As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Right Formula

My oldest son just started algebra.  It's a concept that, so far, is coming pretty easy to him.  If you have one variable and one number and you know the answer, there's only one value the variable can be.  Of course it will become more complex as he advances in years, but the basic principle remains the same - A + B = C.

I'm starting to realize that I too have a formula.  It goes a little like this:

(Things that must be done) + (things that can be done) = Happy Mom and Kids.

Each day is made up of things that must be done, things that can (but don't need to) be done.  If the result is to be a happy household, then the value of things that can be done cannot exceed a certain amount, or else the answer will change.  And in my case, it goes downhill.  No matter how good the things in question may be, if they exceed the amount of what we can do, the result will no longer be true.

Case in point, at the beginning of the year some homeschooling families organized a co-op.  As we tried to find a day that worked best for everyone, I took a hard look at my schedule.  We had been taking the kids to a gym class at our local Catholic school with my oldest son's grade, and as another year had passed, this meant that class met on a new day - Wednesday.  If I attended the same class we did last year, the kids would all be a year younger than my oldest, and I wanted so badly to keep him with his peers (especially since he attended Kindergarden and half of grade one with all of them, and has many friends in that class).  But there was just no way to squeeze it into our schedule. We have our piano lessons on Wednesday afternoons, which I could probably change, but not without throwing our whole week into more chaos than it is.  I didn't want to change it to Monday, because I find after the weekend I always need a day in the house to get caught up on things.  Tuesdays the older boys have Cubs and Beavers, and we need to have supper early (making it not a good day to be out for the afternoon).  We have nothing on our agenda for Thursday, but with co-op being every second Friday, that would mean that every other week I would be out three days in a row (Wednesday for gym, Thursday for piano, and Friday for co-op).  I've organized our week to have one free day to allow for outings, but with three days out in a row there's no possible way I could take that much time off - meaning not only would I have extra curriculars to get to, but school days on top of that for at least two of them.  I know my limits, and if you ever saw me on a morning when I have to get everyone out (even if it's not until after lunch) you would understand real quick why doing that two days in a row is something I avoid with everything I can.  Three days?  Just not an option to me.

Gym class with my son's peer group is a good thing, sure.  But at the end of the day, there's only so much we can do.  When A+B=C, A+2B just will not work.  We could not do the older gym class.  There is, as I mentioned, a gym class for grades 2-3 which meets on Mondays, that I plan to attend on Mondays during the weeks we don't have co-op.  It's still a good option and, more importantly, does not put me in a position where I am trying to do too much.

The longer I do this, the more I become aware of the things I just cannot do.  Sometimes we get so caught up in all of the things we wish we could do or think we should do, that we burn ourselves out.  For me, I'm becoming keenly aware of what certain circumstances are likely to do to my disposition, as well as my lack of discipline in handling that disposition.  The flaw is mine, to be certain, and something I hope will not always be the case.  But for now, I can't thrust myself into a situation of high stress without accepting that I will likely lose my cool.  I am working on it but I'm not there, and for now I find it best to be realistic about what I can handle. For example, I do my best to get my kids to weekday Mass whenever an opportunity reasonably presents itself.  I also try to take advantage of opportunities for Eucharistic adoration when I can.  But if I ever tried to do both in the same day, I know I would lose it.  The stress of keeping my crew of little ones still for one of those most certainly means that I would enter the next one a bed of nerves from having to fight through the first one.  And that's not how I want to be before the Lord, nor do I think it's fair to ask of my children.  Adoration and Mass are two very good things, but at this stage in my life they are not something I can add together in the same day.  So for now I build my strength. I take all the kids to one or the other when I can, do my best to muster the most patience I can, praise them for good behavior and try to be merciful and understanding of their poor behaviour.  When I can be reasonably confident that we can attend either consistently in relative peace, maybe then it will be time to add them both together.  But for now I believe this is where I am.

Which leads me to another thing about formulas, sometimes we don't know the answer right away.  Which means that it needs to be worked and reworked, to figure out what's right.  Isn't that so true of family life?  My earlier example of A+B=C really is overly simple, in that it doesn't take into account how external factors like the ages and maturity levels of the kids, the changing seasons of life, finances, relationships, or just about anything you can think of affects our overall happiness.  Which means that we should expect to be working at this our whole lives.  We should never assume that we have everything figured out, because that is when we run the greatest risk of being blindsided.

