About that cliff hanger

Okay. So I never should have pulled the old cliff hanger trick in my last post. Honestly, I meant to follow up on that post long before now, but two trips in less than three weeks as well as a broken bone have left me running around more than usual all while toting around an extra 35 pounds in the form of a super-cute but now mostly immobile toddler. While we were in Illinois for a family wedding, Thomas was sliding down a tube slide on Gaba’s (AKA my mom) lap when his leg got stuck. Four hours at the emergency room confirmed what we suspected: Poor, little guy suffered from a toddler fracture. Honestly, he’s hurting a lot less than my sweet mom who simply feels awful. We’ll see her this coming weekend, and she wants to sign the cast, “Gaba’s heart is breaking…” Poor Thomas. Poor Gaba. (Gaba, stopped beating yourself up. Too bad he won’t even remember any of this, but you will forever. Love you more.)

Thomas with cast

But, anyway, that bit I wrote about exciting changes ahead coming in August caused a few friends to worry/wonder if everything was okay. Everything is indeed fine. We are not moving as one friend suspected, and I haven’t been hiding a pregnancy for months. No special deliveries will be arriving this August, although I’m finding it quite odd to not be pregnant because I usually am right about now. Nursing and running/exercising as much as I am these days has left my cycle all wacky. I had my first non-obstetrics related gynecologic appointment recently and had to get an ultrasound for some symptoms that turned out to be nothing (or nothing worth worrying about), and it was sad to only have an empty uterus to look at and no tiny heartbeat throbbing anywhere in sight. But I’m at peace with my family size right now. It feels good. And, yes, it feels good to be regularly getting uninterrupted sleep at night. I still have my wakeful moments like the other night when my 4-year-old kept kicking off the covers and I was freezing. I finally firmly told her she could go sleep in her own bed if she didn’t want any covers but that Mommy was cold. She stayed put. Being next to me overrides perfect sleeping conditions apparently. I’ve said it before, but sometimes I really do feel like a celebrity being that everybody wants to sleep with me.

But here I am keeping people dangling off the cliff.

No new house in the near future. No babies either. But there is a big change. A big, scary change (for me anyway). After months of praying, pondering, creating agonizingly long pros and cons lists, waffling back and forth, consulting a few close friends, and talking over and over with my husband, we have decided to put my oldest two children in the local parochial school for this coming academic year. I thought of all the reasons I could delineate in this post to defend our decision; however, I know I don’t have to defend myself. There will be people who think, “Who cares? What’s the big deal?” There will be others who silently “tsk, tsk” me. There will be friends who support me. There may be those who silently think I’m making a big mistake or that I gave up on homeschooling too quickly. In fact, it was the very idea of naysayers and the fear that this decision would make me seem like an epic failure that were making me cling to the homeschooling mom image and to refuse to consider any other options.

Parenting is never black and white though. Love can be expressed in all sorts of ways. Decisions are not always easy to make because, quite frequently, we live in fear that we could be making a better decision, but sometimes we have to take a deep breath and trust. That’s what I’m trying to do right about now.

I started reading about homeschooling before I was even pregnant. I worked for a parenting publication and had the opportunity to write an article about “alternative educational choices” such as Montessori, charter schools, International Baccalaureate programs, and, yes, homeschooling. Well, the homeschooling family I interviewed was so full of joy and it clearly was a close family, so I remember thinking that I might want to do that with my kids one day. I also had an aunt who had four kids who was homeschooling at the time, and I admired her as well.

When I became pregnant, gunner that I am, I began checking out books from the library on homeschooling as well as reading up about it online. (It was around that time when I discovered my first-ever mom blog – that of the industrious Danielle Bean, who happened to homeschool her kids.) I soaked up all the inspiration and information I could and when our little family ended up in Atlanta, I immediately joined the local Catholic homeschooling co-op – no matter that my oldest was only 2. Immediately, I met women whom I came to admire and love. They had the kind of values I did. They had beautiful, close-knit families. I never seemed to notice their kids’ tantrums or the dust in their homes even though these things were surely present in their lives. I wanted to be them when I grew up.

