My babymoon is going so well. I’m tired, but I’ve just felt really happy and content this postpartum period. I’ve also really made peace with the fact that I just don’t have time to piece together perfect prose (or much prose at all) these days. I love this blog and writing, but they’re definitely not a priority right now.
It’s all good. Life is all good right now.
So for now I’m popping in here for a few quick notes:
2. My mom is back home today after having surgery to remove a tumor in her jaw. The surgeon is fairly confident it’s benign, and Mom once again amazes me with her courage, her optimism, and her refusal to give in to self-pity or to start complaining about anything. She called me today, sounding like her happy self. Unfortunately, the procedure has resulted in some worse pain from her trigeminal neuralgia. We’re hoping this won’t continue. She’d just started having a little relief from her facial and head pain. Prayers for this saint-in-the-making are always appreciated. (I also continue to be impressed with my dad and his dedication and love for his bride.)
3. Thomas slept one five-hour stretch last night. I’m in shock. None of my kids have ever done this. He’s just over five weeks. I probably should have kept my mouth shut because sometimes it seems like you just curse yourself when you yammer on about sleep milestones, but I’m just so giddy. The only bummer is I woke up with rocks for breasts. I did pump before I nursed him after he woke up (a crazy 4 ounces in two minutes – sheesh), but the poor guy was still gulping like a frat boy doing a keg stand. I had to keep him upright for a long time after he nursed, and wet burps and hiccups kept him from drifting off to Slumberland for about two hours. Still, it’s amazing how seven hours of fragmented sleep can feel like total nirvana to a sleep-deprived mama.
4. I recently received an athletic shirt from Mamas Movin’ with Mary, and I was blown away by the quality. I actually wore the shirt today when I braved pushing the double stroller with my 2-year-old and Thomas for a short walk (I stupidly took along our Great Dane-Lab mix and kept tripping over her). Not only do I love the mission of Mamas Movin’ with Mary to strengthen your body and your soul, but the shirt is made with moisture-wicking fabric, which is so much better to wear than cotton when you’re working out. It also features the creative words “Hail Marys Aren’t Just for Football.” Sweet Madeline said that Uncle Josh would love my shirt because “it’s Catholic and about football.” Do check out their mission and their great lineup of products. (I am not getting paid to say any of this. Promise.)
5. We’ve moved Mary Elizabeth (2) from my husband and my bed this week into the big girl bed with her sisters, and she’s doing great! The girls look so cute piled together on one bed. We have a top bunk for them, but no one wants to sleep up there alone. They’re much happier with the family bed, or I guess I should now say the sister bed.
6. Two great but very different books I read while on bed rest and the early postpartum period: Room by Emma Donnoghue and A Little Way of Homeschooling by Suzie Andres. Melanie Bettinelli inspired me to read both. I have lots to say about A Little Way and hope to get to it one of these days. What I’ll say for now is it’s a wonderful book to read whether you’re an unschooler or even a homeschooler or not. My family is still discerning what we’re going to do for next year, and the book really helped to remind me to pray about this and to know that my kids will be okay no matter what we decide. I went crazy highlighting passages, but I keep returning to these words:
“He says that His yoke (our work, done in union with Him) is easy, and His burden (which He shares with us in our daily duties) is light. How can we, alongside St. Thérèse, find a way to make our children’s education light and easy? For us and for them?”
That’s key, I think. Finding a path that does not feel burdensome or weigh you down. This doesn’t mean you won’t have rough days or even rough months or years, but there will be peace, even if it’s just on the interior and your life looks a little messy and chaotic, if you repeatedly turn to Him for help, guidance, and heaps of grace.
That’s all for now. My husband is around today, and he told me I should try to take a nap. He’s right. (He almost always is.)
From my prayer journal, circa October 2010:
“The plan of the LORD stands forever; the design of his heart through all generations.” Psalm 33:11
I’m a planner. I’m always making lists, mapping out my day, my month, sometimes even my year. We’ve started our first official year of homeschooling, and my propensity to plan kicked into high gear. I created this elaborate spreadsheet that broke up our days into chunks of time and study. Not a minute would be wasted. We’d have nature study and observe great art together. Madeline would practice her sums and reading. Everything would go relatively smoothly because I had a plan.
During our very first week we were reading about the Fertile Crescent. I was showing Madeline (and our little onlookers) where the area is on a modern day globe. What I hadn’t anticipated in my curriculum planning were how the two younger sisters were going to want to get involved. Mary Elizabeth was constantly in destruction mode, trying to eat crayons. I’m afraid her poop might be a swirl of colors. Rachel didn’t want to feel left out and was constantly asking me for more “school” to do. I thought I’d anticipated this well because I had put together her own “school” box – a big cardboard box full of fun things to do like write with white chalk on black construction paper or use lacing cards. But she really wanted to do big-girl school.
