I’m still working on organizing my photos and thoughts from my trip last week. Stay tuned…
I’m also still trying to catch up on laundry. One week of it piling up has left me buried beneath an overwhelming mound. (The kids love it – what fun to hide in all the dirty socks and underwear!) I feel like I’ll never get it all done, and I’ve been debating whether I should just stop trying. I feel so accomplished when all the laundry baskets are empty and the clothes are crisp and neatly folded. Order is restored. All is right in my little domestic world. But in a flash just after I’ve tucked the last pair of clean socks away, the baby has discovered dirt or that smearing yogurt all over her onesie is better than any kind of fingerpainting activity, and I’m all anxious. This has got to stop. The laundry will never be done. Get over it, you anal woman.
There are a lot of things I need to get over, actually. I’m really struggling in the homeschooling trenches, and it’s only the beginning of September. I told myself we wouldn’t officially begin until after Labor Day, but I’ve been trying to ease into things. Every day I have this vision of us gathering around our table in our basement classroom to read “living books.” I imagine afternoon tea parties where there are no spills. Everything runs seamlessly in my head. I’m able to teach great things to Madeline, and my 3-year-old colors and works on her own projects while listening to her big sister’s lessons. Mary Elizabeth doesn’t try to kill herself by climbing on top of the table, eating crayons, or putting her face in the toilet bowl.
My dreams have been just that – fanciful dreams. The reality has been far messier and I haven’t been handling it well. Last night my voice was actually hoarse because I raised it too much to be heard over the constant cacophony. (My kids’ voices are deafeningly loud in this new home with all of its lovely, hardwood floors.) All of this has me tempted to drop out of homeschooling before I’ve even really started. Maybe I’m trying to do too much. Maybe my expectations are too high. I’m just hoping I find a more peaceful rhythm soon. Or else…
I’ve also felt rather isolated. The few moms I’ve met who live close by either have only young children (babies and toddlers) or they send their kids to school. And now that Madeline looks like she should be in school, I’ve always got people asking about why I homeschool. Sometimes I want to tell them, “I have not a clue why.” Or, “Because I’m an insane masochist. Why else?”
But then we go to the pediatric dentist and Madeline politely asks the hygienist if she can sit with her little sister to put her at ease since it’s Rae’s first visit to the dentist. The hygienist says of course and then comes out later and goes on and on about what a kind, empathetic big sister she is and how both of my daughters were an absolute pleasure to be around. “They’re the best patients I’ve ever had,” she says. I suspect this is generous hyperbole, but I can’t help but smile and feel a warm trickle of pride. I can even almost forget that earlier that morning my children were scaling new heights of naughtiness. I watch the two of them, holding hands, and I know that I can’t give up on homeschooling yet. (Not that I’m fool enough to believe that their pleasant behavior is the result of us homeschooling for one stinkin’ week or that if we choose to send them to school, they won’t receive compliments such as these.)
For me, the greatest benefit of homeschooling does not lie in the ability to tailor academics to my child’s individual needs or even the fact that I can share my faith and marble in virtue into everything we do in the home. What really attracts me about the idea of homeschooling (and I’m learning the idea and reality are often two very different things) is the increased opportunities to strengthen family bonds – how we can all be together more than we ever could be if they were segregated by school. If Madeline was in school, she’d be making a gaggle of friends (she’s an extrovert if there ever was one; she’s lost if she’s not interacting with someone, something). She’d be spending hours away from her little sister, who is an introvert if ever there was one (she prefers playing with just Madeline and sneaks away when too many other children are around). Rae would be lost without her. She once told me that playing with Madeline is what makes her the happiest. “What makes you the saddest?” I asked.
“Not playing with Maddy,” she said.
Of course, sometimes all of this togetherness makes me crazy. There always seem to be a lot of posts about introversion in the blogosphere. Two of my favorite blogger/writers recently wrote about their introverted natures here and here. If you met me tomorrow (or if you already know me and have been subjected to my motormouth and expressive personality), the last word you’d use to describe me is introverted. Yet, every personality test lands me right in the middle of being an introvert and extrovert. It’s rather annoying because what my temperament is is very needy because I like to have occasional interaction with others and am an attention junkie (being the center of attention, public speaking, etc. thrill me, not intimidate me); yet, I need silence and alone time to recharge. Most moms do, but I’ve needed a space and time long before my house became a noisy circus. (As a kid, I used to love to sit by a creek by my house alone and write terrible poetry.)
I also frequently dread phone calls. Sometimes, in fact, my motormouth tendencies are a front for nervousness. When I’m meeting someone new or am on the telephone, words often tumble out of my mouth because I’m dreadfully afraid of the awkward pauses, of not having anything to fill the air.
I wonder: Are there any other introvert-extrovert hybrids out there? People who like people and don’t necessarily find it draining to go to a party and talk but who also recharge best when left alone without even the possibility of being distracted and/or interrupted?