Still, I always said I would take homeschooling year by year and child by child. That is what I’ve always done. That is what I’m doing now. And I realize, what I wanted more than to replicate the exact lives these moms I met were living, which is impossible since we have different spouses, children, homes, hair color, passions, pursuits, etc., was their happiness and holiness. I have plenty of other friends who have smaller families and have never homeschooled who have these same traits and awesome values. I want to be them when I grow up, too. Ultimately, I just want to be a good wife, mom, and human being. How I go about doing that does not depend on some stringent set of rules that I must follow.

I’ve had seasons of homeschool burnout, but this year I didn’t feel overly frazzled. We were keeping up with our routine. Yes, two sisters in particular seemed to be constantly bickering, but their personalities have always clashed. We were plodding along. Everything was going to be okay, but I didn’t really feel okay. I wasn’t depressed or on the edge of a nervous breakdown. I simply felt deflated. I felt like I could never do enough. I also had a lot of guilt that it was my 3-year-old (who recently turned 4) who I’d decided to schlep off to preschool three days a week, so I could focus on school for the older ones. I’d always said I would keep my little ones close and even though this child did great (and is complaining that she doesn’t get to go to pre-K next year), I don’t want to miss out these precious years with her or her little brother. I want to be lazy with them some days and read storybooks all daylong. I want to nurse my little one without interruption. And, truthfully, I don’t want to be diffusing a sibling squabble every two minutes.  The arguing drives me crazy, and sometimes I’d find myself wondering if some of us could do with a little less togetherness. On top of all that, I just felt like I needed a little less chaos and messes in my day.

Is this selfish? Maybe. My husband says it isn’t. He’s the one who ultimately made the deicion. I told him to. “As the patriarch of the family, I want you just to decide what’s best and then,” I added, half-jokingly, “if anything goes wrong, I can blame you.”

I am still afraid I’ve made the wrong decision, or acquiesced to the wrong decision, but what I’m really afraid of stems from an inflated ego. All my life I’ve tried to be perfect (or at least I’ve hoped to appear perfect to others) while stumbling miserably along. In my pre-mom days, it was my body or my grades or how I “performed” as a daughter that I threw myself into, but since becoming a mom I can get a little obsessive compulsive about being the perfect mom even though I know there’s no such thing here in this broken world. As Fr. Jacques Philippe writes in his bomb-diggity book Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart,

God loves those who make their way with freedom of spirit and who don’t ‘split hairs’ too much over the details. Perfectionism doesn’t have much to do with sanctity.

That last bit is worth repeating for any recovering perfectionists out there. Perfectionism doesn’t have much to do with sanctity.

My never-ending and futile quest for a “perfect” homeschool experience perhaps drove me to this decision to make a big change, and it wouldn’t surprise me if I decide to pull my kids out after a year and try again with a renewed spirit and perspective. Although at this point, it wouldn’t surprise me if we continue sending our older kids to “real” school either. Child by child, year by year, right?

Given how my children performed during their screening exams, I have realized I shouldn’t have worried so much about how well I was doing as a homechooling mom. We did a lot more than I thought we were doing, but I always felt like we were coming up short. I wasn’t excited to teach anymore. I dreaded planning the new day when it came to school and just wanted to get it done as quickly as possible. I knew I could not completely unschool either though. I have crunchy educational views. I believe kids learn organically and should be playing more rather than pursuing academics or looking at flash cards all daylong, especially during the early years. But it also bothered me that one child in particular had no motivation to do anything but read (and not always books I would have liked her to read) while at the same time, it concerned me that another child was such a crippling perfectionist (hmmmm…I wonder where she gets that from) that she would sometimes end up in tears when were doing something that was supposed to be fun. Meanwhile, a little boy wanted to nurse; a 3-year-old wanted to play pretend; a needy, Prozac-popping dog needed a belly rub; the laundry taunted me; and planning and cooking meals – something I once really enjoyed – became an abhorrent chore. I felt like I was never able to meet all my kids’ needs. I’m sure I’ll still feel that way whether this sending-kids-to-school thing is short-lived or not, but I am looking forward to having a  more time to daydream and dawdle with my littles. (Okay, I need to stop qualifying and justifying everything I write now and just get on with it.)

