Coping with One Parent Down…

It happens to people. We've supported friends or family when it happened to them. Right now this is our story and we are in the 4th week of a 'new normal' that will go on for another month, minimum. Thankfully this situation for us should come to an end after my husband has recovered from back surgery. Although this is a very difficult time for us and distressing for us both and for our children, the end is in sight now surgery has happened.

So changes had to be made immediately our crisis started. Somehow I needed to design our new normal. Here are my suggestions and plans to surviving a time like this. I would love to read about others' plans to get through these times – especially large homeschooling families! School adds a whole extra dimension – and actually a welcome one – but school was the first thing that needed tweaking to give us a head start on survival.

Immediate action.

Calling an ambulance late one Sunday afternoon came on a day that found our house in post-moving chaos – and after a day of baking, kids playing, and a busy week of more of the same.

Immediate action for me was:

  • Give all the children jobs
  • Packing a bag in case we all ended up at the Emergency Room for hours
  • Tidying up things that weren't supposed to be all over the floor
  • Getting everyone's shoes on
  • Getting coats ready
  • Waiting outside for the ambulance
  • Checking on our casualty
  • Lining up a friend to come over and look after the children indefinitely, including dinner and bedtime, so that I could go to the hospital

This all worked well. The kids responded well in the crisis and part of the reason for this is that they all take part in running our family team. They could follow instructions without being told how to do what they needed to do. We don't require 'immediate obedience' in the way it is taught by some. But they knew this was a time for "Yes Mummy!!".

Emergency over, and realising this situation was not going to change without much medical help including diagnosis and treatment decisions, I knew I could not handle the family running the way it normally does. Normally there are 2 parents on board. Even in shifts. At this point, there's no sign of my husband being able to do anything except keep the children company reading, or watching documentaries / TV / films (which of course can easily count as part of our school curriculum if we choose the right content.

Plan a New Normal.

Nothing can work quite the way it normally does in our family at the moment.

Even though it was officially a term break, after the initial few days of chaos and grief over plans and health changing, we decided school was back in. Our maths program virtually runs itself as there's a big online component. The children have log ins that remember their work, they are working through topics and lessons and need only occasional help. Good. More please.

More online work had already brought with it the realisation that we no longer have enough screens for our growing up family to 'do school' at the same time without creativity, turn taking and management. No thanks. Engage emergency fund. We ordered 3 more iPads, refurbished from the Apple Store, and although we had to wait a few days longer for the privilege of refurbished goods, the price made it worth it. School is back in, easy to do, and (whispers) more children can have ipad play time at the same time. Which I am afraid right now is happening more than it does in my ideal intentional lifestyle.

With school back in fashion daily, including weekends if we want to, the children have more routine and it's giving them some familiarity in a new-to-all-of-us situation.

New habits
I have inevitably had to embrace new habits, or be better at practising old ones.

Craft and pretend play
I had been delighted that the children were proving all those people right who say children need to be left alone to be bored. THere had been more 'hands off' time from engaging with the children while I got the increasing amount of housework done. Lovely that the girls were dressing up and the boys were crafting… and then the girls were crafting while they dressed up… but the mess greeting me at bedtime in their room, and in the dining room every mealtime was overwhelming at a point I was already exhausted.

We now have a 'crafting hour' between 2-3 that they can do if they want to. Not ok at other times because we can't clean up continually all day. Dress ups also reduced. Sadly I can't leave the girls playing for ages in their room either, no matter how happy they are. Because it's a full scale family working bee at bedtime otherwise.

So now I have to schedule creativity. 😦

15 minute working bees
It's exhausting making kids do jobs all the time. NOrmally I don't have to make them. Normally our family know exactly what's happening and what needs to be done and we all just get on with it. Kids dont mind helping. Right now the jobs are essential not desirable – and the kids can't take the pressure. So I came up with the idea of regular 15 minute working bees. We all do jobs for 15 mins together, smash through the things that need to be done to get the kitchen or downstairs ready for the day, ready for tomorrow or bedrooms ready for bedtime. No-one minds giving up 15 mins and working together.

Shiny Sink (otherwise known as Kitchen Zero)
We have long since known (and reminded ourselves the hard way) that if a baby is expected any day, or if there's a nasty bug going through the house, that it is essential to go to bed with a perfect kitchen. You never know what is going to happen in the night or tomorrow.

