How I Do It

I'm guessing not many of my friends here have seen the movie Young Frankenstein.  Even if you have, fewer still of you probably like it as much as I did.  My dad taught me from an early age that there is value in humor.  Stupid humor, even.  It's good to laugh.  Mel Brooks movies are good at making me do that.

Last time I posted I mentioned the question I get most often about our large-ish family and where we are going to put them all in this house.  The next question (or more like a general wondering) I'd like to address is, "I don't know how you do it."  I'm not sure if this is in regards to the sheer number of kids we have or the fact that I homeschool them.  I'm not sure I'm really qualified to answer the question because I'm not sure I know the answer, but I'm definitely going to try.  And I can't help but think about Young Frankenstein every time someone wonders "How I Do It" out loud in my presence.

You are in for a treat.

I don't mean to over simplify, but our story started with just a young couple and one kid.  Then we added another.  Then another.  So on and so forth.  You don't need those details, but we got to where we are just like everyone else.  One day at a time.  That part of the story is boring.  No one wants to hear that.

So I'm going to concentrate on the homeschooling thing because that's the fun part.  And by "fun," I mean the totally crazy, completely out of character, and life-altering part.  If you think this is going to be a post about How To Homeschool, you're barking up the wrong blog, so I apologize in advance.  I don't have any amazing strategies.  I'm more like a survivalist.  I think if my husband actually saw the way things work around here during the day, I might be fired.  That said, I wouldn't change if for the world.

Here's a small list of ways I do it.  Or don't do it.

1.  I've stopped answering the phone during the school day.  Yes, I'm sorry if you serial call me.  I won't answer.  Remember Deep Impact?  The asteroid?  The tidal wave?  That's me after one 2-minute phone call.  Crash and burn.  I don't recover.  Not your fault, but mine.  I've recognized this and cut out the problem.  It might seem rude, but it's not the cold shoulder.  It's survival.

2.  I start a load of laundry every morning before I cook breakfast.  Sometime around 2pm, I remember that load of laundry and move it to the dryer, only after I empty the contents of it on top of the pile of clean clothes on the laundry room floor.  Not recommended, of course, but this is how the laundry gets clean.  You'll have to ask someone else how they get it folded and put away.  (Just kidding, a couple of months ago, Sam made several loaded-down trips from the laundry room to the living room and sat the family in a circle.  Everyone grabbed their own stuff, folded it, and put it away.  Worked amazingly well.  This is actually how it should be done.  Maybe this weekend we can do that again.  I'm kind of tired of treasure-hunting in the mountain o' laundry for the other sock.)

3.  The kids load and unload the dishwasher.  Of course, this is detrimental to the long-term organization of the Tupperware shelf, but when people ask me "How I Do It" I assume they aren't specifically referring to "How I Keep the Tupperware In Order."  They do lots of other chores too.  There's a great value in working hard.  If I can teach my kids anything, I hope they learn this.

4.  I wait until Noah takes a nap to even attempt anything school related.  No matter if we wake up every day around 7 or 7:30, we just don't even try to do formal learning until the 16 month old isn't running around pointing and grunting.  The kid is loud.  And perpetually hungry.  Which is usually what he's yelling about.  He is also a bit of a tornado.  He requires A LOT of attention to keep him out of trouble.

(Sidenote:  If and when Noah is awake later in the day when we are schooling, I have to trust that his distracting presence is just equipping my children to work well in distracting conditions.  I've said before, I'm likely training up bomb defusers or air traffic controllers...both of those jobs are quite admirable and necessary.  I think I'm definitely doing the right thing here.)

5.  I take full advantage of mealtimes to cram some knowledge into their brains.  This is actually a lesson I learned from teaching 3's and 4's in Sunday School over the years.  Ask them to sit still and listen to their Bible lesson - not so much their favorite thing to do.  Sit them at a table with goldfish and some water - they can be still and attentive like you never imagined.  I brought this home and I do the same.  At lunchtime, we read aloud from a book, listen to our history lesson, recite catechisms, read a passage for narration and dictation, read a devotion.  You name it, we've probably done it.  Even still, sitting and being quiet is tough for a 16 month old, so I try to keep a steady flow of frozen blueberries coming his way.  They take a long time to eat.  I have been known to pass out lollipops.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.  (Only, our "desperate times" are like, "Oh shoot, we haven't done history in two weeks!")

