And Mom Learns the Most–A Veteran Homeschooler Looks Back
Seven years after leaving home my daughter had room for all her books. I was packing them up, so thankful that one of our homeschooling priorities had been the building of personal libraries for all. I looked at the marvelous stories and thought: here is proof of good parenting (at least in one area), here is evidence of a childhood well spent. I remembered how the girls both loved The Sherwood Ring; I picked up Understood Betsy, smoothing the cover, recalling finding it in our small town library, where musty old books weren’t always thrown away. I recalled Hannah’s eagerness when I assured her she would love this book.
In thinking I would be the teacher, I was in fact the one who learned the most. I learned to get in the way, and to get out of the way. And I learned, as never before, to pray. Because when there are humans involved and a cause and call from Heaven, there will be, um, difficulties. There would be stretching and changing and growing up.
Beginning with me. I knew, for instance, that I would teach my children to respect other people, and other peoples’ property. I saw this as “socialism-proofing” as well as simply essential to convivial living. What I didn’t see was how upside down and backward it is to do anything at all without the freedom found in love. What I didn’t realize was how lacking I was in respect for other people and their most valuable property—their hearts.
My passionate child, Rebekah, at age four, had a very great desire to emulate me; this desire overrode the non-negotiable rule about staying out of my purse. I turned my back and in the blink of an eye she had found her treasure—my brand new and quite expensive red lipstick. It was ruined. I ranted, angrily, at this little adoring child. Sobbing, she went down the hall. “Whatsa matter, Bekah?” asked her big sister, Hannah (age 5). “Mama’s mad at meeee.”
She didn’t hear a word I said–she only heard the anger.
But my weaknesses always brought me to my knees, crying out, believing for what I would not and could not be without—Grace from God to pass on to my family. And Grace permeates, perfumes and perfects all things. Grace also sheds light on things dark—dare I say here, “Dark as in pre-packaged curriculum, scope and sequence guidelines, and tests.”
I simply could not pick a curriculum, and the light came on when I saw that according to the scope and sequence of a very popular one, my son was “failing” on every level. I walked away from the curriculum but the worry and confusion continued to plague me. I prayed, persevered, and persisted. And I learned.
I learned that even if a textbook was entitled “Adventures” in this or that, it was still a textbook, and thereby suspect of being what the great educator Charlotte Mason considered “twaddle”. Agonizing over which curriculum to buy, I had one of so many lightbulb moments. In discovering the meaning of “scope and sequence” I also discovered that my son wasn’t even close to being where he “should” be at age six. The lightbulb revelation: These textbook writers have never even met my son, much less have any knowledge of where he “should” be. I would follow a different path.
Early on, and then continually as we went along, I had to choose between two paths: Performance or Peace. And somewhere along the way it became clear that the Peace path was always the way. “Academics,” I said to my husband (who already knew this), “is the least important part of what we’re doing.” Missing it at times, overall we were raising our kids to love learning, love life, and love God.
Math, not so much. Realizing that even though I was always pretty good at math, I didn’t seem to have the tiniest bit of anointing to teach it. I got help. I ordered The Great Courses math curriculum—this after using other highly-rated options through the years. Still, math mastery wasn’t a hallmark of our homeschooling, at least not in all four of our students.
John was unconcerned. “I learned more in one college math course than in twelve years of public school,” he said. Not helpful. After all, there were those pesky ACTs and SATs and opinions of other people. There was that college prep and academic thing I said wasn’t the most important thing. And one of our kids really excelled (like scoring way higher than friends in costly private schools, even). I patted myself on the back a bit, and as usual a little child led me. “Mom,” this test-acing child said, “You always say not to care about the opinions of man. If you don’t care then why are you bragging about me to everyone. It’s embarrassing.”
OK, so I do care. So it does rankle to be judged (we did this when it wasn’t cool at all), and it is quite nice when your kids turn out nicer, smarter, and sweeter than their “properly socialized” peers; when they like you and want to spend time with you; and care about the world around them, and contribute thereto. All these things are common in homeschooled kids. Yes, of course you can find a train wreck among homeschoolers, but the results are in: even done quite imperfectly, homeschooling beats public “education” hands down.
Another homeschooler lamented to me of his three grown homeschoolers (all of whom were homeschooling their kids): “They don’t go to the same church we go to, they don’t much agree with our politics, they aren’t raising the grandkids like we think they should.” I smiled. “If you didn’t want them to think for themselves,” I said, “You shouldn’t have homeschooled them.”