As much as I’ve loved homeschooling and as much as I am going to cry buckets of tears when I have to let go of my two oldest and watch them walk into school, into new territory outside the safety and coziness of our home, I also know that homeschooling out of pride, out of wanting to be the rockstar parent is not the right reason to hold onto homeschooling, especially when your spouse is gently suggesting you give something new a try. In some ways, homeschooling had become my only goal, my charism, the one and only path to be a good, holy Catholic and raising good, holy children. A fellow homeschool dropout and friend of mine told me recently that she feels like there’s this hierarchy in some circles that if you do A, then you’re a good mom. If you do A and B, then you’re an excellent mom. If you do A and B and homeschool, well, lookout! You might as well be canonized now. I have another friend who does still homeschool who doesn’t feel this way. She feels like people think she’s a freak. That hasn’t been my experience though; I agree more with the idea that homeschooling propels mothers to a higher level in the minds of some people. When others found out I homeschooled, they expressed admiration. And, yup, affirmation junkie that I am, I liked that admiration and if I’m honest, I’ll miss being able to say, “I actually homeschool,” when people ask me where my kids go to school. Ridiculous, yes. I still have plenty of growing up to do.

Several years ago I told a spiritual director about my plans for holiness. Interestingly, they had a lot to do with how many children I planned on having and that I was going to practice attachment parenting and homeschool them. Yes, my path to sanctity had everything to do with what I would do and very little to do with what God might call me to do. I was all about satisfying my own image of what it meant to be a good, holy mom, and it had very little to do with pleasing God or leaving room for providence and grace in my life. I then blabbered on about how hard this would be because of how much I suck, because I yelled at my kids too much, because I wasn’t a very naturally patient person, because I was afraid. Yada, yada, yada. Well, this wise spiritual director very gently told me I might have some issues of false humility to work through (you think?) and that perhaps being open to God’s plan for me didn’t only include doing things that would feed my pride and make me appear to be a super mom.

Yes, as I alluded to above is very, very true: Maybe I wasn’t really afraid that sending my kids to a good, nurturing school was going to ruin them or erode our family closeness or convinced that homeschooling was the only way to raise happy, loving children (because I’ve never claimed to subscribe to that “all or nothing” school of thought), but maybe I was just scared that I can’t do as much as I thought I could and that my own shot at super stardom in the mommy ranks was demolished.

But at the end of the day, I am called to parent my children, to minimize the hurt, and to maximize the joy. Homeschooling or any one decision is not a religion or a even a guaranteed sign of goodness, obedience, or piety. What I desire for my children, above all, is to grow up knowing without a doubt that they were loved, cared for, cherished, and not always rushed or pushed, something I’d been doing a little too much lately as a teaching parent.

I know other homeschooling moms will tell me I shouldn’t have pushed so hard or tried to do so much. I should have trusted that afternoons reading picture books or playing card games were enough. I know all of this intellectually and in my heart, too. But I was having trouble living it. So, for now, I had to let go. I had to accept what I am and what I am not. Similarly, I had to accept my children’s temperaments and the people they are. I had to trust that all will be well, and I had to trust, too, that even if maybe this wasn’t the right decision that we will be okay. We will survive. God isn’t going anywhere. He makes good out of bad – even misguided decisions or fumbling, prideful, perfectionists like myself.

