As this school year is drawing to a close I am taking some time to recognize and appreciate what we accomplished. In a few weeks we will be making some year-end assessments. We will choose works to keep in portfolios, and make some display boards for a home school showcase. If I am really on top of things, I'll use a Shutterfly coupon code and make a yearbook!
The kids learned a ton this year, and so did I. Of course we learned conventional subject matter: history, math, spelling, grammar, etc., but the practical aspects of daily living are just as important, if not more important when one is homeschooling.
Mothers have seasons. We do our best balancing life depending on the ages of our children and circumstances the year brings. Some years there are babies, some are sans diaper bags. Some years are financially tight and others more abundant. Some years may allow for ample time at home, but others are spent travelling 65 mph from here to there. Some years we focus on art or science, other years linguistics or history.
Here are some of my observations from this transitional season in which I find myself:
#1) This year I have realized we are past the idyllic days at home modeling beeswax, knitting wool, sewing felt, and celebrating feast days with a picture book and cupcakes, and I am mourning the loss. Activities that began at a manageable once-a-week pace now require more days per week, and more hours per day. We are finding our "new normal" and I am struggling to keep up with the level of sacrifice it takes to keep kids doing what they love and still have enough time and money to do the few things I love too, in addition to just providing masterly inactivity for the kids.
#2) The older I get, the more introverted I become. I have a strong need and desire to make meaningful connections with people, but if I have to be out & about for several hours (with or without connecting with others), I tend to need an equal amount of time alone to recuperate. If I am spending my time at home recuperating, I am likely not cooking, baking, cleaning, organizing, spending time nurturing my marriage, sleeping before midnight, or setting up social dates for my kids. Some things in this season of life, are sliding a bit and I am not sure I like it.
#3) Services for special needs are amazing and appreciated, but they eat up time. One 30 minute speech session at the school down the road usually means that our Together Time is cancelled or cut short. Add in travel time and a quick trip to the post office or bank, and this turns into a 90 minute outing and derails the whole day. Hopefully, we will have one child in speech next year instead of two.
#4) The best time to read is during read aloud time. I read a bit in the morning, but I can't really get any of my own reading done the rest of the day. I love the idea of The Well Read Mom, but there's no way I could keep up with a program like this right now unless I had a chauffeur. I really do want to read adult books, but there's so much children's literature I've never read, so perhaps this is the season in life to read the classics I missed. This will also be a great season in life to learn history, when I re-vamp and get everyone studying the same century.
#5) Be careful what you sign up for - signing up for one thing can quickly turn into five things. Some extra activities come without strings attached, but for most activities I find there are plenty of extra things required: fundraisers, volunteer hours, extra practices, treat rotation, costumes or special clothes, T-shirts to buy, photo days to attend and photos to buy, etc. With five kids, I do what I can, but I am not winning any awards here. This year I signed up to bring more cups than home baked cookies.
#6) Chores can be delegated and kids can be trained to help out, but children work better when you are there helping, managing, and inspecting - not upstairs reading, on the phone, or with your face in the computer screen. Managing is harder than it looks. When my kids were old enough to help with the bulk of the chores, they actually thought they were doing all the work while I sat around being served. Not only do I need to continue to help with the physical tasks, I also need to let them know what I am doing if I am not physically helping. I have to say, "If you can handle cleaning the mudroom, I can _____." This might include: reserve library books online, schedule a field trip, sign up for a theater class, order the next piano book, plan a birthday party, make a menu and grocery list, write thank you notes, plan summer vacation, plan summer camps, etc. They have no idea how much brain power it takes to run the family, and they haven't a clue what I am really doing at the computer unless I tell them. There's SO MUCH that is conveyed through the computer, it's difficult to keep up, especially with kids around who think you are just avoiding work.
#7) Kids need to know you are not a neat freak. If you give them chores, they will think you are. If they have to clean up before dessert, they will think you are a perfectionist. You must remind them that they live in a family, not a hotel, and that your home is clean enough to be healthy, but messy enough to be cozy. My husband and I try to teach our kids reasonable stewardship without making a god out of our material goods. We don't step on books, make holes in the wall, stand on furniture, leave clothing on the floor, stick our fingers into a freshly frosted cake, etc. We try to appreciate what we have and take care of it so it will last. We also try to clean up each evening so we wake up to a reasonable clean and organized home the next morning. But, it's not perfect and it never will be. Life is messy and our home is lived in!
