Still (the) Small Voice?

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I’ve been stilling the small voice. I haven’t trusted the unrest and grief within me about one of my children’s education choices, and I have assumed the ‘still small voice’ was actually just my own anxiety and thought the lesson for me was to step back, deal with the grief journey of allowing a child to grow up and make choices. Thought my feeling was about me, not him.

The voice didn’t go away. More of a feeling, but I’m calling it a voice because now I see: this is how the Lord speaks to me. Gone are the days I thought I never hear from Him. Wow. His voice has been all over things this week.

Our decision to home educate came out of this same unrest within me – that also didn’t go away – 10 years ago. So much confirmation over time after following that call to homeschool.  I had done all the right things: prayed for God to take the feelings away if they were not from him… the situation forced our hand and the feelings came back and hit me hard.

Forward 10 years. Our 16 year old chose a career path at the end of last year – following a subject designed as part of the secondary education certificate – to help them do so. It guides them to discover careers and choose appropriate subjects. This was a course we had started to run alongside our home education program – which is becoming heavily classical – and extremely exciting.

Mr 16 chose to enrol in the online college offering this high school education certificate for years 11 and 12. He chose subjects that were expected in order to pursue this career path. The details are not necessary for the purpose of this post – but it feels quite dramatic to truthfully say: I felt like a part of me died inside when we realised we would be giving up the ‘good stuff’ in order to pursue this career path – which at the same time did not feel like the right fit.

Spot the pattern. That feeling inside me did NOT go away. I emotion coached myself through this grief journey. He’s my first born. We started his education with mistakes. Now we find ourselves in risk of more. Same mistakes, same child.

Who’d be a firstborn? haha see here: Eldests!

A conversation with a teacher threw me into turmoil over this latest raft of choices – which despite the hardest work and efforts I have seen in Mr 16 (through his own motivation) – have not translated into a good fit. It’s thrown into doubt all these things: Have we let him down? What do we do now? How is he going to feel if we suggest something different? CAN we suggest something different? Is it ok to ‘parent this’?

We have prayed. I’ve taken counsel from friends with relevant experience. We’ve had hard conversations with our son, and easier ones. FINALLY it becomes clear. The wisdom is here. We have a PLAN.

The STILL SMALL VOICE OF CALM. “Hello, Old Friend!”.

I’ve been hearing the still small voice – and been stilling it. Him. I believe it’s the Holy Spirit. I’ve drowned out his voice with negative thoughts about myself, my ability to allow my children to grow up and make choices. We did the ‘right thing’ and stepped back. It was right to allow that – but perhaps we weren’t discerning enough when it felt wrong. Feelings are complicated and reliance on them has to be discerned. IGNORING them is not right. God has to speak to us somehow? Of course – the Bible. Proverbs 3: 5-6 is Mr 16’s life scripture. But how do we know which is that straight path? It wasn’t an obvious situation about what ‘honoured God’ and what didn’t.

Until I realised: That Highschool Certificate? Has become our master. We are serving IT. It is not serving US. The Good Stuff he will soon be missing, to allow for workload? That’s the God-honouring amazingness that he, and we, were grieving leaving behind for this pathway.

Interesting everyone calls it a pathway. I think Proverbs 3:5-6 is our ‘pathway verse’. We took a detour. Now: we have a plan to get back on the straight path and we have a little more insight as to where it is headed.

Life lesson for me? I need to trust my God-given instincts. Weigh them against what I also know about my weakness – the thorn in my side that is anxiety. But He turns our weaknesses in to His opportunities.

Mind. Blown.

 

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“When do your kids ‘do School’?”

fPKXI05LSCiE+8B33YActQAsk me again when my children ‘do school’? (Don’t go there on the socialisation question though, OK?).

This week my eldest child – who at 16 is studying for the South Australian SACE stage 1 – (Maths Specialist, Maths Methods, Physics, Chemistry and English) was up at 6.45am on Monday morning to travel for a maths specialist test, and back home in time for his online chemistry lesson. The night before he had to start work at 8pm to make final preparations for his test after family activities took away his Sunday afternoon studying time. 

Eldest chose this academic path himself. We looked at alternatives, but he has made his mind up that this is what he wants to do for Australian year 11 and 12. It limits his classical education options with our US provider but we have had 2 great years doing that – which I am excited to be rolling out in the earlier years now with the younger ones for some subjects.

He had to do work on his other subjects (US courses in Logic and History / Literature) later that day. Other children were working on Logic, History / Literature, maths, Language arts. 