Right now my sanity and ability to keep food going is coming from totally clearing up, loading dishwasher, and washing remaining dishes – every mealtime. Crazy. Sounds obsessive. We are finding it life giving. It makes me (and everyone else involved in kitchen duties) much more productive. More food can happen. Feeding kids really helps things. Feeding them more often helps even more.

Time together
Cup filling. Everyone's emotional cup has got a leak in it at the moment. I need to spend more time intentionally with all of my children, individually and in different little groups, as well as all together. We all need time as a family at formative points in the day. We have begun really enjoying morning prayer and devotion time together and our evening devotion has become more ordered as well, with the use of liturgy to help us frame our time, as well as leading us into informal prayer and sharing.

Help from friends
Friends have offered meals as well as other creative ideas. I've used friends' help when I needed someone to stay with my husband because of the side effects of medicine and/ or danger of accidents – so that I could honour commitments with the children or take them out somewhere for a break. I've had a friend do laundry for me, and another drop off some school books to loan. Another organised my pantry (I asked her to help me with a Tupperware pantry demo after moving house) and yet another helped me organise my kitchen cupboards. Many post moving jobs have not happened and with me simply struggling to survive each day – I can't take on the extra organising and tidying tasks that come after moving.

Food from friends has greatly facilitated me getting all of the other things in order (enough to survive, not how I actually want it to remain) and also to spend time with our children to help them process their feelings / let their hair down. Not to mention deal with the crazy number of medical appointments we've had and continue to have in the diary.

Self care
I have paid attention to when I need to stop, spend some time doing something for myself, and am being intentional about who I spend time with. I'm sending emails to a group so that I don't have a large number of individual updates or phone calls to deal with. I'm choosing whether to make commitments depending on how it fits with my own energy levels, and I'm making selfish choices. Some friendships are not as life giving as others. I can't hold other people up and I can't make arrangements the children will rely on, but will be at risk of cancellation with great disappointment. The kids are sad enough. This happened one weekend with disastrous consequences. Lesson learned. We need concrete people and concrete plans to rely on as much as possible right now.

What we discover about our friends, at times like this, is very interesting. Turning that in on itself – its also been a time to reflect on how we respond in friendship to others when they are in hard times. Storing up insight that cannot be gained any other way.

More about friendship another day, I think.

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Even at church.

We ‘do school’ even at church. Sort of. This morning 3 of my home grown readers, Masters 10, 12 and 14 did a lovely job of the readings and held their own with not only school aged kids but also many adult readers. It’s just a shame I have to write this letter. Here safely on the blog where it will be lost in the ether but no longer running around my head.  🙂

Dear Teacher

(First point : I know you’re not my children’s teacher. True story! Read that again slowly… you’re….. not……………)

Last week when you asked my children what they had been learning about in school I was a little surprised about the directness of your questions putting them through their paces while I got myself a coffee. We’d had a pretty good week and I didn’t mind them telling you about it. They are happy talking to adults about their interests and passions so they didn’t mind. 

This week I turned my back for 5 minutes and you did it again. The service was about to start, you had duties during the service but you made a beeline for them to ask the same questions again. You also mis-remembered the study they told you about last week. I assume you know the difference between solar system and ocean currents. That part confused them a bit.  🙂

I am good at asserting positive intent but here’s the thing. 

We have been in this congregation for six months, a set placement. We met you right at the start. You haven’t spoken to the children (or me) since then. Until last week. It’s a little late to take an interest. You have seen their contributions, you have seen the congregation blessed by my husband’s ministry. You know we can only be here BECAUSE we homeschool. You have to take the rough with the smooth. 

In six months not a week has gone by without at least one or two people complimenting our children, or us, their parents, on our children’s learning, behaviour, friendliness and participation in church life. Today was no exception. At a point many are expressing their gratitude for our presence in the congregation for six months and sharing in our journey – you haven’t said a word to either of us but have questioned our children about their studies?

For those people (yes, many are teachers!) who have asked us more about what we do, or how we teach six children of different ages at the same time – we have had some really great discussions and have been only too happy to talk about how our lifestyle works for us – and our family’s mission. For those who have talked to our children over dinner (rather than sit the children ‘over there on the children’s table’ as happened at your home 6 months ago) conversation has been edifying, interesting and also I think surprising. 

As for how this week went? 

I think many parents are relieved to simply arrive in one piece at church on Sunday mornings. If you ask me on Sunday morning what I did this weekend, let alone what I taught the children this week, I might be blank for a few minutes while I try to remember. I’m at church to worship, ‘in the Moment’, fully present concentrating on the fellowship and people I connect with. I haven’t revised my diary so that I can tell you exactly what we did this week. I think the kids might be similar!

