Taking the Long View

I have finished reading the book Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie (2015). My last three posts have been about it. There are many good, practical details in this book about simplifying curriculum and using a loop schedule and how to do Morning Time. I’m going to skip those and quote from the extremely encouraging end of the book (pages 69-70):

You do not need to have a ‘productive’ homeschool day to please the Savior. You do not need to have a clean house to please the Savior. You do not even need to have well-behaved kids to please Him. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if you hit every math problem, get through an entire spelling lesson, or whether your child loves learning the way you want him to. You are cultivating your child like a tree, and trees will bear fruit in time. We are taking the long view. Consistency over time goes a long way toward tending our orchard. Faithfully tending to your work each day is what success looks like for the homeschooling mother.

It is true that I am sometimes confused as to what “faithfully tending to your work each day” means in my life. I sometimes think I’m missing the mark, concentrating on the wrong things. But that’s when I get anxious (and thus not at rest). I think I would add, for my own sake, that I do not need to fill in all the blanks in the family that aren’t getting filled. God is more pleased with one content, faithful heart in a dysfunctional family than a perfectly functional family full of anxious hearts.

I end this mini-series by quoting St. Jerome, whom Mrs. Mackenzie also quoted on page 70, “It is our part to offer what we can, his to finish what we cannot.”

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What “curriculum” means

Perhaps the biggest mistake homeschooling moms make as a whole is overcomplicating things. After all, curriculum is not something you buy. It is far too robust to be purchased online or checked off on a set of lesson plans. It is a set of encounters that form the soul and shape the intellect.

— from Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie (2015), pg 25

I could say I don’t have one curriculum this year because I am mixing and matching things rather than using Ambleside Online. However, according to Mrs. Mackenzie, my curriculum is not the collection of teacher’s guides, math workbooks, and online lessons. It is the “form and content of our children’s learning experiences” (22). It includes the library picture book about Olivia the pig going to Venice, Italy. It includes the enthusiasm for the animal world they pick up from the Kratt brothers on Wild Kratts. It is also the experience of riding home from the evening church service with the window open, noticing the smells of bonfires, marshes, humidity, night air, manure. And, of course, it is the habit of listening to Mom as she reads on and on, enjoying the rhythm of Song of Hiawatha, even though it is probably at a higher grade level than is appropriate for them.

My note to self: don’t overcomplicate things. They are learning, even when I think we’re not getting in the school hours I promise the government I’m going to keep.

The virtue between negligence and anxiety

Rest is the virtue between negligence and anxiety, but many of the homeschooling moms I have met, myself included, find themselves more likely to fall prey to one camp or the other. When we are weak in virtue, we inch toward vice. A curriculum that leaves no room for the soul to breathe will suffocate, but so will the absence of purposeful and intentional teaching. If we are doing our children a great disservice by shuttling them through a set of books and plans without consideration for their souls, we are doing them an equal disservice by ignoring their formation and leaving our children to form themselves.

— from Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie (2015), pg 7

I like the image of a pendulum, moving from the vice of negligence to the vice of anxiety. The virtue we need to create balance in our lives, rest, is found right in the middle.

Rest, in this sense, is not relaxing on the couch. And anxiety, in this sense, is not collapsing on the couch because everything is too much for you. Negligence, however, might be one of those. Rest is looking to God for direction, and then knowing that you’re going to fail, and then also knowing that it’s okay because God has everything under control. (See the pendulum in that sentence?) I’m full of pendulum movements. It’s called mood swings! But God remains at the center, fully in control of my life, my kids’ lives, my family, my homeschool, my everything. He is there making sure I don’t go flying off the end into utter ruin.

Teaching From Rest

Today I began reading a book by homeschool mom Sarah Mackenzie called Teaching From Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace (2015). Already I know why God led me to this particular book. Because He is speaking through it to me! I am going to do a mini-series on this blog about my thoughts as I read this book.

Here is the part of the introduction (pg. xv) where she talks about the story of Mary and Martha:

We can picture Martha in her frustration with her sister, right? ‘Don’t just sit there! Do something!’ And yet the Lord gently admonishes Martha’s busyness. Mary, after all, has chosen the needful thing. The contemplative way. The being and becoming over the doing and the checking off. I can almost hear him inverting the message to me–turning my obsession with productivity on its head: ‘Don’t just do something; sit here.’

I almost cried in relief at reading this. I needed to hear that “the contemplative way” was the needful thing. I needed this assurance that thinking and listening to God is not lazy or less important than working, which is what my husband does all day.

I don’t know how this book is going to teach me about marriage. It sounds as if Mrs. Mackenzie’s marriage is good, and her own husband doesn’t work all day (she slipped off to coffee shops to write this book though she has six children, three under the age of two). But I do know that this book is going to teach me about trusting God. And I need that teaching very much.

