I have never been the mom that celebrated my kids returning to school. I hate waking up early, making lunches that inevitably came home uneaten. And despite all my best intentions, the morning hustle usually ends with me yelling at my highly distracted kids to get out the bloody door.
I also just really like having them home with me.
I love the easy pace of summer.
Last September came like a storm. Instead of my kids happily going off to school, I found myself homeschooling. I don’t do well with a sudden change of plans. I like well thought out decisions. I like to research. Plan. Then thoughtfully make my decisions.
But during our little up-heaval, I began to feel led to homeschooling, which I thought, was utterly ridiculous. Having dropped out of junior high, I was pretty sure I would be leading my middle schooler into a future of flipping burgers in a fast food joint.
There was also this. I have been battling depression for the last few years, and although I never liked sending my kids back to school, a part of me had been feeling they would be better served. I was beginning to doubt myself as a good mom. With them back in school I could then commence with sticking my head in the ground and hiding. But,the idea of homeschooling began to feel like a second chance. My kid needed me. Maybe, I could take back what I felt depression had stolen.
When we made the decision to homeschool I had never felt so ill-equipped and unprepared in my life. Despite being terrified, I said yes, and my life felt like it began again. I had that sense of it being so much bigger then I could imagine. But, there were no breaks from the bickering, quarreling. The moodiness of my hormonal tween was defeating me. If it wasn’t for his happiness in our decision to homeschool, I would have happily dumped him at school some days (we still have those days).
In my decision to homeschool, I had also met with a lot of resistance from those close to me. My ability was doubted, my intentions were questioned. I realized a lot of the doubt I was hearing was echoing my own fears. I knew some of the closest people to me felt I was ruining Owen’s life. I was one of them. That was depressing.
I tried to make up for my fear by hyper-scheduling Owen’s day. We were up by 7:30 am and hitting the books by 8:30. I packed so much nonsense into his day. He was miserable and so was I. I tried to overcompensate my fear by trying to give him an education above what he would receive in traditional school. I was trying to out-do teachers with years of education. I felt lost and knew despite my efforts; I was missing what was important. This was about me and my kids.
I pleaded with God to help me. And in the desert, I found water.
My eyes began to open to what mattered.
Owen and Oliver cuddled up on the couch together READING. I saw their brotherhood tightening. I had often worried with their seven year age gap, that they would not grow up close. The last year has allowed these two to bond in ways I could not have seen. I see them being kind to one another. It’s enough to outweigh the bickering.
The last year has brought a lot of tears. Arguments. I didn’t understand why Owen could not sit still when I was teaching him. So while he slept, I googled. I discovered Owen is a kinetic learner. He needs to move to learn. Our school system doesn’t allow for moving and learning. (I get why.) I began to understand why school made him feel miserable.
I learned to sit down with Owen. Stop filling him with “busy” and we began to share “aha” moments together. There is something amazing about seeing the light go on in your child’s eyes. When the impossible math problem suddenly becomes simple.
Some days, school for my family means spending the day in our pyjamas, my bed becoming a nest as we snuggle and learn together. These days are filled with giggles and closeness. They are so good for my mama soul.
Some days we wake up and decide it’s a great day for a day off.
I gave up my ridiculous schedule the last term of the year. We get up when we are ready. We eat breakfast. And then we do what needs to be done. I got rid of all the busyness I was using to overcompensate for my fear of failure.
I feel like my life is one big summer now. For the first time ever this year, I found myself looking forward to school starting. There wouldn’t be backpacks and dreaded uneaten lunches.
We eat breakfast in pyjama’s, and create learning nests in mom’s bed. There are brotherly cuddles and reading books. There are time outs, and tears. There are “I’m sorry’s” and heart to hearts.
It’s not perfect. But it is what my family needs.
I’ve discovered that in a season where I felt incapable, God has made me able. I wanted to hide, and God reminded me of the most important task he had given me. The one already in my hands. My children.
“How is your school going Mom?”
A sincere question, but I cringed. We were having our morning chat during the twenty minute drive to school. I looked at the picturesque farms with their rolling landscapes. Still beautiful, even on this rainy morning.
I felt privileged. I live a life I couldn’t have imagined growing up.
Eight months ago, Owen’s question might have brought on tears, but these are the moments that remind me, God is always working. There are always miracles happening.
Me: I had to quit Owen.
Owen: Oh, how come?
Two years ago I wrote an essay for SheLoves Magazine. It was a big, scary story for me to tell, my insecurity of being uneducated and finding myself doing life with deep thinkers, writers and scholars.
