Pro-Parenting Tips: Doubly-Virtuous Children

Something I like about our parish school is that every week the students bring home a folder of all their graded work, so we parents can see how they are doing.  We sign off on the papers and send them back to school, so the teachers know we’re in the loop.  Here’s my 6th grader’s latest religion test, on the theological and cardinal virtues:

You’ll notice the teacher marked #8 incorrect.  The instructions are to match the cardinal virtue to the statement, and #8 is “The virtue that enables people to give respect and obedience to their parents.”  The cardinal virtues are prudence (wisdom), justice, temperance (self-control), and fortitude.

Obeying your parents is exactly the kind of thing thrown out as a classic example of the virtue of justice.  I use it myself all the time.  If I were taking the test, that’s the virtue I would have picked from the list.  So the teacher isn’t exactly wrong here in saying “justice” is the correct answer.

The difficulty is that this is my child’s test.  And I assure you, my kid is absolutely right.  If I had to put up with me, I’d need fortitude for sure.

Why We Homeschooled So Long

At The Washington Post: The decline of play in preschoolers — and the rise in sensory issues.  Reading this article was a moment of revelation for me.  Way back when #2 was about seven or so, I can remember walking down to the corner elementary school to play on the playground after hours, and we looked into one of the classrooms.  It looked ideal.  It practically called her name.  There was a wooden play kitchen, and child-sized tables, and loads of art supplies, and of course the wonderful playground just outside the big windows that filled the classroom with natural light.  For my little extrovert, this classroom was her people.

And I thought to myself: Maybe I should not be homeschooling this child.  Maybe I should send her to school.

Then I came to my senses: This was was the kindergarten classroom.  By the time you are seven, it’s rows of desks and standardized tests for you.  Not to mention we’d had dealings with one of the neighbor-kindergartners, and so we were acquainted with the long list of “reading words” that five-year-olds at the corner school were somehow expected to memorize and supposedly “read,” at an age when, developmentally, not all children are even capable of learning to read.  All four of my kids went on to become fluent, competent readers who read for both pleasure and information, but none of them would have been able to read that list of words at age five.  They were physically unable.  Since they were at home, instead of being embarrassed by their supposed stupidity, they received the kinds of pre-reading instruction that educational research shows actually helps.

Some of things that help are language-based — read-alouds and rhyming games and stuff like that.  Something else that helps kids learn to read is learning about the world.  This is important because you can’t make sense of words on a page if you have no idea what those words are referring to.  You won’t understand a scene taking place in a grocery store if you’ve never been to a grocery store.  You won’t understand a nature scene if you’ve never been out in nature.  Playing teaches some important reading skills. It teaches you about the physical world, because you are physically doing stuff. It teaches you about human interactions, because you are creating scenarios and living them out.  Playing teaches you to think, because all play requires imagination and initiative and problem-solving.

***

(If you want to understand the great Maria Montessori vs. Charlotte Mason wrestling match, the missing piece is this: Charlotte Mason’s audience had access to the real world; Maria Montessori’s students were kids who would otherwise have spent their day alone in a tiny working-class flat while their parents put in 14-hour shifts at the local factory.  Much of Montessori is about providing Mason when Mason can’t be had.  At The Register I’ve got up a piece that is an example of that kind of adaptation, in this case for teens.)

***

I’m still a big believer in homeschooling.  I agree with Ella Frech’s philosophy of education.  For various reasons, though, my kids at the moment like school.  As a homeschooler I always involved my kids in decisions about their education. I’d propose some possibilities for the year ahead, and the kids would give me feedback on what they wanted to learn or which approach they preferred of the choices I put on the table.  I was open to suggestions if they had ideas different than what I was planning.  When I held firm on a curriculum choice, I had solid reasons that I could explain to everyone, kids and spouse alike, and they could see why that particular choice was the one we needed to pursue.

So each of the kids, at various points and for various reasons, deciding to go to school has been a natural extension of that philosophy: If I was open to you choosing a different science book, why would I not also be open to you choosing a different science teacher?

