I’ve started and stopped writing this post multiple times. There’s just not much time around here for blogging these days. I still want to give a summer recap. Wait until you hear about what I used some of my Tupperware for several weeks ago. You couldn’t eat its contents. That’s the only hint I’ll give for now. For today, here’s a look back on our first full week of school. Oh, and I just want to give a shout out to my amazing friends who sent texts and emails, invited me over for tea, and left bottles of wine at my doorstep on that first day when I had to let go and say good-bye to the girls. I am richly blessed to have such a supportive network of mom friends who’ve got my back.
We survived our first full week of school. It was not always easy. We’re figuring things out. I feel like the new kid on the block even more so perhaps than my children. I’ve had to ask what feel like stupid questions, but everyone at the school has treated us with patience and kindness.
The first few days were rocky, but we had some extenuating circumstances that made going to school seem like taking a trip to the doldrums (our current read-aloud is The Phantom Tollbooth) and made me seem like the big, mean mommy who sends her children to school while other moms plan exciting adventures all daylong with their homeschooled kids. We had out of town company arrive last Friday (the second day of school) and stay for several days, and the company just so happened to be homeschooling pen pals we have written to over the span of two years. My girls understandably wanted to stay up late to spend time with their friends and were sad in the morning when they had to leave, but they crammed plenty of fun and creativity in to the time they did have at home with their friends, including orchestrating an entire play complete with a typed script, costumes, and set design.
Forgive the fuzzy quality of these photos captured on my phone
One of my fears of sending my kids to a more traditional school when my views of how education should be approached, particularly when children are younger, is more crunchy is that my children’s creative spark would be extinguished. But watching them perform and seeing all they had created on their own made me realize my kids have inner artists within them just like I have always had.
My children can’t help but transform scarves into magic carpets or see the world a little bit differently. It’s innate and if I can still be goofy and act like different characters or weave words together to tell a bedtime story about mischievous fairies or a snake who just wants to make friends and not have everyone afraid of him at the ripe, old age of 34 (my age, not the snake’s) then why can’t my children continue to use their imaginations, create, dream, and lose themselves in play, book, or poem?
Another (silly and irrational) fear that sometimes kept me up at night was that my children would love me less not being around me so much. This was one of those parental fears I knew was more selfish than justifiable. I’ve struggled with vanity my entire life; I have an intense desire to be liked and validated. But my job as a mother isn’t always to be liked. My oldest did not like our decision about school initially (although she’s been happy as a clam now), but I had to be okay with her not liking what we were doing or even liking me. My kids won’t always like my decisions or even like me, but my job is to guide them and sometimes to push them. A wise friend I consulted during the to-homeschool-for-this-year-or-not discernment process wrote these words:
My simple test to know if I’m doing the right thing is to say, “Do I believe that this is what’s best for this child?” When we made the decision to pull Landry out of school, I told her that I may not always make the right decision, but I will always make the decision I think is right. I also told her that no human loves her as much as I do and that any decision I make that involves her will be done with the purest intentions and out of unconditional love. That has been very freeing for me. I honestly pray through it and make a decision and move on.
I returned to her wisdom numerous times during the discernment process and also when my kids questioned my decision about school every day in the beginning (mainly because they wanted to have a slumber party every night with their pen pal friends). In fact, I quoted that bit about making the right decision to them. My friend has two kids in school but decided to pull one child out to homeschool. This child wants to be back in school, but my friend is doing what she thinks is right. So am I.
My husband wisely tells me it’s too early to assess whether this was the absolute best decision or not, but my gut tells me that for one child it most definitely was (and this is the child who complained ad nausem about torturous school). I’m on the fence with the other child and need to be a careful observer and pray some more about it. However, my children popped into the van with smiles on their faces Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of last week (interestingly, the homeschool friends departed Wednesday) and animatedly recounted their days. On Thursday I went to Mass and saw my girls. Rachel was the still and stoic contemplative she frequently is. Madeline had already joined the choir and was singing with a joyful smile on her face. Neither child shied away from my kisses after Mass. It was a gift seeing them because I miss them terribly during the day.
