Last week I shared my
fears sheer panic about the summer that loomed ahead. It’s a habitual terror about the loneliness of summer and the potential for a house of bored, quarrelsome children.
I’m here to confess that in the days following my call to embrace this season, I only fell deeper into a place of boredom, lack of purpose, and patience with the inevitable squabbles that came about last week.
I’ve been pondering why these open days arrive as a challenge instead of an opportunity to relax, and a few thoughts come to mind.
Eight of the eleven years that I’ve been a Mama have included our homeschool life. Which means, in addition to changing a lot of diapers and laundry, we’ve been engaged in a range of purposes throughout our day. Learning about art, crying through math, experiencing stories-my purpose in the day has reached beyond maintaining the house and being a driver for the kids. Having a sense of purpose hasn’t made life easier, but it has influenced and partially defined my role since it’s been part of my mama life for so long.
These June days have me feeling like a babysitter, letting myself believe that my only jobs in life are to clean the house and keep the kids happy. It’s left me feeling, to be honest, unfulfilled.
Quickly that feeling leads to a view of my selfish heart, which leads to guilt, which eventually leads me back to “This is really my whole job for the summer?”
Okay, the confession part is over.
Here are a few things that have led me to a more hopeful place this tepid afternoon.
A Patient Husband
My husband doesn’t do guilt. He doesn’t ask “Why do you have to make things so difficult?”. He doesn’t ignore me and watch a ball game. He’s a guy, so he’s a fixer, but after I turn down enough suggestions he’ll move to the next stage. “How can I help?”. He took an early day friday afternoon and spent a lot of time over the weekend loving on our kids and giving me some rest.
I borrowed a book to remind me of my purpose.
I know that being a mama is so much more than the day to day, it’s why I chose this career over any other. I get to share the Word of God, guide young hearts, love through the disappointments, prepare these kids for life beyond our house. I know that. But mamahood doesn’t always feel like that, does it? Most days are a series of mundane moments.
It’s been years since I’ve read Mission of Motherhood by Sally Clarkson but I called out to friends for a copy this week because I need a reminder of how my mission mixes with the mundane. What intention is hidden in the folds of making sandwiches and planning play dates? I’ll let you know if I regain that sense after I’ve read the book.
I planned something for myself this week.
There are three areas I long to spend more time exploring-art, writing, and theater. The luxury of having the summer off as the teacher is that I can build in some time for my passions-right in the middle of the day. I signed up for an online art class by one of our favorite artists and for just $35 dollars the kids and I have spent several hours a day with our hands in charcoal and watercolors. It’s a gift to myself to be the student instead of the teacher. Art is extremely therapeutic and refuels me with energy to turn around and share back with the family. I’m signing up for another week long class in July and I’m planning a theater class that I’m going to teach in the fall.
We’ve been intentionally pursuing friends.
I can easily fall back into this line of thinking, “Well, none of our friends are calling or asking to get together so they must be having super fun summers and they don’t care if they see us.” Instead, I’ve pursued a group of our co-op friends, offering up my house the first week and gathering us all together. We’ve had two extended mornings of pancakes, playtime, and mama talk.
And finally this e-book renewed my desire to find the fun in summer, and allow for some loose scheduling.
Twice in the last week friends have mentioned making a big list of fun activities to check off over the summer. Then I read the same suggestion in this e-book and the planner side of me has kicked back in as we fill in a calender of fun. The Summer Survival Guide is packed with planning sheets, suggested activities, family movie and book suggestions, summer meal plan tips, travel tips, weeks of themed activities, and more.
After fighting the initial instinct to super-plan my summer in order to keep it under control, this ebook reminds me that I can put things on our calender, not to control, but to have a sense of anticipation for fun, myself included. It was absolutely worth the 9 dollars to renew my hopes for summer. (The author of this ebook has never heard of me, I found the book on my own and I’m suggesting it to you only because it helped me.)
Now I’ve got to go do my art class assignment while the little one with the fever is sleeping!
To read the first part of this two-part blog, click here.
I can panic with the best of them.
Back in February and March it was the depths of winter homeschooling. Seized by worry, I yielded completely to my anxious thoughts. “How can I continue to be school and taskmaster all day long? How can I spend time with my young children instead of just keeping them occupied so that I can work with the older kids? How can I spend less than 3 hours on saturday preparing for each week? How can I deal with the disrespect of my pre-teen each and every day?”
After some hair pulling weeks, prayer, and wisdom from older homeschool moms we finished off the year with an overall sense of peace and plenty of enjoyment in those last months.
