Thursday, September 22, 2005

School days are home days

Published September 22, 2005

My curriculum order from Seton arrived via U.P.S this week. We’ve been home-schooling our children for the last seven years. Every year, I re-examine the reasons we chose to educate our children at home. I guess we do it, because it’s a sacrifice that has reaped benefits for our family life. Our kids are close to each other, responsible, articulate and outgoing. They socialize well with all age groups including babies and adults. They do not seek all their self esteem from their peers (although as they get older, the natural bonding with their peers is healthier). That’s not to say they don’t have their conflicts. Certainly we are not perfect parents. While the argument is made that home-schooling might be the answer to a perceived crisis in education, I would suggest it might be a solution to a crisis in family life.. It seems odd to say that spending more time with your children might actually be good for them, rather than sending them out into the world to learn for themselves. It’s not so odd when you consider that what they bring home might not be what you bargained for.

Another benefit to directing your child’s education is the nurturing and fostering of their values and interests. I attribute their diverse knowledge of many subjects, including current events, to the flexibility home-study has offered them. When they are “socialized” they are with 60 or so of their closest friends from high school age down to babies; in girls club, youth group, altar guild, boy scouts, youth symphony and community service. They travel with us when we travel. They take more responsibility at home. I can say that this method of raising children has resulted in many kids I see who are less self-centered and selfish, both in their desires for “things” and in their ability to set themselves aside. Schooling is part of our family life. I can say that many moments are teachable, no matter what we are doing.

I remember the days when my kids were “in school” or daycare. It was hard. J.D. and I worked at our careers and the demands of the workplace, while coping with the madness of trying to raise a family on nights and weekends. By the time we got home at night, we’d collapse in a heap trying to feed, bathe and ‘homework’ the kids until an unreasonable bedtime hour. The nightly ritual resulted in overtired children and impatient parents. We repeated the ritual for 5 days until the weekend. Weekends were supposed to be for family time. We’d spend the weekend just preparing for the race of the following week. We decided we weren’t cut out for the pressures of trying to raise our kids in this way. Most of our disagreements were over juggling the demands of work and home. In changing the way our family worked, we both realized that we could support each other without working against our time with our children. They are now very much a part of our busy lives.

We’ve made adjustments to our lifestyle every year. Last year our son went to school because his father was his 5th grade teacher. His STAR scores were very high on all subjects. I’d like to think some of our son’s home-schooling had something to do with it. It’s not perfect, and it’s not without problems. It takes a daily commitment to say, “OK, let’s get to work”. It would be much easier for me to be at the office, meeting the demands of bosses and colleagues, than educating and preparing my children for college, making sure they have plenty of enrichment activities to round out a healthy childhood, like sports, music and extra-curricular activities. Do I like math and Latin….not really. Can I be a chemistry teacher? No way. I love exploring science with the kids and we tend to go outside our home to learn science. Our high school daughter will go to community college for her lab sciences. I recognize my limitations.

Home-study is not for every temperament or family. I know great kids who come from public schools and private schools. They are great kids because they come from strong families who sacrifice so much for their children, especially time. Not every great teacher has the resources to give what we’ve been able to give our kids, our time and attention. Some home-schooled children are accused of not having enough worldliness about them. I think it would be safe to say, that they have a practical maturity to take on most of the obstacles the world will present to them later in life, because they’ve had a good solid foundation of real life “living” and learning at home with teachers who love them.

As I look forward to the coming school year and all the challenges, I am grateful that I decided to plunge back into home-education. I hope in the process of giving our kids a solid home education, they will be strong in mind and character. I hope they love God and grow up to serve others. They’ve been given a strong sense of family life, so I hope they will build strong families of their own. One day they will go off to college and build their futures. I hope they will look back fondly to the days when school days were home days.

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and bi-weekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her at

Thursday, September 01, 2005

A heritage worth holding fast to

Published September 1, 2005

My mother, a native of Nebraska, loves to tell stories about the old aunts who tucked her into bed in the house on Toluca Street with the bed warmers and the big front porch. She was the youngest of five children so she essentially grew up after her older brothers and sister had already either moved out, went into the military or married. I guess it’s safe to say that even though she came from a rather large family by today’s standards, she also knew what it meant to be an only child. Her mother’s sisters were the old spinsters from the Walton’s. They were born and died in the same house. My mom loved them both.

The family of my mother’s mother (Grandma Margaret) are a long line of Irish from the family “Barry” in County Cork, Ireland. They came here and pioneered Iowa and Nebraska. Great-Great Grandma Bridget came into Ellis Island and headed west to Iowa and pioneer living. Her daughter, Great Grandma Rosa made her home in Box Butte Nebraska. My kids’ only point of reference for pioneer living is the “Little House on the Prairie” books. I really need to dust off my Willa Cather books. The Barry’s must have been strong women. I’ve been to Nebraska and unless you’re in town, there isn’t much more than long grass, bluffs and corn. Your only friend is the wind. One thing I learned over the last two weeks about the Barry clan, is that they come from goodness and faith.

It wasn’t until Grandma Margaret was married and grown, that my family made its journey to California when my mother was around 4 years old. They settled into Sonora and Oakdale. You can still see my Uncle Bill’s mural in the Horseshoe Bar, something he painted 20 years before I was born. It takes up the back wall of the entire bar. If you know old timers in Sonora, they’ll tell you all the people depicted in the mural were locals in the 40’s, people my Uncle knew.

After Grandma Margaret and Grandpa Chet settled in Sacramento, our roots took hold in California. My mother lost touch with her Barry cousins after her 8th grade graduation and hadn’t seen any of them since then. That is, until two weeks ago.

My mother took up interest in genealogy several years ago and was able to hook up with her cousin Kay on a road trip to Kansas City. This prompted continued communication with her by letter and phone. My sister Terry took the “bull by the horns” and really climbed into the family tree. She turned up mounds of information by sending away for records, using the internet and following up on leads. We would get the updates at each family gathering as to who she had found, how far back, and their names. Only by cross reference was she able to confirm their link to the family.

When Mom heard that the Barry’s were having their family reunion in Oregon last week at Newport, she asked us all to go with her. We headed up I-5 wondering if the California cousins would be welcome. They opened up their hearts and home to us in a reunion weekend I am sure my mother will not likely forget for a long time. I saw my Uncle Chet in cousin, Danny. Barb, Peggy and Geri were reminders of my grandmother in little ways I can only now comprehend. Cousin Tim was born when my Mom last saw them. He was the baby and you could tell that his sisters still care for him like mothers. In getting to know these people over the weekend, I thought of the aunts on Toluca street who tucked my mother into bed when she was little.

All the cousins sat in the same pew for Mass on Sunday. I couldn’t help but think that the faith of the Catholic Irish, born long ago in the time of Saint Patrick, has survived long into 2005. Even though these cousins were separated by 50 years, some things never change. It’s a heritage worth holding fast to.

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and bi-weekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her at