Advent Ramblings

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Advent gets me every year. I prepare for it mentally and when December first arrives, I begin. I see it as a time of peace in an otherwise crazy time of year. I have, in years past, woke a few minutes earlier to read from my advent devotional in the weeks leading up to Christmas. This year that means upstairs by 4:15…have I mentioned how I am so not a morning person? This year I have a few new thoughts and plans to add in to Advent, and while I’ll keep some to myself, I thought I should get some out of my head and my heart and into the written world. It will be good for me to be still with these words as the season of waiting, of coming, gets pressed in on.

If you’ve been reading anything I’ve written recently you’ll know that I am “stuck” on this wild wandering, I can’t really get past it. Every book I pick up seems to dwell on a wanderer or living a true and wild life. Every conversation I have, every blog I read, every tee-shirt I wear seems to have something to do with these two concepts. It is so clear to me that there is deeper meaning in these two words, or rather in the one idea that I should live a truly adventurous life. I think I’ve been writing so much about it because I feel it is in opposition to the life I have, specifically to my life in Christ. I struggle to justify a self-willed (wild), rambling, consciously deeper existence with the life the church has told me I should live since I was a small girl. I have long felt as though two parts of my soul were in opposition to one another.

As I have been lost in this topic and reading more and more I feel like I may be winding on to a new path. One that I have gone by before and missed because it is so very narrow. I’m not sure of course, but I feel like this path will show me how to reconcile both aspects of my nature. I am nervous about setting my expectations too high (something I have always struggled with), and so earlier this morning I wrote down three simple things that I am going to strive toward in this Advent season. Three things that will be my focus and my goal, I have the ability to see these things through, they rely on no one else but God.

The first is to actually wander. I have a lack-of-plan that will help me with this. An idea of taking time to actually go for walks, go for drives, sit in the stillness and get mentally lost. This is something that I’ve come to through a lot of reading and soul searching. I need to roam for my innermost self to find peace. I will have to do this with my children in tow most days, and that has been a struggle for me to accept. This fact has actually kept me from wandering because I have felt they will interfere with the process somehow. What I’ve come to see, is that children have the inborn ability to amble, to stroll, to be distracted by the small and meaningful. This is, in fact, exactly what I’m after. So I have decided to invite them along for my wanderings when I am able, I hope to find some of the curiosity and creativeness I’ve lost by watching them while we walk. I believe that in the physical act of traipsing through fields and turning down side-roads I will find…perhaps not answers, perhaps not peace…something. It is so close I think I could simply reach out and it would be there.

The second is to whisper. I am a yeller. It’s true, I yell at my kids when I’ve lost my patience, when they are downstairs and I have a question, when they are about to touch the hot pan on the stove. I don’t know where the yelling started or where it comes from. I don’t remember either of my parents yelling when I was a child. I need to see if speaking softly brings me more calm (that seems like an ignorant thing to say, I mean, obviously.), but when I yell I feel like all of my frustration comes rushing out in my words and I then feel a little better. It is almost like throwing the anger out, of course that anger or frustration or impatience then lands on my kids or my husband and I know the words hurt. I have made connections between the softer voice and more space for the self-willed nature to roam about in my head. So I am making conscious effort beginning this day to use a much more quiet tone.

I realize you’re probably wondering how this ties into the wandering/wild thought process I’ve got going here. It’s difficult for me to explain, even to myself. The image that helps me comes from the animal world, how when animals are hunting-they are quiet. When animals are being hunted-they are quiet. When they are unsure of their surroundings-they don’t make a sound. If they are curious of some new thing in their environment-they begin investigating it very cautiously. This tells me that the response in most situations is to at least begin, without a sound. Breath will become more important, walking away (more wandering!) when realistic, taking self control over my wild desire to shout. This might be the most difficult aspect, but I am determined to make the effort.

The third piece of my personal puzzle is to wait in His presence. I have the same device problem as many in this day and age, but I mean more than simply putting away my phone. As an example; I was at the library with two of my kids recently, we were there for a short time and I had brought a book. Normally my kids will play and look at books and I’ll oversee their safety, it’s a good arrangement. Yesterday I sat down, opened my book, read two paragraphs and my three-year-old started crawling into my lap with five books calling, “read to me momma!”. I was annoyed at the adorableness of it all. I spend a lot of time with books in hand, reading to my children, I just wanted the next half of an hour to myself! I wanted to disappear into my book for thirty minutes in a place that was full of activity and stimulation for her, this didn’t seem to be asking too much. She wanted me though and so I needed to be present for her. I often need to set my own needs and desires aside to be fully present, to be in His presence.

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How will this help me on my wild and wandering path? As that is my main goal in this Advent season I needed a way to bring it all together. By being present with the Lord first, then with my family and ultimately being more present with myself, I allow more head space for those wandering thoughts to take shape. There will be more fully-formed ideas and more mental trails followed to their ends. Less time spent browsing the internet leaves more time to discover what actually brings joy to my heart. Less time spent on Pinterest or Facebook will provide more time for wandering through this actual world and noticing it’s actual beauty, instead of the falsity of social media. By setting aside my plan of making a quick dinner so we can eat on time and get kids to bed at a reasonable hour, I’m able to spend that time making pizza with a tiny underfoot and then reading to my big kids later than I had planned. While I honestly didn’t really have much patience for this, it’s something I’m beginning to change. Providing time for my children to follow their own wild desires should be part of my own wildness, my own trekking toward peace.

Advent means “coming” in Latin. The coming of the Lord, of Christmas, is the obvious reason Christians remember this tradition annually. I’ll focus on this part of Advent every morning for the month of December because it brings a quietness into my heart. I’ll use that as my reminder to whisper. Devoting the stillness of my morning to this study of Advent will require sacrifices in my quiet time. There won’t be as many minutes for writing, for scrolling, for sleeping. This will be my reminder to be present with my people and with Him. Finally as I deliberately walk through the scriptures that bring me to Christ’s birth, I will be bound to deliberate wandering. As Mary and Joseph make their slow journey home, I will follow them, both on the pages of my Bible and in the wanderings of my heart. I need no further motivation.

I anticipate the Advent season every year. I prepare for it. This year, this day I choose it. The activity of Advent, as a verb. I will wait on His coming and in readying myself for that day I will wander, I will whisper, I will wait in His presence. This will be a turn down a narrower road for the better, I can feel it.

Thoughts on Jeremiah, and More Wandering

Jeremiah 31:21-22 “Set up road signs; put up guideposts. Take note of the highway, the road that you take. Return Virgin Israel, return to your towns. How long will you wander, ….”

Let’s start here. The book of Jeremiah is not an easy one to get through, so many verses written warning the people to repent. Not much positive is to be found here, though there are glimpses of the glory that will come. I sort of insisted to myself that I get through the entire book. I have tried before and the fact that it has never held my interest bothers me. I felt there was something for me in this book of the Bible and so I have been reading in it for the past week or so. Trying to find the right words. While I haven’t quite finished up yet, I think chapter 31 was where I needed to get to, verses 21 and 22 are just a tiny piece of my heart, when I read these words the mental imagery is nearly a physical place to become lost in.

