Interior days. Gray skies, crisp cold grass, damp weather. Made a soup and didn’t like it. It’s time I admitted I can really only eat beets with a vinaigrette. I have a spiral bound book of soup recipes my grandmother loved, I should have started with those recipes, rather than a random one from online. The trouble is, I get distracted: merrily cobbling a soup together without examining the recipe closely because I’m always thinking about the bread that will come with the soup: flaky buttermilk biscuits, crispy olive oil croutons, cornbread with honey.
So, didn’t like the soup. Composted it. I’ve found that one of the great joys of composting is flinging food that didn’t work out on to it, the best regift. I do see the genius of soups though; why my grandmother loved it for lunch and had it almost every day. Often times you get in four to six vegetables in one go. And it’s so elegant…somehow.
I continue to reflect on what ten years of parenting has meant, since we passed that turn around the sun this summer, in July. Where it has brought us. How we have changed. Especially: which roles have faded somewhat, and the new ones that have emerged. I’m working on a “ten thoughts for ten years,” but concrete descriptions of the whole thing elude me. They roll away from me like yarn in this case. Having everyone in the house all the time forces the roles of each parent-child stage to be more transparent. They watch how things go with one another. My parenting of one child seems strange to the other children, as it is not age-appropriate to them. I see one needing a project, a chore, and a walk. I see another needing an hour of working together over a paper. I see one tucked away, listening to an audiobook, happy just for a snack now and then. Sometimes the girls demand that they be treated equally in all things and it’s just so awkward. It doesn’t work.
One challenge of this stage is taking on the role of severe matron. Taking it all so seriously–watching for squabbles, registering the temperature of the moods, keeping tabs on the bottomless groceries, and laundry and clutter. I find myself correcting more than laughing.
Midst-reflection (as a result of?) I’m backing up all of my photos and videos. Ten years of parenting–it is far too much for any laptop to manage blithely. I prefer laptop actions to be lithe and swift; the photos are holding us back. So I’m putting them on a hard drive, plus uploading them to the cloud (amazon, all the clouds seemed shaped as amazon these days), and seeing them sorted under a different algorithm, with ones I haven’t seen in forever popping up. I can’t believe how few photographs and videos I took of our first baby. Evidently Rachael in 2011 could go days, weeks, without bothering to take a photo. Compared to the hundreds…it’s definitely escalated. I bought my first iphone when I was pregnant in 2010; actually, I had to leave the store mid-purchase because I was about to faint and I had not figured out how to manage the pregnant metabolism, aside from wondering if the At&t guy had an orange juice in the back. I did get the phone in the end, and the photos followed. I think we’re all better photographers than we were before instagram, we don’t give ourselves enough credit. Staring at screens and thousands of photos has payed off, a bit.
Though I am now playing nursemaid to them, shepherding them gently from one maternal cloud to another, I am grateful for the photographs and especially the videos, wow. The videos of a three-year-old talking to a one-year-old. A two-year-old telling me something, only translatable by my repeating it back on video. Of dancing. Walking. Laughing. Tense facial expressions while having their face painted. Passing time in an apartment on a dingy carpet that only a few of them remember now. Some of the value comes from the “this is how it was” feeling that I want to share with the kids when we watch these together. This is how it was–we just hung out a lot, and tried to eat and sleep on time, you were a little confusing, and I was never sure what you wanted.
In the super sweet and startling memoir Everything Sad is Untrue, Daniel Nayeri declares, “The patchwork story is the shame of the refugee.” He misses all the things his mom couldn’t bring with them when they fled Iran. He misses the end of a childhood reminisce, and the middle of a story his grandfather would tell. He misses the photos and the old bedsheets. He writes so clearly of this missing-heartache into his book, you can’t help but clutch your trove of complete memories with gratitude, to say nothing of fancy photo books or bobbling framed smiles.
Dear friends, a nonprofit that I follow closely was recently presented with a startling need: 1300 Syrian refugee families living in homes with no heat, no mattresses, no blankets.
A big part of my winter life in Vermont revolves around blankets. I spend every single evening tucking our two youngest girls under blankets–draping the blanket just over that invisible line across their shoulders, straightening the lines, running the tips of my fingers over the folds. We have plug-in heated blankets piled on couches, waiting for someone to snuggle under them. The girls have large bedspread blankets that they consider their favorites and often drag downstairs to setup the boundaries of a game, or their space for an afternoon. And then there is the three layer cake approach that I like to keep on our bed: a lightweight quilt, then a wool blanket layer, and then a fluffy down comforter layer on top.
This nonprofit, Partners Relief & Development, is one of those small-team, rapid-action, quick to the disaster operators. I always have the feeling that once my money is deposited with them it is immediately withdrawn to purchase a bag of food or give a reusable feminine hygiene kit to a woman anticipating her next period that very day.
By their estimate, $35 will buy enough blankets and mattresses for one family of five. And another $35 can buy a diesel heater to heat their space. The temperatures where these families are in Northern Syria is very similar to Vermont right now: 30s and 40s.
This photo was taken by my friend Ashleigh Coleman. I have an Advent meditation and series of photographs by her to share with you below. She and I want to direct energies toward getting these families supplies to keep them warm. The sooner, the warmer! To that end, Ashleigh will send a 5×5 print of this photograph^^ to anyone who donates to Partners Relief’s blankets campaign.
To receive a photograph in the mail, email a screenshot of your donation (you’ll receive an email receipt shortly after you donate) and include your mailing address to me at rachael.ringenberg(AT)gmail(DOT)com. Or, if you have a google account, upload a screenshot of your donation and share your mailing address with me right here. For the sake of matriarchal holiday sanity and to give the USPS any break we can, these prints will be mailed in January. If you don’t need a print, but would like to have your donation noted in our collective whole, you are still welcome to share your donation receipt with us.
And now, for Ashleigh’s mediation on Mississippi monarchs and Advent, accompanied by 17 images from her lockdown this spring:
This is not your typical advent reflection. This is not our typical year.
Anticipation and waiting mark this season. But every day since March has been a practice in waiting for answers, in anticipating life returning to normal. So maybe this is a traditional reflection, but instead of holly and lights, I’m meditating on raising Monarchs.
During March and lockdown, we began walking almost daily. It gave us a combination of burning off anxiety for me and freeing energy for the children. It also unexpectedly became a tether to hope. These encounters with the wonders of the natural world reminded me to holdfast to what I know is true and good.
One late afternoon, the sun low on the horizon, we saw a lone monarch lilting across the top of the meadow grasses. Having visited Rachael and Joe the previous summer and seeing their monarchs, I immediately looked more closely at what was growing.
Milkweed. And 100s of tiny monarch caterpillars munching, unaware of the global disruptions. Thus began seven weeks of raising monarchs from microscopic eggs to instars to velvety fat caterpillars to shockingly colored butterflies on their way north.
It had been years since I was so obsessed. Each morning brought a new note in my journal on the changes in these miraculous insects. I prowled the fields. I watched. I waited. I squealed with delight when a chrysalis would form and then again when a monarch would emerge fourteen days later.
Now I keep the chrysalis husks hanging in my dining room— an ebenezer of anticipation. Waiting. Wonder.
