We’re a few weeks into school now, doing our chores, our writing, our math, marking the days as usual with our regular footprints.
The kids are supposed to get their chores done and practice their karate so we can go for a walk in the woods first before we start the morning lessons. Each child does a half-hour of math and a half-hour of writing or recall each day, then we read together.
So far, this seems to be working. But how can I tell?
Right about now, the wonderful schedule, balance and curriculum plan I’ve devised starts looking to me like a giant house of cards, and we know what happens to those. The universe doesn’t tend to order, and I sure as hell don’t.
Like with most things involving children, homeschooling is a messy combination of faith and anal-retentiveness. On the one hand, I know that, with just a little guidance, enough freedom and a lot of love, they’ll grow into themselves without my stack of books and old brain full of ideas.
On the other hand, I feel like I have to create the world for them and look like I know what I’m doing. God had it easy — no one was watching.
The schedules I make, I am very much aware, may be more for my own sanity than for the kids. Their purpose is to try and coordinate us all into a family rhythm, to make for us a shelter where we can all rest and grow, where we can drink from the same well and feel nourished together, part of the same tribe.
But everyone has their own interests, activities, sports, friends — and in our culture, “more” is better. I’m sure wanting to stay home and do less makes me seem like a freak.
I’m busy enough that when I’m home, I feel like I need that rhythm to breathe or have room for my own thoughts.
In music, the rests, the silence, the spaces between the notes and the arrangement of the proper notes makes something pleasant to the ear. Three kids humming different tunes — literally and figuratively — without a break instantly singes my nerves.
I like being creative, I like the wildness of jazz and improvising, and I want our house to be full of music, both real and imagined, but I need that energy to have a center to hold it.
I’ve found if I make myself a schedule and routines, I can still be creative but get way more done with much less stress.
I know this is why many people like writing sonnets. The structure is a place where their imagination can play. And once I get my time in the shelter, I can tolerate distractions like a high-volume chicken dance with much more equanimity.
But I’m not one who naturally tends to routines and schedules. How could I think I could even be good at this? I missed an entire class in college — except for the tests — because it met too early in the morning. I’m interested in everything, and am prone to getting horribly behind in the laundry because I’m reading about the French and Indian War.
Left to myself, I’m nomadic. I’ll wander from tent to tent following my interests, staying for a bit, then moving on. To push the metaphor a little bit, this would appear to be a perfectly fine way to live, until you realize you’ve forgotten your camel some ways back — along with all your clothes.
Better is the house with clean underwear and a camel full of gas, even if it’s a little stodgy.
But this structure I’m building for us all — this is the challenge — is how do I make it strong enough to support us, yet light enough to let in the wind and starlight? How do I explain this to the kids? How do they see walls made of air and time? Or do we all live in a magic house, invisible except for the music?
Yesterday, I read Raymond Carver’s famous short story, “Cathedral” — in the bathroom, of course. In it, a man tries to make conversation with the blind man who’s come to visit his wife. The television is on, talking about cathedrals, and the blind man wants to know what one looks like.
Go get a paper bag and a pencil, he says, hold my hand and draw it with me, so I can feel it. The husband doesn’t know what he’s doing, but he tries. He surprises himself, or more precisely, the cathedral does.
So here we are. You can’t see dirty laundry with your eyes closed, and right now the chicken dance sure sounds like fine music. Our little shelter is built of sweat and spit, and it is open to the stars. We are all holding each others’ hands, trying to draw something larger than we think we can even imagine.