Greater Love

The airport in Addis Ababa is an oversized square and smells like people and duty-free snacks.  Storefronts with headless mannequins line its walkways and vie for the attention of braless Europeans with money to exchange.  Listless travelers dogged its perimeter in the sleepy hours of that morning, schlepping worn backpacks and pretending not to notice us.  We felt nauseous after a night of air travel and there were miles yet to go.  We spotted what looked like glorified lawn chairs lined up against a section of drywall in the center of the square.  We moved our carry-ons up against it and sank, one by one, onto the chairs without debate.  I tried not to think about the general dinginess of the headrest as I felt my hair press into it.  I closed my burning eyes for a moment, savoring the thin coat of salt liquid that baptized them.

I’m not one to sleep in public.  I rolled my eyeballs around under their skin coats for a moment longer and then lay watching the world’s people go by.  Commotion and color from the corner of my right eye seared through my brain.  At the far end of our line of chairs three travelers had stopped to rest.  Two of them were men in their mid-to-late 30′s.  Both wore faded jeans and button-down shirts, untucked.  Three days of beard growth shadowed their faces, and sleeplessness had left traces of gray under their eyes.  Between them sat a misshapen man in a wheelchair.  He might have been 25 or 50.  His back curled him forward, a scientist hunched over a microscope.  One of his hands nuzzled his chest and the other gripped the armrest of his chair.  The taller of the two men spoke to the other in rapid Portuguese.  His friend nodded and replied in steady, low tones.

I hate to stare.  Rather, I hate to be caught staring or to think of myself as someone who stares and gets caught.  I looked away from the three men at the end of the row for a moment so that it would seem that I had other things on my mind.  But I was surprised.  The two men were clearly traveling in Ethiopia with a man who couldn’t walk.  They’d come from where?  They had to have flown to Addis.  Why, I wondered.  It was enough of an ordeal to fly by oneself and with only a backpack.  I imagined the wheelchair man wedged in a 787 aisle, trying to make his way into the folding bathroom.   I let my eyes wander back to where the three men stood.

In a moment the two friends (?) flanked the wheelchair between them and leaned in.  They seemed to count and then they lifted the man in it.  His shriveled legs hung below him, cherry stems that had long since given up hope.  The men’s biceps bulged as they struggled to convey their lumpy cargo.  I swallowed a second of horror as I watched them suspend him in the air.  He was Gregor Mendel but they were not afraid.  Like ballerinas, they lowered him to one of the lawn chairs closest to them.  He shuddered as they stretched him out.   His curly arm rebelled, springing back, slapping his chest.  He let out a low moan of pain.  One of the men adjusted his greasy glasses, leaning over him like a mother.  When it was clear that he wouldn’t roll out of his chair, the two men settled themselves on chairs on either side of his.  One pulled a book out of his pack and began to read.  The other rolled up a jacket, tucking it under his head for a pillow.

The three of them lay on their chairs for some time, two of them resting, one of them existing.  I lay in my chair, small and tired, until I knew I could no longer avoid the bathroom at the end of the hall.  When I returned all three men were gone.  I never saw them again.

And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”  Matthew 9:2

How To Homeschool When You’re Overwhelmed

It’s a strange time of year, isn’t it?  I mean, it’s almost summer but, just kidding, it’s not.  It’s a holiday season but it’s not cold enough to snow (where we live) or warm enough to bask in the sun.  There are things to wrap up, semesters to close out, Easter plans to solidify.  The kids sense the pool’s faint siren call from the backyard, never mind the fact that it’s covered in leaves and looks like a bog.

I am still reeling from jet lag and my responsibilities feel epic.  But we are not finished with our school year.  This is a dangerous time for Mom and the kids.  Though I have a lot to learn about how to deal with stress, and I still blow it, ahem, occasionally, I’d like to offer a few suggestions for how to homeschool when you’re overwhelmed and under-motivated.