Ashleigh Coleman is a Mississippi based photographer, and mother of three. Most recently her work has been featured in A Yellow Rose Project (click that link, it’s an incredible project!) and she was recently named a 2020 Southern Arts Southern Prize & Fellowship recipient.
I asked Nikaela Peters and Ashleigh Coleman if they would share photos of Advent here in December. I meant it as a ropey, generous, large theme: photos that make you think of Advent. They graciously agreed, and today I have Nikaela’s to share with you. Quietly personal but effusively in-love is how I think of Nikaela’s photography. (There are a few by her husband Thom here too.) The photography she shares on her blog often feature great blessing shafts of light, but these Advent photos are different, basking instead in the darkness, semi-darkness, and glowing dim that this season is for most of us in the North.
She shared these photos and then I wrote some thoughts to go alongside them, below. Thank you Nikaela! and I hope you all enjoy.
September was a cartload of treasures pulled by steady mule over the hill of suddenly bone chilling nights–the flannels did not make it onto the beds until the end of the month, replacing terribly smelly summer sheets–and creaked slowly to rest in the sunny afternoons.
The yard became strewn with crimson leaves. A sewing machine was finally settled on a desk cut to size, threaded with red thread and ready for projects. Maple soft-serve at the state fair, and the last bouquets of a flower subscription. Properly sized boots and warm tights were ordered and arrived in boxes. Woe to the generation (’tis mine) that killed off the storefront shoe shop where one could have (once upon a time!) walked in with three children and walked out with three pairs of shoes that fit. My due punishment are boxes of wrongly sized, misunderstood pairs of shoes, return to sender.
Old sweaters and cozy layers were pulled out of the closet to be washed and handed-down. I emptied drawers of one-size-too-small wardrobes, tsked the abundance of it all, and tucked these back into the very same boxes to be passed down next season.
Esme turned six months old and in the blink of a midnight chime, I realized I was no longer carriage, only pumpkin, and needed to sleep train her for our sanity. She began eating mashed food of all sorts with gusto. I offered these foods to her as a perplexed dining companion, entirely caught off guard by her early interest.
Bright and shiny sunflower maze.
Once more to the pond.
Homeschooling began and was scary, and then delightful, and then ordinary and soothing. I made new homeschool friends at local events and we made conversation about expectations, and savoring the little things, as is our way. I started a newsletter to write about homeschooling in more detail, so as to avoid attaching too many ribbons to my blog’s (already fitful) kite. You can sign up for that newsletter in the little box on the righthand side of this blog.
It is monthly and there has only been one issue, so you can catch up quickly.
Out for a walk.
Presidential candidate Andrew Yang has suggested the idea of a monthly universal basic income. The banality of those words universal, basic, income cause it to drift rather quickly into a divisive debate that you might find yourself arguing–does $1000 really matter? Wouldn’t all costs just become $1000 more expensive? Would we find raccoons lining up to demand their $1000 and if so, what would we say to them? And so on.
But behind Andrew’s theory is this wonderfully complex double helix idea of unobserved labor and the labor that is now, or will soon be, in the hands of robots (he mentions retail, customer service, food prep, and transportation as soon to go). One strand of the idea is the headache of society, a word that strikes fear in every political heart: unemployment. The other strand is the unobserved, unpaid labor that we rely on: merry volunteer coordinators, reliable child-rearers, cheery bake sale makers, careful wikipedia-entry custodians.
There is a delicious savor to unobserved labor, it silkens and soothes society’s function, it is the very butter to our brownie mix. It is behind every Why do you do this? -Because I want to help. We see it, of course, but how often do we not see it? And how does the person behind the unseen feel, from time to time? That is the intriguing prompt buried in Andrew’s proposal.
And it was on my mind when I considered that of the thirty dinners hath September, I made 26 of them for our family of five. I say that not as a compliant, but rather an observation of something that was not noted on my calendar and may therefore go unreflected upon. We went out to eat three times, each was a spot I’d meant to bring the family all summer: pizza by the pond, fried clams by the river, and a fancy meal on the patio behind a hotel in town.
Hammering petals into fabric.
I confess I was not brave enough to eat my placenta but I did manage to get it home in a food-safe container and into my freezer–two big steps up from my last birth when I rolled my eyes at the midwife for suggesting I’d want to do anything with that thing. So I was delighted when my sister-in-law agreed to write about her brave entrance into the world of health-rumors and nutritional risky business. I love her medley of honest storytelling and humorous side eye at all the threads we find ourselves googling in this day and age.
Pregnancy: that time in life in which you surprise yourself again and again. The stories of strange, never-before-seen cravings and inexplicable emotions are over-told, but even still, as you watch yourself (your very normal self!) pass through each phase, it really does not fail to shock. But there are even stranger acts pregnancy invites us to than pizza rolls with peanut butter—anyone else google Evening Primrose Oil in the last trimester and stare open mouthed at the screen, reading that you can not only take it orally but also vaginally? Anyone else do it anyway?
I tend to veer on that side of things in general—I can’t resist a totally unresearched, totally natural, and allegedly miraculous supplement or an old wives’ tale that’s researched and “proven” wrong, but still sworn to be true. I’ve only been pregnant once, but the list of the things I tried during those months without (or even despite) conventional advice is pretty long:
- Megadosing vitamin c (8,000-12,000mg per day): for overall health and ~vitality~
- Blending raw frozen chicken livers into my smoothies: basically, it’s a multivitamin!
- Supplementing iodine: to make the baby smarter, of course
- Aforementioned evening primrose oil: two ways, to encourage labor
- Acupuncture during the last trimester: for “sending my energy downward”
- Collagen powder: to prevent stretch marks and perineal tearing
- Ketogenic diet: to prevent morning sickness, gestational diabetes, the afternoon slump
- Incredible amounts of very strong red raspberry leaf tea: for“toning” the cervix
- Eating raw fish, eating tons of fish: for baby’s brain
- Planned a home birth: for all the reasons people do that
Other things I reluctantly tried, but tried nonetheless: eating whole pints of ice cream with my husband just before bed, not exercising or moisturizing my skin a single time, getting out of bed in that way you’re not supposed to for the sake of preventing diastasis recti a hundred times every. single. night.
One strange pregnant-person thing that I knew I’d do from the beginning is also the one that many people tend to be most shocked by. In my second trimester, a friend of ours was over for a Bible study dinner and made a joke about how the wildest thing one might do is eat the placenta, like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie! There was such an expectation of communal, fellowship-building shock and horror in the joke; it filled me with such delight to say I absolutely planned to. In a different Bible study, years before, I got to know a pregnant person for the first time in my life. She glowed and glowed and then disappeared for a while, and when she reemerged she had a beautiful baby in tow. One night, less than a month before she delivered, she told us her OB had said it takes three years on average for a mother to restore the nutrients depleted during pregnancy. I’ve never found the research to back that up, but it’s always stuck with me. Sometime later, not in a Bible study, I heard about the practice of placental preservation. My first impression was that the idea of consuming the vessel by which your nutrients are transmitted and depleted seems kind of genius.
One way of categorizing the strange things I love to try is this: low risk, high reward. As of now, there are no known risks associated with consuming the placenta, when it’s properly preserved, and the list of potential benefits is impressive: Replenishing your stores of nutrients. Preventing or aiding postpartum depression. Encouraging faster healing post-birth. There are also claims about stem cell therapy, which I don’t know enough about to go into, but are extremely interesting and nothing but positive. For me, the nutrient repletion is enough. Sign me up.
