Friday, August 29, 2014

What We Do Is Hard + Solutions

The Cathedral of St. John Lateran

I hosted our August monthly potluck Catholic Homeschooling Moms' Breakfast this past Saturday. As always, it was a blessing to be with so many women striving to love their families through homeschooling. I try to take notes for those who are unable to attend that particular month. Here are the notes:

Today, I chose to share something that has been on my heart this summer. Then, we opened it up for questions and shared some wonderful encouragement! Thank you, as always, to those who came and shared and prayed and listened.

  • Our opening prayer was to reflect on the Gospel of John, chapter 21 where Jesus fills the disciples nets and then prepares them breakfast. John 21:1-14
  • I had everyone write on a notecard one of the challenges/fears they are facing this year of homeschooling, pointing out afterwards that no one seemed to have any trouble thinking of something, just trouble putting only one thing.
  • Fun quote from Danielle Bean’s new book Momnipotent - “I have a friend who likes to tell her husband in the morning before he leaves for work: ‘I can do two out of these three things today: homeschool, keep the house clean, or make a good dinner. Which two would you like?’”
  • I shared that I had attended The Edel Gathering, a conference for Catholic moms, this summer, and that the closing talk given by Jennifer Fulwiler of Conversion Diary and Something Other Than God was something I felt called to pass on.
  • You can listen to the entire talk (and the other three) here. Marion’s is particularly good!
  • Jen started by saying, “What we do is hard.”
  • For my blog readers, here are a few other highlights, but Jen's talk is short, only 15 minutes. You should listen to it all! This is a really poor summary of a fabulous message.
    • Being a Catholic woman in the world today is hard.
    • The most difficult part is feeling isolated.
    • It's really hard to carry a cross when you feel you're the only one carrying that cross.
    • We wonder if we are the only Catholic woman out there struggling with that cross.
    • Nobody sees, but God sees. And you think, great, but I'm still alone in the cathedral.
    • Our Catholic Church teaches us that God loves to show His concern to us through other human beings (i.e. Confession, Mass). We are called to be together.
    • You are not alone. Throw open the doors of the cathedral and flood it with workers.
    • The outside world simply does not care about the struggles of Catholic women, but look around you. These are fellow workers.
  • My hope for these breakfasts is that we can join together as fellow workers and share tools and encouragement, reminding one another that we are not alone.
  • My rules for our breakfast are as follows:
    1. Do not compare. While we are together to share ideas and advice with one another, we should take it all in a spirit of discernment. There is no one way to be the perfect Catholic homeschooling mother, and that’s not our goal anyway. We should imitate Christ, not one another, and we should prayerfully consider all recommendations in light of our unique family situation.
    2. Be positive. While I want the group to be a safe place where we can share our struggles and help one another work through them, we have to be cautious not to let our conversation drift into a complaint session, especially if we are grumbling about our family, children, or husbands. We should always be charitable and especially respectful of marital intimacy.
    3. Be open. Our breakfasts are open to anyone who homeschools, has homeschooled, or is considering homeschooling. There will be many ideas and many ways of living out our vocations shared. I invite us to accept one another and also to accept the guidance others offer. Be a listener, and truly consider the suggestions others may give. Who knows when the Holy Spirit may speak.
  • Question: What about merging kids for certain subjects? It’s easy to do with RC History, for example, but can I do it for Saxon Math?
    • Yes. You can always try anything and see what happens. That’s the beauty of homeschooling.
    • Perhaps you can still level them by going slower with the younger one and having her do fewer practice problems.
    • If husband isn’t sure, tell him you want to try it for one month and then reassess.
    • With math, the attitude of Mom is key.
    • When you combine, you actually build confidence in the older ones.
    • If they already know the material, you can skip problems or whole pages. It’s up to you.
    • If something is too easy, you don't have to keep doing it.
    • If they hate it, you can slow down, especially in the early grades.
    • We have to balance our schedule with our children’s desires.
  • Question: How can I create a joyful learning environment and avoid “I hate school,” especially with a struggling reader?
