Thursday, April 29, 2010

Confessions of an overwhelmed home school mom

    We are finishing up our 5th year of home schooling soon.  I don’t think I have ever looked forward to a summer break more than I am this year, and that includes my own 15+ years of schooling.  It has been a long, difficult year.  Having a baby in August definitely contributed to the challenges but the biggest challenge, for the past 8 months, has really been my own attitude.   I wake up in the mornings and, nearly everyday lately, I just think, I would rather not face that classroom, I would rather not deal with math lessons, I would rather skip the spelling for today, etc…  Because of my own negative attitude, I have little patience for the kids bad attitudes.  They don’t want to do math most days either, they would love to skip their spelling test.  Our classroom, which used to be a spare bedroom, is no longer a place of delightful learning and curious discovery, as it was in the first few years of home schooling.  It has, instead, become a place of frustration and short tempers.
    I think it is a simple, yet persistent, case of burn out.   Last summer we did not take a break.  I kept up our schooling right through most of July knowing that our new baby was coming in August.  At the time it seemed like the responsible thing to do, I wanted to be able to take time off when the baby came without having to worry about missing lessons.   I figured if we made my “maternity leave” our summer vacation I would be able to enjoy the time off without any nagging feelings of guilt.  So, we took off about six weeks in August and September that were spent settling in with a newborn who had her days and nights confused.  In hindsight, it wasn’t much of a vacation.  Yet, I kept to the plan and started up our schoolwork while still in the throes of complete exhaustion.  I was overwhelmed pretty much from the beginning but was not going to be irresponsible.  I had to be dedicated.  My children’s education was too important to give in to my feelings of unrest.   We struggled through.  The baby eventually figured out the difference between night and day but never has been much of a napper, so I did a lot of juggling.   About halfway through the school year, I did give up our Latin lessons.  I just couldn’t do it all and that seemed to be the most dispensable subject so out it went.    If only I could have given up my perfectionism the year may have been different.  I just wanted, as with everything in my life, to do it all and to do it well.  I wanted to be like all those other home school moms I know.  The ones who seem to always be calm, peaceful, and on the ball, juggling it all with ease.
    In February, we went to our home school group’s Valentine party and it had been one of those days.  I drove to the party with sheets of pouring rain drenching our car and my nerves shot from a stressful morning, wondering why I was even bothering.  When we arrived, a friend of mine who I met in my first few months of home schooling, ask how I was doing and I meant to smile and fake it all and say that we were great but I couldn’t pull it off and instead admitted life was hard and begged her to tell me how she did it all.  She is, in my mind, the epitome of the perfect Catholic home school mom.  She is always peaceful and put together, with her smiling baby on her hip and her other five children clean, neat and respectful beside her.   Since we met, 5 years ago, she has had two babies and has kept on home schooling, seemingly unfazed.  I was desperate to hear her answer.  She was wonderful, advising me to relax, just do what I could and not worry about this year at all.  She assured me that her children had survived years with new babies in the house, when they did not do as much as they should, and no one was any worse off because of it.  She said this year just didn’t matter academically and it was more important to be peaceful.  I loved what she had to say.  Hearing it all made so much sense and for the moment I felt better. I wanted so much to take her advice.  I tried so hard to take her advice.  For a few days things were better but my perfectionist tendencies and overwhelming guilt returned and I gave in to it all.
    Now, after months and months of trying to educate my five children while struggling under the strain of my own fatigue and self-reproach, I am really ready for a vacation.  I think I have no choice but to finally admit I really can’t do it all.  I need this summer break more than I can even put into words and I need it to be much more than just a break from school work.  I need it to be a break from feeling like I am responsible for everything and, especially, a break from feeling like I am failing in that responsibility.   I hope after a few months off of school, I will feel renewed.  I hope I can start anew in the Fall.  I hope the lessons we did learn this year will help us to do that.  Because, though, I am ready to be done with this year I know it was not a total disaster. Despite all the difficulties and struggles, we learned a lot this year that, I'm sure, will help us all in years to come.  I have learned, first hand, that the harder I try to do everything perfect the harder life gets.  Only God is perfect and it is Him I should turn to when I am overwhelmed.  The kids have learned to be flexible, to be more independent in their studies and to be more understanding of distractions and unexpected interruptions.  I pray that next year we will all be excited and eager to learn again.  Above all, I pray I will be much more equipped to teach with an attitude of peace and serenity, having learned the hard way that that is the most important thing I can bring to my classroom, to my children, and to myself.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Kids say the darndest things Fridays-- The sun follows....

