There's something in me that desires life to be perfectly written out, and yet another side that rebels against it and seeks freedom and life apart from a to-do list. I'm often left to wonder, which side is better? I look around, and I see people crafting their lives on a schedule. There's appeal in that, maybe because I like writing, and I like forms, and I like things to be written out neatly on forms. I like to see exactly what comes next.
But then that very thing that seemed appealing becomes restrictive. I feel like a baby swaddled too tightly, yearning for my arms and legs to be free. The comfort of it is lost. The novelty wears. Our days pass strained, the joy sucked out, because I feel as if we are slaves to a list of things to be accomplished within a slot of time, checked off by the end of the day, and oh dear, we're running behind.
Before I know it, I'm on a guilt-trip which feels more like a runaway train. I must be a bad mother because I can't seem to homeschool the way (I perceive) the good mothers do. I become short and snippy because it doesn't flow. The holistic feel drifts—no longer is the focus on the hearts of my children, but on what we must accomplish. Yet I feel like I must press through. Yes, this is what good mothers do.
The method I feel drawn to, it seems a little crazy. I've been told it's radical. And while I've seen so much fruit come forth from it, it's not the norm, and sometimes it is so, so hard to go against the norm. Obviously it's not the norm in institutional schools where a child's day is planned out far in advance and one must follow the rules, period, no questions asked... but it's also not the norm in homeschooling circles either.
So I try to plug on, though I can feel we are all miserable, and then slowly, it falls away... I let the lesson plans slide, and the dark cloud slowly lifts. Before I know it, we are back to that place I love again, and yet I feel guilty. Shouldn't I be doing more? I have to ask myself the question, "Am I just lazy?" Is that what this is, this unschooling-ish manner in which we live and move day to day?
Then I have to laugh because, really, I feel more plugged in and involved and present with my children when we are on this path. I feel like their mother, nurturing them, learning along side them, guiding them at times, standing back in wonder as they explore and learn and narrate their finds to me throughout the day. When I'm constantly planning, scheduling, trying to live by a curriculum, I feel more like the police. I hate that. They hate that. God, I've tried to stuff myself in that box. Them too, I've tried to stuff our family in that box. At first it's exciting because it's new and, oh, it kind of is a shiny pretty box, but then it quickly becomes uncomfortable because it's a box we were never meant to be in.
There's just something in me that desperately wants to fit in a box. Something in me that loves legalism and hates it as well. I want to be a good rule-follower, want to do what everyone else is doing, but I hate the rules. Over and over and over again I hear God whisper, "Leave the rules behind. Come follow me." Oh Jesus, He knows me well. Wasn't He quite the rule-breaker, healing on the Sabbath, not condemning the adulteress, but instead forgiving her sins and setting her free.... He didn't fit into the box His own people made.
I've been tracing a line, tracing it back through the weeks and months. I see His conversations now, His attempts to remind me that this is not for me, not for us. Get out of the box. I'm at HEB. The cashier is scanning my coupons, and an older woman behind me smiles at the six children around me. "Do you homeschool?" she asks. She knows the answer. It's 10 am, and we're at the grocery store rather than at school.
"Yes," I answer as I dig through my wallet wondering where I put my debit card.
"They're beautiful children. I homeschooled for 15 years. We didn't even do structure, yet they all turned out so great."
"Oh? How many children do you have?" I question.
"Six, but we only homeschooled the last three, and you know, they are the ones who went to college. They loved learning."
I feel a chunk of guilt break away and fall to the floor right there. The woman's smile is warm and inviting, and I carry it with me in my mind, rest in her words as I load groceries into the back of my van.
Just the week before, a man had stopped to help me load groceries, and he grinned at the children who were all peering over the back seat to catch a glimpse of chivalry (it's not dead). He's from Louisiana, I note, because I know Cajun accents well. They're my favorite. Keagan wants to tell the man—Frank is his name, we learn—everything he knows. Once home, Merikalyn is putting things into the pantry and telling me about a book she's read as she plays a game of real life Tetris with boxes of cereal and canned goods. As I prepare lunch, Nolyn hovers over the counter showing me a character he has created, explaining his super powers in detail.
Wait, wasn't I freaking out a couple months ago about narration, and how difficult it is, and how my children seem completely incapable of narrating back to me?
I guess it doesn't work well when I try to force it, yet it's part of their natural life, something they do daily, and now it seems blaringly obvious to me. Why do I try to divorce education from their natural life? I put a dam on their rivers and then wonder why the flow stops.
It's the pattern of mankind. We are always trying to separate things out into subjects, rather than seeing them as a whole. We do that in our Christian walk all the time, classifying things into secular and spiritual (nothing is secular), deeming what is worship and what is not (rather than a life being lived in a spirit of worship, changing diapers, making meals, and folding laundry unto the glory of the Lord). And that's what we do with homeschooling. We separate it out from parenting. This is parenting, and this, over here, is homeschooling. Then further on we go, breaking down homeschooling into methods and subjects and rules.
My husband comes home one evening from a men's fellowing gathering. He crawls into bed beside me and says words that set me free. I realize I'm trying to walk a line between law and grace. I do this in all areas of my life, especially in parenting. There are so many voices out there on how to parent. We think a manual would be great, and thousands of "experts" have tried to write one. Because we're drawn to law and wary of grace when it comes to parenting, and yes, homeschooling. Or maybe that's just me. It feels risky to leave the day in the Lord's hands, open to whatever He brings, trusting Him to guide their little hearts through me. Sometimes it seems easier to live by a written schedule of what to do when, rather than open myself completely to the Holy Spirit's leading. But it's not really easier. It's full of striving, lacking peace.
I become a slave to expectations, to a schedule (and I'm not saying order- because order has it's place, and not all routine is bad). My life becomes filled with musts and shoulds and it becomes dead works.
"Follow Me," He whispers, and I know He's answering the cry of my heart: "Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders, let me walk upon the waters, wherever You may call me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, and my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior." (Oceans, by Hillsong United)
And that's the word that I hear repeated all over my days- Presence. My children, right now, don't need lesson plans and a super organized day. They need me. They want me. They desire my presence. And I get that, because what I want more than rules and regulations and a list I can check off is my Savior's Presence. I want Him to be with me. And I know that I can spend my days with my children yet not really, truly be with them.