Posts filed under homeschooling

They Are Starting to Leave {Leveling Up in Motherhood}

I rummaged through the kitchen drawers looking for the measuring spoons and feeling a bit like a happy stranger. It was after Midnight and I was making a birthday cake for my 3-year old. It was late but there was a certain thrill to being up so late without feeling overpowered by fatigue. It was the first time in at least a year that I hadn't asked my oldest daughter to do the baking and I couldn't even remember the last time I did any baking on my own. I am new here, I am old here. Familiar, happy stranger.

I had been so sick and tired with pregnancy for so long that I couldn't even find anything in my kitchen. You see, my kids had been "handling it" and maybe some of you know what that means. For us, it apparently means that things are put away wherever they fit. Which, really, could be anywhere at all. Like under couches. There weren't as many spoons as I remembered having. And there was a strange jar of unidentifiable substance in my pantry. I tried to be irritated but I remembered how much help I had needed and I how grateful I was to have it... even when the utensils were oddly placed.

And today is a new day. A new day. 

I poured the batter and whipped the cream and what do you know? It turned out just fine. A small, delicious success. See? I still remember.

At around 12:30 am, the birthday girl tiptoed down to the kitchen to see the progress, too antsy to stay in bed. A few minutes later, her oldest brother followed the sound of the mixer downstairs and joined us.  As the young man and the tiny girl sat side by side scraping extra frosting from the bowl, I was overcome with the goodness of my life. Motherhood is painfully sweet and that reality was summed up so neatly in the image of my two children sharing a late night treat...

One is leaving home for the first time next week.
The other has just begun her journey. 

It was the first time in this final leg of his trip through childhood that I had to leave the room and cry. That small ache  reminded me of why God in His wisdom allows us to know loss. I don't know His mind but I suspect He knows how that aching nurtures in us a longing for our eternal home.

In heaven, the son I lost in the womb and the one I now send packing will meet for the first time and embrace. And what a life that will be! If I live an average lifespan, then I have a long way to go before my birthday into eternity. But the longing grows and grows. Happy stranger, breaking heart. The world is not my home. 

LIFE UPDATES

The days are passing in such a blur that I appreciate being able to go back through my pictures to fully enjoy the moments. Here are a few...

My daughter and son recently shared a sacramental celebration. First Communion and Baptism combined in a perfect, beautiful, exhausting day. 

The funniest part of the day for me was when Father asked what name we have chosen for our child... and I forgot my baby's name. It was the quintessential postpartum motherhood moment. My 20-year old self would have died of mortification. Fortunately, I am almost 40, and I simply looked helplessly at my husband and I laughed. 

It's not so important that I get the details right. I know my son and he knows me. And God willing, that love will extend to eternity... whether or not I can recall his beautiful name. 

Truth be told, the most beautiful, "magical" moments in life are often mixed up completely with puddles of confused tears and frustration...

My toddler had to use the bathroom so I missed my daughter's First Communion. And when I took my son out to change him into his Baptismal gown, my little girl decided to make herself a little too comfortable (photo above). There may or may not have been some stressful moments. And it really doesn't matter. 

Alongside the big and little events of the Summer, my oldest is preparing to move on to college seminary. What a complicated moment for a mom. I do see that it is time... he has clearly gotten too big for us. But I also know the part of him that is too small to leave. Does that make sense? It is the charism of mothers to know for what great things their boys are made - and to also know and love the vulnerabilities. 

Regardless, he will move on and I pray that it will be a wonderful, Christ-centered adventure.  

He has always been my first baby love - how is it that our family will undergo such a fundamental change? When I look into the eyes of my oldest son, I want to go with him. But it is when I look into the eyes of my other children (birthday girls and stretching teenagers and pickles-in-the-middle) that I know I'm supposed to let go of the big ones.

The Birthday Princess (above) is three and she's not sure about the world. She has a new little brother and her place in the family has changed. She's discovered that life is sometimes scary and sometimes overwhelming and that new awareness is causing some road bumps. Loving our little tigers can be scary sometimes, but I'm not worried... they've all been entrusted to me from their heavenly Father and He's got this. 

In other news...

  •  Some of the kids have been busy becoming American Ninja Warriors. This apparently involves lots of scrap wood, a few nails, two stitches to a chin, poison ivy, and footprints on the walls.
  • I've continued on my fitness/wellness journey and have recently been working with Fit Catholic Mom. If anyone wants to join me for an August jump start, check out Rebecca's upcoming W.I.S.E Gals online group training (July 29 registration deadline). 
  • Kid #1 finally received NCAA approval to play Division II volleyball next Spring after they first rejected two of our homeschool courses (more details in a future post for those interested).
  • My 20th wedding anniversary is this week.
  • Whole family road trip to drop off our first college-bound kid coming right up!
  • Baby has been nursing 24/7 and has been gaining almost a pound a week to prove it.
  • Working on completing a manuscript.
  • It's 4:15 pm and I'm still in my pajama pants.
  • I don't want Summer to ever end. 

