Giving Up on Family. Or Not.

I’ve felt a lot like giving up lately. It’s hard to write that. As a person who believes in positive thinking, in seeing the best in every situation, I don’t like myself when I’m feeling defeated. February was just a tough month, for many reasons. The weather’s been terrible, cold and bleak. A close friend of mine was killed in a car accident, leaving behind a husband and three young children. We are just so, so sad for the family’s loss. And our own; she was a great friend.  Grief affects every part of your life, and things I ordinarily would cope with smoothly are jarring and jagged. I’ve been buried in bookkeeping and under a time crunch, and homeschooling? Well, let’s just say that if I could quit, I would. The kids have been bucking me at every turn when it comes to getting their work done, and then there was a bit of a kerfluffle over report cards (we are enrolled with a distance learning school, and the teachers make sure what we do complies with provincial education standards). And I miss painting when things get busy like this and I can’t escape to a fresh sheet of watercolour paper and a palette of juicy pigment.

As my kids get older, I am realizing what people say about parenting getting harder. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that I looked forward to their learning to communicate, as I spend so much of my day attempting to model and teach respect in tone and content of speech. I had no idea that my children would be so good at minding other people’s business! And that’s just in their relationships with each other. When it comes to dealing with their mother, especially when I am in the role of educator, it’s often a battle of wills and manipulation. The strategies they will resort to in when they don’t want to work (or don’t think they can understand a concept), they would never even try if it were a non-family member teaching them. Tears, blame, throwing of pencils, gnashing of teeth; it’s all in the arsenal when work is on the line.

I hear you thinking, “Then why homeschool? You’re just making work for yourself.” And it is work. I vented to my husband the other night after the worst day ever, telling him how frustrating things were, and how disrespected I felt, and how I had told the kids that if things didn’t improve by the end of this school year that I would not be teaching them again. They like homeschooling, so it does help to remind them that we need to work together for this to work. But after pouring out my heart to Wade, I had to acknowledge that our problem is not a homeschooling problem. Homeschooling is not the bad guy here. Even if my kids were in school 7 hours a day, these behavioural issues that arise in our home would remain; we might be confronting them less often, but that doesn’t make them any less real. I will still try to control them (and I confess that sometimes our family issues come out of my tendency to be dictatorial), and they will still fight authority. I should be thankful that in being at home together full time, we have a  limitless span of opportunity for teaching and demonstrating respect, cooperation, patience and all those other character traits that, when properly developed, will help my children function peaceably in society. It’s a brutal ton of work, and it’s easy to feel defeated at this stage when these qualities are so lacking (and I’m so woefully aware of my own shortcomings in these areas as they are tested at every turn), but we keep working at it, because it is so important, and really, I have no choice. Because whether or not we homeschool from K – grade 12, I won’t quit at parenting.

Thanks for listening to my outpourings – it’s been a better week so far (last week was awful) and we are getting a handle on some of the work that needs to get done around here. And I’ve got a nasty head cold that’s helping me take things a little more easily around here. Missing my friend, but thankful for the example she left of love for family & friends and enthusiasm for life.

Deck the Halls…or the sibling.

I told the kids that if they helped me clean the house yesterday, we’d get out the Christmas decorations today. We got the floors cleaned, the furniture dusted, and general tidiness restored within half an hour.

Then as I was hauling in three of four Christmas totes (one holds tree ornaments so it can wait), they started fighting. Again. So they are having quiet time in their rooms, decorating on hold, and I’m at a loss as to what to do. Am I the only one whose kids fight ALL THE TIME? Sassy nags, Scooter screams and Wecco teases and tantrums, and our home is not peaceful or pleasant.

Problems have a tendency of seeming larger than they are. I know that kids will fight, and mine are definitely normal in that regard. Although I have a friend who told me once, “My kids didn’t know how to fight until they started hanging around other kids.” Take that how you will.

I fear that I am modelling some kind of selfish disregard for the feelings of others, and that they are merely following my example. I wonder if I’m too controlling. Then I wonder if I give them too much freedom.

I made Sassy & Scooter hug each other for two minutes the other day. “This is your sister and you love her!” I exhorted, wrapping my arms around both of them to really maximize the hug. They wanted to be angry, but a forced bear hug has a way of forcing a grin, even unwillingly. And having Scooter read to Wecco yesterday evening while I was making supper certainly brought harmony between the two of them. More giggles came from the couch and the story had to be abandoned so they could continue their joke. Poor Pickles the Fire Cat.

I am an independent person and I know they do get a brush-off from me sometimes, though I hate to admit it. But there is something about people that I just love – we are all so complex and interesting. Lately, as the kids and I team up to split wood for the winter, clean the house, decorate or make supper, there is room for both frustration and delight.