I don't believe we will ever have the answer figured out, but I know the One who does.  And I know that, as with the best teachers, He doesn't spare us the struggle of searching for ourselves.  As with anything worth knowing in life, when we follow the right guides with the information we know is true, and we never stop working, we will inevitably find ourselves with the answer.  May the Lord always be our guide as we search for true happiness in Him.

My favorite accompaniment

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Good Doctor

I have to take the kids to the doctor today, and I'm dreading it a little bit.  Not because of the appointment itself (routine vaccinations for my girls) but because of my behaviour at the last appointment.  That one was also for vaccinations, the flu shot to be specific.  For all of us.  My oldest has always had a fear of needles, and always needs extra coaxing to get through it.  I never try to hide it from them, or take them by surprise.  If we're going for needles, I tell them we're going for needles.  I figure it's better to let them process it on their own, and to trust that if they ask me a question ("Why are we going to the doctor?") that I'm going to give them an honest answer, even if it's not easy.

He seemed okay with it.  "I know it won't hurt," he said, "because it didn't hurt the last time. So even though I'm afraid, I'll do it."  I was proud of him for being so reasonable.  But then came the appointment.  One by one each of the other kids and I got our shot.  Not one of them cried, not even the two littlest ones.  Surely this was enough to show him there's nothing to be afraid of.  He stood beside me and the nurse rolled his sleeve up.  He asked us how long we thought it would take and we both said less time than it takes to count to ten.  And then, it happened.  He panicked.  Like full-on, meltdown.  My nine-year-old threw the biggest tantrum that any of my children has ever thrown in public. "NO NO MOMMY, I'M NOT DOING IT!" he screamed.  The nurse tried to tell him he needed to anyway, because Mommy had brought everyone in and it was a lot of work, and she shouldn't do it again.  She wisely tried to remind him (and me) that she remembered one time when he was nervous, how we said the Lord's Prayer together, and that helped.  I should have heeded her advice.

But I didn't.  I made the fatal mistake of trying to reason with him, to get him to make his own decision instead of telling him what I wanted him to do and not giving him a way out.  You see, I am slowly starting to realize with this boy that when things get tough, he always looks for a way out.  So when I said to him, "you don't have to get your shot, but if you don't you're going to the van and we're going straight home and you're staying in bed for the day," that was good enough.  Off he trodded.  Flustered, and knowing full well I had no intention of leaving without getting his flu shot, I left the poor nurse with my five other children (including the baby) and chased after my boy, who was halfway across the parking lot by now.  I knelt down, grabbed him by the shoulders and with gritted teeth said, "You are going to come in and get your flu shot NOW!"  As he screamed and flailed in protest, I picked him up (all four-feet and seventy pounds of him) and carried him, thrashing, back into the waiting room.  I put him down and he continued his panicky protest, and I spiralled even further down.  "If you don't come now, you're loosing screens for a month!" I threatened.  "And we're throwing out the Wii!"  Nothing. Not even his favorite things could deter him, which from experience I should have known.  I should not have made empty threats that I had no intention of following up on, but I did.  I should not have tried to bully him into making the decision I wanted him to make, and I should not have given him the illusion that he was in control when I was not about to give that control to him. Add that to my tally of mistakes for the day.

So I picked him up again, and started back to the room, determined to get this over with.  But my doctor just changed offices, and I, being unfamiliar with the new setup, unintentionally opened the door on my doctor with another patient!  I apologized profusely and crawled into the examination room with the nurse, who was waiting with the rest of my children, and did not try to hide my frustration any longer.  When my doctor came in, I apologized again and expected her to be (rightfully) upset at me for intruding on the privacy of another patient, and causing such a spectacle.  But she wasn't.

She gave him his shot while the nurse and I held him still, and praised him for doing such a good job when it was all over.  As she was handing out suckers and stickers, he, avoiding my glaring, mumbled, "I don't think I deserve one."  She and the nurse were both so positive with him, and told him that he did get the shot, and he did deserve his reward.  I couldn't muster gentleness just yet, I was so mad at him!  It was only when mercy was shown to me that my heart started to change.