People do it two ways— dehydration or freezing. There are specialists who dehydrate and encapsulate it for you, so you’re truly just taking an extra capsule every morning. The stem cell benefits are only kept intact if frozen, but for all other purposes, dehydration is absolutely fine. I once ran into my midwives’ birth assistant on the sidewalk. She was carrying a drab little lunchbox with a new mom’s placenta inside to go dehydrate. Actually, you can even dehydrate it yourself in the oven! Though then you either deal with using the powder somehow (think smoothies) or encapsulating it yourself, and that’s probably not the thing you’ll want to spend your time on in those early days.
I decided to freeze mine for the sake of simplicity: I didn’t have to hire anyone, and I didn’t have to bake anything. Homebirth made this infinitely easier for me, but as demonstrated by the lunchbox anecdote, it really can be done any which way as long as you keep it very clean. (By very clean I mean use a brand new zip-lock bag.) The most important thing is to develop a simple plan, to be fully executed by someone other than you. Talk to your healthcare provider about your plan, and designate a specific person to handle the passing of the placenta (from medical table to oven or freezer to your re-possession). Talk to your partner about your plan in case you forget to tell other people your plan. I totally forgot to do this—I had the general plan in mind but didn’t designate anyone or talk to my partner about specifics. So if I correctly recall, my muscles were still spasming from childbirth as I instructed my doula to chop and freeze it. She had never done it before, which I say to demonstrate how truly easy it is to do. My midwife stepped in to explain the process of washing it and wringing it out until it’s a “bubblegum pink color.” So she did that and then chopped it into pill-sized pieces and dropped them into an ice tray to freeze. After they froze, I put them into a zip-lock and back into the freezer. I swallowed 1-3 pieces every day, like a pill, until they were gone.
A final placental anecdote: My husband and I spent the first few years of our marriage living in Northern Ghana where he started an agricultural trading company. We had these massive windows on all sides of our living room, and I decided to start trying to grow some herbs. I had a shelf made by a local carpenter to fit the window that got the most light and gathered some seeds and soil. I spotted some pots along the roadside near our house that looked perfect and took a Ghanaian friend with me to buy them. The woman selling the pots didn’t speak much English, so I essentially mimed to communicate that I didn’t need the lids to the pots. She looked a little surprised. I told her I needed nine of them, and she looked absolutely shocked. The friend I’d brought with me often made jokes with strangers when we were out, so I didn’t think it odd that she was laughing hysterically along with an older woman standing nearby as I loaded the nine pots into the back of my car. As we drove away she just could not get herself together, and eventually she told me why: the pots I bought are made specifically for placentas. Traditionally, new fathers come to the birth site after the baby is delivered to gather the placenta into a single pot, with a lid, and bury it securely. This is rooted in the local religion, which is rooted in superstition, so really, I’m glad that all parties involved were able to laugh. The laughing only stopped when I told her about the plans for my own placenta—she was even more shocked than my Bible study friend who made the Brad Pitt joke. For whatever reason, my herbs never grew more than an inch.
Hannah’s inadvertent collection of placenta pots and cacti pictured in the opening and closing photos.
When I realized my friend Kate was three years into her bullet journaling habit, I couldn’t resist asking her to elucidate her method and approach for us. There’s something truly remarkable about mixing the daily practical schedules of a mother, a devoted school librarian, and an ambitious household manager alongside the grander schemes of a young woman’s mind and the interests of an omnivorous pop culturist. I loved getting this peek into the inner workings and I hope you do too.
by Kate Bowman-Johnson. Photos of Kate’s journals by Leah Hood.
Recently, in the middle of an intense counseling session, I found myself breaking out my planner: Exhibit A.
“This is what it’s like inside my head all the time,” I told my therapist. “There’s no rhyme or reason, half of it’s indecipherable, there are pages of incomplete tasks, and there is a lot of space devoted to bad television.”
She flipped through the journal slowly. “Okay,” she said, “but I also see illustrations by your kids. There’s some beautiful art in here. I see a lot of tasks crossed off. I see smart workarounds, sermon notes, and a list of what’s making you sad. It seems like this journal helps you manage your mental health in a productive way. I don’t look at it and see someone who’s failing.”
Well. A more on-the-nose introduction to this piece I could not have dreamed up. Fellow havers of mom-brain and assorted mood disorders: welcome to Bullet Journaling as Therapy. Less a fun tutorial, more a reflection on how a book and pencil saved my sanity – and just might save yours.
I started bullet journaling three years ago during a particularly busy season in my life. I had two young kids, I was a year into an exciting but whirlwind job, and I was actively fighting depression and anxiety. I kept forgetting important dates and dropping the ball. Post-it notes were stuck to every surface. I had three different Google Calendars, none of them synced. Sometimes I would write things in a Moleskine, then lose the Moleskine. It was bad.
I don’t remember exactly how, but I stumbled on a video about bullet journaling from the method’s creator. It immediately hooked me because of its simplicity, adaptability, and clear organization. I liked the balance between freedom and structure, two poles between which I’m constantly pulled. It seemed just the thing for someone like me, who’s equal parts fastidious and forgetful, creative and downright lazy.
So I grabbed a small notebook I already had on hand, watched some more videos, read some more tutorials, and set up my first bullet journal with only a Ticonderoga pencil in hand. (As an educator, I’m here to tell you that no other pencils need apply. Some things are worth the brand name.)
Three years in, bullet journaling is one of the few things in the universe that has not only lived up to the hype, but proved sustainable for me. It’s transformed my busy life and busy brain. It’s a way to self-soothe when I feel like things are falling apart around me; if I can capture them in the moment on paper, they’re not so daunting. They’re contained, yet accessible at all times. Mischief managed.
Since I began in 2016, much has been published about bullet journals and their Pinterest-ready cousins, dot journals. There are endless articles about how to set up your journal and embellish your journal and invest your fortune in stencils and washi tape. Such tutorials have been very useful to me (this one by Rachel Wilkerson Miller is the gold standard, if you want to familiarize yourself with the basic tenets, and I also like her book Dot Journaling: A Practical Guide), but the market is saturated. Instead, I hope to share a few guiding principles for people who are looking for more than just, as Rachael so aptly put it, a “relentless to-do list” – but may feel overwhelmed by getting started.
Flexibility is a feature, not a bug. Since you create a bullet journal by hand in a blank book, one page at a time, you can do literally whatever you want. Which is terrifying for someone like me. There is nothing I like more than following rules (Enneagram 6!), so I’ve had to push myself to bend and break them – but mercifully, journaling is built for that. For example, I used a weekly spread for months before I realized it was stressing me out and got rid of it. The world did not end; my process just got more efficient. Similarly, you’re not “supposed” to set up dailies ahead of time – but making a new spread once a week isn’t realistic for me. I make them all at the beginning of each month and I don’t feel bad about it, because it works. Meanwhile, all of my sections are interspersed with the weird art my kids make while waiting at the doctor, random lists, recipes, project-planning spreads, etc. There’s no BuJo police and they are not coming for you. Do you.