That may be the best gift we can give our kids—the ability to think. This requires time, and to best effect, including time in nature. We all need time alone—time to be. Time to become. To be and become the unique-in-all-the-history-of-the-world miracles they were created to become.
Created. In view of my ever-increasing respect for His creations shared with me in my children, I gained an ever-increasing respect for living a creative life. The memories of our creative times brings me joy. There are the “paintings” they did on rainy days with homemade fingerpaints (on our living room walls); the wagon rides to shady spots in the woods for picnics and reading Timothy Tattercoat; the walks and talks, creekside rock skipping and stories. Once our younger two had writing assignments and requested going to the creek to play instead. “Take your writing things,” I said. “Write something—a poem, story, anything.” They came back with poems that absolutely delighted me—I still have them. So many things I’ve kept—things created.
We still remember the many tea parties: How we all loved History Teas, which often preceded and then followed museum visits. Art galleries stimulated ever-changing art creations. Knowing where all the best used bookstores were, and that Mom and Dad could always be counted on to buy books, went hand in hand with Dreams and Geography Teas. Herein we talked about going anywhere and doing anything at all when you got there. Especially in Etiquette Teas lovely classical music was played to go along with clean hands and faces. If I dressed up a bit and put on some lipstick and earrings, so much more their delight. Hearts were revealed, interests piqued, dreams encouraged. Etiquette Teas were attended by the boys with a bit less enthusiasm than by the girls perhaps, but Manners Matter and The Art of Conversation were heard and heeded as cookies were munched and crunched. Literature Teas were for talking about our current favorite books, reading passages–delight. What’s your favorite part, your favorite characters? Did you like the ending and what would you change? What’s the author’s world view? This would be a great movie—who should play the hero?
“Bookshares” were popularly attended by other homeschoolers, and followed a similar pattern. The kids, even those who only brought favorite picture books, shared what they loved with the group, then went on to play as the moms shared. What a joy one time when another mom brought the same book I brought—Freckles by Jean Stratton Porter. There are great friendships to be made between homeschool moms—so much of such import is held in common in our hearts.
But as much as is made about “socialization” and the supposed lack thereof among homeschoolers, we all need to get away to our own special space and place. I can still hear John’s choking cry when he came home to see 8-year-old Hannah reading, way high in a homemade hammock tied to the uppermost branches of a hickory tree. “Beverly!” Seeing my disappointing lack of alarm he rushed into the woods and stood beneath the tree, commanding Hannah to come down. She did so with a bit of a sigh. She had found a place where no one would bother her, or so she thought. It was hard having all these story-disturbing people about.
Kids learn and make sense of life via creativity. There is the time for hearing a story, for reading it for themselves, and then for acting it out in play. For our kids there were treks alone in the woods, and treks together as “The John Wayne Club.” The Club had rules and activities. They built forts and created worlds. There were destinations to be had via covered wagons, and those to be dressed up for because of train travel. Trains could be made in the garage with folding chairs, and picnic baskets for eating ham sandwiches and apples during travel. It was always messy, and sometimes painful.
As in the “Downhill Monster”
The Downhill Monster was a long bumpy trail through the woods above our house, then crossing the road, before going on down to the bottom of the hill. The older three managed to sail down it in their bikes, leaving the ground at times, and arriving fully alive and well, behind their fort. Seth, the youngest, was never to be left behind. From climbing everywhere by six months and walking (running) at seven months, he was always where the action was. One day when he was hot on the trail of the others flying down the Downhill Monster, John stepped outside to witness a spectacular crash. Seth was tangled up in his bike as it rolled over and around him, skinning him from shin to chin. Cringing, John started toward him, awaiting the wails. Rather, Seth said, “ugh” and got back on his bike. A man (at age 5) does what a man’s gotta do, right?
As in building with Legos. Every parent of Lego-loving children has stepped on one of those fiendish little Lego pieces in the middle of the night. But would we have it any other way? Would we want to be a Lego-free house, or a mess-free zone? (Yes, we taught our kids to clean their messes). Would we exchange creative play for an always-clean dining room table? No. After all, we can laugh about it. We can talk about the most challenging, fascinating and world-changing endeavor and privilege on earth: raising children. Learning how.
