Category: home education (Page 2 of 2)

Sharing life at home, and what that means

Sharing life — isn’t that the funniest phrase, if you dissect it?

When the first few people (all church people; I’m not sure I’ve heard it outside that context) used that phrase with me, it stuck like an oddball thing to say: “Sharing life.” To share life means meals and chores or errands; possessions, maybe money, some talents. The lonely new mom in me loved the concept: I still miss grocery shopping with my best friend on Thursday nights, after the kids were in bed. Shopping for bananas and yogurt alone feels so isolating.

Taken into the context of parenting, of schooling, though, that’s what I’m aiming to do this year: share life.

Life gets ugly. Sometimes life doesn’t take naps and screams for two hours instead. Sometimes life throws up. Sometimes life breaks your favorite glass. Life is hard on carpets, helps develop patience; trains me in not-hurrying. Life costs money. Life doesn’t travel as much as it wants.

But life’s all we have, right, and these people in this house are put here so we can, well, share stuff.

So, as year one begins next week, that’s the hope I have.

Last year I started our “laid-back” kindergarten at 8:30 in the morning. That just doesn’t work for us. This year, Monday, we’ll take our first-day-of-school picture and then eat breakfast and read our Bible story; we’ll be listening to our composer (Hildegard von Bingen; I’d never heard of her either, but Alice thinks her music’s cool) then. I don’t know what time this’ll be. We’re a family; not a Fortune 500 company. There’s no rush. It’ll get done or it won’t; I’m enthused enough to know it’ll be fine.

We’ll probably do some dishes and play; we’ll read through some of our stories; do copywork and take our nature walks before lunch. We’re an Ambleside Online family, so our schedule for the week and our readings are picked from their site; we’ll do math while the youngest two are napping or playing. We’ll bake pumpkin bread and invite the neighbors over for a slice in the afternoon. Our free reads are our bedtime stories. Our folk songs, our bedtime songs.

Sharing life isn’t adding more stuff to life — it’s taking out what doesn’t fit in this season and changing what we do. Sharing life’s just; this is just what we do, together, happily most of the time, because we want to and we know certain skills, knowledge and stories are important to us as humans. That’s all.

It’s so less formal than I thought I’d be comfortable with a year ago; but this morning as I got out of bed — later than normal, again — I think it’s more akin to sharing life than reproducing a structure that doesn’t feel like home. Home, nature; they all provide a lot of opportunities for growth, and so does sharing that with people outside our family. But this isn’t about checking boxes off our to-do list (I’m writing this for myself as well as anyone else who needs it); it’s about growing people.

I didn’t know I was going to start reading a book called “The Life You’ve Always Wanted,” but it was in a stack of books from a friend, and as I watched a documentary on tiny houses and that wasn’t quite it (with three kids); and as we’re dealing with the drama of applying for a job my husband already has and that’s definitely not it; this book was shouting at me from the pile. I want a life I’ve always wanted to live.

There’s a chapter on unhurried lives. Hey, I want that. School will school me in a life that doesn’t hurry, I think. My daughter’s handwriting practice; math, maybe; or poetry. Un-hurry this year, Erin:

“Hurried people cannot love. … It is because it kills love that hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life. Hurry lies behind much of the anger and frustration of modern life. Hurry prevents us from receiving love from the Father or giving it to his children. That’s why Jesus never hurried. If we are to follow Jesus, we must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives — because, by definition, we can’t move faster than the one we are following.”

John Ortberg, ibid.; I can’t believe I’m reading a book with a seagull on the cover, but it has thus been so helpful. {Sidebar conversation: his chapters on transformation in a Christian’s life reads much like Mason’s thoughts. God wired our brains to transform. It’s a divine providence. /End sidebar.}

My interactions with the kids will tell them more about the world and God than forcing anything; the more contrived something feels, the more likely I am to want to stop (and the more they probably will, too).  I’ll be gauging for that awkwardness.

Most of all, this is me, before our school year’s begun. Like I hope my children will yield to the Spirit, so will I. I’m under no other authority than they are. I expect our year will look different in May than it does next Monday. I hope so, because stagnation is no good for anyone.

As children are people, so are parents. Even dads.

Dave used to want to be a war photographer.

Sept. 11, 2001, was early in our college careers, and he thought he’d be embedded over in Afghanistan, taking photographs. Can you see how I fell for him in college? I’d been dating a perfectly safe engineering student when this artist, this journalist came along. This guy who knows how to tell a good visual story; this guy who spent hours photographing. Exotic, no? This vegetarian photographer held my hand through the Toledo Museum of Art, at concerts and over greasy breakfasts after deadline at the college paper.  It was very 2004. Very college romantic.

