Archive for the ‘Julie’s Life’ Category

Inhabit your happiness

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

Julie Flowers - surprise of happy quote

A strange thing happened to me. Two of my adult kids shared essentially the same thought with me. Liam shared that he appreciates college and that he has to remind himself to “inhabit this happiness” rather than continuing to feel as though he is still working to arrive somewhere happier. He’s arrived. Time to be happy.

Then just this morning Johannah talked about how she’s considering the truth of the idea that there is no other moment to get to. What we need to feel content exists already within us. What prevents us from feeling the happiness is our belief that there is some other space to go to before we can allow ourselves the feeling of contentment.

I was struck by the similarity of these ideas. We all have objectives and goals. We all want to see evidence of growth in our children. We are looking for signs of happiness and beauty in our children.

What if today we simply chose to be glad about where we all are? What if it were okay to not know the times tables and to have to do visual processing therapies with the middle child and to skip naps and to make sandwiches for dinner?

What if we could exercise the “happy muscle” for a few minutes today? Not gratitude necessarily (though gratitude can be a good place to start). More like this:

“I’m going to choose to find genuine happiness in a moment today. I’m going to let that moment surprise me. I am hereby on alert for a surprise of happy.”

During the darkest year of my life, this is one of the ways I got through each day. I couldn’t feel happy, but I chose to stay open to a surprise of happy and then to inhabit it, even for a moment.

Let me know how it goes for you!

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Today is a gift

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

I know you know. I know everyone keeps telling you that.

Yet it’s true. Heartbreakingly so.

Family members living with cancer, random bullets shot at optimistic college students in Santa Barbara, martial law in Bangkok, a missing 22 year old in Cincinnati, never-planned car accidents, aging parents losing their words and memories, births with unexpected complications…

The assault on living by the dangerous and dying is relentless.

The best we can do is to make cakes for birthday parties, to have friends stop by to grill on holiday weekends, to root for our teams in the playoffs, to stand in the sunshine and feel its warmth, today.

I spent the other day decluttering more than a decade’s worth of stuff bought with real dollars earned through hard work that brought various levels of comfort, pleasure, and distraction. 20 bags destined for trash.

Nothing lasts, no matter how precious.

Today’s a good day to let go of a grudge, to eat ice cream, to sit a little longer with the needy child, to not take “it” personally, to reach out to the far away suffering person, to share a meaningful memory with the person closest to you.

Homeschooling is merely one way to wander through the years—a rich, layered, intimate way.

I don’t like it when people tell me to be grateful or urge me to be happy on days when I’m on the verge of tears.

Occasionally, though, when I’m going through the motions, it’s good to remember the bargain we’ve all made in life—there is no promised length to our days. Today is it.

So if you are in that place today—doing the routine without much thought, I hope you find a pocket of time to pause and remember. Remember the ones who died and have afforded us this life. Remember the ones who are yet alive and love you.

May today be a good day in the string of days that are your life.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Memories from a good public school

Monday, March 31st, 2014

Julie school IDs

I grew up in southern California in the 1970s. My junior high school was located in Malibu Canyon—literally in the canyon. It backed up to a creek and stood quite alone on a long stretch of windy road between mountains.

My teachers were hip—straight out of college, and half of them home from the first batch of Peace Corps tours of duty. They wore bell bottoms and presented us slide shows from India, Uruguay, and the Andes Mountains.

In the 1970s, education underwent a genuine overhaul. Teachers were free to use their creativity to create classrooms unlike any my parents had experienced. On short supply were textbook, quiz, test, assessment structures. Sure, math still used a book, mostly, but every other class busted out of the brick and mortar into the world!

Our entire 7th grade, for instance, held a Renaissance Faire at the end of the school year during a full-fledged school day. It took us months to prepare. Kids worked in candle making shops and leather curing stands, there were jesters and gymnasts (me), food booths with grog and buns, and more! We had to barter our goods and skills to enjoy the labors/gifts/skills of others. We dressed up too. Such a memorable experience of the Renaissance era—I’ve never forgotten it.

