Sunday, May 27, 2012

The 13-days-in reflection

We are in Michigan for 6 weeks to visit family, take a break from being home owners, and focus on togetherness. There has been much, much, much togetherness since we are six people in a two bedroom apartment. John tries to get some work done everyday but is mostly available for family activities so we are in the feast half of our feast or famine school-year life.

Spending time with the people we love here is obviously the best part of doing this. We are usually in such a rush to see everyone that it’s just a whirlwind of social engagements and marathon visits. It’s wonderful to be able to see people without the pressure of saying goodbye immediately. And, of course, there’s the babies. Two of my brother’s and their wives just had babies in the past few months and they are our first cousins on my side of the family. Cecilia is nearly beside herself with joy at this regular exposure to babies. Babies: they make everything better.

It has also been great being up here and spending time doing the things that never make the priority list when we are only up for a week and need to fit in all the socializing. We’ve spent mounds of time at the parks, the zoo, the library, and the pool that we frequented when we lived here. It’s fun to watch Anthony recognize things and feel a sense of connectedness here. I want all my kids to feel some ownership over this place, not just experience it as a foreign land we visit to see family.

It is an extremely different pace of life and lifestyle then the one that we usually have so it’s been a transition with all of the regular and expected ups and downs that you would expect. In general the kids and I don’t leave the house much during the school-year. We do have a few outside activities in the evenings but there can be several days in a row that we don’t leave the house. And I don’t mind that. We don’t exactly live in a metropolis that bursting with tempting family-outings, we only have one car, and I love the routines that we live by. It’s a pace of life that I find generally peaceful and it’s how I feel called to live 90% of the time.

By coming up to Michigan and living in an apartment which has people living both above and below us we basically signed up for several outings a day…quite a different pace of life then I’m accustomed to. We have traded in routines, yard work, home projects, school planning, and housework for zoos, bbqs, parks, story-times, pools and family/friend visits. I think that for 6-weeks this is a great idea…it’s a real break from our day-to-day existence, it forces us to see each other more and in different contexts, and gives us opportunities to experience new things together. But man…is it exhausting. I am reminded why it is that I don't live like this on a regular basis.

The hardest thing so far has been the decision fatigue. Nothing is a given. Nothing is a routine. There are no anchors. Everyday it’s a new day of opportunities, experiences, togetherness…and decisions. Ugh. It’s might kill me. Meals are especially hard because there are so many options: eat out, carry-out and eat in, bbq at the park, eat at relatives or friends or just snack through the meal on the way to something else. God bless the Burg but a plethora of meal-options are not really a problem there. :)

So we are here and we are doing fun things every day, seeing wonderful people, enjoying beautiful liturgies and getting accustomed to a life-on-the-go. We’ll probably get used to it just in time to come home and feel like we’ve been stopped dead-in-our-tracks. But both parts of life are worth living and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to be here and to not be cleaning out my closets right now, which is almost certainly what I’d be doing if I were home. “The closets you will always have with you…”

The first fish Anthony caught. He’s since caught 7 or so fish in my parent’s pond, including a large-mouth bass. Yay!

Thomas has been zooming all over the place on his new-to-him bike. He’s gone over a mile at a stretch on those little wheels. He did get chased by one of those geese and now we have to go in front of him shouting and clearing the path, like he’s the sultan.

Cecilia and “Baby Michael!” She is the very best of paci-givers. She is pretty sure that the path to happiness is through the paci.

A picnic with Aunt Natalie after the first pool day of the year!

Rosie has her second bathing suit in a row that includes a tutu. AND she can walk all over the 3 ft. part of the pool this year, and pliƩ!


Thomas and Uncle James throwing some root beer back after a long day of swimming.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Transitions: Homemaker to Homeschooler/Homemaker Hybrid

All mothers – all three of the major breeds (working-outside-the-home, home-schooling or stay-at-home moms) - and/or any combination of the three, are ultimately responsible and will be held accountable for the same things: providing an environment in which people (mainly “her” people) can thrive. Thriving consists of meeting the basic needs of a human being. A person needs to be nurtured -
and spiritually.
We meet these needs in and through our home and through the relationships within our family. Ultimately it's the relationships that we live with day in and day out that primarily provide our living environment (“when mama ain't happy ain't nobody happy”. Even if there are fresh flowers on the table and classical music playing). That being said, as mothers, we should not discount the importance of the more pedantic aspects of the environment that we provide either. Providing for the four major needs of the persons in our home through a combination of the relationship and our physical home-environment is what the ancient art of Home-Making consists in. Whether we choose to provide for those needs by outsourcing a couple or by (trying to) provide for them within the four walls of our house is neither here nor there. We will be held culpable for how well we fulfilled these responsibilities. The buck stops here. Every mother makes a home. Every mother is a home-maker.

The Choice to be a Stay at Home Mom
I spent the first several years of my marriage morphing into a home-maker. I scoured thrift stores and garage sales to find the furniture and decorations that created the environment I wanted to raise my family in. I developed standards for what “clean” meant in our home. I learned how and where to grocery shop in order to live within our means. I discovered recipes that became “staples” and learned to cook along the way. I spent time creating routines and schedules that helped me (more or less) live out the goals I had set for myself as a new wife and mother. I did this keeping in mind that habits set up early would stand me in good stead as years past and more kids came and life increased in busyness. I have always been grateful for this period of time and see it as the oil that keeps the Love Life engine going.
After the initial “set up” of our chosen lifestyle my world revolved around (a) providing a soft landing pad for the family members who lived most of their day out in the world (in my case it was only my husband - but had my children gone to school our home would have soon functioned in that way for them too), as well as (b) a safe and engaging “nursery-world” for my babies and toddlers. Play dates, story times, healthy meals, a clean car (oh…those were the days…), errands done regularly and reliably, a generally tidy and welcoming home for my husband and visitors were my bread and butter. I was a manager of a lifestyle and family culture – steering the life of a family living with intention. Along with an incremental growth of my own ability to see the beauty in the simple, humble tasks of keeping a home running that was my experience of being a SAHM (stay at home mom). A cornerstone role for both me and my family.
At the same time I had an inkling during that period of time that just maybe all of this “investment” into a particular lifestyle needed to be kept in check. Because life changes and needs change, energy levels change and ideals change. It was a good inkling.
The Choice to be a Homeschooling Mother
As my children have gotten older and as I have been turning my eye more and more towards the 3rd need of the human person – the intellectual formation - the balance has naturally shifted. When we concluded that we could best provide the intellectual environment our children need in order to thrive in the “life of the mind” by schooling them in our home we had to reconcile the time vs. task problem. Perhaps the other aspects of our environment would have to alter in some ways but...frankly, I had spent time and energy and thought and prayer on building my family culture in a particular way and simply lowering my standards didn't seem appropriate (I never thought my standards to be extreme in any direction...they were already middling, at best). And then there was the problem of still being ultimately responsible for providing a healthy physical, emotional and spiritual environment, in spite of the fact that the intellectual environment was growing in importance.
With the choice to home school I had to hand over tasks that I highly valued and prided myself on and had even learned to enjoy as a homemaker. Because…the choice to be a HSM (homeschooling mother) is a different choice then the one to be a SAHM (stay-at-home-mom). My work is at home and is primarily concerned with my own children but it is a choice to take (more or less) sole responsibility for a portion of your child's formation that is generally shared with many full-time teachers. Now that I have chosen to take on the intellectual formation of my older children without the aid of a school my life has had to undergo a gradual but major series of changes over the past three years.
Because most HSM were first, and very much valued being, a SAHM it is hard to admit that perhaps you don’t have enough arms, legs, brain-power, hours, and just plain motivation to do both WELL.
This is a reality that I see a lot of home-schooling mothers not admitting - initially. They want to (or feel that they must) live as if they are SAHM’s still when in reality they need to psychologically rebrand themselves as a new breed of mother – the HSM. It is a gradual change and not one that hits full force when you have one child in Kindergarten. And because of the gradualness of the process a lot of mothers become the proverbial frog in a pot of boiling water. Until some day she actually has a mental breakdown because she is trying to do nearly two full-time jobs with approximately the same amount of energy and hours that she had to accomplish the one in.
Regarding this as a set of unrealistic expectations seems like common sense, right? But the problem is psychological and emotional. She greatly valued herself, appropriately so, in the sole role of home-maker and splitting herself between the role of teacher and home-maker is hard to accept. After a couple years of carefully planned schedules and systems and methods all coming up short the HSM generally admits that she “can't do it all”...finally! But the next conclusion that many come to is the part that I find sad…for the family of course but mainly for the mother.
She gives up on some aspect of her environment. Maybe two. Actually, maybe she throws in the towel and loses motivation to do any of them well…or at all. Clearly the family suffers in this scenario. But so too does the mom. In addition to feeling that she's “failed” she is also missing the order, meals, peace and, probably, joy in her life. The satisfaction she got as a SAHM has flown away along with her grasp on the environment she worked so hard to create and maintain.

I spend 28ish hours a week doing education-related work that three years ago I was not responsible for. This is 35% of my waking hours (not “working” hours...all moms know trying to count those up is a joke) during the school week. And in a lot of ways this excuses all sorts of negative changes in the other three aspects of our environment. On the other hand it doesn’t really matter how I’ve chosen to educate…as a family we still need the other formative areas to be accounted for.
This was a relatively easy transition for me because I have teaching running through my veins…well, to be more accurate, I have truth-telling running through my veins. And I live that out through my vocation as a HSM in ways that I couldn't as a SAHM. And as much as I value and even, on many levels, enjoy providing from-scratch meals, library story times, a neat and orderly home, and a clean car (ahhhh…the memories) I see now that I must find a new way to provide those for my family. I can not physically do it myself. There is an actual loss here that I don’t want to trivialize. Like I said, for me it was fairly easy to hire some girls to play with my toddlers a couple days a week and hire a cleaner and have my husband cook more because I am personally so much more fulfilled through teaching. But I have very dear friends who really grieve the loss of their homemaking time.

But sacrifice is what motherhood is all about. Pregnancy and labor should have tipped us off to that one. In fact, sacrifice and death and the consequent resurrection is what the life of all Christian’s lives revolve around. So we sacrifice. We find a new way to do things. Our husband's work extra jobs so we can hire people to supply for our lacks. We make it work. But the first step is admitting that there is a difference between being a SAHM and a HSM. When you choose one you choose to not be the other. And while it was a joyful and exciting choice for me it can be an initially burdensome, sacrificial choice for others (this is NOT to say that I never clean my own house anymore, it's NOT to say that I don't bond with my toddlers at all because I have babysitters sometimes, it's not to say that I don't participate in the ancient art of home-making...our sacrifices should be in proportion to the good that you gain by making them).
I can't imagine one woman being able to live up to the homemaking standards she set before choosing to be a HSM without getting help. And if she set certain standards with thought, prayer and planning then those standards probably haven't changed much, nor should they – she's simply added a huge task on top of them. Initially I found it humbling to admit that I was going to need outside help to shore-up the four pillars of my home-making, that I couldn't provide the home I wanted with my own two hands. But in the face of getting help or living in a chaos that I never intended for my family it became clear that my duties were changing and that, while I will always ultimately be responsible for the environment we live in, I was going to have to turn some parts of the daily-grind over to outside help.
Because things change. Priorities change. God asks things of us. Then He gives us all that we need to accomplish His work. And leisure is the basis of culture…homeschooling too often means mom giving up all of her leisure and slowly losing her grip on the culture that she’s trying to inculcate in her children. Where mom’s culture goes, so too goes the culture of the family.