy Friday off and we headed out on our trip that afternoon. I tried to score a beach house for this four day mini-vaca and I scoured Goleta to Oxnard in search of one with no luck. I wasn’t exactly expecting as much so last minute, but I thought it was worth a try. We wanted to have a kitchen so we could prepare food and have a separate room to be able to put the kids to sleep in and be able to stay up ourselves if we wanted. I settled on a room at the Homewood Suites in Oxnard which at least had the kitchen with a stove that couldn’t even boil water, it turned out. We wound up having very little time to prepare food anyway. Next time, if there is a next time, we will just stay in Goleta near the church (there are two hotels just down the street) so we don’t have to do as much traveling back and forth.

After checking into our hotel, we headed up to Goleta to attend the Friday night service. We went back to our hotel that night and then were up early again the next morning for the Holy Saturday services. As with anything in our current life stage most of my attention is distracted by or spent on our kids, but I was still able to absorb some things. At one point during the service, Fr. Nicholas explained that on this day we are making way for the return of the King, that in old times when a king would enter a city bay leaves were thrown out in celebration. He walked all over the church joyfully throwing the leaves. The smell was of course amazing. I love the tangible and symbolic things like this with Orthodoxy. The kids of the church spent the rest of the service gathering the bay leaves and stuffing them in their pockets.

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We spent some time after the service meeting with Fr. Nicholas. I really love his attitude about and perspective on Orthodoxy. It was nice to hear it again since our last visit two and a half years ago. It really helped to clarify and put some things in perspective for us.

After that we drove back to Ventura to have some beach time with our friends. This was such a treat and I love watching my kids with these new friends. In particular, it was very exciting because my older two kids that have been extremely afraid of the ocean no matter what I’ve tried finally decided, thanks to friends, that this was actually something quite fun.

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After that we headed down to Thousand Oaks to meet up with our friends there for a little park play date. It was so good to catch up and relax with them. There is only so much Facebook can do for staying in touch over a year, you know? We always like to marvel at how small my children are so of course this sort of size comparison can’t really take place in the virtual realm. These two were born only a couple months apart:

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After park time we made a quick run to Target for supplies to make our Pascha basket. Since St. Athanasius is mainly a convert church and has a lot of parishioners from a variety of Orthodox jurisdictional backgrounds, they do Pascha baskets even though it tends to be a mainly Slavic church (Russian, Serbian, etc) tradition.

I had started this cross stitch design earlier in the week for our Pascha basket cover, but there was no way to finish it in time.

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So I found myself making my first red Pascha eggs and assembling our first basket into the late evening hours at the last possible minute when I really should have been getting some sleep in preparation.

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Traditionally, the Pascha service is held at midnight, but since St. Athanasius was originally located in the heart of Isla Vista in the same neighborhood as UCSB’s frat houses and such (the first time we visited St. Athanasius we saw a guy rolling a keg down the sidewalk on a skateboard as we pulled up, no joke) their first attempts at holding Pascha at the traditional time were met with drunk college students throwing things and jeering during the part of the service where the parishioners process around the church. So they hold their service at 5am instead. I got to bed a little after 11pm and Henry was awake around the same time with two year molar teething pain and a fever. Sleeping the previous few nights had also been difficult because of this and the fact that the boy decided to climb out of his crib and needed to be transitioned to a big boy bed.

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We had to be up by three and on the road by four to get back up to Goleta for church. Babies always know when you really need sleep, don’t they?

I think we wound up with 3-4 hours of sleep, but still managed to wake up and get out the door.

So everyone was super grouchy and tired. Stephen was really grouchy especially. We are driving up the 101 and Stephen is saying stuff like, “Why are we doing this?” and “I’d really like to make it to the Pascha breakfast, but we’re probably going to leave early because of the kids.” And I’m getting frustrated thinking just great all of this 40 days of Lent and all we have been through during it and now we’re not even going to make it to Pascha! I kept thinking he was going to turn around!

We get there and oh that part, the “take light from the Light” part where the Priest walks down lighting the candles and the church becomes ablaze, I think that will be etched in my memory forever. Here is a description of it from St. Nicholas Cathedral of Los Angeles:

Great Lent and Holy Week come to an end when we begin Paschal Orthros, and we hear the words of the priest: ‘Come take light from the Light that is never overtaken by night. Come, and glorify Christ Who is risen from the dead.’ He distributes the flame to the entire congregation in the darkened church so that we can walk in the light of the Resurrection. We immediately process outside the church in the ‘rush procession’ (hajme in Arabic), rushing to the empty tomb just as Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome did. They found the stone rolled away and encountered an angel, who told them that Jesus was risen (Mark 16:1-8), the first being in the universe to proclaim that ‘Christ is risen.’ Then the whole church sings with him: ‘Christ is risen from the dead trampling down Death by death; and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!'”