The WaPo article, though, underscores for me why the youngest any child of mine has gone to school was fifth grade — and at that point, she happened to choose our local parish school where the early-grades teachers seem to have a pretty strong grasp of what early-grades learners need.  When you are little, you needs hands-on and interactive experiences.  Homeschooling let us do that.  Inasmuch as I’m happy with the school decisions we have in place right now, it is because the schools are, in their various ways, providing the bigger-kid versions of that for our children.

Anyhow, all this to say: Let your kids play.

 

Related: On the Forming of Young Christians

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Not my children, but mine play this game too.  Photo by Abi Blu, courtesy of Wikimedia, CC 4.0.

So How’s It Going, Jen? (Spring 2018 Edition)

I’m about a year overdue on a personal update.  Short version: It’s good.  Very, very good.

How good is it?  So good that if I don’t work and workout enough every day, I get restless.

And that’s about all there is to say.  About me, anyhow.

***

I thought I’d post an update now because the last of my homeschoolers is starting school next week, and that can make people think, “Something must be wrong,” or, “The mother must be burned out,” or stuff like that.  My close homeschooling friends are aware that L. & I were due for a change of format, and we looked into creating a multi-day hybrid school (which may yet happen a different year); both of us seem to do better when we’re working with a group of friends rather than just the two of us solo.  But I would have gladly transitioned that direction and kept on homeschooling.

What happened, though, is that A.’s 6th grade teacher got to talking about schools for next year (for A.). My 8th-grade homeschooler L. & I did the advance work scoping out a school the teacher suggested we look into, and L. loved the school.  It seemed ridiculous to tell a kid that she shouldn’t try a thing she really wants to do, that looks like it could be a good option for her in terms of her total formation, and which was a realistic option for our family.  Starting at the midterm in 8th grade (at the administration’s invitation) seemed like a wise idea, since it allows L. to give the school a try before the pressure of high school credit- and GPA-tracking kicks in.

Something fun: We were nervous about the school’s placement exams.  L. is a super-bright, extremely observant and creative kid, with an undeniable knack for problem-solving, but test-taking is not her strong suit.  She’s an outside-the-box thinker, and she doesn’t excel at working under pressure.  The school (small, church-operated) is not equipped to provide extensive learning support services, so they assess students prior to admitting them to make sure the students are coming in on grade level.

We were a little worried, because I grade that child’s math tests.  I know she can solve the problems (because she can explain how to solve them, teach other people, etc.), but her tests don’t always show it.  She sat through a day of 8th grade classes and said she was confident she could do the work, and I trusted her judgement on that — but wasn’t sure the tests would agree with her assessment.

Much to her surprise, even though she thought she did poorly on the math exam (and perhaps she did), she placed firmly at grade level.   Double surprise: She placed in a 12th+ grade level for reading comprehension.  (Spelling . . . not so much. But we knew that was coming.  Not a show-stopper.)

Sooo . . . guess that homeschooling thing was going okay.

She’s excited.  I’m happy for her.  And now I’m figuring out what my new occupation is going to be.

Here’s a nice hiking photo from France last summer.  By “Here’s a nice hiking photo  . . .” we mean, “Why yes, it’s going very well, thank you.”

The Advent Wars Escalate

We’ve reached a new low on the Battle for Advent: My house now sports an Ordinary Time Tree.

Christmas Lights on a fir tree, up close
Maternal Penance in Mixed Media, Detail

I told the children they ought to crown it for the feast of Christ the King, but they were too busy ignoring admonitions about liturgically-correct decorating schemes while they quick tied up all the cut limbs with red plaid bows.  In memory of the souls in purgatory, I’m sure.

***

Early last week my trusty Surface Pro (reliability rating: 7th Circle of IT Hell) spontaneously quit working, forever and ever amen, while I was using it.  I assume it was pre-punishment for my caving on the tree.  So I spent the week sharing one PC with a man who was home “on vacation” working all day at the one PC.

And that’s the story about how I became a Black Friday shopper.

Surreal part: No lines, no crowds, no traffic.  I gather that the “we’re closed on Thanksgiving (until 5pm)!” thing is causing all the crazy people to get their manic shopping needs taken care of on the vigil, leaving the daylight hours to those of us who don’t love the contact-sport side of holiday shopping.

Disturbing part: I purchased a laptop named after a deadly sin.