Lately, I’ve definitely felt more like an introvert. Even on our recent trip, I found myself savoring solitary walks and not wanting to be particularly social. Since returning home, I’ve seriously been questioning whether I’m going to be able to handle this homeschooling gig because I’m so incredibly tired of all the noise and just have this growing need to crawl into myself. Honestly, solitary confinement sounds more like vacation than torture.
Not that I don’t love being around my kids because I do. So much, but I’ve felt so drained this week coming back from our Maine retreat. A weeklong vacation used to recharge me for a long time. Now it just has me wishing I always had extra hands to help and pockets of time to just be alone.
I used to have more time to be still and to shower and to clean. But now I feel like I’m going constantly. I know I should try to wake up earlier, but the baby still is getting up twice in the night, and I’m so tired. I just can’t force myself out of bed before the girls wake up.
The transition from two to three children has been so tough. My nana, a mom of nine, reassures me that her toughest mothering period was when she went from two to three, too. “After that, though, you could have 10 more kids and it wouldn’t really make a difference,” she tells me. I’m not so sure about that, but it does get easier, right? (Yes, I’m asking you veteran moms out there for some reassurance. If you think it gets harder, please just lurk around here without crushing my spirit.) I know the emotional exhaustion of the teen years will be tough, but this endless physical work, my goodness, it’s draining.
Mary Elizabeth wants to nurse. Rae starts to cry because she wants me. Madeline wants to know how to spell “lemonade” for her lemonade stand poster. I put the baby down. She starts howling. I go to scoop her up, but she wriggles out of my arms and has stopped crying. I think she’s happily playing with something safe until Madeline screams that she has something in her mouth. Sure enough, she has a small bouncy ball stashed in her chipmunk cheeks. I yell at the older girls for leaving a choker within her reach. Madeline says Rae did it. Rae says it wasn’t her and then pushes Madeline. “She pushed me!” Madeline shouts.
“Stop it!” I screech.
“That’s not a nice word to say,” Rae admonishes.
Before I know it the morning is gone, and we’ve accomplished nothing.
When my husband came home from work the other day, the girls were running around the house playing and screaming those shrill little girl screams. “It is so noisy,” my husband said.
“This is my soundtrack all day,” I said.
“You can’t live like that,” he said.
“What am I doing wrong?” I said, blinking back the tears.
“It’s not you. Everything is new. We’re all adjusting.”
“I thought things were going to get easier, but it’s been harder,” I confessed.
“Well, you had a routine,” he said.
“And a really small house to clean.”
On top of everything, I cannot keep up with the housework anymore. I’ve almost given up.
Of course, there’s another reason life has been more difficult. I’ve been extremely stubborn in my spiritual life. I’ll have this inkling that I should get down on my knees and pray, and I’ll refuse to almost out of spite. “If you love me so much, why don’t you help me out here? Why do I always have to come begging for your help?”
I’ve been angry at God. I told my mom this. “Well, if you’re angry with Him, that just means you have a relationship,” she said. (She’s given me this wise advice before because I tend to get angry at God a lot.) “Think about it: You usually get the most angry with the people you love the most.” (And people who tailgate.)
I have to stop being so stubborn, so spiteful.
Yeah, things have been a little rough. It’s actually been a rough year. I feel like I haven’t been myself since last summer when I was suffering from severe burnout and postpartum depression. It will get better though. It always does. I was sifting through a box where I stashed a bunch of my old journals, and I observed words that marked phases of happiness and then times of great angst and sorrow. My scribbled down thoughts sometimes suggested a closeness to God; other times my beliefs were weak and doubts ruled my heart.
There have been chapters in my life when I very much believed in God, but I didn’t seem floored by his love or anything. There have been times when I felt like I lost God and went nosing around Church to find Him (and He was always there even if I was too blind to see Him). As I read my old entries, it surprised me to piece together bits and pieces of my past that I must have buried because I didn’t remember some of the crosses I’d shouldered. I’d dealt with some pretty tough things; yet, everything righted itself in time. I’ll have to remind my kids of this someday when they’re faced with big disappointments or hurts. Life is sometimes really hard, and it’s always changing, but one thing won’t change and that’s my love for you. Oh, how I love you. Don’t let my raised voice and edginess fool you.
I’ll have to remind myself now that one day I’m going to miss all the finger smudges on the walls and the noise and the babies (and the big girls, too) who need me to soothe them to sleep throughout the night. Wiser, more experienced moms remind me of that – how they’re forcing themselves to count their blessings in the wake of great change and child after child growing up and leaving the nest.
Okay, I feel better now. Not only because I just emotionally dumped on you and anyone who accidentally types “Momopoly” when they’re trying to Google “Monopoly,” but also because I just looked at this photo of my youngest, who despite waking me up at night and scaling tables and chairs and shoving every imaginable and deadly thing into her mouth that she can get her hands on, gives me so much happiness and makes the exhaustion, the noise, and the very messy mealtimes oh-so-worth-it. And she’s an incredible kisser. I’m talking wet, smacking lips heading in my direction all day long.
I have to end on an upbeat note. I noticed I always did that in my journals. Woe is me, but thank God I am here to endure and overcome the woe.