Ways We Say Goodbye to Summer Vacation

My 8 year-old daughter informed me that we should definitely not have a celebration for the beginning of our school year next Monday. She thinks school is not something to be celebrated. We are beginning early because my 9 year-old son already started on his own. (Hint, hint, Mom.) So this is the last official week of summer vacation. My daughter would approve of celebrating that!

Here’s some of the things we have done or plan to do to bid the summer break goodbye:

Play in the new splash pad in Ripon, WI (even though the water is freezing cold and the day was not real warm).

Sunday School picnic and swim-time at the pool.

Watch a Peanuts movie.

Read The BFG out loud (by Roald Dahl). Watch out for those whizzpoppers!

Go to Ledge View Nature Center in Chilton, WI, where I never got around to going last summer. We walked the Fun Trail, climbed the observatory tower, visited the Red-Tailed Hawk in his cage, fixed a large-scale nature puzzle, stuck our fingers in the mouth of the black bear (stuffed and hanging on the wall), tried to make me look at the tarantula (not stuffed), admired the Chelsea Barbie doll who is snowshoeing in the winter display box, and scared each other in the dark and spooky bat room.

Drink another root beer float (beverage of the season).

Soak two fully-clothed sisters with the garden hose.

And maybe we’ll have another picnic at Brandon Park (the closest and best park) for supper, roll down the grassy hill, pretend the play structure is a spaceship, sit on top of the hill to watch the train go by, decide to leave then, and sit on Main Street for twenty minutes in the car because the train is blocking the way.

Because we have all the flexibility of homeschooling, we can do most of these things even during school, but still… it’s nice to see the kids and I have not spent the entire vacation doing nothing.

Full-Time Parenting

I’ve been staring at the cover of Israel Wayne’s book, Full-Time Parenting: A Guide to Family-Based Discipleship. It’s a good book. I read it awhile ago, and then got frustrated because it’s yet another book that my husband, the father, needs to read with me in order for it to be effective. My husband actually cared enough to listen to me about it for one night a couple weeks ago. I read him some parts of the book. I left the book in a prominent place. I had hopes things might be different now. But the television started working better again, and he’s back to Hogan’s Heroes at nights, and I’m back to my whiny little posts. Okay, they aren’t whiny. I just get the impression sometimes that I shouldn’t be writing here. I should be having a real conversation with someone who cares. But there’s no one. So this is best, after all.

As for full-time parenting, that phrase sums up my reason for existing. If I wasn’t parenting and homeschooling and homemaking, then I’d be a sorry excuse for a person because I’m horrible at the other options… milking cows, doing chores with a skid loader, mowing lawn, removing the old trailer in our front lawn, cleaning up the mess of several generations of Krohns on the entire farm. If I didn’t know that children are a gift given to me by God, I’d be pretty sure they are an excuse to not do the real work that needs to be done.

I’m close to crying. I should stop before I do.

I am thankful for a new school year starting soon. New things to be passionate about. New things to fill our minds.

The Bradshaw Variations

I’ve been reading books by Rachel Cusk this summer. I’ve read four of them now, and The Bradshaw Variations (2009) has been the one I can actually say I liked. I enjoyed the other ones (Transit, Outline, and In the Country) and found them interesting, but I really like The Bradshaw Variations. So many characters to get to know! It’s about an extended family, and this family has its dysfunctionalities like all families do (if we’re honest about them). As I read this book, I found myself recognizing certain aspects of human nature… the things you don’t put into words or even thoughts until you see it spelled out in front of you. I love it when that happens!

It was hard for me to choose a quote because all the paragraphs seem so intertwined and connected to all the others, but here’s an example so you can get a taste of her writing style:

Often, on Sundays, Thomas and Tonie find themselves on their way to Laurier Drive, for in spite of the topiary and the Union Jacks drooping on their polished flagpoles, Howard and Claudia’s domain has the magnetism of cultural centrality. Usually, in the car, Tonie complains: she would like their own house to draw and pull the world to itself, or so she thinks. But she is often uneasy and out of sorts when they have visitors. It is this, Thomas supposes, that she is complaining about. She would like to be different, while not understanding precisely what the difference is.

I’m not the only one who wants but doesn’t want visitors in my house! And I also am vaguely aware of complaining about real things outside of myself, when really I know the problem is my own uncomfortable way of dealing with that thing. For example, because my husband is almost always working, people don’t invite us over for dinner. I never really figured out why it’s improper to invite the kids and I without my husband, but apparently it is. Even at potlucks, I sometimes get the suspicion that people wonder how I have the nerve to come without my husband. But anyway, I can feel mildly offended by this, and at the same time relieved. Because it means I don’t have to go to other people’s houses for dinner and try to uphold small talk around the table while attempting to eat the weird food that other people serve.

Thank you, Rachel Cusk, for giving me these moments of self-clarification.