It was on sale, so it’s okay, right?

More disturbing part: It was not the right deadly sin.

If you told me I was blogging from a machine called wrath I’d consider it truth in advertising.  Sloth and gluttony come to mind as obvious runners-up. Were it a school chrome book, now the go-to way to avoid the hassle and expense of textbooks even though students don’t learn as well online, we could call it avarice.

But envy?  Nah.  It’s shiny, but not that shiny.  Envy is why we have the ordinary time tree.

 

Advent, Christmas, and Your Child’s Vocation

It’s time for the Advent Wars to flare up again here at the Fitz castle.  I think I’ve found my solution, and it’s related to my latest at the Register and a new book out by Suzan & Eric Sammons.

Let’s start over at NCR: 11 Ways to Prepare Your Boy to Be a Great Priest.  I’m pretty sure that post is now officially the most popular thing I’ve ever written.*  To clarify and provide related links, at the blorg I put together a compendium: Evangelization and Discipleship for the Boys & Girls Who Live At Your House. With that as a preface, here’s how my solution to the Advent Wars fits into my approach to fostering vocations in my kids.

There are 12 Days of Christmas, and They Don’t Start Until December 25th

The annual battle concerns when to put up the Christmas tree and how to decorate it.  The mother resides in the Advent Austerity camp.  The more closely we imitate the lodgings of St. John the Baptist the better, right?  The children, led by the Eldest Daughter, would be perfectly happy to have Rudolph on the Roof beginning November 1.  In years past children have literally sneaked the fake Christmas tree out of the attic while I was sleeping and set it up in the living room in total silence.  This might be the one thing they manage to accomplish without any bickering whatsoever, so I count my blessings and offer it up.

But this year things will be different.

This year, Suzan Sammons put into my hands a review copy of her new book The Jesse Tree: An Advent Devotion.  I like it.  There’s a chart that shows you how to get all your ornaments up during Advent, no matter how weird of a liturgical year we’re having.  The sample ornaments in the book are crazy simple.  The daily suggested reflection and prayer hits the spot without overwhelming.  It’s like this book was written by a couple Christian parents with a pile of kids.   I recommend this book.

The Jesse Tree

Also you longtime readers know me: I’m not doing no Jesse Tree.  Sheesh.  Who are we kidding?

But you know who can do a Jesse Tree?  My crafty Christmas-crazy kids, that’s who.  So the new deal is this:

  • IF children want to do the Jesse Tree . . .
  • AND the teenagers who now have drivers licenses agree to do all the craft supply shopping . . .
  • AND the teenager who tends to hog craft projects solemnly promises to let her little sisters have a fair share of the ornament-making work . . .
  • AND the 11-year-old who best succeeds at daily routines and pestering us all into responsible family behavior and who happens to be a great Junior Lector agrees to host the Jesse Tree prayer time each evening . . .

THEN parents will fund the ornament budget and let children put the tree up before Advent begins, FOR ADVENT ORNAMENTS ONLY.

That’s my solution.

How does this fit in with my vocations post at the Register?  I’m so glad you asked.

Kids need to own their faith.

There are a bazillion ways to be Catholic, and kids need to figure out for themselves which devotions and prayers and disciplines are made for the type of people that they are.  If God fills you with a passion for Pinterest projects, you should run with it.  My eldest daughter has long been certain she has a vocation to marriage, and I don’t disagree.  The homemaking side of holy day observances is part of such a vocation.  So why shouldn’t she practice it?

If I do everything for my kids, they’ll never learn how to do things themselves. That’s true of laundry, cooking, homework — and it’s true of their faith.  You have to give kids chances to practice being Catholic, all on their own.  Now that two of my kids can drive?  I totally let the kids go to whatever Sunday Mass they want, regardless of when the parents are attending.

It is really important that kids know down to their bones that the faith is something they do, not something they only do with their parents.  They have to practice showing up at church alone so that it feels normal and natural for them to wake up on a Sunday and get in the car and drive to Mass someplace.   I don’t mean you’re a bad parent if your whole family gets in the car and goes to Mass together every week.  I mean that we parents need to look for ways — and this Jesse Tree thing is an example — that happen to be good ways, given your own family life, for your kids to practice taking charge of their faith.

