Teaching with a Kate

After publishing the post “Teaching with a Betsie” (concerning the difficulties of homeschooling with a little stinker underfoot), my sister-in-law, Amy, reminded me of these pictures she took of HER stinker, Kate, when she was 1 1/2 years old…

In the first photo, she is standing on the dining room table, helping herself to chocolate donuts. In the second, she is standing on her sister’s school-desk helping herself to No. 2 pencils.

Same ornery expression as Betsie.

Same climbing skills.

Same pajamas. (We are firm believers in the art of the hand-me-down).

Unbelievable (and so stinkin’ cute!).

And I thought it would bring those of you who are in the same boat as me – attempting to teach older children while your youngest eats crayons and climbs onto tables – great encouragement to see little Kate now, 3 years old and well on her way to being an upstanding student in Amy’s homeschool.

These days are fleeting, are they not? Before we know it, the little one that runs us ragged will be sitting on a stool reading a book and coloring.

And so I think the best thing we can do is pray for grace, patience, and mostly, for eyes to see the humor and the beauty in life as it is today (and keep those cameras ready!). Because any way you slice it, a baby stuck in a basket of Little Golden Books is just funny…

even if she does interrupt your Home Academy and all thoughts of order and cleanliness for the unforeseeable future.

…and Schoolmarmee Burns

So yes, I cried the first night of homeschool when it hit me like a doorjamb (has anyone else ever run straight into a doorjamb? It hurts…) that my baby is a schoolboy now.

But that was nothing compared to the tears I shed on the 2nd day of homeschool, this time of a very different (and much darker) variety.

Sometimes it dawns upon a lady with an unsettling and depressing clarity that she has limitations that are in need of supernatural healing and strength, and sadder still, that she is undeniably selfish.

Schoolmarmee was met with such a dawning before we were halfway through our 2nd lesson on the first Friday of homeschool.

Gideon wasn’t so much being bad as he was being a normal and wiggly and self-absorbed little boy. The problem was (as is the norm) that I had set my expectations too high, and, during our week of preparing our homeschool sans children, I had conjured up blissful images of a Home Academy wherein my children sat on the edge of their seats, brows furrowed sometimes in concentration, sometimes in wonder, as a world of learning was opened up to them via my creative heart and eloquent tongue. There would be lots of laughter and order and tranquility and movie-quality moments, and my children would arise and call me blessed before we sat down to the extraordinary lunches I discovered on Pinterest (and then actually made).

But mostly, I expected that they would be grateful for all the hard work I had done and respectful of the amount of love and time I had poured into preparing our homeschool for them…

but I wanted a gratitude that 5- and 3- and 1-year olds don’t know how to express.

Unless they are characters in a book or on the big screen.

Needless to say, it didn’t take long for my high hopes to be violently dashed, and before I knew it, I was frustrated up to here with my students who wouldn’t know a good teacher if she was staring them in the face and who were absolutely undeserving of their tricked-out vintage homeschool room. (Not really. But that’s what I was thinking for a bit).

Don’t get me wrong – Gideon had plenty of fault in the matter, and was being as stubborn and mind-gamey as I was being unreasonable. And Rebekah and Betsie weren’t cooperating much, either…

but I am very ashamed at the way I lost my temper and yelled in anger at the human gifts God has entrusted to me.

I banished the lot to their nursery upstairs and called Mr. Gore on the landing of the staircase, crying.

“What’s wrong?!” he exclaimed, after the telltale silence on my end of the line.

“I don’t know if I can do this…” I sobbed.

“What?” he asked.

“I’m just not very good at this…” I whimpered.

“What?” he repeated.

“Oh…everything,” I wailed, “teaching…training…disciplining…being a Mom!!”

Because, worse than my disappointment that my life was not going to be a picture book, was the renewed awareness that I have a really hard time sometimes living for others. As excited as I was about our new routine and our new venture of home education, there was an underlying sense of dread that my days could not be spent doing what I wanted to do, that I was “chained down”, in a sense, to the decision we had made to homeschool for the next couple of decades, and worst of all, that the root of that morning’s frustration had more to do with my own sick and selfish heart than it had to do with the actions of my childish children.