How is not via electronics. How is real. I recently saw a little boy playing trucks with a Tonka truck game on his phone. I was heartbroken. “This is not how!” I wanted to shout at his parents who were blithely ignoring him. How is learning how to be strong enough to say “No” to Tonka trucks on screens, and yes to playing trucks in the mud with real Tonkas. Or, if you prefer as did I, have some cool cars and build curvy roads, tunnels, bridges, and A-frame houses. I look back at such doings and am glad, so glad. I am glad the dishes didn’t get done right on time, that dinner was probably late that day, and the laundry waited for me (doesn’t it always?) as I played with my child. As we built strong and mighty bridges between our hearts.
Homeschooling families have to learn to get along (what else can you do with people you spend all your time with?), and the burden of that teaching falls mostly on the mom. It takes much prayer, thought, consideration, journaling, Bible reading, and did I say prayer to do this adventure justice. I did say adventure. I hear tell that homeschooling is difficult. But we do make it more difficult than it has to be. There is a place where difficulty becomes rewarding challenge; where weaknesses become strengths, where defeat is annihilated by joy.
If we will see it, our little children will lead the way. Or, if as was my case, we have a wise husband–we can be surrounded by people leading the way. “He’s never gonna learn to read,” I sobbed to John as he hit the door after a long day. For two years I had tried to teach our son Benjamin vowel sounds, and we weren’t past short “a” as in cat and hat. “You just need to back off,” John said. Fine lot of help you are. I prayed and received the Grace to back off.
Six months later, I was having coffee with John’s aunt on a beautiful Sunday morning. “Mom, what’s the Gay-Zuh strip?” Benjamin asked. “Gaza,” I corrected. “What are you doing!?” He was reading the editorial page. A few years later I told Benjamin to put the book down as he was doing chores. John walked up behind me and whined into my ear, “He never gonna learn to read.”
Thanks for the memories. And thanks for the blessed future we have yet to see. Amen.
“W” is for Winner, Not Whiner
Here’s my Thursday YouTube video, which is a Bookshare as well as my thoughts on whiny e-mails from winners. Enjoy, and please like, subscribe, pass on, and most of all, be blessed!
Control or Contentment? Success or Selfishness?
I’m hearing lots about eliminating “toxic” people from my life–those who don’t contribute to my “success”–about walking away. I really like this idea, but does God?* In listening to and reading motivational “success” gurus I know I’ve gotta get up at 5:00 a.m. if I’m going to “be somebody.” But God says I am somebody. People always want to know what I “do” and the temptation is to say, “I’m a writer,” as this, unlike homemaking, is an approved occupation. But God approves of me. Just because.
Still, the messages are so compelling, as are the ideas of writing bestsellers and achieving other lauded goals, having an actually heeded day planner, and checking off my to-do lists each day. And the facts that vision boards don’t work for me, and my plans almost always are superceded by “life” doesn’t faze me. It can’t be that all those people are missing something–after all, they’re “successful”–I MUST TRY HARDER. FASTER, FASTER, WORK, WORK!
As I ponder all these things, and wonder why Christian motivational speakers consider non-Christians “successful” simply because they’re famous, I suddenly remember something I once heard, and now I am listening: If at first you don’t succeed, fry, fry, a hen. Ah, now that sounds like success to me. My daughter recently roasted a fat chicken in the Hobbit way – bacon, butter, herbs, and those things under as well as atop the skin. The chicken was first rinsed and then patted dry, to be cooked on high heat, and all in pursuit of a very crispy and delicious skin. Roasted along this dear bird were root vegetables, and all hearts were made glad.
When Rebekah asked what I wanted done with the chicken I could have told her my plan. Rather, I asked for her suggestions and out came An Unexpected Cookbook–The Unofficial Book of Hobbit Cookery. Not my plan, but better than. I’m liking the sound of that: Not my plan, but better than. My daughter is happy, my family enjoys an excellent meal, and I don’t have to cook. Success!
* In Andrew Murray’s classic book, Humility, he writes: “Look upon every fellow man who tries or vexes you as a means of grace to humble you.”
The Magic Homeschool Bus?
I’m doing a homeschooling article for American Essence magazine, and it’s developing into something about making homeschooling marvelous, enchanting, enthralling, exciting, even magical. Can you help? I have such great experiences and resources, but I’d like thoughts from currently homeschooling parents who realize that it’s really about so much more than academics, and that a facsimile of the traditional/public school classroom is not optimal, to put it mildly.
If you would like to add your thoughts, or know of someone who might, can you let me know?
Here’s my number, if you’d like to call: 970-556-2785.
Homemaking–A Bit of Vintage Thinking
In listening this morning to motivational speakers talk about achieving goals, dreams, and “God’s Purpose” for my life via morning routines, vision boards, affirmations, etc., it occurs to me I may not be as far behind the curve as I’ve been believing myself to be. It also occurs to me that a bit of vintage thinking might be in order. Again. Because this voice telling me that I “can be more” is all pervasive, ever insistent, badgering, pressuring, pushing.