Butterfly and Bee Sharing a MealMy science teacher took our class to the creek and wilderness behind the school every day for six weeks so we could observe nature, learn to identify everything in a 10 foot square, and then draw it representationally with accurate names for bugs, plants, fish, birds, butterflies and moths, dragonflies, oak trees, nettles (ouch!), and tadpoles. She also required us to catch and euthanize butterflies for our own butterfly displays. I remember running around the hills with my own handmade net catching them, and then putting them in a jar with nail polish remover, then sticking them with pins, and mounting them on Styrofoam.

My language arts instructor taught us how to write songs from existing tunes to create original lyrics, and then we performed them. We made collages of our bodies on butcher paper and decorated them with clipped images and words, markers and stickers. We had an open classroom with another teacher and her students, and freely moved between the two each day. I actually learned more from the teacher who wasn’t my “official” teacher, as it turned out. She created a magazine to “publish” our poetry and short stories.

One social studies instructor taught us how to make Inca pottery. We made the pots, painted them according to the traditional designs, fired them, and then! And then!! We got to smash them with hammers into broken pieces.

The next night, that instructor buried our pots in a field in the back of the school, with sheets of cardboard to represent sedimentary layers, buried between the various eras of pottery. The next day at school, we divided into archaeological dig parties and dug up our pots, then dating them according to the layers. I’ll never forget being the last person to find our particular “dig site.” It was so frustrating to see other kids “find” their pots immediately.

I complained to Ms. Fagan: “Our pots are lost! They’re not where you said they’d be.”

She responded, “You are having the most authentic experience in the class. This is what it is actually like for archaeologists. They don’t know where the pots are buried.”

That comment stuck with me. I was having a real experience! Sure enough, we did find the spot where our pottery was buried after several more attempts, and how elated I felt then! We took the broken pieces back to class, reassembled them with special glue, labeled them, and displayed them the way a museum would. What an experience!

In high school, I had a teacher who taught us yoga, one instructor who had spent time in China taught us how to take “cooperative tests” (“Friendship first, competition second” hung as a banner in our classroom), another who introduced us to Beowulf and Grendel (the spoof on Beowulf) and gave us a chance to write our own spoofs or revisions.

My friends and I caught a vision for poetry through this English teacher and one day decided we wanted to make “tea and crumples” (I didn’t know the word was “crumpets”!) to celebrate British poetry. We invited our teacher and another English teacher as a treat. (The original teatime!) I wound up making corn muffins with diced apple in them to create our own unique “crumples.”

Playing Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz

Our high school had a robust theater department that not only made the sets from scratch, but all the costume design and costume construction were done by students as well. Students ran everything: light and sound boards, stage management, props, make-up, costumes. The director/teacher sat in the audience to watch our shows, leaving us to run everything. To this day, I feel such pride when I remember the theater productions.

I share all this because something got lost in education in the last 30 years. It’s become a system of assessment and targeted information goals (rather than multi-faceted exploration and immersion).

Home education offers you the chance to be that 1970s teacher who uses creativity and imagination to create an education. It really is better to have a medieval feast with your kids and their friends, for all of you to dress up in clothes you sewed yourselves, to eat traditional foods you prepared in your kitchen, to hold a pretend jousting competition in the living room…than to read about it and write a single paragraph narration.

It is worth taking the time to make a replica of the various styles of teepees and wigwams of Native American tribes in America than to simply look at pictures in a book.

Panning for fool’s gold yourself in a makeshift creek is better than watching a movie about panning for gold in 1849.

You can’t do these extravagant experiences every day. But if you do a few of them per year, your children will never forget them. I can’t tell you what textbooks I read in junior high, but I have never forgotten the teachers who brought learning to life for me, and I’ve never forgotten the experience of learning that they gave me. I have a fondness for ancient pottery even today because I experienced the value of design, the dig, and the rescue firsthand. I developed an affinity; I didn’t simply master a subject.

Go forth and be creative. Take time. Immerse. Plan. Prepare. Do! Execute and enjoy! Give your children a true, groovy education.

Cross-posted on facebook.

Also, Spring Semester starts today! It’s not too late to enroll for some classes, but hurry!