Gideon occasionally peeked out the door to see if I was still crying, his eyes doleful. No matter what he has done, or how badly he has behaved, he hates to see his Mama cry. He slipped past me on the staircase and went downstairs as I continued to seek counsel from his Papa.

Mr. Gore is always good medicine, for he knows just how to encourage me while still giving me a good dose of tough love. He is always understanding, but never indulgent, and as he led me in truth, he helped me to remember that what I was doing was a praiseworthy and important thing…before reminding me gently that if we were going to choose this route for our children’s education, I must continue to work hard at living the gospel out for our kids and to mortify the sin that had been creeping into my life. (I had confessed to him earlier in the week that I had been sharp with the children more than ever before, and how much I hated it).

We hung up the phone and I sat there quietly sniffling, gathering myself, redirecting my focus, praying for forgiveness and grace…

I heard footsteps, and Gideon began to climb the stairs tentatively, a piece of paper in his hand.

“Here…” he said, shyly.

I took the paper in my hand and looked at it. It was a heart and it said “I love Mama”.

“I’m sorry I acted that way.” Gideon said.

“Gid…” I interrupted him, “I’m sorry. I should not have yelled at you like that.”

“But I was having a mean attitude,” he said. “That’s why you yelled at me.”

“Well…” I said, “We were both wrong. Do you forgive me?” I asked.

He nodded.

“I forgive you, too,” I said, “Our hearts are so broken, Gid. But God is going to keep fixing them and teaching us how to follow Him.”

We embraced, and sat there together, our hearts healing as we rocked back and forth.

So we had our movie moment, after all, even if it wasn’t quite what I had in mind. But we also discovered another facet of homeschool that I had yet to consider…the art of learning to live in harmony and to treat one another in the way that God commands, 24/7. And there on the staircase, I accepted the challenge of the lifestyle God has compelled us to live – the real one, not the one I had fabricated in my fluffy daydreams…

The breaks from each other will be few and far between. We will have ups and downs, peaks and valleys. We will have triumphs followed by miserable, miserable failures. We will be learning about the world and history and language together, but in the process, we will be on an intense journey of sanctification as a family unit. After our blissful week of preparation and our euphoric first day of school, reality had set in, and I’m glad. Because I think the best way for a Schoolmarmee to run her school well is to crash and burn right off the bat before swiftly handing the reigns back to the God who takes hearts of stone and turns them into hearts of flesh; I am confident that if our homeschool will turn out to be any kind of success, it will be by His grace and, for His glory alone. I pray that, more than book knowledge and cultural smarts and classical music appreciation, we will learn to love and to love well, beginning with one another.

And they say that home schooled children lack socialization and people skills…

On the contrary. I have a feeling that, by graduation day, we’ll be pros in the department of human relations.

Schoolmarmee Crashes…

Our first day of school was a breeze, but during all the planning and orchestrating, I forgot to mourn the fact that my baby boy is in Kindergarten…
until tonight. I just cried a river in my living room.

Mrs. Gore, Facebook, September 6th, 2012

~

I have to admit, our first day of school was somewhat idyllic, and for the better part of the day, I was floating on the good vibes that had surrounded our entire week of preparation and celebration, and was 100% pleased by how our morning had gone. And since we spent the rest of our day at my Mom and Dad’s house in the country, by the time we returned home late that night, our house was still spotless, ready to welcome us fluidly into Day 2 of our Home Academy adventure.

It was straight to bed for the children, and in a short amount of time, Mr. Gore and I had collapsed into our favorite chairs to watch another episode of “Parks and Recreation” (season 3). I should have been thrilled. The day had been lovely from start to finish, the house was as perfect as it had ever been, and all in all, things could not possibly have gone better during our homeschool debut…

but that’s when I realized I had zoned out and missed the first 3 minutes of our sitcom.

Why?

What was I thinking about?

What could possibly distract me from the 20 minutes of humor that I had been looking forward to all evening?…

My thoughts, by this point spiraling out of control.

Gideon.

Gideon is 5 now.

Gideon is in SCHOOL.

I am a teacher now.

I am the lone teacher, janitor, cook, nurse, and daycare provider in my house every morning for…

the rest of my life!!!!