My doctor, very matter-of-factly, told me that when kids become anxious about something, it doesn't do any good to try and reason with them.  She told me that the fear just becomes bigger and bigger, and that the only way to get through it is to just do it and get it over with.  She spoke objectively and generally, and was never once accusing of me, even though my behavior was well worth a reprimand. She was kind and positive, and managed to allow me to leave with the dignity I had sacrificed in my own poor attempt to handle the situation.

We spent the first few minutes of the ride home in silence.  When I was ready to talk, I told my boy how I didn't know what to say to him, and that I had never had any of my children melt down like that.  I told him how it hurt me that he didn't trust me, and that he thought I would do something to put him in danger - that he had to take a stand against me.  I told him it was worse that he didn't trust himself, and what he knew to be true - all the things he had said to me before he left.  And thinking about how bad it is to make empty threats I added, "of course I can't throw out the Wii, but you can't have any screens for a whole month."

There was silence again for a long while.  We stopped at a light and I looked at my boy, whose face hung low.  And it hit me just how stubborn I was being. I was the one who was misbehaving, throwing out wild threats in an attempt to coerce him.  I had the calm but authoritative affirmation from my doctor that this was normal behaviour for an anxious child - that it was not disobedient or defiant, but a simple response to his fear.  On the one side I had my own self-imposed expectations, the so-called "experts" who tell you to never back down from what you've said."  But on the other, the calm, reasonable, gentle opinion of a professional. In the end it was her treatment of me that allowed me to give up my stubborn pride, and to let go of the threats I had made in error.

I apologized to my boy, and told him it was wrong of me to try and bully him into choosing what I wanted him to choose.  I told him that next time, he would have no choice - immunizations are important, and we have to get them.  I hoped that it would not be such a fight, that he could use this experience to know that he can trust his own judgement, and mine and the doctor's, and not let fear take over, but I couldn't be certain.  I realized that by pretending he was in charge, what I was doing was making that fear even bigger.  Because if I offer him a way out, no matter what it is, he'll take it.  This boy can take whatever comes his way, and I know that's a very good thing. I just need to be prepared to let him handle the situation at hand.  Because if I trust him to handle something he can't change, he will almost certainly rise to the occasion.  But if I offer him any way out (real or perceived) I'm denying him that opportunity.  I'm playing up his fear even more.

I decided not take away screens for the month, but instead to have him to say the rosary once a day for a month instead.  I would get him his own rosary and leave the time up to him, but that once a day he would need to get his rosary, find a quiet place, and pray, asking the Lord to help him when he is afraid.  That instead of punishing him for my own foolish handling of the situation, it would be better to help him deal with his fear on an ongoing basis.  To know that he is not alone, and that it is okay (and normal) to be afraid, and also to walk through that fear instead of running away.  This is a task far bigger than me, but not bigger than God.  And maybe that's the point. Maybe God allows this situation to show me that I can't be my son's saviour, that I can't spare him from every trial he will face - and that's not my job.  My job is to point him in the direction of God, who helps each of us walk through any of life's circumstances with peace, no matter how difficult they may be.  That focussed on the Lord, my son will grow strong in the face of adversity.  But focussed on me (as I so ungracefully demonstrated that day) he will not.  If I try to be the answer, I will cripple him.  It is only by encouraging him to stand on his own two feet that he will grow, and that the only way I will be a strength to him is if I am pointing him to Christ, who does not internalize his struggle the way I do, but sees the whole big picture of his life.

Thank you so much, Dr. Humphrey, for helping me to see the situation with a clear head.  For your calm and gentle encouragement that allowed me to let go of my own stubborness, and to see things from his perspective instead of my own.  I have always been grateful for the care you have given my family the many years you have been my doctor, but never more than I was after that appointment.  You truly are a hero.

Never a dull moment

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

No Pinterest Category for Me

I received a very generous gift of a like-new couch the other day.  I debated a bit on whether to take it, because we had a matching set (a chocolate brown leather love seat and couch, and a tan-colored co-ordinating chair and a half).  But it was too good to pass up.  Our love seat has many tears in it, and since the purchase of new furniture is nowhere near on the horizon, I knew it was either speak now or forever hold my  peace.  Not to mention the fact that, as a family of eight (including six growing little ones, and quite possibly a few more in the next few years) it just makes sense to have more seating space.  I knew if I said no and then went into someone else's house seeing it looking all good, and coming home to my tattered and torn (but matching) loveseat, I would kick myself.  Practicality won out - we took the couch.

