olive | your heart is full of laughter, especially when your father is swinging from a tree limb.
blythe | watering the large oak, you look so small, but you love being helpful and take great pride in your work, whatever it may be. this week, you informed us you want to study math and chemistry at a university some day. I have no doubt you could.
burke | helping your father clear out the garage this week. you are so good at taking care of details and are learning to be patient with those who tend to overlook them.
liam | every day you help me search the garden for unwanted pests. i appreciate this time with you, a bond formed by protecting a space we both love dearly. you are changing, as most boys your age are, and although some days it catches me off guard, I am not afraid. I expect they will be sweet in a very different way.
There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.
― Wendell Berry, Given
olive | every evening you come outside with me, to pick pests off the plants and to water them. this week, we picked our first fruit: cucumbers, jalepeno peppers, green beans, and a tiny butternut squash.
blythe | lounging in my room, recovering from strep throat, you suddenly appear so grown up. it must be your new specs.
burke | snuggled up, recovering from strep throat, watching a movie that you can now see from the back of the room.
liam | you and burke have been mowing lawns this summer to earn and save money. finding and studying insects is an added bonus.
We just quietly finished our seventh year of homeschooling. We didn’t have an award ceremony or any large posters or completed books or projects to show off this year. Instead we simply wrapped up our lessons–some of them neatly at the end and others midway–and decided we were done for the summer. I write a lot publicly about homeschooling here and elsewhere and I think it unfair to only talk about the beautiful and successful parts of this journey (and there are many) without noting the adversity, too. And it should be noted:
Last week, I hit a wall.
Perhaps it is easy to sit with pen and paper and draft the way you expect and hope home education will occur, and in some seasons and years, things have gone generally as such for me. In previous years, I’ve spent part of my weekend planning for the week, reviewing what lessons we’d need to cover. A natural balance between planned and unplanned learning occurred. I even shared some of that process here and here. But this academic year, I didn’t really plan much at all. I felt exhausted and almost adverse to it. In our more formal studies, like math or reading, we’d simply turn the page to find another lesson and work from there. We had a few regularities in our routine, mostly surrounding our mealtimes, but in between, our days seemed more in-the-moment, an unorganized journey through books and ideas and play and life-work (daily chores, yard+gardening, cooking).
Sometime a few months ago, I began referring to this as our water table year–the place in the marathon where you pause and drink and use the latrine. This sounds theoretically lovely (minus the last part), but what that meant was: I threw out most of my original plans for the year. I love this journey, even the hard parts, but I also felt mentally exhausted by it. I needed to find a new pace, to continue but in a much smaller way. We struggled to keep up with most of our planned lessons for most of the year, and by early spring, we had stripped our days down to the basics of math and spelling lessons and reading. We still read a lot and often but we didn’t produce much writing (ironic, I know). We did an assortment of random projects and continued with outdoor play and work. We shelved our formal science and history studies, leaving these discussions to whatever they were reading in stories or learning outdoors. We researched bugs and plants in our yard/garden, and while this would be an excellent journal of its own, we haven’t yet recorded it. In short, our learning has been practical and somewhat random. We’ve allowed our routines to breathe a bit, something I desperately needed in the seventh year.
I realize some of you will read this as an affirmation that you shouldn’t homeschool, that somehow you would be like me, too disordered or lacking in simple routine. Trained by traditional education, you might perceive non-linear learning as a lack of progression. Regardless of style and method, this journey is certainly not linear–and perhaps this is what causes myself and other homeschooling parents the most doubt and conflict. Lessons, formal and informal, build upon the other, but not always in the way we expect. The nuances of home-education are innately more holistic and organic, they ebb and flow with life seasons. Like a run through the hills or a mountain climb, the terrain is varied, and progress can feel downward, wayward, or challengingly upward. Still, it progresses. I hope this encourages us, all of us, to remember sometimes in life we run these figurative races with steady breath and strength, and other times we crawl, sucking wind. Either way, we must keep moving. We must cross the line.
It is difficult to discuss homeschooling without discussing the rest of our life. It seems one always gives and takes from the other, one of my favorite aspects to our learning. Last week, I figuratively hit a wall, but this was only in part due to our homeschool. It was more an exhaustion of soul, a stretching of my heart over too many things, too many concerns. I’m looking forward to pulling back a bit in every area this summer, to some travel, to some quiet. I need the space to listen, to more fully reflect and set new goals. I will be posting here in the process but more sporadically during the summer months. Last week, I remembered this short film I had seen a few years ago, the image of a runner crawling the finish line and a parallel story of her running coach battling ALS. I watched it again and felt so inspired by her finish, her will to follow through. I felt stronger listening to his perseverance, his fortitude and determination against a degenerating body. Take three minutes to watch it. I’m sure it will inspire you, too.
When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you and grow.
― Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet
olive | I actually took this image of you in April, as you hopped along the garden borders when it was newly sprouting. One day I’ll see this image and remember when you too were just a sprout.
blythe | Moving our basil pot to another spot on the porch, away from the leaf hoppers in our garden–you have such a nurturing spirit.
burke + liam | You both helped your dad chop a few dying trees in our yard this week, and stack them for firewood when it gets cold again. Although you both are being silly in this image, I love how much it says about the both of you: Liam, witty and sometimes stirring trouble with your words; Burke, quieter with his words and faster his hands. We all are learning ways to love and respect each other a little better in this home. I love your friendship.
There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, everyone of them sufficient. ― Marilynne Robinson
olive | your laugh is deep and rich, the sort that stems from your belly and echoes a room. God knew I needed your electric spirit and lightness of heart.
blythe | when I returned home last weekend, you couldn’t stop talking, spilling details about your day–a sweet surprise to me as I always find you quietly focused, building Legos or drawing or writing. You require a balance of time between people and solitude.
burke | you and Blythe both had strep throat this week, and although it seemed so very painful, I think you may have enjoyed lying around in PJs and shirking chores for the day. (Wink.)
liam | your feet have outgrown me and soon you will be taller, too. You test your growing strength by picking me up–yet wasn’t I the one just holding you?
“So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their endings.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
We’re nearing the final days of May, a little shocking for me since this month has been so atypically cool and rainy. Still, I’m ready. We’re all eager to wrap up our school year, including the mister who will be finished with his own at the end of next week! I love my children. I love homeschooling. But I’m always a little weary by this point. Summer is the season where our family recovers and restores, and after a full summer expended on home projects last year, this one is long overdue.
I’ve often written about seasons here, both the literal and figurative sort. After an enormous financial loss a few years ago and two moves later, I’ve found regular comfort at the thought of seasons, the perspective that extremes of any kind–whether the heat from the sun or the hardship of our circumstances–do end or change at some point.
I know my weariness may come by surprise to some of you, as life via this space is edited and only seen in part. I select and write about bits and pieces, hinting at the whole. They are honest snippets of a larger story, but rarely reveal the grit of the day: the unwilling children, the unmet goals, the doubt, and even at times the tears. And we have a good mix of all of it. I hope that offers someone encouragement.
As I have thought about it recently, so many of our current family goals are long-term oriented: parenthood, homeschooling, home renovation. Although we deeply care about each part, the truth is: parenting is hard. Homeschooling is hard. Living in a partially-finished home is hard. My husband works a full-time and a part-time job to keep our family afloat, so that I can stay home with our children and homeschool them. I write and photograph part-time (often at odd hours or on weekends) here and elsewhere, to help fill in financial gaps for things like soccer or ballet lessons or orthodontic braces. We are a team, a duo working in tandem with one another in every capacity, and by this time in the year, our endurance is waining.
I cried over coffee with him this morning. I don’t cry very often, but this one I could feel coming, my fingers grazing the borders of our capacity for too long. I had begun to lose heart, lose focus. In this place doubt feels the loudest. He listened and then gently offered encouraging perspective. We’ve had so many drastic changes over a short period of time and have adjusted as many circumstances as possible to uphold the people and ideas we love most. I love him for always leaving me with laughter and words that point me to Jesus.
Whoever we are, whether parenting or homeschooling or planning a career, whether working through financial pitfalls or sickness in ourself or in someone we love, life requires endurance. It requires intermittent pause and breath and water–literally and figuratively–ways to gather perspective and restore our souls a bit along the way. I realized this year, I had stopped prioritizing these little pauses for myself. Focused on needs and work at hand, I had stopped exercising or making regular time for reading and praying or taking care of my overall health. I naturally gained a bit of weight and felt more sluggish in thought. I missed feeling strong, clear of mind and heart. So earlier this month, I began finding quiet for myself again. I began running/walking and practicing some yoga on my front porch a few times a week again. These simple moments and movements allow me time to stretch and pray and listen, to quiet the swirling lists of TO DOs and demands. Although these moments won’t solve life’s conflict, they give me courage and ultimately remind my heart to endure. Be strong and courageous, friends.
This post is in partnership with Hooked Productions, a small family-run business in upstate New York which designs and creates eco-friendly clothing, using bamboo and organic cotton. I love their motto: “live the life you love. love the life you live.” And I’m grateful to all of the businesses that help keep this space alive. As always, all thoughts are my own.
“Everything is ceremony in the wild garden of childhood.”
― Pablo Neruda
olive | The Monarch butterfly on our front porch emerged from its chrysalis this week. We all gathered around watching it occasionally spread its wings to dry off. I had to keep reminding you to give it space and of course not to touch it–the hardest part for you all.
blythe | Your ballet recital was last weekend. We all piled in the car to watch your few minutes on the stage, floating and twirling, your eyes and mouth smiling wide. I love how your spirit comes alive in movement.
burke | You selected a book on baking from the library last week. You chose a recipe for banana creme pie, and we spent the afternoon rolling dough and browning butter for custard. It was both of our first times to bake a pie. Each Sunday morning, you and dad make pancakes for the rest of us. You love being in the kitchen, although not with a crowd.
liam | This week, I took you for a haircut, and suddenly, I couldn’t see the little boy any longer. You are almost as tall as I am.