Gideon is in SCHOOL. What happened to my little baby? How am I going to survive him growing up? Why is life so cruel?!…

“Wait!” I said loudly, “Pause it!”

“What? Huh?” Mr. Gore (dumbly) asked.

I put my hand over my face.

“I have no idea what’s going on.” I answered from behind my fingers.

“A cook-off. Remember? They’re having a cook-off.” he replied, gesturing to the TV.

“No. I have no idea what is going on…I haven’t seen one bit of this episode.” I said.

“But…” Mr. Gore hedged.

“Can you rewind it?” I asked, my hand still over my face. It felt safe in there, like I could hold it together if I just kept my hand over my face.

“What’s going on? I’m confused…” my husband asked, suspicion in his voice. He can always tell when I’m about to lose it.

“I just…I just…I just…” I tried to speak…

but it was too late, and the words blurted out in a rush, followed by a Lucy-ish wail, “GIDEON IS IN KINDERGARTEN!!!”

What followed was a 5 to 8 minute rush of tears and blubbering about the quick pace of life, finished up by a confessional wherein I owned up to all of my doubts and fears concerning homeschool, in general, and my capability and selfishness, in particular. Mr. Gore fetched me a tissue and did a decent job of keeping his smirk hidden, listening patiently until I got all of the hysterics out of my system.

It was not pretty, folks, but then, my tears are never really pretty. I hold them at bay until, like a dam bursting forth, they come crashing down and drown me and Mr. Gore in a pool of lament and misery and drama, and yes, a bit of humor; my husband has always called me a caricature of a real person, and we always find something to laugh about, even when I cry. Before too long, we were giggling and back to watching our TV show, although I may or may not have continued to drown my sorrows via the giant glass canister of Multi-grain Cheerio’s in my lap. I can’t remember for sure, but I might have been eating them by the handful (also not pretty).

The morale of this story is, like I mentioned earlier this week, Kindergarten is a rite of passage for youngsters in America – it’s a HUGE deal – and I think it requires a moment of mourning, whether you homeschool or not.

Sure, Gid the Kid went out the back door to leave for school and came in the front door to start school…

but he still went out the back door.

Our First Day: A Moment I’ll Never Forget

At 7:00 a.m. on September 6th, 2012, I woke up to my new schedule, butterflies in my stomach, lists of to-do’s racing through my head…

It was 2 hours until schooltime and I had a lot of juggling to do to pull off our first day of homeschool in the manner I had dreamed of for months and months.

How was I going to get everything done in an orderly fashion? We were used to just puttering through the day until naptime, doing a little of this, a little of that…

What in the world was I going to do with Baby Betsie? After months of eating every non-edible object in sight, she had started to become trustworthy again…only to learn how to climb. Nothing is safe from her reach now, and most of it still goes in her mouth after she scales the table to fetch it.

And, most importantly…when would I find time to blog? (answer: well past my bedtime).

But this was no time for second-guessing. We had much to accomplish, me and my Mister, and even if the day was kind to us and went by slowly, Gideon was too excited to be put off for long. With a 9:00 a.m. deadline, I bathed, I groomed, I drank my coffee, I read my Bible and prayed, I led the kids through their new schedule, I made the bed, I made breakfast, and, sending the children upstairs with Mr. Gore to tidy up their room, I put the last finishing touches to my wardrobe and to our schoolroom. Straightening the large round rug in the middle of the room with my toe, I looked at my domain, glistening and gleaming from the overhaul it had received earlier that week, the smell of crayons and chalk feeding my enthusiasm….

I took a deep breath.

It was time.

Throwing my heavy bathrobe over my clothes, I tightly cinched it with a sash and called for Mr. Gore and Gideon to come downstairs (while Miss Sunday was left to “baby-sit” Betsie in the Betsie-proofed nursery).

Gideon was all smiles as he came down the stairs – he had been waiting for this day as expectantly as I had. I fussed over him and told him to stand with Papa for a first-day-of-school picture…

And then I began to reveal the plan that I had envisioned over and over again in the past months…

“Okay, Gid! Go grab your backpack and put on some shoes.” I said.

“Where am I going?” he asked, confused.

“To school!” I answered.

“But I am at school!” he laughed.

