Fall is just around the corner! I’m starting to think about the upcoming school year, and I’m actually feeling pretty good about it. Compared to the epic saga that was our Spring semester, this should be no sweat.
I realize, though, that I need to make the most of these moments when I’m feeling positive and clear-headed. Right now we’re still having lazy summer days where there are few opportunities for me to fail since the bar is so unbelievably low, and I’m not overwhelmed by the crushing weight of parent meetings and mandatory bake sales and long afternoon sports practice sessions. I’ve been trying to have Peppy August Jen do some motivating self-talk to Exhausted Mid-School-Year Jen, and thought I’d write it all down so that Joe can just send it to me when he gets the bi-annual “I can’t do this anymore!!!” call in a few months.
So, Future Jen, here are a few things that I, August Jen, would like for you to keep in mind as the 2013-14 school year lurches forward:
1. You’re starting to feel guilty about your schooling choices for the kids? Welcome to your life. You were all worried about their education when they went to public school, and you’re still all worried about their education now that you homeschool. If you’re looking for the perfect system of schooling that has no downside and guarantees that all of your kids will grow up to be Thomas Aquinas, let me save you some time: it doesn’t exist. You’ve chosen a good path for your family, you can re-evaluate it at the end of the year, and in the meantime, stop feeling guilty.
2. The parent volunteer requests have undoubtedly begun to flood in, so start rehearsing this word with lots of conviction: “No.” When you’re ready to take it to the next level, try saying “I’m sorry, I simply don’t have room in my schedule to commit to that right now” — without adding “…unless you really need me to!”
3. Okay, since your family is not currently undergoing a major crisis, you might legitimately feel an obligation to step up when activity leaders say they need volunteers. Good for you. But before you raise your hand at any meetings, remember the magic life-saving formula: estimate the number of hours per month that you think this commitment will require, multiply it by 100, and plan your schedule accordingly.
4. Don’t feel like you have to pretend that homeschooling is perfect just because a lot of people think it’s crazy. Honestly acknowledging the challenges that come with this system of education is key to addressing them.
5. Every education has its gaps. Remember how you never had a grammar class because you moved in the 7th grade, and how you managed to get through high school without ever taking biology? (Awesome move, by the way.) That’s why God gave us Amazon.com. You can go get a book about that stuff if you feel like you need to know it. The same goes for your kids. Stop freaking out because your friend devoted an entire third-grade semester to 17th-century French poetry and your kids just asked you if France is in Texas. They’ll figure it out.
6. Prepare yourself for the November Nervous Breakdown, the February Funk, and Maybe-It’s-Time-to-Give-Up-on-Life May. It happens every year, and it’s just a sign that you need a break.
7. Taking a break is not a sign of failure; it’s a sign that you’re smart enough to know when you need to recharge your batteries.
8. Oddly, when you’re in need of a break, you tend to get stuck in this downward spiral where you throw your hands up in disgust and let the kids watch TV all day while you send Hallie a bunch of texts about how you’re failing at life. Unless there’s a good reason to be in survival mode, I’ll allow you one day of this. After that, it’s time to be more strategic about your breaks. Re-read that post Rebecca wrote. If nothing else, make it an opportunity to foster the kids’ love of reading. Set out the most boring math lesson that you can find, then “spontaneously” announce, “Hey, who wants to do reading time instead of long division?” You’ll get the rest you need, and you’ll have children who think reading is the best thing ever.
9. Don’t get all frustrated because your big plans for the life science unit that involved weekly trips to the pond fell apart. I see that draft email to Joe ranting about how your children’s educations are now doomed. Delete it. This isn’t that big of a deal. Congratulate yourself for trying something new, take a look at why it didn’t work out so that you can learn something from it, and move on to the next idea.
10. Yes, it would be a terrible idea to try to make the kids’ Halloween costumes. Step away from Pinterest and stop thinking about it.
11. DO NOT GET YOURSELF OVERBOOKED FOR DECEMBER. You do this every year. The kids are starting to think that the Christmas holiday is primarily a darwinian contest of endurance in which only the fittest mommies survive. Try to do most of your shopping in November, protect your December calendar ruthlessly, and let your kids have a few memories of sitting in front of the fireplace with nothing to do but clean up the hot cocoa that was just spilled all over the floor.
12. Read those inspirational mom blogs if you’re in a good place and could use a boost.
13. …But don’t read them on “angry low self-esteem homeschooler” days. First you’ll feel like a failure, then you’ll grumble that it’s the fault of those blogs that you feel like a failure. The women who write those blogs are gifted in certain areas and are generous enough to share their insights with the rest of us — if you can’t appreciate that, it’s time to step away from the internet.
14. Keep doing that “traditional schooling for the core subjects, unschooling for the rest of it” thing you’ve been doing. Maybe we’ll move to all traditional schooling when the oldest hits junior high, but right now it’s pretty sweet to have the kids poring over the encyclopedia while you surf Pinterest.
15. I hereby ban you from thinking “WHY AREN’T WE DOING THAT?!?!” every time you hear of some neat activity or lesson that another family is doing. You’ve made your plan for the year. It’s good. It’s right for you. You need to put your energy into executing it, not second-guessing it.
16. Keep a sheet of paper titled Things to Consider for Next Semester. This is where you will dump all your angst when you hear of other families doing enrichment activities that you’re not. Having this list will allow you to review the possibilities calmly, once you’ve had some time to think about them (i.e. it will prevent you from racing down to the craft store to BUY ALL THE THINGS because that lady on the homeschool list made a scale replica of the Hagia Sophia with her kids).
17. Get up early. No. Seriously. Do not say you’ll do your best. You really need to get up at least a half hour before the big kids so that you can stay ahead of the curve.
18. Meal times get stressful once the school year is in full swing. There are all these noisy people in your house and they all have places to go and you’re running late and suddenly it occurs to you that they might need food. Nightmare. Make a list of easy meals that don’t involve potato chips as a main course.
19. Take a couple of hours each weekend to review your calendar, plan meals, and think through the coming week. Remember, you’re like the wreck divers — there is no flying by the seat of your pants in this phase of life. If you don’t head into the week with a clear plan, you’ll die.
20. If things get overwhelming, scale back, focus on math and reading, and plan to regroup at winter or spring break. Don’t let your entire semester get thrown off track because you’re trying to keep up with an ancient history curriculum that’s ruining your life.
21. Look, all this school stuff is really not that complicated. If you do your best to raise the kids to be truth-seeking people who love God and love learning and know the joy of losing themselves in a great book, you will have succeeded with flying colors.
22. One day you will look back on these years as some of the best days of your life. Now, stop agonizing about the little things, and go have some fun.