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.

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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.

Brave New World

Seven weeks into the new school year a new groove has formed.  Life follows this new path revealing once unseen landscapes and vastly different views.  Yet, I can’t help but seek out the old and familiar sights.  Longing for the companionship of other adult women and seeking for social outlets for my remaining lone-homeschooled child, the Bible Study sounded like a perfect blend of opportunities for us. “Bring along your children, your Bible, your journal and pens,” the Facebook post beckoned to me.  It sounded like the superb opportunity beginning with the Holy Mass, ending in fellowship centered on the Word of God, and coming to a church in my neighborhood this Friday.

Daniel ran fever all day on Thursday, which meant no school on Friday and my plans for Bible Study seemed lost.  I crawled out of bed earlier than usual this Friday morning at 7:45.  Angela met me in the hall with bright eyes and excitement.  “Sorry,” I said, “we can’t go because Daniel is sick.”  She quickly offered a rebuttal that Dad was working from home today.  We could still make it if we hurried.  I glanced at the clock and dismissed morning Mass quickly.  I was barely out of bed and my regular routine takes 40 minutes.  But, I conceded that we could still make it to the Bible Study for 9:30.

We arrived to the welcoming greeting of one mother with her lively three boys and waited for the others.  After some time, we discovered that we were in the wrong room and a group of women and children could be found down the hall, already finished with the kids’ craft and Bible story.  Beautiful women, beautiful children and such a great opportunity being offered; yet, as I sat there I could hardly contain the anxiety welling up within me.  My own two children were calm and at ease with the coloring pages, but the activity in the room was proving too much for me to handle.  I tried to listen as one mother explained the hope for what the new group could become.  Something about rotating responsibility for overseeing the children while the other mothers met for discussion in an adjacent room.  All I could think was (and pardon my expression), “hell no!”  My energy was completely drained in a matter of minutes from the simple, normal activity of young children.  I attempted  to explain why I couldn’t/wouldn’t be able to oversee the children, but just felt completely awful about not being able to take a shift every other month.  After all, we only would be meeting every two weeks.  I politely thanked them all and truly enjoyed making their company, but I desperately needed to head home.  By the time I walked out of the room, I could barely walk.  This was not where I needed to be.  Not any more.

God has a way of stripping away our false identity in order to reveal our true selves–the self He created and wills.  My identity has been so closely tied to young children and mothering for so many years and now it is not.  I have a heart for mothers with young children because I know the struggles and joys so well.  But, for some reason God is blocking this path at this time in my life.  He seems to continue to refocus my energy to self awareness, self love and self care.  He knows that if I am in a room where others are struggling or children are in need, that I will pour my energy out to them and leave nothing for myself.  I know it too.  That is why my energy drained so quickly.  My body sensed it, and like a frustrated spouse throwing up his arms in exasperation, my body let the energy drain from itself as if to say, “Your going to give it away anyway, so what’s the point?”  But, I’m not.  I won’t be going back.  I will pray for the success of the group for the other mothers and their children.  It is a beautiful apostolate and truly needed, especially for homeschooling mothers.  I will, however, continue this journey of self discovery and for the opportunity for Angela to socialize while her siblings are at school.  While I will fondly remember the beautiful landscape of roads once traveled, I will try to embrace the ever changing landscape before me in each and every moment.  Part of me grieves for my old, familiar self: always a baby in the arms or a toddler on the hip (or both).  But, I know that I am called to serve another purpose now, to serve in a different capacity for the sake of God.  In the proper time, He will show it to me.

Off to School we Go!

God always, ALWAYS, is with us.  He provided me an opportunity to go on a private retreat the first weekend of August.  At this point, only Benjamin was accepted into school.  The others were on the waitlist in positions ranging from 10-27, which didn’t look too hopeful.  I struggled with grabbing back the familiar and the control.  It’s my default move to just take it all back and not trust in the bigger plan.  But, God patiently and lovingly spoke to me: to my heart in adoration and through the books I read.  I called Patrick and was so confident in God’s will for us that I was able to speak my need clearly and succinctly.  We had to enroll the kids in school and UME was the right school for us.  If they didn’t get in at first, then Patrick agreed to oversee the daily checklist and grading the Math and I would oversee the school during the day.  Our intermediate plan was to homeschool until they were accepted.  The next week a friend alerted me that the kids may not be listed as Benjamin’s siblings, which would affect the waitlist status.  Sure enough, when I called the school we discovered that a change in the computer system had left them detached from Benjamin.  When this error was corrected all the kids were moved up to positions ranging from 1 to 10.  It was a little sliver of hope and encouragement.

Benjamin started school on August 17.  I took all six kids with me to the Open House, so that in the event they were admitted they would be familiar with the school and some of the teachers.  Patrick was supposed to go with us, but his dentist appointment ran long and he could no longer meet up with us.  This event alone would have put me into a full panic attack just a mere 6 months ago.  But, God equips us to do His will.  There was no anxiety within me.  We saw a few families that we knew, but mostly it felt as if we just floated from room to room in a bubble, met the teachers we needed to meet and I left feeling excited and at peace about the new possibilities.  This is God’s grace in action.

