I've been grappling with the schedule again. Spending a lot of time with a pencil and a yellow legal pad, one that made me feel happy when it was crisp and smooth and blank, and now makes me feel frustrated because it is stuffed full of sheets that have been ripped out and riffled and put back in order and marked with stars in the corner and crossed out and erased, and I don't feel any closer to figuring it out, even though I know I am, if only because I have started to reject possibilities.
Next year is already on my mind, and putting it all together has been particularly difficult because we've come around again in the cycle to a five-year-old who is just on the cusp of learning to read, of learning to sit still long enough to listen to a story, of learning to expect that every day there will be a math lesson and that we will work on it together until it is done.
So for that dear, eager, boisterous, talkative five-year-old boy, I want to set aside three 30-minute blocks of dedicated one-on-one time in each of our three at-home days per week: one for learning to read, one for doing a math lesson, one for listening to stories. Everyone else has to revolve around him this year, because -- I know! -- this is His Year to set the pace, to set the tone, to set the relationship that is going to be him and me learning together. I want it to be a year of cuddling and stories and discovery and laughter, not hurry-up-and-get-it-done.
But, you know, I have a toddler too, and he needs to be supervised; so I need to figure out which of the other kids will take charge of him while I work with the 5-year-old. And then, each of them needs my time too -- even if out of necessity they get less individual time with me this coming year, still they need some. And yet -- the high school boy is just getting into my favorite subjects; and the eight- and eleven-year-olds still seem to need supervision. And I hang my head in despair because I can make an argument for everyohe needing more time from me than I have.
And before you know it -- I am looking at a proposed schedule and saying, "This could work -- as long as I figure out how to make a lunch on Wednesdays that takes zero time to set up, zero time to clean up, and that everyone will eat cheerfully without getting tired of it every week." And wondering why bilocation appears to have been reserved for the celibate saints.
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The whole line of thought leads to -- I should take the children outside more. I should read to the children more. I should read better stuff to them. I should have more prayer time in my day. I should celebrate the feasts of the liturgical year. I should make more of our lunches from scratch. I should make them have less screen time. I should micromanage their time less, get out of their way and let them be creative. I should structure the day more. Should I put them in the church choir and call that Fine Arts for the year? But choir practice effectively conflicts with Religious Ed. Maybe it can double count, they're singing hymns after all. Wait -- here is an extra half hour -- what should I use it for? Extra read alouds? Documentary-watching time? A nap?
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"I just can't figure out the best way to make all the time fit together," I said. "I cannot do it all this year and something has to give."
Mark said to me:
The half hours here, the half hours there -- it doesn't really matter all that much, Erin.
Yes, it's good to make it work in a way that feels right. It is good to be sure that you give some time to each of the children.
But the value of you doing what you do, day in and day out -- it isn't in the value of the tasks themselves. You don't have to choose just the right curriculum or divide up your time precisely perfectly to be doing this "right," or doing right by the kids, or by me.
It's having you here, with the kids, all together. It's your time enabling our family to live the kind of life we live. You, teaching the kids at home, lets us make schooling revolve around our family life, instead of our family life fitting in at the edges around someone else's priorities. It means that I can do my job, travel for business or work weird hours if that is what it takes, without juggling competing schedules. It means we can leave the country for a month in the fall and take the kids skiing in the off season. The greatest value of the work you do is just in you being here in the middle to hold it all together so that our family can be, before anything else, our family.
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I don't spend a lot of time worrying that I am not "qualified" to teach my own children, in the academic sense. I am gifted with a (perhaps overblown) self-confidence that there is nothing I am not capable of learning well enough to facilitate the basics. I have this constant optimism that once you have a good plan, all you have to do is carve out time, stick to it, and then you can succeed. I know that for subjects I am rustier at, there are good curricula out there that I can follow along with as my child learns. All that is really necessary, to be a qualified teacher of one's own children, is to love them, to desire their success, and -- in my opinion -- to appreciate the act of learning, to be willing to examine it, to have been a learner once (of any subject) and therefore to know how to encourage learning.
I do fret more than I should about whether I do enough of the right things or too much of the wrong things.
Mark reminded me: the important thing is not to have the right qualifications, nor to do All the Right Things, but to be the right person. Which is: mother to these children, fulfilling my vocation the way that Mark and I, together, formed our family to function. The days and the hours must be tended to, with prudence, but they don't have to consume me, because there is great freedom in how they might be spent well. There are, in fact, many right answers to this sliding-tiles puzzle that is "how shall I spend my time."
'Tis good to be here.