  • The girls are telling me that there is no “largest number,” and Wecco enters the conversation. “The largest number is a hundred!” he proclaims, and we all collapse in giggles.
  • Somehow the children’s song listing the books of the Bible includes the word, “cheeseburger.”
  • Sassy is two dollars short  of the money she’s saved to buy a Maplelea doll. Scooter still needs over forty. Sassy agrees to put any money she earns over the needed amount toward Scooter’s doll, so they can be ordered at the same time.
  • Wecco built a periscope, with a little help from me and an accidental cutting of all the score lines which complicated things a bit. He didn’t know what it was called or how it was used, but he’s carried it everywhere since.
It’s a lie to believe that other families are doing “family” better than we are. How quick I am to believe it! Family photos are smilier, other children are more outgoing, seem more cooperative or well-rounded, mothers seem more engaged, fathers more available. And I have always secretly thought that the idea of “God gave your children exactly the kind of parents they needed,” is kind of a cop-out to complacency. I don’t believe in a shrugged, “this is just the way we are,” when there’s so much better we can be. Oh, but I am thankful for these kids I have – and my husband! Let me tell you, they do deserve my best. 

You Don’t Know You’ve Moved On Until You See It in the Rearview Mirror

I was thinking the other day about how much time I used to spend writing about parenting, reading parenting books and blogs, and how in a sense I feel like I’ve moved on. My youngest is only five, and goodness knows, I don’t have this parenting thing down yet; in fact, there are ways in which I felt like I knew more back when I was knee deep in babies and toddlers. It’s not too late to retire the parenting books, and I know more about mommyhood than I did back then, so why have I backed away from the topic?

I think that what has happened is that as my kids have gotten older, the game changes. Sometimes, early on, I felt so lost. Like I might never find myself again, in quagmire of diapers and playdough and apple slices. I needed encouragement and guidance and frequent reminders that the self-sacrificial life I was living is so worth it. Fast-forward to new days of chapter books and swimming lessons and weak tea proudly served to me at dawn, and maybe I was never really lost at all. I get to live a little for myself again, teaching my favourite songs to three sing-along mini Idols, sharing hopes and dreams (there are now three aspiring artists among the females of the family) and be “Mom who paints and stamps and writes and teaches classes and swims and exercises and drinks mochas and loves Pumpkin Pie Blizzards, who homeschools us and used to live in Papua New Guinea.” But they think everyone’s mom is like that.

Not that my babies’ early years robbed me of anything. I would hate for anyone to think that. There is a reason people start as babies and I believe it’s to teach parents vital truths about unselfishness, patience and sacrifice, trust and unconditional love. It is a gift for me to be able to be me while raising them. I get to be an individual they learn how to love and live with, and as their personalities develop (and oh, they have some doozies of personalities!), I am learning to live with and love them for who they are.

I yell too much. And I think I have a tendency to lecture. Who wants to be lectured? I’m not so easy to live with, now that they are old enough to notice such things. Perhaps they’ll be shopping the parenting book section for my Christmas gift this year? I’m me. And they’re them. And we’re learning this family thing, together, sharing lives that are unique from each perspective, the same but different, and we step close, slip apart, collide and apologize.

Tales from Soccer Camp

At noon, the whistle blows, we pray with the kids, and they stampede off to parents and vans. We pack the soccer balls and pylons back to the church to wait for tomorrow, and we head home to collapse. It’s soccer camp VBS week, and I’m in charge. Scary, huh?

As “Administration Director,” I’ve really been planning and stressing and obsessing about soccer camp for over two months…maybe three. So much of that stress could have been avoided if I had just known how to trust God with it all. The details worked out! Many of them at the very last minute, but it’s been a great week. During soccer camp I am mostly free to fill in wherever there happen to be needs. So I’ve been a registration taker, a face painter – we get quite elaborate with our designs – and a worship-song-action-demonstrator and a little-kindergartener-wrestling-match-breaker-upper. And by one p.m., all the volunteers are ready to collapse. It’s really a week where it’s a good idea not to plan any afternoon activities. Nap is priority!

I’ve noticed this week that ministry changes my priorities. My normal areas of fixation – guilt over my parenting failures, striving over appearance – barely register. We are doing a good thing – sharing the gospel with sixty kids who need to know God’s love – and I don’t have time to think about me. Much.

The girls are both loving soccer camp – they are on the same team and so are their best friends. Wecco is participating for the first time, and it’s been a little rough. He doesn’t want to go with his team for the drills, even though his buddies are all there. I don’t push it too much – he warms up after snack time and by the end of the day is joining in with the rest of the kids. I do feel a little sorry for his coach – she has fifteen or so five-year-olds to wrangle and it can get a little zany!

