I hesitate to write a post about organization, because I fear the moment I do my life will be launched into chaos. If next week you find me lamenting the craziness of life and how all my routines have gone by the wayside, you can politely remind me of how I dared to write about how I have it all together. I brought it on myself.
The truth is, organization is a long and continuous process of conversion for me. My life constantly ebbs and flows between routine and chaos, and sometimes I am on top of everything, while while at other times I can barely manage to stay afloat. It all depends on what is going on at the time in my life, and I am slowly beginning to realize that I can't attach myself to one idea of a routine. Sure as the sun as soon as I find my groove, there will be something to throw it off, and what I really need to learn is how to be flexible and do the work before me in the moment, understanding that sometimes I won't be able to do everything I did yesterday.
I reached a real turning point near the end of the school year when I found myself constantly complaining that "time just gets away from me." Not unlike students everywhere, mine were distracted by the warm weather and imminent promise of summer vacation, and I struggled to keep them focused on their school work. Lunch gradually pushed back to 1:00 and sometimes even 2:00, which of course pushed back all the work I had not been able to get to during school, leaving me with a small window to accomplish a day's worth of chores before supper time (and without the convenience of a sleeping baby, whose nap was often over by the time I even managed to look at my chore list). I was so fixated on the amount of work the kids were doing, and they were completely unmotivated. I had read a parenting book that talked about putting the monkey on the kids' back when it comes to discipline (making the consequences such that it was more of a problem for them than you, so they are motivated to change it) and I remember texting Jeff one day in exasperation over what the school day had become and saying, "help, the monkey's on my back! How do I get him off??" Then I decided to buy this bad boy:
Jeff put it up right in the middle of my living room, and from that day on our school days have followed a strict schedule dependant on time, not the amount of work they do. Anything they don't accomplish during the school day gets left for homework and we move on to the next subject. Homework time, rather than being after supper (which I always found to be a fight, especially when they straggle and it starts to affect bed time) is now 3:00 - the exact time their school friends arrive home on the bus. So if they want to go outside and play, they have to finish their homework first. If they straggle, they have plenty of time to get it done before or after supper without putting extra pressure on me. Bonus!
I realized then how important it is (for them and me) to realize that we operate within time, and it doesn't bend for us. Days shouldn't just slip away, and time shouldn't just stretch on and on - we need to pay attention to it, and make good use of it. Little by little, that's what I've been trying to do.
This summer, in anticipation of the new school year, I got serious about a family schedule and family jobs. Things were starting to get out of control, and I realized it was time to start depending on the kids on more of a regular basis, instead of just when I reached the end of my rope and asked them to help. I made a job chart for them, assigning specific jobs to each snack and mealtime that we have - the idea being that we are all together at those times of the day, and it's easier for me to get them to do something before sending them off again than it is for me to call them in if they're outside (in which case I would be tempted to just do it by myself, because things are quiet!) I left the morning snacktime free with the school day in mind, figuring they need a break from having worked all morning, but otherwise they each have a small job to do after breakfast, lunch, supper, afternoon snack, and rosary. I put the jobs that are non-negotiable (the ones that absolutely need to be done every day) first thing in the morning and just before bed, so that if we have a day out the afternoon jobs can be left until the next day. I find it makes me so much more agreeable, because if I walk downstairs to discover their room a mess for example, I don't freak out right away. I know that the time will come for them to do that job, and I wait until then.
In the process, I gave my daughter a little more responsibility. She was not crazy about the idea of doing laundry, until I came home with her very own pink laundry basket. Now she can't wait!
Things have been really good for the past little while, and I really feel the Lord's blessing on our family life. Not because of my schedule, or my charts, or even my pink laundry basket, but because every day I am learning more to find Him in the present moment. It is so hard not to be attached to the future, to feel pressure from the end of the day and what I want that to look like. I can't help that, and if I'm always playing catch-up then I'm doomed to fail. But if we as a family know what we need to be doing in each moment and we do that, I'm finding things run so much more smoothly. I fully expect that things will be shaken up at any time depending on a multitude of things - birthdays, illness, vacation, new babies, anything! But I know that if I stop looking to the future with worry and keep my focus on the duty of the moment, the Lord will bless my efforts and make me a much more contented Mom. Which is something we could all use a little more of around here.
This week's gospel story of the Prodigal Son is one of the most well known parables in the bible, and with good reason. It is so rich in the lessons that it teaches. When the kids and I read it together earlier this week, we talked about how you can always go back to God no matter how bad you've messed up, how God trusts us even when He knows we're going to make a mistake, and loves us enough to let us make those mistakes, and how even when we feel left out or abandoned that God is always with us. For kids, this stuff is golden - so easy to understand, and hits right to the heart. They immediately see themselves in the story, as one character or the other. For me however, I think it's one of those stories I'm too familiar with. I glaze over it quickly, not really applying it to my own life because I think I know everything there is to say about it, I've heard it all so many times before. So I took it as lesson to teach my kids, and carried on.