And I must admit, it is very handsome.  But - it's also big.  And it adds a third color to our living room, and means that all three pieces of our furniture are now different.  I spent a ton of time moving and swapping things around, not really feeling great about any room configuration I could come up with (and driving my poor husband crazy in the process!)

I decided to take to the Internet for inspiration. To keep it simple, I just searched "room configuration two couches" first (I figured I'd never find anything that had two large cabinets, a desk and a piano!)  The results pulled mostly huge rooms (and likely budgets) that I could not match.  I tried again, this time with "room configuration two couches small space", which still ended up being pretty useless to me.  I sat and stewed for a good long while, torturing myself about creating the perfect space.  I went over and over ideas in my head, coming up empty every time.  "That darn piano," I'd think, or "that desk - if only it were smaller!"  But it was no use.  This is the space I have, and these are the things I have to fill it up with.  There is no Pinterest or Houzz category for me, because my life is just as unique as I am.  Having new (or new-to-me) furniture made me wish for a split second that I had more - more space, more decorating abilities, more flair.  But in the process of trying every avenue and realizing there were no others, I came to an important conclusion.  This is my life, and it's beautiful.

It's beautiful that my family is so big that it takes two couches to fit us, and to make our home more welcoming for guests.  It's beautiful that I have generous people in my life, who will give me a couch they are no longer using.  It's beautiful that our living room also doubles as a classroom, and that I get to spend my days with all of my little ones surrounding me.  It's beautiful to have the gift of music, and instruments to play on.  There is no Pinterest category for this because you can't make this stuff up.  This kind of life is not planned in perfect detail, it is carefully crafted, moment by moment, lovingly revealed by a God who is just waiting for me to say yes.  Maybe someday my home will look like the pages of a magazine.  But for now, this is what I have.  And it's lovely.

"All the wealth in the world cannot be compared with the happiness of living together happily united."  (Blessed Margaret d’Youville)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Family Schedule

Managing exra curriculars can be a tricky thing, especially when you homeschool.  Whereas working outside the home makes it necessary to pare down outside activities, homeschooling (at least for me) often gives the impression that we have more time than we have.  Not to mention the added pressure of "socializing" the children (so at least when well-meaning people raise concerns, we can indeed mention that our children do interact with the outside world on a regular basis).  It wasn't too bad when the kids were really young.  We enrolled the oldest two in Beavers a couple of years ago, which was one night a week.  No big deal.  Then when the third boy became involved, I started searching for something for our girl to do, because I felt bad.  Ballet was offered at our community school on another night of the week, and last year I enrolled her.  That meant we were now committed to two nights out a week.  Add to that our piano lessons which, though during the day, still fell on a different day (and required a stop by the babysitter's, making an extra-hectic outing day) and a gym class we attend at a Catholic school in town on a different day, and all of it together made for a crazy week around our house.  Fun, certainly.  Wonderful opportunities for our kids?  You bet.  But exhausting.

This summer I took a hard look at the things I wanted to do with the kids.  I was thinking of checking out the orchestra programs in the school system, but alas we just did not have any extra time to devote.  I decided in the end to buy violins and books, and see what I could teach them on my own.  Homeschooling is so empowering that way, in that it encourages you to just give it a try.  So far, things are going pretty well.  And I'm happy I was able to find a way to encourage them in a new instrument, in a way that doesn't take away our precious (and rare) family downtime.
Well look at that - we can have violin lessons at home!

I was less than thrilled when I received notice that our girl's ballet program wasn't being offered in our neighboorhood this year due to lack of enrollment.  My husband and I were pleased with the classes she took last year and she loved it, so we began the search for a new ballet school.  Turns out there was one just as close (albeit across the river) that was offered on the same day as piano.  Could we do it?  Could we cram one more thing into the craziest day of the week?  Here's what happened - if we could pull it off, it would free up the ballet night.  It would be busy, but we'd still manage to be home by supper.  I decided to give it a shot.  I am also forgoing the sitter this year (since we have a third boy in lessons and I now have time to drop them off and come home for a bit before I need to pick them up again).  I end up having an hour with the littles at home to get supper ready and tidy up, so that when I get home after ballet all I have to do is put supper in the oven.  I have to say, two weeks into the new schedule, I am happy that things ended up working out this way.