So this is my prayer as we look ahead to new beginnings and big changes, also from Searching For and Maintaining Peace (a recent read for my spiritual book club):

“Lord, I have thought about it and prayed to know Your will. I do not see it clearly, but I am not going to trouble myself any further. I am not going to spend hours racking my brain. I am deciding such and such a thing because, all things carefully considered, it seems to me the best thing to do. And I leave everything in Your hands. I know well that, even if I am mistaken, You will not be displeased with me, for I have acted with good intentions. And if I have made a mistake, I know that You are able to draw good from this error. It will be for me a source of humility and I will learn something from it!”

This prayer, by the way, is perfect for someone who is NOT gifted at all at discernment. I’m sure I’ll be repeating it over and over as I continue to face big and small decisions in this messy but beautiful life of mine.

*I had quite a bit of anxiety piecing together this post because I was concerned about offending people who homeschool passionately or those who don’t homeschool, so please just be kind (not that I’d expect any differently from remnant) and know that my intention was to explain my own unique situation and I meant no harm.

Enter the Conversation...

19 Responses to “About that cliff hanger”
  1. Nella says:

    I’m sending 2 of my previously homeschooled kids to our parish school this year too. It’s the right thing but gosh it’s hard. The best homeschooling advice I’ll ever read said that homeschooling should be a decision that is made on a year by year, kid by kid basis. I try to comfort myself with the knowledge that God is the only “be all, end all” in my kids’ lives and that this may or may not be a permanent decision. Hang in there!

  2. ViolinMama says:

    I have yet to read much more past your schooling announcement, and while I’m about to head back up to read – I wanted to tell you one CRAZY thing. I haven’t been good about blogging/e-mailing this stuff to you/others, but our homeschooling family is ALSO doing a big change this August (and maybe it will make you feel better). We’re ALL going back to school. I discerned a return to teaching professionally for myself, and I’ll be teaching middle school grades at a hybrid school (it is run as a cooperative – parents send their children to be taught by certified teachers the k12 home school curriculum, but we all work together to school the child in a small environment). It is a 1st-8th grade private school. Lovely can attend 4th grade with me (gotta buy uniforms!), and Valiant will attend 1/2 day Kindergarten and Gidt 1/2 day preK at the school next door with some before/aftercare to match my school day.

    The EXTRA crazy part??!! Our private hybrid is NOT Catholic, and the little kids school is Presbyterian (that’s the part that can make you feel better about parochial school lol). What is our mysterious God up too??!! LOL So, along with working mommy guilt, I worry about my kids not being in our 24/7 Catholic environment lol! So, at least you have the parochial school covered – HA!

    I say all this in laughter, because I am trusting God lead me to this situation for a reason, and we will just keep living the faith. But oh, the struggle to leave homeschooling behind, and our little Catholic nest :) I totally hear you without having read the full post. Ok….I need to go read your whole post. I just was shocked to see we both had similar changes this coming August!!! Love you, friend!! Off to read…discernment is HARD!

  3. Kris says:

    SO glad you finally posted about all of this. You know my thoughts…! And as I’ve said before (and what Nella said above!) – one year at a time. This is really right for you and the kids RIGHT NOW. And maybe it will still be right next year and maybe something else will be right next year. You just have to wait and see what transpires and where you are, where Dave is, and where the girls are. Embrace these new changes as the best thing for your family this year, and I think you will have a happy year all around. And I LOVE that your main focus is spending more time with Thomas and ME. Love.

  4. ViolinMama says:

    “I had to trust that all will be well, and I had to trust, too, that even if maybe this wasn’t the right decision that we will be okay. We will survive. God isn’t going anywhere. He makes good out of bad…”

    LOVE that quote, and so true. So TRUE. Love you. And I love what you have discerned. I am so glad you will have peace at spending time with your younger two. God is there in that peace.

    Love you! Praying always!