The sisters from St. Barbara’s were there and seeing their sweet faces glow from the candles as they followed the procession out, I’ll remember that too.

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There were some low points, like we were at the very end of the procession where no one was singing and it was hard to hear, it was really cold suddenly even though it had been so hot for days before. The wind kept blowing our candles out. Jillian singed her hair on her candle inside later. But we made it through. It was seriously incredible.

We get out of service. Fr Nicholas blessed the Pascha baskets, ours got good and soaked by the Holy Water, it was right in front of Fr Nicholas.

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So I plopped down with the kids with what we had and sent Stephen outside to the food line. He comes back and is like this completely changed person! Ha! He can hardly stop laughing! I was so confused! Ha! So I asked him what was going on and he was like, “Yeah, I was still mad and it was cold out there in line and I was just thinking that all of this is so crazy and I wanted to go get in the car and then I got to the Deviled eggs and I had one and it was like the most amazing thing I’ve ever eaten in my whole life. As soon as I took a bite I just found myself smiling and all of Lent was suddenly over and I was happy and I am so happy!”

It is interesting though, after that dividing line of Pascha, all of our Lenten sorrows seemed so much… I don’t know… not gone… subdued? Even the miscarriage feels like that since Pascha. It’s not like I’ve forgotten and am just over it now, but it isn’t consuming, you know?

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We went back to our hotel and had some down time before the church picnic. Henry learned a new phrase which we appreciate over ” poop” and “caca” or “pee pee” and the usual potty humor our boys share in the back seat. He probably said, “Christ is risen!” at least 100 times during our drive back that morning. Loved it!

It was totally weird walking into our hotel, most of the guests just waking up for the day and enjoying their breakfast in the lobby. It felt like the day was already half over!

The kids had a blast with the other kids at the park and of course with the egg hunt (yes, we still do them).

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We made the very wise decision of Stephen taking half of Bright Monday off and so instead of driving home after the picnic we were able to go back to our hotel for early bedtime and wake up the next morning to take our time getting back. It was lovely!

Oh and many of the photos of the services came from the St. Athanasius photo album which is part of why I waited to write this because I was not taking many photos during the services. 😉

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What I’ve learned in the 4 years I’ve been “homeschooling”

My husband is a Dodgers baseball fan. By default I am too. My kids are Dodgers fans by default too. Sometimes I would say my husband borders on obsessed. He usually reads a few blogs and watches a few highlight clips from every game. He knows who is on the disabled list right now (too many guys!). I keep tabs on what is going on, but I don’t know what their current win-loss record is. I don’t know what the streaks are. I follow them on Instagram to see some of what is happening and because photos are my thing. It’s fun to know that they won or lost and be able to talk a little with my husband about his interest/obsession.

Last summer when a four-year-old baseball “phenom” from Thousand Oaks threw out the first pitch, I mentioned it to him and showed him the picture in my feed. This started a big discussion I didn’t quite expect and that discussion has colored the last year of school for us in ways I did not expect. When I read the caption, in which the word “phenom” was used, my husband immediately scoffed. He said it wasn’t right to attach a title like that to a four-year-old even if he’s good, even if he is obsessed. So much can happen between now and when the kid could eventually be able to go pro. I Googled him and found a local newspaper article about the kid and how he has a former professional baseball player for a coach, among other things. Stephen was seriously concerned about the kid throwing out his arm before he’s 10. And then what?

I think around the same time I read the book Preschool in Three Cultures which was an anthropological study that looked at preschool in the United States, Japan and China comparing and contrasting what went on there. I was completely struck by the fact that the Japanese preschool example was kind of out of control by our standards. Their day mostly consisted of playing undirected, singing songs, maybe a worksheet that no one was really forced to do and eating. The teacher would help children as needed, but mostly they were left to their own devices. There are some pretty “shocking” stories from their single day of observation about one kid in particular that was completely disruptive and awful to the class. The teacher let the group mentality of the class sort him out. A year later when they visited the school the disruptive crazy kid was often left to sit by himself. No one wanted to play with him because he was so awful. There were signs he was beginning to change his behavior. At the time Japan was also leading in education, comparatively. This was contrasted by the much more structured schools of China and the US though the US was definitely not as structured as the Chinese schools in which group mentality takes on a whole other expression. The US children did have lots of play time, but there were rules like only three kids per station, when children didn’t get along or something went wrong they were forced to express guilt, sorrow, repentance etc. as is part of our very Western minded Judeo Christian judicial system. I remember after reading a particular section on this wondering how different this would play out had Eastern Christianity been the one that spread rather than the juridical Western version.

So this year while we’ve done school from time to time, I’ve mostly just let things be. Not out of laziness. Not because I’m burnt out. Mostly just because they need to play. They aren’t ready.

It is funny and it is not so funny because a lot of people have been cautioning me against formal schooling with my preschooler(s). I didn’t want to listen.