Insert Fehr/Fair Joke Here.

It’s Fall Fair weekend! And it’s not raining. The kids and I spent Wednesday getting entries ready for the baking and crafts exhibits, and so on Friday after the parade, we stampeded down to the fairgrounds to see if we’d won anything.

Scooter was delighted to win first place for her blueberry muffins.

While Sassy’s fudge didn’t place, she did take home several ribbons, including a first for her drawing, and several seconds, for her wild berry collection, wildflower bouquet and embroidery.

Wecco had entered a Lego creation, and after trying to convince me to enter a Lego car made by a friend, and then spending the next two days asking when he was going to get his Lego back, I think I deserved the first place ribbon!

I had entered a few things and was pleased to take home some prize money including a rosette for my bread. My family has always prided ourselves on our bread and bun baking skills, so I would have been ashamed not to! I didn’t enter any watercolour paintings, since I consider that to be my profession, but I entered some mixed media canvases and papercrafts in the arts & crafts categories and never got better than second place. That made me laugh a little, both at myself for expecting to triumph and at the unpredictable preferences of judges.

The kids were thrilled to take home some prize money, and we talked a little about how it seemed like the stuff we worked the hardest on were the items that won prizes – and how even when they didn’t, if we’d done our best we could still be proud of ourselves and our work.

After the exhibits were duly seen, we walked over to the Midway and each child chose a ride to enjoy. Scooter was brave enough to ride the YoYo by herself:

And Sassy chose the tamer Bumblebee:

Wecco got a glimpse of Convoy Race and was determined that he would ride one of the motorbikes. I pointed out that it didn’t look like it went very fast at all (even for a five-year-old) but he insisted, so we bought the right amount of tickets. Turns out he’s too tall for it by about two inches. Oh, he was destroyed. Wouldn’t ride on anything else, and finally he chose to play the fish pond where he won a small stuffed duck.

Scooter was very quiet on the way home, and went straight to her bed instead of joining us for a popsicle. When I went to talk to her, she was upset because she didn’t get a stuffie too. Usually, I get frustrated with this kind of ungrateful attitude. Here we’d spent the morning watching a parade and collecting candy, then lunch with family in town, then winning prizes at the fair and riding rides! I question my example when the kids are so quick to complain after enjoying fun and treats. I wonder if we’re spoiling them. And I usually, exasperated, say something like, “Look at everything else you did today! Why can’t you be thankful for all of that?!” To which they always answer, “Yeah, but…”

But sitting with Scooter, I thought about how she’s just like me. And so instead of a lecture, she and I talked about how frustrating it is that one negative thought can crowd out all the good ones, and why is that? And how this is why God tells us in His Word that we need to train our minds to think on the good. It is so encouraging when I feel the Holy Spirit guiding me as a mom, and I need to remember that even when I don’t feel “inspired” in how I handle different issues, He is at work in my children’s lives. I know that this conversation with Scooter was one that had an impact – sharing my own frustration and struggle with the same issue helped her to know I’m on her side, and that made it easier for her to listen to my guidance. And then we had a popsicle.

Ain’t No Way to Hide Those Lyin’ Eyes

It’s fun having a kitten around. We bring him in the house in the morning and it was a riot of laughter the day he scrambled up on the dining room table and managed to snatch a Cheerio out of Wecco’s bowl before he was removed. And to this point I have not had to clean up any kitty-cat accidents, so YAY!Which is good, because I’ve had other messes to manage lately.

I tend to allow the kids a lot of fredom in the summer. Lately they’ve been bored with their liberty and like to lie around, listening to audio theatre CD’s and bickering. Wecco is not as interested in Down Gilead Lane as his sisters, and has taken up a new hobby, stealing and lying about it. (Aaaaagh!)

It started with a package of gum, snitched from the grocery store during our Tuesday morning grocery run. Wecco likes to chew gum and then spit it wherever, and by midafternoon it started showing up on the bottoms of shoes, in the tent trailer, etc. And his breath smelled suspiciously like strawberry. Well, we high-tailed it back to the grocery store so he could apologize, pay for the gum and surrender the remains of the package, and there was much discussion about the seriousness of his actions throughout the rest of the day. But really the gum theft was just the week’s opening act.

Throughout the week, Wecco demonstrated that he had been thinking a lot about what he could get away with unobserved. Even prior to the gum incident, he’s been doing things at home that might be considered sneaky, but being that he was at home, not theft as such. During the rest of last week, after his shoplifting episode alerted me to a problem in his methods of operating, I had many, MANY teaching opportunities, as cookies, cans of pop, freezies and mints from my purse either vanished or were caught in Wecco’s hands or pockets. By Thursday I had resolved that he and I needed to be attached at the hip until he realized that sneaking and lying is just not worth it.