  5. Claire says:

    Awesome post Kate! I love your year-by-year/child-by-child philosophy. And you are so right that these individual parenting decisions are not the religion that they are sometimes treated as. I am discerning homeschooling, but I did send my son to (very part-time) preschool, and it was a great experience. He is going to go to half-day kindergarten in September which I thought would be a good opportunity to try out the public school in a limited capacity. Then, we’ll see. But honestly, it is the year-by-year philosophy that enables me to even consider homeschooling. If I thought it was a 12 year commitment that I could never get out of, I probably wouldn’t even go there. There simply is no one-size-fits-all solution for every family, every year. Holiness can be found in all kinds of lifestyles as long as we are following Church teaching and are open to God’s will.

  6. Claire says:

    By the way, I so appreciate your honestly in this post. You are truly a humble person and a wonderful mother.

  7. Jess says:

    (hugs) I know it was a very tough decision for you to make. Katie, you are an excellent mother AND teacher… sending them to school outside your home will not change that. We never stop mothering and teaching. You are still responsible for their growth, well-being, and education. You are just letting others in on their journey with them :)

    I send my kids to public school, as you know, and I have been taking it “a year at a time” since Jaina entered Kindergarten. That’s what I’d advise you. Take it a year at a time. You’ll know which kids need which needs met. And you will rise to the occasion.

  8. Jennifer says:

    Per usual, Kate, this post is perfectly you. And I love that your two quotes from “Searching for and Maintaining Peace…” were highlights for me, as well. Love and hugs. 4FMB

  9. Julie says:

    Good for you!! That’s what homeschooling is all about… child by child, year by year!! We have always homeschooled (except my youngest went to preschool for 2 years), and my oldest will graduate as a homeschooler next year. My 15 year old daughter is going to pubic high school this school year though, with plans to continue if all goes well, and my soon to be 5th grader is going to public school as well. As of now, we plan for him to come back “home” for middle school, but who knows. Each child, each circumstance, each family is different. Great job Mama!!

  10. Misty says:

    Kate I am so proud of you for standing in the truth of your own life and your own family’s needs rather than remaining in an uncertain homeschooling position. Most of all I am so proud of you for sharing it openly for your readers. As a certified teacher people have always asked me why I do not homeschool my own three children. Believe me I prayed about it, even attempted it for a while when we had a bad school experience early on, but I have always recognized the reality of the children God gave me and the reality of the person I am and the combination of both does not lead to a desire to homeschool. By the grace of God we have been able to send them to Catholic schools and have seen God work through teachers and other students for our children and through the other Catholic parents for me and my husband. (And we have always had the back door open in our minds, we can pull them out at any time and try something else.) Anyway, I will pray for you and your children and their school. I look forward to hearing how the Holy Spirit will lead you into new areas with this change of lifestyle. (I went way back and found this post about my kids and Catholic schooling and thought you might enjoy it too.) God Bless!

  11. Kate Wicker says:

    Thanks to everyone for their encouragement and support! It’s wonderful to have friends near and far, on the web and down the street from us, to lift me up!

  12. Michelle says:

    I sympathize with the agonizing decision you have made, but just know that you were led to where you are by God, for that is our faith in action. I am still agonizing night and day over whether to send our oldest back to second grade at the catholic school…we have four weeks til school starts…ugh. Waiting for that big sign from above, but after reading your post, am beginning to realize I may never get it in the form I am looking for. How did you finally reach it? was it really your husband’s decision after all? i joke about that too, but i cant make the leap even with his decision!

    On a side note, just as you were worried about how it appears to HSing friends to send her to school, I am worried about looking like a “freak” to my new catholic school moms if I HSed and pulled her out of school (even though I did it for PS and KG). But I too am trying to not let it even be a factor! Congrats to you for reaching a decision earlier than me ;). She will do great and so will you!