“Nope…not yet,” I replied, my heart doing crazy hyper things in my chest. This was the moment I had been most looking forward to, more than the party, more than the schoolday, more than anything…

We went on to explain to Gideon that, after telling us goodbye, he needed to go out the back door, walk through the side yard, go to the front door and knock. Then he would be at school.

His expression was priceless, and I knew that we had hit the jackpot with this idea. The novelty and fun of this adventure resonated so deeply with our little 5-year old boy.

After gathering his things, he told his Papa goodbye, but before he turned to me, he said “Oh! I need an apple to give to my teacher!!”

This child is truly mine, for that was the final detail to our day that I had completely forgotten. A red, shiny apple lay drying next to the kitchen sink, forgotten in my excitement. Me and Gideon may have many faults, but we are very faithful to the roles we choose to play…

Apple in hand, he turned to me where I stood beside the backdoor, a vision in white terrycloth. I knelt down beside him, and, licking my finger, began to scrub at the remnants of cinnamon toast now stuck to his face…

I took his face in my hands, and memorized him, kissing him, hugging him, and telling him all the things Mamas of Kindergarteners get to tell their children: “I love you!” “Be a good boy for your teacher!” “I hope you have fun at school!”

He hugged me back, his smile of wonder now a permanent fixture on his face, and Mr. Gore and I waved at him as he began his solitary walk to his first day of school.

I shut the door, the old-fashioned shop bell we bought at Victorian Trading Co. jangling above me.

It was showtime.

I untied my robe and dropped it, revealing the “teacher” dress I had ironed the night before, an Anthropologie gem my Mom had bought for me last Spring with a little bumblebee print, topped with a black cotton cardigan. Slipping on my t-strap wedges, I ran on tipey-toes through the kitchen, letting down my hair as I ran. I couldn’t stop giggling and suspected that I was smiling like a 5-year old at Christmastime (yikes…I was right).

Mr. Gore and I followed Gideon’s progress by the office (schoolroom) windows, and within seconds, I saw his shadow pass by the living room window, followed by a little knock.

Mr. Gore got into position with the video camera, this time facing the front door rather than the back.

Smoothing my hair one last time, I crossed over the entry rug and opened the door. Gideon looked up at me, dazed, his smile somehow huger than it was when I had last seen him…

“How did you DO that?!” he asked in awe.

“I’m your teacher now!” I said, laughing. “Welcome to your new school.”

“But this is my home!” he laughed.

“Nope. This is school now…” I said, my smile matching his as I scrubbed his hair and touched his little face once more. I was dying to scoop him up and hug the living daylights out of him.

“This is for you!” he said, holding out his apple. Laughing, I accepted it, sealing this new phase of our relationship with the most timeless token of scholarly affection known to teachers.

We posed for a school picture, my student and me, our first of hopefully many. Whether the sheen of tears in my eyes is from laughter or sentimentality, I’m not sure…but probably both.

and with that, our Home Academy was finally in session.

I shared the following later that night on facebook:

Gid was hilarious today and somehow managed to be the class clown in a class of ONE. Public Schools…you should thank me for keeping this one at home.

But really, I’m the one who is thankful. I will admit that I have broken down into tears several times in the past week (tears of frustration and doubt this time rather than sentimentality or laughter), but if homeschooling provides memories of God’s grace like the one above, then I am positive…

we’re going to do just fine.

Library Adventures, No. 1 (newbies)

This homeschool blog is so exciting for me, because I am truly starting it at day 1. Lord willing, our entire experience will be catalogued here, and I thought, since Gideon and I have only been to the public library a total of TWO times in our life together, I would share our library “adventures” with you as they happen, should anything noteworthy or interesting take place. Luckily, I wrote about our first trip to the library at Mrs. Gore’s Diary back in September of 2011. I know I promised that I was finished with the copying and pasting from the archives, but…this is the last time, I promise. Then I can share Library Adventures No. 2 (a brand new post) with you next week! If anything, I hope these posts will inspire you to make the public library your home away from home, and an oft-used resource for your entire family to enjoy. Happy reading, book nerds!