Now the school work is filed away, the schedule is entirely uncluttered from demands and expectations for the day, and just like every other summer, it sends me off in a new tremor of panic. Isn’t that bizarre? A complete flip of the situation from a few months ago and instead of relaxed appreciation for the summer, it’s “What the heck are we going to do now?!”
Anyone out there familiar with this particular genre of panic? For homeschool moms and children, the school year is spent at home and the summer is spent at home, that can be a lot of at home. When summer arrives, suddenly daily goals which seemed so burdensome before, sound like an offering of structure and forward motion to the day.
Sure, open time can lead to creativitiy, getting out forgotten games and toys, connecting deeper with friends, it can also mean bored, grumpy kids (and a tired, grumpy mama).
I know I’m not the only momma who’s felt this way. Just a few weeks ago a good friend and mother of five said,
“So I don’t know what we’re going to do with all of this open time! I’ve started to write down everything I can think of to fill our schedule. Library time, Regular Playdates, and anything else I can think of!“
I’ll confess it felt good to know I wasn’t the only one thinking along these lines. I had been brainstorming ideas all week and had uttered these stressed out words the previous night to my husband,
“I’m going to need a few hours this weekend to plan out summer, I really need to get some things locked into place.”
At that point I was pretty convinced I could plan my way out of a potentially lonely and none-too-thrilling summer. My brain raced with ideas-prayer groups, girls bible study, regular play dates, library storytime, adult bible study…you name it, and I thought about adding it into our summer. (You’ll notice camps and the swimming pool aren’t on the list as out budget doesn’t allow for more expensive activities.)
My next confession is that all of this panic, both in the school year and out of it, has a whole lot to do with control, and my need for it at all times.
Think about it: I want to make sure I don’t have any chances of bored, whiny kids and to ensure that I’m going to fill up every single day for the entire summer to guarantee that it will not happen.
But I wonder what I lose when I hold tight to all of that control?
Do I lose opportunities to spontaneously jump on an art project that we would all enjoy?
Do I miss the chance to sit down on the floor and meet the grumpies straight-on by playing board games and making lego figures? (My seven year old has been asking me to do both of these.)
Do I miss being fully present to each moment, so that I can ensure the next moment will be just the way I want it to be?
And do I miss the chance to give my kids control over their own boredom/happiness level. Is it really my job to make sure they are happy and entertained every day of the summer, or should they own some of that for themselves? Are they going to grow into adults thinking someone else is always responsible for their happiness? (And should shovel out large sums of money to make it happen.)
As a side note, I don’t even think it’s healthy or godly for the whole summer to be about how well entertained they can be or about how calm and controlled my own life can be. I want my kids, and myself, to open our eyes to a world that is so much larger than ourselves and find a useful place in it.
Our kids actually like to have purpose, they feel important when they realize they can be a part of something bigger, even when they are relatively small.
I can take that side note and start planning it all out with a list of “Things to do to connect my kids to the larger world”.
Or I can leave a lot of blank spaces in our summer.
I can allow some boredom and quick conflict into their lives and then ask them how they are going to change it? Their ideas might be cheaper and more interesting than what I could schedule myself.
I can grab them and go draw wildflowers at the nearby trail just because it’s something I want to do and I left open space to do just that.
I can ask them to pray about ways they want to impact the world and then offer suggestions and help equip them in their goals.
I’ve had the summer panic attack, now what am I going to do (or not do) about it?
To read part two of this blog post, click here.
Our Soft Start planned for Wednesday, became a Non-Start that rolled over to our Official Start today!
We broke out the brownies and popcorn to celebrate the start and finish of Day 1!
After our slow, to stop, to slower start, I especially needed to mark our success with some chocolate.
I thought I’d give a brief view into what our first day looked like, particularly for those of you with multiple (and little) children. Our children are 11, 9, 6, and almost 3.
Many new homeschooling mama’s have asked me if I have our day scheduled by specific times. For example, 8:30am-math, 9:15am-history.
I don’t organize our day that way and I never have. I think there are too many variables to guarantee exact times and I would feel like I was behind before we even finished breakfast.
Instead I have a list of our subjects and assignments for the day and a general order and plan to accomplish them. It works for me and allows for flexibility. If most of the assignments get done, even if I have to shift the order, it’s been a good day.
A Peek Into our Window on the First Day
(as I said we don’t schedule times, the times below are from looking back to the day that’s already happened)
Between 8 and 9-We all get up and I get a shower while the 9 and 11 year old get dressed and get started on their individual school work like math practice sheets and cursive.
