thanks, Nate, for the wonderfully dear image of the brothers.
I almost quit homeschooling this weekend. Truth be told, I may end up quitting yet. But this past weekend I spiraled down into a pit of overwhelm and I’m just beginning to see what some of the real reasons were.
If you ask our boys how their first week of homeschooling went, you will see stars in their eyes and giant smiles. They had the best time, you guys. Literally, the best. I was amazed at how much they loved it until I realized it was because I was depleting myself of everything I had in order to teach them. I went into the week armed with my giant box of curriculum, got my lesson plans in order and then began my Super-Teacher-Mommy homeschool program. Copy work and dictation, reading, writing, math, physics, economics, word building, vocabulary, memorization, etc. etc. I’ve done it all this past week, y’all.
Wanna know how it was? It sucked. so. much. Not all the time, no. But the end of the days brought complete exhaustion and despair. I underestimated how much work it would be to homeschool two middle schoolers.. who are in two different grades.. who learn according to their two very different temperaments… who are happy to take all I can give them until my creativity and energy are flat as a tit that has been suckled at for five years straight. I forgot we still have a special needs kiddo who would get home from his kindergarten every day and need an engaged mom. I forgot there has to be something of me left to have a marriage and to be a wife. I forgot what a vital role I play in our business and that, when I’m giving every waking minute to teaching or lesson plans, I can’t work!
I am a strange person. If you know me, you know this. I’m an all or nothing gal. (a huge downfall of mine, and something I hope to grow out of in my .. sixties?) There is a drive in me to make and create spaces of beauty and silence and reverence .. and then to make something new and beautiful in those spaces I just made. If this part of me doesn’t have it’s place and outlet, I lose my shit.
Which is how I got to the end of last week, on a razors edge of crazy, listening to jazz and drinking wine in my trailer out back hoping that none of our kids would find me. They did find me and, when they did, I felt claustrophobic and tired. It’s hard to be Super-Teacher-Mommy and also just be “mom” and Jeremy’s “one and only” and, oh yeah, ash.
This weekend, God showed up in my life and did exactly what he loves to do – remind me of how good he is and how much I am loved by bringing me the stories of other people. I had THIRTEEN different conversations this weekend that gave me new strength and a new focus for the days ahead. That’s a lot of people to “randomly” be there at the right place and right time to give wisdom and encouragement. Seriously, our creativity has nothing on the ways God orchestrates people and relationships.
Thanks to these friends after week one, here are some things I am trying to learn and act out in order to not burn out:
a. It’s homeschool, so I don’t have to be Super-Teacher-Mommy.
The more homeschool folks I talk to the more I hear the same thing, “One of the biggest joys of homeschooling is the freedom from the rigor of a pressure-filled academic schedule.” Sure, I have a responsibility to make sure my kids work their way through the curriculum. But I am free to determine the pace and the means in an effort to preserve my sanity.
b. I can slow down and wade into these waters gently.
I spoke with a district teacher this weekend whose kids are homeschooled. When I asked him why, he explained two things: 1. middle school has become a bunch of kids in a building sitting in front of little glowing screens for eight hours a day. 2. the schools spend at least a month of the school year focusing solely on standardized testing. He reminded me that taking it slow is fine because a good bulk of the year is spent in time wasted on “pointless testing”.
c. I can’t be perfect, but I can be present.
I can’t be perfect at this thing.. not for my kids, not for the schools or home educators out there, not for myself. I can do my best to be present to the person I am made to be, and the roles entrusted to me. This looks like prioritizing time for my own rejuvenation and creative + spiritual development, then my marriage, then the kids. So although homeschooling is a part of my life, it can’t get the best of my days or I won’t have anything left for what’s most important.
d. It’s good to remind my kids that I’m not perfect.