    We recently took a road trip, with our five children, halfway across the country to visit family and friends.  Before leaving on the trip we attempted to explain the length of the drive to our five year old son.  We told him we would leave in the afternoon, when it was still light outside, then drive through the night, when it was dark, and still be driving when the sun came up the next morning.   He listened carefully then said, “and when I wake up in the car, the sun will be right next to me because everyone knows the sun follows the cutest person.” 
    “Where did you hear that?” I asked, sure someone else must have told him such a silly fact.
    “I just know it because I am so smart!”  he informed us.
    Smart, he is. Cute, he is.  Humble….I think we need to work on!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

An angel in the in-field

    I must have been about 7 years old the first time my parents took me to see a professional baseball game.  I may have been completely uncoordinated, without an athletic bone in my body, but I fell in love.  The diamond down below, the blue sky and bright sunshine above, and the roar of the crowd all around.  What could be more fun on a spring afternoon?  I have loved baseball ever since.  It is a love I share with my husband and that we have passed onto our children.      
    Over the years my favorite team has changed.  As a kid, I loved the Cincinnati Reds.  When I moved to the Tampa Bay area, the Devil Rays were just starting up and I became a fan right away.  Nowadays, though I still love the Rays, the team I care most about is the Dunedin A‘s, my son‘s Little League team.   Every game you’ll find me in the bleachers, with a front row seat.  I get as excited about their wins and as upset about their losses as I  do about the “big leagues”, maybe more so.  My son has been playing Little League for a few years now and his greatest baseball ambition has been to be a pitcher.  His first few seasons were spent in “A” level ball, which means coach pitched.    He hit well, he ran hard, he enjoyed his games and practices with all his little teammates but what he really wanted was to pitch.  When he finally got to the “AA” level, where kids get to pitch for a few innings, he practiced throwing balls down the hall in my house day and night, putting dents in the bedroom doors and impeding traffic to the bathroom.   Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for my nerves, he was only given the chance to pitch once or twice that first season.  It did not go well.  I remember one game where he hit an opponent with the ball, he came close to hitting another, and he ended up getting pulled from the mound after throwing several more wild pitches all over the park.   We had a very rough afternoon following that game because my son was so upset over his performance and the resulting embarrassment of being taken out mid-inning.
     This year he is a little bigger and, hopefully, a little more mature.  One thing hasn’t changed, though.  From the beginning of the season, he hoped and hoped he would get his chance out on the mound. I watched him in practice as he over-excitedly flailed the ball towards his unsuspecting teammate, thankfully clad from head to toe in padding, and wondered if maybe next year might be his year.  His coaches are, however, pretty willing to take chances and they are also very good about letting the boys try out each position.  
    It was in the third inning of a very close game when they decided to give him his turn and they put him in to pitch.   I felt myself tense up.  “He is just not ready for this,” I kept thinking.  I was sure he would struggle like he did last year and be devastated all over again.  I felt like pacing back and forth along the sidelines in my nervousness but held myself back.  Still, I held my breath through the entire inning.  Instead of being wild, his pitches were slow and deliberate.  He took his time, focused on his accuracy and allowed his teammates to field the few balls that were hit off his unhurried throws.  He got out of the inning feeling good and I thanked God that it had gone fine and was all over.  I figured he had had his turn as pitcher for the year, he had gotten relatively lucky in that it went okay, and now I could relax for the rest of the season.   He immediately started talking about the next time he would pitch.   Last night, he got his chance.  It was the first inning this time.  I heard the coaches in the dugout calling out positions and my son’s name came right before the word “pitcher“.  I was sure I heard incorrectly but, no, there he was, shirt tail hanging out, big grin on his face jogging towards the pitcher’s mound.  “Oh no,” I said to Tim, “I can’t go through the nerves again." In my mind, I was thinking , "He got so lucky the first time it would have been better for him to have had his one success and leave it at that.  There is always next year to try again.”  My muscles tense, my eyes focused unblinkingly on my son as I watched the inning unfold.  Right from the start he looked more confident than before.  His pitches were accurate (mostly), they were faster.  He looked great out there.  The inning, though not perfect, went well.  So well, in fact, they put him back in to start the second.  This time, when they pulled him mid-inning it was because he had thrown his limit of 40 pitches and, to my surprise, he had done a great job.  
    In my mothering protectiveness, I had wanted to hold my son back.  I had thought it was best to shield him from the possibility of failure by not giving him the chance to try again.   In my desire to protect my son, I did not realize I was trying to take away his chance to succeed, as much as his chance to fail.  I had underestimated, not only his talent, but also his ability to bounce back from last year’s disappointment.  While it is my job to protect my children sometimes what they need even more, is my support in both their successes and their struggles.   
    It isn’t easy for me to watch my children endure disappointments but sometimes they teach me better than I teach them.  This time I learned, first hand,  “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again" and “nothing ventured, nothing gained".  Perfect lessons for a mom who still has a long way to go in learning to let my little angels spread their wings.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Just What I Needed....