Surely, I reason, the great, good, gracious and giving God I serve can lead, guide, and bless me without me constantly striving, trying and doing–what the world will call success. Surely He can be trusted, and as He’s shown me over and over again, to be with me, vision board or not. What if it’s as simple as “seek ye first”? What if, as is always the case, whatever society calls success isn’t that impressive to God? Could it be that there is more fulfillment of both His dreams and mine when we–He and I–are seated together in heavenly places, far above the noise of “purpose and performance”?
Just this morning I heard a speaker talk about the great success of a woman who was 58, that was 58! years old (it’s never too old!, I was assured) and who went to college and became a school teacher. She was a mother of five and grandmother of five, but now comes the lauded “success”. No longer will her kids get to call and ask for prayer, no longer will her granddaughters invite her to have tea with their dolls. Shall I talk about boys knowing there is one place on earth that is always and absolutely perfectly safe? That would be with Granny. You can tell her anything and she’ll give you good advice right along with hugs and milk and cookies. And readalouds–like Frog and Toad and Timothy Tattercoat!
Maybe on weekends? On weekends (when they used to pick strawberries and bake bread together) Granny will be grading papers, but perhaps she’ll schedule some time, sometime. (Yes, I’m quite and very well aware of the need for such teachers as Granny will no doubt be, and also aware that she may be exactly where God wants her. It’s the attitude here I question: Now she’s doing something worthwhile.)
And here’s a thought: What if all that “purpose and dream” stuff is for those who don’t already have the highest and best and most beautiful of all purposes on earth? Yes, I’m talking about homemaking, as it’s meant to be, and with God’s help is.
Also this morning was a phone call about a friend’s daughter-in-law who’s going to leave her two little ones and go to nursing school. Yes, the husband is very well paid, but “these days it takes two incomes.” No. It doesn’t. It has been proven over and over again that there is an overall loss in monetary wealth when both the parents of small children work. As to the real costs of moms not being on the throne in the home–immeasurable.
As one of the earliest victims of modern feminism (the last of the lucky generation whose moms kept the fort) I know of what I speak. I bought this lie and the costs are still being paid. Unlike so many, however, I got a second chance. I know of the innumerable ways to save money (kids not sick all the time is a big place to begin this calculation) when you make a home by staying home, when you build your house and everyone in it, as the Queen of the Most High Place, i.e., when you’re “just” a homemaker.
This idea that we need to “get out of the house”, that homemaking is “menial and degrading” is a LIE FROM HELL.
Consider this, in one of my all-time favorites, Sixpence in Her Shoe, written by Phyllis McGinley and published in 1960: I am one of an enormous, an antique sisterhood, each of us bent on much the same ends, all of us doing our able or our fumbling best to hold the planet steady on its axis by such primitive expedients as hanging window curtains, bandaging knees, or getting meals to the table on time.”
Proverbs 14:1 — “The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish pulls it down with her hands.”
The Art of Conversation Creates Art
It was a lovely morning yesterday. Seth and I tried a new LaVazza variety (falling off the wagon a bit on this aspect of Zero For Six-ing, but more on that later) on the balcony. We likened the rustling of the Aspen leaves to the feel of clean cotton sheets, the breezes in the pines and the birdsong to music.
The conversation went and wound its way here and there, and somewhere in there I had a fantastic idea–a doable, practical example of how to remind our government that indeed, they work for us. I won’t go into the particulars of the idea, because I want to talk about the power of conversation.
We’re meant to have it, and it’s meant to produce ideas, solutions, revelations. It’s meant to connect hearts and minds and put us in the creativity zone. So, if our conversations aren’t producing this magical marvel, especially when we’re talking with our adult children, we can examine ourselves.
Do we listen carefully and thoughtfully? Do we interrupt? Do we have to be right? Are we taking a parental role when our family members are not asking for that? Just as we’re extra polite and considerate in our conversations with non-family folks, are we also with our beloveds? Do we remember that sometimes hearts simply want to be heard–not to hear our opinion?
When we don’t know the answer do we simply say, “I don’t know, but I will pray for wisdom, and I will pray for you to have wisdom, and all will be well”?
It’s helpful to remember that those who talk the most and loudest are often drowning out the words of those with the deepest and best thoughts. Just in case you’re like me, and maybe are a bit chatty, it could be time to put some art into our conversation.
