Back in School, Bird by Bird

First, let me apologize for my relatively long blog silence. Some may cheer my absence but I am glad to be back with a new blog design that screams “homespun”.

Second, I have an announcement to make. I am back in school. No, I am not pursing the ever elusive doctorate or other degree. I am engaged in something much more difficult that requires infinitely more attention, discipline, and rigor: 7th grade math and science (and 1st yr. Latin)

In an effort to help my children succeed in their new school I am working with them almost every evening on those subjects that are most difficult for both of them and for me. When my daughter was overwhelmed by all of the work, and suffused with frustration and despair, I read a brief passage to her from one of my favorite books. My hope is that this little mantra will help her take deep, clear headed breaths and allow her to move ahead steadily in school.

So after I have completely exhausted myself thinking about the people I most resent in the world, and my more arresting financial problems, and, of course, the orthodontia, I remember to pick up the one inch picture frame and figure out a one inch piece of story to tell, one small scene, one memory, one exchange. I also remember a story I know I have told elsewhere but that over and over helps me to get a grip: thirty years ago, my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

(From Anne Lammott’s book, Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life)
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11 comments

  1. paulhill

    crazy the life, blood, sweat, tears and laughter we are willing to pour into our children (not to mention $). Who ever knew how much more we could love a life other than our own. What an amazing father you are – good thing you’re smart. 🙂

  2. queeniepoo

    Oh I so understand! geometry is happening at our house now. Keep on keeping on! you have brilliant kids it will all work out! I’ll never forget the tears and the overload with our learning different/gifted child. How in the h_ll do you help someone like this? By the grace of God!

    …or, how do you eat an elephant? one bite at a time!

  3. Pingback: When you are overwhelmed « Douglas and Main
  4. Jenny

    I thought it was funny that you wrote that first comment on your own post, until I figured out it was Calana. 🙂 I think it’s great that you and Calana are both willing to go through all the extra effort that has come with this change, simply because you believe it’s the best thing for them. Heath took Latin in high school and has been very grateful for the foundation it gave him, so I think he would tell you it is worth the time. As for difficult math and science… well, maybe they’ll become engineers. Or at least they won’t have to fear it later in college classes for other degrees. They are both so smart, I’m sure they’ll start getting it more and more easily as you work with them!

  5. Jill

    Oh, _Bird by Bird_. My heart just sings when I even hear that book’s title. I love, love, love both the book and the author. In fact, I should read it again. And then again. And then again. It’s a manual for writing and for life. So when are you going to read her the chapter on first drafts? 😉

    We miss you guys…an awful lot. We’re going to try Beggar’s Table on Sunday night (so far our schedule, up to this point, has not had a slot open for Sunday evening church going). I’ve really got all my cards on the table for this one, but then…I know I’m hoping for the impossible–another Wheatland!

  6. paul

    Jill! How good to hear from you. Yes, I’ll have to include some of Ms. Lamott’s more florid moments… they happen to be the most funny. I just recently read the chapter where she uses the phrase: “colo-rectal theology”. Ah, classic.

    Please tell John Bowles hello for me. He’s a kindred spirit and while I have never had the chance to attend his church I have a feeling it will be a good fit. Have you been to Jacobs Well yet?

  7. Mel

    Maybe I’ll try the bird by bird thing…that is, right after I have C call Uncle Matt to get the answer. (Yes, my daughter’s math skills have now surpassed my own. Pathetic, I know.)

    My other kid would still be intimidated and likely whine, “One WHOLE bird?”

    :)Gotta love our kids!

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