Dancing with Reality

I love to read. I absolutely, love to read. Over the course of the last six years it has greatly saddened me to find that my brain cannot keep up with my interests. I dream of a day when I can lay beneath a Willow tree, upon a soft blanket, lost in the pages of a challenging book. The reality however, is that I sit on my sofa or bed with a challenging selection, read the first three pages and then flip back to page one because I cannot remember what I just read…I will probably repeat this four times before giving up entirely. My mind is lost in a fog of inabilty, one that appeared out of nowhere and has destroyed the hope of once again realizing my ideal.

Whether the fog be attributed to my Fibromyalgia, Depression or just Motherhood, I will never really know but I do know that I am starting to cross that bridge…at least for now, and I relish in the thought. My newest attempt at reading has been the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which my mother lent me along with some advice “It’s a great book but I really want you to read the first chapter where they talk about his childhood, early education and the atmosphere that his mother created.”

I’ll admit thats exactly what I planned to do, just read the beginning and hand the book back…and in a way I might still. I’m only on chapter two after all and I’m not sure my sensitive nature can handle the subject matter right now (huzzah, I was able to remember everything I read, the first time!) but I didn’t just read the first chapter, I read all the way to the end of the second- in one sitting and again a second time because I wanted to. I poured over it repeatedly.

Immediately, I knew why my mother wanted me to read that section. Bonheoffer’s mother had created my ideal and over the last few years I have attempted to create a very similar environment for my children. Overall achieving varying degrees of success.

The picture painted is that of an atmosphere of freedom and learning with a growing focus as a child grows in maturity and age. A place where animals are welcomed, natural collections gathered and displayed prominently, and imaginations fostered beside strict guidelines in proper or logical speech. Their Mother, Paula Bonhoeffer, held a distrust of the Prussian school system’s ability to handle the sensitive nature of her young children and opted to teach all 8 of them (all born within a decade of each other) at home until they were eight years old. Music was strongly encouraged, readings from the Bible occurred daily (her father, brother and grandfather were all theologians), and scientific thought was expected from all (their father, Karl Bonhoeffer, was a leading scholar and professor). Twaddle, as Charlotte Mason calls non-healthy mind food (otherwise known as ideas), was not permitted and all of the children grew into intelligent, humble yet confident adults with a great deal of compassion and a great sense of justice.

I read this in awe the first time. Nodding my head along as I saw the same kinds of bents and leanings of my own educational philosophy. I found myself thinking that if Paula could do this with 8 children and less education than myself, then there is no excuse for me not to also do this with my four and the Internet.

Then I read it again and paid more attention to the details. Yes she ran the house, taught the children and created a loving environment rich with experiences but she had help. Lots of help! She had a governess, a nursemaid, a housemaid, a parlor maid and a cook. They even had a vacation home where the children went ahead of their parents under the guidance of the governess and nursemaid.

WOW! What I could get done with all that help!

I quickly, realized that I tend to assume an idealistic picture of others based on the superficial picture that is presented to the world without actually knowing how they get it all together. Based on my second assessment, I must be doing an amazing job if I can get though homeschooling, with a decently tidied home and some sort of meal prepared at the end of the day…even if that meal is a frozen pizza. Creating a realistic view of what is attainable within the confines of my expectations is just as important as planning out my day, week, or year. This is especially important for me as I plan out next year and try to meld together the idealistic idea of how I want my home to run with the reality of what we as a family love to do.

For me this means that yes, I can start traditions and build habits that lead to a healthy and wonder filled childhood for my littles while also allowing for their love of junk. I can successfully combine a child-led education with a thoroughly varied selection classical ideals. I don’t need to outlaw things or censor because I think the best way to go about it is to use the dieting adage of 80-20…80 percent healthy 20 percent fun. 80 percent of focusing on habit trainings, reading great books, asking deep questions and searching for answers through play while still allowing for 20 percent of My Little Pony/Ninjago/Lego Avengers binge marathons and Captain Underpants.

This is how child led works in a house that values traditional parenting structures. I say yes more than most traditional Christian parents, I rarely say no to activities unless they are dangerous or lead to unacceptable behavior, but I am still firm in my expectations and will often offer alternatives that sound like more fun (leaving the choice with the children). We don’t allow baby talk unless it is part of a make believe scenario, we expect our children to express themselves verbally and have taught them how to do so… we have also taught them that not everyone is capable of such expression. We havebuilt a foundation where they know that their ideas and thoughts are welcomed here and that they have a safe space for expression and explorations of all kinds. We have blended what works and what we believe to be healthy and it works for us, just as others blend things in other ways that work for them.

There are times when I read things written by Pure CM’ers or Radical Unschoolers and I think “Wow, that sounds so amazing” and then I romantically imagine how I could implement such a thing in my own home only to feel dejected when it doesn’t work because I didn’t take into account the reality of our lifestyle.

I’ve come to realize through excerpts in books like Bonhoeffer and blogs that make it a point to show the behind the scenes view occasionally, that balance is a delicate dance that every one learns over time. Some are talented enough to figure it out on the first try, while others take years of practice. Some can gracefully incorporate the two seamlessly and others fake it till they make it. I am beginning to find my way through the song. Things I once thought were fantasy are starting to become traditions, like reading as a family before bedtime instead of being so completely exhausted that we collapse in front of the TV, and my reality is starting to resemble my ideal…but it took years to get here.