    • Read books together. Model reading with him.
    • Have him read aloud to younger siblings to help you, not as school, but pick the books you want him to read.
    • Do your work with your struggling reader when you know you’ll have enough time to focus on him and not be rushed to get to the next thing.
    • Go slower and be at peace with that.
    • Some children read later, boys especially.
    • We are not naturally wired to read and write.
    • Investigate if there is some assessment to determine if a processing disorder or other struggle exists.
  • Question: How do I avoid trying to fit too much into our school day to get done to do other things?
    • Determine how much time you have to dedicate to school each day. Then, plan which subjects you will cover, allowing one hour for every 45 minutes of work.
    • Try looping. Explained here.
    • Try a four-day school week, so you can save the other things for a separate day.
    • Try some form of Sabbath-schooling, school for 4-8 weeks, then take a week or two off, all year round, possibly with a 6-8 week break in the summer.
    • You might not finish the third grade book at the end of third grade. Just carry it over to fourth grade.
    • Once the bulk of your work is done for the year, take a few more weeks to finish up anything you don’t want to carry over to next year.
    • Try doing science one month, history the next month, creative writing the next month, then back to science, history, etc. They can go deeper with the material and not jump around so much from subject to subject.
    • Use unit studies to combine subject areas.
    • Take breaks, for the kids and mom. When they get frustrated, a break could help.
    • As an example, work 15 minutes on math, take a 5 minute break, work 15 more minutes on math, etc. If they don’t come back from the break on time, they shorten the next break.
    • Charlotte Mason's philosophy encourages short lessons, no longer than 15-20 minutes on one subject at a time.
  • Question: How do I deal with my son who screams whenever he gets frustrated?
    • There is biology that shows the hormone that is created when we are angry or frustrated is actually released from our bodies in sweat and tears. Get him active.
    • Scream together to distract him.
    • Keep him active on a regular basis. Kids who need exercise will show behavior improvements when they get enough.
  • Question: How do I cope with a strong-willed, constantly-debating-me child for whom many things result in high drama and meltdowns?
    • It could be the age. But you shouldn't just wait it out, because it could be personality.
    • Children with this kind of passion are needed to change the world (i.e. end abortion).
    • Take it one day at a time, one moment at a time.
    • Physical activity does help.
    • Remember we are teaching our children self-discipline, and that is a hard, life-long process. Adults still struggle with self-discipline.
  • Question: What curriculum should I use, leaning towards Montessori but hearing you all use a more standard curriculum?
    • Only one mom uses a boxed curriculum and enrolls (Seton). Only one buys the whole set and doesn't enroll her kids (Mother of Divine Grace). The rest of us use an eclectic mix of what works for mom and kids.
    • It’s good to do lots of research and know what you enjoy.
    • It’s typical to constantly change curriculum and adapt as your family changes and grows.
    • Not one mom said she has it all figured out.
    • Pick something and do it for a while. Then, discern if you feel change is needed.
    • Changing materials or approaches is not going to mess up your kids, but if you are constantly searching for the next-best or perfect thing, you will drive yourself crazy.
    • Don’t compare yourself to others. Decide what works for you.
  • Question: Will you pray for me to find peace with the household stuff?
    • Absolutely!
    • Try to figure out what small things will make a huge difference in the way you feel about your house. Is it just putting away the stack of papers or cleaning the toilets, etc.?
    • Pray. Just like we make a school plan, you also need a spiritual plan.
    • Yes, your husband wants to see a joyful, peaceful wife, and we must ask for the grace to give him that gift.
    • Post Scripture and prayers/images around your house to remind you.
    • Make a tangible plan, also, to get one chore done each morning before school and one during your school break, etc.
    • Give your kids more responsibility. They can and should clean, do/fold laundry, and help prepare meals.
    • This is Jenny adding to this mom - find some ways to feed your needs, too; a kindred spirit to chat on the phone or over coffee regularly, an Adoration hour each week, exercise, proper nutrition, good sleep, etc.