I’ll not get stuck in the scripture for too long here, I’ve spent hours contemplating these four sentences and you definitely do not need to get lost there with me, but follow with me for just a few minutes this morning. I hope that you may find something you need in these words. First; the verses line by line;

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Set up roadsigns: Mark your path girl, you’ll need to come back this way one day. Even though you find it easy to walk away today there will come a time when you’ll long to find your way back to someone or someplace; leave a trail.

Put up guideposts: What markers are you leaving? Will they only show you where you were or will they show you a way back there? Will they take you back to the person you were then or will they return you to people who you left behind, but better than you were then?  Guideposts,  it’s in the word for Heaven’s sake. Don’t just leave a trail, be guided to what you needed when you turned off the main road to begin with.

Take note of the highway, the road that you take: Be conscious of the road when you choose it. You won’t know what’s ahead, but you don’t have to stumble along in the dark. Be aware of where your choice may lead you. Also, where do you want this road to take you? Do you believe that this road will get you where you want it to?

Return…Return to your towns: This is truth; you’ll want to go back at some point. There is nowhere that I have come from that I didn’t wish to have some piece of back. No matter how far I’ve strayed from that path or how badly I’ve fractured a relationship, there was always some good in it, and I do long for the good parts.

How long will you wander: Oh Lord! How long indeed! This is the part that brings me to tears. To wander: to ramble without a definite purpose…to roam, to stray. I feel this word in my heart. I am this word, while my day-to-day has great purpose and I see it in the raising of these kids. Giving them God, and lessons, and determination. That is me as a momma, not me as a woman, as a child of God, it is only a tiny fraction of who I am. Inside of me is a wanderer. And so, I sat awhile this morning. The Christmas tree was lit up and I held my cup of coffee with both hands. Just being here, being still and silent. I deliberately focused on the steam curling out of my mug. Whispered reassurances that all of the tasks would wait for me and that even if the baby is up early, there are always minutes in the day to find peace, to traipse off into.

The desire to wander, to wonder at creation is strong in me. I know I’ve written about it before, but this is such a part of me that I can’t tell a story without it coming out. How long will I wander? I’ll likely never stop! I fear with great anticipation the curves in the road ahead and how my choosing a left or a right will affect this desire to roam. Where will the road I’m on now take me? When will the next turn come and how will I take it? I do realize, of course, that this is not at all what Jeremiah wanted the people to get from his words. “Come back to God!” was his message. It’s odd to me how much more of God I have found since I began meandering off the path that I thought was the right one for me to follow. For me at least, it turns out that God was calling my spirit away from the concrete sidewalks, off of that ever elusive trail to “normality”, and in following His leading I have truly found that the road less traveled is the right road.

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As is always the case with my writing, I have had to step away from this post for a few days. Coming back to it with sleepy eyes, hoping to get back to my routine this morning, I have new thoughts on wandering and wild-nature bubbling inside of me. Thoughts that may help me tie together the parts of me that cry out to be allowed to run off into the wildness and the parts of me that hold fiercely to my family and my home. I’m wondering this morning if the two fractions of my nature could possibly join together without causing any crazy shifts? If I can make changes to myself that are big enough to matter, but small enough to not tear anything apart that I’ve given my heart to putting together…right now, in the stillness, I feel like I am very close to making this possible.

I trust that in the wandering is where the answers lie. In setting up the guideposts, in following the road signs, in taking note of the hi-ways, yes. But also in continuing on when the road is shadowed, when the trail becomes narrow, when the signs are unclear. My thoughts amble a bit; I am unsure of how I will pull all of this together into not only a coherent article that someone may enjoy, but more so into a life that I am happier to live. I don’t think that I can do it all justice here, there are so many more thoughts that go along with this post. Thoughts that are difficult to turn into articulate sentences. What I know to be a heart-truth for me is that I can not walk a road laid out for someone else. I must walk with my own purpose, in my own way, on my own trail.

 

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Simply knowing there are two pieces of my nature does not make this easier, and so I will give grace to myself. Today I choose to get lost in the wilder part of my soul; in the joy that is my chaos, and to think less about how that chaos grates against the responsible side of me. I will take a walk with no intended destination, even if I only make it to the end of the block before someone starts whining. I’ve said before that the journey is the destination and I will embrace that attitude today. Hopefully tomorrow will be just as good, just as easy to fall into this rhythm. If it’s not, I’ll find the early quiet  and begin again, knowing that the path does not disappear just because I stepped off of it. There is always a signpost leading me forward, if only I’ll take the time to seek it out.

 

Wanderer

I was feeling alone. Even though I am surrounded by my little people all day every day, I was feeling alone. I was missing extended family, I was missing my aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents. I was missing my sisters. I’ve been moving farther and farther away from my family since I was a child. The divorces that are my mothers story taught me to move away from the people I love with little emotion. That’s a harsh sentence, but it is true. As I look back, I can see how we physically moved away time after time while she chased after her truest self. It became quite easy to create friendships and then end them as we moved on to the next town. More than physically moving on, her moves taught my soul not to get attached, not to think this place or that friendship would last. I also learned that family is something that can be fractured and put back together many times and still hold strong.

Something that I never knew until I went through my own divorce, was that parts of family are lost and not put back in when two people break apart. I suppose I knew how I had been affected by my mothers choices, but I’d never really thought much about them. When I was a child I easily forgot the friends and family who I no longer saw, I walked farther down the road and knew they were back there, perhaps having taken a left when I went right. Then, in my own divorce I lost my mother for a time, she didn’t agree with my choice or the way I was living. She decided, in her anger at me, that I was wrong and that she would not be there for me. Though she has moved on from the hurt my decision caused her, I still struggle with her betrayal and have a hard time relating to her, she is a fracture, and when she is with me I feel the ache more intensely. This break that has been poorly repaired still hurts, but I’ve realized it is not the cause of my sadness.

As I sat in the stillness and I thought about why I was feeling so alone, so empty, so lost. I thought about the road that has brought me to this exact place in life, I was looking back at those turns that were right for me, but that left people I loved behind. Or perhaps it was the fork in their road that took them away from me. It came to me that another piece of what I was missing was the extended family that I had in my previous marriage. Specifically, I was missing my former sisters-in-law. I did a lot of life with these women, the loss of them was great and it broke me in places that I have ignored for a long time. Let me be clear, I don’t want to go back to the small, helpless girl I was then. I’ve become too much and know myself far too well to want that. I now love a man who has shown me how to find my worth. What I miss from that place and time is his sisters. I know that I have my own, but they are far away physically while his live near me, yet are on roads I can’t get to from here.

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When I left him, I left people I loved deeply. It was all too easy for me to take that hard right to what was best for my very soul, and leave these people at a rest stop on the highway. While I missed them immediately, ached for their support and friendship, I knew it was lost to me. I chose right, they followed him to the left. It was easy to look at the loss as I had so many times before; as leaving school friends all of my life, as walking away from people I called family. This had become second nature to me and I did not think twice about it at the time. I thought I’d get past it, and I did. Most days. But there are mornings that leave me hoping I’ll run into these women at the grocery store.

This seems messed up doesn’t it? I mean, how can I have so easily cut all of these people out of my life? It doesn’t make sense to me even now, so many years later. Obviously I didn’t deal with those losses well because I still feel them after all of this time, but I can clearly remember turning away. Choosing to not reach out to them, not even hope that I could remain friends with these women. I assumed that it would be like it had been when I was young, a clear break and then the setting of a new course. Trusting these sisters and friends were still out there, just on a different road, has not been enough. I know that I will never again have these same women, that same extended family. I ache for it, but I understand why it must be this way. I think I will always miss them though, my own sisters, my former sisters, friends I’ve lost because of the direction I was headed.