I was desperately trying to keep Madeline’s attention amidst the chaos, but it was too much for her. Her sisters distracted her. She stood up and walked away from the lovely lesson I’d planned and before I had a chance to tell her to please come back and listen just for a few more minutes (you know, so we could live up to that fancy spreadsheet), I watched as she went to help her little sisters. She showed Rachel how to write a letter “D,” and then she handed a toy that had been out of Mary Elizabeth’s reach. My daughter, my little school girl was sticking to the most important plan of all: The Lord’s plan, Your plan, and a plan that is led by love more than the clock or accomplishments. No wonder generations have called You blessed. The world is full of goodness of the goodness that is You and so are our homes even when our personal plans are completely derailed.
I was flipping through my journal and when I saw that entry, I came face-to-face with many of the doubts I’ve had about homeschooling that had led me to discern sending my children to school. For now we are going to continue homeschooling.
In many ways, the school decision was sort of made for us for the immediate future. The local Montessori school’s waiting list is quite long, and the parochial school’s academic year starts the first week in August. This seemed so early, and during the discernment process I was concerned how it would work out sending Madeline to school around the same time a new baby was due. We’ve been very spoiled in not having to answer to anyone else’s schedule. So my husband and I decided I would homeschool for at least one more year figuring we can’t screw up elementary school and then make a more deliberate, prayerful decision for the 2012-2013 year.
Honestly, I was in panic mode when I started discerning all of this, and there were some underlying emotions and family stresses that I never felt called to discuss outside of our home coming into play. However, my time of necessary rest has given me profound inner peace about the decision our family has made.
As soon as I was faced with pre-term labor and the possibility (which grows less likely every single day I continue to gestate, thanks be to God!) of a baby in the NICU, I was grateful we could be flexible with exactly when our more formal homeschooling began. (I’m thinking probably after Labor Day.) We’ve had a lot of help with the girls, and sometimes this has required them going to stay with the grandparents. I miss them, and I can’t imagine having to shuffle Madeline off to school every day. Nor did I want to even think about how we would all handle the stress of a possibly medically-fragile baby and a complete shift in our family’s daily rhythm if Madeline was to go off to school-school.
I’ve actually found myself getting excited again about homeschooling, which I would have thought would never happen again a few months ago. (An added bonus: Homeschooling gives me an excuse to binge on some new books each summer!) I’ve been reading and planning – but not obsessively so. I’ve been putting my trust back into Charlotte Mason’s gentle art of learning – and into God.
I also recently finished reading Pocketful of Pinecones: Nature Study With the Gentle Art of Learning by Karen Andreola. The book serves to encourage homeschooling moms as well as to provide insight into how to make nature study a part of your family’s life; yet, it’s not written in a traditional how-to format. There is no didactic instruction. Instead, the reader is invited into the pages of a journal belonging to a fictional mother living in the 1930s who embarks on her first year of homeschooling. The book also includes a list of books useful for nature study as well as excerpts from some of Charlotte Mason’s writings.
These words from the book’s supplement section jumped out at me as I was reflecting upon this upcoming homeschooling year:
“To have an aim and a direction, even if accomplishments are small at the start, is far better than to drift along in insecurity and confusion, relying only upon snippets of advice from well-meaning friends. Even with great guidance…home teaching may still be a struggle. Please understand that a new home teacher goes through a transition period.
Carol [the fictional woman whose journal we're privy to in Pocketful of Pinecones] put her trust in a method that appealed to her. She was careful to attempt no more than she felt she could handle at any given time. She couldn’t fully realize the ideal educational environment presented in Home Education [by Charlotte Mason]. She had to be content with what she was able to do, while acknowledging room for improvement.”
With this wisdom in mind, I need to remember a few things as I begin another year of homeschooling:
1. Having a plan is helpful. This gives us aim and direction, but it needs to be our family’s plan, and it needs to be rooted in God’s will as well as be flexible enough that it won’t make us all miserable. Likewise, as this wonderful post reminded me, one of the biggest perks of homeschooling lies in the flexibility – not only in terms of how our day-to-day lessons and learning unfold but also how I approach each child. I need to be aware of and focus on my daughters’ strengths and adapt accordingly. I can build our days around what makes my children strong and as La Paz Home Learning points out,
“By focusing on her strengths, gradually her weaknesses, which really are so small in the long run, become even smaller.
