Monday, October 29, 2007

The Right Perspective

It’s amazing how a beautiful autumn school day can seem so dark and hopeless. That feeling of hopelessness continued throughout this particular week. Many days, I was on the brink of tears. Several nights, I should have retired much earlier, but there was always a reason to stay up. One night, my husband and I finally watched a movie together, but it wasn’t over until very late. We had been putting off a movie for a long time because we were too tired or had too much to do. I had also been recovering from a sore throat. The soreness subsided, but I became hoarse and the kids seemed to listen to me less when I could barely speak. Other evenings, I would stay up finishing laundry or dishes, going through mountains of mail or balancing the checkbook.
Monday got off to another slow start. I went back to bed after putting Mary back in her crib. I just wanted a couple more minutes of rest. Next thing I knew, Stephen rolled onto my head and the rest of the gang came running in. Sometimes, that is a sweet time, but not today. Mary woke up a little later and both babies needed changed and fed. The kitchen lay in ruins from the night before because I was too tired to clean it. Crumbs were all over the table and floor, food on the high chair, dishes piled high in the sink. Everyone wanted breakfast. Rachel, Jonathan and Hannah had chores to do. Stephen would not stay out of the dishwasher and climbed onto the dining room table when I wasn’t looking. Our two inside cats, Mendelssohn and Nicodemus were making pests of themselves, jumping on the counters, attacking my Indian corn I had displayed for the season and hacking up hairballs. And, there I was, standing in my nightgown and robe, trying to choke down a little cereal and checking my email to see if I had any connection with the outside world.
Three of the children and David were getting sick, too. Stephen had that “glazed doughnut” look where he’s too young to reach for a Kleenex, so his nose runs everywhere. His hands can’t help, but to wipe it all over his face, his clothes, the couch and me. Hannah and later, Rachel developed sore throats and just wanted to lie around. David dragged himself to work and I felt helpless, not knowing how I could make it better for any of them. The one consolation was that Jonathan did not fall sick. He just had a loose tooth that he left in his mouth, hanging by a thread. Oh, and Little Miss Mary had a touch of a sniffle, but was kind enough to sleep extra hours.
While the kids made yet another fort out of couch cushions, I put away clothes. But, I couldn’t just stop there. I had to clean out Jonathan’s closet to find that he had grown out of almost all of his sweaters and long sleeved dress shirts. I became a little discouraged that we had to go shopping again, but at least his closet was organized. I peered into Hannah’s dresser to find total disarray. I had not stored away her summer clothes yet and she had carefully stuffed dirty shirts and slacks back into her drawers. She’s only four, so I sighed and got busy, tossing out clothes for the washer and neatly stacking the summer things. Her dresser looked nice, but I realized that I now had more things to put into storage bins. When there were only a couple of kids, I enjoyed filling and labeling the clothes bins. Now, it seems like a never-ending task. I immediately was reminded of the stack of clothes that were just sitting outside of bins getting dirty.
The kids still had a couple more chores to finish, so I played, the “William Tell Overture” to get them moving. It works pretty well, but I kept hearing, “Jonathan, you have to leave this bathroom. I want to brush my teeth alone!” “I’m not leaving, Hannah. I want to watch you!” “Hurry, the song is almost over!” “Oh brother,” I thought to myself.
Still in my robe and gown, I called everyone together for devotions. As I tried to balance the Bible and nurse Mary at the same time, Stephen repeatedly opened the dishwasher. Rachel would close it and lead him away. Each time, his screams got louder. After several rounds of this, I knew Rachel was tired, so I told her to put him in his exersaucer. He was loud there, too, yelling and spinning all of the toys, but at least I didn’t have to worry about my dishes. We sang a few songs and I read from the Bible, squeaking the whole time and then, we prayed. Stephen was remarkably quiet as Jonathan and Hannah prayed, but when Rachel attempted to pray, he began yelling again. This was too much for Rachel. She cut her prayer short and I yelled a quick prayer feeling very unspiritual. I let the kids play for a few minutes while I changed Mary and then, we read a very convicting missionary story about Hudson Taylor.
