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Posts Tagged ‘Family’

Three weeks until the public schools are back in session in my part of the world, but parents around us are already beginning to say it…even practically shouting it out to the world according to some of my homeschooling friends…They can’t wait for their children to be back in school and OUT of their homes. How does one respond to such a proclamation? Sympathy? Dismay? Pity?  Yeah, I’ve been in that situation too. If their children are present, I feel especially bad. Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that not all parents are as naturally enlightened as I am  angel smiley #5118 , and not all parents choose or can conceive of homeschooling their children…it’s a societal thing. But celebrating? Really? What’s that about. I’ve always held my tongue. Usually these people really aren’t interested in my thoughts on the matter anyway. But I think that these moms are not only missing something really important, but even worse, they don’t even know it.

I’ve often wondered…why? Why do otherwise sane mothers who waited anxiously for each child to come into their home, who were…and are…loving and attentive to their children…Why do they suddenly feel such eagerness (even joy and celebration) to get them OUT of their homes…and so young. Perhaps I could understand it if the child were 30. But no, these are practically their babies they can’t wait to be rid of for the best hours of the day.

As I’ve thought about it, I have come up with my own theory of how this happens in our society today. I think that there are basically three developments which get short-circuited in families today. But first a little side note. I recently read an article written by an un-schooling mom, Sandra Dodd. I loved her graph! I agree, the amount of time that we generally need to spend with our children is directly related to their age…well, sort of. As they get older, guess what?!…Yes, they need less of our time. Not less of our love, not less of our concern for them, not less of a lot of things…but certainly less of our time. And this is true even if they are homeschooled. In fact, I think that this sort of age/time spent-with-them progression seems to have the best potential of development and happens most naturally in the home educated atmosphere.

Here is what I see happening. You finally come to that long awaited moment…the birth of your child. You gaze lovingly into the eyes of that sweet child and the world revolves around the two of you…well, your world revolves around your child…the rest of the world revolves (for a time) around the two of you. That sweet baby takes up practically every moment of your day…requiring your constant attention. Yes, mothers, we are exhausted, but for the most part, we really don’t mind…after all we have oxytocin helping us out (particularly if we are breastfeeding), and frankly, we are head over heels in love with our own child! Then the child becomes a toddler and life really seems to explode! Now you have a mobile child who really does need your eye on him at every moment…and usually by this time you have less and less of that precious oxytocin to help out…but by then you are hooked, you are fully in love with this child and really, you love his developing “independence” …though exhausting to you.

But what happens about the time that this child starts to need less one on one time? He can feed himself, he’s out of diapers, and there are even moments when he really can entertain himself…what happens? We send him off to school…or even pre-school. There he is entertained all day, each moment filled by directed activity. Just when life with your child is getting easier, just when you have some time to breathe, just at the point when children are able to start self directing some of their activity, we ship them off to have each moment directed by a system. They are short-circuited in their developing ability to self direct. Evenings are also filled with soccer practice, homework, music lessons…so much so that many families find it difficult just to have a quiet un-rushed dinner together. And then when school is out for the summer…what happens then? Suddenly the child goes from having every hour of the day directed to pretty much having zero hours of the day directed…but they have not learned to self direct their activities or make choices, and they have lost what ever ability had begun to develop. They are suddenly “bored”…not that they weren’t often bored in school, but this is different. So mom fills the summer with day camp, soccer camp, swim lessons, outings, etc. By the end of the summer (before the end of the summer…maybe 3 weeks before the end of the summer), she is exhausted…and so are the children. No wonder she can’t wait for the children to go back to school.

Another thing happens. The child, removed from the home, begins to lose the attachment to…and ability to get along with…his own siblings. So along with being a summer of running helter skelter trying to keep the kids entertained, moms have children who don’t quite get along most of the time. Yeah…recipe for disaster. I guess I can see why they can’t wait for school to start. But that brings us to the third thing that seems to get short-circuited. Mom never sees that her children really are old enough to self direct their own activities and worse, in her hurry to direct every minute of the child’s day, the best moments are lost.