~

Mother Hen Goes to the Library

It was an exciting day for me. So exciting that I somehow managed, for the first time, to get myself and my three children completely ready and out the door by 10:00. Everyone, including me, had everything we needed, all the way down to our sippy cups of milk, mine with a little coffee and sugar thrown in.

The drive to Grandmother’s house was fun, mostly because I was so proud of myself. I am at that stage now with the new baby where I feel like I am beginning to get back on top of things. At first it was simply managing to brush my teeth for the day, then I made that first meal, then I made a meal and did a load of laundry, and now…well, now I’m almost feeling like I can be counted on not only to keep us all alive and somewhat groomed, but to do so with a good portion of whimsy, served with a smile. Key word: almost.

But my excitement did not solely stem from this re-found freedom and sense of accomplishment. I was also excited because Gideon Gore and I had a date to one of my favorite places in the world, a place I have not visited in far too long…for the first time ever, I was escorting my son to the (dork alert!) public library.

It was a bit soul-stirring even considering this outing, for Gideon is getting to that age where he is beginning to experience phases of childhood that I well remember. Teething and learning to walk and use the potty are things that I obviously have absolutely no memory of, but learning to read and write…learning how to swim…making friends…these are things that I not only remember, I feel like they happened just yesterday.

Such is the case with my frequent library visits as a child. My Mom took me there quite often, and I can still smell that place, I can still feel my fingers running down those long rows of books, I can still hear the occasional high-heeled shoe shattering the utter silence of that giant building. My mind’s eye is as familiar with that library as it is my kindergarten classroom and my Granny’s kitchen.

However, today’s spontaneous outing had much more to do with quality time than it did literacy or revisiting Mama’s childhood memories, for it had become glaringly evident to me that my son and I needed to get away for a bit, just the two of us…

There are so many psychological excuses for human behavior, and for the most part, I try to ignore them and just biblically deal with whatever behaviors pop up in the best way I know how, focusing more on my children’s sin nature than on psychological cause and effect. Otherwise, doting mother that I am, I might always find an excuse or a justification for their bad behavior (“he didn’t get a good nap” or “she’s teething” or “he’s having trouble adjusting to his new big boy bed”). That said, I have noticed that, while they both absolutely adore their new sister, our newest addition to the family has perhaps resulted in my two eldest children going absolutely crazy.

There has not been one smidgen of ill will toward Baby Betsie (except for Rebekah telling everyone who holds her that they “can keep her”), but perhaps the changes that have resulted from her arrival have just thrown them off a bit. Which means that if I sit down to hold Betsie, I will soon have Gideon at one elbow and Rebekah at another, their foreheads somehow touching somewhere over the top of Betsie’s head in a billy goat-like showdown for who gets the prime baby-viewing position. We are a walking human puzzle, the four of us, and unfortunately two of our pieces have not been getting along as well as they did before I had Betsie. There have been lots of scoldings, lots of discipline, lots of correction, and in the meantime, I think Gideon became discouraged. My heart just knew by the end of last week that it was time to spend a few hours alone with my firstborn to try to get us back onto solid and familiar ground.

Genius idea.

The minute we loaded back up into the van after dropping his sisters off at Grandmother’s house, all of the angst and the unsurity seemed to melt away and my son and me were immediately back to normal. I could feel it, and I think he could too.

“Gideon,” I said, catching his beautiful eyes in the rearview mirror. “I’m really, really proud of you.”

He nearly gasped. “Why?” he asked.

“Well…you’re a really good big brother…” (he smiled, like, “I know”) “and you’re funny, and smart and you’re turning into a really nice guy.” I said. Which is true. As big as his temper can still be, his tenderness is even bigger, and he blesses the entire family with his genuine concern and kindness. His love runs deep.

“Yeah…” he answered. “Being nice is called fresh (I don’t know what he was talking about there…I didn’t interrupt him, though). But being mean is called…a sin. God says so.”

We went on to discuss God and Jesus and sin and kindness and meanness, and then we began to play our favorite game, “the animal game” where we take turns describing an animal until the other person can guess what it is. Nothing new, nothing extraordinary, but my heart began to swell, filling the entire minivan with those feelings I have had for my young cub since day one. And the best part was, I had the leisure time to revel in those feelings a bit. Betsie would not need to be fed for 3 hours, I had no other errands to run, and no one else to share my attention with. Just me and Gideon, Gideon and me.

