Excellent, Not Perfect

My greatest challenge:  teaching my children.  I  began more than ten years ago with the crushing pack of my children’s education pressing down on my shoulders, and it has become a burden light and wonderful to carry.   There are some days when the weight again seems unbearable and any mistake whispers the lie: “You’re unqualified.”

First day of school ten years ago– true story.   I learned about a cool way to teach spelling:  write the word on a blackboard, and see how many other words can be made with the letters in that word.  The blackboard made it seem so… schoolish, and I do have a love affair with words.  The perfect exercise.

Our word was “animal.”   We made lots and lots of little words with the letters in animal.  I won’t bore you with them all.  But even I was amazed at how many words could be made by rearranging the letters.  (Obviously I hadn’t ever played Boggle before.)  Just as we were finishing up, Dad came home from work.  Beaming, I waved my arm across the word-filled blackboard Vanna White style and said, “See what we’ve been doing?”

He had a strange look on his face.  Figuring he didn’t understand how cool this exercise was, that maybe it looked like mindless scribbles all over the blackboard, I explained to him all about metacognitive strategies and how seeing the little words inside the big word would ingrain the correct spelling in their minds.  Still, he didn’t seem to get it.  No praise.  No stunned and awed expression.  No “You’re amazing, Wife!”

Being the very first day, I admit, I did expect some strokes from him.

“What?”  I asked finally.

“That’s great, Hon.”  He said, “But ‘animal’ is spelled A-N-I-M-A-L, not A-N-I-M-A-L-L.”

Argh!  You probably won’t believe me when I assert that I’m not even a poor speller.  I was just over-excited with a dash of blonde moment.   I DO know how to spell “animal.”  I did back then.  But the mistakes I made, especially that one, helped me to know that perfect was never going to be my adjective.   I have moved on, and we try daily for excellent.  Some days we even hit it.   My friend recently reminded me that a mistake does not disqualify me from the arena.  How I needed to hear that.  Maybe we all do sometimes.

One of my favorite verses is from Ecclesiastes.  “There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen, that it is from the hand of God.  For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him?”

The eating part is cool, but the labor part is even better.  I believe my heart will not condemn me if I ask God for direction, go the way He points, and continue to contradict a world that would tell me my labor in raising my children is not good.  However small, seemingly unimportant the task is, I will tell myself my labor IS good.

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Come Home With Your Shield Or On It

The first week back to homeschool.

One week down, 31 more to go.  Week increments don’t sound so bad.  Like marathons… just 26 miles.

Week 1.  The bad news is that we had tears every day.  The good news:  they weren’t mine.   I’m reading The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, in which  a young, freshly-enlisted soldier is consumed by doubts about his ability to stand in the face of death.  He becomes obsessed with knowing his own limits and is anxious and terrified to be plumbed by the test he knows is coming.   Homeschooling can be like that.  I didn’t know whether or not I’d be able to hang when things got tough.  And honestly, were it not for my husband towing me through those first grueling years,  I would have quit.  At every valley he encouraged me to go on and reminded me of why we signed up for this sortie in the first place.  So easily are our initial dreams and motivations forgotten in the mire of day-to-day challenges and failures!  So I, unlike the young soldier, don’t have to wonder if I have the mettle to face my battle:   I don’t.  Not alone, anyway.

Why does educating your own child make you feel like Atlas?  The instant their little educations came down on my shoulders I felt my knees  buckle.  Every day I  questioned whether or not I was cheating them out of a decent education.    In those first years I did not feel qualified or dignified  (try feeling dignified while breastfeeding and doing spelling).  But somehow  we managed to learn things, many wonderful things, even when little ones interrupted every subject 50 times or helped themselves to the flour while we were praying.

“Come home with your shield or on it,” is a parting admonition Spartan mothers would give their sons as they left for battle– not for the Olympic games.  Once you enlist, it’s not I changed my mind.  It’s desertion.  The woman who undertakes to equip her children with Godly character and academic excellence must come home with her shield or on it.  That may or may not be the reality… but that is how we feel when we teach our own children.   Like we’ve entered the non-negotiable state of battle.   While other moms joyously look forward to the first day of school, summer must be pried from me with the jaws of life.

On to week two!