God is good. All the time. Thanks be to God!

Posted on July 28, 2016 and filed under Family Life, homeschooling, motherhood, parenting, Womanhood.

Homeschooling Through Chronic Illness {Discovering the Gift}

I have a secret and it's finally time to tell it. Okay, I have a few secrets...

I don't know much more about how to successfully homeschool today than I did at the beginning 15 years ago. I don't really go to homeschool conferences. I don't belong to a co-op. I know a lot about homeschooling and I've read all the books and purchased all the programs... but my days... they've been uncertain and long. And I've spent more than a few of them battling chronic illness

I guess that's not the most flattering picture to paint of myself but... that's not the secret that I came here to tell anyway.  

This post is really about the secret that I discovered while slogging uphill for this dream and for my family. It's about the real gift beyond the details of these days and what I want to be able to pass on to every homeschool mom I know...

Truly successful homeschooling is never about how much material we can stuff into a kids' brain. It's about lighting a fire in their very souls. And there is no one best way to do that. It is much more about trusting the process than about planning for perfection. 

The family is made to nurture body, mind, and soul. We were created to do this. We don't really look like a school. We often look like a first class mess. But that is the gift... 

That God allows us to become nothing so that the flame of His Love might rise and become a blaze in the heart of the family. 

One of the best lessons I ever learned about homeschooling was from a local mom who faced a life-threatening illness and was sick for an extended period of time. She told me that she spent many days resting in a hammock on their enclosed patio while the kids pressed on, more or less, with their homeschooling. Her kids told me how they used to pretend to work or study and they laughed and teased each other about what they really did when they were supposed to be working. She told me (with a smile) that she never doubted their decision to continue homeschooling even when she wasn't able to do a thing. Because it wasn't about her. She knew their decision was right and she trusted that God had a plan for her illness. 

Her kids are all grown now - successful, happy, smart, faithful, and all good friends - and I've never forgotten what she told me. She successfully homeschooled imperfectly from a hammock. And joy grew out of that. 

When I went through my own years of chronic pain, illness, and fatigue, I didn't call her. I didn't really know what was wrong with me and I thought I was just a loser homeschooler. I didn't think that anyone was as lousy at this as I was. I imposed a kind of isolation on myself, determined to figure it out on my own.

But I wish I would have called her. I wish I would have let her see the tears. 

Four years ago, God allowed me to set down my cross of illness. Since that time, I have been on a journey of healing; not just my body, but also my battered mind and soul. And while I have never doubted for a moment that homeschooling was a worthwhile journey and blessed by God, I have never stopped doubting my own role in that beautiful dream.

Why did He make these beautiful children and then give them this wildly inadequate mother? 

It's all about the secret:

The mess is part of the gift. It is the stripping down of ego until we can see nothing but the grace of God. 

That is the secret, the gift of chronic illness. That through all the pain and struggle, we are presented with the reality that we, in ourselves, are small.... and that it is God who stands in the gap and enables us to rise. Thanks be to God.

John 12:24–25
Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.
Posted on April 14, 2016 and filed under homeschooling, wellness.

Homeschool Milestones: Our First Graduate!

Wow. So that came up quickly. Change their diapers, teach them their alphabet and... BOOM... they're driving to the post office to mail their transcripts to colleges. It's a little like sitting in the front car of a roller coaster waiting to roll over that first giant hill.

No... wait... it's a lot more like being on a perpetual roller coaster. The coaster tunnels are like the fleeting respite of sleep; dark, but not quite long or quiet enough.

But the journey, fast and furious though it has been, has been amazing. I wouldn't change it for the world. And very little worth doing comes without a challenge...

Don't you even tell me how homeschooling is too hard, overwhelming, or stressful for you. I am living it. It's all those things, I know. And don't forget that I'm perpetually inadequate, worrying, catching up, and falling down. I am not impressed by your failures because mine are looming so big that they're blocking yours out. My biggest homeschooling success is that I simply have been too stubborn to quit.

And yet... somehow we got one through. 

Homeschooling is not about short term success. If that were the case, I'd have checked out long ago. Homeschooling is an investment of long, bloody days that somehow form a complex and incredibly rich tapestry of joy... for the sake of individual souls and the glory of God.

I like to make things particularly hard on myself by not following a particular method. I don't really know how to answer people when they ask "What kind of homeschooler are you?" The first thing that comes to mind is usually something like...

