Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Right this second...

My husband is off to pray with some friends. We've had supper, and the 2-yr. olds are chasing each other down the hall and back, down the hall and back. My 5-yr. old is rubbing my back, and the 10-, 8-, 7-, and 4-yr. olds are gathered on the couch, hunting through old Highlights magazines for hidden pictures. The baby is asleep in her crib.

Things are so very right this second.

I've been thinking a lot these last two weeks. We started school at the beginning of last week. I was dreading the start and the planning and the endless details involved in educating. I received the excellent advice to stop fretting the details and just make sure school happened, and that's exactly what I needed. I feel confident in our workload and secure in our choices.

We've been able to have our schoolwork done by noon each day, which has given us plenty of time to conquer the workload that a family our size dictates. The days are full, there's no denying...but it's a good full.

I cherish these days, I really do. I know these moments can be so evasive...some days will be hard and endless and inefficient. And those days make these days so sweet.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Annual Pep Talk

I've decided I'll take a minute, while the Littles are napping and the Bigs are watching "The A-Team," to switch the laundry, sip my latte, and sit down a minute. (Little-known fact, via Jon-Jon [4]: the B.A. in B.A. Baracus's name stands for "Bad AttiDUDE.")

 My life is so hard.

Lately, homeschooling has been on my mind. It's August, the Back to School sales abound, there are crayons and Post-it Notes and lunchboxes for sale. It's that time of year when I urgently phone my husband: "I need a lesson planner! With a grader thingy!" and start quoting "You've Got Mail" to my friend Kendra: "Don't you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils..."

I'm not positive she has even seen the movie (but pretty sure), but it doesn't matter. Every year we talk about sniffing scotch tape and I give the sharpened pencil quote.

It is so easy to join the frenzy surrounding school, even (or perhaps, especially) homeschool. Parents are talking about schedules and curricula and co-ops and soccer, and I'm still trying to figure out what grade you're in when you're ten years old, eleven come November.

Sometimes I'm not up for the fight and I just want to stomp off and forget it all.

But it won't do to hide under the kitchen table and suck my thumb in protest. That floor is filthy, and there's no room, anyway.

So I take a deep breath, and move on to the next thing. (You do realize that when I say "take a deep breath," I mean "stress out completely, clean obscure things [the laundry room cupboards?] in a panic, bark orders to multiple stunned, worthless children, and neglect dinner altogether until Ethan tells me everything will be just fine if I take a nap while he makes the world's best scrambled eggs," right?)

Deep breath.

And Ethan's right. Some rest and some food, and I'm ready for rational thinking.

And these are the rational thoughts I am now having: the most important things, the MOST important things, whether using a boxed curriculum or piecing one together myself or what have you or what have me...

are Consistency and Constancy.

Constancy and Consistency.

Being consistent and constant.

Or, to put it another way, constant and consistent.

Because what it all boils down to is this: In the end, learning must get done. It must. Just like the dishes and the diapers and the laundry. In order to survive in this world, in order to make it to the next, you must learn.

And anyway, you are learning, no matter what. You are learning what kinds of food you like and what you must dramatically gag over, how many chores you can neglect without anyone else caring enough to make you care, and exactly what looks Mama gives Papa that mean you should probably make yourself scarce before you have to deal with his serious face.

But, of course, this learning only gets you so far. Mostly it gets you straight to your bed, no dessert for you.

And the kind of learning that gets you out of your bed, out of this house, out into the world with two firm feet to stand on? That's the kind of learning I agonize over, comparing scopes and sequences and spreadsheets and graphs until I remember.

Constancy and Consistency.

Constancy: every day, you are learning. My job is to ensure that what you are learning is profitable for your soul, and that what isn't is removed. What we do under the guise of "SCHOOL" is fairly incidental.  I am to teach you diligently, when we sit at our house, when we walk by the way, when we lie down, and when we rise (see Dt. 6:6-9). All of the time, you are learning. And all of the time, I am learning.

Miriam, three years ago
This is actually more freeing than burdensome. Seeing that you are already constantly learning, my job is to orchestrate and structure your environment in a way that is conducive to that learning.

Consistent: the way in which I teach you must be true to the Truth, and it must be done with the kind of regularity and priority that we give things true to the Truth.

BUT! It needn't be complicated. And? It probably SHOULDN'T be complicated.