After the piece published I felt empowered and signed up for an online course to complete my high school English. Then I had to explain to Owen I had dropped out of high school. It was the first time I was revealing a piece of my past I wasn’t proud of.
He was surprised to find out his mom had dropped out of high school. More surprised than I had thought he would be. My husband and I talk a lot about the importance of education with him, it was hard for him to comprehend I was not.
I started the course, but the work load, a toddler, and a few of life’s curve balls had me in way over my head.
I put my books away, but whenever I came across them, they would remind of my failure.
To make matters worse, what I did learn during my brief period of study showed me how little I actually knew. So I stopped writing. I became embarrassed about my poorly constructed essays floating in cyberspace.
I gave up my dream.
I allowed fear to paralyze me.
Although I was uneducated and as ridiculous as the dream seemed, I felt called to write.
It’s hard go through life with a dream dying inside of you.
I worried about letting Owen know I had quit. The example it could give to my impressionable little boy. Was I teaching him how to be l like me?
I have raised my kids with my story chasing me, dreading the day that I may stand in judgement before them.
I have tried to carve out a normal life from an abnormal past. My childhood had some really tough years and probably more pain than a lifetime should hold.
I went into adulthood damaged and hurting. I made a lot of mistakes, a lot of bad choices. But God rescued me.
I knew that I would need to find a way to live with my past, with the things I could never be proud of.
Because even when I had reconciled with God and my sins had been erased in heaven, my earthly truth still haunted me.
I wondered how much I would have to tell Owen. If he would understand.
Which sin will be too much too forgive?
As I relive my past, will I feel defeated with each passing memory?
My failure at school was small, but now having failed again I wondered if I could ever really leave that part of me behind.
I imagined losing the respect of my little boy, who I have loved since the day I brought him into this world.
Owen is approaching the age where the smoke and mirrors disappear and our kids see our mistakes. They notice our flaws. They see our humanity.
Last year a random conversation started up with a Facebook acquaintance. I had just started my new blog, and was trying to overcome the voices that said I shouldn’t and couldn’t. I was still living under “failure”.
I don’t even know how it began, but in those brief exchanges, I learned that at fifty years old, this woman had returned to school and earned a couple of degrees.
It was one of those God timed, conversations.
As I read her words, I felt tears rolling down my cheeks. The healing kind, that tell your soul you are going to be okay.
I still have a lifetime.
Me: Owen, I had to stop school for now, my life is busy with having your little brother at home, I don’t think it was the best timing.
Owen: Yeah, that makes sense. (pauses for thought) Mom? Maybe you should do it when he is five?
Me: That would be a much better age. But I am still writing Owen. I have a mentor to help me, so I am doing what I love. Do you know what a mentor is Owen?
Owen: Ummm, sort of.
Me: It would be like if a really good hockey player took you under his wing and taught you some new skills. It is when we personally pass on knowledge to someone to help them grow and better themselves.“
Owen: Oh. It’s like Jesus with his disciples!
I grin from ear to ear.
There is one thing that Owen has that I didn’t while growing up. It’s the name that says everything is going to be alright. It holds the promise of grace, new beginnings and eternal endings.
Did I mention Owen is a genius?
Have you struggled here friends?
I wonder if it will be life and circumstances that will show us what to tell our kids?
Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
This is a safe place, nasty comments are sent to the trash!
“Oliver, look at my eyes.”
“You need to stay beside me, or hold Owen’s hand, you’re not allowed to run away, okay? Otherwise you have to sit in the cart. “
Ahhh. Shopping at Costco with the rest of the pre-dinner rush. I would have preferred throwing myself from my patio, but alas, I had no choice. Days of procrastination had left my home out of milk, cream and coffee, creating a state of emergency.
Half-way through our trip I had reminded Oliver not to run off. He was now too big for the cart, and enjoying free bird status.
But, he wasn’t listening. My repeated attemps to get him under control were failing. I felt frustrated, why is parenting so impossible at times?.
Each time I scolded Ollie, I kept seeing the same woman. Pushing her cart in her yoga pants. Looking a bit too relaxed, while her four kids behaved. I had begun to feel self-conscious about Oliver’s performance. Feeling his lack of control, was a reflection on me.
Oliver and I waited in an aisle, while Owen, my ten-year old, ran back to grab a forgotten item for me. Owen is at an amazing age.
I checked the cart. Almost done.