When we lived in Thousand Oaks, it was definitely the norm to be this way. Preschool activities and school itself starts as early as 6mo (we did a Mommy & Me music class at that age). Even the parks & rec district has very good preschools that people sometimes wait in line for overnight to secure a spot. It’s a very driven culture over there in many ways. People are thinking about scholarships and college when their kids are still in diapers. This is definitely a generalization, but that the four-year-old baseball “phenom” was from Thousand Oaks, was not surprising to me. There are a lot of young “phenoms” there. Perhaps because they have the resources, the community, the support system for this to be a possibility.

My kids were verbal early, could sit through books, loved to do activities and things like art and coloring. They were curious and seemed to want to know about everything. I thought this meant we needed to be starting something formal. We’ve done unit studies, co-ops, Five in a Row, parks and rec preschool classes in Thousand Oaks, worksheet packets from all over the Internet, etc. While much of it has been fun, I think a lot if it has been frustrating: me yelling, them not being able to pay attention, them ready to move on, them just not ready in general. I observed this in Jillian’s parks and rec class too.

I was frustrated when we moved back here last year and my preferred dance studio, the one I danced at as a child and has sent dancers on to college and professional companies, only took dancers as young as four. They made an exception for my daughter, then 3.5, because she’d already been in dance a year. So when fall came I found another studio that did take younger dancers because my then 2.5yo wanted to dance like sister and had been expecting that his turn would come this year, about the same age she started. This last year watching their classes (and maybe it is partially just the studio), I now know why children under four should probably not be in dance or any organized sport/activity for that matter. They just do not have the coordination, attention span, etc. My son’s poor teacher seems exasperated every week trying to get this group of 2-3 year olds, of which my goofball son is the oldest, to stand in formations, copy dance moves etc. while they instead run around the room, do summersaults, giggle and run away from her as she tries to put them back in place, can’t get timing or moves right, or pretty much anything. Their performance in a couple weeks will be a miracle and probably bring down the house in laughter, honestly. He says he loves dance and promises, “Today, I’m going to listen to Miss Shelby,” but I just wonder if it really is necessary to even have to worry about that. Next year we’ll return to the “preferred” studio, if he still wants to dance like sister once he turns four, we’ll see about it.

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I’ve spent the last four years learning the hard way, ignoring the advice I was given. Please learn from my mistakes! My school of hard-knocks advice? Let your preschooler be a “pre” schooler. Let them explore, draw, color, etc as they want. If they become obsessed with certain plants, bugs, tractors, a certain animal, or any number of things try to think of activities or read up on ones that will naturally foster the love of learning about the latest obsession. Go to the farm and the zoo. Play at the park. Take walks. Keep a garden. Maybe buy/borrow a picture book on the subject if necessary, but don’t force them to read it.

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Compulsory schooling is not required until the first grade in this state and personally I, along with many other homeschoolers and others, believe it needs to stay that way even though every year they try to introduce bills to make kindergarten and preschool mandatory. Schooling will be there. Then it will be over faster than you can grasp. Little kids I knew from the nursery at our church when I was in high school are graduating high school now and over the next few years. Friends and family that had babies around the time we got married have middle schoolers now. This blows my mind. Where did the time go? How did these little ones get so big so fast? They only get to be a kid for so long. Let it be as long as possible.

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Ways that I’m obviously failing at my job…

Summer makes me feel like a limp noodle.

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Husband announces one night, “I’m thinking about looking into taking my work clothes to the dry cleaner. It takes me a really long time to iron in the morning and we can’t seem to get them folded and off the floor before they get wrinkly and covered in dog hair.”

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“We were sitting in your room, playing together with a ball…” says my mother-in-law as she launches into a story about my husband’s childhood that I’ve probably heard no less than 100 times. I focus in on a new aspect of the story, wait, you were playing together? Parents play with their kids? Because I don’t. Or rarely. I kind of just let them do their thing and I do mine.

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Why are there so many toys out at once? Why is there such a big mess? Questions my husband asks when he gets home from work.

Um. I don’t know. They were playing.

This, uh, independence, has resulted in a new thing where my kids have started sneaking food and drinks from the pantry instead of asking me to get something for them and eating them in the back of my daughter’s closet behind the dress-up clothes rack.

I don’t know. I feel like I do stuff all day long. I wash at least two loads of dishes. The laundry makes it into the washing machine and dryer. I cook meals. I make things for my kids and our house. We go to the park. Sometimes Jilly & I sit down and do preschool worksheets (because she begs me). We read a lot of books. They look at a lot of books. Jillian recites a lot of books from memory to the others.

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So why does it feel like it is never good enough? Why does it feel like I’ll never catch up? How do you ladies do it with the small children and the working out daily and the clean house and the crafts and the Etsy shop or other entrepreneur activities and the healthy eating and the homeschooling and the daily blog posts and the beautiful photographs? Because I’m barely treading water here people and I don’t even make myself have half those responsibilities.

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