Keep the ‘gram at arm’s length. The internet is full of talented folks with gorgeous BuJo spreads and a lot of time on their hands. Their work is informative and inspiring, but take it with a grain of salt. Your bullet journal does not need reams of watercolor landscapes or brush lettering to work for you. Minimalist journaling is its own subculture, worth investigating if you get turned off by the fancy stuff. Personally, I check in on a few noted journalers once in a while if I’m feeling stagnant or need specific layout ideas. But by and large, I try to view those accounts as pure eye candy – not an indictment of how much I suck at planning and/or art. My own journals run the gamut from painstaking brush-lettering to hastily dashed grocery lists; it all depends on how much time and energy I have on hand.
Let accessories take a backseat. I know it’s tempting, because there’s so much cute stuff out there, and it’s so cheap on Amazon. As someone guilty of buying up hobby gear only to abandon it two weeks in, I forced myself to try bullet journaling for a whole month with only the resources I had on hand (journal, pencil). Then, once I had a better idea of how I was using it, I invested in a few simple tools: a small metal ruler, reusable page markers, and erasable pens. Years later, I’m the proud owner of some Tombow brush pens and layout stencils, but I usually default to a simple approach because it keeps the focus on the content.
Find a balance with digital tools. When I upgraded my phone, it had an unexpected effect on my journal. I found myself abandoning the habit trackers that make dot journals so pretty, but they had become superfluous now that I had apps. Clue hacks my cycle; YNAB tracks expenses; Noom covers nutrition and exercise – so those stay in the cloud. On the flip side, I still put TV shows I’m watching in my journal (I’ll explain why in a minute), and I also meal plan on paper. The only things I duplicate are calendar appointments – hand writing them sears them into my memory, but I also need those automated pings and dings from my phone – and my reading list, which I keep on in my journal as well as plug into GoodReads. Otherwise, the division of labor is pretty clear. Don’t make your journal work harder than it needs to just for the sake of looking impressive!
Write it all down. One of my favorite BuJo functions is that of a lazy diary. When we’re on vacation, I summarize each day’s highlights, as well as recording impressions from daily life as I feel the urge. Samuel Pepys I am not, but I do like having a record of what I was thinking or feeling at a particular moment. When my kids ask about an event (“when did I find that dead mouse in the bathroom?” was a fun one), I’m just as likely to flip through old bullet journals as I am to scroll through my Instagram feed to track it down. This is also why I write what I’m reading and watching and listening to – they’re snapshots not just of the media I consume, but landmarks in time. Nothing is too big or too small to diarize alongside your to-do list, because it all creates opportunities for reflection later on.
It’s okay to be aspirational. Listen. I’m sitting here telling you to be cool and not overdo it with your bullet journal, when I know full well this book sitting right next to me is slathered in washi tape and spreads designed by a professional artist and all kinds of pretentious shit. The old journals piled under it are filled with trackers I made with high hopes of developing life-changing habits… then abandoned. It’s all part of the process. A few years back, I hosted a lengthy bullet journal discussion thread on my Facebook page, in which several friends noted with envy my list of daily and weekly chores. I assured them that said chores were ambitions, not realities. I record lists like this so that I don’t waste time dithering around, wondering what to do and where to start, but so that I have something concrete to tackle when the opportunity arises. Indeed, a bullet journal can be as spare and minimal as you want – but if filling it with designs or itemizing your dreams in a spread brings you joy, go for it.
The takeaway here is that a bullet journal is not a magic, er, bullet. It will not effortlessly transform you into a totally organized, together person. Like most things, you get out of it what you put into it. If you’re looking for structure with a dash of free will, if you need a home for your fascinations and foibles and lists titled “Where Did I Hide That Thing From Myself,” bullet journaling is a good place to start. If nothing else, you can use it for show and tell at therapy.
Though we’ve never met in person, I consider Amelia a close internet friend, a longtime reader, and a woman of enormous wisdom and warmth that she can’t keep from effusing through her digital self. If I could convince her to write a weekly column for us, I would! But meanwhile, her presence on Instagram is a generous window into her humble, gracious approach to life and motherhood. In her essay shared with us here, I love the way the idealism of to-do meets elevation of memory.
It all begins with the right atmosphere. There should be a decent amount of time to think and write. A favorite pen is lovely, good posture allows for penmanship you can be proud of, and no children on your lap/on top of the table/trying to chew on your pen is ideal.
This doesn’t happen to me very often.
At this point in my life, I make lists in my head, in the quiet busyness of making beds and putting dishes away and in the pick-up line at school. I forget them all by bedtime. Still, somehow, even just thinking the lists, one by one, helps me. Like taking the messy pile of thoughts in my brain and clacking them on a desk till they form a tidy stack. I feel better, even if they eventually flutter out of my brain like leaves down the street.
When I do have time to write them down, I like to keep my lists in notebooks. By now I have enough of them to line a shelf in my living room. Though I’ve never been good at keeping a diary or organizing photo albums, I can crank out enough lists to fill a notebook in a matter of months, and flipping through those old notebooks provides the same kind of nostalgia as any diary could. Who needs journals full of thoughts and confessions when you can recall exactly how life was just by looking at a grocery list you made as a newlywed? One of my favorite notebooks holds all the lists I made as I transitioned to motherhood. One page has a list of last minute nursery tweaks, and the very next contains nothing but a column of feeding times, along with which side my newborn son fed from last. The handwriting is scrawled and crooked. The page itself is literally coffee stained. It is the most accurate time capsule.
I’ve been using list-making as a way to calm myself and sort my thoughts for years. I take it very seriously. Some lists are a comforting constant, and remain the same through the years: January lists are full of health goals and house projects and so much hope. Spring lists are all about garden plans and cleaning sprees. Summer lists are few and far between, and then August lists come with a vengeance and great detail. Parenting goals! Meal plans! School supplies! Vows to reinstate order after the wild days of summer. Then the cold, dark months come and the pages holding Christmas lists and Advent activities are decorated with stars, doodled to look as bright and twinkly as possible.
Some lists are new. For example, after six straight years of being pregnant and/or nursing a baby, I am suddenly not. So, in the spirit of my newfound freedom, I dared to make a short list of restaurants to try. Date night ideas! New territory.
Some lists are ever changing and growing. I have a To Read list, a Songs for a Good Cry list, a Things I Want My Husband to Build for Our House list. The Jobs I’d Maybe Like to Have One Day list feels exciting and scary, and my heart flutters when I add to it. I don’t know if I’ll ever create illustrations for children’s books or be a Home Economics teacher, but they’re on the list and I feel like that counts for something.
It’s easy to look through my notebooks and find the times in my life where I struggled. Almost two years ago my husband and I sold our house, moved to a small apartment with our children, and welcomed a new baby a few weeks later. The year that followed was the hardest of my life. My baby cried for months, I lived in an uninspiring place that did not feel like home, and I worried constantly that I wasn’t giving my children what they needed. I longed for a home, for some peace, for some sleep. I had no time for any sort of creative outlet, and all my emotions poured out into my lists. Oh, the detail of those lists! The order! The desperation. My handwriting was sharp and upright and eager, like if I wrote down what I wanted with enough gusto, maybe it would come. Those lists are hard to look back on.
