When Your World(map) comes crashing down

Who was I to presume that mere blutac would hold up the entire world– laminated? It was folly on my part, I admit it. So today when my world (map) came crashing to the floor I made a conscious decision not to despair. There on the wall was a large empty space and I began to ponder the possibilities for this space.

Different maps? (Lord knows I have plenty!)
Better adhesive? (I do love hanging things on walls.)
Something that would make use of that hook that I was concealing behind the world (map)?

This is the kind of mood I was in that Wednesday. No fixed appointments til evening. Questions running through my mind like: So what if we start our homeschool day at 10am….or 11? I like to call those days “creative days” or (shudder) “unschooling days.” But what it really means is I do things I don’t have time to do on normal homeschool days and I follow my creative thoughts as I go around the house rather than follow a plan. And it means I let the kids do pretty much whatever they want (within reason). They get extended time with Legos and Playmobils; I get piles of papers sorted out, inspirational posters hung on the wall, or (rarely) a new dish cooked.

I am trying to learn to embrace these days, which is not easy for a control-freak, task-oriented mother such as myself. I know I can’t have too many days like that or my family would never have clean clothes to wear or clean dishes to eat from.  But I know I can’t wait to do the creative things only when everything else is in perfect order.

So, my world (map) came crashing down today. And plenty of other things didn’t go according to my design. But I will not despair.  I choose to see that as a divine opportunity to do something creative with the empty space left on the wall.


What’s Possible on a Tuesday Night and a Wednesday Afternoon

Tuesdays are gymnastics night.

#1 son gets home around 7:30pm, his boundless energy spent after 2 hours of intense physical training. So we had a dilemma when we realized we needed to increase the academic training time for Chinese. We had been making an effort to do this most evenings but thought gym nights might have to be excluded. It was not pleasant most nights– our  parental efforts being  met with much complaining…but when I came out of the kitchen after washing up the dinner dishes one Tuesday night, this is the scene that greeted me: 

With the carrot of iphone game playing time dangling in front of him, tired #1 son set himself to the task at hand. “This is possible,” I thought to myself. While he need an extra incentive to get going, this became a night of possiblities in my mind. Now gym nights are also Chinese nights and no one is the worse for it.

So there are Tuesday and Thursday nights where many things seem impossible because of the late gymnastics classes…and then there are Wednesday afternoons where many things seem possible but rarely materialize.

On Wednesdays, there are no regular appointments or classes. There is no need for me to prepare dinner (we go to my in-laws’ for dinner every Wednesday evening). According to my master plan, we should have free time to go for walks or do projects or play games. It almost never happens. Schoolwork doesn’t get done in the morning and drags on until dinner time. When schoolwork drags, I drag my self though the afternoon ‘should’-ing on myself for not being more strict and resentful that I’m not getting a break. Tempers flare in our tiredness, #2 son retreats to his room to read, and #1 resists all my efforts to get him through his schoolwork. I hate it when this happens and I always tell myself there must be a better way….

Then one Wednesday, we all got up earlier, all the schoolwork was done before lunch and this is what we did while little sister took her afternoon nap:

It is possible and now that I know this, now that we’ve done it once, I pray next homeschool year we will see more afternoons of games, walks, talks or just peaceful rest. It is easy to lose sight of what is really important when the pressures of keeping up with the local curriculum loom over our heads. It is easy to swing to the other extreme and be complacent about the discipline that is good for all of us.  So, we find ourselves again teetering on a see-saw of priorities, praying we’ll get the right balance to fulfill that command to “Train up our children in the way they should go.” (Proverbs 22:6)

A Have or a Have-Not?

How I wish I could answer this question once and for all–clearly, concisely, maybe with a printed t-shirt so I could save my voice and the artificial smile I muster when the question(s) come.

How do you do it all?

Do you have any help?

How do you manage three kids by yourself?

Can you still homeschool with the baby around?

You cook?!?

I usually answer these questions with the same list of replies–and I try to keep the focus on the things I have:

–I have boys who are older now and do a lot of things for themselves

–I have my rocking chair next to the school tables so I can feed the baby while supervising lessons

–I have a part-time house cleaner

–I have a husband who does a lot of things around the house and with the children

–I have good friends who come to my rescue when I need it

–I have a small cafe downstairs where I can buy food on days when cooking is difficult

–I have a dishwasher and a clothes dryer

Frankly speaking, I have many things and people that help and I have it a lot easier than many other people I know who don’t have all these things that I have. Many people, usually people who don’t know me that well, seem to view me as a have not. That is one thought-path I don’t want to walk down. No, I don’t have a full-time live-in maid. No, I don’t have a spotless home. No, I don’t have perfect control over my tongue when I’m at home with my children all day. And no, I don’t have perfectly behaved children…

But I am convinced, in the midst of the messes we all make, that this is right for our family, it is settled–settled in the deep place in a way that makes me able to say truthfully that I like being home with my children and I enjoy homeschooling.

I have so much.  Above all, I have  Grace, which covers me in the areas where I’m a have not.

