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When I tell people I homeschool my children, I often get asked, “Wow, how can you spend so much time with your kids? I don’t think I could do that.”

My kids are still young, so for the most part we’re together from the moment they wake up until Dad walks in the door after we’ve eaten dinner. I find it amusing that no one ever asks anything like, “how on earth can you spend so much time with your husband?” It’s almost as if children are another species, like gremlins or large carnivorous snakes — you might feed them and play with them a while, but what the heck would you do with them the rest of the time?

Part of what I’ve learned is that when you spend so much time one-on-one with children, they cease to be children as much as little people; little people who happen to be around a whole lot. They’re not just a set of ages and behaviors to be managed according to the latest parenting advice. We’re all learning how to get along with each other, when we’re at our best and worst, similar and different, and not just a few hours a day. It’s good practice for the real world. In any case, any group of people functions better with a set of ground rules that keeps them from eating each other up and sucking on the bones. We’ve all got to work together.

So, here are our house’s 10 rules for living with little people:

* Everyone gets time to themselves. Especially Mom. We’re generally all done with each other by lunch time. After lunch, we have quiet time in separate rooms (even the 2-year old will sit with books or play by himself for an hour). It’s important to have time to hear yourself think, not have to be social, or play something that you simply can’t do with your little brother around. As the mom, I need to catch up on my own projects, and simply have some peace and quiet and a break from being chef, nurse, mediator, teacher, boo-boo-kisser and hostage negotiator.

* Balance your life and take care of basic needs. I’m at my best when I get to go to kickboxing, get enough sleep and have some spiritual nutrition. My kids are at their best when their basic, physical needs are met. It’s nearly impossible to balance all our needs as well as managing to cover the curriculum work I’ve planned. Often I’m restless, tired and feeling like my cup is empty (last time I spent some time listening to a meditation tape, I was interrupted by my kids fighting over a urine specimen cup. If it was from the 2-year-old’s doctor appointment, but he didn’t use it — does that still make it his?) Still, I figure that modeling for the kids how to lead a balanced life and take care of one’s self and other people is better than any curriculum. These are life skills. Big ones!

* Everyone pulls their share. Mommy is so much happier when she doesn’t have to cook and clean up the table, never mind pick up the pants and underwear that someone has molted in front of the (unflushed) toilet. The kids clear their own dishes, wipe the table (onto the floor, of course), and are supposed to clean up their toys before both lunch and dinner. Loud ABBA music makes cleaning more fun and drowns out the complaining.

* There will be no toys that drive Mom crazy. I want to enjoy being with my kids, not spend all my time cleaning up toys that they play with for only 30 seconds or grit my teeth when someone’s sitting on the talking Elmo doll. I learned early on that my kids don’t really play with toys that make noise — they just make them make noise and go play with something else, then go back and make them make noise again, and so on, like a big repetitive motion injury. Open-ended, multipurpose toys are great, and quieter (except for the shrieking and foam-sword whacking noises). Why should I have a gazillion toys when “Mr. Sockie” is driving the pirate boat?

* There needs to be a rhythm to the day. There is a Japanese concept called “ma,” which means “the space in-between things.” Things go smoothly when there’s a feeling of enough time to the day. If we have too much to do, or we’re out all day, we really feel it. The best days are when I’ve left enough space in the schedule so that we feel like we’ve done what we’ve wanted and needed to do without feeling pressured. These days are rarer than I’d like, but we aim for them.

* Lots of hugs.

* Keep your perspective. I keep reminding myself that a child humming the Nutcracker on a kazoo while banging on the trash can is a good thing. And it will feel so good when he stops!

* Everything in its place. At least socks, pencils and baby wipes. I’ve found it highly disturbing to my sanity to have to spend half an hour looking for crucial things (like the plastic hook that goes with the Captain Hook outfit). Things are hard enough that we don’t need anyone having a tantrum (me) because they can’t find something important.

For the most part, this works for us, especially if I get my quiet time. Some days go well, and other days we’re all waiting at the window for Dad to come home. But usually, at the end of the day we’re still happy we get to be together. And that’s still heaven, even if I’m hiding in the bathroom.

Sue Landsman is a homeschooling mother of three. In her spare time she teaches natural childbirth classes and is a writer and artist.