6.  We take it outside.  If I'm working with Ben on something that requires one on one time, I let the big girls take Leah and Noah out to the playground where I can do school with Ben and watch them from the kitchen table.  Everyone is happy.  Okay, probably not Ben.  Sorry, bud.  Someone has to buckle down and be responsible.  (He gets to escape on his bike when it's not his turn too.  All in due time.)

I've also noticed that Abby thrives just being outside.  We got three math lessons done one night out on the playground in the same time it would have taken her sitting at the kitchen table to do one.  It was incredible.  I can sit her at the table, watch her stare out the window longingly, half paying attention to what we're doing, or we can just do it out there.  The choice is obvious.

7.  Three little words - The Sticker Chart.  As a gloriously unregimented mom, I cannot be beholden to a daily schedule.  We don't have start and stop times.  I don't even know what subjects we'll cover some days.  We get to what we get to.  I have a toddler and a new three year old.  They bring the crazy, I don't need to add "trying to stay on schedule" to that mix.  But, just winging it wasn't working.  So, Sam, my logistician, suggested the idea of a sticker chart.  We came up with an appropriate pace for each subject over the course of a month, and we strive to fill in every bubble.  Some kids (ahem Ben) prefer to color their squares with permanent marker because smiley face stickers aren't very masculine (or something).  But, seriously, this has been a game changer.  Not only does it motivate the kids, but it motivates me.  See all of those blanks?   I better step up my game.

8.  I let them play.  Unstructured, purely imaginative play.  I couldn't keep my kids in a box if I tried.  They'd take it and turn it into a space ship or a room for their Polly Pocket dolls.  Wait...

9.  I laugh. A lot. I'm not talking Mel Brooks movie marathons or anything.  I find little things to be silly about.  Turns out, Ben likes making me laugh as much as I like to laugh.  I never knew my professorial eldest had such an amazing sense of humor.  These little giggle fests, with or without the company of the kids, are my fuel. 

10.  Some days I don't.  I just don't do it.  We go to the park.  We wander aimlessly around Walmart.  I drive around hunting for geocaches. We get away.  We experience stuff.  This isn't the norm, but it's amazing to give myself grace when I need it most.  I try to save these days for when I'm burned out, at the end of my rope.  This is not our modus operandi.  This is, quite literally, our breath of fresh air.

I don't know how we do it.  I don't honestly think I'm doing anything that any one of the seemingly bewildered people who pose the question couldn't do.  I do it with God's help.  One day at a time, with lots of coffee, a supportive husband, amazing kids, and a good bit of sheer will and determination.  Just like anything, it takes work.  It's not just going to happen if I sit back and think happy thoughts.  Good intentions don't get the job done.  Hard work does.  It takes getting my feet wet, my hands dirty, and hitting the pillow at night worn slap out.  And at the end of the day, it was all worth it.

Are we clear?  As mud?  Yeah, I thought so.


Jade Steckly said...

I admit to getting tired of all those comments from people sometimes...that being said, I have two things to say about it:
1. I think most times people are genuinely interested and friendly, so I need to chill and;
2. I totally "think" all those comments about you! LOL. As a fellow mama de cinqo bambinos, I am completely impressed, and have the highest level of respect for you, and this post. Perfectly imperfect, and focusing on what is most important. Well done :)

Sharon said...

I LOVE Young Frankenstein!!

"Put ze candle back."
"I ain't got no body."
"Frau Blucher" - (insert horse neigh)
"Puttin' on the Ritz."

Ah, very fond memories!!

Honestly Jennie, I think you're a wonder. And it isn't because you have five kids (soon to be six), or that you homeschool. YOU are a wonder, just you. A funny, intelligent, beautiful woman of character and faith. And so, it doesn't surprise me in the least that you are also a terrific mother. Your kids are so very fortunate to have you as their fearless leader, their role model, their spiritual mentor, and their friend.

Keep up the great work, dear sister!


Post a Comment

Before you go, I'd love to hear from you! Let me know what's on your mind! (Please and thank you.)

Back to Top