This week ended up being a real doozy. I've been in a real rut lately, being so busy for what seems like forever (doesn't life feel that way sometimes?) and generally feeling like when things get crazy as they often are, the things I want are generally the ones that go undone. A lot of the time it's my own doing, I am very quick to sacrifice doing something for the sake of making everything else run smoothly. And yet, sometimes it just all comes to a head. I know I can't be mad at anyone for it, that if I want something bad enough I have to just speak up (or be willing to not hold onto it if I've decided I can let it go). But resentment is a funny thing, and can creep in when you least expect it. And it thrives on circumstances that cause you to burn out. And so this morning I went into mass with a heart filled with hurt and bitterness, over what I couldn't even possibly pinpoint, but just generally feeling exhausted, worn out, and needing a break.
And as I listened to this gospel that I am so familiar with, the words of the older brother struck right to my heart, and I realized that this is what I've been living for the past little while. "What about me, Lord?" I'm constantly saying to myself. This vocation, everyone's vocation, is difficult at times. It demands great sacrifice. And sometimes, that seems overwhelming. I never realized how much I am like that older brother, looking on the other sibling and wondering why I am not entitled to the same things he is.
The work of a mother goes largely unnoticed. The mess you work tirelessly all day to keep clean can be completely undone in the five minutes before your husband walks in the door. The tears you try so hard to keep off your child's face can return in a split second of conflict or frustration. The peace and patience you work so hard to acheive can vanish in an instant of ill-temper and poor self control. All of that can leave you feeling like it's all for nothing. What about me Lord, where is my reward?
In those desperate moments, the answer to us is the same as it is to the older brother in the prodigal son: "My child, I am always with you, and everything I have is yours." When we feel like we need a break and we just can't get one - He is there. The peace we so desperately seek is available to us now, in this crazy moment - "All that I have is yours." We may not be able to leave the kids and retreat to Starbucks with a good book for the afternoon (or even at home for that matter) but it doesn't matter. God is not a God of circumstance, He is a God of consistency. And He is always with us, waiting to give us everything we need if only we would ask.
In those moments when we feel most deperate, may we always cling to your promise - knowing you are always with us, ready to lavish us so generously in the gifts which you have prepared for all your children.
The last day of summer vacation is one that always makes me feel grateful for the path the Lord has laid before me. For the first two years that my oldest was in school, I remember this day being so bittersweet. Summer goes by all too fast, even when you are not committed to anything and you think you're laying low. I always felt like my time was just taken away, and that before I even had a chance to catch my breath it was gone, and I was handing them over to the school for another year.
Most people probably think that I started homeschooling for religious reasons. But that isn't the case. In fact, if religion was the only factor in this decision, my kids would all still be at our local Catholic school. The principal and teachers are all dear friends of ours, and the education they provide is steeped in Catholicism and academically excellent. No, the biggest thing for me wasn't religion, it was that I honestly believed the environment of organized school was not what was best for my children. Watching my intelligent five-year-old boy struggle to sit still in class for a whole year when his little body just wanted to be playing, getting discplined for causing disruption after disruption after he had finished lessons early and began doing what came most naturally to him at a time when he was expected (and for the sake of the classroom, needed) to be sitting still and being quiet made me think that I could offer him something better at home. A day that moved at his pace, an environment where he could move on to another lesson as soon as he was finished, a school day that could be completed in a matter of hours and not an entire day, leaving the rest of the day free for him to be a child. And that is when my husband and I embarked on this journey that has been such a joy for the past three years.
It has not been without its trials. But what continues to surprise me is how much it has benefited me. I am so ready for school to start tomorrow. Why? Because the routine keeps us all in line, and makes our household run so much smoother. I am certain that my house will not be as clean as it has been, and that I will probably be trying to keep my composure at many points throughout the day as I am pulled in so many different directions. But that brings out the best in me, in all of us. Education around here is not about shipping them off to let the experts do their thing - it's about working together as a family, so that together we can learn the things we need to learn in order to live. It's so thrilling for me to see how far they've come, and to know that I've been a part of it. Homeschooling constantly turns the focus of the family in on each other, and while it can be pretty crazy at times, only the best things come from it. It is a journey we take together, and I am so blessed to share this life with these little ones I love so much.
In a matter of hours, summer vacation will be over and our third year of homeschool begins. I do not feel that my days have been stolen. We lived a big, full, and happy summer - crazy at times, but making so many great memories. Tomorrow morning the kids will wake as usual, have breakfast, and get dressed for the day ahead. And we will continue to make memories together, and their little minds open and their little lives unfold before my very eyes. I am heading off to bed feeling like the luckiest girl in the world.
Thank you Lord for the many blessings in my life that come through the great work you have set before me. May I keep you ever before me as I enter into this new school year, and never forget what a blessing and privelege it is to be the first educator of these beautiful little ones.
Our Lady of Schools, pray for us!
"Raising children can be considered a genuine apostolate. It is a living means of communication, which not only creates a profound relationship between the educator and the one being educated, but also makes them both sharers in truth and love, that final goal to which everyone is called by God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit." (Blessed John Paul II, Letter to Families)