  • Make a list.  Write down all the things that you need to accomplish and all things you’d like to see done.  No one can tell you what those things are.  Only you know.  But go ahead and put down all the to-do’s that jockey for space in your brain.  You can sort them out later.  Or sooner.
  • Sort that list.  Decide which things are life-and-death, or feel almost that serious.  Place less important items further down on the list.  Round out your list with things you’d like to accomplish but that are not make-or-break items.  Ex.  I would like to clean my bathroom today because it’s gross, but I can technically continue to live if I don’t get to it.
  • Focus on the top of the list.  This is hard for me.  I’m not going to lie.  I dearly love to see lots of little tick marks inside the neat list boxes I created.  But when I have too much to do, I have long since realized that I have to let less-important-but-still-important things go temporarily.  This means that we eat, have a devotional time together as a family, and do math.  We might drag ourselves to jujitsu because we’re paying for it.  The pets get fed and we try to tidy up our space.  The kids’ dirty clothes usually make it to the laundry basket.  But a lot of other things do not get accomplished.  In this mode, we don’t do science experiments, or lots of (any) play dates.  I don’t read aloud to the kids.  I don’t get as much exercise as I should.  The house looks dusty because…it is.  This is life, and after eight years of homeschooling, I know that these seasons come and go.  There are times where we get more done and I love those.  But in times when we don’t I try not to feel bad.  Guilt and stress do not make good teacher’s aides.

Of course, when things get really crazy, it’s appropriate to stop everything and hunker down.  Sometimes it’s good to just let your kids read books from the library and listen to quality music while you address the urgent in your life.  Multitask.  (You know you can do it.  A deep conversation with your son while unloading the dishwasher counts as philosophy class, I always say).  Or insist that your kids help you accomplish some of the things you have to do.  They like to be needed.  In the end, it’s important to remember that homeschooling is really just life, with kids, everyday.  There will be fruitful, high-impact seasons.  There will be boring, sloggy times.  But when things get nutty, decide in advance what you’ll focus on.  This way you’ll maintain more reasonable expectations and protect a sense of peace in your home. 

And peace is at the top of my list.

 

Africa

I am back from ten days of stepping through the looking glass.  Africa was magical and difficult as I knew it would be.  I am thankful to have been a part of something truly special during the time I was there and hope to be able to return soon.  Somehow–and really, I know it was grace from God–I managed to endure heat, humidity, different foods, travel, sleeplessness, and culture stress without so much as blinking.  This was not the case when I lived in Asia where, for the first six months, every rumble in my belly was a portend of doom, and constant power outages felt like God’s divine discipline.  Of course, this was a short-term thing and I did not have my children with me.  Now I love my kids, but I could not BELIEVE the ease of traveling with only myself to worry about.  It was ridiculous how streamlined everything felt and I think I wore a bewildered grin on my face the entire trip.  I was probably a little obnoxious.

I am in my bed at the moment, eating Grape Nuts which are my passion.  The dogs are at my feet, both of them curled like medium-sized caterpillars.  I think they’re glad the lenient owner is back.  Daddy has his rules, you know.  Apparently, I slept hard last night.  I don’t really know as I have no memory after eating welcome-home-cake for dinner.  But they tell me I slept.  My daughter came in this morning and informed me that she’d carried on a conversation with her father about emotions in the middle of the night.  She said she looked at me lying there on my side of the bed and could tell I wouldn’t wake up, whatever that means.

It’s good to be back.  I will never stop loving the world and its corners.  Each time I travel I leave my heart on some shore.  But I know that this is my home for now.  I am thankful to be reunited with my family, my church, my dogs, and Grape Nuts.  Now I think I’ll drink some East African coffee and take a little nap.  Talk soon.

Leaving On a Jet Plane

In less than a week, I’ll be on a plane headed to Africa for 10 days.  Needless to say, I will have neither steady internet access nor the inclination to be on the computer when I’m there!  If you’re new to the blog (or even if you’re not), feel free to roam around here and check out old posts.  It’ll be like looking in someone’s bathroom cabinets at a party only it won’t be nearly as weird as that.

When I return, I’m excited to say that I’ll be popping up in different places on the old internet, writing about everything from how to incorporate classical education ideas into an ordinary day to words that changed the trajectory of my life.  I’ll make sure I put up links here.

In the meantime, I’ll be clamoring to pack a bag that weighs under 50 lbs, taking my kids to jujitsu class, and keeping a sharp eye on the dogs, who like to potty on the floor given the slightest excuse.  I’ll “see” you all when I get back!