There have been other moments of struggle where my lists lose order of every kind, and instead become long, flowing paragraphs of prayer. Prayers for myself and for loved ones. Prayers for health. Prayers for clarity and faith when I feel like I’ve lost my way. I love to look back on those lists, because they’re tangible evidence of prayers answered. Problems solved. Clearly, lists are a way I try to keep control of my life. But when I re-read these lists of pleading prayer, I’m assured I’m not really in control of any of it. Thankfully.
Over the weekend my daughter became very sick with a high fever. I accomplished nothing but the basics, fretting over temperature readings and trying to keep my hot baby comfortable. I did, however, manage to make one tiny list. It was actually more of a chart— two doses of amoxicillin for 10 days, Tylenol and ibuprofen, rotated, and the times administered. That small act of writing a list gave me a little bit of control when things felt out of my control. Some order when I was worried. A stacking of mental papers. She would be better, I knew. I wasn’t really in control of it anyway, thankfully.
But, of course, the list helped.
I’m writing from a sunny window spot looking out on sparkling fields of snow. After the snow fell over the weekend it was blown into pillowy drifts, and like clouds, they look like you could cushion yourself gently upon them for a sunny catnap. But they are composed of such light, dry snow particles that if you were to try, you would fall deep within their frozen burrows. It’s hard to imagine the ground ever emerging from such a generous sugary frosting.
It’s 2 pm, we’ve finished school for the day and I’m feeling content with all the work that was done, and also entirely weary of answering and asking questions. These things come together, in my experience. A memory of saying “And where is Damascus?” while one of the girls removed her nightgown and tied it around her shoulders like a cape, softly repeating my question as she gazed past the map and at the wall comes to mind. I want to be caught in my own mental energy for a while and maybe read the twitter feed of a food critic or possibly a new entry from a very bright and satisfied lifestyle blogger. The girls clearly feel the same way and are playing with marbles. I can hear them asking each other questions like, “Do you want Fuzzy’s name to be Sally?” and “Can we please go play with our dolls now?” Now the older two have agreed to a plan and rushed upstairs, and the youngest can at last chatter to herself with play uninterrupted.
It’s a little funny to answer questions about homeschooling when we’ve only been doing it for a few months. That, combined with our recent lifestyle change–living in a new state and new house–in essence, I’m radioing back trail updates from just a few steps down the path.
Homeschool is a strange adaption in an ever-changing world. It doesn’t make sense in any practical way to educate children separately from their peers. Certainly, it would far easier to have them all grouped together in a classroom watching the same lectern.
At yet there is always something appealing about it. The slow pace. The diversified interests. The magnified attention to the desires of the child’s heart and mind. The way the parent can walk the path alongside their child, instead of waving encouragingly from the sidelines.
It was a treat to read through all the questions I received on Instagram about homeschooling so far. I would like to write a longer post about how our day looks and what I’ve learned, but I thought these questions summed up their own sort of logic and I want to be sure to answer them clearly. It’s important to say I’m not trying to sell you on anything. Your reasons for this sounding like a good or bad idea are entirely up to you, your family, and perhaps most importantly: what your family needs this year.
If questions seemed to be in a similar vein, I grouped them together with a //.
Curious to know your “why.” We’ve homeschooled from the beginning and I love hearing what people’s vision is for homeschooling.
The decision came about at the same time that we were looking at changing our lifestyle–moving into a quieter part of the country and adapting Joe’s daily work to less traditional hours. We had a sudden strange craving for daily chores of a different sort–housekeeping, gardening, land management.
I think our biggest why was to reclaim the time and their childhood. We imagined we could give them hours of boredom and wandering. We hoped to see them comfortable in nature. We wanted them to be able to stay up late reading and sleep in beyond 7 am the next morning. We wanted them to play together for hours with elaborate imaginary games. We wanted them to have no idea that the things they were excited about were unique and different.
As parents, we wanted the luxury of planning long weekends and adventures for all three of the kids, without worrying we were disrupting class schedules or commitments.
I think when we signed up for formal schooling, we thought we could say yes to all of that, plus school, but eight hours is a long time to be away. You get your kid back and they’re worn out and tired. They can barely answer your questions about what they learned. And the year goes by–in a blink!
How has the transition been from public school to homeschooling? Our oldest is in public kindergarten, but homeschooling has been on my heart for some time now.
The transition is likely most disruptive for parents. It feels great not to hassle your kid about turning out the reading light because she doesn’t have to wake up at 6 am. It feels great to have breakfast together and do the dishes and tidy the living room together. It feels amazing to know what topics they are excited about and how to help them learn more about them.
But it can feel odd to not have the whole day regimented. It can feel like you’re not doing “enough” because you haven’t directed every moment of their mental energy. It can feel odd to find them gazing out the window in contemplation. It can feel like a personal attack when they don’t want to sit down and get work done together every single day.
I’d love to know how much time you spend on schoolwork, and what the girls think of it – especially Lux, since she went to a brick and mortar school for a bit.
We spend about three hours on schoolwork a day. There is some reading aloud and tons of (voluntary!) reading alone time in addition to that, but I like to be done with most of the group and individual work by lunchtime, if we begin around nine.
They seem to love it. If they were asking to do something else, we’d likely be doing it!
Lux was originally tempted into homeschool by observing the material her younger sister was learning through Classical Conversations when Lux was going to public school. We noticed she was very engaged in the material and often asked to study with Joan. On the mornings when she would ask to stay home, we would say she was welcome to homeschool next year if that was what she wanted. And she often said, “yes! That’s what I want.”
Lux remembers school very fondly and is nostalgic for aspects of it. Occasionally she will make remarks that reveal how loud and chaotic she found it, how the waiting and lining up was frustrating, how repetitive the reading material was and how that bored her. (These are things she either couldn’t articulate or simply never mentioned at the time.)
The things I remember are how little ownership she felt over any projects completed in class, how she was gone the whole day and couldn’t manage to get along with her sisters when she got home though I could see how badly she wanted to, and the general sense of edge-softening/dulling that seemed to happen to her unique curiosities and spirit.
I’d love to know what you’re using, what your days look like, and how you balance school with the little ones!!
We are using :
-Classical Conversations: “CC” A weekly group meet up with a memorized curriculum in seven subjects, science experiments, and fine art experiences.
-Sonlight Curriculum’s history & literature (about an hour of reading per day lined up for the entire year, 3-4 different books daily). This curriculum has a Christian emphasis but most of the titles are not specifically religious.
–Handwriting Without Tears cursive (love the style of these books!)
–Explode the Code phonics (Joan adores these)
-Life of Fred math & everyday math engagement with things like postage stamps and road signs
The newly three-year-old would be the first to tell you she does school. In fact at the doctor’s office when they asked her what was one of her favorite things to do, she said “phonics!”
But really, the morning school hours can be boring for her, and she has to learn to be as least disruptive during this time as she can. It is amazing/delightful to see how much of the material she will engage with. She’ll ask what a word I just read aloud means. She’ll attempt to and sometimes successfully memorize the same material as the girls (a two-year-old singing Latin declensions is unbelievably cute).
She has her own books, crayons, notepad, and letters that come out during this time. None of them catch her attention for long…which is totally normal for that age and I don’t get discouraged by it.
