My new friend Amelia sounds like swift-footed Achilles or bright-eyed Athena or sensible Telemachus. I wonder how many of you recognize those epithets from the Odyssey.

Should we teach the canon? I hated reading the Odyssey. Not that I read it. But I hated that my teacher spent all semester acting like we were reading it. Yet there are so many things that are best explained via the Odyssey, like hubris and epithets. So I’ve never stopped referring to the Odyssey.

I was going to have my kids read it. But when it came time to force feed share Canterbury Tales, which I really love, I ended up having my kids listen to a page of old English and then I read a translation of Wife of Bath out loud. So I guess I can do the same with the Odyssey. (Do you have suggestions for the one passage to have the boys read?)

Should we teach homonyms? Another reason to teach the canon is to make sure your kid knows the difference between cannon and canon. And really progressive homeschooling (which may be redundant now but won’t always be) will also teach canon with a tilde over the n. I am from such unprogressive schooling that I don’t even know how to find that thing on my keyboard.

I made a point of testing my kids on homonyms that would attract ridicule. A ten year old should know two/to/too. A twelve year old should know you’re/your.  I made those ages up. And anyway kids attract ridicule all the time if they go to school, and pretty much never if they homeschool. (Evidence for this: my younger son didn’t know how to spell his last name at age 10 because no one had ever asked him to spell it. There were a few kids around who noticed. They were clearly fascinated. Which makes me think the root of ridicule is fascination. But that is for another blog post. Or philosophical treatise.)

Back to homonyms. It’s clear to me that there are not enough people in the world who know proper use of affect/effect, so we should stop policing it. It’s like laws against anal sex. At some point we need to know when our rules are outdated. Use affect as a noun! Who cares! Do whatever feels good, just close the door.

Should we teach thank you notes? My friend Amelia (I bet you thought I forgot) sent us chocolate dreidels and latkes for Chanukah. My older son is vegan, and chocolate is a sore spot, but Amelia sent vegan chocolate dreidels and latkes.

I told my son he has to write a thank you note because the vegan part was just for him.

He said, “Then you have to write a thank you note too, right? Because the other part was just for you, so you will be her friend.”

I said, “She’s already my friend. She sent chocolate just to be nice.”

He said, “Great. You can write that.”

I said, “Fine.”

He said, “A blog post is not a thank you note.”

My younger son said, “It’s a thank you note if you send Amelia subscribers.”

It’s conversations like these that make me wonder if everything I teach my kids is just so they have reference points for how I lived my life, as a bridge between the world before and after computers. And everything they will need to learn for their life they will learn in spite of me.

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14 replies
  1. Denise
    Denise says:

    OMG Penelope… This was funny! YOU are funny. Great post, Thank you! You’ve made me smile already this morning at 7am (laying in bed with the phone turned sideways, propped up on the sheets). Amelia sounds like a great friend.

  2. Erin
    Erin says:

    Thank you blog posts are way more meaningful than thank you cards. And ppl Instagram thank yous a lot… but only when they are truly thankful. Anyone could send 1,000 thank you cards to make everyone feel special, but when someone doesn’t ordinarily thank ppl publicly then does? That makes the person being thsnkes actually feel something meaningful. The public nature + transparency has that affect.

    (Unless it’s a sponsored post. Then ppl know you’re not really thankful for anything but money. But as long as you’re witty or your pics are pretty nobody minds.)

    • Kate
      Kate says:

      I disagree :)

      I have a close family member who never thanks me directly for anything I send to her family but often posts a thank you online. To me it feels as though I am simply a tool for more attention. After all, anything she posts brings more attention to her, and not necessarily to me, as I am not a blogger.

      I am teaching my children to write and mail handwritten Thank You cards for many reasons and this is one of them. While public praise can be a lovely thing, it isn’t a replacement for the intimacy of direct and private communication.

  3. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    I hated The Odyssey when I read it in high school. In my mid 20s I read it again, for no reason other than I wanted to successfully climb that mountain — and I loved it. Loved it! There’s just something to having a little more maturity to make some of those impenetrable texts of youth open themselves up to you.

  4. karelys
    karelys says:

    Where is the link to subscribe to Amelia?
    I’d like to.

    We are driving to Seattle and getting a hotel with a pool and all the things for the kids, because my ex-boss (whom I adore) invited us to his Hanukkah extravaganza.

    Part of me wants the kids to be exposed to other cultural traditions. We are a blended household with mixed cultures and races anyway.

    My unofficially step-daughter just said last night “We have the best house with the best food. We are so Mexican.”

    I laughed so hard because she is only 5 and I am unsure where that came from. But I love it.

    I use YouTube to prime them for new learning. Before I try to teach them anything new (because they are 4,5,6) I play a video and later during dinner, nonchalantly, I start a conversation. And they say “oh like the video we watched!”

    So I am looking for age appropriate videos that explain Hanukkah if anyone’s got something to share.

    But anyway, your part about the canon with a tilde made me think of my most recent post on Denizen and how I was asked to re-edit so many times because I really don’t care if people misspell Spanish words. Most of the time you get the gist even if you don’t add the tilde.

