Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Slate of Expectation

It feels like yesterday when I made the decision to keep her at home. You know, just for a year.

This week we began year four of this school around the kitchen table thing. It's been nothing like I imagined three years ago. It's been far better and far worse, a series of ironies that play out daily in this crazy life of mine.

I am the teacher as well as the student.

I am learning that years of formal education pale in comparison to the school of hard knocks.

I am learning the most; this is certain.

I am learning to work with what I've got and to work with who I've got.

Three years ago I imagined a homeschool room: bookcases lining walls, beanbags for reading, neatly organized everything...the {still} unfinished bonus room as our own personal schoolroom, a sacred space devoted to learning together.

Three years ago I imagined hands-on, creative everything: Egyptian pyramids baking in the oven and child drawings to accompany her phonics instruction.

Enter perfectionist daughter frustrated by her 1st-grade motor skills, crying buckets as she tried to draw the perfect cat that sat on the mat and how it didn't look how she pictured it in her mind.

Enter exasperation over the Egyptian pyramid project turned nondescript lump of crumbly mess.

Enter frustration and perfectionism that precluded much of reading, math, and history that year.

Enter tears. Again. Hers and mine.

The glossy curriculum magazine advertised a creative, gentle, hands-on approach. I read not one disclaimer regarding perfectionistic, frustrated children.

Somewhere along the way we settled on the classical model in its rich simplicity, a non-trendy, no bells and whistles approach. We learn in much the same way our great-grandparents did in their one-room schoolhouse...which is convenient, since a one-room schoolhouse {with one giant, oval-shaped desk} is exactly what I have.

And so I work with who I've got and what seems to work for us all:

Creative, inquisitive, perfectionist, not-loving-to-read daughter. She needs a streamlined, efficient, traditional way of learning so that she can have the rest of the day to be who she is: creative. Extra time in the day also means extra time to {sigh} practice reading...and more time for her book-loving mama to read to her.

Bright, compliant, book-loving, golf-playing son. He needs a streamlined, efficient, traditional way of learning so that he can have the rest of the day to read some more, to practice golf in the backyard...and to let his book-loving mama read to him.

Non-compliant, attention-hoarding, toddler. He needs his siblings to finish school quickly so that he can have everyone's attention...and let his book-loving mama read to him.

Somewhat introverted, contemplative mother who is not naturally gifted in the art of nurturing. She needs her children to finish school efficiently and collaboratively so that she can finally stop talking and hide from said children and have just a few moments of quiet to write...or to let her book-loving self read a bit...or to take a nap.

So that's who I've got, a little bit of every personality living and learning together, a family of 5 in our smallish home, doing school in the space where we do everything else: the eating, the crafting, the writing, the wiping up spills...

The wiping up tears.

It's not a picture of that beautiful sacred space, gilt-framed in my mind. It's a picture of a messy space with tattered edges...

And it is very much sacred, a hallowed ground of sopped-up juice, Cheerios, and eraser dust.

Funny how that out-of-reach, idyllic schoolroom stands symbolic for the rest of this unpredictable journey called home-education. As we traverse the overlapping trails of living and learning, I, the teacher mama, am figuring out that I don't know much of anything...and that what I thought I knew doesn't count for much.

Day in and day out, I am learning to unlearn, to humbly wipe the slate of expectation clean and allow Someone Else to write the story on it.


A parenting post linked up with the lovely
Ann Voskamp at A Holy Experience.

holy experience


  1. love that picture!

  2. so true...I have been homeschooling for over 19 years...and most of the change has taken place in me...

    I wouldn't trade it with anything...

    just launched number two to college, 3 more to go...11th, 9th and 4th...

  3. What an incredible post about an incredible journey! You are gifted and they are blessed.


  4. Before I was a mother (and knew everything about how my children would behave) I didn't think much the task of mothering. Now I find myself over thinking every parenting decision and wondering why it always appears easy to others. We purchased our house in a city that has a less then 30% graduation rate - but we thought no problem, we'll just homeschool. We're still years away but my perspective has certainly changed. I'm so glad I'll have you as a resource for sanity!
    Love you!

  5. Oh, thank you for this. We will be schooling around the kitchen table this year as well. :)

  6. um, are any of us naturally gifted in the art of nurturing?
    I love how real you are. I want to homeschool...I'm scared. S.C.A.R.E.D.
    Luckily I still have three years to work out my feelings.

  7. Scooper,
    Love this post!
    We're in our Senior year of high school with child #1. He's been schooled at home for 11 of these 12 years. We've used the method you highlight in this post and it works best for us, too. He currently takes Math with a classical tutor as his mother/tutor/guidance counselor doesn't speak above Algebra I!
    I also had dreams of a dedicated school room for years, especially after visiting families who have a 'school room'.
    You know, even if we had had one, I think our children would still be at the family table doing their work. They have desks in their rooms, but rarely do school work there.
    I especially enjoy the photo of Blondie and Cupcake looking over a book together. It reminds me of our first year of homeshooling when our then 2yod wondered, "Where's my work?". She wanted to be schooling just like brother. (Makes me smile).
    I hope this year is your best year yet; filled with memories of messy projects of all sorts. This is the tangible way we know that our day has been productive.

  8. What an amazing mom and person you are to share with the whole world your ups and downs of life. Homeschooling is a blessed sacrifice of your time and emotion that you will cherish long after the kids are grown and gone from home. You will be able to watch your efforts bloom in them and that will be the crowning glory of the talent God has placed within you to teach and mentor your children 24/7, 365 days a year.

  9. Loved this post. I wonder what we'll end up doing for schooling one day.... I'm reading this book called "The Core" about classical education - I really love her approach. Anyway...I'm glad I have a few years before I have to really start thinking about schooling.

    And I also wanted to say that I LOVED your post about marriage over at the other blog. Wow. You are such a wonderful example at what marriage is supposed to be like - often hard, but filled with sacrificial love and seeing your own sin and repenting of it. The pastor who married Jeff and me called marriage "the hothouse of sanctification" - and I certainly agree. It's given me a mirror to see my own sins and insecurities and understand just how much I'm loved by God. Parenting is proving to be similar as I now have this other little person that I only want the best for - and seeing how my sins are also going to affect him. It's an often overwhelming responsibility.

    All that to say that I love you all and am glad you're a part of our family. :) I hope the school year continues to go well.

  10. Such an amazing, and real look at homeschooling. It can be so easy to fall into the thought of everything just so, achieving perfection and all-but that doesn't really ever happen. Thanks for sharing and the reminder of the reality of what we do as homeschooling families, whether it's in the school room or kitchen table or living couch! It is a sacrifice, but such an honor and privilege as well. I remind myself of that on tough days, I GET to do this. And most of the time I LOVE every minute!

  11. My husband and I had the talk yesterday on whether or not we would homeschool or kids one day... you make it sound just like I pictured... messy but sacred:) Love this!

  12. As an educator with experience going back to 1974 and as a youth pastor I could not agree with you more. With your permission I am going to link back to your wonderful blog from my Thankfulness Blog Daily Graces... at

  13. "school around the table" that's what we do to.

    what do you use for science? i am looking for a good science program. something for the unsciency people.

    i too don't know much of anything. it is a good thing to finally learn.


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