Tuesday, eldest had Maths Specialist lesson and finalisation and submitting of an English assignment before the English lesson after his 30 min lunch break. He ate lunch at his computer. More prep for the US subjects in the afternoon. Again other children studying English and Maths in the same room.

Wednesday involved an early morning (husband got up at 4am for a US Language Arts lesson with Mr 12 (a special privilege to be allowed to join the lesson as it happens-  when the clocks change we will be back to fitting these archives and the resulting work into our already full week). I got up at 5 and swapped with my husband as I had promised the eldest 2 I would get up with them for their Logic debate at 0530. They manage the early mornings better than me. I went back to bed and slept through their next lesson (currently studying Henry V) and they were back to work on other things, and piano practice, after their second snack / breakfast. I spent the day clearing and sorting school supplies in the study to make all this stuff feel easier. Kids worked around me / helped me as necessary. In the afternoon I asked mr 16 to take a break from his studies at 5pm and cook dinner to help me out. I’ve not been asking him to help recently due to his workload. Wednesday night we went to the Ash Wednesday service at church. Some kids helped with the data projection. The little ones coloured and listened and sang. (Saying this to prove we have commitments outside the house, though I wrote a particularly long piece on what I like to call ‘the socialisation myth’).

Thursday mr 16 had a ‘pupil free day’ with the online SACE college so he was able to watch a recorded physics lesson at a time of his preference. He chose to practice piano at 0830 (after asking me if that was ok the day before) and start his lesson earlier than its normal 1.30pm time slot. He then completed a practice test paper, for the next test that is coming up in physics. He submitted that a day early. While he worked all the other kids were working on writing projects in the study area, even Miss 5. After a super productive morning I planned to ‘take the rest of the day off’ and have a rare trip to the shopping centre for some promised and needed items – and a rare ‘long’ visit to the library for the 2 eldest. Even though I don’t take advantage much any more of daytime shopping availability – I felt good about going ‘after lunch’. The naughty feeling didn’t last long when I realised it was actually nearly 3.30pm and school days had finished for brick and mortar schooled kids anyway. Mr 16 spent most of the library visit working on homework. Good job the shopping took ages. Which I REALLY enjoyed. I just found out he was actually revising in the library completing a practice test for the maths test today. See? I’m not even checking up on him that closely to be on his back about work. Occasional check ins, but he usually tells me how he’s going and how the workload is going.

Today (Friday): more 4 and 5am lessons. This time I did the 4am stint and my husband observed the rest of the debate at 5am to support the eldest 2. After 3 hrs of school they went to the reserve on bikes. After a sleep Mr 12 did more work on his language arts. Again all practising the piano and writing work for the youngest 3. Now they are using Osmo programs for a treat. Sort of school, sort of not: definitely educational. Eldest? Had a short break after early morning lessons, went o the reserve on his bike: then came home to get his maths test prep sorted and out again for another hour long maths test. Exam. Whatever it is. On the way home he’s watched chemistry videos for homework to utilise the journey time. Oh and I promised not to get into this but WE HAVE PEOPLE COMING OVER THIS AFTERNOON.

Clearly the hardest worker with the biggest workload is mr 16 right now (excluding parents). I haven’t mentioned the Latin exam the eldest 2 are meant to be studying for, for next week. 

Last year a congregation member saw me in the city in the middle of the day, on an errand with all the kids. They asked me the following Sunday what I was “doing in the City”. It didn’t quite strike me how this was an odd question, a bit nosey, but ??? I later realised they thought my kids were supposed to be sitting at desks. So what if we had an orthodontist appointment? None of anyone’s business, just as it would have been equally as fine for me to say to the kids we ought to have a fun day in the City. We can. We do. These days – very rarely. I must put that in my diary else it won’t happen.

I’ve also been asked what hours my children ‘do school’. Where do I start? This was 1 crazy full week. Probably the only extra activities were the 2 tests. Next week they will be replaced by Latin co-op and Latin exam. I am SO glad we had those early years of eclectic, sometimes formal, sometimes not, sometimes ‘just fun’ sometimes just housework. I know, sitting here now, how it ends. If we choose – I jit can end in just as an amazing work ethic (perhaps better) than if I’d chained them to a desk or kept eldest in the system that nearly broke him. I tell myself this now, when his younger sibs’ days look quite like his did in the early years. On / off, fun / not. Messy / outstanding.

With all this: I choose relationship. I choose together. I choose messy. I choose academic excellence too, actually. How it happens is a mystery combined with hard work. During hours of our choosing. I choose not to give rude answers to questions that can’t even be answered.

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.

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.