 What other advice can you share?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What Do YOU Do for Fun, Mom?

Miss C, the inquisitive taken by a very talented friend
Out of the mouths of babes. One day this summer my sweet 11-year-old daughter asked me this question. And, in true 11 year-old-style, when she didn't like my answer, she asked again a few days later and then a few days after that! Hello, Holy Spirit! I am fairly certain my first response was something along the lines of, "Oh, I don't know! I enjoy reading and watching shows, just like you." Of course, in combination with my ongoing recovery from a long season of burnout and the incredible blessing that was The Edel Gathering, my answer has improved. At least in my opinion.

You see, it has been rare for my children see me laugh out loud or giggle with glee, even when I am having fun, and I think that is why she asked the question. Honestly, for me, sitting on the floor and playing pretend with my children for an hour is akin to waxing my legs. I know it would be great to do, but no thank you! Our ideas of fun are clearly very different, and obviously, to my daughter, fun is a visible thing. Once I realized her perspective, I resolved to demonstrate to my children that Mommy does know how to have fun and enjoy life, because I do not want them to feel like being an adult is all work and no play. Otherwise, they're never going to want to grow up!

It's too easy to let the fun get crowded out by our never-ending chores and obligations. This year, I have finally come to peace with the understanding that all of the things I do as a mother are never "done." Just as soon as I finish the laundry, there is more to be done the next day. I cook meals and clean the kitchen constantly. As long as little ones live in our home, it will never be fully clean at any one time. If I wait until I am done with all of my chores, the fun will never happen.

Not too bad tonight, since we had leftovers for dinner due to football practice.

There is also what I believe to be a grave misunderstanding among some Catholic homeschooling moms. In fact, Jennifer Fulwiler spoke of it in her talk at the San Antonio Catholic Homeschooling Conference this June. Because we are trying to avoid the extreme selfishness of our popular culture, we can fall into the trap of taking "dying to self" to the extreme. It was Marion Fernandez-Cueto at Edel who said, "Our children need mothers not martyrs." Enjoying time spent with our children is essential, but continually denying that we are individuals with desires and needs is unwise.

Friends, I am not saying you go off and paint your nails while the baby plays in the toilet (we are currently in the stage of toddlerhood that requires bathroom doors to be closed at all times)! I believe that motherhood not only forces us to give of ourselves more than we ever thought possible, but it is also this amazing opportunity to sacrifice for others. Living life intentionally where sacrifice is done with joy is one thing. Continually putting your physical, emotional, mental, and/or spiritual health on the back burner to give your children and husband your entire self 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year is not honoring who God created us to be and will result in burnout at best, depression or illness at worst.

I now have a better answer for my daughter's question. Here are eleven things that I absolutely enjoy doing and how I hope to model making these things a priority just as much as washing dishes and folding laundry:

My current stack
1. Books: I enjoy reading books, lots of them. My stack always includes five or six that I am trying to complete, and my Amazon wish list is almost at 100 books I would love to get my hands on someday! Reading to my children is truly my favorite way to spend time with them. Have you listened to some of Sarah's Read Aloud Revival podcasts? Great stuff! I keep a book in the bathroom that's easy to read in 5-minute chunks, and I almost always read 15-30 minutes in bed before falling asleep. My spiritual reading happens either in the morning or at nap time. Goal: I'd love to start a mommy book club, either online or locally.

2. Writing: Thus, this space. Plus, when there are not toddlers climbing all over me, I find journaling very refreshing. So, I am setting a timer for 30 minutes each day to write, knowing, of course, that probably won't result in a full 30 minutes of actual writing due to interruptions, but it's something. Goal: Post three times a week, for now.

3. Good conversation: My husband and I are now back to regular date nights once or twice a month, since the baby weaned himself, but before that, earlier in the summer, we would sit outside at night by ourselves or with neighbors and chat. One neighbor dubbed it driveway drinking, since we tend to have beer, wine, or margaritas to accompany our chatter. I still host my monthly breakfasts for Catholic homeschooling moms, and those conversations are always inspiring. Making these things a priority in my schedule is tough, but I am such a better mommy after a cathartic conversation. Goal: Schedule weekly appointments to talk with two very dear friends on the phone and twice a month coffee dates with friends.

