Camp Schooling

IMG_20171023_120320581Yes, I’m really doing this!  We are currently at a local campground–a mere 15 minutes from home.  I’m basking in the sun, staring out at the lake and enjoying the laughter and play of my kids on the beach.  It has been a long-time dream of mine to travel the US in an RV and homeschool on the open road.  One of the major motivators to shift to homeschooling in the first place was the ability to travel.  Heck, we were spending thousands of dollars on private education back then (18 years ago and only 2 children enrolled in school).  The thought of all the places we could go with that money was astounding.  Of course, the savings in tuition was also the key factor freeing us to truly be open to life as well.  Homeschooling allowed us both the large family God planned for us and the ability to educate them well in faith and academics.  But, I digress.  The babies came and traveling very far was not really a feasible option.  Until now.

Four weeks ago, I said “yes” to God.  I finally let go of my pride and stepped whole heartedly into the vocation of wife and mother.  For 24 years of marriage, I had believed that wife and mother were not enough.  Someway, somehow, I had bought into the belief that I had to have some sort of tangible giving beyond my home to be “worthy.”  It might sound funny, but I didn’t even realize that this is what I believed.  Six months ago, I was ready to go out and find a job.  Not for the money, but for the affirmation and appreciation of my efforts.  I was grasping and desperate to be more.  To be someone.  To be me.  But, I didn’t know who I was.  Through prayer and faith, I just kept taking one day at a time and letting God lead me.  As painful, dark, and terrifying as that walk of faith was, I couldn’t go back.  I refused to stop living again, to stop being, to stop loving.  So, I kept moving forward motivated by love and hope and faith.  Then, one day my path was made clear to me—first in my heart and then in my mind.  I had to quit my job and embrace my vocation as wife and mother.  Easier said than done.

My job was working for my husband.  My job was a key role in creating and managing the databases for our business with our oldest daughter (my step daughter) and her husband.  We have four workers to run a business that needs to support both families and I was backing out!  I kept arguing with God that I couldn’t be replaced.  That they needed me.  “How will the databases be created and maintained?” I asked.  God said, “That’s not your problem.  You obey and let me do the rest.”  And so, I did.  I obeyed.  My husband was shaken, but he is not one to question God and supported me in the decision.  My step daughter seemed relieved.  It was time for us to rebuild and strengthen our relationship on a personal level.  It was time for me to enjoy my grandchildren.  As a mother and a daughter, she understood and was also very encouraging and supportive.  My kids were excited.  You must realize that my younger six children have no memories of a healthy mom!  The six of them were born in a seven-year timespan.  My health crashed after the youngest entered the world with both of our lives teetering in the balance.  I gave six-weeks notice and taught my husband how to create and manage the databases (apparently I am easily replaceable—a good lesson in humility right there).  And today is the fourth Monday since beginning my new career doing the most important job I’ll ever have: homeschooling homemaker.

When I talked to my husband about traveling the US, he wisely suggested I start with a week-long trip near home and work up from there.  Seeing that I have no experience in pulling a 30 foot camper, I wisely agreed.  Last week, I looked at the 10 day forecast and decided that it was a live or die opportunity.  If not now, when?  I packed over the weekend and Patrick drove us out to the campgrounds last night.  I cancelled all commitments and rescheduled appointments for the week.  And here I sit, surrounded in nature (I’m admiring a baby woodpecker only 20 feet away in an oak tree) with six very happy children.

The older two just took off for a hike and the other four are frolicking on the beach.  We have already worked in our math lesson this morning and will soon explore the love of grammar and writing; but the most important lesson my children are learning is to follow God–to find and live the life He chose for each of them to live.  They already understand in their tender ages that this earthly life includes pain and suffering; but by striving to live God’s will, one will find peace and joy.