Jonathan worked on his Math, Hannah played with the math manipulatives and Rachel copied her Spelling. They were all getting hungry again as I had only fed them cereal. Of course, that’s what I had, too and I became discouraged again because I did not feed them something more substantial like other super home school moms would. This was a time when I succumbed to making foolish comparisons. Other moms would have served healthy fruits, fresh baked bread and plenty of protein. Other home school moms would be dressed in their jumpers, leaning over each child’s work, ooing and aahing over the progress of their very behaved and obedient children. And, there I was, yelling orders, making feeble attempts at giving praise, starving, and still in my robe and gown.
I did finally dress and comb my hair that day, but even combing my hair seemed too difficult. In fact, every day that week when I combed my hair, I would get angry at every tangle, drop the comb, complain again about each tangle, mutter under my breath at my slow pace and look in the mirror with disgust at my same old hairstyle…hair pulled tightly back into a ponytail. I wasn’t any more pleasant about my face or the clothes I wore. Even as the thoughts came to my mind and the words spilled out of my mouth, I realized I had much to confess before the Lord. Why was I complaining about my looks? My hair is supposed to be my crown and glory. My Lord created me just as He wanted and I am telling Him that His creation is no good.
This outlook on my appearance was only one symptom of what was going on in my heart. I was so focused on the symptoms that feelings of despair swept over me. I could not keep up with my housework. Meal planning was a lost cause. Schoolwork never seemed to get done. I felt inadequate in my ability to teach the children or to train them in how to follow the Lord. I compared myself to other home schoolers. I did not even have quiet time with the Lord. I felt as if I had nothing left to give to my husband, to my children, and to God. “Why do I always have to pick up after everyone? When I’m sick, I still have to carry the load.” I knew my complaining was sin, but it was still easier to hold onto my misery and not to hope in God. I needed to let the Lord carry my burdens and to trust Him to give me what I needed. Throughout that week, I continued to hear, “Why so downcast, O my soul? Put your hope in God!”
I was looking forward to Friday when I could spend the night and part of Saturday with my best friend, Kim. David was coming home earlier that day, so I could go to dinner with her. It turned out to be another frustrating day of squeezing in school, childcare and housework that I didn’t want to see again upon my return. I knew that it wouldn’t get finished and yet, I drove myself crazy as I went over the things that needed done. I was trying to leave before 6:00 that evening and I realized I wasn’t even packed all the way. When David arrived, I was so flustered that I could hardly put two words together. I appreciated my husband’s quiet and understanding voice as he took things to the car and tried to settle the children down. I loved these little ones so much, but I had my limits and I thought I may have a greater capacity for love if I had a night away. For a few fleeting moments I pondered how I would miss them, feeling guilty that I was leaving my sick husband and children, but decided to commit my family to the Lord and soon, I was on my way with Baby Mary to enjoy my break!
I arrived later than I planned, but Kim being a mom, too, understood and we went to dinner sharing our two meals and indulging on cheesecake. We talked about the events of our week and laughed hysterically at the wonders of being wives and mothers. I was still feeling discouraged about the week and about this season in my life when I actually voiced the words to Kim that were usually just a thought. “I hate my life!” I was relieved when she admitted the same thing to me. I really don’t hate my life, of course, but those words come to mind when I do not trust the Lord to bear my burdens. I knew this had to be dealt with and it felt good to confess these thoughts to my best friend.
Kim and I had planned to watch a movie or play Scrabble together when we arrived at the house where we planned to stay, but instead, we killed hornets and talked more until Mary fell asleep. The next morning, I woke to the sound of buzzing above my head and found more hornets coming in from the outside. We quickly packed up because the population was growing. Kim continued to smack them with a fly swatter as I took Mary to the car. The woman that took care of the house came to inspect the problem and explained that the exterminator had just paid a visit, but as we left, we heard, “Whack… smack!” I guess the bug guy better do a more thorough job the next time.
We enjoyed a nice breakfast and I did some shopping while Mary napped at Kim’s house. We talked some more and then, it was time to go home to my family. When I contemplated the state of my house, I felt more pangs of discouragement, but I purposed in my heart to relax and take pleasure in my quiet drive home.
