My oldest is seven, completing second grade equivalent work at home. This is our second year homeschooling, after one year of preK and then Kindergarten in a public school. We chose to homeschool when we moved to California (reasons which might be detailed later). It has proved to be a special kind of learning experience for all of us, one fraught with struggle and drama lately.
These times are made for prayer, and practicing love in a truly supernatural way. If not for prayer, deep breaths (in which I literally breathe all the way to my toes and back out again…counting to ten s-l-o-w-l-y so I don’t explode from sheer frustration and exasperation), and what has become nerves of steel, I would enroll the Passionate Princess in school, right now. Or yesterday, in fact. Oh, our days would be smoother, quieter, more predictable…until she came home from an exhausting 6+ hour day, with homework to complete. Then the battles would begin. I have heard it said recently that homeschooling magnifies problems that already exist, because parent and child are always together. It’s probably true.
Even in Kindergarten, as an above-average reader and good student (read: one quiet enough to not get into trouble, liked just enough to not be forgotten or lost in the “cracks” of the system), we struggled with homework. Assigned once a week, it was a dreaded time. She just loathes (if you were a fly on my wall, you would know this is no exaggeration) to write, do things she thinks are too easy, or put her mind to a task that seems hard. She writes beautifully. Her penmanship amazes family. She pens stories on her own time. Her creativity and grasp of language exceed her age. This is not a matter of ability. It is entirely a matter of applying herself and doing her best. (If you happen to be a wiser and more experienced mother than I, please feel free to gently share your gems of wisdom with me.)
I have found homeschooling to be a test of love. Patience, yes, but more love. If it were not for love, I would not be in this epic struggle to begin with. If it were not for love, I wouldn’t care about how patient I was or wasn’t. If it were not for love, I would give up. Surely, I sound like a clanging cymbal many days, but I am trying to grow in love just as much, even more, than I am trying to be an example of virtue to my sweet offspring.
Love is my driving force. You know what? Love hurts. It hurts like labor and childbirth hurt. Love hurts like dying on the cross. Now, I have no idea what Jesus’ death felt like, but I do know that I have to carry my cross each day. Picking up my cross every morning and trying to carry it joyfully, that is love. Last week, on Catholic radio, someone said, “If the greatest man who ever lived carried a cross, so should we, and we are blessed to carry one after his example” (or something very nearly like that). What wisdom there is in this!! Christ calls us to love, he calls us to pick up our crosses, he calls us to imitate him.
And I fail, miserably. But I keep getting up, under the weight of my cross, after I fall. I keep trying. That is what matters. That is what makes a difference in my children’s lives. It hurts.
Last week, it hurt. It hurt me, it hurt my oldest, it just hurt; which now brings me back to where I started: love and homeschooling. Last week began with Drama. Yes, Drama with a capital “D”. It was an event of magnitude, a cauldron of emotion was boiling over from within my oldest, stirred up by her writing assignment. Remember, she is an excellent writer, but hates it. This spewing of emotion was so great that the resulting consequences to clean up her spew-age HURT. I really dislike the “tough” side of discipline, but it has to be done to enforce boundaries. Last Monday was one of those days. Sent to her room after spewing anger all around, she continued to scream about it, upsetting her younger brothers. After she’d calmed to a dull simmer of emotion, I took her a notebook with an apology to write and Bible verse to copy. Suffice it to say, her anger continued to boil over. It wasn’t until Tuesday afternoon, around 1pm, that the apology was carefully finished and the unfinished work started again. She had to skip gymnastics for the week, having behaved poorly and not completed work. She missed on Thursday for the parish penance service. Yes, Love hurt last week.
But Love gave new life.
Oh, did we ever see a change. For the rest of the week, I held my breath, waiting for another outburst. Instead, my oldest surprised me (and delighted me) with raising the standard on herself. She did her work, without complaint, and neater than I’ve seen yet. She asked for more to learn. When Thursday evening rolled around and my 5yr old came down with a low-grade fever, my oldest was truly disappointed she might miss going to Confession. I dragged us all out so she wouldn’t miss it. (Lord, please give my youngest three extras graces for bearing their time quietly while waiting). By Friday afternoon, she was still joyfully completing her work, helping extra around the house, even waking early one day and cleaning the kitchen for me.
(If you are still with me by now, thank you.) I learn about love daily. I learned a lot last week, that sometimes, in loving and lovingly disciplining our children to be their best selves, sometimes the results are slow to appear. And sometimes, the fruits of our labor grow quickly. We can never tell, but we can always love, and wait patiently for God to do the rest.