We talked with them this weekend. I shared just how tired and burnt out I was already on the homeschooling thing. They were surprised and sad to hear it, but it made them more eager to embrace a new and sustainable way of homeschooling. They grew in empathy, in maturity, and in the ability to take their heavy hearts to God. I reminded them that their Heavenly Father is the only perfect parent and that this is one of many times I will fail them. Never miss an opportunity to be honest with your kids about how jacked up you are. It’s a beautiful grace for both of you.
e. My kids can learn to take responsibility and initiative through homeschooling.
I was reminded by a couple of adults who used to be homeschool kids that their parents set them on a trajectory to be responsible for their work each day. The parents were available to answer questions throughout the day but the kids were responsible for staying on track and completing assignments. This was so freeing for me, and today we tried it. It turns out, my boys are smart and very motivated to homeschool so they took right to the idea of being responsible and doing the work without me having to walk them through every little step!
f. If I am inadequate or need something to change, that’s ok. ALL IS GRACE.
all is grace, all is grace, all is grace. I’ve been reminding myself of these words all weekend long. If I choose to send them back to a conventional school, all is grace. If I homeschool but need time in the mornings for prayer and a long walk, all is grace. If we decide to go to the art museum tomorrow instead of doing art class, all is grace. If I need to hide away in my trailer at the end of a school day with a glass of wine, all is grace. I believe God loves me fiercely and that love doesn’t waver with my behavior or circumstances. So there’s grace for all of it.
g. I’m growing to accept the fact that I’m strange… and weak
It’s taken me a week away from having the freedom to create and be present as an artist in our business to remember that I love being a creative entrepreneur. I love this thing that Jeremy and I get to do together and I love the work we’ve made. I believe in our vision, I think we have something real and potent to say to photographers in our industry, and I am thankful that I am wired in such a way that I get depressed when I can’t live out that creativity. I am made this way for a reason and just because I homeschooled two of my kids today, doesn’t mean that’s negated. I’m also ok with being weak in this new area. As someone I recently heard said, “In God’s economy to lack confidence in yourself is to grow confidence in God.”
h. The right people and conversations make all the difference.
God has been so kind to putt people in my path this past week who love me and support the choice I make, no matter what that is. To My loving husband, Jaclyn, Amy, Nicole, Liz, Nathan, Katie, Elizabeth, Jessie and Jordan, Taylor, Susan, Mops, and Amanda: I can’t thank you enough. You all are the reason I didn’t jump ship when I was at the end of the plank this week. Thank you for your love and support and for being the kind of people who would care for me equally no matter what happens with homeschool.
.. signing off at the end of a long, but more fulfilling, hope-filled day.
above: Tyler at his desk in the new homeschool room we set up for him and Micah. They are so, geek level, excited about their “Ikea classroom” and have already started to decorate above their desks with things that inspire them. sigh… man, I love these kids.
Isn’t it fun when you have no idea what you’re talking about, but the internet lets you publish words as though you’re an expert? That’s what this post is. It’s my little observations about homeschooling life before I’ve even begun. If these are the things I’m already learning, dear Lord, help me for what lies ahead!!!
More than ever, I am convinced “It takes a village.”
It’s who you choose to be that village that really matters. There are plenty of choices in the Homeschool community, ranging all the way from extreme “unschooling”, believing life is the only classroom necessary (I heard recently about one such family whose twelve year old doesn’t know how to read yet because she just “isn’t interested in it.”) to conservative doomsday preppers who believe children should be sheltered from the sinful world and taught only the King James version of the Bible. It’s a mad world out there, y’all, and I am finding there is a lot of freedom in not adopting any kind of extreme homeschool label. I’m doing my best to make choices that fill the boys days with curriculum that challenges and excites them, and involvement in events and classes that make them happy and don’t dominate our family calendar. I’ve met and talked to some great people in our town lately who are energetic, smart, and respect the work we are doing here enough to offer helpful resources. Since making the big choice, I’ve reached out to at least fifteen people so far for help and advice and I plan on continuing to cultivate our little “village” here.
The struggle is real and will continue to be.