It took me an hour after we got home, and I reflected on all of this, to even remember we had a family funeral at the beginning of the week. A pretty major event but a lot has happened since then! Sick kids, bingeing on new maths curriculum (not related), map work, science, written work and even a forest outing. You would probably call that socialisation. We call it doing life outside with friends, occasionally. Took me a while this morning to even remember the forest thing.

 A lot of what we do the kids don’t recognise as school. So I doubt you would either. Not to mention inventions that you would probably prefer we called STEM and forced the kids to journal to prove what they learned. Instead they may present on them to a group we attend fortnightly.  I’m happier calling it an ‘Oral  presentations group’ when talking about it to those questioning us about ‘school’. But actually it’s just called ‘Show and Tell’.

My quietest moment this week was the morning all the big kids did maths for 2 hours straight, then gradually asked if it was ok to stop.

The best example I’ve set my kids this week was working hard, for free, on legal papers for a friend, till all hours. I fitted in an 18 hour working week on that in my own time. Using my gifts and talents, missing sleep and STILL getting on happily with the business of running my family, supporting my husband’s ministry, organising and managing our finances, ‘doing school’ and preparing the readers for this morning’s service.

I’m happy with how things look from this end. We are doing the best we can for our children, serving God, putting him first as a family, and preparing for our family’s future ministry as well as our children’s future careers and lives. You might have had a better conversation with my kids if you asked them about how they are going with that stuff.

Sometimes I am concerned about the social skills of some of the people responsible for the shaping of other people’s children. 

I will happily share how our family learns together. With those who are truly interested. I’m not interested in the ‘backward maths’ of those who are asking questions to prove their own, badly thought out, hypothesis. 

Thank the Lord we are not all the same – and perhaps ask more openly about the decisions other people make. You might learn something.

I hope that helps. 

Yours sincerely 

Home educating parent trying to do their best.

One thing to change a day…

This morning I woke from a broken night with interruptions from 2 children needing help or comfort, and a headache that has not gone away all day.

I did my usual phone check breaking all the rules about checking technology first thing. And not sleeping with it next to one’s bed. I DO put it on aeroplane mode all night but still use it as a clock.

Reading this one thing changed my day. Reminded me of the intention I try to live with daily – but on days like today it’s easy to lose. To drift – and to be the exact opposite of the way I want to be.

All of our choices of having less to live more – can still make way for over use of devices, and different distractions. The circumstances of my morning – with a visit from the owner of our current (new, temporary, and very lovely) home – meant that we had a lot of jobs and needed to keep the place tidy while I cleaned a few extra things. Wasn’t looking good.

Then this:

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A reminder of one of my favourite goals. To prioritise relationship and connection, to put people before things, and commitments. And today – put my children before my coping mechanisms – coffee, screens, hiding away and letting them do projects and play without much effort or connection from me. Honesty alert.

So: with Matthew going out early, leaving me with the breakfast shift as well as the clean up operation – I took the opportunity to embrace the day, get decisively out of bed without the second cup of coffee and be a presence as well as present.

I was intentional about sharing with my children the joy they bring to me  and how much of a gift from God they are. I let them know by connection, that I’ve “got this” and today they have ME in it even though I didn’t feel good. They have had a brilliant day (so have I), we enjoyed good simple food and then a surprise gift from God at lunch time in the form of anonymous generosity from a church member. Right where I’ve decided we shouldn’t buy 2 tins of beans to make lunch ‘easy’ and instead made a healthy family favourite that all enjoyed so much they got spoons to scrape the last drops of cauliflower sauce from their dishes.

I have allowed myself to be interrupted, even now, just before this sentence was written. That was an easy one. Helping miss 7 with a word. But an hour ago I put down a book I had just sat down to read for some quiet time by myself… and on hearing miss 3’s story of the sadness of giving away some cake she now regretted… suggested we made cocoa-zucchini muffins together. Invited Mr 11 and the 2 of them under my guidance just made an impromptu dessert for a day where it appears,  we are eating cake twice.

I chose to fill their cups and I chose joy in the moment. I know that today would have played out very differently if I hadn’t.

Even more space: full house tour

So it’s a long time since I wrote anything. There are many reasons for that, mostly busyness, priorities, and surviving a year with a health scare in it.

These pictures have been waiting to happen so now I am doing the full house tour.