Advertisements

God’s Faithfulness–Part I

shrine olghIt was mid-July and I was feeling especially fearful about the prospect of homeschooling again in the fall.  My husband and I had agreed that we would divide our duties differently.  Since we were working together in our home-based business, we would work together to get the household chores and homeschooling tasks accomplished as well.  Still, my heart raced and my stomach flip-flopped at the thought of it.  So, I prayed.  I prayed for wisdom, for God’s will and for a friend.  For the first time in many years, I prayed for a friend.  It seemed silly, really since God has blessed me with so many faithful friends I am rich beyond belief (Sirach 6:14-16)!  But, my original tribe, The Hens, are in a very different phase of their lives—almost empty nesters—while I am still years away from an empty nest.   I prayed for a friend that could help me get through the loneliness and redundancy that one finds as a homeschooling mother: long days without adult interaction, math facts, grading, laundry, meals, etc.

The week had been a rough one.  Sick kids and stresses in our family life and marriage were taking its toll on my mental well-being.  Friday rolled around and our weekend plans had to be cancelled.  Then, I remembered the Catholic Homeschooling Conference was being held that very day.  Yes!  Yes, I could still make it and even sneak in the social dinner gathering that Jenny had organized.  I remembered seeing her post on Facebook and quickly replied that I would attend after all.  It was only out of desperation for socialization that I was attending this conference.  I still was not convinced that homeschooling was the right fit.

I arrived at the conference around 2 o’clock.  The first observation I made was how many women I knew.  Their faces made my heart fill with joy. “God has blessed me,” I thought to myself.  I must have seen, visited and hugged at least twenty women in that first hour!  As I was catching up with one mother, Ginny Seufert walked by.  She has spoken at almost every homeschool conference I’ve attended for the past 16 years.  She caught my eye because she looked particularly youthful and beautiful this day.  I told her just as much.  She was just on her way in to give a talk.  My friend asked me if I wanted to hear Ginny speak.  I wasn’t going to attend the talks.  I still was not sure that I was going to homeschool.  I was almost certain that I had heard it all before.  This would be my 18th year of homeschooling IF we were to homeschool, that is.  Still, I agreed to go in and listen.  Ginny is always good for straight talk and hearty laughter.

I was not prepared for her talk this time around.  Her topic was something to the effect of “Why You Should Persevere in Homeschooling No Matter What.”  She pointed out all of the confusion in the world, the opposition to natural law and its infiltration into the educational system of even the youngest students.  She then went on to discuss the Peshtigo Fire in 1871 in Northern Wisconsin and the miracle at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help.  Fascinating topics on their own accord, but especially relevant to me.  You see, I was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin almost 100 years after that horrific fire.  My ancestors were Belgium immigrants living in the area at the time of the Fire. Adele Brise is a relative by marriage in my family tree and I had heard the stories of the fire and the miracles for many years.  But, even more relevant because my own father was healed through the intercession of Mary at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help on August 15, 1937.  If not for that miraculous healing I would not be here today.  My second observation for the day was that my life has a particular and unique purpose.  Like Adele Brise, I heard the words in my head, “Teach the children the way to salvation…I will help you.”  Moved to tears, I knew I would and I could return to homeschooling.  Mary would help me as well.  It was time for us to formally consecrate ourselves and our children to her.  Mary always leads us to her Son, Jesus Christ; intercedes in begging grace for us; and protects us and guards us as she protected and guarded her own Son, Our Lord.

Homeschool Review

This fall will mark the beginning of our fourteenth year of homeschooling.  As difficult it is for me to believe that we’ve been at it that long, it is even harder to wrap my brain around the idea that we have at least fourteen years to go given that our youngest is three years old.  Currently, we are wrapping up our current year with just a few straggling assignments in various subjects, depending on the student.  I am knee-deep in lesson planning and book buying.  The Immaculate Heart of Mary Homeschool Conference is just a few months away.  It is at this conference where I get to reconnect with old friends; receive and dole out encouragement for the new year; and buy Catholic merchandise and books that most stores don’t carry.  I absolutely enjoy the catholicity of this conference.  Most homeschool conferences are generic Christian conferences, often to the exclusion of Catholic vendors.  Go figure.  Anyway, the IHM Conference is dripping in the faith, so in addition to buying my books, I get a spiritual renewal as well—complete with the Sacrament of Confession.  I can’t think of a better way to start a fresh school year.