We soon arrived at the library, and walking hand-in-hand toward the door, I began to explain the rules: 1. No talking loudly – we must whisper just like we are in church. 2. No horseplay (I love the word “horseplay” and use it as often as possible). 3. Look at one book at a time and return it to its proper place on the shelf. 4. You may choose three books to take home with you. 5. And then that universal rule, whether we are at the library or at home or at Smashburger, don’t pee your pants. Simple as that. After a few speculative questions from Gideon about why we must adhere to these so-called rules, he agreed to the terms and we entered into the library.

Whispers. The tap-tap-tapping of computer keys. Quiet movements from all over the room…a man sitting in an armchair looking at a Farmer’s Almanac, a young mother checking her facebook account while her children played almost noiselessly at her feet, a little boy scooting across the children’s book section on his knees…and two librarians looking expectantly at the “new kids” who had just entered into their quiet realm. I had never been to this particular library before, but it was like coming home.

As I discussed the terms of membership at the front desk with a kind and elderly librarian, Gideon found something to tinker with at my feet. I heard a thump and looked down to see that a large circular “hours” sign that was attached by Velcro to the front desk had fallen down as a result of that tinkering. His eyes, unaware that I was observing him, were huge as he scurried to put it back into place. When it successfully stuck on the first try, he quickly distanced himself from the entire situation, a sigh of relief evident on his face, and I inwardly chuckled. Yes, I completely remember situations like that.

When the nice lady helping us leaned across the desk to ask if he would like to have his very own library card with his name on it, he nodded solemnly, reigned-in excitement lighting up his eyes. I covered my mouth with my hand. I remember the joy of my first library card, too…

And then we went to look at books. With exactly forty minutes to spare before we had to return home, I ambled over to the “B’s” and started looking for some Berenstain Bears titles, just like I always did when I was a child. Their collection was small, but I found a few books to show to Gideon, knowing he would be excited to see some familiar characters in stories he had not yet read. However, he had apparently discovered the non-fiction/reference section in my short absence and had already chosen his three books to take home, including a lengthy book on inventions, a book called “Houses” that was about…houses, and, my personal favorite, a book with a monkey on the cover that was simply titled “What is a Primate?”

“Ummmm…Gid?” I said, gently. “These books look great, but don’t you want to look around a bit first? Before you choose?”

“I love these books.” he said, clutching them to his chest.

“Well…look at the pages. There are hardly any pictures…and they’re really long. See all those words? Are you sure these are the books you want?”

“Well…okay.” he said, and sifting through his selections, finally conceded on returning the books on inventions and houses; however, when it came to “What is a Primate?” he wasn’t budging. I added it to the best of the Berenstain titles and determined that his Papa could read that one to him.

After perusing the aisle for a bit longer, I told Gideon he could choose a few books for us to read right there on the spot. “Really?” he asked, looking left and right to determine if we were breaking some sort of rule. “Sure! We have all kinds of time.” I replied. And so there we sat on the floor, my beloved son in my lap as I whispered story after story in his ear. He loved it. I loved it. And the librarians must have loved it, too, for everytime I glanced up, they were smiling in our direction. Fellow dorks, I guess.

Right on time (40 library minutes for a 4-year old = perfect), our time there drew to a close, and my heart was so happy. Not only was I relaxed in a way that I hadn’t been for weeks, I was so thrilled that Gideon, another step closer to boyhood, followed all of the rules. Well, all but rule #4…we did leave the library with four books…and an animated movie about George Washington.

As we emerged from the library, our small pile of borrowed treasures accompanying us, we were smarter, we were more experienced, and we were more accomplished than we had been before we entered. But best of all, we were closer to one another. With my permission, we both gave a few hoops and hollers to celebrate our near hour of silence, and then drove straightaway to the McDonald’s drive-thru to seal our good day with a carbonated drink, a Dr. Pepper for Mama, and a “Root Deer” for Gideon. Fun had been had, and our world felt right and sure once more.

It doesn’t take much, you know, to heal the wounds of your little chicks…just a little “something”…and the countenance that was cloudy will shine once more.

And Mother Hen heaved a great and happy sigh of relief…