This is our kitchen. And dining room. And school space. It’s the lightest place in the house after we replaced dark worn out furniture with the lightest and brightest we could find. And afford.

Next the living room. Probably the least favourite room in the house but we have done the best we can with it.


Our bedroom is on the first floor but before I get there, here’s the laundry I have to work with:


And linen for a family of 8:


Not beautiful but not out of control. 

Our room and the girls’ rooms are on the first floor.


Sadly I have to keep my sewing stuff in our room.
There are 3 girls sharing here:


Their clothes are super under control. Handmedowns are all kept organised in boxes for size and season as well as out of season clothes. I have just culled and prepared for the summer now.


The book case usually needs work but it shows we use it! All the toys have a place. Daily.

The boys have the top floor. 3 share this room and it’s probably the most challenging in the house because of the differing uses and lack of work space. They do spill out into the study, which is just on the landing outside their door. It is mainly used for music lessons.


So there we go. Our most challenging house ever, with only this for storage space:


And that for a backyard. The silver boxes contain beach things and cricket gear.

It’s all in the numbers: even more cool 

   
 Today Littlest turns 2. This finally means my children’s ages are 2,4,6,8,10 and 12. So fantastic! We have been waiting for these cool numbers almost since she was born when we had a beautiful photo taken with their ages on it. 

In 3 months time my eldest son turns 13 and then the beautiful numbers will be gone so we need to enjoy it until then! 

We have had the most wonderful 2 years as we became a family of 8. We are richly blessed. I can’t imagine life any other way and the past 12 years have taught me so so much. I’ll take the rude “no TV” comments and the unimaginative “are they all yours?” any day of the week. We are even more and loving it. 

Village school.

When school is working how I want it to work, we have days like today. 

One of my children today commented that it was like an old fashioned school. All grades in one room. This is my inspiration for school and learning together actually, and it has many benefits.

   
We gathered around after maths and learned a new technique, drawing optical illusion artwork. It was a real success and was school exactly how I like it… Learning together regardless of age and each working at their own pace. There was much encouragement and persistence. As well as a surprising attention span and accuracy from my Littles.

   
 

To the lady in the greengrocer who bought my son a cucumber…

  

Here’s as about as artistic as I could get with what we did with it.

I’ve thought of that greengrocer trip so often since we came home from our errands that morning. 

It was so kind of you to offer to buy my son the cucumber he had asked me for after I said no. 

I thought it was very respectful of you to check with me first whether it was ok for you to buy it for him. It is because you were so friendly and respectful to me by doing that, that in the moments I turn it over in my mind I assure myself that you don’t think I am a terrible mother! I promise I wasn’t trying to teach him anything by saying no, and that my reason was simply as I gave to my son. We had already spent our food budget and there was no more grocery money till Thursday. (The only reason we were buying potatoes was that son number 2 was due to be cooking dinner with me that evening and shepherds pie needs potato. I broke my own rules and deviated from the menu plan on Friday and regretted it for the rest of the week). On another day you might find me spending nearer $50 in that shop, paying out of a shabby envelope in to which the grocery budget goes every Thursday.

I agree it’s so nice to hear children asking for fruit and vegetables. My kids ask for them all the time, especially this particular son! We eat a lot of them and we are hardly ever sick, according to our doctor. She notices that we don’t go and see her for illnesses very much, if at all. Our food budget is tight, and this is my exact dilemma. I can keep my family in good health by making a healthy smoothie every day. When we stop those, we start to notice our immunity dropping and a sniffle develops. Smoothie next day, sniffle disappears. The trouble is, that is half our food budget gone in just breakfast smoothies, if I make them all of the time. Since the doctor mentioned how healthy we are I have had an idea. Some of  the money I am putting aside in the health budget can become my health smoothie fund. It’s kind of a health insurance anyway.

So we got home from the shops and I made a gluten free pizza from scratch which went perfectly with the cucumber. My son was happy to share it. He was even happier I let him slice it by himself (hence the knife marks).  The pizza also includes a mock cheese sauce made from a bag of frozen cauliflower for the potato bake that used up all of my potatoes in the wrong meal. So despite being nearly the end of the ‘food week’ we ate really well that day.

In the past I have done similar to you. Paid for someone’s shopping because i wanted to show them that someone cares for them or because they asked me for money. I am in a mixed season now. Sometimes I can give, and other times I have to receive. This was one of those times. 

Thanks again… You blessed my son and he generously shared the cucumber with all of us and he enjoyed cutting it all up himself for lunch.