Speaking Life

They say the world is divided into two kinds of people, those who see a glass of water and call it half-empty and those who say it’s half-full.  I’ll admit that I’m in the first group.  Part of it’s personality, I suspect, and part of it’s due to the fact that as a classically trained cellist I was brought up with an artist’s mindset.  In order to improve my intonation, phrasing, or bowing, I had to see and hear what was wrong with the way I was executing those elements.  Over the years I developed a sensitive musical ear, an almost sixth sense when something in my playing wasn’t right.  It allowed me to correct mistakes and to improve my performance.  It was incredibly useful.

And it made me kind-of miserable.

Because, the truth is, I had a hard time turning off my inner critic—even when I wanted to–and she followed me everywhere.  I noticed her when my penmanship was imperfect or my writing was dull and awkward.  I heard her whisper when other people used incorrect grammar (though I never dreamed of calling their attention to it), and I judged them quietly.  When I performed a piece of music and a high note came out wobbly, she was there, hissing her disapproval.

As I grew up and experienced more of the world, I wanted to shed this critic—sort-of.  I was afraid to let her go 100% as I wasn’t sure if I’d still be able to judge what was good or bad about my art, if I’d be able to improve without her nagging.  Still, our relationship with one another had grown decidedly strained and I wanted to take a break from her quiet, knife-like voice in my head.

What I didn’t realize is that she didn’t want to go—that she wouldn’t go—without a fight.

And now?  I realize that I’ve brought this unwelcome friend along for the homeschool ride, and it has resulted in my neglecting to encourage my kids like I ought to.  It’s not that I’m not proud of them or that I don’t value their achievements and character growth.  I do.  It’s just that, like an assembly line worker in front of a conveyor belt, I’m so used to seeing what needs fixing or removing or repairing in a situation (or a person or myself) that I neglect to point out, and praise, what is right and good. 

When my daughter brings me a fanciful story she’s written and I love it, truly, but instead of complimenting it find myself saying, “Remember that you need an apostrophe there, and, is that how we spell that word?” she gets discouraged.  There’s no other way to spin it.

These days I am making a concerted effort to praise the things my kids do right—whether these things take the form of kindnesses to one another, crisply made beds, or stories with amazingly apt character development.  I may see the negative in their work or actions.  (No.  I will see it.)  But I’m praying that the Lord helps me practice praising what is right and good in my kids because this kind of communication edifies instead of tearing down.  We all need encouragement in our work, don’t we?  We all need to know that someone appreciates the good they see in us.

And I want to become that kind of person for my kids, someone who speaks life into their days and helps them do the same for others.   

Grace (Again)

It might be the weather.  It may be our ages around here (puberty.  the end).  It could just be me (I can never rule this out).  But whatever the cause, we’re in a communication swamp at our house these days.  I find that I say the same things over and over to my kids, in the same, um, strident tone, and I get the same results–languid compliance with a dash of resentment.  I see it in my kids’ eyes.  They are tired of my reactions to their reactions.  I’m sure that they can see it in my eyes, too.  I’m tired of the push-back I receive when I ask them to do things they’ve always done.

The thing is, it feels like a full-on cycle at this point.  I say, Get such-and-such done.  Somebody whines and moves s-l-o-w-l-y to get the aforementioned thing done, all the while muttering about why the task is meaningless.  I take a deep breath, feeling my heart begin to race, muttering to my own self that this kind of flak is for the birds and I don’t deserve it.  Then I say, in a scarily-calm librarian voice, that I expect compliance because this is right, that it has always been this way in our home, that I will not put up with disrespect, that I don’t give them that much to do, that this is ridiculous, that I am going to tell their father about this, etc, etc.  When I pause, feeling my heartbeat (now in my eyeballs), I see the withdrawal, the retreat, in my kids’ faces.  I see their squinting, their down-turned mouths.  I am sad suddenly, sad and tired.  I feel tricked by my own emotions–again.

This communication quicksand has got to dry up.  We love each other, and we’ve got to find a way to move through this new phase of life/parenting/growing.  Right now we’re in a flare/remission cycle where every other conversation has the potential to cause an outbreak of hives.  There’s got to be a better way to go through middle school.  But I can’t think of exactly what to do at the moment.

What I do know is, as usual, we all need grace.  Every moment of every day.  And He gives it.

What Do You Think?

I want to poll the bloggy audience and ask what topic(s) you’d like to see us discuss here.  They can be related to motherhood or homeschooling or self care–anything, really.  If you leave an idea in the comments, I’ll consider it for a post!