On Keeping On

*It’s technically Christmas break at our house, so no one is doing any math worksheets these days.  I’m reposting some thoughts I’ve wrestled with this semester, though at the moment my days are spent hanging with the kids and deciding whether to fill my coffee for the third time or leaving well enough alone.*

I’m exploring the place where discipline and freedom intersect as they pertain to learning new things, in both my life and in the lives of my three kids.  We homeschool which means that, at the end of the day, our kids’ learning is on me.  I used to be completely overwhelmed when I thought about the implications of that.  I had my oldest doing logic worksheets when he was four.  He’d sit at the table in our “school room” while his brother and sister took their naps (you read that right.  I had a four-year-old and two other babies younger than he was).  He had to have his blankie with him which was cute-but-annoying since it meant that he couldn’t hold his pencil properly.  I’d sit there beside him, sometimes thinking about how I could be getting laundry done if I weren’t prodding him.  I was convinced that those pages were necessary.

Eight years later I hope I’ve learned some things.  It turned out that those worksheets did not help him in any way I can see now.  But they did turn me into a drill sergeant when I really, really need not have been.  I didn’t do them with the other two, but I did push them in other ways.  (They all learned to read well before the age of five.)  I don’t regret all instances of pushing, of course.  We lived overseas, and there were times when we all had to push ourselves, had to be more physically and psychologically uncomfortable than we’d have chosen.  I don’t naysay those discomforts.

But there is a difference between suffering for the greater good and suffering because you don’t know how not to.  I’m beginning to realize that discipline hems us in, my kids and me.  It keeps us on a trajectory.  It means that we make learning a priority everyday.  But freedom means that on that path we stay open to possibilities.  It’s the idea that true learning happens in stretchy routines that allow for the unexpected.  So when it looks like the kids need time to relax and to be quiet, we do that.  We did it today and the result was that the kids decided to write poetry in their journals.  Really.  I did not ask them to.  I did not even hint that it meant more time on the XBox.

And, as for me, when I’m sitting down to write and I feel bad because the things I’m putting on the paper seem trite and stupid, I’m trying to be kind to myself–because I am learning and learning is dangerous and difficult.  I tell myself that I am allowed to write stupid things, to veer off the path a little, because I will get back on again.  I remind myself that learning is worth it, that I must do it alongside my kids.

What I’m not allowed to do, and what I don’t want my kids do, is to give up.   We all keep on keeping on.

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