Thursday, February 16, 2012

An Appropriate Beginning: Gettysburg

On February 15th, our family embarked on a journey we have dreamed of since our newlywed moments twelve years ago: we are traveling this great nation on a big bus affectionately named “Willie”, with our 4 children and a long list of stops along our 10,000 mile trek. Therefore, “Mai Time in the Kitchen” will henceforth have a much broader spectrum of subject matter, not just food related posts, considering the fact that my current kitchen is about the size of a small powder room. With that disclaimer, welcome to our journey…

Cold and rainy weather welcomed us this morning. While I continued to tidy our bedroom, emptying laundry baskets stacked high with clean clothes yet to be stowed, homeschooling books, and the occasional rogue Lego, our children sprawled themselves throughout the bus, coloring, reading, and scaling the wooden trim of our desk with tiny matchbox cars. Eventually, I got everyone dressed, five sets of teeth brushed (all the while rationing the water as I am ever watchful of filling the bus’s waste tank), and myself somewhat presentable so the older two kids and I could begin our unit on the Civil War with a field trip to the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum.

On our 15 minute trek from the bus to the museum each of the kids took a turn reading out-loud about the Civil War as I drove. “The Civil War” was a phrase they knew well, but the details remained obscure. This last minute cram session was purely to save face. I imagined us strolling through the museum, gazing at the sepia photographs of mounted calvarymen, when one of my children would inexplicably shout, “They rode horses in the Civil War?! Why didn’t they just drive cars?! I thought this whole thing happened just a couple years ago!” Gasping museum attendants would fall faint upon the tiled floor while other visitors would whisper behind their hands, “Why doesn’t that woman put her children in school? What a disgrace…”

I (and my children) would be prepared.

After we arrived at the museum, I took a few moments in the car to solidify some concepts with the kids. Once comfortable with the basics of the war, Cade confidently announced, “I would definitely be on the Union army.”

“That’s good to hear,” I responded with a smile.

“But I’d stay in the back lines so I wouldn’t get killed.”

Spoken like a true child of mine. I remember studying the various wars throughout my school age years and always thinking, “I’d just flop down like a dead fish at the first opportunity and lay completely still until the coast was clear. Then I’d crawl to safety.” My son carries on my legacy.

Being a homeschooling mom, I’ve been to my fair share of museums, but this one was perhaps my favorite thus far. From the documentary you view before entering the museum, to the huge cyclorama of the battle, to the museum itself, I felt myself both visually and emotionally struck at every stage.

As I walked past the exhibits of the military surgeons’ crude instruments or the wall collage displaying pictures of the lives lost and maimed during the battle, I felt that all my education as a child was wasted on my naivety. I saw my younger self in my 7-year old daughter and 8-year old son, as they stood in awe by the huge horse mannequin in the calvary exhibit or shouted “Check this out!” after spotting the massive display of 19th century guns. In contrast, the pictures of live men now dead earned an unimpressed, “Wow,” in response, and then they turned to more interesting displays.

But I, as a daughter, a sister, a wife, and a mother, stood staring at the massive wall, imagining the lives of the brothers, husbands, sons, and fathers that stared back at me through black and white. Someone mourned over the loss of these men. They gave what Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion”. They didn’t lay limp on the battlefield till the enemy dispersed, then dash for the forest; they fought and died.

I certainly don’t mean to judge my kids too harshly. Their innocent minds can’t comprehend the sacrifices that are made to defend noble ideas like freedom and equality. I couldn’t understand it till now. And perhaps that is why I love homeschooling; it reintroduces me to greatness when I have the ability to grasp it.

This first stop in Gettysburg was actually one of the last additions to our trip agenda. Knowing I had written “a trip to Gettysburg” on my objectives for this school year, I figured we should probably check it off the list before we embarked on the real “meat” of our journey. But I am so thankful for this pit stop, especially on the cusp of a cross-country excursion celebrating and appreciating the United States of America. It makes our adventure all the more meaningful.

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