And we fell in love … and we got married. We bought a house, got a dog. Went corporate.

And the only battlefield this poor man saw was our kitchen on Ontario Street: a new mom preparing to go back to work wearing the same maternity pants she left in two months earlier. Laundry spilling out the top of the chute; no milk in the fridge. Ugly.

It was intense, but not the war he’d thought he’d cover.

“This was a fine life, certainly, but it was n’t the kind of life he had wanted to live. I wondered whether the life that was right for one was ever right for two!”

Jim Burden, narrating in “My Antonia” by Willa Cather

“Do you ever wish you were a war photographer now?” I asked him tonight.

“Yeah. Kind of. But having a family changes that.”

“Yeah.”

We had kids, three of them, quickly, and it makes one wonder, on a slow Wednesday night, when friends are vacationing; when continents have yet to be traveled; when student loans have yet to be paid off … It makes me wonder.

There’s so much joy in what I do at home, with these people.  We’ve got no money, but we’re happy. I wanted Dave and these kids; I’ve been gratefully wondering how that dream to stay with them all at home came true. A friend who walked tear-filled miles with me can attest to the heart-wrenchingly slow process of leaving the job to be at home with them. God moved us to Michigan before I had the courage to look Dave in the eye and say “I’m not getting a new job when we get there.” And he said something about no more Target, and the deal’s worked out well for me so far.

“It is a great thing to be a parent: there is no promotion, no dignity, to compare with it.” Charlotte Mason, of course. I agree, sometimes through gritted teeth, and standing beside me is someone who agrees, too. That’s a wonderful thing. Thank you, God.

I wonder about him, though, and his war-photographer dream, and the way these dreams of mine put a fence around his other ones. As I am quick to pursue what interests me, and as he’s not a complainer, I have to be intentional about asking “What do you think?” I need to ask more often; he needs to say without prompting.

“I think we have to start to dream again.” I said that in response, choosing to see his “Kind of” as an invitation to rekindle some of those things that can’t happen when our minds are preoccupied with tantrums and diapers. I get greedy when I think about how close we are to having three girls out of diapers; I shriek with joy when I see my oldest’s four loose teeth. Kids don’t squash dreams, but they do change them, and I feel that after seven years of pregnancies and babies, we’re ready to emerge and ask “What’s next?”

Don’t misunderstand: it’s not regret for me, or him. We love this adventure, these kids; this now. Those four loose teeth? They’re a drop before the avalanche of the signs of growing up, and I’m not ready for talking about boys or paying for braces. Heaven knows we can’t afford that. (Ha.)

It’s only this: I probably don’t think about his dreams as much, or his passions. And that’s not right.

We moms are learning (or should be learning) to think about “Mother Culture” — the idea that moms are people, too, and we require “mind food” to grow just like we know our children do. If this is a foreign idea, I’d heartily recommend requiring time apart in a daily or weekly schedule. Sometimes it’s me during naptime with tea and a book. Sometimes it’s a walk while Dave does bedtimes. It’s a standing monthly date with a friend to talk good books. It’s time to grow.

This isn’t a homeschooling thing; this is a life thing. Tonight in a meadow, I wondered how Dave’s dreaming lately.

Dave, my Dave. We’re wrong on calling it Mother Culture. It’s not about mothers, though maybe those less selfish than I require more prompting than I do to see the benefit of stepping away.

It’s not Mother Culture we should be striving toward; it’s parent culture. It’s people culture. It’s about the pursuit of dreams. It’s about space. Sabbaths, if you will. It’s human; it’s not about moms.

You know that line in “Annie Hall,” about the sharks that stopped moving and died? Dreaming’s like that. Without dreams, we stagnate. As I married a dreamer-turned-single-income-family-guy, I wonder what sorts of things he should be dreaming about, and the space I need to give those.

He has a few dreams. OK, don’t ask him about the deli one. I won’t support food service. He also dreams of goats. That’s not a joke, either. I’m not sure what it says when his two best dreams involve meat and goat cheese. 

I dream of an old orange-brick farmhouse or a converted schoolhouse or church, with a porch and a few big old trees. Maybe there can be some goats behind it. We’re years from this dream; or maybe it’s not one that’ll happen. I can go without the goats, to be honest.

He also has a passion for refugees and children; for art and social justice. I’ve got passions for hospitality and words. I wonder how God’ll use those all together? I wonder …

I pray I remember, as I grow into understanding that my children are people, and I am people, that Dave is, too. Simple idea; large consequences.