This is the most. amazing. stuff.
4. Chocolate! I have a sweet tooth, and I enjoy baking. This is something I can easily share with my children, but all too often, I hide in the pantry nibbling on my stash of dark chocolate or sneak a Reeces Peanut Butter Cup from the freezer when they are not looking. I have both allowed and participated in the indulgence of ice cream and popsicles this summer more than in the past. Goal: Make one special treat for Tuesday Teatime and another on Sundays.

5. Taking walks: Long leisurely strolls are not easily shared with children, of course, but any sort of walk is better than none. On school days, I have begun taking the three boys around the block while big sister is in the shower right after breakfast. It gets some of their wiggles out to not be quite as all-over-the-place during school time. I am also making an effort to walk to the mailbox around the corner in the evening either with a child or two or none at all if the little boys are in bed. Goal: When the weather cools down, I hope to plan a weekly nature walk or hike.

6. Dancing: I am pretty sure I danced from age 2 to 22. I took ballet, tap, jazz, pointe, lyrical, and modern dance classes on and off. I was also an officer on our high school drill team. After college, I stopped. I got a teaching job, got married, had babies, and I didn't dance, but I never stopped loving it. Dancing at the Edel karaoke party for four wonderful hours reminded me how much I love moving to music, and since then, we have been putting on music and dancing a few days a week. Goal: Find a bigger way to incorporate dancing in my life, maybe as exercise either through DVDs or a Wii game?

And, this is my, "Am I really in a kick line with THE Rebecca Frech AND Mama Heather?!?!" photo!
7. Cooking Special Meals: Like most of you, coming up with something to make for dinner each night is a headache, but I love planning and preparing special meals either for my family or others. When there is a Care Calendar announced through our local homeschool group for a family in need, I almost always sign up to bring a meal, even if the drive is 45 minutes away! For major holidays, we have special foods that have become tradition (in other words, even if I wanted to get more creative, I couldn't or my children would be disappointed). Goal: Invite friends over for meals more often.

8. Games: I like board games, word games, Sudoku, etc., and I usually have several favorite game apps on my iPhone at any given time. My mom and I play Scrabble, and she beats me almost every single time. My husband and I play Scrabble, and I beat him almost every single time. I haven't found a new app that I like lately, though, and I avoid those FB games like the plague. Any recommendations? Goal: Continue the weekly family game night we started last week.

9. Social Media: To me, this is absolutely different than reading books or good conversation with friends, so I'm counting it separately! My reader is filled with wonderfully diverse posts written by talented women, mostly about my role as a Catholic, homeschooling mom. And, while I have deleted the Facebook app from my phone, I still try to check once or twice a day, because I enjoy seeing what my many faraway (and close by) friends are doing. Goal: Through my blog and Facebook, I'd like to be more of a positive contributor to social media and not just an onlooker or stalker.

Isn't a quiet cathedral the most wonderful thing ever?
10. Adoration: Alone. This should be a no-brainer, but when I do take the time to go to Adoration on a regular basis, everything is better. And, yes, I actually get excited when I get to sit with Jesus for an hour, or even less. Our homeschool group does a monthly Adoration hour for the children, but I spend that juggling the little guys. Goal: Begin once a week Adoration hour for Mommy!

11. Football: Yes, I am the big fan in this family. My husband is only interested in the Aggie games, so I'll let him stay. On the other hand, I will watch any game, any team, college, pro, even high school or peewee if given the opportunity. Of course, the Aggies are the most important games, but even then, I don't memorize players and stats and get all wrapped up in play calling. I just enjoy watching talented, determined players compete to win. Goals: Not wake the children with my enthusiasm while watching games at night and not neglect the children too much while watching daytime games. :)

What things do you enjoy doing that you wish you could incorporate into your life more frequently?

Bless Your Heart!