I miss being surrounded by family, in fact I have spent the last few years trying to build friendships to fill the spaces left by lost sisters. It’s hard. Not just to find women to do life with, but it’s hard when it seems no one understands or would understand or could ever get why they are so needed in your life. That there is this gaping space inside of you that longs to be filled with the easy friendship of a sister. It is hard for me to put into words, this wanting to have a built in group of people to do life with. If you have close family or dear friends then I suppose you know what I mean, I’ve had it at different points in my life and I am aching for it in this season.

I do look forward in hope, I have five kids now in this blended up family of ours. They are sisters and brothers that I pray will always have each other physically close. I pray too that they continue to grow closer relationships as the little ones grow older. That they want to be close to each other, that they want to spend time together, that they miss the crowded dinner table enough to come home for spaghetti and meatballs on a Tuesday night. I get glimpses of it already, it is beginning. I hope that we have created the place they will want to come back to when they are all grown. I hope this for selfish reasons too, not just because I want the closeness for them, but because I want to have these people around me. I want them at my table, crowding into my living room, making chaos in my house. I miss it so much now, but my children offer hope of having it in the future or at least the hope of providing it for them.

I wonder this morning; over lost family, sisters who have moved away, sisters who I have moved away from. As I think about the friendships I have, I wonder if any of them will ever fill the empty place left by sisters. Have I put up too many road blocks to get close enough to let them fill the holes? I will have to keep working on myself, because of this deep need inside of me. For now I will be present here, feeling the loss and trying not to brush it aside. I want to feel what I’ve left to become who I am, to examine the parts that I most miss. I think that in remembering, I will work more diligently to create authentic connections. Which will in time begin to fill this part of me back up.

 

 

 

 

Evaluations

My daughter completed her annual testing this week. As a homeschooling family the state requires us to evaluate our children each year to ensure they are “on track”. This was a stressful thing for me. Yes, for me. Not for my child, she was not worried about anything aside from spelling. She appeared confident and unconcerned about being asked random questions about topics we may or may not have even discussed over the past twelve months. I, on the other hand, felt as though the results of her test were really evaluating me. Am I providing the right learning opportunities? Am I doing enough to help her learn to divide? Am I putting enough emphasis on the right subjects?

The days leading up to her test were stressful for me. I couldn’t exactly get my head around it, why was I placing such value on the results of her test? It was ridiculous, after all we are unschoolers. A manner of leading children in a more hands-off approach, allowing them to learn the things they are interested in and trusting that they will learn all of what they need to grow into exactly who they are meant to be. As an unschooler, why on earth was I giving this test such a place of importance? I could not answer that question and so I sat with it.

It wasn’t until the testing had come and gone and I was having a conversation with my husband that the reason came out. I was telling him the results of her test and talking through what she excelled in and where there was room to improve. I rambled on about curriculum I could use to help her with this or that. I wondered aloud if we should evaluate for dyslexia. I talked about opportunities to start earning college credits…have I mentioned she’s nine years old? I had been sucked into the system. One test! One hour, once a year in a friendly, non-threatening environment with a kind woman who tells my kid the test is a “game”! And I was now concerned with college credits, spelling workbooks, sixth grade level math… How the heck did that happen?

My husband and I continued our conversation and good came of it. In my head I have been going over what I want for my kids, Nowhere on that list is “going to a prestigious university” or “getting their doctorate”. I know how important it is to be able to use the English language, to write well, to be well spoken, but is mastering it more important than instilling a love of nature? I realize they will need to understand basic (and complex) math concepts to use their creative minds to the fullest, but is long-division more important than guiding a heart of service? Can I say out loud, in front of everyone that I believe letting my kids simply play for more hours than they school, is teaching them greater life skills than they could ever learn if I tried to sit them down and teach them these things? I think I just did…

It is scary to go against the norm. It is intimidating to know that I am doing life with my littles differently than most people. It can be stressful to to go against commonly held beliefs. Though, when you have found your people and you exist in a group of families learning in similar ways, trusting this natural desire and ability to learn, it is easier to go about your business. Day to day I don’t feel the anxiety because I have women who lift me up and trust that I am doing what is best for my kids. I see these same women doing these types of things with their families, maybe they even unschool more or better than I do, I can see that it is working in the brilliance of the littles around me when we get together. Having the people makes all of the difference, it rights my perspective. When we are alone in our weirdness we feel it more strongly, but when we have friends in our crazy we find peace there.

In the time talking with my husband he said some really awesome things to me. He had even sent me a text earlier in the day which I saved because his words were perfect and gave me rest. While spelling and being able to memorize math facts are actually pretty important to him, he placed no value on the results of her test. He didn’t tell me we should be doing more spelling words or ask why I don’t have an actual life science text book. Instead he reminded me that the children are creative, that they are inventive, that they are kind. He pointed out their goodness and brought up their abilities. More than this, he reminded me why we choose to homeschool, and probably without meaning to he reminded me why I unschool.

I suppose this testing problem extends past me, I know public school families who opt out of the annual standardized testing at their school because they realize that one day out of the year can not fully show all the knowledge their child has. I had never looked at it from the teachers perspective though. Do those public school teachers feel like I did on test day? Do they know how amazing the children are but question if they themselves have done justice in teaching them the information that the powers-that-be say the kids should know? Do the educators feel as though it is more so an evaluation of their ability to teach, than of the students ability to learn? I wonder if that is where the “teaching to the test” mentality came from. Now, I know there’s more to it than that, but could it be an original piece of the puzzle?

A few days have passed since our test was taken, my daughter has completely forgotten the test and has already asked how long we’ll be working in this cursive/spelling workbook, (insert pre-teen eye-roll here). I honestly don’t know, I get distracted by projects around the house too easily; letting them make salt-dough, helping them learn to cook dinner, reading them endless chapters of fantasy novels… While these things are definitely not school, there is a lot of learning going on. I suppose I’ll work to find that ever-elusive balance. Just the right amount of textbook, just the right amount of playing in the snow. They are little after all, and I don’t long for them to be normal or average.

In creating the life we now live, I realize that my children will know a lot of things that their schooled peers may not. As an example; my three year old asked if we could “have a conversation about doin’ math” the other day. She’s trying out a new word and wants to sit at the table for school time with her siblings. It was pretty adorable. But I also know that they won’t know the exact things that those public schoolers know either. There is no self-driven interest in learning about the specific states in the U.S. in my kids, though this is a common third/fourth grade activity. I have given them multiple books, activities, and puzzles on the topic. They only do those activities when I remind them and because they “have to” to be “done” They are not going to remember that Kansas’ state flower is the sunflower, because they could care less. Additionally I know that my kids may never learn some things that their peers do, but that doesn’t matter. If they become interested in the way a light bulb works we can deconstruct a few, check out some books at the library, watch some Youtube videos. Information is only a Google search away.