 

Living education notes for my February file

We drove to the retreat, Dave and I, from Michigan to Ohio (where Mom watched the girls); then Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin to Minnesota. I read Willa Cather and we had the windows down on the county highways; my hair was blowing and Noah Gundersen was singing. You should’ve been there. Along the way, I spotted staghorn sumacs, black-eyed Susans; herons, swans, finches, red-tailed hawks and an eagle. Fields waved in beans and corn. The Midwest wears its summer like it’s never heard of winter.

But I remember.

Remember snow so heavy that tossing it atop the pile along the driveway required a heave-ho over our heads? Remember running 3 miles up and down the driveway in -5 degrees in the moonlight? Remember the long loneliness, and reading “The Long Loneliness” while the stomach flu worked its way through everyone slowly, slowly, as we were driven slowly, slowly mad?

I’m watching Paul in Philippians 4, and trying to be thankful in all circumstances, but the thought as I surveyed the vast prairie at the Living Education Retreat was “I wonder what this looked like in winter?”

Thus, the Living Education Retreat is for my January, my February, my March. When panic sets in and slow seems too slow. When I start to feel as if it’s all impossible — nature study especially, but motherhood, too. When my thumb keeps tapping open Facebook or Instagram but my mind needs to be fed itself on something richer. That’s why I needed the LER, to remind me there’s a community out there of people with kids on the other side of this grand experiment; of people who’ve lived through winters.

Charlotte Mason’s reordering our lives and I’m grateful. But without a community supporting the idea that simple is sufficient, bookstore story-times of twaddly titles start to look reeeal nice come late January. So do school buses. And boarding schools. Just kidding. A little.

Wildflower/ weed

A photo posted by Erin Frances Wasinger (@somewonderland) on

Last year I went to the retreat as someone halfway through her first Charlotte Mason book; I carried around all year the LER discussions about magnanimity and mathematics and the Great Recognition. I carried around a picture, too, of a wildflower I’d found there on a solo walk. I was a bit lonely on that walk, lonely in a good way; and the picture reminds me God’s there and beauty can be found in lonely moments.  It’s on my dresser now.

This year, I went as someone who’s halfway through the original Mason series; fully convinced nature knows what it’s doing in slow starts before rigorous beginnings. Dave went along this year because I needed him to breathe this living education stuff as I do, and because … he’s my best friend. I wanted to show him the prairie and these people; where we sang hymns at 7 a.m. on a Minnesotan prairie, when eyes get teary because in that moment we’re sharing something the earth does without us, and because we’re a few people in a big world doing something beautiful and unique. Dave needed to be there for that.

From Wisconsin to Minnesota Amy, my Charlotte Mason companion; and Dave and I talked about Charlotte Mason and faith, families and health and houses. She gave me advice; I attempted the same.

One of hers spoke to a need of mine: the weight of winter. “I have a folder I keep all my stuff in that I need when it gets tough,” Amy said, her binder in her lap.

“I need one of those. I’m going to call mine my February folder,” I said.

In my February file will be notes from the retreat about this proper posture parents should have. This joy of being a tone-setter, this wonder of being under the same authority as our kids — humility, the kind that comes from thinking of ourselves less, as C.S. Lewis said. In my February file’ll be the oxygen mask illustration from airplane take-off speeches: when it feels so hard you can hardly breathe and 8 more inches of snow’s coming, feeding my soul comes first, and it must be nutritious mind food (picture study for myself, a good book).

And atop the February file will be one word: Gentle.

Over and over, gentle was the point, the context, the goal. So what if a child takes a while to learn to read? So what if it takes us two years to complete a math book? What are we aiming for? What are we striving for? It’s not to eke out a living; it’s to learn to live. Gentle. Rushing hinders learning, whether it’s forcing another lesson when their body language says they need to stop or forging ahead before mastery. Rushing looks like worrying what we’re doing isn’t enough, or adding supplements because other first graders write the darndest little compositions or can label the parts of speech (sidebar: remember, I write today in spite of my grammar drills in elementary school, not because of them).

Rushing looks like forgetting or ignoring key parts of Mason’s philosophy; it forgets the method’s life-giving, if we let it.

Rushing looks like panic or fear, and we don’t live by panic or fear. Gentle. 

“It is refreshing, and salutary, to study the poise and quietness of Christ. His task and responsibility might well have driven a man out of his mind. But He was never in a hurry, never impressed by numbers, never a slave of the clock. He was acting, He said, as He observed God to act — never in a hurry.”

“Your God is Too Small,” J.B. Phillips

The peace I find on that prairie, with those people, is immeasurable. I’ll carry that with me this year, all the way through winter.

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