Yeah, you homeschooling moms know what I’m talking about…those moments when you are just “doing nothing” together; those moments when you really tune in to the wonder and miracle of your child and the person she is becoming. Those un-rushed moments curled up on the couch with a good book together…or even the ones where everyone is busy doing their own thing and there is a sweet feeling of both quiet (…or not so quiet) industry and peace in the home. You watch the seasons come and go together. You feel and settle into the unspoken rhythm of your days…your own natural and peculiar family rhythms.

I think that Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin say it best:

Christopher Robin: I like that, too. But what I like most of all is just doing nothing.

Winnie the Pooh: How do you do just nothing?

Christopher Robin: Well, it’s when grown-ups ask, “What are you going to do?” and you say, “Nothing,” and then you go and do it.

“Oh, I see,” said Pooh.

“This is a nothing sort of thing that we’re doing now.”

“Oh, I see,” said Pooh again.

“It means just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.

Winnie the Pooh: I like that. Let’s do it all the time.

(from The House At Pooh Corner)

Sadly, it so often just these moments which are missed or just too infrequent when we send our children away for 8 (or more) of the best hours of the day and bring them home stressed and tired…and with homework to be done. If you haven’t read this sweet little book, I highly recommend it. What follows this little interchange between Christopher Robin and Pooh is such a parallel to what happens in our society when public school systems take over and over-scheduling of our children and families begins.

Then, suddenly again, Christopher Robin, who was still looking at the world, with his chin in his hands, called out, “Pooh!”

“Yes?” said Pooh.

“When I’m — when — Pooh!”

“Yes, Christopher Robin?”

“I’m not going to do Nothing any more.”

“Never again?”

“Well, not much. They won’t let you.”

You see, Christopher Robin is going away to school. His days of “doing-nothing” are pretty much at an end. I guess that it is this that makes me so sad when I see parents celebrating a little too loudly that their children are going to school. My heart aches for the moments that they are obviously missing (both the mom and the child).

So homeschooling moms, my advice in those moments when you hear someone celebrating just a little too loudly for comfort about their children going away to school…is to just be glad that yours are not. Take joy in what you have with your children around you (even on those hectic days when you almost understand the public school mother’s celebration). Sit back and breathe a sigh of relief that you have not entered your child and family into the rat race we call “school”. In our family, we like to have a “NOT back to school” celebration each fall. So celebrate. And then take joy in the “doing nothing” moments.

And if you are one of those moms who can’t wait for her children to go back to school, then I guess my advice would be to try hard not to let go of every “doing nothing” moment with your children. See if you can at least “schedule” your days so that those precious “doing nothing” moments don’t completely pass you by. And please…don’t celebrate so loudly…at least not in front of the children.

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I love going for walks with my children. When they were small, I used to snuggle them into a front pack infant carrier and off we would go. Later, I would put the oldest children into a stroller–but whoever was the infant at time was always in the front pack. They were too small then to keep up with me on our long walks, and so I snuggled them securely next to my heart or pushed them along in front of me in the stroller. Sometimes, I would put them into a wagon that I would pull behind me. Either way, they could enjoy the journey without what would for them be a long and tiring walk–an impossible walk.

On shorter walks–like the one down the lane to the mailbox–my toddlers and very young children would walk for themselves. I would walk more slowly and shorten my stride so that they could keep up. And on longer walks around the neighborhood, we always brought along the stroller or the wagon. Sometimes they would walk part of the way and then ride when they got tired.

Now my children are much older. Going for a walk with them is a whole new experience. I don’t know just when it started to happen, but there came a time when they would run ahead of me. As soon as they knew the direction we were headed, they would run ahead in their excitement to see whatever new thing lay ahead. Oh, they would double back and check in with me whenever they got too far ahead, or sometimes I had to call them back for safety (or “mom security”) reasons; but most of the time on any given walk or hike, a number of my children will be up ahead of me. The older they’ve grown, the further out in front I feel comfortable with them being, but even still, protective mom that I am, I ask that they stay within sight and calling distance on most of our walks or hikes.

On some hikes–the ones that are new to me–I don’t know what is up ahead, and so I insist that the children stay closer and don’t allow as much freedom to run ahead. Other times, I’ve already been to the destination. I know what they are about to discover, and so I simply sit back and watch their eagerness and joy as they run ahead, I know what they are about to discover. I can’t wait to share it with them.