Bebo says it best:

Advent: Enough is Enough

Over the course of the past week or so I have come to realize that the number of plates I’m attempting to spin at this time of year, in this season of life is not realistic, maybe even ridiculous. It’s just me being me but trying desperately not to be. It’s like when I registered for my first semester of classes in college… Me being me I signed up for an insane number of classes which were way over my head. Things didn’t turn out very well that time, so since then, whenever I find myself getting in over my head, I try to grab hold of myself and tell myself to start simplifying.

I took a step towards simplicity today.

I clicked on ‘unsubscribe’ for two very nice weekly newsletters I’d been receiving but rarely reading. My inbox still has more than 900 emails in it, but I’m getting there. I’m thinking of just deleting them all without looking come 31st December but I’m not sure if I’m brave enough to really do that. Speaking of bravery, I’ve even toyed with the idea of leaving Facebook. I like being able to share photos and comments with friends and family near and far, but it has become a major distractor on some days. Would it be better to write more in depth (on this blog, for instance) or to read more? That question will remain unanswered for the time being.

Tonight after I had done my ‘unsubscribing’, I had another radical thought.

The Christmas decorations were not exactly complete, in my opinion. I still had ornaments that hadn’t been hung, my favourite nativity set still in the box, artificial greenery staring at me through a transparent ziploc bag. I had tried to get #2 son to help me get out some candles in the afternoon, but we didn’t get far with arranging them. And then the radical thought came,

“This is enough.”

The tree is up and nicely decorated. The advent wreath is nearly ready. The Jesse Tree ornaments are printed. It is enough. I had been simultaneously trying (hoping) to decorate the house nicely, plan for next year’s homeschool, plan for some sort of ending to what’s left of this year’s homeschool, keep the house in order, do the laundry, care for my not-yet-4-month old daughter, wrangle the monkey boys into doing the needful things like bathing and eating, prepare meals, attend parties, buy presents (and pray I find time to wrap them)…  and all this when I had hoped to slow down at the end of the year. It is enough. I am trying desperately to protect the last two weeks of the year for planning and preparation. And hopefully there will be some space somewhere in there for reflection.

I have been jotting down notes and stealing moments here and there to think about next year, so I do have some general sense of direction. Now…to get it all together by January, or at least get it together enough to get going even if it isn’t a perfectly laid out plan for the whole year…

How I survived the week

It has been a long week, with Ed away in England and activities going on every single day and still trying to keep up homeschooling before our break next week. But I have to say, it could have been worse…and so I have decided to count my blessings.

Blessing #1 A very encouraging friend has been checking on me and praying for me. You know who you are AY. Some seriously supernatural energy and other divine interventions have come my way that gave me much relief. I give credit to her interceding for me.

Blessing #2 Skype. We’ve been able to talk to Ed most everyday, as well as an old friend, my brother, and my parents.

Blessing #3 A car. It’s a costly privilege here in Singapore to own a car. And although I don’t have the use of the car when Ed is working, it really helps us get around quicker and easier when he’s not here.

Blessing #4 A stable pregnancy. I can’t imagine how this week would have been if I’d been in pain or having any trouble with the pregnancy. I can only be thankful that things have been going smoothly so far and I can remain active. I know women who’ve had trouble and ended up on bedrest at this point, so I don’t take it for granted that I am still up and about.

Blessing #5 Well children. Some friends of ours had Hand Foot Mouth Disease, and there is a high chance that my boys were exposed to it. Thankfully they did not get it.

Blessing #6 A helpful friend who came over to help me lug all my math curriculum and supplies to the Homeschool Curriculum Fair. I was thinking I should have said no to that commitment, but with her help I was able to give others some help in choosing a math curriculum.

Blessing #7 Another dear friend who went shopping with me to get snacks for the children going to church camp next week. There was no way I could have managed getting all those things by myself in one shopping trip without her.

Blessing #8 One lesson English tutoring session. Surprisingly, the Chinese tutor who works with our boys did not bring her daughter over for an English lesson on Thursday. She had gone for a camp and couldn’t make it. So my boys had their Chinese lesson and I had a bit of a break that was very timely as a headache had just started that morning.

Blessing #9 Boys who love audio books. We had borrowed an audio book of  The Magician’s Nephew from the library on Saturday. And although I had intended to save it for our drive up to KL for church camp, I let them listen to it on Thursday and Friday when my headache was bad and I needed to rest. They loved it and listened for an hour each time while quietly playing in their room.

Blessing #10 Food. We had free food at my in-law’s for dinner, and at 2 birthday parties today. And when cooking seemed really impossible, we went to the cafe just downstairs in our building. That made it possible for us to still have homeschool for at least 3 1/2 days this week.

The Blessing above all Blessings–a personal God who has reminded me time and again this week that there is Hope in Him no matter what else is going on in and around me.