On Wednesday evening, we were rushed getting everyone out the door for soccer. My husband worked nights that first week, which made the transition even more trying because the girls saw very little of him and I was stuck with managing the bedtime chaos and vespertine, on-the-verge-of-a-meltdown-moods with no reinforcements. I started to walk in to the kitchen and Madeline, my oldest, said, “Stop, Mommy! Don’t come in the kitchen yet! I have a surprise for you.” I waited (and waited and yes, we ended up being a few minutes late to soccer practice, but it was well, well worth it) until she invited me to come to see her. She’d made me a green smoothie, picked flowers, and floated them in a bowl of water, and written me a note. It wasn’t my birthday. It wasn’t Mother’s Day. It was the week I’d sent my kids off to school. But I realized she may not always like me, but she will always love me.
Her sisters were at a neighbor’s house because I have the most awesome friends. My friend knew it was rough on me schlepping everyone to an hour and a half of soccer practice and had offered to host my 6-year-old and 4-year-old for a pizza and movie night while I took Madeline and hung out with Thomas (Todzilla). I picked them up after soccer, and Rachel saw the note Madeline had left. “That was nice,” she said.
“Wasn’t it?” I replied.
Now Rachel is my child who quite frequently writes me “just because,” notes and she wasn’t going to be outdone. When I’d successfully lured Thomas and Mary Elizabeth in to a peaceful slumber, I tiptoed out into the hallway and discovered another note with one handpicked flower.
I hugged my poet of a child with wet eyes and told her that was one of the nicest notes I had ever received. I was not lying or even exaggerating. The sweetness packed into that one note made all the messes, tears, lost hours of sleep, fears, everything that comes with their territory of being a mom infinitely worth it.
Now don’t go thinking every moment has been gilded with gold, love notes, and flowers. We’ve had meltdowns and raised voices and passions have been high. (There was another note from our resident poet that included the apology, “Sorry for calling you a cruel and mean mommy. Even when I say it, I don’t mean it. You are the best mom in the ‘would.'”) We are a volatile crew. We are noisy, and sometimes we yell too much. But my, we are passionate and full of life. (Not that quiet families are not these things; it’s just more obvious when a child is crooning loudly while using the dining room table as her stage even though Mommy has told her to never stand on furniture at least two million times.)
We fight around here sometimes. I mess up as a mother. My kids lash out of me. But we’ve got this forgiveness thing down. We’re a close family who relies on grace and mercy. I pray we will be this way for years to come no matter what school choices we make down the road.
I’ve nursed many other fears about letting go of homeschooling. I’ve been afraid my older children won’t be as close to the littles. Well, the 4-year-old and 6-year-old still bicker. They always have, but they also hug, and my 4-year-old colored a beautiful dolphin for her big sister (one of Rachel’s favorite animals is the dolphin). My oldest dotes on the younger ones. She cheerfully grabs the hand of her little sister during carpool and helps lead her to our car. And there’s still the sister bed.
I’ve worried about the pressures of peers, but my oldest cracks me up nearly every day with her stories of how she has exercised her assertiveness. She apparently was not immediately invited to partake in a boys-only kickball game during recess. She told the boys she played soccer and wanted in on the team. She proceeded to score a point or run or whatever you call it in kickball. “Wow, you’re good for a girl,” a boy commented.
“I’m just good,” she quipped. Perhaps we need to cultivate humility a bit more, but I was proud of her nonetheless.
Then at lunch a child was bragging about being able to see R movies. I have to doubt the veracity of his boasting, but whatever the case, Madeline told him she was just fine with G and some PG movies. Lo and behold other children who had been saying they could see more inappropriate movies began admitting they only watched G or PG movies as well. Madeline said, “Mommy, you were right.” Those were the only exact words I remember her saying because she acknowledged I WAS RIGHT, but she went on to say something about how if you stand up for your convictions, others will, too.
I have these little lights in my home, these little Christ-bearers. It’s not easy letting them go into what could turn out to be some darkness, but it is a beautiful gift watching them shine.
Madeline came home one day and told me her teacher had shared with her class that they are like rocks and the world is like a big body of water. Whatever choices they make, it will have a ripple effect. They can choose to do good, and joy will ripple out. Others will inspired to be kind or to do good. Or they can be mean and ugly and selfish and produce not-so-nice ripples. I’ve dropped these beautiful stones of mine, my oldest two children, into a bigger body away from home, and here they are making beautiful ripples.