How like home education this is to me! (You knew that was coming, didn’t you.) But seriously–there is such a strong analogy here to what happens in our home with learning.

I think I noticed it first when I would read to my children. Sometimes they would be so eager for the next page (and yet not knowing that the words to the story corresponded with the pages) that they would turn the pages before I was finished reading them. With one particular child, I had to learn to read fast and I deliberately chose stories with only small amounts of narration on any given page so that I would actually be able to get through the text before she turned the page. It didn’t matter if I read every word on the page though. She cared more about the pictures and the joy of simply sitting in mother’s lap than she did about the story. To me this stage is reminiscent of the child snuggled into the front pack on our walks. It was simply the security of being close to mom that mattered for my children then.

Then came the days that might be compared to the stroller or wagon days of our walks. Much like our shorter walks, my children began to read some small books for themselves. Or they would “pretend” to read…which means they would tell the story the way they remembered it…an important step on the road to learning to read independently. And like our longer neighborhood walks, they were not yet able to read novels and longer stories for themselves and so I would read those to them while helping them along with occasional parts of the story, or words here and there, that they could manage on their own.

The time quickly came, much like our daily walks, when they would run ahead of me even with the novels. We would begin a read-aloud with the family and if I or their dad stopped before we were finished with the book, one or two of them would pick it up and race ahead to get the rest of the story. I only needed to get them started and spark their interest. Once they caught on to where we were going, they wanted to be way out ahead. And just like our walks, sometimes I would insist that they stay with the family and I wouldn’t let them read ahead. I must admit that was a little painful for them at times, but it sure kept the interest high. They would plead for one more chapter and, more often than not, we would joyfully give in.

The time quickly came when they could navigate even those trails, and books, alone–without my or their dad’s help. But even then, I still led them as I suggested and inspired interest in books that I knew that they would enjoy…ones whose trails I had already been on many times myself.

And now the days have  come when they will pick up my books…the ones that I intended for myself. They will sometimes read them before I do. Or they will read wonderful books that I haven’t yet discovered and they will share them with me. Now that I think about it, we have arrived at those days with hiking as well. My sons and daughters have gone on hikes and trails that I have never been on–and they’ve come back to tell me about them.

Yes, home education is so much like hiking with children.  Oh the joys of journeys with children…both in the daily walks, hikes, and trails…and in the life long journey that we take together. And just like the daily walk, these journeys are full of so many wonderful sights and sweet moments along the trail. May we always remember to enjoy the small moments of these precious journeys with our children…

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I just learned this morning that a close childhood friend and his wife have divorced. I live nearly 2000 miles and five states away from them, and we haven’t kept in close contact, so this news was a total shock to me, something totally unexpected. I found out on facebook. There are lots of things that I love about facebook, but this is not one of them. The skies outside today are overcast and we have the typical Northwest rain…my mood matches the greyness I see out my windows. I am broken hearted for this friend and for his children and the pain that they must certainly be feeling, and I am so saddened to see this family broken up.

I read a blog today written by the daughter of one of my best friends. She talked about the fact that in our society today, the family is under attack in so many painful ways. I look around myself and see the evidence of this everywhere. Almost everyone that I am close to has either chosen or been part of divorce in some way, and this is only one way in which families are broken up. Personally, my own family was broken up not just once, but twice. My first birthday memory as a child was shortly after or during the breakup of my parents’ marriage. I remember being given a suitcase for my fourth birthday. It was full of lots of fun toys, so at first I remember thinking nothing at all of the suitcase. I didn’t know what a suitcase was. I thought it was just the box that my presents were in. And then my mother explained it to me. The “box” was the gift. This was so that I would have a place to put my things when I went to visit my dad. I remember being confused; I didn’t understand and couldn’t comprehend this concept. It is only with my adult eyes that I understand this memory now.