I have to be thankful that five-year-olds are not skilled at deception. While he knew I couldn’t challenge a point-blank denial (“No, I didn’t steal the girls’ candy”), he wasn’t quite as quick to catch on that when I asked him to apologize, (“Sorry, Mom”) and then asked him, “Sorry for what?” that his answer was as good as a confession. And that a long explanation about how tonight he wouldn’t sneak out of bed and help himself to a cookie only alerted me to the idea that he had done that exact thing the night before.

I’ve had a hard time not feeling like Wecco’s problem is a reflection on my parenting. Truthfully, I struggle with feeling like ALL behaviour issues are a reflection on my parenting. And maybe there is truth in that. Maybe if I had been more observant, Wecco’s sneaky tendencies would have been noticed and nipped a little sooner. But here we are. And I’m not the first parent to be faced with this problem – in fact, the cashier at the grocery store and the lady behind us in line both had to share their own stories of similar childhood light-fingered-ness when Wecco was atoning for his crime. But it’s been a long week, trying to juggle keeping Wecco in sight at all times with getting work done on the computer and organizing the church’s VBS program.

Last week I shared about how hard I can be on myself, and in the process of writing, I realized some things about my thinking that opened my eyes and helped me breathe a little more easily. I’ll share that in another post, after I can find a coherent way to explain it. (Not that being incoherent has ever stopped me before!) It’s such an indication of right thinking when gratitude for God’s grace is the result.

By the Book.

Last week was supposed to be our last week of school. Today, Sassy is sitting at the kitchen table, math before here, crying her eyes out. She has about five pages left to complete her grade two workbook, and she’s been stuck on the same problem for an hour. A problem I’ve already walked through with her multiple times. Short of feeding her the answer, I’m stuck.

Three read-alouds stack, unfinished. Wecco and Scooter play “distract the sister,” and the crying changes to yelling. Sometimes I hate homeschooling.

I’ve said before how I believe in home education. There are many, many things I love about it, and it has been very good for my kids. My biggest struggle with homeschooling is the sacrifice of my own time and space. It is very easy to be envious of the moms who enjoy child-free time on a daily basis – who get to attend mid-morning waterfit classes, grocery shop without cart hangers-on and pleadings for junk food, have lunch with friends. Selfishness, basically. Not a good reason to opt for traditional schooling.

It is times like today, when a year of Monday morning math meltdowns cause me to question my effectiveness. Surely by now we should have a system worked out that bypasses the drama. Kids don’t bawl like this in public school math classes (though maybe they do at home over homework and I’m dealing with a universal problem). I remember crying over a page of multiplication homework in fifth grade, and yet being able to relate to Sassy’s struggles doesn’t give me an answer.

This is the situation which makes other parents say “I could never homeschool.” They are envisioning similar episodes with their own children – the tears, the refusal to try, the frustrated mom eventually joining the meltdown. I hate the exasperation that comes into my voice when she is balking over a problem that I know she can do and in fact have just told her how to do and she is still not doing it! Makes my blood pressure rise just describing it. If only those parents could know that these stressful moments shrink to invisibility when measured against hearing your child read to her little brother, and knowing “I taught her that.” Or when your children spend a hour crafting swords and shields from cardboard and scotch tape so they can play “Camelot” after reading it for history. Or when they snuggle up beside you and pull out their science textbook…and it’s Sunday afternoon.

It is worth it. It is worth it. It is worth it. I have to remember that on days like today, when I have many other things I could be doing and the last thing I want to do is cajole my child finish one last problem in her math. And when I feel like a bad influence, rather than the calming, accepting parent/teacher/role model that I chose homeschooling to be. It’s scary to know I have to make this work, that I can’t give up. And I can’t be willfully blind to my relational shortcomings – it all comes out in the classroom.

Homeschooling doesn’t make me a better mom than you. I’m pretty average, mom-wise, though I’d love to tell you differently. Perhaps homeschooling gives me more opportunities to lose patience, to yell, to struggle with discipline and keeping order, and maybe that makes you the better mom. I spend a lot of time feeling convicted over the most recent confrontation, and desiring to do better, and wondering why I’m not better at loving my kids. (I love my kids, I just don’t feel great at loving them.) Maybe I have more opportunities to get it right, too. Or just a few more moments on my knees, reminding Jesus and myself that my life is His, my children are His, raising them is a gift from Him, and I can’t do it alone.