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I’m so glad I homeschooled my kids…and didn’t build my business

Monday, February 24th, 2014


Photo taken in Lucca Italy 2005 (family trip)

Not too infrequently, a parent will virtually back me against a wall and say, “But why haven’t I heard of Brave Writer before? Where have you been all these years?”

It’s a fair question. Usually a company of our longevity would have had its coming out party by now. Instead, I crept along, slowly adding staff and products in the by-ways of the Internet, content to grow organically rather than through a big media campaign or annual trudge to all the state conventions or by advertising and spending a lot of money.

There’s a reason I didn’t make a big splash into the homeschool curriculum world over the last decade: I was homeschooling.

I thought about that today. I homeschooled my kids. I wrote writing books on the side. I answered emails after I sang lullabies at bedtime or before the toddler pounced on my chest first thing in the morning. I didn’t go to conventions lest I miss a soccer game or ballet performance. I didn’t ask for speaking opportunities. I let them come to me and many times, turned them down. I haven’t been available. I didn’t want to BE available.

I wanted to write materials and teach classes, but I wanted to be able to do it without interrupting my time with my kids. I certainly didn’t do it perfectly. There are days I remember where I got stuck at the computer all morning and other days where I had a deadline and would hole up in my office to meet it while everyone “unschooled” for a week. The kids have a joke that sometimes they needed to “double click” on mom to “wake me up” from my computer-stare.

But I am happy to say that on the whole, my work didn’t interfere with my kids having a genuine parent-led homeschool experience. I spent hours upon hours with them, being a part of their lives, struggling to teach reading, math, grammar, writing, and history, just like you. I had to figure out how to balance our lives, and incorporate art, music, and nature, too.

Even more, the projects we did together have formed the basis for the products and classes Brave Writer offers. In fact, Liam said to me once that it is odd to read Brave Writer materials; it’s like reading a journal of his childhood. My family loves it, for instance, when we see your families create fairytale and homonym books, because we still have ours and we get a kick out of seeing how you do them, too. I email them to my adult children or show them your projects when they come home for a visit.

It’s just what I wanted to do, is all.

Some of the most well known curriculum creators have never homeschooled their kids. For those who are homeschooling, it is often the husbands who build the companies and travel to conventions while their wives provide the children’s education. I met one writing company owner who told me he had been to 26 conventions in a year (that’s one convention-one city!-every other weekend). Another well-known curriculum writer hires a tutor to homeschool her children so she can be free to write books for her homeschooling business.

I do understand this.

My friend and I used to joke. She ran our homeschool co-op, and I ran Brave Writer. She would say, “Our work would be so much easier if we just didn’t homeschool.” True!

But I did homeschool. For 17 years.

I’m glad I did. It helps me be a better homeschooling business owner, even if our growth has been slower than it might have been. I hope you will always share your struggles and experiences with me. They help Brave Writer be more responsive to you.

I look forward to meeting a slew of you over the next several years (particularly this year at our first ever Brave Writer Retreat in June!) now that I have time to travel because my kids are grown.

I just thought you might like to know how I made my decisions and how Brave Writer evolved. But I’m here now, all dressed up and ready to come out and play with you!

Hope I see/meet/hug many of you soon!

Cross-posted on facebook.

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You are smart enough!

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

Afraid of MathImage by Jimmie

I remember when Noah was in the 4th grade, his math text had a lesson about fractions: dividing them, multiplying them, adding and subtracting them. I looked at the page and panicked. I couldn’t remember a single thing about fractions—except they had confused me as a girl, and I resented the United States of America for not going on the sane metric system like they had promised back in 1975!

I stared blankly at the page. Nothing. Not a thing. I had no idea how to find a common denominator, or when to flip the fraction, or how to reduce the overgrown result once you got past the equals sign.

I was 35 years old.

My father’s voice rang in my head: “The only true intelligence is mathematical intelligence” shared with me after I had earned straight A’s in English, Social Studies, Spanish, Science, and Acting.

He didn’t mean any harm. I think he really believes that to this day, though he always approves of my work and was proud of my good grades.

Still, I managed to bungle math so many times, my Algebra 2 instructor suggested I quit at the semester. He bargained, “I’ll give you a B if you drop the class. It’s torturing you and I don’t want you to harm your GPA for college.”