I think we parent/teachers like to have graphs and spreadsheets and multi-page lesson plans so that we can show each other. Maybe the other parent will think, "Ah! That is a lot of writing! There are a lot of arrows. There are many steps to teach that. You must be very smart to use such a complicated system with your child. I wish I was that smart.  I think I will get some graphs and spreadsheets and multi-page lesson plans."

And really? That's pretty silly.

Aunt Becca (my BABY sister - GULP!) and Ada

So what do Constancy and Consistency mean for our homeschooling?

Well, it means everything we do contributes in one way or another, and it should contribute in a positive, appropriate manner.

It means we are purposeful in our living. We are careful with how we learn and how we practice what we learn.

If we feel that teaching you history is important (and it is), I should find a way to teach it that 1) I can do and 2) you can do.

And that's it! I needn't stress about you making timeline cards or cooking cakes in the shape of countries or singing songs that list all the Presidents and their dates of service. I mean, if we decide that we want to do that and can do that, that's fine. But let's call it what it is (fun) and leave it at that. 

(Well, you call it that. I'll call it a real drag.)

So as this new school year begins, I'll pull out the texts and divvy up the units into weeks and the weeks into days and the days into lessons.

But all of that is really secondary. Even Solomon called all of this a "striving after the wind" (see Ecclesiastes).

More important is that we strive for truth, real Truth, every day and in the right way.

Let them have their timeline cards and cakes and songs. I'll show you a Timeline book and a globe. The presidential singing?

Well, nobody likes a showoff anyway.

And the next time someone asks me what we're doing for school this year? I'll say, "Oh, a bit of this and a bit of that, and all of life."

Only, maybe I'll just say, "A bit of this and a bit of that."

Because no one likes a showoff.

For more photos of everyday life, visit


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Stay out of the mud, flutterbudget

Ma said that they were leeches and that doctors put them on sick people. But Pa called them bloodsuckers. He said they lived in the mud, in dark, in still places in the water.
"I don't like them," Laura said.
"Then stay out of the mud, flutterbudget," said Pa. "If you don't want trouble, don't go looking for it."
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, from "The Old Crab and the Bloodsuckers," On the Banks of Plum Creek)

Sometimes I wonder what memories my children will have when they, like me, are in their thirties and wondering how on earth to parent their own children.

As they remember back to their own upbringing, I wonder what they will remember fondly and what will be remembered with a bad taste in their mouths.

There is no way I can predict this. Just earlier today I was thinking to myself, "Oh, these children! I have to say things over and over and yell and be nasty just for them to take me seriously! I don't want to be remembered as the serious, nasty, yelling mother!"

And then at dinner, my children were in tears of mirth as they told their father how different his serious face is from mine. "Yours is scary," they said. "Mama's is ridiclee-us! It is so funny! We can NEVER take her seriously!!!"

So there's no telling how this life of ours will be remembered.

And then I was wondering what I will remember. Those things that currently bring me strife (the diapers, the laundry, the endless meals)...those are just the necessities of life. Those are things that, with joy or grief, must be done.

They just must. We must eat, and we must be clothed.

Admittedly, that in and of itself is a lot. Clothes and food for eleven takes work. But it's not impossible. It's not even excessively burdensome. There are tricks and tips that help.

(My biggest tip is to marry an excessively handsome, witty man. He will keep you laughing; and even when you're trying hard not to laugh because you're THAT mad at him, he's good to look at.)

But where I get bogged down, truly, is where I find discontent and covetousness and fodder for perceived martyrdom...and that's where I need to stay out of the mud, flutterbudget.

For me, it's all in the perspective. I've found mud online - not in anything racy, but in the rat race posts of women trumpeting clean rooms and fashionable children and gourmet meals. I'm here floundering in torn toilet paper (WHO has been playing in the bathroom???), toddlers who refuse to wear underwear, and a gifted meal for which I wasn't even the one to set the table. And none of that bothers me, not really, until I start comparing and coveting and wallowing in the mud.

I've found mud in certain self-help (usually, parenting) books. It's no good looking to others for approval. They didn't marry this man (thank heaven! I want him all to myself!) or bear these children. They didn't live my past and won't face my future. So I should take what's helpful and step carefully around the mud.

The thing is, I've had it with envy. I see it everywhere - people wanting my life or wanting me to want theirs. God placed us where He willed, and that's the reality. We read His Word, seek His counsel, and pray for wisdom.

You know, bloom where you are planted, and all of that.

And stay out of the mud.

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