And after each morning session, I gush over how patient she was, and we get a stack of books and read them together, just she and I. Then too her sisters have hours of the day after lunch to play with her and include her in their games—what could be more amazing?
Are you still able to do CC in Vermont and if so how is it going? We started it with my 4 and 6-year-old when we moved to Florida.
Yes! For each house we looked at while house hunting, I used the zip code check to see what CC was in the area, and often reached out to the leader to talk and ask questions about the town and community.
It didn’t determine where we purchased a house, but I would have been surprised/concerned if there hadn’t been a community within 45 minutes.
I know so little about homeschooling, so I’d love to find out how you homeschool three different ages at once. // It interests me so much but I don’t know much about it. Would love the basics including how you handle 3 different ages.
The primary approach with the reading is one-room-schoolhouse style. I read books aloud that the seven-year-old could theoretically read aloud to herself (though she would avoid them because they appear boring) and that the five-year-old may understand most but not all of the material therein. Sonlight Curriculum makes this easy by shipping you a box of books for those ages and laying out the schedule for the year.
But one shouldn’t think they have to pay lots of money to do this kind of thing. There are lots of free programs laid out online and you could compose it with library books and used book purchases in advance. Ambleside Online is a good place to encounter this world.
For CC, the girls memorize the exact same material. The older child is likely grasping the geography of ancient Mesopotamia in a more concrete way than the younger child. And it’s a little easier for her. But they both work at the same thing.
Handwriting, phonics, and math are individualized to their exact level. It takes us about 15-30 minutes with each to do each subject.
Do you have any suggested reading for those who don’t homeschool but would like supplement with the classical model?
You might enjoy purchasing Classical Conversation’s CDs for the car. Begin with the history sentence songs and see what your children think. I guess they would likely eat it up, and ask you to play it again and again. The Story of the World is also a wonderful book & audiobook (there are four volumes) that can enrich any daily life with history.
Another way to experiment with the Classical Conversations material is to download their app for this year’s cycle C1 (I can’t recommend other cycles as I think they have not been updated). My girls love this on their iPads and they casually review, I’m not making this up, 12 weeks of material in one trip to Boston. Excellent ancient world geography graphics here too.
Geography is a big part of classical education, so I have one more app to recommend: National Giraffic. It’s tough but excellent and fun! I think ages six and above for this one.
I’d love to know more about how to pick a curriculum… And yes, also more about balancing homeschool with multiple ages (my kids are 7 and 3).
This is a tough one because it has so much to do with your preference for emphasis and your child’s interests. If you know anyone homeschooling, you can begin to ask around and learn that way. Check what CC group is in your area (see above for the zip code link), email them and ask to visit and observe a meeting for a day—what’s the harm? I had heard of Classical Conversations for at least a year before I checked it out, and I was originally not interested. Then because it was for my four-year-old, and I had little to lose, I decided to just try it. I wish that I had just looked into it earlier, instead of steering around it.
Sonlight Curriculum’s website and the catalog does a great job of reviewing lots of curriculums for math, handwriting, phonics etc. Click around their language arts section and just see what appeals to you. After that google the names, and you’ll likely find homeschool bloggers talking about why they like it.
I got to see Sonlight Curriculum’s reading style growing up because my mom did it with my little brothers, which is why it was familiar and appealed to me.
For me, her approach was more of an unschooling style, plus I couldn’t grasp reading until “late,” around nine-years-old. Once I could read I embarked on my own curriculum of reading everything I could get my hands on, for hours every day.
The vintage book I review here might be an interesting armchair read for you. It goes into how she organically found a curriculum of sorts and how it morphed over the years.
Do you plan on sending them to a traditional school when they’re older?
I think so. I’d be surprised if we were still homeschooling after middle school. Perhaps if an alternative path became tempting to them—like if one of them wanted to go to culinary school, live abroad, become an engineer, and wanted to complete high school on the side.
As a kid I was homeschooled, transitioned to high school, and though I feel like those years had a lot of wasted time sitting in classrooms, I also loved the sports, theater experience, and close friends that came out of that time.
Do you feel pulled in lots of different directions? I feel nutso helping my 11, 9, and 6 year olds with homework after school with the 3 yr old cruising around…in my head I multiply that painful 1.5 hour of the day to equal a day of homeschool ? my kids beg to homeschool (their cousins do, and so does our babysitter) but I’m also worried I’d let a lot of things slide under the guise of “relaxed” schooling or “unschooling” or “guided learning.” I guess my question is…how do you be the only adult in charge and stay that way?? ?
Keep in mind you are dealing with your kids after they’ve already had a totally exhausting day at school. Energy is low. Attention span is even lower. Interest level in the topics…probably all time lowest. Deep in their minds, they are processing all the social interactions and moments they had, whether to bring them up to you, what they meant, wait why did that happen, etc.
I’m reading things aloud that the girls say, “please keep reading!” when I’m done. They are proud of their memorization skills. I get to see them have the “aha!” moment with topics and work through them. Yes, it’s for sure distracting to them when the three-year-old interrupts every seven minutes with a random question.
Your older two would probably have quite a bit of solo work that they would be responsible to complete on their own (and could probably do in 15-20 minutes what would typically take a classroom “hour.”). The Unlikely Homeschool could be a good resource for you here—I’m not as sure about what the great curriculums are for those ages.
And you likely would have things that felt relaxed to you! Because as soon as a kid is interested in something (and they are able to read), they can often take it from there. That would feel easy, but in fact, you’d be watching as they took an interest and turned it into a passion, conquered it, and picked a new one.
Wondering how Lux is feeling about homeschooling after being in public school; and whether any of your daughters are extroverts, and if so, how you meet their need to gab & interact with lots of people all the time. (We’re thinking about homeschooling our kindergartener once the school year is over and these two issues are heavy on my mind!) // Do you feel like your children are getting enough “socialization” at home? Is that ever a worry for you? My husband and I are both introverts and I feel like our daughter is very extroverted, but I also feel like I was extroverted as a child, but a lot of school experiences made me more shy and introverted. I sometimes feel like I’m depriving her of socialization just because we would rather take a walk around the neighborhood as a family or go for a hike than spend the day with other families, even if she does seem perfectly content with these activities.
Yes, the oldest is an extrovert. That aspect of her is something I’m very sensitive to, and as a mom, I go a little out of my way to make sure she gets engagement. Whether it’s paying special attention to her request to take a class, a play date that takes some planning to make happen, potlucks, church Sunday school, willingly signing her up for sleepover camp, and just keeping tabs on how she’s doing.
In general, I don’t believe traditional school offers the unstructured social time extroverted children crave. I also don’t believe children need as much peer socialization as is often implied.
What’s working?! I feel like it changes a lot and sometimes my “philosophy” has to bend a little to make the day go smoothly.
What’s working for me right now is to strive not to take it for granted. Life feels brief, childhood feels even briefer. There are lots of moments that would feel easy to shrug at–giggling at Winnie-the-Pooh’s old fashioned language together, the girls reading to each other on the couch, cheerfully playing each other’s games with absurd rules, widening their eyes with curiosity at a new idea or topic, finding a new favorite aisle of the library to settle in for an hour.
These are in fact moments that are absolutely unique to a very short period of life.
all of the above and how you self care? really looking forward to this post ?