As I walked through the door, I was greeted by my boy, Jonathan, who was now missing a tooth, by Stephen who grabbed my legs and ceased to let go and by my sweet and neighing horses…uh, er girls! David gave me a warm smile and was glad I made it home safely.
The house! Well, yes, it was a disaster. The problem of Stephen’s determination to climb on the table and to open the dishwasher was solved by a large bar clamp attached to my appliance and all of the dining room chairs being turned upside down and placed in various places all over the house. I admired my husband’s strategy at outsmarting the little guy. There were dishes to wash and food to be put away and countless other things to be done. Cooking dinner was not going happen that late, so David took the oldest three to town to get take out. It was just me and the babies for a little while. “Why so downcast, O my soul? Put your hope in God!” The words came back and I was reminded that the Lord loved me and would give me what I needed for each task, each day and each moment. This was indeed my life. Right here, right now. God put me in this place for a time and for a season. Is it frustrating? Yes. Is it exhausting? Yes. Does it feel like this part of my life will never end? Yes. But, the fact is that this time will end someday. I will look back and wonder what happened to the days of watching my children grow, teaching them, and picking up after them. My house may one day get cleaned, but it will also grow quiet. So once again, I thanked the Lord for my “five little blessings” and my husband and then, I rolled up my sleeves, pulled my hair back into my stylish ponytail and went to work doing what God called me to do.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Unschooling

“Did we do school today?” I had to ask myself this question because it was another crazy day with my five little darlings. Of course, this was the week I didn’t even write my lesson plans. Every night I planned to write the next day’s lessons, but we managed to trudge through without any real planning. I decided that I would eventually go back and write them anyway, so our accomplishments would look good on paper.
This morning, we were getting ready to feed our outside cats when my oldest child, Rachel triumphantly announced, “Tiger had her kittens!” “Are you sure?” my husband, David inquired. And, yes, she was sure as Tiger, who we renamed Tiger Lily when we discovered she was going to have kittens the first time, was indeed smaller around her middle. We watched from the window as David went to the barn to try to find Tiger’s kittens. He came out holding up three fingers. Tiger had three sweet little kittens. My husband left for work and Rachel was ready to dart out to the barn when I requested that she change into her clothes and a coat and shoes first. Jonathan got ready to join his sister and then, Hannah awoke and joyfully told me that she still had her Happy Meal toy! She knew that we were not pleased with the toy, which appeared to be a teenage doll with skimpy tight clothes on rollerblades. She was so happy to find that the little doll hadn’t disappeared mysteriously like all the other Happy Meal toys! When Hannah heard of the kittens, she changed, too and before I knew it, my oldest three were out the door.
By this time, I had fed my almost two year old son, Stephen and Mary, our latest addition born three months ago. Mary went back to bed and I cleaned the kitchen and prepared breakfast for my outside adventurers. They all came in and gave me the details as they ate and as Rachel made her toast, I heard her humming of an Irish tune performed by the Chieftains. I found the song on our computer and made a play list of Irish music to enjoy as the kids finished their chores. Little Stephen promptly toddled to the sunspot in our kitchen and danced and giggled and soon, the other children joined him. I retrieved the rhythm instruments and soon they were all dancing, singing, banging and clanging together. “Okay, that was Music”. I made a mental note that I had cleverly completed at least one subject for the day!
We all gathered in our living room as I read from the Bible in I Peter. We worked on our memorization of the Beatitudes, prayed for our country of the week, asked for the Lord’s blessing on our day and sang praise songs. We ended by saying our pledges to the American and Christian flags and to the Bible. Our devotional time was not unlike many other mornings of, “Sit down! Keep your hands to yourself! Jonathan, move to the other side of the couch. Both of you, share that blanket….wait, give that blanket to me! Hannah, move to the other couch. Rachel, get that Bible away from Stephen. Jonathan, don’t wave that flag. You’re going to poke someone! Kids, you can sit still for a couple of minutes to pray! Mommy, they’re not closing their eyes!” But, all in all, it was a good devotional time.