You’re still the parent.  They aren’t totally spun off on their own yet.  But if you see some good opportunity for a kid in your family to do a thing he or she naturally wants to do and that provides that chance to take the lead on the faith, let the kid have at it.

Related Links, Starting with Crafts:

  1. My friend Sandra pointed me towards Ginger Snap Crafts, where you can find instructions for wood slice ornaments and for snowflake ornaments among many others.  You could switch out the snowflakes for Jesse Tree symbols. The wood grain nativity set was what originally caught her eye – don’t use treated lumber if you want your preschooler to be able to build Bethlelem with it.
  2. You do know about Catholic Icing, right?

From Advents Past:

5 Ways to Give Your Family a Peaceful Advent

Well Hello, Advent.  We Meet Again.

5 Reasons Slacker Catholics Do Advent Best – #2 Will Shock You

5 Ways We Keep Christ in Christmas at Our House

I don’t know why all the lists come in fives.

Two New Holiday Movies & a Grammar Lesson:

Dickens, Scrooge, and the Road to Redemption: A Review of “The Man Who Invented Christmas” – Reviewed by Tony Rossi

“The Star”: Hijinks and Holiness Make a Fun Christmas Story for the Family.  The handful of Catholic writers I’ve talked to who’ve seen the preview have loved it — and some of them are quite prickly about Hollywood getting hold of Bible stories.  So scout around for reviews if you’re not certain.

How to Make Your Last Name Plural This Holiday Season Because you love America and Tiny Tim and don’t want a reindeer to have to die each time you abuse an apostrophe.

Who is that Eric Sammons Guy?

It turns out he writes good books.

And did you notice how beautifully edited those two books were? I did.  It was Suzan Sammons we have to thank for that, in case you’re ever looking for a good copy-editor.

And finish to the round up . . .

The Top Three Things I’m Most Glad I Added to My Holiday Season

These have stood the test of time.  They are my go-to holiday things.  Now you look around and find your holiday things.  Happy Advent Wars!

 

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Image by Xavier Romero-Frias (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

*Correction: As of mid-morning, How to Avoid Becoming a Bitter Catholic still had the lead in total shares.  Look at them both and vote with your sharing buttons!

A Thank You Note for Senator Feinstein

Dear Senator Feinstein,

I wish to thank you for your extraordinary comments to Professor Barrett, in whom, you assure us all, the dogma loudly lives.  (May that be said of all Notre Dame’s faculty one day, please God.)

The reason I wish to thank you is because, like most people, I have some things I believe to be true.  I also have children, most of whom are now teenagers.  Teenagers do this thing that’s necessary for the good of the species, but aggravating all the same: They question the beliefs of their parents.

I would like them, for example, to believe with all their heart that texting and driving is always to be avoided because it poses a serious danger to themselves and others.  I think that’s true, I assume you do as well, and since one day my children might be sharing the road with you, we both have a strong interest in their coming to accept that belief and act on it.  You might say that you and I are dogmatic on that point.

Another thing I’d like them to accept with all their heart is the Catholic faith.  That’s something that probably isn’t so easy for you to understand.  See, here’s the difficulty with kids these days: They don’t fake religious beliefs in order to get along and smooth their social paths.  Back when you were a kid?  Yeah, people did that.  They might be Catholic because it was their family heritage, or they found the communal life appealing, but without necessarily feeling that they had to accept the entirety of the Catholic faith as being exactly true.  I think you work with some people who are like that.

But we of the younger generations don’t do fake-religion so much.  There are a few holdouts, of course, but for the most part, if a young adult these days practices a religion, it’s because he or she thinks it is true.   That’s especially so for Catholics, because in many circles (yours, for example), there’s no real social benefit to being Catholic.  Sometimes it even kinda sucks.  (In a join-your-sufferings-with-Christ kinda way, don’t get me wrong . . ..)

So, like many Catholic parents, even though I try my best to pass onto my children the things that I think are true — both about road safety and the reality of human existence in a larger way — I am well aware that my kids might choose to reject my beliefs.  And though they might lie and say they don’t text and drive even if they do (please God no), they probably won’t get around to lying about being Catholic, at least not after they’ve moved on to college.