Once I decided that 3-4 hours was sufficient for what we wanted to accomplish each day, I became pretty clear that my on-call time was done after that. At lunch, I’ll say, “what will you guys do this afternoon?” If I’m reading or writing and they keep (joyfully, no doubt) coming up to me with various remarks, I’ll tell them it’s distracting and I want to be left alone for a while.
If I’m doing any kind of housekeeping, I try to make sure they are aware of what’s going on and are asked to help however they can.
When I first considered homeschooling, I had a secret theory that most moms doing it had a hack that was helping them. A husband with a flexible schedule. A mother-in-law down the street. A house cleaner. A babysitter for a few hours a day prepping dinner and playing card games. (I mention this survival theory in my review of this book.)
And for the most part, I’ve found this theory to be proven true. My hack is that Joe is now working from home. And though he disappears into his office for hours at a time, he is still an adult presence in the vicinity and this goes a long way. He can stop by when I’m prepping dinner and chat for a few minutes. He eats lunch with us and quizzes the girls about their morning. He can stay with a sleeping baby if I run out to do errands with the other two. These little things help a lot.
Admittedly, I’m not getting ninety minutes of silence every day. I’m not even getting sixty minutes of silence. It’s a phases of life thing. Cuddling kids on the couch and read books. Hear their creative story unfold as they quietly talk to their toys. Wake up slowly and make pancakes. Put my feet in front of the fire and say, “wow I did that today.” Feel totally normal sprawled on the library floor playing Candy Land with all the wrong rules. Spend an afternoon worrying over a random fever and questioning a nurse closely over the phone. I get those things.
Like so many aspects of motherhood, the decision to homeschool can immediately become burdened with guilt. It’s all on me and I’m not doing enough crop up frequently. Signing up for too much and feeling like a failure when you can’t pull it off. Giving up as a result. It’s very important to avoid this for one big reason: If you are providing consistency and respecting the level of interest your child is at, it’s very difficult to screw this up. Honestly. The child’s innate curiosity and drive will win out.
Thank you! Lots of love.
Of all the articles I read this year, I’m still reflecting on one from July written about Gwyneth Paltrow. The writer, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, was cleverly both infatuated with G.P. and entirely aware of the aura that GP projects and the success that perhaps naturally follows it. There was a slightest touch of snark as she examined the hype of everything goop and the millions in profits involved therein, yet it was sisterly and affectionate and comfortable to read—like a fashion profile.
She wasn’t going to have more kids. That she also knew. Her business, her age, which is 45 — not impossible, but still. She’d wanted a third. She told me that after she asked how many I had, and I told her I had two children as well, and it was wonderful, but I was sad I didn’t have a third.
She told me I should rethink it while I’m still young enough. “All I’m saying is it’s not nothing,” she said. “I really wanted another one.” I nodded solemnly. (Later, I cried.)
I don’t read the goop newsletter, though it is exactly the type of thing I would imagine myself reading because I do like lists and recommendations. But a little over a year ago when goop began marketing vitamin combo packages with names like high school genes and why am I so effing tired? it was hard to look away from the brilliance. As a veteran (and believer!) of many chiropractic and acupuncture offices, I am well aware that statements about, and the manufacturing of, vitamins and minerals are not monitored by the FDA. They can be made, dosed, and recommended on just about any level. The idea of ditching the bland white plastic bottles in the smelly health aisle, sexily repackaging them and associating them with a luminous celebrity is….ridiculously smart. The idea of marketing them to tired moms who are most likely very deficient in something, is also genius.
So she was on my radar but I hadn’t been following the goop wellness summits, and I was honestly stunned to read about how successful they’ve been. I loved the way the writer stepped into the GP culture and joined it, yet couldn’t help some relaying it back to us with bemusement and a goofy dose of skepticism:
There were stories that talked about bee-sting therapy (don’t try it; someone died from it this year) and ashwagandha and adaptogens and autoimmune diseases — an autoimmune disease at every corner, be it thyroid disease, arthritis or celiac disease; trust them, you have one.
But something deeper about American privileged society was unpacked in the article as well: the idea of self-care. Here is Brodesser-Akner summing it up so well; it stayed with me in the months after I read the article:
The minute the phrase “having it all” lost favor among women, wellness came in to pick up the pieces. It was a way to reorient ourselves — we were not in service to anyone else, and we were worthy subjects of our own care. It wasn’t about achieving; it was about putting ourselves at the top of a list that we hadn’t even previously been on. Wellness was maybe a result of too much having it all, too much pursuit, too many boxes that we’d seen our exhausted mothers fall into bed without checking off. Wellness arrived because it was gravely needed.
Before we knew it, the wellness point of view had invaded everything in our lives: Summer-solstice sales are wellness. Yoga in the park is wellness. Yoga at work is wellness. Yoga in Times Square is peak wellness. When people give you namaste hands and bow as a way of saying thank you. The organic produce section of Whole Foods. Whole Foods. Hemp. Oprah. CBD. “Body work.” Reiki. So is: SoulCycle, açaí, antioxidants, the phrase “mind-body,” meditation, the mindfulness jar my son brought home from school, kombucha, chai, juice bars, oat milk, almond milk, all the milks from substances that can’t technically be milked, clean anything. “Living your best life.” “Living your truth.” Crystals.
I was so struck by this encapsulation of the last twenty years because I’ve never pursued having it all. It didn’t appeal to me, and I felt immune, as woman and mother, to its call. But perhaps I felt immune because I was in fact susceptible to an entirely different call, one that I have actually worried over: was I caring for myself well enough? Should I be doing a better job of caring? Was it ok that I hadn’t been to a gym since the birth of my first child? Was it ok that I only went to a hair salon once a year? Was it ok that I liked coffee shops more than yoga studios? It felt ok, but was it really?
And in that odd way that happens after you’ve named something to yourself, I started noticing all the times people brought up self-care around me. As a recommendation. As a sales pitch. As a reflective summary of their weekend. Something they’d really been meaning to do. A goal for the month. It was constant. And where I’d been nodding along before, smiling in affirmation, now I began freezing the frame in my mind. Spinning it around to look at it. Why? Why were we all supporting each other in this self-spiral? Why were we acting like some sort of happiness was going to come from this—in many ways, just a new way to spend money?
Because we are sad. Because we are lonely. Because we feel unfinished and incomplete.
As a believer in Jesus and the promises of love and acceptance that He brought, it is my belief that the self is not a truth. The self does not contain peace or happiness deep within it, only to be revealed by pink quartz. In fact it contains loathing and despair. It contains deep dissatisfaction and loneliness. The joy and peace comes from outside of us, from the love that Christ offers us, we only need to accept it. As the profile finished, the writer’s jovial tone began to pace with a sadness. She shared her discouragement as a way to belie the exuberance written around GP and the summit. Even as I knew she was using her discouragement as a way to stay relatable to the reader (and the modern, disillusioned, no-truth times), I still wanted to hug her and say to her, to all of us, I guess: there is peace! There is joy! But it’s not in yourself.
A reader recently wrote me to ask about socialization when staying at home with a three or four year old. Such good questions here that we all tumble through. I thought I would share her email and my response.
I have been reading your blog for a long time now (do all of the emails you get from strangers begin this way? Probably.) Anyway, it’s true. Since before Joan was born!