And so are panic, anxiety, and depression. Confession: I am not the vision of Supermom that I picture in my head. Not even close. A more appropriate superhero name for me might be something like Whimsical-and-tries-sometimes-but-also-real-selfish-and-gets-emotionally-overwhelmed-a-lot-mom. I do my best with my boys and I love them like crazy. But I also have a tendency to withdraw, to be quiet, to have silence and solitude. As a dreamer and developer in our business, I also get wrapped up in, and carried away with, projects. I love a quiet room and a good book or a space to sit and dream and with loud boys running around all the time, those moments are hard-earned. The thoughts of even less time carved out each day for myself scares me. It’s been scaring me for years and it’s been the primary reason I resisted the urge to homeschool these boys until now. I know it won’t be easy. I’m trying to be okay with just feeling shitty and saying lots of prayers on the days when it feels hard. Either that or buy a ticket to Mexico.. I haven’t decided yet.
Then again, I surprise myself.
While having some space, listening to Chopin and trying to peck out a few words on the keyboard to write something, Micah runs in to tell me, “Mom! Our math curriculum just arrived!” and my heart skips a beat. Who am I? I used to think of myself as a detached mother when it came to what they were learning about in school. It was easy to do because, as kids growing up in a French immersion school, everything they brought home was in a language I don’t read or speak. This homeschool thing is something new. Maybe I am not the detached parent I assumed myself to be but I just couldn’t find my role as an active participant. I have a clear role laid out before me now and every new choice we make in that direction makes my heart beat fast.
This isn’t the norm.
It’s not been easy to find a large contingent of parents who are homeschooling middle schoolers. Actually, as I study homeschool organizations and groups, it appears that many moms have pre-school aged children or older infants/toddlers and are calling raising their kids “homeschooling.” I think this is silly and they should stop that. right now. It’s called parenting. It’s called being a mom. And those titles are packed with enough purpose, burden, and glory on their own. I’ve spent some time lately looking at local groups to hopefully find one or two homeschool moms who are in a similar life stage as me and my boys. And I’ll be honest, this is where the “no social media” thing is a major achilles heel because it turns out there are a million and a half homeschool mom groups if you’re just willing to log into Facebook. I am not. So I am having to hack my way around this inconvenience and write emails and make phone calls and trust that the benefits of being off Facebook far outweigh this one downfall.
Life goes on.
Speaking of hacking, our website was hacked a couple of weeks ago. I don’t understand hackers at all but I am realizing lately just how tricky and slippery virus codes are. Our work and business site have been completely compromised and I am in the position of probably looking at redesigning the entire site from the ground up. Very little, if anything, is salvageable. Talk about rotten timing? Also we need groceries, the laundry doesn’t stop, Jeremy and I had a fight yesterday because marriage is hard work, Zion is about to start at a new school just had another seizure, we have doctor’s appointments and client appointments and work events and tickets to buy and classes to write… In other words, life goes on! It doesn’t stop for homeschool and homeschool doesn’t define life. I think I am going to need to remember those words, lest I become one of those women who fall prey to the “homeschool is my life and my identity and my love and I can’t have a conversation without talking about it…” mentality.
Here’s the bottom line..
Even though it’s easy for me to be a brat and make blanket judgments about others and their methods or choices or ankle-length denim skirts, there’s so much I just don’t know about this new world we are venturing into .. like, 99.9% of it. Being an obsessive researcher with an insatiable curiosity about things I don’t know can only change that to a point. To really “get it” I have to do it and then I have to suck at it and then grow in it. I’m making my peace with the steady learning curve from the beginning and accepting that I will do some things right, I will do some things wrong, I may really like certain parts, and hate others. There will be days when I feel like supermom and days when, at 11am I say, “It’s five o’ clock somewhere..”” .. And all of that is totally, 100% normal and okay. I’m going to do my best to be on my own side, to be kind and gentle with myself and my boys. Because at the end of the day, homeschooling is just that – what we are doing for school this year for 2/3 of our kids. It’s not the point of my life, it’s not my life’s greatest calling, it’s not parenting, it’s not a cause to campaign for or my life’s goal. It just is what it is, and I’m still trying to prepare myself for whatever that means.