We don’t have to force uninterested learning, even if that means they don’t pass a test. Can’t we look at the whole child and their development as a person over the past year? I think we should, I think it is in fact better to do so. This morning I sit in peace with where my kids are at with their learning. I’m thankful to have had this week to reflect on how things are going, both with my leading and with their learning, it’s been time well spent. I can look ahead with new ideas to share with my little people, and a fresh perspective on where we are on our journey. Knowing that they are exceptional, that they have great capacity to learn, and that they are always learning is what I will take away from that hour of testing. Not a score, or a mark of failing or succeeding-for myself or my child. We are learning well, and I am very thankful to be able to learn together with them.

 

 

Thoughts on Mothering

  1. It is exhausting. It is exhausting in that exhilarating, new baby, so excited to be a momma way. The way that is empowering because you chose to grow this life and there is power in that choice. It is exhausting in the haven’t slept, let alone showered, in four days because your little one is going through some sort of sleep regression. This is not empowering, just tiresome as you try to help a tiny person figure out what their normal sleep pattern is. More than sleep though mothering tires us because of its constancy. Because there is always, at every moment of the day and night, someone who needs us. There is always more on the “to do” list, always one more enriching activity to engage our children in, one more event to attend. More even than those “seen” activities are the hours spent tucking and re-tucking blankets around cold toes, quieting angry or frightened cries, simply rocking in the lamp-light with a feverish baby on your lap.                                                 The unseen hours of being a momma are the ones that can draw us close to the edges of our sanity. These are the hours that cause our weariness. My husband used that word in conversation last night and I was caught by how true it was of how I can feel. The word weary defines how the exhaustion seeps into our bones, into our very tissue.IMG_7078.jpg
  2. Mothering is lonely. Or, it can be. If you have not found your mom-friends you can be physically lonely. By yourself, surrounded by littles all day. Later, you’ll be lonely for a truer type of friendship, people who have kids that play well with yours, sure. But also a woman or two who you connect with, a woman that you’d be friends with regardless of children. I often feel lonely simply because I am so not alone…I am completely overwhelmed with all of the kids. There is no “me” apart from “them” and I miss myself, the me I worked so hard to be true to, and to grow into is missing. Isolation inside of a busy house is such a difficult concept to understand, you have to experience it yourself to get it. That built in village somehow eludes us. We want it, need to have a group of people to do life with, but we hesitate to ask for it, instead feeling we were meant to be alone in this raising of babies.                      This is such a lie and I can’t live in it anymore. I know I need people. I know that I can not be lonely or all of the other aspects of mothering become overwhelming. I know that by allowing others to see my struggles and my failings I am helping them overcome their own. By being open to helping and to being helped I create a less lonesome environment and this is what I have longed for.

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  3. It is chaotic. As in there is always a mess, always something that needs fixing, someone that is screeching. The chaos of mothering is seen in those videos about how a mom gets nothing done. Again there is more to it than that though, it’s a chaos in my mind. A never-ending stream of things to do, things that I will never, ever get done. It is a constant lowering of expectations of myself; that can break a person, let me tell you. It is always hearing all of their questions, always knowing where every item is in the house, always knowing what’s next on the calendar. It’s like being a secretary for several demanding, tiny people who will give me no time off. Keeping all of those mental tabs open can make me feel like there is a hive of angry bees buzzing inside of me. There is no remedy of this chaos. There is only begging quiet or stealing it from the wee hours. There is sweeping the floor around stacks of laundry because that’s just as good as it’s going to get. There is sending the screeching outside and one day realizing that in chaos we must create our own peace.

In all of this I see that being a momma is overwhelming. I wonder at the God-given ability in me to handle this life. I know that I don’t do any of this alone, and I know that if I had to I would have failed years ago. In the chaos, in the exhaustion, in the loneliness…the only respite is in Christ. I had tried to learn to meditate once, tried to still my mind and find clarity. Let’s just say it was hard and leave it at that. Recently a friend recommended a book that brought meditation back to mind and last night as I lay not quite asleep wondering how long before my tiny awoke crying (it was twenty minutes), I practiced. I breathed in and out focusing on the rhythm. While I had low expectations, I did find the quiet place in my body for a moment or two, that place in which no one is calling for my attention. It is freeing to get there, if only for that moment. I trusted again that God is right here, a calming presence in the chaos, a constant companion in my loneliness, the strength I need when I am exhausted.

Then I exhaled and went to soothe a three-year-old through her distress, not for the last time this night. As the chaos woke with me this morning I tried to remember that peace-filled place. While calm has eluded me so far, I have felt God’s presence all the same. I know that when I don’t get the quiet my body and brain scream for, I can still have rest. “Come to Me all who are weary…” Matt.11:28 The rest, the peace, the calm, the quiet. These are things missing from my mothering, true. Today I choose to focus on the good though. While I have struggled with the heavy load that mothering causes, I can choose joy even in this. And with a few good friends who understand when I wail via text message about the littles and their particular brand of crazy,  I am better able to see the joy. The joy of being a momma, the joy of living in community, the joy in the sleepless nights and in the chaos, because I am not alone.

And so while mothering is exhausting, sometimes lonely and terribly chaotic, what I choose to feel this morning is none of that. Where I choose to focus my mental energy is on the overwhelming sense of how much love there is in my life. Yes, it is exhausting that my little people require so much from me, but they will not always. This part of my life is when I get to be so loved that they fight over who sits by me at dinner! There are days when I want nothing more than a long walk with a friend, days when I am lonely while surrounded. I try to remember that all too soon my children will be grown and it will be them that I am missing. The chaos stills at the end of every day, maybe not for the entire night, but it is there. Early in the morning when I wake to tap out feelings and emotions surrounded by the chaos of Legos and pop-beads I can see what’s missing from that mess; already my nine year-old has fewer toys on the floor. Her mess changing from dolls to drawing supplies.

It will happen, the day will come when my children would rather be in their bedrooms than on the sofa next to me. A morning is not far off when they will sleep later than I would like and I will go to wake them. One afternoon I will go to sweep the floor and I won’t have to pick up crayons or tiny animals first. It will happen, and I am saddened just thinking about it. So while this did take me four days to write out because of erratic sleeping patterns and a fussy toddler, and I did have to take a break from home last night, I know that my life is filled to the brim with love. That this time with my littles is fleeting.

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My husband quoted this snippet of a verse to me once; “…Quiet down cobwebs, dust go to sleep…” I found the full poem long ago and I have always wanted to paint it on my wall as a reminder. It holds special meaning for me and I sing-song it in my head when my own fifth-child is making me question my sanity. As I turn off my computer now to jump into mothering I hope to stay in the joyful present all day long.

Over-Scheduled

I do not understand. The busyness culture I mean. Why do we do it? Why do we run this race? Why have we bought the lie that more equals better? Why do we feel guilt if we aren’t doing all of the activities, all of the classes, all of the things? I’m going to take this from a slightly different vantage point; one of a stay at home mom who homeschools three of her five children.

I have long ago decided to walk a different path than most. I am not average nor do I strive to be. I am weird, I am different, I stand out a bit from the modern-American norm. It’s who I am and I am comfortable enough in my identity in Christ to trust that this is who I was designed to be. This person who I am? She sees all of these moms, frazzled and crazed, and she wonders why they do this to themselves. She thinks, these are great women, women who are brilliant, and kind, and beautiful, what are they running so hard and fast toward? It happens every year in the Autumn, my Facebook feed fills up with adorable back to school photos. Then the mommas are all writing sappy, teary-eyed posts about how they are so sad that their babies had to leave. Some moms post about how difficult it was for their kindergartner to ride the bus or be left in that big classroom. They post about their second grader’s exhaustion, falling asleep at the dinner table. They post about their middle schooler’s extra-sassy behavior as they cart her to yet another extra-curricular activity. They wonder when they’ll ever see their teen because of all the activities the child is involved in. Are these moms serious?