What we’re reading–June 2010

What can I say? I love to read. I love books of all kinds. I feast on good literature. My life is enriched by a good story. So here’s what I have piled up by my bed at the moment:

Knowing God by J.I. Packer

I pulled this off the shelf a few weeks ago when I realized I was in need of a spiritual turn around. This hasn’t been an easy book to read, especially when I had been feeling very distant from God…but easy books don’t help me grow. Here’s a quote: ” What makes life worth while is having a big enough objective, something which catches our imagination and lays hold of our allegiance; and this the Christian has, in a way that no other man has. For what higher, more exalted, more compelling goal can there be than to know God?  pg. 30

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Huh? Okay, I must confess, I really just want to read this so that I can say that I’ve read it. It’s been sitting on my shelf for several years. I’ve started it several times but never finished it. I thought I should read the books I have first before getting more from the library. I’m proud to announce, that while I haven’t been reading consistently, I have made it all the way to page 65.

Teaching the Trivium by Harvey & Laurie Bluedorn

A friend gave me this book and I thought it a good thing to read for the sake of research about homeschooling. It’s not the most enjoyable book I’ve read  on homeschooling, and I’m not particularly interested in the philosophy behind classical education. However, I am trying to glean what I can from it in terms of stages learning that children go through and how and when to approach various subjects. I’m hoping the writers will convince me one way or the other about including Latin, maybe Greek in our homeschool.

With the boys we are mostly following the Ambleside Online year 2 reading list and #2 son’s requests.

Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder

We’ve read this before, but when I saw it on the list of free reading for AO Year 2, I couldn’t resist reading it to the boys again. We’re about halfway through and often find ourselves feeling hungry after reading the many descriptions of the homecooked food the family ate. These people really worked, so when mealtime came there was no such thing as a fussy eater. The children were HUNGRY (especially the boys) and they ate everything given to them with gusto!  #1 son has been most impressed that Almanzo Wilder didn’t have to go to school until he was 9 years old. My how times have changed.

The Frog and Toad Treasury by Arnold Lobel

These stories are some of the best for early readers. We’ve been reading aloud to #2 son, with him helping us when he knows the words. All the stories use simple language but are cleverly written and often hilarious.

Of course there is more…but this list constitutes the bulk of the current bedtime reading!

Ready or Not . . .

I have been silent on the blog for a long time because I have been too tired to write or had so many other things to do that I could not justify using the time for writing. I didn’t write a Year in Review for 2009 because it all went by so fast that I haven’t had a chance to properly reflect on it.  It was a year of some traveling, some events organizing and learning to be consistent.

Since school has started for 2010, I would like to keep a bit more of a record of what we are doing and how I am doing in the midst of it by writing here. We’ll see how it goes…

I spent a couple of weeks in December on planning. I had hoped to spread it out over the whole month, but there were just too many activities going on. The perfectionist in me attempted to rear her ugly head and hurl me into the depths of the pit of “not good enough”…I was ready for her this time. I had a little discussion with God and with myself and firmly stated that if I only had 2 weeks to get ready for school, then 2 weeks would just have to do it. I knew delaying the start of school would result in too much pressure later in the year, so I got the schoolroom as organized as I could, typed up the first 12 weeks’ worth of lesson outlines, printed the readings for the first two weeks and gave the boys a pep talk about starting off the year right.

And you know, by lowering the standards just a little (read: my self-imposed standards) and refusing to lament over the things that went undone, I were able to start school with a much better attitude. The minimum requirements were there: a tidy schoolroom, a list of lessons and readings, and the required books. And, most important, a sense of peace was there. I had accomplished more than I thought possible in the two weeks I spent on getting ready. I believe there was a Divine hand at work leading me along.

As for curriculum, here is what we are using:

#1 Son (7, turning 8 this year, Primary 2 by Singapore school years)

#2 Son (4, turning 5 this year, K1 by Singapore school years)

This year, a few things will be different. First, #2 son will be doing a little more formal schoolwork and will have a schedule to follow. Which leads to the second and third differences–#1 son will have to do more work independently while I work with #2; and I will have to prepare more materials. Fourth, our Friday playgroup outings are being converted to Friday science lessons with 4 other homeschooling families. I hope to see other changes in myself and my character so that there are fewer harsh words spoken and more patience peppering the school days.

Some things will be more or less the same. Most schoolwork will be done before lunch. Our holidays won’t exactly match the Singapore schools, to allow for time with my family when my sister visits, time away at church camp, and other events in the family. We’ll continue with Chinese tutoring twice a week. We have a nice barter agreement with the Chinese teacher–she teaches Mandarin to both my sons, I teach English to her son and one other girl. Gym lessons will go on, as both boys are now in gym and enjoying it very much. I will continue Cradle Roll (Toddler Sunday School) teaching and coordinating for most of the year. Ed will keep up his involvement in Boys’ Brigade.

I remember telling someone after our first official year of homeschooling 3 (or was it 4?) years ago, that I can’t imagine not homeschooling. We have plenty of difficult moments and we don’t get everything right the first or even the second time, but I feel a very certain clarity that this is my calling. I get a thrill out of preparing lesson plans and perusing new books for the year. And I love that I am able to be at home with my children during these formative years.