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…


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.

Time to spend

Here it is 8:27pm–according to the imac clock–my husband is reading to the boys, who will be asleep soon, and I am faced with a myriad of choices.

Question: Should I…

a. Continue working on the ironing pile?

b. Start planning for the Cradle Roll Sunday school teachers meeting?

c. Prepare the activity sheet for this Friday’s playgroup?

d. Get tomorrow’s tutoring materials ready?

e. Read a book for pleasure?

f. Read a book to help prepare for the Youth camp talk?

g. Work on plans and communiques for the Homeschool concert?

h. Wash the dishes?

Answer: Your guess is a good as mine.

I am a chronic biting-off-more-than-I-can-chew-er and so I often face such to-do lists when I have a little ‘free’ time. Sometimes, I base the decision about what to do next on what I like. At other times, when I force myself to use reason alone, I choose the thing that is most urgent or the thing that comes soonest on the calendar. And when neither emotions nor logic help me to find an answer, I pray. Now really, for a Christian, this process should *start* with prayer rather than run the gambit of human wisdom and then turn to God when all else fails.

So, once again I am back to the battle between flesh and spirit. Lord, help me to choose the one needful thing.

creating space

All it took was my husband leaving work a few minutes earlier, the boys sleeping a few minutes longer and me resisting the urge to do housework. That’s all it took. Suddenly, I had 45 minutes of uninterrupted time alone. I read a challenging devotional, which was short but full of disturbing questions and difficult challenges like “be on the lookout for people in need….be part of bringing hope and compassion to those who think no one really cares about them. Understand that you represent Jesus’ love and mercy everywhere you go.” I’ve been skimming over such statements in my morning devotions quite often these days. Today I had to peace and quiet to think and pray about that for a while. At times, I’d rather not be on such a lookout if it involves messing with my plans for a given day. At other times, I’d like to go on a crusade to save the world. God reminded me this morning that I’m only to be on the lookout, to be waiting and watching. HE will arrange the details. That set me at ease…then I was ready to go on with some serious planning for next year. This needed prayer too.

I’ve found myself in one of my usual predicaments; that is, of having too many irons in the fire, if I may use a Southern colloquialism. It’s October and I have Friday playgroup outings to coordinate for this month, toddler Sunday school to teach on two Sundays, a son’s birthday to prepare for,a homeschool concert to start planning for,  homeschooling to keep going with, housework to do, email to answer, facebook comments to make, photos to upload, Christmas presents to mail… and the list goes on.

Just last week, KL and I agreed to give a talk for the youth camp in December and an offer I’d made to help with training for the church mission trip became another thing to add to the already full plate. So November will be missions training, December will be toddler Sunday school teaching for the whole month, youth camp, many family birthdays and planning and preparing school materials for next year.

The thing is, I love doing all of these things. If anything gets me energized and motivated it’s teaching or organizing events or doing anything related to mission work. The problem is that I’m often trying to do too many of these things all at the same time. In a recent post I mentioned somewhat incredulously  that I’d seen motorcyclist texting while riding his motorbike. It seemed dangerous, even foolish to do such a thing. But I’ve come to realize over the past several days that I am also attempting such a feat–trying to keep moving, find my way, make plans and communicate all at the same time. I have that dread in the back of my mind that I’m going to crash my delicately balanced motorbike very soon.

When I go into this mode (and it happens pretty regularly) I have bursts of energy (like I did on the the morning when I had 45 peaceful minutes) that will fuel a few days’ worth of planning, writing, emailing, talking and preparing. I’ll try to my best to rope others in and delegate some of the responsibilities. After a while I’ll burn out and start wondering what I can possibly drop (usually it’s cooking), then I’ll remember that I need to finish what I’ve started and do a good job (perfect if possible) on all the things on my list and I’ll get another short burst of energy but know it’s not going to last long.

Then suddenly… it will all be over and December will be here and I’ll retreat from everyone and everything and try to tell myself not to do that again next year.

But today, I managed to create some thinking space. I wrote out a schedule for monthly playgroup outings (dates and locations), twice monthly group science lessons dates, and checked them all against the calendar of Singapore’s public holidays for 2010. I felt like I had accomplished a lot in a short span of time and that my wobbling motorbike was relieved of some of the unevenly distributed weight, so that I could continue riding smoothly–stopping every so often to take a look around and make sure I know where I’m going.