As I begin to plan the new school year, I reflect back on past years.  What worked really well?  What didn’t work at all?  I have never been afraid to make changes, but I have made the mistake of changing things too much or too often.  In the attempt to achieve the perfect schedule I have come to realize that perfection does not exist; at least not for more than a week.  The children’s needs and abilities are constantly changing.  Life’s demands are never predictable.  Flexibility within a structure is a necessity in homeschooling, forcing the homeschooling parent to be a vigilant student of herself and her students.

As in a sacramental marriage where the spouses challenge each other to grow and change in order to sanctify themselves and one another; homeschooling done well challenges both the teacher and the students (parents and children) to grow and change—to sanctify one another.  Of course, we are called to do this in the family unit no matter how the children are educated, but homeschooling ups the ante by putting parents and children together for extended periods of time.  With my health struggles, this year has offered unique opportunities to stretch our virtue muscles.   Even on the days where very little formal schooling took place, my children were learning valuable life lessons that cannot be taught through books or worksheets.

Over the next few weeks I will share with you my experiences, what has worked well for us over the years, and –in true humility—what has not worked well at all.  I hope you will share my blog posts with others who may benefit from my experience and weigh in with ideas and experiences of your own.

Homeschool vs. Other

A friend recently emailed me to ask my opinion about switching from homeschooling her children to placing them in a charter school. Her specific question was if I had ever considered any other options. In the thirteen years that we have homeschooled I can honestly say that I have never thought of doing anything differently than homeschooling my children. Well, at least not any serious thoughts. Like all homeschooling mothers who have had a particularly hard day or week, I have had my moments of wishing I could just send them off to school where all problems magically disappear. But when reality is figured into the equation, the pro’s far outweigh the con’s and we look for new solutions to our struggles and difficulties and continue down the path of home education. This is MY family’s reality though. Just because homeschooling works best for us doesn’t mean it is the best answer for other families. It would do us all a bit of good to remember that God calls us to different tasks and we need to support one another in answering that call.  I should probably put that last line on my mirror as a reminder.

I think it is a very natural response for parents who have switched from traditional schools to home schooling to have very strong convictions about what they are doing. In the transition phase, we are often quick to self-doubt and the psychological response to those doubts is to make it the one, only and best option in our mind. I think it is a survival technique, actually. I see it over and over again with “new” homeschooling families. A key indicator is when we have strong feelings of “oh, I could never. . .” or ” we will always . . .”  I have to admit that I did this as well and continue to have a tendency to have all-or-nothing thoughts with any major shift in life style changes. After all, if it’s good for me it must be good for you too.

The short answer to my friend’s question and to anyone who is trying to make educational decisions for their children is to pray. God has a plan for each of us. The more we seek out what His plan is for us and for our children, the more peace and joy we will find in our lives. Fourteen years ago I swore to a friend that I would never homeschool (See, there’s that “never” word).  Less than a year later I heard the distinctive call to homeschool. I won’t say we do not question our decision.  We review it at least on an annual basis and we have had plenty of moments of self-doubt. We spent thousands of dollars in family court seeking the right to homeschool our oldest child only to lose in court to ignorance and prejudice. Our families questioned our decision in the beginning.  We even got into a few heated discussions with close family members.  I am fairly certain there is still some doubt on the part of others, but mostly we hear praise and encouragement.  We felt called to homeschool and have continued to hear that call in every year since. God gave us the grace and faith to move forward and the blessings of following that call are too numerous to count. Whether God is calling you to homeschool or to any other form of education for your children, He will equip you to follow Him. The very fact that you are humbly seeking the best for your children shows that God has already blessed you with wisdom and humility.