  13. Deanna says:

    Kate, you and I spoke about homeschooling a while ago. I had sent my oldest daughter to public school and had a horrible experience. I had always felt called to homeschool, thinking that it would solve all of our issues. I homeschooled this year, and there were moments that I loved, but honestly, there were many that were really bad and potentially more damaging to our family unit than sending the children to school. It was no where near the pictures on the covers of my homeschooling materials, my two oldest girls who are like oil and water fought constantly, nothing seemed to every get taken care of around the house, my third daughter who is now three just seemed to wonder about the house and I couldn’t focus on my newborn baby girl I had in November because I was always trying to rush through nursing to get her to sleep so I could get back to the curriculum. I am sure it didn’t have to be this way, and I know I can change. But I am a type A personality and extremely intense. I felt stressed all the time and was completely neglecting myself. So, with all that said, we too decided to send our children to a Catholic school in the Fall. They are all so different and we feel that they should get to experience a bit of time a part so they can just be who they are and not just who they are in the family pecking order. I too just want to spend some time more relaxed with my two little ones, reading stories and going to the park etc. I know some women who homeschool so well and I am so happy that it works for their families, but I had to learn to stop comparing myself to others and feeling like a failure. I would never want my children to feel that way. I also at some point want to get more serious about my health coaching career and perhaps go back to school and I knew that could not be if I continued to be my children’s primary teacher and in that I risked someday feeling resentful toward my children because I didn’t achieve my own personal goals. August will be difficult, but we must trust we are making the best decisions we can and that God is always there especially when we call upon him and his graces. My husband too made the final decision, as I was just to emotional and difficult on myself to do so. God bless you and your beautiful family.

  14. Tracy says:

    Peace and prayers for you sweetie! I really believe this post could help many moms who are discerning school options. There is not one right way, one magical golden path to follow for this parenting thing and while I homeschool right now we’ve always done the by kid/by year decision making. Homeschooling is not my religion, it’s just the best thing for us right now. I love how you and Dave made the decision together and those quotes were just perfect (God’s timing on reading that book was perfect too, no?!)

  15. Lisa says:

    I too have sent my kids to school after homeschooling since day 1. I could have written this post. I did not take the time to read the comments but I think a lot of us feel like staying in the homeschool world because we like the people in it. We see these moms and want to be them…and instead, I am not them, I am me. Where we live there is no choice of a Catholic school so you can imagine the struggle I went/go through sending them to public school.
    Last year was our first year and I will tell you it was not as easy as I would have liked. There are trade offs to both situations and some days I wish I never opened the school door for them…but I too did not feel like teaching anymore. I did not want to just be teacher. I wanted to be mama.
    This summer I have gone through so many different stages of what to do next year. My kids want to go. I will have 4 at school and 2 still home with me. There are some days I want them all home with me ALL day…but I still have not felt the desire to TEACH them at home. I want them here…but I don’t want to teach. I am praying for God to place that feeling on my heart and I will obey. But so far I have felt no such desire.

    Good luck to you and just know that good Catholic mamas send their kids to school too!! You are a good mom because you work at being a good mom everyday and try to strive to do better for them with each mistake you make..that makes you a good mom..a mom they will want to be like one day. The fact that somebody else introduced the Oregon Trail to them will be long forgotten item when they begin to become the person God created them to be..with your help.
    God Bless

  16. We’ve got two kids, one in 8th grade, one in 6th. Busy homeschooling them from day one. Today, for instance, my ds age 13, is at the science center, a teen docent for the Bodies Exhibit, and my dd, age 11 is in a chess tournament, followed by basketball game. Fun Saturday for us!

  17. You are a good mom, Kate. Don’t worry about what others think. I am very behind on reading blogs, and though many have been “marked as read”, I have saved yours to read. Glad I did.

  18. Julie Moon says:

    I always say “we do what is best for our whole family” and this is regarding which parent works, how we sleep, how I feed my family, how we school…etc, etc. Our family is what matters most and not what everyone else in the world thinks…what God thinks and what makes us happy and whole. Your vulnerability is appreciated and I wish you the very best this school year.

  19. Lisa says:

    Just finding this. So much of it resonates with me. As a veteran homeschooling mom of 18 years, I just put a few kids in school and will probably be adding 2 more soon. It is a hard decision, and pride surely got in my way of making the best decision for my family for a while. My whole blog is dedicated to encouraging burnt out homeschooling moms and former homeschooling moms.

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