First piano lesson of the year - so happy to be back at it!
Somehow, completely by accident, we happened upon a schedule that allows us to do everything we did before and only be committed to one night out a week.  Which is good, because the school of community group that was meeting at our place is going to be moving in town, and to a weeknight.  My first heavy objection to this was that I couldn't go, followed by the sad realization that if my husband were to attend (and he would) it would mean another night away, which at the time meant three nights we would be apart.  I am so happy that the Lord made room in our lives to accomodate this.  More on how it came about in another post perhaps, but suffice it to say that I felt from the very beginning that this was something the Lord is asking of me, and while I was doing my best to lay it down, it was with a certain amount of begrudging. And yet, even when I am sulky, He is forever faithful to the desires of my heart.

Thanks be to God who cares so intimately for our every need.  May I be open to the things you are calling my husband and I to do, trusting that if you lead us on a certain path, you will give us what we need to walk it.

My little ballerina

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Peace be with you

I had the most uncanny experience on Friday.  I was at noon Mass with all of my kids and they were - good.  Like, stellar.  Complete, out of worldly, what-have-you-done-with-my-kids good.  The grace was tangible, and the whole time I was sitting there fully aware that this was nothing of my own doing.  That the Lord sometimes gives you these little moments of peace to encourage you, to affirm you that the work you are doing is worth it, that this is possible, and to keep going.

Let me back up a little bit.  I belong to a wonderful Catholic homeschooling group who has a co-op meeting every second week.  We begin our meeting by attending noon Mass, which the kids at the small adjacent Catholic school also attend.  There are six homeschooling families (including mine), about sixty kids from the school, and other parishioners who fill the church on those days, and of all of the little people in the church, mine are the only ones who ever make noise. The other Moms and school teachers meet me at the back of the church to sympathize, because they've all been there, and I take so much comfort in their experience because I see them now, and I know that it is worth it.  But still, every week I leave thinking, "Someday I won't be the noisiest family at Mass."  This week, I wasn't.  And it felt so good.

I have the most trouble with my babies.  When I'm alone with the kids, I need to wear the youngest, one-year-old, in a baby carrier, to keep my hands free for the toddler, who is almost three. The baby is okay so long as she doesn't get an inkling to get moving, but when she starts to wriggle and realizes she can't go anywhere, she's done for it. And my toddler is going through a "baby" phase.  Kids (at least the ones in my family) don't tend to get jealous of new babies - the jealousy seems to set in when the new baby is around one.  And that's exactly where we're at.  He always wants up, and protests loudly and without reservation when I refuse.  He throws himself all over me and the baby, oblivious to the fact that she is on me, pulling and clawing to get what he wants.  He throws himself down on the pew or worse, onto the floor, all the while screaming like he's being tortured.  Have you ever tried to squeeze yourself down underneath a church pew with a twenty-pound baby strapped to the front of you (all while trying to be the least distraction possible?)  It's not easy!  Or he'll make a run for it.  I have to be on my toes with this guy, and it's mentally exhausting.  If all of this is going down at the same time my baby is fussy, it's all I can do not to self destruct.  So sometimes, Mass is frustrating.

Which is why the gift of last Friday was so badly needed and gratefully received.  As we approached the peace of Christ my toddler began to get fussy, but I felt like I had the grace I needed to handle it with dignity.  The encouragement of a good beginning to Mass helped me see that this is a good thing, and that my patience would maintain the family's peace, even if the toddler didn't stop throwing his tantrum. I went through a little book about the Mass with the kids a few years ago, one that explained on a child's level everything that we we do in the Mass, and I remember getting to the section on the sign of peace.  The book explained that the sign of peace was right before the Eucharist because we cannot receive Christ if we are angry with our brother.  We have to first make peace with our brother, and then come to Lord after reconciling with them.  That is so pertinent to family life!  How often by the time I reach this point in the Mass am I ready to pull my hair out!  And then I have to look at those little faces and instead of offering a disapproving look of discipline extend a gesture of peace?  Some days its harder than others, but that day, filled with the encouragement and grace that was abounding in our family, I looked right into my little boy's eyes and told him how good he was, and how much I loved him.  And his mood instantly changed.  While I couldn't pick him up I let him stand on the pew and hugged him close, and he was happy.  This is the wisdom of the Church.  Because that day I came to the Lord with gratitude, and peace resounding in my heart.