And that’s why I want to thank you.  See, my boy is a senior in high school, and like many boys he doesn’t always share his inner thoughts with the world.  I don’t always have a clear read on what he thinks about the Catholic faith.  But this morning?

I showed him the video of you making your famous quote.  He laughed so hard at how ridiculous you were — it was truly a wonderful moment for a mother to share with her son.  We made jokes about “dogma” and a little bit of woofing sounds (which got our actual dog excited and after that she stood at the door all day watching for squirrels because she could tell we knew dogs were important), and also he joked about “those dangerous Christian religious extremists refusing to kill people!”

It was a really fun time for the two of us.  It was also a moment when I knew that my boy understood a person should act on his or her beliefs.  Otherwise they aren’t really much in the way of beliefs, are they?

So thank you very much for giving us that little gift.

I wish you all the best,

Jennifer.

PS: My son also thought you looked drunk.  But you weren’t, I don’t think.  He really hasn’t spent that much time around either senators or drunk people, so he’s not necessarily the best judge.

 

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Photo via United States Congress, US Senate Photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

How to Know if Your Clothes are Okay

In light of the recent controversy over whether FLOTUS was wearing the proper shoes for climbing into an airplane to visit a natural disaster zone, I offer this quick guide for how to tell whether you are wearing what you ought to be wearing:

You are a politician: Wear a suit.  Always wear a suit, except when you are being too uptight by wearing a suit.  In that case, you should forgo the suit so you can be disrespectful for not wearing a suit.

You are a business owner: If you want to intimidate your employees by showing you are a member of the corporate elite, wear a suit.  If you want to intimidate your employees by showing that you are powerful enough you don’t have to wear a suit, don’t wear a suit.  The proper way to dress is called “Giving out free food to poor people,” unless it’s part of your secret plot to oppress poor people.  The media will let you know.

You are a college student:  Wear exactly the right t-shirt.  Not wearing a t-shirt shows you are planning to oppress people one day, except when it shows that you are going to do great things one day.

You are a mother:  Go change your clothes immediately.  You obviously don’t care, at all, about your children, your family, or the downfall of civilization.

You are a father: Did you dress yourself?  We can tell.  Did your wife dress you?  We can tell.  Either way, you must never, ever, look like your mother dressed you.  Also, she should have raised you better than that.

You are a teenage girl:  Your clothes, if you choose to wear them, are just fine.  Everything you wear is just fine.  Anyone who says otherwise is body-shaming you.  You are not actually required to wear clothes, though, because that would be sexist.

You are a teenage boy:  You can wear whatever you want, as long as you are saving someone from imminent death.  Otherwise, please go away.

You are a disabled person being bullied or glorified on the internet: Your clothes are the unique expression of you — don’t change a thing!

You are a disabled person who hasn’t been born yet, or who requires any medical care, ever, for any reason: Die, wastrel.  Clothes are not meant for you.

You didn’t die, and now you’re out in public being weird:  There should be better funding for programs to make you less weird.

You are a thin, beautiful, member of the British aristocracy: Your clothes are just perfect!

You are a fat, beautiful, member of the British aristocracy: Hence the destruction of the realm.

You are FLOTUS:  Everything you wear is a symbol of why the other party would have saved us.  Or destroyed us.  Either one.  Your clothes are so versatile!

You are attending a Catholic church: Your clothes are one of the sins that cry to Heaven for vengeance.  Just ask the person sitting in the next pew.  If you dare.

 

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia, public domain, where the category Melania Trump in 2017 will meet all your stiletto-viewing needs.

Back-to-School Means Back-to-Apologetics

Last night’s report from the corner public high school: “My history teacher explained to the class that the difference between Catholics and Protestants was that Catholics idolize Mary.”

Ah.  Well, there’s academic precision for you.

After learning that this particular teacher was a Lutheran, I produced my go-to book for children who have to deal with Lutherans who can’t be nice to the BVM:

Beginning Apologetics 6

Begining Apologetics 6: How to Explain and Defend Mary from San Juan Catholic Seminars has a page devoted to key quotes from Martin Luther concerning the Blessed Mother.