We start next Wednesday. I think. Maybe.
My friend Jaclyn recently told me I get to call the shots on this whole homeschool thing.
I’m still trying to figure out if that statement is too good to be true.
wish me luck,
I’m writing this more for myself than I am for anyone else.
It’s my proclamation, my ebenezer, my credo, my string tied around the left index finger, my writing on the wall, my manifesto. It’s there so on days when things get hard, and they will get hard, I can look back and say, “this is why we decided to do this. This is why, after raising our two older boys into their middle school years, we suddenly decided to homeschool them as they were going into the 6th and 7th grades.”
I take a deep breath as I look at those words and hear myself say them out loud.
This school year,
starting this month,
we will homeschool, HOMESCHOOL, our two older boys, Micah and Tyler.
To give the full backstory of why and how would take too long here, but I can think of a few mile markers along the path that are worth mentioning.
Mile Marker 1: the past.
Every year around this time for the last four years, I have found myself caught between the same rock and hard place. I recognize we work from home and our business needs my attention and participation. I know I want my time to be my own, that I “need” the eight hours of free babysitting provided by the public school system. I know I want my children to continue to be socially skilled beings who can look other people in the eyes and have lively conversation instead of being awkward weirdos. BUT I also know our boys are unique and different in the ways they engage life and learn best. I know they are creative and need to have their own space to dive into the things that make them come alive. I know the modern mode of education in schools is largely based on memorizing & testing. Every summer we think about homeschooling the older two, “the brothers.” We talk about it a lot, research it, talk to a few friends, get overwhelmed, and then give up… until now.
Mile Marker 2: the present.
The past sixteen months off social media have been marked with radical change in our family’s life. We recognize it most in the level of participation and intentionality in these walls and the developing creativity in our boys. Without the mindless and time-sucking practice of constantly looking outwards, we have been able to “circle the wagons” and see who our children really are, and what they really need from us. We have been able to learn them, listen to them, see where school isn’t serving them or where it might be holding them back from growth in other areas. This summer we’ve seen them come alive in new ways that weren’t existent during the school year. With excess time on their hands, they’ve been able to just be kids – to come up with new games, stories, comics, plot lines, goals for the future, and find new ways to participate in the life of our family. They are closer than they’ve ever been and our family is more united than we have ever been.
Mile Marker 3: the local middle school.
This is a big one. I had the chance to meet with two members of the administration at the local middle school the boys would be going to this year. Being a screen-conscious family, I asked them about the fact that each middle schooler is given their own Google Chrome book laptop at the beginning of the year. (I had, coincidentally, read several books, articles, and scientific studies this summer that were pointing out the empirical evidence that frequent, persistent screen usage among teens is detrimental to their attention spans, critical thinking skills, interpersonal skills, lowers test scores, and decreases their ability to empathize.) The staff members acknowledged the data coming out is not favorable but proceeded to tell me that “they will be on them in high school so why not start now?” They then said that the middle schools are on the laptops “all the time.” When I asked them to clarify they said, “All the time.. meaning, they do their lessons on there, talk to classmates on there, correspond with their teachers, do research .. they even take their laptops to PE and use them there.” After eight hours of our 11 and 12 year old boys doing clerical work on a screen, they would be bringing their laptops home to do another hour or so of screen-based homework and online submission. Since the school isn’t able to filter sites like google due to how useful they are for research, middle schoolers can google image anything they want. Imagine that. Hundreds of curious and angst-y teen kids with laptops and google images at their fingertips. I brought up a hypothetical situation – “So say some kid in the class wanted to google some sexual phrase or body part, like boobs .. that would be allowed?” Basically, yes. They discourage kids looking at porn and official pornographic sites are blocked with a “4 strikes, you get a text book for awhile” rule. But they would have to catch the child “in the act” in order to keep track of that. Cyber-bullying was another major concern, almost like a rite of passage. If kids use cuss words while writing the message, they are flagged in the system and given a warning. But once the kids figure out they can cyber bully by avoiding certain words, no more flags. Hearing the administration say, “And these kids.. man, they are so mean these days! They say things online that you wouldn’t believe!” and yet accept it with a shrug made, me sad about the state of middle schoolers on planet earth.