"I have no idea."
"A confused homeschooler."
"A tired homeschooler."
"I dabble in a little of this and that with a load of laundry on the side (otherwise know as 'eclectic')" 
Or...
"I try to teach my kids stuff and sometimes it works."

But if you were to ask me what the key to sticking it out through the years is, I wouldn't hesitate to tell you:

Heavy doses of God's grace along with a fierce commitment to first principles.
In my house, that first principle echoes that of St. Ignatius whose First Principle and Foundation begins like this:

The human person is created to praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord, and by doing so, to save his or her soul.
All other things on the face of the earth are created for human beings in order to help them pursue the end for which they are created.
It follows from this that one must use other created things, in so far as they help towards one's end, and free oneself from them, in so far as they are obstacles to one's end.

So at the risk of sounding like a Catholic hippie homeschooler... the foundation of our homeschool is Love. Of Jesus Christ. Of each soul. How we get to the goal is a marvelously messy affair and I can't quite even say how we managed it with this child. But we have reached this one big milestone and are prepared to now support him through the bigger ones that will follow.

The irony is that even though he will make most choices independent of my oversight now, I will still feel the sting of defeat and the thrill of victory in his life keenly. I suppose that isn't really a homeschooling thing... but more of a mom thing. And come to think of it...

That's really what homeschooling is... just parents and kids making messes and memories together.

There's a popular (but erroneous) idea floating around out there that homeschooling moms have a special "calling" to do what we do. And I'm telling you plainly that it isn't true. There's no magic dust and no special graces outside of those sacramental graces every mom gets the day she is married. In fact, I wouldn't say that my temperament is particularly suited to this. Or that I wouldn't shine a whole lot brighter in another work. But that's not what this is about... 

Homeschooling is a prudential choice within the vocation of marriage. Nothing more. We are here to raise kids and to give glory to God. If we speak of it as anything more or less, it either undermines the herculean effort of homeschooling parents... or confers honors where they don't belong. 

We think it's good for our kids. We think the effort is worth it. We roll up our sleeves and we pray and work and give thanks without ceasing.

The photo below was my kid at the beginning of our homeschooling journey. The pic at the top of this post is of that same kid toward the end. Everything in between... well... that's just life. Call it homeschooling if you want. 

I know some of you will have questions about the nitty gritty and I know that I am not great at answering them to anyone's satisfaction. But here are some details to satisfy the curious:

  • I made this kid color a map when he was 6 years old. The directions said to color it and so I instructed him to do it. He moaned and groaned and disliked schoolwork for the first time. I never made him color another worksheet again. He made X's and labeled but never colored. He has thanked me for that multiple times over the years. 
     
  • For every hour that he pretended to do his math and did not, he spent 3 hours studying liturgical theology and playing Wii with his brother. I am not going to stress about the ultimate outcome of those choices. I'll leave that to his bishop or his wife.
     
  • He is graduating slightly early. It was always my hope that my departing teens would not have to spend the remaining days within the fold of their family in a flurry of frantic study and stress. There will always, always be work left to do. At a certain point, I believe it is okay to just say, "Let's enjoy the time together."
     
  • It is his intention to head to college seminary in the Fall. Paperwork and interviews need to be completed yet but that is the general hope and direction. He has decided to give God the opportunity to use him in the Church first... and will continue discernment in that direction until either ordination or marriage. (I will not be answering questions about his destination at this time since we have a few months before all paperwork is signed. Besides, it is not my journey... treading respectfully.)
     
  • No, his siblings are not like he is. And yes, they are very much like he is. Same family, unique souls. I have no idea how they will all turn out. I am still on the roller coaster and I've got a good 20 years left. I often wish I drank coffee. Or had a one-way ticket to Hawaii where I wouldn't ever be tempted to throw anyone's belonging onto the front lawn... Or neglect to plan meals and consequently serve eggs for 3 dinners in a row.... Or say stupid things to people out of fear or anger...

But that's okay. I've said it before and I'll say it a million more times...

It's okay to fall sometimesIt's the rising that ultimately counts. 

I'm incredibly proud of my boy. I pray that he remembers the joy and the goodness in our home more than he remembers the times of our failure. And that the most important lessons have not come from his books, but from the love of his family and his God. 

To conclude this rambling reflection on the graduation of my firstborn, I have to say:

I love homeschooling. It is the hardest thing I've ever done. But God never promised that the good things would come easily. And I love my kid. In the interest of full disclosure and charity, you should know... that his greatest accomplishments came through his desire, his commitment, and his hard work... not mine. 

Posted on February 7, 2016 and filed under Family Life, high school, homeschooling, motherhood.