This Saturday we went to Mass as a family, and things were not so peaceful.  Supper time Masses are the worst kind for a family with little ones, and our toddler screamed the entire time.  But I was able to look at him with new eyes.  When I see his behaviour not as some act of disobedience towards me, but as a manifestation of emotions he can't control (it's supper time, it's dark, I've had a long day, and I want my Mommy and can't have her) then I get it. I can see his unformed humanity expressing itself in that frustration. Those cries are not meant to get back at me, they are an expression of his confusion at what is going on.  And so, with my arms still full of baby (who would not go to anyone else because she also was sleepy and hungry), I tugged my little guy close. I tried not to loose my cool, to tune out thoughts of how much people may have been disturbed by his screaming.  I comforted and soothed him. And when it came time for the sign of peace, I kissed his head, leaned into his ear, and told him how very dear he is to me.  I thought of myself, and how tender the Lord's love is for me when I am so often like a screaming toddler.  How the Lord's affirmation of love and my dignity even at my worst are so life changing for me.  And I knew this was the best thing I could give to my struggling little boy, to love him where he was at.  Not to make his behaviour be about me, but to let it be about him.

I struggle so much with three-years-old.  But on this day, I felt like I was starting to get it.  Like slowly, after four children before him, I am starting to get it.  And full of the peace of Christ, my boy and I approached the altar together to receive Jesus.  What a joy and a blessing the Mass is for family life.

It is so, so worth it to bring your kids, even the littlest ones to Mass.  Even when it's harder more often than it's peaceful, bring them anyway.  God is working, even when you can't see it.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Is It Possible to Live This Way?

For the past few years, Jeff and I have been following a group called Communion and Liberation.  People ask me all the time what that is, and I struggle to articulate it properly.  My husband gave the best description of it this past Sunday at our church, when he made an announcement inviting parishioners to attend a retreat we are having this week.  He said that it is an ecclesial movement within the Church that proposes a way to encounter Christ that the Church has found to be beneficial, and that we have found to be beneficial, through the sharing of our personal experience.  Officially, Communion and Liberation (CL) describes itself this way:

Communion and Liberation is an ecclesial movement whose purpose is the education to Christian maturity of its adherents and collaboration in the mission of the Church in all the spheres of contemporary life.
It began in Italy in 1954 when Fr Luigi Giussani established a Christian presence in a Milan high school with a group called Giovent├╣ Studentesca (Student Youth), GS for short. The current name of the movement, Communion and Liberation (CL), appeared for the first time in 1969. It synthesizes the conviction that the Christian event, lived in communion, is the foundation of the authentic liberation of man. Communion and Liberation is today present in about seventy countries throughout the world.
There is no type of membership card, but only the free participation of persons. The basic instrument for the formation of adherents is weekly catechesis, called School of Community.

We became involved in the movement (as CL is often referred to) quite unintentionally.  It began out of a friendship.  A dear friend of ours found himself unexpectedly (and unwillingly) back in Saint John, after his plans to live and work in America were dashed due to problems obtaining a work Visa.  Frustrated and missing the community he had been a part of in the US, he reached out to us.  We were in a similar boat.  We live in the middle of nowhere, and had a very difficult time being part of any regular community.  Friends came and went, but few really invested themselves in us.  Having come from a place in our youth where community abounded and in which our faith came alive, we felt we were spiritually starving, and longing for more.  When we did manage to attend community events, we found ourselves to be so superficial, not at all like we were in our youth when faith was so easy. And then came our friend.

We began a journey of friendship where he opened his life to us and we to him.  He decided to start coming out once a week, on Saturday, and he would spend the day toiling at yard work with my husband, or entertaining the kids with me, sharing in our family meal and evening prayer.  After the kids went to bed he would stay late into the evening, and talked about everything.  More importantly, we talked about the most important things - what is life?  What does it mean to have faith?  What is the purpose of my life?  And not in a superficial, fluffy, "everyone loves Jesus" sort of way.  We tried to go to the deep places of our souls, to the places where the answer was, "I don't know", and to seek it out.  It was, and continues to be, a real work.