I was examining a new black bean pasta. It had a fantastic recipe on the back, which I thought sounded very posh. I was having a happy fantasy about hosting an amazing adult dinner party, all my guest praising my super fab black bean pasta curry dish. We would raise our glasses of chilled Sauvignon Blanc to toast my culinary genius…
Oops, I had forgotten about my free bird. He was running full speed ahead of me.
“OLIVER, get back here!”
He rounded the corner at the end of aisle, almost getting wiped out by another cart.
Jesus, if he dies it will be my fault, cause I was having a dinner party in my head.
Owen arrived just in time to witness his brother’s anarchy and started after him.
Owen is way faster than me. And I had a five hundred pound shopping cart with a gimpy wheel.
I tried to cut Oliver off at the next aisle, but only managed catch a brief glimpse of him tearing around the next corner.
As I came up to the next aisle I saw Owen take his brother down as a cart stopped just short of them.
There were my boys, in a crumpled heap on the floor of Costco, Oliver laughing hysterically.
I looked up, and there was the mom with her perfect kids, looking at my dog-pile of children. She had a faint smile tugging at her lips as she observed my offspring. I knew that look. It was smug mom. It was the “my kids would never end up in an uncontrolled dog-pile in Costco” look.
That look has the power to make you feel a little smaller in weakened moments. And it was working.
I grabbed Ollie and braced myself for the near certain storm that was to come. With one hand I tossed food from the cart seat to the basket, while he did the death roll in the other.
It was an Oscar performance. Humiliating.
Finally I had him seat belted into the cart.
And. Then. He. Screamed.
The primal kind that scares the crap out of me.
I tried to summon any dignity I had left and walked to the check out.
I glanced at the lineup next up me. Of course there was smug mom, face palm. She would witness the grand finale. I broke eye contact and began unloading my cart.
Oliver was screaming:
“I WANNNA WALK!” Over and over and over.
And a small piece of me died.
I have been smug mum.
On those rare occasions when my kids have been behaving perfectly and I’ve come across another mom in the midst of an equally humiliating scene, I have judged. In those moments I have felt deep satisfaction, delighting in my own parental perfection.
But smug separates me from others.
Smug has the power to make someone else feel a little smaller.
That makes me a little smaller.
Why do I have it in my nature to one up? I thank God for the humbling moments at Costco to serve as a reminder, that I too can fall.
Perfectionism has served us moms a great big Costco-sized shit pie. I have a wealth of knowledge and opinions to compare myself too. And so does everyone else. Except we all have different pieces of knowledge and definitely different opinions
This can be crippling if not filtered. If I allow every standard I hear to rule me. I lose. I lose my identity, discernment, and sometimes, my common sense. I begin to feel like I will never be enough.
When I lose control of my kid for all the world to see, all those voices and feelings flood my mind. And I hear, what if I am doing everything wrong?
This is who is watching me when my child is melting down.
“I just took my kids to a learning place, and then we all hand knitted hats. Then we told each other how much we love each other, and gave one another words of kindness. Then they ate my vegetable-only organic dinner.”
“If we do not teach our kids self discipline they will become convicts. But be careful, because if you discipline them, you’ll crush their spirit, and then they will become sociopaths.”
Well Meaning, Unsolicited Advice:
This is an interesting group, I am pretty sure this group has selective memory or are blatant liars.
“My baby was potty trained by one.”
“My kids behaved in public; they never disrespected their elders.”
“If you don’t give you kid sugar, he’ll be able to control himself.”
All of this, could be encouraging. It could be helpful, but there is no cookie cutter kid.
I think there are kids that can be potty trained at one, or who never blow a gasket. But those kids are born, not made.
My three year old is now happy, he broke into the cookies. Sugar solves everything.
It is interesting how a meltdown of epic proportions can start you thinking. I feel very “called out” on my stinky smugness.
And the best way to conquer stinky, is with love.
I don’t want to make anyone smaller, I want to make people I meet feel bigger.
It’s simple. The next time I see a mom barely surviving in public, I will use a little courage and step into her moment.
I will hand her a pre-purchased $5 Starbucks Card. With a note.
“Thank you for surviving an outing with melting down kids. I saw you and I know how hard that is.
Have a coffee on me. With no kids around. And know that you are appreciated, and amazing, just as you are.”
Will you join me in an anti-smugness movement? Cause, ladies, we are in this together. Maybe you won’t have a card, or a note. But you can fight smug. Help a sister out. Offer to unload her cart, tell her you have been there. Say something encouraging.