9am-The kids eat eggs and grapefruit while I attempt to read the Bible and a book on art. Squishy interrupts constantly and tells us long toddler versions of the Bible story so she’ll feel included in the conversation and I finally decided to postpone the art book until later. Bible and breakfast are completed.
9:45ish-The kids go off to finish morning chores, such as brushing teeth, tidying their rooms, wiping off the kitchen table and sweeping the kitchen floor. I grab yogurt and check my email.
10ish-Since the girls have already gotten some assignments done, I instruct them to go play with Squishy for 30 minutes while I help 6 year old Drummer boy clean out his school bin, do his handwriting, and read aloud for to me for 15 minutes.
Confession: the girls’ play gets very loud and completely distracting as they decide to play hide-and-go-seek throughout the house. I confine their play to the back bedroom and things settle down.
Mid morning snack-We’re all at the table again and I finally get to read that art book from breakfast.
11:30ish-Instead of an hour of room-time for Squishy, I give her and her brother the privilege to watch a Scholastic Video and I work with the girls on their cursive (which is copying the first stanza of our hymn for this week) and introduce Simply Grammar to the 11 year old.
12ish-The girls finish their cursive and I head into the kitchen to make soup for lunch (we didn’t have anything quicker on hand).
12:30ish-We sit down for lunch and I eat my soup quickly so that I can try to read some of Little Lord Flauntleroy, our newest read-aloud, while everyone (meaning, Squishy) is occupied with food.
confession: Squishy interrupted every two minutes, exactly like Bible time that morning, so I finally gave up on reading. I need to trouble shoot that problem and see if it can be rectified presently or if our longer reading times just need to happen during naptime for the greater peace of the reader and the listeners.
1:30ish-The kids have played a bit and Squishy is settled down for nap. The three big kids sit down with me to do a history review which includes updating our timeline.
Confession: I had planned on doing this history review in the morning and starting a bit of our new history unit during this afternoon time. The review was moved to this spot and the new history moved to the next day. The kids squabbled over who got to put which timeline pieces on and Mama started to get grumpy.
2ish-The boy plays on the computer in Microsoft Word while I do math with the girls.
2:30-The weather is sunny and actually warm, so I send the kids out to play and I make brownies and sit down to write part of a blog.
Confession: the blogging was a “yea, we made it” indulgence since I really had other things to do, but instead sat down to the computer and a spoonful of chocolate.
The end of Day 1 of our Winter/Spring Semester!
Do your days ever go just as you planned? Do you schedule specific times for school subjects? Your ideas and thoughts are always welcome!
I stare at my daughter, mortified that the source of her crying came from my own hands.
She has just finished part three of her poetry assignment. Monday was free-writing, Tuesday she created a poem from her free-write, and today is the big “R”, revision.
Until today they have done some light revision but we’ve never used the “R” word. Last week they heard an author speak about his writing process and how his book went through five drafts before it become a published book. He shared that the process was hard on him but he had no doubt that the final draft was a much better book than his first draft.
So I couldn’t hide the “R” word anymore. But I tried to put the right spin on it.
“The first draft is like this geode. You definitely have something there. It’s a solid idea.”
And then I dramatically got out a hammer and we broke that small rock open to find the glimmering beauty inside.
“This is what happens when we go back to our first draft and crack open the first ideas to find the gems inside by looking at word choices, sharpening images, losing extra words. It’s not that the first draft is wrong or bad, this is just the next step to finding your poem or story.”
I set the two halves of the geode on the desk and handed them some questions to help them think over their poem. And left the room.
Which brings us back to the sobbing child in the chair beside me.
“What is it? What’s wrong?”
“My poem’s not poetical anymore!” cried my 9 year old.
“I loved my poem yesterday,” racks of sobs and broken breath continue, “but now that I’ve read those questions I don’t think my my poem’s even a poem anymore! I hate my poem,” the sobbing turns into a heavy slump upon the table.
This is when teaching stinks. All of my teaching is trial and error, which means sometimes I get it so right and sometimes I have a day like this one. I don’t mind making mistakes, but I don’t like to do them at the cost of my daughter’s creative process.
I warned them when I handed out the questions.
“I’m figuring out how to teach this to you as we go. This step of working on your poem might work great or one of you may love it or everyone may hate it. We’re just going to have to try it.”
Well, the almost eleven year old (who’s also pretty relaxed about her creative process) worked through the questions and declared, “This is fun, these questions are great, they helped a lot.”