I wanted a shower and didn’t want the kids to be idle, so I popped in a Moody Science video, gave strict instructions that the children watch the video and their brother, Stephen and strapped Mary in her bouncy seat to take her with me to the bathroom. I enjoyed a few minutes of bliss as the water streamed through my hair. My little one cooed from her seat, but alas, showers must come to an end. I dreamt to myself, “The kids will be sitting peacefully in front of their video speaking to each other about the interesting life of the sloth” and then, I woke up from my daydream. The sound of stomping feet and loud giggling resounded outside my bedroom, but when I opened the door, the kids dove onto the couch with innocent expressions on their faces as I surveyed the damage. The toys were scattered. The couch cushions were all on the floor. I was given a brief synopsis about the video and realized that they had probably learned something. Subjects covered: Mathematics- How many minutes does it take to clean up the mess? Art-What primary color does Mommy’s face change to when she’s really mad? Architecture-block towers built, forts made of cushions. Physical education-running and jumping. Childcare techniques-watching a toddler…well, sort of. Espionage-sneaking around while Mommy is away and oh, yes…science. We must not forget about the interesting life of Mr. Sloth.
The rest of the morning, we managed to squeeze in a Spelling and Math test. We studied grammar, practiced handwriting and read books. “A noun is the name of a person, place, thing or idea” was buzzing through my head as the lunch hour followed and before I knew it, it was time for the kids to have their quiet time in their rooms while I tried to get the babies to nap. Sometimes, I’m able to get them both to bed and sometimes, not. Today?...Well, I don’t remember. But, I think I closed my eyes for ten minutes!
Not wanting the kids to be loud in the house and knowing that the fresh air was good for them, I sent Rachel, Jonathan, and Hannah outside to play. I soon heard the familiar sound of our neighbor’s tractor putting up the road. I thought he would turn into his pasture, but instead, Marwood came up the drive. He finally found some time to cut the tall grass that our riding mower couldn’t handle. I instructed the kids to stay in their outside fort, which they had named; “Terabithia” and they could watch Marwood from a safe place. “Old McMarwood had a tractor, Eee-eye Eee-eye Ooh!” Boy, I hope he never hears the songs we make up. And, now I remember. Stephen wouldn’t go to sleep as long as there was a tractor to watch.
Soon, my dear husband would be coming home and I was thankful that I had some leftover spaghetti to serve for dinner. I know… the true gourmet meal. But, hey, it beats macaroni and cheese, even if it is organic. And, anyway, that would be tomorrow night’s meal.
As I began to clear the table and prepare the dinner, I started thinking about that new nursing top I purchased a few days before that went so well with a pretty skirt I had. Stephen was taking a late nap and Mary was also sleeping, so I had few minutes to change, comb my hair, apply some make up and spray a little perfume when I heard David’s car arrive. Of course, as soon as David walked in, the older kids were so excited to see him that the noise awoke the babies! At the same moment, David and I entered the nursery from different doors to comfort the little ones. It was dark, so he did not notice that I had dressed up, but when I walked to the living room to feed Mary, I was noticed. At that moment, I wished that I had arranged for a babysitter, so that we could go on a date. It still was nice to feel beautiful for him at home!
Later that evening, the kids were in bed and I was picking up some of our clothes from our second closet, our garden bath tub, when I suddenly had the urge to smell David’s sweaters and hold them close to me. I closed my eyes and remembered a time that I did that very thing every night. Those long months when he was in the Navy and out to sea. It seemed so long ago. We did not have children then, and I had time to ponder how much I loved him. How much he loved me. We were so young and immature and yet, I had time to think only of him. I began to cry and held his sweaters even closer. “Lord, forgive me for taking David for granted. I only have him for a little while. Even if we do grow old together, there are so many days that I don’t show how much I appreciate or love him.” It was time to dry my eyes and return to the living room where David joined me for a cup of tea. We talked and shared about our tiring day and went to bed. Our love is not exceedingly romantic, but it is steadfast. It’s that love that God has given us, to stick it out during these kid years and beyond.
My home school day had come to an end. I survived another challenging day and I had learned some things as did my children. “Thank You God, for this family. Thank You for these precious children and my sweet husband. Goodnight, Lord.”