Our friend is really well-read, and would often send articles for us to read (which my husband is always better at reading than me!) The two of them would read these articles and sit and talk about them over beer late into the night.  I loved listening to them, and learned so much from their insights, things I never would have delved into on my own.  There were of course many differences of opinion and many arguments (and still are) but I think that's what makes our friendship so strong - the courage to question one another, and to provoke each other.

He was reading a book called, "Is it Possible to Live This Way?", and he would mention it often during our discussions.  I was intrigued right away by the title, which was meant to ask whether living a life of faith really is possible and realistic in the world today.  I borrowed the book when he was finished, and related immediately to the way it was written.  It is a series of talks given to university students, and having come into my faith under similar circumstances, through retreats and conferences, I could picture the people I love and admire so much speaking these very words.  I wish I could remember off the top of my head some of the great things I took away from that book, but I encourage anyone who is interested to read it.  I definitely will be reading it again soon.

So it came to be that we were meeting once a week, studying articles we had read throughout the week and discussing them together, talking about what it meant in our everyday lives and how it helped us to find Christ, when our friend suggested we align ourselves with CL.  A school of community is essentially that - a work that a group of friends undertakes together with the purpose of helping each other find Christ.  Following the movement meant simply that we would read what they were reading, and operate in the way they set out.  While we have struggled trying to implement the style into our meetings, the most fruitful gatherings we have are when we dedicate ourselves to the study of the readings of the movement.

CL was established by Msgr. Luigi Giussani, who is the author of this book that causes me to go so much deeper.  People are always hesitant when I refer to "the movement", and I'm not very good at explaining it.  But Msgr. Guissani is.  In Is it Possible to Live this Way? he speaks very simply of a faith that is born very much the same way that mine was born.  Someone who lives in such a way that causes you to say, "I want to know more about what you do". And then in learning, in friendship, you find that you want to be around them more, to hear what they have to say, because you see something of value. Their witness causes you to see life in a way you never had before, and in such a way that you know you never could go back to the way you were. What begins as a relationship of curiosity develops into friendship and mentorship, with Christ at the center, such that being around this person makes you want to be a better person, makes you want to know God even more in your own life.  By engaging in this work together, we challenge each other in the same way, in the hopes of pointing each other to Christ.  This is the work of the school of community, and reflecting on it in this way makes me think it is incredibly accurate to describe it as a movement, because that is often how the Holy Spirit is referred to.  And for me, the Holy Spirit has definitely moved very deeply in my heart since I became involved with CL.

On a daily level, it causes me to question everything.  To not let my life sweep me away but to really seek Christ in reality, here and now.  In particular it changes the way I see the difficult things in my life, because while I had tried to "look on the bright side of things", now I am encouraged to be in those difficult moments, and to seek Christ.  More and more I am realizing that my own brokeness, manifested in the things in which I am most insecure, is the very thing I need to dive into, because more than anything it reveals how much I desire God.  After the birth of my sixth child (and my most difficult delivery) last year, I was talking to my husband about my experience, in awe that something I had been so afraid of both before and during now seemed to have faded away into the background, completely taken over in the euphoric happiness that is bringing home a new baby.  And he commented that the ressurection causes you to see the suffering of the cross in a completely different way.  It's so true!  And that's what the movement does for me.  It causes me to see my own crosses in a completely different way.  Not to run from them, not to look for the quick answers, or the quick ways out, but to really embrace them.  To dive into my woundedness and search for the Lord.  Often I don't find Him, often I am struggling.  But a struggling person is an alive person.  And that's how I want to be.  That is how I want to live my life.

Thank you dear Lord, for not allowing me to remain still.  As Saint Augustine says, may my heart remain restless until it rests in You.