 

Hold up, I don’t even want to talk about those moms here. I homeschool. I stay home and have no side-business that I run from home. I could never judge those moms because I am not in their shoes. No, I want to figure out why I feel all of this pressure to do more, to be more, to have more. I stay home because my husband and I agree that the best person to raise our kids is us. God entrusted these people to our care and we don’t take that responsibility lightly. I homeschool because we agree that no one knows our kids better than me, and no one could walk beside them through their educational journey like I will. We may differ in philosophy, but we agree on why we keep the little ones home.

As these little people have begun to grow, I’ve felt pressured to add activities to our days. The homeschooling community is not the weird, un-socialized cliche that it once was, I am assuming you know this. There are more activities available to my children than I could list here. Once you have found your people, there is really no end to the days you can fill, and because most children are endlessly interested in trying everything you can not rely on them to filter the best choices for themselves. As a mom I have told my daughter “no” to more extra-curriculars than I can count, and she’s only nine years old. I have seen the insanity of a packed schedule and know that it’s not where I want to live.

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So here is my question as each new, good option presents itself; what value does this bring? We added ballet to our schedule this year; my child has been asking for five years for dance or gymnastics and this year we found a safe place for that to happen. When I looked to the value, I could see the discipline, the friendships, the focus, the hard work. I also only saw one hour out of my whole week, add in drive time and getting ready and I thought two hours max. This was something we could do. I didn’t factor in forty minutes of practice every day and now I am praying that the benefit will outweigh the cost in time to our family. Even with practice we aren’t running ragged though. My kids will remember all of the days we stayed home to play. The days spent reading in Dad’s chair and sitting at the kitchen table for math. I won’t wish we had more time together because I am intentional about my time with them. I refuse to give away the “little” years so that they can have all of these opportunities.

The opportunities are many and the pressure is great. If I don’t put my kid in dance and choir, scouts, sports…how will they be enriched? Where will they find themselves? How will they know where their passions lay? If I take a mostly hands-off approach, allowing my kids to simply play, will they not be just as fulfilled as their peers who are scheduled 12 hours each day? I say they will and more so! By allowing my children to “just be” they figure out who they are, what they like, how they want to be treated, what they want to fill their time with. Maybe a thing will stick with them, like dance did, continuing to be on her wish list for multiple years. By following her lead and giving her time to long for it, the class holds more value for her than any number of other opportunities casually tossed her way could have. And that’s the thing, she sees the value in it, so it isn’t a chore or a hassle or one-more-thing-to-do. I don’t use dance as a bargaining tool, but she knows how it must fit into our day and that sacrifices to play time must be made to incorporate practice and rehearsal.

Here is the flip-side, my six year-old is quiet. I don’t mean he is a quiet boy who rarely makes noise, rather he stands back, doesn’t want to be in front of a crowd. He is often afraid of activities though they are the same as they have been for many weeks. He holds back at the beginning of youth group every single Wednesday. He walks with me to co-op instead of running ahead with his sister. He refuses new choices because of a fear of the unknown. I worry over this lack of choosing too. I wanted him to try something new this year and it took weeks of talking about it and offering it to him before he actually went to the group. He needs the security of sameness to feel comfortable at a new activity or class, something that is not possible. This is part of the reason that I know teaching him at home is the best choice for him. He can rely on the stability of our home environment, trust in it’s sameness, be comforted in the relative boredom. New activities can still be a little scary, but they are small pieces of his week. He doesn’t have to live in those places every single day.

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My question holds true for this child as well. What value will he get from this activity that may be perceived as scary or unwanted? Will going to soccer practice once a week make him a professional athlete someday? No, it will not. It may help him find a love of movement, comfort in the camaraderie of team mates. It may make him a teensy bit braver next time. Will my insisting on him trying the next thing help him overcome his fear of trying in the long run? I pray that it will. I don’t want the child to live fearfully, I want him to be bold in his choices and I hope that the environment we have created gives him the chance to grow into that kind of person.

As I struggle with this balance of too many versus too few activities on our calendar, I aim to meet each child in the middle. To teach them that all of these options are good, but that we can not do all of the good things. As they grow I believe this will be an important skill for them, a tool they can use to not lose their inner voice. I hope it helps them learn that no is a good answer if it is true to their heart, while still being willing to say yes even if it may be a bit scary. I also hope that by working through these choices with them now, while they are small, they will find things they are passionate about. That they will carry not just those activities with them into adulthood, but the ability to choose what is right.

As I look ahead, I don’t see the activity load lessening. I will have to work to keep the white-space on my calendar. I hope that in providing down time, offering opportunities, listening to their opinions, that they will see the value in those breaks in the schedule. That they will be thankful for time to just be. That they will learn to appreciate the quiet and the loud, the slow and the busy. Also, that they will more easily work toward that balance in their adult lives, because of these lessons. Of course, this understanding is important for them. Really though, I am so pleased to have learned these things about myself, to know what I need from the quiet hours of my days and from the busy ones as well. To trust my answers to be true to those needs, without fear of either adding too much, or letting others down because I know myself well.

 

Realizations

It’s so difficult to move on from the bad situations in life. To let them go completely and be truly happy in the good that you have now. I realized this suddenly after writing about expectations last week. Moderately uncomfortable backstory is required here. I was married for about ten years to a man who was unkind. While never truly physically abusive there was, looking back, clear emotional abuse as well as…I struggle to know what to call it…a sense of less-than-ness. I was never harmed, but often felt isolated, in a position of powerlessness. The word I want to use is broken, though that seems overly dramatic. My marriage and my life were very normal from the outside looking in, but when I made a request, when my opinion was given, when I had a need or even a strong desire, I was shut-down, put in my place, quieted.

Please, don’t feel sorry for me, all of this was my choice. Sure, it started with an uninformed choice when I was very young, but then I continued to choose day after day to live broken, silent. Until one day I didn’t. I knew that I had the ability to change my situation, he was never able to convince me that I had no way out, no reason to leave, no chance of escape from him. Like I said, it was my choice and so several years ago I made the change that was hard and good.

I often get stuck back there mentally though. Even though I am now married to a good, kind, loving, considerate, thoughtful (I could go on all day) man, I forget. I become mired in my twenties where I had no voice, no opinions that mattered, no requests that were important. I forget that now the mere mention of my sadness over a finished book allows this man an opportunity to remind me how well I am loved by him. He is the love my Father in heaven has for me.

Now, before any of you out there get too worked up, the Christian I am needs to say that while I believe the Bible and know that my divorce is sinful, I also believe that God loves me, has forgiven me, and has nothing but good for me to come. I don’t live stuck in that sin, it has been forgiven, forgotten because of the love of Jesus. I don’t doubt that even from my sinful place of leaving He was there working in and around me to make my choices good for my future. You can judge me on this if that’s what you need to do, the truth has been spoken into my heart and I live without fear of this sin.