Dull Books, Dull Boys and Girls
“You appear to have absconded with my keys, Mother,” my daughter said. “Oh, no! I’m so sorry.” And I was sorry about it, even as I was delighted in a child who says, “You appear to have absconded,” rather than, “Hey! You took my keys!”
It pays to homeschool, especially when you have a literary approach. That is, approach the teaching of spelling, speaking, writing, and thinking via literature. Put excellent books in every nook and cranny. Read to them and with them. Read books they recommend. Talk about it: What was your favorite part? Do you agree with the author’s worldview? Are there plot holes? If you re-wrote the story, what would you change? If this book were to be a movie, who would you cast as the villian?
DO NOT read below their level. One of the best parts of any book is a new word. Beatrix Potter’s use of “soporific” is a great example. Don’t go into Mr McGregor’s garden: your father had an accident there, he was put into a pie by Mrs McGregor. It is said that the effect of eating too much lettuce is ‘soporific‘.
Perhaps he shouldn’t have been absconding with other people’s property, eh?
Phyllis McGinley, in the treasure of a book, Sixpence in Her Shoe, wrote, “If I had time and courage enough, I’d write a children’s book stuck plum-pudding rich with great jawbreakers of words,” and, “I am certain that children, left to themselves, would prefer a rattling good story . . . to the handsomest volume in the world which brings no glory to their dreams or quickening to their pulses.” She continues, “They are a braver generation than we suppose. So they deserve brave books. They deserve the best that men and women of wit and talent can write for them.”
And they deserve parents who will read to and with them. Books with big stories, big wonders, big ideas, big words.
Now We’re Cooking With Nuts!
One of the innumerable blessings of homeschooling is abounding, wonderful, and marvelous wackiness. “You do know your brother is weird, don’t you?” asked my daughter’s friend. A better description is “uniquely quirky”. It was our Creator who decided each and every one of us would be unique in all the history of the world, and in so doing, made it impossible, no matter how hard we try, for any two of us to be alike–unweird. Normal.
Exploring normal. Normal breakfasts, for starters, are too fast and too cruel (like the remarks of that little girl who didn’t take the time to know my son before mis-pronouncing who and what he was). A not so normal breakfast is eggs scrambled by you and/or your children, maybe even from your own chickens, and eaten with homemade blueberry lemon muffins–baked by you and/or your children. Forget the fake OJ. This deserves a spot of tea.
“Normal” ice cream is filled with chemicals, egg substitutes, artificial flavors and colors, fake “milk” and high fructose corn syrup. Oh, and air. And not many nuts. Not so normal ice cream is made at home with such marvels as organic heavy whipping cream and eggs, finely ground vanilla beans and maybe a bit of lavender essential oil–to be had on a Saturday morning, or for brunch, or with a first breakfast of blackberry crumble made with oats, whole grain flours, sea salt, REAL butter, honey, and walnuts.
Or make that a peach crisp with pecans with a purely vanilla ice cream. Chocolate goes well with peanuts and peanut butter topping, or try adding toasted coconut and almonds to your almond flavored dream cream. It’s up to you–you’re unique and you deserve uniqueness, or rather, nuttiness.
This sort of thing will cause your daughter to dance on the dining room chairs and your honey to show you a ballet step you never saw before. Nuts, not normal–both of them. And yay!
Today’s Henri Nouwen Society offering spoke to my heart and I want to share it, then offer my thoughts, so please read beautiful Henri thoughts, and consider mine.
|Hospitality means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. . . . The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocations. Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adore the lifestyle of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own.|
I read these beautiful thoughts on hospitality, made a comment, and then considered the comments offered, where one wise man said in a nutshell, “One-on-one hospitality is the cure for the world’s ills.”
Let it begin at home. Let us be open to the wounds and ugliness of each others’ hearts and personalities. Let us seek reasons and ways to bless and pray for–not the world first–those with whom we share our dwellings. Let us, as Henri exhorts us to, ” . . . offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.”
Freedom. Let us emulate Christ by offering a “free indeed” hospitality. No, this doesn’t mean anything goes. Just Love.
Love doesn’t always keep still and quiet, any more than love mouths off in anger. Love abides in God, Who is Love, and seeks His ways, grace, understanding, wisdom, and even knowledge of what’s in the wounded and precious hearts with whom we live. Love is patient, kind, at peace, hospitable.
Hospitality is Love. Or is meant to be. Again, let it begin at home, where all good things begin and end, Amen.
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