Until eventually, without us even noticing, they quietly disappear.
And that’s the beauty of it.”
2. Homeschooling is going to feel like a gift sometimes. It will easy to be recognize the beauty of it then. On other days, however, it’s going to feel like a real struggle. I need to try to focus on the big picture and not get bogged down by the challenges. I need to call to mind all that we have accomplished rather than obsess over what didn’t get done. I need to remember what’s gone right when things start to go wrong. I need to accept that there will be a transition period this year, especially since we are welcoming a new baby into our home.
3. I need to trust my instincts and the methods I have chosen for our family. I need not be overly ambitious or feel like I have to do everything I want to do or set out to do. I want to allow for plenty of “free” time to dawdle, dream, play outside, read, enjoy board games together, and draw.
4. Likewise, I need to remember that this is just one year. This is not the rest of our lives. Discernment is an on-going process. I need to approach decisions about each of my children’s schooling year by year and child by child. No need to get ahead of myself.
5. Finally, I want my children to know that our family and caring for one another takes primacy over their lessons. If my daughter abandons her copy work to help a younger sibling, I should be grateful, not frustrated. I entrust this year to God and the lessons He plans to teach all of us.
Today is a big day for our family. My mama arrived at Emory at 5 a.m. this morning for an angiogram and then will have a procedure that will hopefully successfully treat at least one of her brain aneurysms. My dad gave us an update and there’s another procedure before hers, so we won’t know anything until at least 3 p.m.
As for me, I’ll be headed to my midwife’s office this afternoon to get an ultrasound to check the length of my cervix and how this baby is growing as well as to receive another fFn test. If it comes back positive, I’ll be admitted to the hospital again (ugh) to start receiving steroid shots to give our little one’s lungs a boost. Then I’ll likely be placed on strict bed rest (rather than this modified business). I’m very hopeful we’ll get negative results, which will buy us more time. But either way, I’m ready.
Like none of my quasi-bed rest* experiences in the past, these last few weeks have offered the baby and me much growth. Each day we avert labor, the baby grows physically as I feel like I grow spiritually. In my previous pregnancies, I learned small lessons, but I don’t feel like I experienced anything truly transformative. This time is different, and I know putting it into words probably won’t sound all that life-altering to others, especially since many of these themes seem to resurface in my emotional and spiritual landscape (and on this blog and in my other writing). But I’ll do my best at sharing some of what’s been going on in my interior life and the lessons I’m slowly learning.
This enforced quiet time has made me realize how much I need to make solitude a priority. There’s just been too much noise in my life, and for too long I defined time alone as blogging or exercising when what I really needed was to just sit and do nothing but listen (even if it was only for five minutes).
Since about January, I’ve been trying to convince myself that I haven’t been burned out; I was simply on the fringe of frying but since I was aware of the flames, I could keep myself from becoming so overwhelmed that depression or anxiety or a total lack of enjoyment in mothering would take their hold on me. Everything was under control.
I was being foolish. You don’t have to be completely fried to feel the pressure – or to eventually collapse under it.
For example, what about my tone when a child spilled something or another sibling squabble erupted? I may have appeared to handle it calmly if you didn’t pay attention to the tightness in my face or my clenched fists or the hard tone of my voice, but I often felt as if I was ready to snap at any moment. And sometimes I did.
Yet, I kept telling myself my antsy, irritable moods were rooted in my being chronically tired. Nothing needed to change in my life except that I needed more sleep, and since squeezing in more shut-eye seemed like an impossible task at this point of my life with too crowded of a family bed, a toddler who had started waking up in the middle of the night again, and the typical pregnancy-related insomnia, I might as well just suck it up, offer it up, and just keep plodding along, dragging my “mombie” feet.
The truth is, sleep is most definitely an elixir for more happiness and more purposeful parenting, but a shortage of Zzzzzzs was not the only thing that left me feeling like I was always on edge and that one unplanned catastrophe – say a toddler writing with pen on a new couch – would cause me to lose my footing and send me on a frightening free fall.
Peaceful contentment or just plain happiness sounds simple enough. Don’t worry, be happy. Smile. Enough said. But it’s more complicated than that, especially for someone like me who has this annoying tendency to over-analyze everything and/or assume that I don’t deserve happiness because I’m such a screw-up (or because I’m not thin enough). That sounds a little harsh, but even when I wouldn’t admit it to myself, these self-deprecating thoughts were often just waiting to rise to the surface and show their ugly faces.