    But the interviewee wanted me to add tildes so I had to google how to do change to “International Keyboard” mode. I was perplexed at the need for accuracy. I think it’s because when you are minimized socially and politically for so long, small things like tildes matter. A lot.

    I walked in through the border as a naturalized citizen in 2004 and have never felt like I had to prove my status, or whether or not I belonged in America because my father would repeat, ad nauseam, “You are Americans. You are here legally. No one can take that away from you. THIS IS YOUR COUNTRY.”

    Which was a huge deal to him because he was an undocumented immigrant who made a sport of jumping back and forth across the border like someone using a jump rope for exercise.

    I honored the requests of using tildes.
    Changing words to perfectly reflect the intention in each sentence.

    At the end she thanked me saying “words matter. Vocabulary matters. It creates reality.”

    My heart swelled.
    A tilde changed all that.

  5. Kim Allsup
    Kim Allsup says:

    You could use the Odyssey as part of some consciousness development about the portrayal of sexuality in literature. This from Wendell Berry, “Finally, it is a fact that sexual love making itself is not dramatic. The climax, you might say, is altogether too predictable. There is no more drama in sex than there is in eating a sandwich. The drama is in the story that brings a couple together. All of The Odyssey, to use the greatest example, gathers toward the reunion of Odysseus and Penelope in their marriage bed. The thought of that night has moved the imagination of half the world for two or three thousand years, and yet Homer tells us nothing more explicit than this: “So they came / into that bed so stedfast, loved of old, / opening glad arms to one another” (Robert Fitzgerald translation). This is so powerful, so sexually powerful, precisely because of its discretion. To have gone on to tell what the lovers did, in the manner of a modern sex scene, would have reduced those lines to about five percent of their power.” from

  6. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    “Affect” can be a noun. As in “The autistic woman displays a flat affect.” And, yes, these are homophones, not homonyms. Also, cañon is not a homophone of canon/cannon, or a Spanish word, it’s an archaic English spelling of canyon. The Spanish word is spelled cañón, and pronounced differently, with emphasis on the second syllable rather than the first, as it is in English. Amusingly enough, that word in Spanish does mean both canyon and cannon, whereas canon means the same it does in English and is spelled the same, because Greek words are special.

    That bit of pedantry completed, I wonder if I’m the only one who was a bit surprised to see you asking about what you should teach. I thought teaching was for schools, that “Should we teach the canon” was a question for schools, because unschooling parents don’t teach anything, they just share things, or answer questions, or provide resources.

    As you know, I homeschooled my son for around six years. I think that going into it I had ideas that I would teach him things. Such a fancy seems naïve now, when one considers the relative energy levels of the individuals in question.

    My son certainly learned things, but mostly only the things he wanted to, and rarely the things I thought I would teach. I tried to teach him to write in cursive, with books, and it didn’t help either of us very much, but then I “taught” him to type, by providing him with a typing computer game, and that was much better and more useful.

    Somehow he learned the necessary in those years, but rarely because I explicitly taught it. In math and English, I supervised his progress teaching himself, providing resources and answering questions. I did teach him some Spanish, but that’s because I had a proper class of kids, with textbooks and everything. I failed dreadfully at that laudable goal of raising a bilingual child.

    I think I succeeded with the canon, however, and that’s probably because I never tried to teach it. Instead, I shared my own enjoyment of it, as I read a fair part of it to him as bedtime stories. I read not just the Odyssey, but Don Quixote, Moby Dick, and Les Miserables (unabridged). I love these books, and my enthusiasm rubbed off on him, much more, I think, than if I had “taught” them, because so does he.

    This year, at his fancy new school, the ninth grade English class read Dante and Ovid, in addition to Chaucer and whatnot, and my young fellow was enthusiastic to read more than was assigned. I’m happy to call that success, but it’s a success of shared enthusiasm rather than of teaching.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Ah right, I pine for my early, ignorant days as a homeschool parent who thought I was somehow in charge of the learning….

      At this point, me “teaching” the kids something looks like this: “Can you find Washington State on a map? You better practice. It’s ok to lose a state likeRhode Island, but people expect you to know the easy ones.”

      Or me “teaching” looks like this: don’t buy me anything for my birthday. I’m reading my favorite poem to you, and for my birthday gift you will actually listen.”


  7. Rita
    Rita says:

    My boys (aged 3 and 5) loved the illustrated children’s Odyssey by Gillian Cross. My partner thought it was too gruesome, but the boys found it scintillating, and often talked about what had happened after each day’s reading. They were especially taken with the Cyclops eating a man or two for breakfast and dinner, until Odysseus finally poked him in the eye and the rest of the men escaped by hugging the sheep as they wandered out of the Cyclops’ cave.

  8. Karen
    Karen says:

    I am unashamed to say that my trip through the western canon with my sons has mostly involved graphic novels and YouTube videos.

    Neither of my kids is interested in pursuing literature in college – I have a future accountant and engineer on my hands – so I was mostly concerned with imparting some cultural literacy and being able to truthfully state on applications that they did indeed “study” it.

  9. Minami
    Minami says:

    Go over the part with Cyclops where Odysseus tricks him with the “Nobody” pun. That’s the most interesting part of the Odyssey. Also, an eye gets stabbed out, which is always fun for the whole family.

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