You already know how it turned out for the other one-who, by the way, is two years younger. When the author last week said that in art, as well, the first draft is never the best, Jellybean declared he was wrong(privately, to me, later, thankfully).
“My first tries in art are always my best,” she explained.
Is it just age, is it also personality? She had written five pages of a poem and then decided it was no longer a poem!
Sure I should have seen that one coming. I should have handed her older sister the paper with questions for her poem, and allowed the younger to recite a beautiful rendition of her five page poem and call her poem done-but I didn’t. Because sometimes it’s trial and error.
The learning curve for this teacher is deep and wide, how is it for you? Have you had successes so far this year, or many nearly successful moments?
I’m joining with some other homeschool moms to share a confession about real homeschool life. It’s not always like we plan for in our heads,full of projects and organized school time….
I sit down beside my Dad, letting my bag of school books settle on the floor beside my seat.
It’s not one of his good days. Actually he hasn’t had what I would call a good day in a very long time.
I lean forward and look into his eyes. ”Hi, Dad.”
He stares back at me but doesn’t say anything.
“I love you Dad. I’ve missed you, it’s really good to see you.”
He continues to stare at me, eyes the color of the turbulent green sea.
I talk to him about deep sea fishing, the book I just read, the kids trip to florida. But my one-sided conversation can’t sustain itself forever, so I get out the computer and show him pictures of the kids. The cloudy eyes stare and he moves his hand to tap the computer.
I settle back in the chair and get out my school books.
Planning school is challenging, often overwhelming at the beginning of the year. But there’s another side, too. When the schedule, book lists, and ideas gather into a nice tidy braid, it’s very satisfying, not at all like what I’m doing with my Dad. I can control what we do, I can see the outcome, I can make lists of what we’ll accomplish in convincing black and white. School planning seems very alluring, a way to distance myself a bit from the darker waters in my heart.
I open my brand-new, crisp planner, blank with possibilties. But other, not so tidy thoughts, interrupt.
My Dad’s presence, the tubes and the small shared room press me and I can’t help but realize I’m trying to look at my Dad’s stuggle and our homeschooling journey as if they’re on two seperate pieces of paper. But that’s not the truth of our life or even my goal, for that matter.
After six years, homeschooling is no longer defined as the portion of our day assigned to academic study. It’s seeped into the ebb and flow. We read about history and science to know the God who made the world and us. We learn when the baby is sleeping or when we’re all schlepping around a big lake. We study art together, but we also do art when we feel like doing it. Learning follows us when we’re in our school room or out of it, and the tide and waves shift when we’re having a baby or when my Dad’s in the hospital for four months.
The learning within our home and family feels very connected to our actual world, not a school world before “real life” begins.
It’s taken time to get here.
But still I forget.
And then I remember where I’m sitting and who I’m sitting next too with my bag full of what we need to learn.
And then I remind myself. Again.
What’s happening with my Dad is part of what we’re learning.
It’s a messy part that doesn’t look great in my planner. But I’m trying to grow kids who are engaged in a world bigger than themselves, and with a God bigger than my own well-typed plans.
It was two school years ago that my Dad went into the hospital for four months. As his only family in the same town, we needed to be there for him in some way every day. School flowed, trickled, and reached a full stop. I worried about what the neighbors would think when they saw the kids outside in the middle of the day. I worried about our families and whether they would accuse us of neglecting our children’s education. But mostly I longed for us to live in a different era.
I thought of a time when families took care of the stuff of life first-planting, sowing, baking, caring for aging family, and the academic studies came along when the plants weren’t growing or when mom wasn’t busy making the meal for the day.
Last year a friend called and reminded me, “They will look back and remember that you cared for your Dad when he needed it.”
What does this really mean for me, books in one hand, the slow end of life happening on the other? It means we might hear difficult news this week about my Dad. I might not have a year long plan fully conceived with a lovely table set for the first day, a special breakfast, and a freshly painted schoolroom (I really want that new paint). It means I have to be careful about not taking refuge from what’s really happening inside the very predictable and safe world of planning. I might have to accept messy planning that happens throughout the year instead of now (if I were really honest, all of my before school planning just makes me feel good, I never adhere to any of the schedules I make anyway).
We need to start where we already are in our lives and see how our formal learning can ebb and flow with the plans the Lord has already put into place. Or we might miss the best lessons, which are the ones not planned by me.
Like all things I’ve learned on this journey, I’m going to need to tell myself again and again.
To read other personal stories of homeschool moms, head over to Sunflower House to see a full list of blog posts.
I grew up in a city but my heart belonged to the beach on the edge of the city.