So, why all of this confessing? After I wrote last week, my husband was concerned about the Expectations post, he wondered if the two of us were not communicating well or if he was missing cues. He was probably wondering what exactly I was talking about, though that’s only my interpretation from our conversation. He is really good at loving me. At knowing what my heart most needs. While he is no mind reader, he understands that I will eventually have a tantrum and need to get out of this house for a day. He buys chocolate and heavy cream and wine and other little things that are not necessary, but that bring me moments of joy. He is observant of what I like and what I would like. He is, honestly, much better at this than I am.

See, I had forgotten, or overlooked my current joy to reflect back on how disappointed I used to be. Why did I do that? Why would I want to think about all of the times I had been let down, felt over-looked, or had been told that what I wanted was simply not important? I’ve been thinking about that and I suppose it is just all too easy to get stuck back there, in the sadness. Sadness is a very powerful emotion, and when you lived there for so many years it is sometimes hard to remember that you’ve left. I still find myself mumbling how asking for some want or need is unrealistic or selfish, when I know-like really, truly know-that if I even mention a random desire to my sweet man, he will go out of his way to make it reality for me. Whether it is a tangible item or an emotional need, he wants me to know how much I am loved.

This is now a heart issue for me. One that I fully recognize as such. I am working on living “here” and not mentally slipping back to the days when I was broken. I know that I have made new, good choices for myself and my future and I am attempting to leave the past choices back where they belong. When I catch myself living in that lonely place I actively work to remind my heart that I am loved. Are there still disappointments in my life? Of course. They are much smaller and much less frequent now though. I actually feel quite spoiled as I sit here thinking over all of the ways I am shown my worth by kindness, love, and caring. There should really be no question in my mind that my happiness is important. I am very thankful that this is where I live now.

As my small people once again stole my quiet mornings over the past few days I’ve had time to think about the words I’ve put down here and with that time I have also realized that my happiness does not come just from this man. Again, my choice brought me here. When I made the hard choice to walk away all of those years ago, when I make choices now that are good for me. Each time that I have put God in control, given Him the power that is rightfully His to work in my life in the way He sees fit, I have stolen joy back from those years of unhappiness. I know that it is the love of my Heavenly Father that I need and that I long for and that I have. And so I do move on from the bad times. It is hard and it does require many decisions be made that are often easier left unmade, but people don’t just grow, we have to work for that growth. I am doing that hard work still, each time I acknowledge the hard past and yet live in the present I am growing for good.

The year I turned thirty, the year of hard decisions, is a pivot point in my life, where in looking back I can see the change in direction I made in my life and it is as clear as day. When I made the choice to actually work toward joyfulness (what I’d define as contentment in all situations because of the love of a Savior) instead of happiness (pleasant, yet short-lived satisfaction with ones surroundings) I made another pivot. My attitude was no longer fearful or worried or anxious. My heart returned to a normal rhythm as I began to know that all suffering works in me to create peace. I lived in the book of Romans for quite some time, there are so many relevant and meaningful verses in this letter from Paul. The one that caused this second pivot is this; Romans 5:3-4 “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” 

As I think back over choosing to “glory in my suffering” I see that this shift brought me so close to living as the girl I am in my head and heart. This time of understanding the love that was available to me changed me so much but also returned me to who I really am. Trusting the good that has already been given me I am better able to revel in any supposed bad that comes my way. I am better able to love and give goodness and be less inwardly focused. It’s become clearer over the past week of waiting to finish writing that the writing will never be finished. That I will continue to learn and in learning there will be moments where I will make a conscious decision to turn. Sometimes those turns will be hard and scary, other times they will be such gentle curves that I won’t notice the change until I look back. All of the twists and straight stretches getting me to the end of my road in exactly the condition I needed to be in.

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Awhile back I wrote about processing all of my feelings, about my failings as a person, and how I have become the woman I am now. I never posted it. It is an impossible thing for me to put out there into the written world where anyone could read it. I know that what I’m giving you today is part of that story, and I feel a little lighter having got it down on paper. There may be pieces of myself that I never share, time will tell. I am realizing that my story-my life-has a purpose though, God really will use my struggles to create in me as well as through me. All things working together for my good on this journey, if only I can realize it in the moment.

Expectations

Expectations are a crazy thing aren’t they? I mean, why do we “get our hopes up” instead of creating for ourselves the occasion -or life- we want? I’m thinking about this on this quiet, day-after-baby-girl-birthday morning because she had no expectation of her birthday aside from chocolate cake. We don’t do lavish parties or over the top celebrations here, but birthdays are important. We use them to show extra love, to spoil a bit with favorite meals and all of us together. She didn’t know that though.

When asked what she wanted for birthday breakfast she said, “chocolate cake”. When asked what she wanted for birthday dinner she replied, “chocolate cake”. When asked what she wanted for a birthday gift, again, she responded with a firm, “chocolate cake!”. She knew what she wanted and didn’t care at all if that wasn’t the expected answer to my question. She also didn’t leave it up to me to create her happiness on her birthday. She asked me repeatedly all morning if we were going to make cake yet. She stood next to me on her pink, wooden stool and cracked eggs, helped me scrape the bowl, and licked the paddle of my mixer when we were done. She was actively participating in creating what she wanted for her day.

I’ve sort of been stuck on that. I keep thinking of how I have expected others to create the perfect day for me over the years. The perfect date, the perfect anniversary, the perfect celebration. In my mind I picture this fantastically lovely event, but I don’t often find the right words to tell the other person what I would like. Normally expressing my desire feels selfish and bossy, but then when I don’t, I am undoubtedly let down. It’s been roughly fourteen years since I began trying to control my expectations, I’d been disappointed by my high-expectations many times before that and I could go on and on about exact dates and plans that have fallen short going all the way back to the year I turned 13. I’ll spare you all of the sad stories of being let down by people I’ve loved, I’m sure you can easily recount many times that you, yourself have been left unfulfilled by your own high-expectations.

This was the turning point for me though; on my twenty-fifth birthday I was an emotional wreck. For reasons that I can not now recall I spent most of the day in tears. I wasn’t sad, just “emotional”, I needed more support and love and lifting-up than my people were able to give me that day. So I spent the day crying off and on between visits from friends and getting ready to go out for dinner. I had asked for a few specific gifts that year, enough to satisfy the questions, but not too many to seem selfish. I had a hope for dinner out and the day off of work. I felt my expectations were reasonable, and they likely were, but I hadn’t communicated my expectation to my family and friends very well. And so I can clearly remember each disappointing moment from that day. I felt unknown, unseen, and unimportant.

My toddler doesn’t have these problems and I hope that she never develops them. I was happy to have her practically beg to be allowed to help make her own cake -her one desire for her birthday. She wasn’t afraid to tell anyone what she wanted, she didn’t feel selfish or bossy in her request, she didn’t try to customize her answer to what she thought I wanted to hear. She simply asked for what she wanted and then happily anticipated it. I think I will try to be more like her, realizing that my loved ones want to bring joy to me on these special days, just as I wanted to give so much joy to my baby girl. It doesn’t feel easy though, actually asking for exactly what I want seems scary.