Needless to say: my confidence in teaching math to my kids was low.

I used Cuisinaire Rods in the early years to help them understand multiplication, only to realize with astonishment: “Did everyone know that four groups of four makes sixteen? How had I never learned that?!”

Oh I knew my times tables. I just didn’t understand them.

I had not comprehended multiplication—the basis of it. To me, it was a set of memorized magic—tables of numbers associated with each other for inscrutable reasons. I never quite grasped the fundamentals: multiplication meant multiples of the same thing. Mind Blown!

How had I missed that? With the endless tutoring, teacher help, textbook study, math labs, and a father with an engineering degree, how had I missed the primary structure of multiplication? Why had no one made sure I had got that much? Perhaps because it was so obvious to everyone else, it didn’t seem possible that it was not obvious to me?

I don’t know. But what I do know is the day I had an epiphany about the times tables is the day I began my true math education. In my thirties. With four children and a baby on the way.

So when faced with fractions, I took the book, excused myself to the garage, and sat on the concrete floor playing with the rods and making myself understand fractions. It took me a bit of time, but not that long. After all, I had been baking, cooking, and quilting for a decade and a half. I had familiarity with fractions even if I didn’t understand how to use them in mathematical equations.

Understanding returned; or rather, grew! I saw what had eluded me in my grade school days.

I re-entered the house armed with the information, and now, understanding, that would enable me to teach Noah. He learned it all easily. Then he said, “So basically what you are saying is that I need to learn fractions now because we use them in school, but adults never need to use them, right? Because you didn’t understand them until a few minutes ago…”

Ha! Caught me. Made me laugh. I explained my profound lack of skill in math and how it had hampered me from many possible career options, and had made some of the work I do difficult as a result. But I resolved now that we learn together.

I never did become a fabulous math teacher to my children. Yet they have all surpassed my impoverished skills. I made sure they had tutors or went to classes at the local public school for higher math. Each of them has shown an aptitude far ahead of mine. But then again, they each had individualized help to catch those oversights before they mushroomed. They didn’t live under the wrong impression that true intelligence was only found in mathematics.

There is no subject area you can’t learn along with your children. I had a friend who was bilingual in Spanish and English, but without a good working knowledge of written Spanish or English. She hired a tutor…for herself! And learned. Then taught her kids.

It can be done. You are now an adult, with far more experience, patience, and mental agility than when you were 10, 12, and 16. What you missed before can be learned now. At the very least, you can ensure that your children have the chance to understand what was inscrutable to you. Take the time to find the tools that bring you understanding, not just information or practice sheets.

Then share them with your children and continue to advance your own understanding. You are smart enough. You are committed enough. You love your children enough. There are tools and helps enough.

Enjoy your educational renaissance!

Cross-posted on facebook.

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When it’s working, keep going

Monday, February 17th, 2014

Go this wayImage by Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious

Are you a tinkerer? As things are moving along in a pattern that flows, do you get itchy fingers? Are you likely to pry and probe, question, and analyze? Do you doubt yourself when all is calm? Do you wonder if you are “doing enough” or if the absence of passion or struggle means the work is too easy or not really teaching?

If you’re the type of person who is stimulated by risk or “trying the new,” you might miss that moment when your homeschool is actually going along as you’d always hoped. You might mistake your boredom for homeschool not working. It’s possible that you will re-insert drama or too much challenge or change into a scenario that is actually satisfactory and healthy as a way to stay stimulated, yourself (to have something for you to work on).

Don’t fall for that trap. If the kids are engaged (showing quiet engagement, cooperation, and care), you’ve succeeded. You don’t need to see marvels of creativity or passion every day of the year (or even every week or every month!). It’s okay to make steady or slow progress. It’s okay to be at peace.

As Susan Elliott (friend and therapist) says, “Make peace with the peace. That’s the sound of your life working.”

Allow your family to find its rhythm. If you have an idea that supplements the flow and nicely established calm of your home, you’ll know it. The idea will dovetail—it won’t dominate and upend, it won’t change the tone or feel of your home so dramatically that the kids now aren’t sure what they should or shouldn’t be doing.