#8) Take time for yourself, but try to do double duty. Meet a friend for coffee during your daughter's ballet class or bring a laptop. Knit while you listen to piano practice. Take one child to an evening weekday Mass or the library. Practice photography skills on your kids and talk to them about what you are learning. Learn an instrument along with them. Go for a family hike. Let them help in the kitchen. When they do an art assignment, you do it too - write a letter on the back, fold it up, and send it to you mom or a friend. Have a child call grandma on the cell on the way home and turn on speaker phone. So many of these activities are ones I would love to do IN SOLITUDE but it's simply not the season for it. You want and need to be creative, but your vocation comes first, and you have to incorporate your children as much as you are able to. At least I do.
#9) Have a schedule, but be willing to be flexible. Some weeks are so busy with extras that we are lucky if we get in math, practicing, reading, meals, laundry, and basic cleaning. These days are usually so relaxed and peaceful, I wish all our days could be like this. Eventually we get back to Latin, geography, language arts, science, and history, but on busy weeks sometimes it just doesn't all fit.
#10) Play hooky sometimes. Yes, my kids are supposed to practice and read every day, but this uses a hunk of time every afternoon. Sometimes I let them skip so you can go outside and sled, fly kites, or visit a friend. This seems much more difficult the older my kids get!
#11) Don't forget to take your vitamins.
#12) Drink plenty of water, and no caffeine after about 1:00 pm.
#13) The more hours of sleep you get before midnight, the better.
#14) If numbers 11 - 13 are neglected, your children may associate you with a certain character from Dr. Seuss. (all she does is yell, yell, yell)
#15) If you are usually found sitting on the sofa, at the computer, or behind a steering wheel and have a slow metabolism like me, 20 pounds can creep on in less than nine months. I think I am finally facing the fact that getting active in a spacious building with lots of light might be the key to a much happier school year, happier mama, and happier kids. Especially in states with unusually long and dark winters. I have no idea how much school we will be able to fit in around a morning trip to the gym and an afternoon ballet run and still get dinner on the table, but I am willing to simplify our curriculum to fit this in.
#16) Keep trying to find your tribe. As a homeschooling mother in particular, you are living an unconventional life. You will doubt yourself and your choices, you don't need others in your life who doubt them too, at least not now. Be careful who you complain to, even other homeschooling moms. Some friendships just are not going to work out, even with women whom you admire. Some prove over time to be a one-way street. Some people are just not open, or harbor judgements. Some are demanding, or they might think you are too demanding. Some are too busy, on a different track, or have different priorities. Some friendships have seasons. Others just never blossom and you may never know why. Regrettably, sometimes you are in a season where you are busy and just don't have a lot to give. Remember - a friend is someone who likes you (and hopefully your kids too). Appreciate those friends who do like you, believe in you, and encourage you. Be friendly with all, but save your best self for the relationships that give back and help you grow in virtue.
#17) If you blog, keep your mission in mind. It's easy to get discouraged with so much professional blogging out there. I find that less than 1% of my readers leave a comment. Most just lurk, even people you know IRL. I don't intend to be an anonymous blogger, but I mostly blog for myself, my family, and a few close friends. I appreciate you being here and a few nice comments here and there encourage me to continue.
#18) If you blog, don't blog everything. Because when you do get together with friends who read your blog, you'll have something fresh to say, something they didn't already know from reading your blog. Otherwise you talk and talk, but they just say, "Yeah, I know. I read about that on your blog."
#19) If you blog or read blogs, take time to reply to comments and leave comments. I really do try to do better at this, but I know I'm not the best. I also tend not to leave a comment if there are 20 already (sorry). I also try to reply to comments, but never know if readers check back and actually see them. Blogging has the potential of being a friendly community, but do you take more than you give? Give back - leave a comment on the blogs you read and encourage another mom! We're all together in this.
Well, as you can probably tell, this post is full of reminders more for myself than anyone else, so don't take them too personally! These thoughts are from a mom in the trenches, not a veteran mentor on the other side. I am still finding my way!