The same thing goes for my Reading… I remember the idealistic times of my youth where I could lay about for days at a time completely immersed in my newest selection. That’s not possible for me anymore. I don’t have the freedom to get lost in a book nor the mental capacity because I don’t have cooks and housemaids to help me along this journey. I do however, have an hour in the afternoon of mandatory quiet time where I can get partially lost or at least begin to challenge myself once again and another hour or two after the children go to bed. It has taken me years to find the my way but I am finally joining in the dance.

I am a happier person because of it.

 How about you? Are there times when you’ve been able to find the harmony between your ideal and reality?

Dancing with reality

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Buying into The Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, there lived a homeschooling family who had it all together. Everyday was beautifully wonderful. The mother woke up to a clean house, easily jumped out of bed to the sounds of birds chirping, the sun rising and her children giggling in lilting tones of joy. They quickly dressed themselves in stylish clothing appropriate to the weather outside after folding their pajamas and placing them in their drawers. The oldest two offer to help as she makes breakfast from scratch and the younger two sit quietly at the table, engaged in polite conversations. Her hair has been blow dried and curled, make up perfectly applied and outfit trendy yet comfortable and fitting her perfectly in all the right places.

Over breakfast they have deep and meaningful conversations about classic literature, scientific theory, and philosophy which everyone enjoys. The children happily put away their dirty dishes, wipe down the table and begin begging for rigorous and complex school work.

They brainstorm quickly before deciding on a painting project, science experiment and research paper for her 7 year old, and a sculpture, reading through a chapter in Alice and Wonderland, and a paragraph of copy work from the same book for her 5 year old. While the younger two quietly listen to the discussion. Everyone is excited and they rush to work happily.

The preschooler and toddler quietly play with blocks, creating cityscapes together with absolute cooperation on all sides.

She is able to sit quietly on the couch with a cup of hot, freshly brewed coffee, a wrinkled copy of Hobbes “Leviathan” and a note pad. Each person eagerly digging into their lesson, independently and joyfully. Each living and learning happily ever after.

Wait, no. That’s not how the story goes. I have NEVER had a day or even a morning like that! NEVER!

It looks more like this:

The Tale of the Cursed Unschoolers

The children wake up before her. They are like dwarves (a la Tolkien), angry, hairy, and loud. They eat as often as Hobbits, requiring second breakfast and second lunch regularly. They can be joyful and happy but it is often wrought with disagreements and quarrels.

Most days they awaken as their father is leaving for work. He has been careful not to wake the sleeping Dragon as he readies himself for his day.

She is not a morning person. She dislikes, greatly, waking before the sun. She often doesn’t fall asleep until the witching hour, usually lost in world building or wordplay. Her inspiration and creativity are strongest under the light of the moon.

The party, however, enters the dragons lair boisterously. They climb up the precipice daringly. Leap with no regards. They holler and shout in anticipation of the task at hand. Demanding vitals.

The Dragon is less Smaug and more Puff. Not feared at all, but loved greatly although sometimes ignored. The dwarves are now vicious Cornish Pixies, searching for an opening with which to play their pranks. As the dragon arises the pixies hang on and swing. She sends them on a quest, allowing part of her treasure to be plundered by the adorable cherubs. They raid the icy cave in search for yogurt, apples and hard boiled eggs.

They eat on the run, their adventures are only now beginning and no room will be left undiscovered. Every toy will be scattered, every item of clothing spread out. Invisible thieves will be blamed for the loss of a precious relic (and not the mess that must be cleaned). Learning is an ongoing occurrence that happens without warning.

Calls for books will be sometimes be headed, but only if the adventurers are also scholars today. Some days the urge to build great towers will be necessary to capture the ancient evils high above a moat. Other days the bards tales are too interesting to forget and must be written and stored for future generations. Some days the call of the stars is too great and plans must be made to visit them.

The mighty dragon is wise but the heroes prefer moving stories and outdoor explorations. The dragon may offer twenty different learning opportunities within a fortnight, only to have two or three chosen as real possibilities.

Occasionally, the dragon is transformed into a nagging hag. Unable to shower before noon, achingly trying to catch up on laundry and dishes. The sink has been cursed by a powerful evil, if cleaned, no less than 3 dirty dishes appear. The laundry basket too has been cursed, it is never empty, no matter how many loads are washed in a week. It may even be said that the whole house has been visited by an ancient evil. Toys appear where little ones claim to have cleaned up. Books disappear only to be found under bed cloths.

The curse has effected everyone, making everything unstable and unpredictable. The adventurers may appear as curious children in one moment and angry trolls in others. The Dragon can easily switch between the nagging hag and the Beautiful Queen, who kindly welcomes inquiry and exploration.

The curse, is not a curse at all. It is something far worse.

Reality.

Reality dashes my expectations and forces me to deal with the real situations at hand. Her harshness allows for growth and learning in ways that are highly unpredictable. I have learned to embrace her wholly… Although in my dreams I imagine an alternate universe, a land of perfection, curiosity, and beauty. I create these fantasies in my head and then wonder why reality seems so bad.

Perhaps this reality is another’s dimensions fairy tale.

Perhaps, I am living the dream. Am I living in someone else’s dream?

Perhaps, this IS happily every after, but I complain too much to notice.

Perhaps, I am not cursed at all…or rather I am cursed but I don’t realize that I have cursed myself because I’m only looking at the negative.

Perhaps… It’s how I view my world that is flawed…gasp! Perish the thought. How could I, the beautiful queen, be the one whose wrong? There is no way that I, the wise Dragon, could be the one who is flawed?

No…Never…that’s ridiculous. I must still be dreaming.

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