If you let your kids out in public, they need to know Catholic apologetics.   Parents, don’t count on your local parish to provide this education to your children.  Maybe your parish offers excellent religious education or maybe they don’t, but it’s your job to oversee your children’s formation.

A good Catholic upbringing doesn’t erase free will.  All the best formation in the world is no guarantee your children will remain Catholic into adulthood.  But if you don’t even give them the tools they need to attempt a defense of their faith, you’re kinda asking for it.

Talking Privileges for Converts vs. Cradle Catholics

Fr. Matthew Schneider has an article up at Crux, weighing in on the Should Converts Just Shut Up debate (which Crux started).  Fr. Schneider probably says something very nice and that readers here would be okay with, because he’s good for that.  I don’t recall we’ve ever disagreed before.  Fr. Longenecker said something nice, for example.  But I couldn’t read Fr. Schneider because I’ve started breaking out in the blogger-version of hives (BVH) every time I even see this discussion.

BVH reaction: WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE??

Kids.  We have a way of evaluating people’s opinions on any topic, religious or otherwise.

We ask: Is it true?

It doesn’t matter whether the opinion comes from a cradle catholic, a convert, a heretic, or a rank atheist.  What matters is whether it is true.

It is normal to take an interest in a person’s credentials.  Sometimes, perhaps laying in the ER with your brain bleeding, you have nothing but credentials to rely on in making decisions.  But if you’ve gone so far as to become a Catholic writer, then it is my hope that no matter how incompetent you are at medical or financial or engineering decisions, you have the ability to weed out the Catholic Faith from Not the Catholic Faith.

Those of us who have half an hour’s experience comparing what credentialed Catholics say to what the Church says can let you in on a secret: It is neither the number of years being Catholic, nor the sorts of degrees acquired, nor the kinds of sacraments received that determine whether someone is writing the truth.  It is whether the person sufficiently desires to tell the truth that they make the effort.

Earnest people make honest mistakes, and dishonest people foment errors, and both categories of people are the reason we keep our thinking caps on.

I think if I were, therefore, to provide a useful bit of ad hominen caution for the unwashed masses about whom everyone is so concerned, it would be this:  If your betters are telling you it is the type of person and not their ideas that need evaluating in order to discover the truth, you should stop reading those betters.

 

 

Two Bits of Common Sense Eclipse Safety for Kids

I live on the pending eclipse path, so How To Keep Your Kids From Going Blind is suddenly a topic around here.

First thing to know: The hazard of the eclipse is if you look at the sun.  There aren’t deadly Eclipse Rays that come out and attack while you are napping in your hammock in the shade.  The trouble, of course, is thats it’s really unusual to see the sun get all blocked up by the moon, and so people who would otherwise never stare at the sun might suddenly take an interest.  Staring at the sun is always bad for you.

(Your pets, in contrast, probably aren’t going to take up astronomy as a hobby on Monday afternoon, unless I suppose that’s something you’ve caught them at before.  My pets never stare at the sun. They mostly stare at the back door.  And meat.  If there’s a Meat Eclipse, my dog will be watching that one closely.)

So anyway, back to your kids.

#1 Practice Using Your Safety Glasses Ahead of Time

You got yourself NASA-approved glasses, of course, and you’ve read all about sun-viewing safety.  Now practice.  You do not want to be in the middle of a very short once-in-a-lifetime event and your kids are like “I can’t make mine work!”  “I can’t see!” “These itch!”  Practice.

#2 Not All Children Can Be Trusted to Wear Their Safety Glasses

If your child is not mature enough to be counted on, skip the viewing altogether.  Just don’t go there.  If your child is young enough to be oblivious you don’t even have to tell them there’s a viewing option.  You can just let your young children know that the sun is going to be covered up by the moon, so it’s going to get dark outside in the middle of the day, which is nifty.

They’ll of course want to see it get dark (but they won’t want to go bed).  So pick a room with a window that doesn’t face towards the sun during your eclipse time of day.  Set the kids up so they can watch it get dark out that window. Stream the eclipse on your computer so that they can compare the progress of the eclipse with conditions outside.

For more info: NASA has all your eclipse enjoyment science needs covered hereFood, drink, and lounge chairs you’ll have to sort out for yourself.

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Artwork courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain]