Aug 24, 2012


Emma Pondering Life

I can not pretend that our life was ever a thing of beauty and order.  Between the first four children being born in five years at a time when I was trying to maintain a midwifery practice and the as-yet-unrecognized ADHD, life often felt (and likely looked) like we were flying by the seat of our pants.  Once Katarina reached school age we started attending homeschool conferences.  At the conferences we found a wealth of not only educational materials but many "perfect" systems of   home-organization and child training (imagine a Charlton Heston-as-God voice here).  As we all know, cleanliness is next to Godliness and many an otherwise excellent testimony has been destroyed by a shameful lack of order in the home.  These methods all promised to establish one as a paragon of virtue, if only one followed the flowchart in just the right manner.

Several of these methods held promise.  Some were implemented in our home with varying degrees of success.  One in particular that worked fairly well for us was based on index cards rotating on a daily or weekly basis and this accompanied by working on decluttering and streamlining helped us see a reasonable measure of order.  We saw such success with this method that I went and listened to this woman speak about it every year from 1994 to oh, I don't know, maybe 1999.  Every year we added one or two new tweaks on the basic system...checklists for the children to work through each day (oh, the fortune I spent at the copy center at office supply stores in the days before home computers and printers!).  Huge binders to hold the many different chart options.  Tokens that could be earned for jobs done and good attitudes--or lost for the lack thereof.  Charts, chants and songs rounded out the routines, but the good old index card system remained constant.

When I first sat in the workshop under that veteran homeschooler I had four children, ranging in age from almost six to ten months old.  She had, from what I recall, seven, several who were in or approaching their teens.  Oh, the wisdom! I was enthralled.  She made it sound so easy and joyful!  Each year I went and listened.  Each year, it seemed, she had added a child or was pregnant, as was I. Each year, the same description of the system, but it was so encouraging.  After a few years I started skipping the workshop because we were coasting, and I could go without the reminder.  We reached a point, however,when I was parched and desperately needed the tall glass of iced water I knew the workshop would offer!  Our seventh had been born in the middle of six months of providing hospice care for my mother-in-law.  Things had not really gone back to "normal".  We were struggling to maintain a schedule and we had lost a sense of peace and calm in the home.  I sat in the workshop, towards the back to better keep an eye on our children doodling in their new sketchpads.  I listened as the speaker made her way through the presentation that I knew by heart.  She sounded weary--but perhaps that was just me.  And after-all, she was now a mother of eleven.  (Eleven?!  WOW!)  Then it happened.  At the end of the workshop she opened the floor for questions and a bright-eyed mom with no gray hair or wrinkles of wisdom asked for clarification on the "system".  Halfway through the answer the lecturer stopped and sighed.  She said "Y'all don't really believe that this will actually work, do you?"

I was devastated.

We had seen success with the program.  I just knew that the struggles that I was having were rooted in my own failure.  I had lost the vision, the energy.  We just needed a tweaking, a minor redirection.  The issue was mine, and I was sure that I just needed a "reboot" and instead I am told that I am seeking after a hollow promise?

Now I know that the system worked well.  Any system can work well.  The challenge is to make it your own and we had done that.  What I needed was to hear that systems need to be living things, that grow and change as the families that implement them grow and change.  The needs of a family full of toddlers or preschoolers will be different from those of a family of teenagers.   The same holds true for a family in the city VS the country, homeschooling VS public or private schooling.  Lifestyles change and issues that need to be addressed change.  This is obvious to me, now.  The saddest thing is that it seems that, for a season, at least, it was not obvious to the woman teaching the class.  I hope that she was just tired and having a momentary struggle.  I hope that she was able to realize that what she was teaching did work and was viable and that she was able to learn and teach modifications to allow the (inherently flexible) system to change as well.  In truth, the main thing that I received from her was hope and encouragement, a belief that this very difficult thing, raising children in a purposeful manner, could be done.  This was invaluable and the truth is that we all need reminders of this on a regular basis and I hope that she was able to get her reminder.

At anyrate, the blog post that I sat down to write was not the one that I did write.  Two of our children approached us recently with a list of demands requests.  They involve tweaking routines and "systems" and a returning to some family traditions that had fallen by the wayside when we moved to the farm.  I will write about their requests and our plans in the next post, but I guess I needed to be reminded by the above reminiscing that sometimes the biggest gift we can give is not a tool or a plan, but hope and encouragement.

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