I want to give an example of a time in my life when I made a big mistake.

My family was following a routine that I had built from my years of Charlotte Mason study. It was a good routine; a happy one, that held up well in all kinds of circumstances. It felt like a true fit for us (both lifestyle and content). They were happy; I was happy. They were learning; I was able to support and facilitate that learning. I could measure their growth without testing or hand-wringing. That season was my favorite for homeschooling.

However, there came a point one year where my CM support group disbanded, and I looked for another source of inspiration (for me!). I also noticed that a couple of my kids became crabby about some of the history lessons (the way I had them structured or modeled after CM). I went in search of new stimulation.

I found it in the world of unschooling. Given my temperament and habit of parenting, it felt like a wonderful fit for my ideas of what I believed about learning. I read and read, I discussed with my kids’ dad how I felt about this philosophy, I absorbed the advice of the online unschoolers (so much so, I lost a little of myself in the process).

One day, Jon (kids’ dad) and I took the kids out for breakfast and announced that we had a new idea for homeschool. We explained the theory of unschooling with great joy and enthusiasm. “You get to learn whatever you like! You are in charge! We will participate and help and facilitate, but you are no longer bound by a set of criteria to follow!”

Two of the five hooted: “Woo-hoo!” They high-fived.

Two of the five panicked: “How will I learn math? But I liked my vocabulary building book. Does this mean that what I’ve learned so far doesn’t matter?”

One of the five was too young to care one way or the other and went back to eating pancakes.

Over the course of the next two years, I noticed a few things. One, we lost the hub of our homeschool and it took me some time to find it again. While we discovered some truly awesome and inspired passions that developed and grew, for Jacob and Johannah (in particular), the un-measured progress felt like abandonment. They enjoyed setting out a goal and completing it. They enjoyed me giving them a goal to complete. All that freedom felt a little unhinged—rendering hard work meaningless.

Truth be told: we entered an unschooling lifestyle the “wrong” way. I learned later on all those lists that a big announcement can be utterly disorienting for kids. I got ahead of myself—pushing a vision, rather than supporting growth and learning naturally.

We found our way through this unschooling wilderness (more about that another time). But as I look back now, our best homeschooling years were the ones with that balance between routine (with a few well chosen expectations) and freedom, between parent-led learning and child-led passion.

So it is with real experience that I say to you: If it’s working, keep going. Don’t fool or trick yourself. There isn’t always a “better.” Sometimes “better” is already happening in your home. Embrace it.

Make peace with the peace.

Your life is working.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Keep reading

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

ReadingImage by Tammy Wahl

In all our connectivity, we sometimes think we’ve read all day long, when in fact, we’ve absorbed bites of information as our eyes scroll over screens.

Read aloud time is one way to ensure that you get a dose of literature in your day. It nourishes you and your kids. It may take some work to find a way to fit it in (for me, I started the day with read aloud time—right after breakfast). But it’s worth it. If you have wiggly toddlers or fussy babies, try to read to the older ones while they are napping or at the breast (if the baby tolerates it – some do, some hate it).

In addition to reading to the kids, though, I hope you will read for pleasure yourself. Consider it a part of your “teacher-training.” You are a much better commentator on literature and movies when you, yourself, are reading adult fare. You are also a better human being when you connect to characters and their struggles/hurdles and discover new resources for how to meet your own challenges. You are a happier person when you are taken away from below zero weather, a computer in the shop, and an empty refrigerator to the tropics and a love story.

Reading for pleasure may seem like a chore initially. Who has time for that?

Here are a few ways I found the time when I was either pregnant, nursing, or both, and managing small children.

woman-reading 2

I read while I laid down to nurse a baby. This was my favorite way to read for years. I felt like I was being given the gift of a rest each time I did it. It didn’t work with nursing toddlers, but during the first year it did.

I listened to books on tape while making dinner. I put the TV on—usually Arthur—for the kids. Then I’d go to the kitchen and turn my tape recorder on low and listen while I prepared dinner. Totally changed how I felt about that task and time of day. I listened to so many books that way (I used to have a list).

Long car rides—I’d listen to a book on tape or CD. I had a few of these for conferences and instead of music, I would tackle Hemingway or Hugo or some other difficult to read book. The narration of the book helped me press through some of the difficult passages.