I’m now lucky to have two girls of my own. 2.5yrs and 6 months, so we are still in the trenches of learning how to handle two kids. I’m writing because I’m considering pulling my 2.5 year old out of preschool next year. She has been going to the sweetest montessori program two days a week. It’s been good for her – and good for me to have some time with just the baby. Despite its benefits, T. is clearly exhausted by school. We will likely be moving before the next school year and the only Montessori program in our new town is 5 mornings. I’m not sure she can hack 5 days and I’m not sure I can do the get-to-school scramble 5 days in a row, especially bc Dad travels 5 days a week for work. Okay, enough about our predicament. I’m wondering how you handled socialization for your girls when they stayed with you at ages 3 and 4. Did you opt into specific programs? Hit the library story time circuit? Or just plan play dates? Do I need to join a gymnastics class or something?Another lurking question re schooling is: do you think the socialization is important for the kid? Or, mostly for mom? Having been home for almost three years, I fully know my needs for socialization and structure but I’m not sure my daughter’s mirror that. Because you’ve been on the other side of 3 years old twice now, I’m wondering: did you see this increased need for socialization? How did your child staying home blend with the choice of the majority of the families? I guess the bottom line is (and isn’t it always?): if I make this choice primarily for my sanity (not rushing to school 5 days a week), will my daughter be left wanting?
I completely relate to your question, and absolute affirm your suspicion that five mornings a week will be too much! The needs of staying home with a 3 or 4 year old is up to the child. The fact that you’re writing at all tells me that your oldest is probably quite social, i.e. if you haven’t made any movements towards going out she might ask, “What are we going to do this morning?” In this situation, which was the case with my eldest as well, I tried to plan things 2-3 mornings a week. Typically I planned these things a week in advance, or over the weekend. 2-3 mornings give you that every-other morning off to stay at home, which is important.
Regarding the concept of/concerns about of socialization as a whole: when Lux was entering kindergarten at age five her new teacher expressed concern that she would have trouble adapting to the school environment. Not because of anything the teacher had observed in her, but because it was assumed if you haven’t been adapting slowly over time, then it’s going to take awhile to fit in. But she adapted immediately, listening with delight to instruction and thriving in the structured environment–both a welcome change for her from home life! She had never had another adult as an instructor, so it was a novelty and she was intent on listening carefully. She’d never had the chance to observe peers for extended periods of time, so she came home and recited all the odd things other children did.
She returned to me in the afternoon exhausted (cranky, snippy), unaccustomed to mingling with her young sisters, and eager for individualized attention. (This compared to what we had before. Our life was outburst free before school-fatigue set in.) “That’s so crazy!” her teacher remarked when I commented on this, “She’s an absolute dream at school.”
Therein lies the great school conundrum. Group-think, traveling as a pack, chatting and running with a gang of children is really fun. But every day for eight hours, it is completely exhausting.
Joan attends a local Classical Conversation group that meets once a week (as they all do). (Find one here by typing in your zip code.) She loves her teacher, her presentation time, and adores her group of seven buddies, as well as her recess time with older kids. She is tired out by the end (1pm) and enjoys the rest of the week at home, asking about her class only one or two days before it begins again. Everything in moderation is the great boon of home life. Had I know about this program when Lux was four, I know that she would have loved it as well.
I remember being at the playground with Lux when she was four and a local day care would show up. She told me she was envious of all the kids running around together. I was sensitive to that longing, but I also don’t think she realized how joyfully she giggled and plotted with her little sister all day, the long uninterrupted moments she spent paging through books on my bed, the stories she quietly told herself as she drew for far longer than “art time” would have allowed.
In my extremely limited experience I have never observed a child who did better because of earlier adaption. Personally I follow research that suggests the more children are one-on-one with adults, the better they do in social settings with their peers. The more they are only with each other, the more unstructured (and natural to their age–selfishly) they behave. (One of the best books written on this idea is from 1989, Dorothy & Raymond Moore’s Better Late Than Early, but you can read some of their ideas in this article as well.)
However, I have seen children who parents are not comfortable with discipline of any kind. They are unwilling to say no to their child and do not follow through with any of their voiced threats/consequences. They are eager for the relief and enforcement of other adults in their child’s lives. In this circumstance, I completely understand that a school/structured environment would return a better behaved child to the home.
Moving to a new town and opting-out of preschool means you will have to be a little aggressive with grabbing folks’ phone number initially. And just shrugging it off when lots of people you meet either work or does not have their child with them in the morning. I promise that there are other people choosing their own adventure education-wise, but it might take some digging to find them. In a new town, an organized class is not a bad idea because you’d have that initial organized chance to meet other moms. However, I find most programmatic things (even library story times) do not offer a chance to get to know other moms. You end up spending the time interacting with/managing your child and their expectations rather than chatting. But a library story time was the place I first met several of my best local mom friends when Lux was little. That was because I aggressively chatted up two interesting women with babies the exact same age, then I suggested we go out for coffee afterwards, and finally one of them said we should trade numbers. We never went to the library together again, instead we met at each other’s houses for the next year.
Ideas of things I would plan, as you feel the need:
-The library on consistently the same morning, probably not the morning of story time (when it is often flooded with people). If I met anyone there, I would say “see you here next week?” or I would exchange numbers, and text the day before, “Planning on the library tomorrow, will you guys be making it out?”
-A standing playdate. These are fantastic because they don’t require planning ahead of time. Ideally you create a loop and host every 3-4 week, but trading off works too. Making coffee and muffins for friends or trying out a craft on a lark is much more fun than by yourself. My friend Noelle–who, it must be said, lives in California–met up at a park with a friend she met via Instagram. They called it Preschool Breakfast. She says…
We would meet once a week at a park (actually the coffee place next to the park first). We would both pack snacks for the kids to share, which they loooved and of course always wanted the other kid’s snack first. Azusa and I would talk about cooking. We would always ask the kids what they had for breakfast that morning, but they almost never remembered. They ended up at different schools now but we still hang out once a week!
-Babysitters: I have always felt best when I’ve had at least one three-hour babysitting session a week. Not for errands, but for adult consciousness things; anything restful and mindful. Reading magazine at the bookstore. Calling an old friend. Writing at the library. Sitting in my car on Pinterest. Take some of the money saved from preschool and put it toward this endeavor. I like coming back just before nap time/quiet time. Emphasize to the sitter that she is not entertaining them but is playing with them, following their lead, stepping back one they are happy enough by themselves. That way when you come home T. won’t act like she just got dropped off after a morning at the fairgrounds. When you hire this weekly sitter, make it clear you will need one or two tasks done during the time as well–all the dishes, tidying the office, vacuuming the living room. This is what you would ask of yourself, so it’s not too much to ask. But it is easiest asked upfront.
-Errand-Coffee-Walk In the words of 600sqfeetandababy, “My cup of coffee is one of the only things I do for myself each day and therefore I love to treat it very seriously.” (I can’t find where she said this, but I love this quote and have remembered as best I can.) If you have a weekly mom-scheduled jotted down, even something of the groceries-coffee-walk variety becomes a “thing” full of the rewards of accomplishment and fresh air.
Please feel free to respond to my admittedly extremely-limited experience with thoughts in the comments. I have some other emails I’m going to dig up and post here as well. If you have a question too, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. x