I moved to another city for college and another city for marriage and it’s no New York, but it’s a great city and we love it.
One of our favorite questions to ask each other is “Do you want to live in the city or the country?”
None of us can answer with a distinct yes or no.
I love the idea of wide open spaces for my children to roam, of a slower life, of a closer relationship with nature.
I also love my library, my coffee shop, a short drive to the grocery store, and a life without wildlife that gets too friendly.
No matter how we might answer the question in the hypothetical, our trip to Chicago this past week had me mentally planning school as if all of the great places we visited were just around the corner.
First we visited Oak Park, and took a walk around the neighborhood, picking out our “new” house. A lot of the houses looked prime for secret crawl spaces and hidden rooms. The neighborhood is also home to the studio of Frank Lloyd Wright and many houses designed by him can be found nearby. We dragged our hot and sweaty selves into our friend’s favorite bookstore. I’ve always dreamed of walking from our house to a coffee shop, park, and library. (That’s one point for the city side of the question).
For the rest of the week we parked ourselves in Batavia, an hour out of Chicago and surrounded by great little towns and more than we could do in our short time (add 4 kids and two tired parents).
We were all impressed with the Dupage Children’s Museum. If you’ve been to a children’s museum, you tasted a piece of this three story exploratorium. Famous art lined the walls with correalating activities in color, sound, and structure. In my head I planned our return trips. First we’d study color and shadows and head back to that section next time. Then we’d study construction, a unit on wood and tools and head back to the construction exhibit. Then we’d come back and just explore the section with giant tools to build marble runs. If we lived there.
The next day we took the train to the Field Museum.
The Museum blew us all away and we didn’t even get to see two of the exhibits because there is so much to see. Oh my, the Underground Adventure where you get to see what’s under the soil as if you’re the size of an ant. Our six year old still sincerely believes he was shrunk to half and inch for thirty minutes of his life!
The egyptians, the native americans, the dinosaurs, the animals, oh my.
My favorite area was the section on North American Birds. Every single bird was represented. Birds we had only read about and now we got to examine them up close. I wanted to get sketch books and come back-every week! If we lived there.
And finally we visited the Aboretium. If you’re familiar with Nashville, this was like Cheekwood hiked up three levels. An amazing children’s section designed to get kids close to nature. A garden maze, and miles of trails. My friend asked me, “If you were a member here, how many times would you visit in the year?” Twice a month, or even better yet, once a week and that would be school for the day.
We’re not pulling up roots and moving out of Nashville, but I do wish we could pull up Nashville and move it atleast four hours closer to Chicago.
“Do you school all year round or just the normal school year?”
I pondered this question in those first few years and a older friend said something that’s always stuck and always led me to choose a true summer break.
“My kids have me as teacher mom all through the school year,” she said, “I’m always assigning tasks, telling them something they need to do. During the summer, they need me to just be Mom.”
Her simple explanation continues to resonate.
There was the spring that we had taken many breaks because of a medical issue with my Dad. I felt pressed to “finish” school, to work long into June, to keep going with Math through the summer. After several weeks of schooling in June, I realized we needed to stop. I needed to stop. And not look back at the books until August.
This morning, our second day of summer break, the 3 older kids played Monopoly until the toddler and I showed up for breakfast(around 9). I read aloud during breakfast, they ran off to do their morning chores, and then I surprised them by putting on a video. (Only a homeschool family watches Winged Migration, a documentary, for fun, but we did and the two year old acted out the flight patterns of birds. )
My 8 year old made a wise crack during the movie and couldn’t stop laughing at herself. I watched her, my eyes lingered on her, without thinking of what task I needed to remind her of, and I smiled. We then watched the two year old do acrobatics on the living room chair, and I didn’t have to think once about sending her off with an older sibling so I could do math with the 6 year old.
After a leisurely lunch they headed off to play their marathon monopoly game. As I sat here to begin this blog, I realized that the 3 siblings hadn’t fought once during the game over the last few days. My dark mom side told me that they would fight soon enough, after the luxury of less schedule turned into bored picking and fighting. And then I stopped myself from predicting doom and I remembered my daughter’s laughter from earlier and I thought,
Let’s just take it day by day.
My children need me to have less outside goals and desire just to be with them and delight in them.
So what about math and reading? We have a creative way to incorporate reading into our summer and some math games we’ll play so those multiplication and adding skills don’t get lost in the backyard pool(though monopoly seems to be doing the trick right now!).
What about you? Do you school in the summer? Do you have any secrets for spending time with your children during the school year without always having an agenda or reminder?