If you are in the Saint John, NB, area, and are free on Saturday, November 9 at 1:30 pm, I encourage you to attend our Beginning Day event, whose theme is, "How is the Presence of Christ Born in our Experience?"  You can email for more information.  If you would like information on our weekly school of community, please feel free to contact us at the same address.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Our Little School

When I first started homeschooling, I scoured the internet in search of homeschooling blogs seeking wisdom in helping me get started on this journey.  My oldest was in grade one at the time, and I was looking for the veteran Moms, the ones who've done this for years (and who could provide pictures for me).  There are many blogs by veteran homeschoolers with large families and many grades to teach at a time, but the ones I found were more focussed on life in a large homeschooling family than they were in documenting their classrooms. I did find another category of Moms who were just starting, whose kids were in pre-K or K, and who seemed to have tons of money (and handy husbands) who could diy their own private classrooms that were the homeschooling equivalent of a jackpot.  Where were the pictures of what homeschool in a house like mine (on a budget like mine) looked like?

I've only got three years in, so I'm kind of in the middle when it comes to what I blog.  I don't have a lot of money, and while my husband is high on handiness he's pretty low on time so diy-ing doesn't happen too often around here (no Pinterest classroom for me!)  And I'm not living a life with teenaged kids going here, there and everywhere (or the life lessons that accompany that, which I'm sure will be filling my blog in the not-to-distant future).  I'm working out the kinks and our needs change from year to year, depending on who's in school.  But I thought that, for the sake of anyone else who might be questioning like I once was, I would document what our learning environment looks like today.  And more importantly, to show that you don't need a ton of money or loads of space to make homeschooling work well in your home.  You can set up individual workstations that don't completely take over your home, but that allow each child their own space without being confined to the dining room table.

The bulk of our schooling happens in the living room.  I have struggled with having desks in this area that don't look like school desks, because realistically school is only a few hours of our day, and the rest of the time this is a family space.  Making a room do double-duty is no easy task, and at first I resisted having anything school-related in the living room.  But our dining room was just too small for individual desks, and I needed the kids to have their own workspaces - a little to help them concentrate, but mostly to keep them from playing together and driving me nuts!!!  For a while I had old school desks in the corner of the living room, but I never felt like they really worked in there.  And then, I found this great cabinet on Kijiji that folds out into a desk when in use, and tucks away neatly when not in use.  It was perfect! Since I do some freelance work from home, I am able to keep a computer and printer tucked away inside for me, and my oldest uses it as a work station for school.  I paid $150 for it for the light colored-wooden one (which I thought was a steal) and then this summer was delighted to find a second one, this time in a darker finish, for only $60.  We use that one to store extra school supplies.  My brother gave me a desk my uncle made for him growing up, that works nicely under our TV, and even though it still looks like a desk and is the only thing I can't hide away, I'm okay with that.  I like the sentimentality, and the fact that what my brother used growing up my kids can use now (and hey, what homeschooling Mom can refuse a free desk?)

Here's what our living room looks like:

And that oldschool desk still gets some use in the basement.  Mostly for recreational reading, but occasionally also for tests.

The dining room is still where the bulk of the teaching happens, and is the room that screams "homeschool" as soon as you walk into the house.  I don't mind that though, I actually kind of like it.  The littlest ones do sit at the table to do their school work and that works okay, since it gives me plenty of space to sit with them.  The big shelf on the wall that holds all our books (which I love love LOVE!) was on another wall when we first moved in, and badly unused.  We took it down when we painted and it sat in our shed for a year, until my husband and a dear friend succumed to my incessant requests to put it up on the wall for me.  It is just perfect in our dining room. We have the kids books organized in banker's boxes with their names on them (an idea I got from a friend) which keeps them from falling over and makes them easy to grab.  Here's what it looks like:

I struggled for so long wishing to have something I didn't when it came to schooling - namely money and space to do something fantastic - when all along everything I needed was right under my nose.  This entire journey has been an exercise in making what we have work, and with two more little students ready to join our classroom in the next few years I have a feeling I'm not done squeezing, searching, and making things work. I don't like for every inch of our house to look like a school, but I do think that it's okay for some parts of it to look that way, because our house should be representative of who we are.  Our little house continues to burst at the seams with the life that lives within it, and that is what makes it beautiful.

"A good school provides a rounded education for the whole person. And a good Catholic school, over and above this, should help all its students to become saints." (Pope Benedict XVI, St. Mary's College, Sept. 17, 2010)