I used to read books aloud to my husband. We’d read a chapter before bed each night. We read some really long ones, including the entire Asia series by James Clavell (Shogun, Noble House, etc.).

I kept a book in my purse. All those visits to the doctor or dentist, sitting in a parked car during soccer or lacrosse practice, waiting for a performance to start for band or ballet—these moments are often crowded by cell phone scrolling now. But if you keep a book on your phone or if you tuck a paperback into your purse, you can use them for reading instead.

The benefits to reading for yourself are enormous. I recommend keeping one book going that is just for you. It’s like giving yourself a big chocolate bar and eating a square of it each day. It’s delicious, and you deserve it. Moreover, it makes you a better home educator and you’ll hardly even realize why.

Cross-posted on facebook.

Image of woman reading by Spirit-Fire

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If you’ve got a passel of kids

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

Big Family 2You might be running yourself ragged trying to teach to four or five grade levels a day! Pulling out workbooks for four subjects times five kids, leads to math I can’t even do! (Well, okay, I can do it, but it’s too many workbooks!)

What I did when I raised my five: I kept us all together as much as possible. Here’s how.

We started our days together every day. We spent one hour of the morning reading.

Devotional literature
Non Fiction (like books about nature or tanks or world religions or geography or the weather or how to make films…)
Aesop’s Fables or Greek myths (we did one of these each day for years)
Read Aloud (whatever novel we were reading as a group)
History book (we used a variety of narrative history texts over the years, not history textbooks)
Poetry (not every day, but many days—this is when we’d memorize poems together)

Kids usually knitted, or played with Legos or blocks while I read.

When we finished what we called Read Aloud Time, we would move to the table for math pages and copywork. These were usually according to level, but we did them all at once so that I could be in “math mind” or “writing mind” and not go back and forth.

Sometimes copywork came first, and usually passages were pulled from the same book, but different lengths per kid. Sometimes they picked their own copywork passages. New-to-writing kids used handwriting books.

Then we’d work on our history all together—same topic, same era. This might include preparing little oral reports or acting out a scene of history. It might include captioning an illustration of the reading of the morning or making maps or artifacts from that era. Sometimes we prepared a party to go with the era of history.

If we were working on a writing project, we all worked on the same topics or same concept for writing (posters – everyone, mini books – everyone, freewriting – everyone). Each child would write naturally at his or her level. It’s not like I had to drum up a brand new idea for each child each week. So exhausting! When we wrote descriptive paragraphs, we were all observing and note-taking and talking about our items at once, with me superintending. I didn’t create a project for each child, unique to that child.

Poetry teatimes were always done as a group, poetry books of all levels available. I brought my adult poetry books to the table so I could share poems I found meaningful, even if above their level. I felt that was the best way to introduce them to some of the more challenging poets.

Then we might take a hike or kick a soccer ball in the yard or watch a movie or go to the store or to an art museum or the library…

The rhythm of our days was not determined by grade level. Rather, it was shaped by topics—each child would naturally perform at his or her level. That’s where “grade level” revealed itself. But I didn’t cater to it or pay it much notice, honestly.

It’s a shift in thinking. You are a one-room school house. You want to make the most of that environment. Create learning opportunities that call all of you together. Your older kids will inspire your younger ones, your younger ones will cheer up your older ones (and make them feel smart). They can work together, helping each other out, and making suggestions. They provide great audiences for one another too.

Hope that helps!

Cross-posted on facebook.

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It really does go by quickly

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Kids_YoungerNoah, Johannah, Caitrin, Liam, and Jacob

When you are in the middle of the muddle (five kids under 9, all under foot), it doesn’t seem possible that you will one day emerge as a woman who will drive to a supermarket alone, buy herself a cafe latte, and stroll through the aisles putting juice and cookies in the cart—items never considered when seven people would devour them in fifteen minutes flat.

There are years where sleep is optional and comes in snatches between bed-wettings and breast feeding, uncomfortable belly bumps and night terrors. Sometimes insomnia strikes on the one night everyone sleeps through. Ah the cruelty. Ah the endless sleeplessness.