By Friday, Daniel, Samuel and Sophia were enrolled.  One week later Joshua began his first day of 7th grade.  It only took 10 days for five of the six kids to be fully enrolled!  While I was on retreat, it looked like it could be the next semester or not at all; but, God was just giving me the opportunity to put my trust in Him.  He is such a loving, gentle and patient teacher.

So, we happily pack our lunches and backpacks, the kids cheerily skip off to school each morning and I sit drinking my coffee and lay by the pool soaking in the quiet.  Not a all.  The early mornings are a definite struggle.  Patrick oversees breakfast, getting the kids awake and dressed, and takes them to Shelly’s. (We carpool with a friend, but our car is the only one big enough to carry everyone, so it’s quite the system of exchanging vehicles in order to get the kids from point A to point B; but, it is also quite a blessing).  I haven’t slept well since school started, so my rising and my movement is very slow and limited.  I manage to get a few tasks accomplished and then I go to pick the kids up.  It is a 25 minute drive one direction.  We arrive home and dig into homework, which leads directly into dinner preparation and clean up, family reading time, prayers and bedtime.  This six-hour period of constant activity leaves me feeling like a wrung out washrag.  At the same time, Patrick is finishing a fourteen-hour work day and isn’t in much better shape.  After a week, the kids excitement and fascination with going to school has worn off and it takes a little more effort to get everyone motivated and moving.  Homeschooling was actually much easier and more efficient.  I won’t lie, I’ve already thought about throwing in the towel.

I was actually contemplating if we had made a huge mistake by putting them in school when I saw a video that my doctor posted on Facebook.  He spoke about walking through the fire.  He said things like “we always have something to learn” and “maybe it’s not about us, but about what other people see in our journey.” BAM!  God lead us to this path.  We are here at this moment, in this place for a reason.  It is hard, brutally difficult and challenging.  It is especially a struggle because I know that the hardships we are facing to make this school thing happen can be relieved by just going back to homeschooling.  But, I can not–must not–look back.  No, comparison and “what ifs” are the handy  work of the enemy.  God is calling us to go forward, to trust in Him completely.  He has a plan for us and the lesson in it is not only for me.  God wants to use our family and our story to show His goodness.  I will not stand in His way.

I beg your prayers for us during this time of transition.  We really are feeling the physical effects of this effort.  Pray for strength for us, for perseverance for all, and for all to learn the lesson that God is teaching us through the experience.  Thank you for journeying with me.

UPDATE:  In the midst of this transition, we have a new granddaughter!  Savannah Grace made her appearance at 5 am this morning.  And this Saturday we will gain a son when our daughter, Lauren celebrates the Sacrament of Matrimony with Matthew Perrier.  Such blessings in our lives!!  All Praise and Glory to God be given.

I Can’t Homeschool

I know it has been a while since I wrote a post–months actually.  I realize that I said I would do better, but the words just didn’t come.  I just seem to be stuck in a rut in all aspects of my life.  I am transitioning from trusting in myself to turning it over to God and completely trusting in Him.  That is why I’ve come to the conclusion that I cannot homeschool.

Let’s face it.  It is an impossible task.  Even though Allison will graduate at the end of August, I still have six children to educate, a house to run, a husband to love and support, and somewhere in all of that I have to find time to pray and discern God’s will.  Not. Possible.  Not by myself.  I’m not strong enough.

I can’t tell you how much I’ve grappled with the idea of homeschooling.  This past spring left me literally paralyzed at the very thought of all that is required of me.  My health is steadily improving, but at the mere thought of going back to school in a few weeks, my heart begins to palpitate and the feeling of being overwhelmed begins to creep back in.  I attended the Immaculate Heart of Mary Homeschool Conference here in Arlington and felt encouraged and renewed.  The speakers were terrific and said exactly what I needed to hear.  Yet, I still struggle with the whole idea of year 16 of homeschooling. As I browsed the vendors I prayed for God to direct my purchases because I would buy up the whole inventory if I had the opportunity.  In the end, I settled on three books (for myself): one on fighting spiritual battles, one on discerning God’s will, and a third book–which I had previously owned and read, but could not find–called “A Mother’s Rule” by Holly Pierot.  I’m reading them all at the same time, so I can really digest the information and have time to implement simple changes.

Holly’s book is frustrating for me to read.  Not because it is poorly written, but because it is so well written and parallels my journey so closely.  I shake my head and wonder how I could have read this book before, followed the suggestions and still ended up taking the wrong path at some point in time only to end up back at square one.  So, I will learn from my mistakes and start back up the road one step at a time, one day at a time.  I will carefully set prayer times into place throughout my day and start each day asking God what he wants of me and allow Him to lead me.  I will make my to do list based on His priorities and not mine, and will be ready to surrender when the plan changes mid stream.  I will homeschool my children.  God willing, we will persevere through another year and grow closer to God and to each other.  I will thank God for the strength and grace to do His will and praise Him for the gift of being able to teach my children their Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, but most especially for the honor of teaching them about our Savior Jesus Christ, his mother Mary and the beautiful faith entrusted to us in the Catholic Church.  And I will homeschool.  I will do it because He has asked me to do it.  God does not ask and then abandon.  He will provide the grace and strength and I don’t have to be strong enough.  “I can do all things in Christ who gives me strength.” Phillipians 4:13