My mother re-married, and in the process my two sisters and I acquired another dad and two more siblings…a brother and a sister, and then much later, two more little brothers. I grew up spending alternate weekends with my two families…and explaining to my friends why my last name was different than my parents’ (something that I suspect no longer needs explaining as often in circles of young children). One weekend I would go away to see my dad, the next weekend my new brother and sister would come to see us…later they came to live with us full time…and in time I also stopped going to see my dad. We were a family…until that family also got broken up. It wasn’t divorce this time. This time it was alcohol and drugs…and then the death of my mother and the remarriage of that dad and our subsequent exclusion from his life sealed the brokenness of our family. We children are beginning to recover and put the pieces back together a little at a time…in fits and starts, but we are still a broken family…and after all these years, it still hurts.

My husband’s family is also broken. His parents divorced about the time that we married. I remember his pain. It doesn’t matter how old you are, it is always painful when your parents divorce. As my husband has pointed out, broken marriages and families are the result of someone being selfish, and I’ve seen far too many examples of this.

I remember thinking deeply about all of this one day as I watched my children playing nearby. I was feeling the pain of my broken family and it contrasted with the wholeness that my children have. I remember thinking how wonderful for them that they get to be a part of a family which is whole. They do not know the pain of broken families. I realized that this is something that they have probably never thought about at all…it is a totally natural thing for them, and (rightly so) they probably take it for granted. Oh, my husband and I have had our bumps along the way, but thankfully, we’ve always been able to overcome those bumps and have found the rainbow on the other side of any clouds in our life. It continues to be our goal that our children will always have this thing to take for granted in their lives…that their parents love each other and are committed to each other.  I’m not saying that we are something special because we are still together…I know that there are still many years ahead of us, and I’ve been around long enough to know better than to judge. I also realize that divorce is not the only symptom of a broken family. And I’m especially not trying to rub salt into the wounds of those who deal with the pain of a broken marriage or family…I know at least one side of that pain all too well.  I’m not trying to judge…I’m just trying to explain some feelings and thoughts that I have…perhaps I’m trying to make sense of them myself.

I grew up being told that I was special to have two dads to love. It was a normal part of my life. I didn’t know anything different. Perhaps if my second family had not also broken up and I weren’t still dealing with that pain, I would be content…I don’t know. …but somehow I don’t think so. I’ve recently reconnected with my dad whom I stopped going to see all those years ago…Oh how much we’ve lost over the last empty years. I do know that today I wish that I had one whole family…with no one on the outside. In some of my more poignant moments, I wish it with all of my heart.

Our society tries to normalize divorce and say that it is all okay, that the important thing is for both parents to be happy, and yet while I do understand that there are sometimes valid reasons for a marriage to break up, I also know that it always does hurt…a lot…and often  many years after the fact. I’m an adult now with grown children. My family became broken long, long ago. You’d think that any pain associated with it would be long gone…but it is not. No, there is lasting pain associated with the break up of a family and I think that it’s time we stopped brushing that fact under the rug, so to speak. Perhaps it’s time we stopped pretending that it is easier to get a divorce than it is to work through the challenges that come up in every marriage. It’s time to learn or be reminded that there are rainbows on the other side of each cloud and that challenges are just opportunities to find those rainbows. Yes, it is important for both parents to be happy…it’s also important for them both to be committed…and when both parents are truly committed to each other, that commitment goes such a long, long way toward overcoming the challenges that come…and in making a family feel…and be…whole…and happy.

by Eric Ward from WikiMedia Commons

I do have one shining example in my life of two people very close to me who stayed married all the way to the end…my grandparents. I love them for so many things, and I’ve come to feel lately that one of those things for which I love them dearly is that they stayed together, they continued to choose each other, they stayed committed to each other. They did not leave their posterity with the legacy of a broken family. I now love them even more for the gift which that is to me…and for their example to me.

There are others around me whom I’ve been able to see who have stayed committed to each other and are now in their senior years. It’s fun to see them (from the outside looking in) as they gather their families around them during holidays and on special occasions as their children and grandchildren all come home again. Such a simple thing…and yet not such a simple thing…and yet it means so much in a family.

And so with each passing anniversary, I will celebrate (and continue to work on) having a whole family. And I will feel joy and I will celebrate in my heart each time that I see a family which has managed to remain whole.

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