You live with an enormous amount of pressure to make it all work:

  • The stuffed bedrooms of two and three children sharing a space not big enough for one let alone two or three
  • The disarray of shoes with matches and mismatches and no time to sort out if you have pairs or not
  • The endless trade of strep throat cultures from toothbrush to toothbrush all winter long
  • The hotel-stays with children sprawled all over the floor to save precious dollars
  • The attempt to be at all soccer, lacrosse, baseball, and basketball games for multiple children with one car and a husband working on Saturday mornings
  • All ballet, band, Shakespeare, theater, vintage dance, and guard rehearsals and performances, sometimes on the same nights
  • All art and science fairs
  • All co-op and homeschool support group meetings (while finding childcare)
  • Saving money from grocery budgets or making trades for tutoring or online classes
  • Working part time with a newborn in your arms
  • Being so sick yet homeschooling anyway
  • Moving across the country in the middle of the school year and praying your children won’t be behind at the end of it
  • Unknotting tangled hair through tears
  • Giving haircuts to boys without any training
  • Living with a kitchen the size of a postage stamp
  • Never updating furniture, hairstyles, or wardrobes for years at a time…

You do it with energy and optimism (most of the time), right in the middle of your marital challenges, work pressures, and postpartum depression.

Your kids keep growing up despite your best and worst efforts.

Suddenly, one of them…goes! Right out the door and you’re packing his room into cardboard boxes…and the fact that you can see the floor for the first time in four years is cold comfort, while you hug this man-child and worry about him in new ways and he leaves, unaware of the big hole he leaves behind in the fabric of this family.

Then the next one: bam! She picks her duvet and laptop covers, drives 100 miles, and never returns…not really ever in the same way.

At the same rate they were born, they leave. Every two years like clockwork—while you try to stay present to the ones still home, still needing all that devoted attention. But a piece of you moves out each time the next one packs a box and finds a new bed. You suffer a little even as you gain old “pre-children” liberties long forgotten.

One day, when you least expect it (only you have expected it for 20+ years), you look up and know (really know) that you are at the end of this long journey called “stay-at-home parenting.” It happens when the last one is still at home, but receives her acceptance to college. It happens when your first one graduates from college. It happens when one of your children marries. It happens whether you want it to or not.

There’s no turning back the clock and all the hard things (the years that felt unending and tiring and overwhelming and difficult) are finished. Just. Like. That. What remains is this air-from-your-lungs-stealing awareness that you can never go back.

But oh how the good memories take over! Like a flood! Suddenly it’s as though your children were the most amazing people ever…because they were (and are), all along. You knew it! That’s why you stayed home with them. Those memories are warm comfort. They are the ones that matter. The long years seem incredibly brief in that light. Part of you wants those years back (oh the insanity!).

When you get to the end of your “small children under foot rope,” hold on. Do the best you can in that moment and remind yourself that there will be a day you will wish yourself back to this very moment, missing the immediacy of your family and their needs. The end will come suddenly, with finality. Then you will know what all these little moments really mean. They are the moments of your life—what you grew up to be and do (among other things, but maybe none so important as this thing—this ‘loving your children’ thing). Your life, written in your all-day-long shared experiences with your children. How lucky we are!

I wish you strength for the journey so you will know the joy of the memories in days ahead.

I’m nearly to the end of my journey. How I’ve loved it.

Kids OlderCelebrating Liam’s high school graduation

Cross-posted on facebook.

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The hardest part is apologizing

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

Jacob GraduationJacob’s graduation party, 2010

Listening when you are the target of someone’s angst or negative energy takes grit. You have to hold on through the discomfort to try to hear the words. Then you have to drop your defenses and find a way to match the intensity of the hurt one, recognizing the risk taken to tell you a painful “truth” (their truth, not THE truth).

I remember when Jacob, in 11th grade, told me that he regretted ever being homeschooled. He was convinced that that path had impaired his development in math, he thought I had been inattentive due to my philosophy of unschooling (not planning work for him to “do”), and he worried that he would not be able to “catch up” to his peers (whatever that meant to him at the time). He told me his disappointments in me and home education over an expensive Italian dinner I was paying for. He told his feelings to me with some intensity, and anxiety that he would push too far.