Ironically, I saw this cartoon this morning. It is the truest way that I have ever seen this idea expressed. IMG_6986.png

Is it possible to have no expectation? Or even low-expectations? I feel like, at this point in my life I have conditioned myself to expect. To hope for certain things, for specific outcomes. As I mentioned, I have been working on unlearning this behavior for a third of my life. I haven’t worked on better communication, I’ve simply decided to have fewer expectations. Even as I type those words I know it’s flawed logic. I shouldn’t need to change who I am to be happy. I should be able to express my wants without shame or fear. At the same time I know that by keeping my expectations simple I increase my own joy and my power over internal disappointment. It is a balance, like all things. I was thinking about “reasonable expectations” too, but I don’t think that’s an acceptable standard. I mean, who gets to judge if another persons expectations are reasonable? If my expectations are high, but true and properly expressed, shouldn’t the people in my life strive to meet them? Shouldn’t I work alongside them to create the sort of environment that I want to live in? If my expectations are low does that make me easier to love or interact with?

Why is this so hard to relearn? I think about that piece in Glennon Doyle’s book Love Warrior where she talks about giving her husband a second chance to celebrate her birthday “properly”. I don’t know that I would ever have been so bold as to tell someone how greatly they had let me down and then give them an opportunity to fix it. I suppose I have been conditioned by my life experiences to choose to let the disappointments grow me into a better person. I wonder if I had ever been so brave how different I would be today. If I had chosen when I was younger to speak up for what I wanted, would I have so many sad days to look back on? I wonder. I don’t know that even with this information and all of this wondering if I am changed enough to speak my wants clearly without fear of asking too much.

I sometimes make an effort to be more clear, but when I do I still feel demanding. Perhaps I need to work on my delivery? I can’t help but remember that all of these wants, all of my simple desires come back to longing for my Savior and not trusting Him to fulfill my needs perfectly. It is so hard to remember that when I am asking for an intimate dinner out or an afternoon of spoiling, or even a tangible gift, what I am really asking for is to be seen and understood and known as who I truly am. So if the people I love give me their best and I still feel my needs are unmet who’s issue is this? Do they really not know me or do I expect too much from people and not place enough trust in God for what my heart needs? I don’t think I will easily come to any answers. There will always be days where I expect more than others can give. I hope that on those days I am able to give grace and see the best laid plans and the love that was behind the effort.

Since I began this post, my husband and I got away for twenty-four hours alone together, my mom stayed with our littles and it was such a gift. As I had been contemplating expectations so much last week, I lingered over my desires for the evening out. What was it I most wanted from the time? After giving it some thought I was able to realize that all I wanted was to be truly myself… and to not be anyone’s mother for a few short hours. Realizing that, I was able to enjoy each moment as it came without anticipation for the next. I enjoyed all of the minutes we were gone because I was honest with myself ahead of time. The things we did were of little consequence thanks to my knowing that they were not what mattered. The time to be the me I am without children clinging to my skirt was what was important.

I really doubt that all of my future outings will be this clear, I forget too easily. The time will come when I have anticipated something so greatly that I will be like the pink character in that cartoon up above, falling down to a perfectly good outcome that seems less-than due to my high hopes. I think though, that it will be more and more infrequently. I may have actually learned this lesson better this time, thanks to the help of a tiny girl turning three. Expectations are not bad, and I’m certainly not going to encourage keeping them “reasonable”, but knowing the desire behind the expectation helps. Knowing your own heart and working with your people toward your own happiness is a worthy goal. One that I will choose as I continue to learn and grow in this life.

 

 

 

Stories

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Yesterday I read two-hundred plus pages of a book to my littles. Two of  my children practically begged me to continue at the end of each chapter. We have read the entire six-book series and this was the final book-the final 200 pages. While the author’s use of the word “said” caused me to print a list of words to use in its place and post it on my fridge, my children loved the books. They laugh hysterically at the silly parts, they talk about their favorite characters and incorporate them into their creative play, and they have asked more questions about this series than any other we have read so far. The books have caused them to really think about words and ideas and concepts.

 

As a homeschooling momma I worry a little when I deviate so far from my plan for the day. My schedule allowed for us to read for an hour and do math and science afterward. Then, there I was, four hours later, trying to figure out how the book was over. I am an unschooler, so I do allow for days lost down rabbit-holes, and hours absorbed in an activity that my kids have got lost in, but for some reason the days that I spend reading are the ones that make me most nervous about the plan. But, the thing is? I love these days! When my kids are so into a story that they do not want me to put it down? I am ecstatic! When every night at bedtime they jabber on about what we just read or whine that “that’s not a good stopping place!”? I know that I am growing readers and that makes me so happy.

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I remember loving to read when I was small, and then somewhere in high school losing that love. I have had periods in my adult life where I have read every book I can get my hands on, but it hasn’t been until the last few years that I have found the love for reading that I had when I was a child. Now if I find a book I love, I am that girl who will stay up late into the night until I can barely see the pages. I will steal every fifteen minutes of quiet I get to read a few pages of a great story. That word right there, “story”, that’s what I’m after. A book I can get lost in, a story that is more than just imagination, but is imagined so well it becomes real to me. I have read a lot of self-help books, and have struggled to reach the end of their 150 pages, I enjoy biographies and learning about the life someone led, but what I continue to come back to are the stories.

Works of fiction grab hold of my imagination and I become part of the story. I read Anna Karenina a few years ago, all 860 pages of it. Tolstoy’s story was told so well that even when I was struggling through the lulls in the story I could not imagine putting the book aside without knowing what happens to Anna and Vronsky and Levin and Kitty…their lives were wrapped up in my own and I felt I must see if their stories ended happily or not. I’ve read the first two books in The Name of the Wind series and began following the author, Patrick Rothfus, on Faceboook simply so I can know as soon as the final installment of the series is finished. These books were epic stories, I tell you I could feel the wind howling around me as I read under my covers at midnight. Very recently I read the Divergent trilogy-a little late to the party, I know. When I tell you that I sobbed through the second half of the final book, Allegiant, I am not exaggerating at all. I honestly felt that I was losing someone I loved. I could go on and on and on, I simply love a good story!

Yes, I am drawn to fantasy and perhaps dystopian fantasy most of all, but I will read any story that is written well enough to make me feel like I am walking alongside the characters of the book. Which, I suppose is why I will read aloud a children’s book series with roughly over 2400 pages (Land of Stories) or, for that matter, a children’s series with over 4200 pages (Harry Potter) twice. It’s because the books have such well written characters who transport me out my own life into these amazing worlds that I could not even dream up on my own. I get to the end of a great book and feel as though I can’t immediately start a new book because my mind is still wrapped up in the last world I visited. I am almost afraid to leave those characters behind, it is as though I am leaving friends or, in some cases, family if I move onto a new book.

Perhaps I am a bit crazy…but I want that type of relationship with books for my kids. I want them to cry when Dumbledore dies, I want them to feel Lucy’s frustration when her siblings don’t believe that Aslan is guiding them, I want them to be afraid of Smaug just as Thorin’s group of dwarves were! I want them to love beautifully written works of fantasy so that they don’t get too sure of their reality. I always want them to know that these stories are just as real as they would like them to be and that they can go to all of the places of their imagination simply by opening the pages of a book!

As I was reading picture books to my tiny this morning and thinking about the amount of reading that I do, I realized that I probably relearned my love of reading by reading picture books to my little ones. I definitely started reading more during my first pregnancy ten years ago and I’d say that the picture book phase of my kids lives was when I decided I’d pick up some books for myself again. I still read a ton of those stories to my youngest child, but I feel I have honestly ruined my older littles to children’s stories. We first read Harry Potter when they were 7 and 4, before that we read The Chronicles of Narnia. We’ve read the first half of the A Wrinkle in Time series, and more fantastical stories than you’d care to hear about, I say all of this to say that my kids have a heck of a hard time finding reading books that are interesting to them, but are not too intimidating (in length) for them to read to themselves. They will still sit through a few picture books from time to time, but that’s not what they want to read. They want the depth of characters and to become familiar with them. They want something deeper.