    Today was not the most beautiful of Florida days.  When we left for Mass this morning the rain was, in the words of my five year old,  “pretty much trenchal” (which, in case you cannot translate, means torrential).  Things did not improve much as the afternoon wore on.   The moods around my house sort of matched the weather outside our windows.  We were all feeling a little tired and really, really lazy.  I guess rainy Sunday afternoons are good for just laying around doing a whole lot of nothing and we thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity for just that today, but by evening the effects of our laziness were starting to get to me.  The house was cluttered, everyone seemed to be crabby and impatient with each other and my energy level was practically nil.
    It has been my routine for the better part of my adult life, to exercise in the evenings after dinner.  I try to spend about 40 minutes doing some sort of cardio workout each day.  My discipline in this area of my life used to be amazing and unwavering but it has waned a little over recent years.  Yet despite my lack of enthusiasm for exercise of late, and my complete lack of energy, I knew I should get up off my butt and do something.  I noticed the rain seemed to have stopped (finally) so I decided to take a walk.
    I tied on my workout shoes and set off under a sky that was still a little gray and drizzly.  As I walked, my thoughts wandered and then turned to prayer.  I found myself feeling more grateful than I had all day.  I felt grateful for a break in the rain so that I could be outside enjoying the peace and solitude of the evening.  I felt grateful for the time to stretch my legs and find the energy I had been lacking all day.   Though it took a lot of effort to motivate myself, a walk was just what I had been needing.   It is wonderful what a little physical activity and fresh air can do for the spirit.  As I finished up my three miles of walking and praying, I saw that a tiny bit of sky was showing between the clouds and, for the first time all day, the sunshine was just peeking through.  A perfect reminder that God is always near... even on our gray days.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Snap, Crackle, Yea!!!!!!

    I crunch them under foot each time I step into my kitchen.  I find them plastered to the baby’s diaper when I take her from her high chair.  I have them spilled all over my car.  Rice Krispies, everywhere I go!!!!!!  I very rarely eat cereal myself.  I prefer toast for breakfast, or leftover pizza if there is any in the house.  But lately, despite the mess they are creating all over the place, I have been feeling unusually grateful for Rice Krispies.  Those tiny little puffs of rice have made my life a little easier in recent days.  It is thanks to the humble Rice Krispie that I can write this blog, that I can eat a meal without pushing my plate ever farther away between each bite to keep my 8 month old daughter’s little grabby hands out of it, and that I can enjoy a bit more peace at Sunday Mass. 
    We recently started introducing finger foods to our baby.  And, at our house, that mean Rice Krispies.  I tried Cheerios with my oldest daughter but worried so much about her choking that I ended up breaking them into fourths before I would let her eat them.  Who has time for that?  So we tried Rice Krispies and discovered they are the perfect snack for babies first taste of “real” food.  They are more affordable than the fancy name brand finger foods and are just the right size for little mouths.  So now, thanks to the blessing of baby snack time, I am able to get a few more things done around here.  I can stick my daughter in her high chair toss a few Krispies her way and wash the dishes without the lovely background music of screaming which I had become accustom to.  In fact, of all baby’s latest milestones- pulling herself up at the coffee table,  the crib, and the side of the bathtub and then chewing on the edge of whatever she is standing next to, babbling da-da over and over all day long while daddy is at work but then refusing to go to him when he comes home in the evening and I would like a break, getting on her hands and knees and rocking back and forth while she tries to find the coordination necessary for actual crawling and then inevitably resorting to rolling all over to get where she wants to go- finger foods are my favorite!  And it isn’t only because of the freedom it has afforded me.  It is fun to see her moving on from pureed vegetables and fruits and having her participate a little more in family mealtimes by feeding herself.  I also love her cute little lopsided chew as she gums her cereal to oblivion.  And she really does look adorable wearing a “beard” of slimy rice on her little chin.  But, I admit it is mostly because I can now pop a Krispie in the baby's mouth when I am trying to talk on the phone and can now actually hear what the other person is saying.   So, while it may seem really silly, I consider Rice Krispies one of the littlest and most often overlooked blessings in my life.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Tale of Messiness and Mercy