Mile Marker 4: the conviction
Our boys are wonderful and kind and special and creative and empathetic and all the rest of it. I would guess we are as crazy about them as any parent is about their children. So, of course, I have a desire to protect them from things that could harm them or damage their character. But I also am a firm believer in struggle. I remember middle school sucking. I remember being bullied and sad and hating certain subjects. I also remember making it through and knowing I could handle the world a little bit more because I made it out of middle school alive. Then you get out of middle school and life beats the shit out of you in many unexpected ways in your grown-up years. So this is where I have to say THIS DECISION WAS NOT MADE OUT OF A PLACE OF BEING AFRAID OF THE BIG, BAD WORLD. Too many parents out there have made a rash decision based on fear alone, or their version of “protecting their children” and we do not want to be those people. But here’s the thing – we know our kids better than anyone else. We know the things that keep their minds and creativity sharp and we know the things that dull them. We know who they become in front of screens and their desire to be tactile and engaged learners. We still don’t allow our kids to own their own screens or use screens in the home until the weekends, and any school that takes the power to make that decision away from us doesn’t respect our family.
Mile Marker 5: the talks.
The first talk was with Micah and Tyler. We all sat down for a “family meeting” and shared our concerns. We talked through the pros about this middle school and the massive sacrifices we would all be making if we homeschooled. We shared our concerns and listened to theirs. It turns out they had been feeling overwhelmed about this school since they toured it in May. They had no excitement when they thought about learning primarily behind a screen. We talked to other educators and trusted friends and mentors. We were completely transparent with one another, and we prayed a lot.. A . LOT . In the wake of all these talks, we just so happened to have a family coming to visit us for the week – some of our dearest friends who happen to have homeschooled for several years and even have a daughter Micah’s age. Their visit was a reminder that kids who live lives of creativity and curious exploration in learning are really awesome kids. And that our kids seem to behave the same.. as though they have been homeschool kids trapped in rigid, public school bodies all these years.
Mile Marker 6: consolation, desolation, and the decision.
I had a talk a couple months back with a dear friend and mentor. She opened up the concepts for me used in Ignatian Spirituality when making decisions during a confusing or difficult season – the concepts of consolation and desolation.
The footnotes version of what she shared with me is this: St. Ignatius Loyola believed that in moments of indecision, God can use our experiences and internal direction to speak to us. For Ignatius, consolation was the internal feeling that moving in a particular direction would create “the soul .. to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord” and the person would increase in hope, faith, and charity as a result of moving in that direction. Desolation was the exact opposite. Movement in a desolate direction would cause a “darkness of soul, disturbance, movement to things low and earthly, disquiet of different agitations and temptations.”
When it came down to it, the decision to homeschool was in large part made based on consolation… we moved toward where the life was, the peace, the joy, the ability to sleep at night and live more intentional lives as a family rooted in our convictions of who our kids are and what is best for them in this season.
So there it is. Just over 1500 words for me to come back to and look at on the days when I am thinking “What the hell did we just do????!”
We decided to homeschool. We know our kids. We know ourselves. We recognize our family is not “mainstream” and we don’t have to pretend we are. We have every right to decide how our family functions best, and no school district or glowing screen is going take that right away from us.. at least not without a valiant attempt on our part.
If you are a homeschooler or know someone who home schools middle school kids, I would love to hear from you! I am baby brand new at this and going into it hoping to use a wealth of guides and reinforcements along the way. Click “send me a note” above and I will be excited to chat.
If you are curious or want to read more about the concepts of consolation and desolation in more depth, click here. to visit the Ignatian Spirituality site.
If you want to hear some of the effects of screen usage in teen culture, shared in the words of a seventeen year old I interviewed for the “Lifeguard” episode of the Boredom Experiment, click here. (or subscribe on iTunes!)
anyone who read this far gets the blue ribbon.