I suppose I’m not that worried about spending a day reading to my little people. I feel like the time together, the corners of their imagination that are stimulated, the parts of their minds that are challenged, are worth just as much as a day spent playing math games or figuring out why leaves change color in the Autumn. Possibly much more, as they are becoming creative thinkers, they are learning to analyze and ask deeper questions, they have intense attention spans to things they love. My kids learn about so many of societies ills and are able to process them in the safety of their family, they learn that bullies can be overcome, that while villains are real, good can defeat them. They have also learned the complexity of those evils, that people can be both good and bad. I’m grateful to have the time to read with my kids, to explore all of these realms of imagination together. I will probably read aloud with them long after the point of them needing me to, I simply love to watch them love a story by playing my small part as narrator.

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I hope that you can find a book that jump starts or restarts the love of reading in your own soul, or that of your child. When we take back the time for the quiet pursuit of reading, it is untold how much we can gain. Stories have the power to change us, grow us, and help us learn in such a unique way, I’m so grateful for all of you who take a few minutes to read the short ramblings I put down here. I’ll show my true nerdiness now and leave you with this quote from Dumbledore; “Of course this is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”.

 

What I Wish I’d Known

What did you wish you’d known before you started? This question can be asked of so many stages of life. Before I got married I wish someone had told me that I already had the power to be happy. Before I had kids I wish someone had told me to take more naps. Before I became a stay at home mom I wish someone had told me how important friendship would be to my sanity. Before I started homeschooling…that’s what I’ve been thinking about these past few days as I have been so sick I could barely keep my eyes open.

Before we started homeschooling I actually said these words to my husband; “What am I going to do all day?” In some crazy universe I thought that it would be all too easy to homeschool and mother littles and run bigs here and there, so easy that I would be bored. Clearly I was insane. It has not yet for one day been boring in the sense that I had nothing to do. Sure there have been days where I search for the thing to do that I want to do or the thing to do that is fun, so I have been bored, but never because my to do list was completely crossed off.

Before we started homeschooling I thought I would do school at home not unschool. I found desks and created a school room and researched curriculum choices. What a fool I was. We are not boxed-curriculum people. We do our best learning outdoors, we remember more by painting, We practice multiplication tables as we drive to our next adventure. I was foolish to think that we would sit in our desks and do spelling lists, that was never ever for a teensy second the type of person I am, and it’s definitely not who my kids are.

Before we started homeschooling I thought we would do school in the morning and be done by noon and have our afternoons free for adventuring. We are so not morning people! Oh how we are not. My kids may get up before six, but they don’t want to start school right after breakfast. When we do jump right into school there is so much push back that I will almost always yell. Sure, there are days when we have to do school in the morning and we struggle through them, but our best learning happens late morning to early afternoon. Forcing my people to work efficiently before they have time to play and run and move their bodies is a mistake.

Before we started homeschooling I thought my kids would be best friends and play together peacefully all day long. Okay, so I dreamed that would happen. I knew they would still bicker, but I had read that kids who are homeschooled are better friends with their siblings and I wanted that for my kids. My kids fight. They argue, they glare, they scream, they stomp off, and shout things like “I’m not playing with you ever, ever again!”. Do they like each other? Yes. Do they miss each other when one is away? Of course. Do they want to be together every waking minute of every day? No, of course not. They are human and they annoy each other, and they have their own personal boundaries-who knew? Certainly not me.

So all of these things are things that I wish I had known before I started homeschooling. I also wish I had known that I didn’t have to be the perfect teacher. As an example I’ll tell you about my yesterday. I have been sick for three days. We have pushed through and done school all of those days and I have continued on in my mothering as close to normal as I could, but yesterday I was done. I couldn’t even. I was so tired it hurt to keep my eyes open. It was painful to stand. My tiny had been sick too and she doesn’t sleep when she’s sick so I was beyond exhausted. (I am also overly dramatic when I don’t feel well.) Ideally I would have called it a sick day and let my kids play all day, but of course I had too much guilt to do that, they weren’t sick after all, they should have school. I started by asking my kids to take care of their structured reading time, they read for a long, long time by choice. Then they grabbed their printing/cursive work and finished that -on their own- I was a zombie struggling for consciousness on the sofa at the time. They did math as well, granted they didn’t learn a new concept, but they practiced stuff they have learned and then played in puzzle books as I dozed.

While that was it for our school day they also made their own nachos for lunch, took care of snacks, played quietly in their rooms, helped the tiny to the potty, listened to a ton of audio book, and had a few hours of outside time while I sat in a chair on the deck. Yesterday they learned to care for and about each other because their momma was sick and really couldn’t care for them well. They worked on how to be good humans by showing compassion and undeserved kindness. They also picked up my slack without even being asked to do so. All of this shows me that they are learning about life between our daily lessons. These kids will be able to go into the workforce one day hopefully knowing that everyday isn’t “fair” but we can all work together to get things done.

That is what I wish I had known before I started homeschooling, more than knowing I didn’t need the perfect math curriculum or that if my eight year old spelled horrifically life would still go on. That there is grace in our days. That even on not-school days learning is present. That some of our best lessons are being taught not by a book, but by our daily interactions. I wish I had known that while spelling and history and even long division are valuable skills that kids should learn, one of the best parts of our homeschooling choice is the opportunity to have real life problems handled together. This safe place to learn and mess up and try again is what I didn’t know I wanted, more than all of the other things that would’ve been great to have a heads-up on. Allowing life to be our school house and our time together to be our learning environment has started to grow some really great little people.

So, what do I wish I would have known? Nothing! Because if I would have known ahead of time the type of learners my kids were or that they weren’t morning schoolers, or that you can’t plan an effective school day around a two year old’s schedule, we wouldn’t have learned all of the things we have learned together. The lessons in patience, kindness, love, grace, understanding, so many more, have been invaluable for me as well as for my children. Yes, I am glad they are learning to spell and to subtract. They could’ve learned that anywhere though, unschooling has helped us grow a safe place to be who we truly are, here we are learning how to do life well.

That is the best part too. Because we learn together, fail together, grow together my kids get to see that in community is the best way to live life. They know that there is this whole support system around them that they can not only learn from but where they are valuable members who can help and teach and serve. I know that over the years of homeschooling I will have as many lessons taught to me as my kids do. I am grateful for that, because I know that I still have a lot to learn. Community is the one thing I would have gladly taken ahead of time. I learn so much from our group of friends and I would have been thrilled to know them before I started this journey. It would have been good to have some people to tell me to chill out. I am so thankful for all of my people, and more so because my kids have them from the start.

If there was one thing you could have had or known “before” what would it have been? I think it’s good to reflect on this sometimes, like when your nine-year-old is making lunch for her siblings because you can’t physically drag yourself off of the sofa! It’s also good to know that I don’t have to run down the path or rush to figure things out too quickly, the journey itself is the destination. The things I will one day “wish I had known” will be perfect lessons brought about in their own time. There is peace in knowing that, and that is something I am thankful to know now.