As we all climbed out of the car in the parking lot we looked a little disheveled to say the least. We had been visiting family and friends all week, staying up late, running all day to try to fit in everything we most wanted to do on our short trip, and already that day, driving for more than an hour much of which was spent in stop and go traffic, to get where we were, to squeeze in one more essential thing before heading back home to Florida.
The building loomed impressively before us. It was made all of stone with beautiful domes, archways, and tall stained glass windows. We walked around to the front and stepped through the heavy wooden doors. The inside was even more overwhelming than the outside had been. The interior was covered in artwork. Beautiful paintings and statues met our gaze no matter where we looked. The high ceilings glittered with golden mosaics and we stared awestruck around the majestic Cathedral before quietly filing forward to find a seat right in the middle, enveloped in a sacred silence.
It was the Vigil Mass for the second Sunday of Easter and we were blessed to be celebrating it at the Basilica Cathedral of St. Louis as a sort of finale to our spring break vacation of visiting family and friends. The car was packed for our long car ride home which we would begin immediately following the Mass. We were all tired from our week of fun and near-constant activity and the truth was, we looked it. As I marveled at the splendor of the architecture around us I couldn’t help but notice how dramatically we contrasted with the church’s exquisiteness. I looked at my family and noticed my oldest daughter’s red, puffy eyes from the tears that had been coming on and off ever since we said good bye to her aunts and cousins earlier that morning. I noted my oldest son’s sloppy hair and equally sloppy rumpled t-shirt. I was not surprised to see my middle daughter’s skirt was practically sideways from her twisting and squirming in the car on the way to Mass. And the remnants of lunch crusted to my youngest son’s sleeve, where he had obviously used his shirt as a napkin, didn‘t surprise me much either. Adding to my humility was the little stab of guilt I felt when I realized that the pants I had laid out for Tim to wear on our journey home were the ones with the bleach stains all over the front. Then, as if we did not already present quite a motley crew, I noticed during the gathering hymn that the baby had a look of concentration on her face, which was rapidly turning a deep shade of red. I sighed as I grabbed the diaper bag and tried to discreetly slip out to change her now full diaper.
I spent the rest of the hour in the back of the huge Cathedral trying to keep the baby quiet as I attempted to participate in the celebration of the Mass before me. I found myself wondering if it was even worth being there, not looking or feeling like I belonged in such a place of holiness. I was consumed with my wandering thoughts and I was continually distracted by the baby and the sights all around me. Before I knew it, it was time for the homily and I heard the priest speak lovingly of God’s great mercy reminding us that it was Divine Mercy weekend. As I listened, it hit me that perhaps this experience was the perfect metaphor for God’s love and mercy. Here we were, looking a bit scruffy and worn out, looking a little out of place, in this sacred and beautiful space. Our imperfections were so obvious and yet we were not turned away at the door, instead we were welcome to enter into the beauty and splendor of the majestic Cathedral. Interiorly, I realized we are often as sloppy and unkempt as we appeared externally that Saturday evening but still we are welcomed, invited even, to take part in the beauty and splendor of God’s Church, and God’s perfect love and mercy. Though we will never be worthy, we are invited to know God and we are loved by Him, forgiven by Him, unconditionally and without fail. So, despite our haggard appearance I knew there was no better way to acknowledge and participate in the gift and blessing of Divine Mercy.


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