Happy New Year. 2013 or 2014, depending on whether you round up or round down. And hello again! It’s been awhile. There were the usual holiday factors. There was a really amazing family vacation in sunny, warm Florida to visit my mother-in-law. We met Spiderman. And Buzz Lightyear. There was an awful two weeks in January experiencing Norovirus. (The only time I left our house the first week was to rent a carpet cleaner. Our rental carpets are already covered in stains, so paying for that lets you know just how grim it was. Anyways, that’s the only time I put on a bra. In an act of grace I was the only one to escape this horrific virus, but I kept a bowl by my bed for a full week after symptoms subsided because I felt like I was going to jinx myself if I took it away.) There was a birthday party for my favorite six year old. We had family in town and a fabulous party to celebrate him. There was the departure of our regular babysitter, the provider of my few hours of freedom each week. There were tears. A lot. This week we’ve been shut in with illness, too. I can’t wait for summer.
It is times of illness, when I’m tired, stressed and worried, but unable to leave the house to exercise or get a break from it all, that I realize how thin a mental health line I’m still walking. The Norovirus weeks were a painfully sharp contrast to our vacation time. Christmas was my first break from homeschooling and I couldn’t believe how much easier life became. There was still plenty of learning going on, but none of it needed to come from curriculum or be reported. I spent a lot more time playing with the boys. Then, BOOM! jump back into schoolwork and WHAM! get hit by a nasty virus and BAM! babysitter quits. I wasn’t ready for it.
The patterns over the past few months quite clearly declare that I need more space. A friend lovingly reminded me that in the past six years I’ve been caregiving 24/7, chronically deprived of sleep half that time, endured multiple unemployment periods, moved four times, and dealt with other relational stress without a regular break. Just this past fall I started getting two hours alone. Glorious! With our babysitter’s departure, that ended. Extra salt in the wound came when Charlie turning six meant he couldn’t be in our closest gym’s childcare.
My challenges this year have reinforced how important taking care of myself is, and with the wisdom of others speaking truth and grace into this situation, I’m actually learning how to implement this. Sometimes even without any guilt. Brene Brown’s chapter about parenting in Daring Greatly continues to deeply nurture me. (I have my own copy that I can mark up. Yay!) She quotes Joseph Chilton Pearce saying, “What we are teaches the child more than what we say, so we must be what we want our children to become.” She goes on to write, “Even though the vulnerability of parenting is terrifying at times, we can’t afford to armor ourselves against it or push it away–it is our richest, most fertile ground for teaching and cultivating connection, meaning, and love.” These ideas are helping me learn to let go of what I see as ideal for my children, even requiring me to give up something very precious, so that I can learn to live more wholeheartedly.
I’m taking extra measures to be more generous to myself. I signed up for a mini triathlon because they’re super fun (seriously!) and they force me to exercise regularly. I used to think I was above needing accountability like that, but I’m not. Only when I’m signed up for races do I choose to exercise as regularly as I need. That extra motivation gets us all out the door, past the environmental-guilt-screams in my head about driving farther than I’d wish to get to the gym, and past the mommy-guilt-screams that more time at gym childcare is bad for the boys. (Which is just ridiculous because they love it. But the guilt is there nonetheless.) Exercise is my good attitude medication. When I don’t do it, life is noticeably less fun.
We registered Charlie for public school first grade and Miles for preschool two mornings. First, Miles will be three. The year of irrational expectations. I kept envisioning next year’s homeschooling scene and it wasn’t pretty. Of course I have major reservations about public school: huge classes, ridiculous mandated tests, often poor curriculum choices, minimal arts offerings, discouraging playground situations, etc… I am very sad that he won’t get chances to ask questions often. Also, I still believe the best learning is individualized, experiential, passion-driven and involves a lot of play. If Charlie has tons of busywork homework, I will probably encourage him to not do it. Our Kindergarten experience has been a really special time for Charlie and I to connect, create and explore together. I will miss laughing about lizards detaching tails and complementing each other’s artwork. Plus, he’s over the moon about his theatre program. So, even though public school gives me space, it’s also a huge sacrifice. If I’m feeling up for it in future years, I imagine we’ll return to homeschooling.
For now, I need more space.
I’m taking this step because I am worth it. In the past, this has been a really hard thing for me to believe and live out. I’m pretty sure I come from a long line of martyrs and being female doesn’t help anything either.
“Somewhere buried deep inside our hopes and fears for our children is the terrifying truth that there is no such thing as perfect parenting and there are no guarantees. From debates about attachment parenting to how much better they parent in Europe to disparagement of “tiger moms” and helicopter parents, the heated discussions that occupy much of the national parenting conversation conveniently distract us from this important and difficult truth: Who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting.”–Brene Brown, Daring Greatly
How many times can I tell myself this? The best thing I can do for myself, my husband and my boys is take care of myself. If I am thriving, so will my children. Even more important than being with them a lot is being present. This year, taking care of myself is even more important than homeschooling. Sometimes good is good enough. Maybe even best.