I sucked on a noodle. I breathed. I wanted him to know I had heard him. He didn’t choose to be homeschooled. He happened to emerge from the womb into a family that had already decided to home educate. It was a done deal before the placenta had even detached!

As he aged, what choice did he really have about his education? I was busy reading books, writing passionate posts to message boards, and cultivating a philosophy of education while he played with swords and dress up clothes, learned his ABC’s, and happily filled in workbooks.

As my philosophy evolved, so did our homeschool. I announced my grand unschool experiment over a family brunch one mid-week morning. Jon and I enthused about the opportunity to learn “whatever you want” with parental support and companionship. The toddler didn’t know what we were talking about. Two of the kids threw parties on the spot. Two of them panicked. Jacob was one of the panickers. What would happen to his education? Would he still learn?

After a couple of years of this unschooling lifestyle, Jacob asked to go to high school fulltime. Our first kid to want to. We accommodated and within two years, I found myself staring across a candlelit table at an emotional junior in high school who was explaining to me my failings as a mother.

Yeah—it’s hard to take it. But I had to. I had to for him. He should get to evaluate his childhood. Heck, I’ve evaluated mine! That’s what we all do. When that moment arrives, what we all need is a parent bigger than the eruption, bigger than the judgment passed, to take it. We want a parent who hears how it actually felt to be the kid in that circumstance, under that parent’s care.

The moment had come. I owed Jacob an apology—not for making a mistake, not for failing him, not for being a poor home educator. I didn’t believe any of that to be true, so I couldn’t apologize for that.

But what I could and did say went something like this:

“I’m sorry you felt like I abandoned your education when we chose to unschool. I’m sorry I didn’t see how alone you felt, how much you preferred structure to what I saw as a grand educational vision. I’m sorry, too, that you didn’t have a say in your education until high school. Sadly, it’s that way for all kids. They typically do follow the educational choices of the parents—no matter what path they choose and offer. How frustrating that must be to you to see that we chose such a different path than the one you are on now.”

I went on. I wanted him to know that I didn’t need him to defend homeschooling or to prefer it to his current schooling. I didn’t need him to homeschool his own future kids. I didn’t even need him to appreciate what I saw as gifts to his education that he gained through homeschooling, even if he couldn’t see them or didn’t or wouldn’t ever.

All I wanted him to know was that I “got it.” He was disappointed in his past education at my hands, and worried about his future in education because of it.

“I’m sorry” only began to cover it.

I did add one thing once I felt he had heard my apology. I told Jacob: “Even if it isn’t now, I do hope that some day, even if you continue to judge homeschooling as inadequate for educating your young, you will be able to at least understand my process—why I took that risk, why I believed in homeschooling, why I made a deliberate conscientious choice to buck the system and keep you kids home.”

He accepted that comment.

It’s been five years since that dinner. Jacob’s academic career is a rocket jet. He’s not been held back in the least by home education. But even more—he came to a much more rapid awareness of how it created the person he is today than I expected. I’m grateful, and humbled.

We can discuss this painful passage now because I took it then (and because he had the courage to risk telling me the truth).

I share this story because I’m aware of how difficult it is to simply stand in the strength of your choices while being blown back by the strength of a child’s disapproval of your decisions. Is there anything harder to hear? Anything you want more to defend against?

The most difficult part is the apology. It feels like you are denying your most deeply held convictions. But you’re not. You’re honoring the most deeply felt experiences of your child—the ones presenting themselves today (not for all time).

If you can hang in through the recounting of pain, if you can validate the perceptions by simply accepting them, and if you can then offer a sincere “I’m sorry,” you may be able to create space for new experiences and insights to grow…for both of you!

I did learn, too. Some of my decisions were not as well-conceived as others and I have reports from my kids that help me know which ones were mistakes.

It’s okay to admit that. I don’t have to defend every homeschooling decision I’ve ever made as the best one. We take risks. Some work out better than others.

Life is just like that!

We do the best we can, at the time, and adjust when we know to adjust. That’s all any of us do.

Go forth and apologize without fear. It’s good for all concerned.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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