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.

Escape

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Yep, that’s at the soccer field. But it’s the perfect image of where my heart is calling me.

I’ve been writing this post about driving and how I am able to work out my problems best when I am driving across backroads with the radio loud and the windows down.

This isn’t that post.

But it’s closely related to it. Today I had to escape my house. Isn’t that terrible? I honestly felt that if I couldn’t get away for a couple of hours to think in empty space I would quite possibly spend the week screaming at my children and having pointless arguments. I tried to garden, I tried to work on some volunteering projects, I tried to sit with my people in the sunshine. Still I was cranky, irritable, frustrated with the simple fact that they are little and they need me. I was not being a good mom or a good wife. I was not being a good person. I told my sweet husband, who always tries to understand my emotional insanity, that I needed to leave. Though I doubt he was very happy about it, he told me to go. He is endlessly supportive and I am extremely grateful for his care of me. It was something that I didn’t even know I didn’t have until I knew him. Thank God for this man who can hold it all together when I need to run.

So I left. I started the van (mini-vans are not good for your soul when you need open road and peace by the way, but we make do.). As I sit here typing away with my free coffee in the sunshine I can’t help but feel the guilt. Like I am not entitled to this break in my life. I should be able to hold it all together, right? As I think on it, I have to consciously shut down the thoughts of how all of the other moms I know can handle the constant mothering requirements. I know that they can’t really, that everyone has their own limit and we all escape in the way that is most needed to us personally. It takes effort though, to not feel like a failure when I have to get away.

So I typed for an hour or two and I drove, windows down and the heat on (this is Oct. in Minnesota after all), and I felt much more peace. I wondered just what it was that caused me to need to get away and I realized that it has a lot more to do with me than with my people or really anything that they need from me. It is the sameness, the monotony, the lack of personal-mental space. There isn’t time in my every-day for Sunday’s with the Eagles. There isn’t space in my week for getting lost on the way home from picking up Mady. There aren’t hours where I can be self-absorbed. I steal moments, sure, but the days are long.

If you know me, you know that I went against my basic nature and started getting up at 4:30 in the morning this summer. I was/am trying to steal that time back that was lost to me when I began my mothering journey. I needed to regain a piece of myself and I could not figure out how else to do it. It is hard. It is worth it. So, if I’m getting a few hours each week, why the need for escape today you might be asking? Well, the last few days have been lacking that time. First, my kids have been getting up crazy early, as an example the youngest followed me upstairs at 4:33 AM today. I had grown so used to that hour or two each day that the sudden loss of it caused me to be extremely angry. Secondly, my husband has a lot of “extra stuff” going on at work. He’s been working twelve or more hours each day and he comes home tired, mentally spent. I don’t get a break when he comes home, I feel guilty asking him to help with bedtime routines and, though I know he would (and often does) help, I try to leave those few moments at the end of his day to be his.

Another piece of my desire to run is the fading daylight. There is so much less daylight to soak up! While I am still using up all of the sunshine, I can’t fit as much in. Something has to give and it has been the time I was giving to myself. Add to these the return of the Autumnal activity load, the craziness that is our normal, my volunteer commitments and it is easy-ish to see how I could feel completely and totally overwhelmed with my day. While it may not have been rational or realistic for me to think that I deserved a few hours out of the house, it was good for my mental health.

Running away isn’t really a great way of dealing with life’s difficulties, I know. It is how I process though. As I mentioned, I’ve devoted a lot of words to this idea, and I’ll share them soon. I can justify the need to get into a car and drive to myself and I suppose that is really all that matters. I don’t feel like I’m running “away”, after all I’ve always come back. A few hours journey and it’s as if the pressure has lifted with the clouds and I can chase the sunset back home.

I’m a better person when I listen to this urge to drive. Calmer, more patient, less angry, less dramatic even. I am truly fortunate to be able to run out on a Sunday afternoon without warning, I don’t take that for granted. We should all be so lucky as to be able to take care of ourselves this well because of the love of a good man. I hope that each of you who took the time to read my rambling heart today has this kind of love and support. If you don’t, please know it is okay to ask for it, people are often happy to help if you can just give them suggestions as to how.

And now? Now I will head back home as a better person, because I have taken the time to fill myself with just what I need. Loving my people stronger and fiercer than I could have this morning.

A (tiny, little) Piece of My Story

IMG_5190.jpgI wrote a lot of words this morning. Words that are important to me and words that sort of define me. They are scary words too, words that I am not sure I want to put out into the world yet. I know that I should, that simply by putting these thoughts down on the page I am taking back some of the power the experiences hold over me. I know too that my story may help someone else, that God has been asking me to be bold and tell this story for quite some time now. That I haven’t struggled simply because of my choices rather, through my struggle others may be saved. It has been a hard walk though, and many times I’ve run, and that is what scares me I think. Sharing those fragile parts that are still exhausted from running. The pieces of my story that still weigh heavily and the pages that are tear splattered. Those are the ones that I need to share…soon. I still have a little thinking to do on them, I know some parts of the journey were just for me and I want to keep those sacred, held in my heart and my mind where they remind me of who I am.

If there were one thing I would share today, it would be this; your story matters. My life story is important. We each get to do this life not just so that we can learn from our own mistakes and difficulties and successes, but so that we can share the lessons learned with others. Part of my life, okay a lot of my life, was really hard even when I didn’t know it was. I see how my sisters lived in the same family that I was given and how they are much different than I am. I wonder about that a lot. How have I come to this point based on all the world has given me? The hardships and struggles, the joy and the pain, why weren’t we all wired to handle it in the same way? It is because my story needs telling, it is unique. My journey may help someone else, if I can conjure the courage to share it. I have decided that I will, a little bit at a time at least. My truest hope is that when I do, the words meet you where you are and that they help get you where you need to go.

More to come…