Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Mommy, Come Play! - Part 1

The most frequent thing people say to me when having a conversation  for the first time is, "You homeschool?  Wow, I could never do that!"  The most frequent question or comment I hear when people discover I'm a musician is, "What age should I start my child in music lessons? or "I wish I never stopped playing the piano."  Recently, I've come to see a relationship between all these.

My answers, first.

Regarding the first comment, I'm a second-generation homeschool mom.  What that means is, in the mass of people venturing out into the unknown to try alternative education methods with their children, I'm one who can't say, "Oh, I could never do that!"  That's because I lived through being "homeschooled." I guess you could say I have insider information: teaching your children at home can look exactly like being a mother at home  . . . no special skills required.   I have no excuses.

This is the secret that makes me feel somehow dishonest and quite uncomfortable when taking that. . . compliment? . . . from other women.  You see, I know that it makes about as much sense to tell me, "Oh, I could never do that!" in regards to teaching children at home as it does to use that comment in regards to being a mother in general.

What I mean is:

Mothers, did you know all you needed to know to birth, nurse, feed, potty-train, discipline etc. a child when you got pregnant?  Fathers, did you have all the money, patience, house space, cars, clothes, bikes, insurance, and stored up hours of sleep that you needed before having children? No.  But somehow billions of people continue to thrive and grow and contribute on this planet and they all come from mothers and fathers who began by being totally unprepared and often feel incompetent in their roles as parents.  How does this happen? They make it up as they go. They use resources they find along the way. They get on-the-job training. They fail and learn, fail and learn. Those that don't give up and stay committed, find 18-30 years later that they have succeeded in creating another adult who is usually quite awesome. None of us are ever perfect, or "done" but that's a discussion for another day.

Now, I'm not sitting down to write a post to convince all families to homeschool.  I'm sitting down to write my opinion that the easiest part of being a mother is teaching your children; that you already do teach your children (whether you realize it or not).  So if your intuition or conscience or your "inner guide" has something to say about how your children gain an education and it happens to have something to do with trying options that would entail keeping your child at home for some or all of the day in their early years - maybe you shouldn't feel so crazy to listen.  In fact, I'd have to be one to argue. . .  you could do that.

I've found that, yes, our children become more like us when they continue to be around us most (so if you're "weird" they might be "weird" too).  They become like mirrors, reflecting our weaknesses, strengths and quirks. When looking in that mirror, we see things we feel need to be changed. So - keeping your children mostly at home might become an impetus for you to change some things about yourself. Then they change.

Keeping them out of public school might mean you will have to learn patience; learn how to put relationships above house duties; learn how to teach your children to help you care for the home; learn how to get along with each other; teach them (and yourself) how to spend time wisely etc.  But, wait - isn't that what everyone is learning to do as a family?  Aren't those all skills (and countless others) every family must learn to function properly? That every society must learn to function well?

But maybe you believe you "could never do that" NOT because you're afraid you'd ruin your children, but because you're afraid they'd ruin you. No time for self. Never a clean house. Never a quiet moment. Do you know what I think? Family life is designed to teach us to lose our self. Something inside us never feels quite right with being self-centered.

 Oh yes, "but if you don't fill up your tank first, you'll have nothing to give."  I have a problem with that mentality in two respects.  First, you can fill up someone else's "tank" much faster than you can your own.  Second, doing so invites others to want to fill up your "tank" (which remember they can do faster than you can). This cycle of giving forms healthy relationships and builds better, happier people at the same time. 

I have come to believe that children need you more when you're around them less. I've noticed when I leave for a few days, or when I'm gone from my children for a long period during the day and then come home - those are the times they demand more of me and being a mommy is more intense.   

In other words, children have their tanks, too. I can either spend sixteen hours or six working to fill those tanks. Once they are full, children want to go explore and learn and create (practice filling other people's tanks) on their own.  If that's true, which time period of "filling tanks" would feel more intense? Six, right? Now, take the six-hour intenser version and imagine that same intensity for sixteen hours and you get the "ooh" and "aww" and "I could never do that" comments from people.  But that version rarely exists in my experience.

For example, my first child surprised us by showing up on the scene when she was supposed to wait to come until I was done with my degree (according to our neat little plan).  My devoted mother watched her each day while I was at school and she had all kinds of loving attention, but what she wanted most was her mommy.  My child's solution? She nursed every two hours I was with her for the first two years of her life.  Even at night.  She made up for lost time and at night, I learned how to nurse lying down (and mostly in my sleep).  Whether I could have (or tried) to change that was between me and that "inner guide" of mine, right?  It said not to wean her.  I fought it, but Elise fought harder and I'm glad I eventually listened. From my perspective now, I see how really small that sacrifice was.  It even became a sweet and simple thing. And I can see how such a small and simple thing was huge in its effects on her life.

So I have my children at home all day. Yet, when I want to, I find time to write, do bills, read, email, visit a friend or waste my time in various ways like other moms.  I have hobbies. Take classes. Develop my talents. Believe it or not,  I actually exercise and dress, eat, clean etc. I get things done.  Quite a lot, actually. Yet my kids are home all day long, they get a lot of attention from me, and they are thriving and learning like normal children (whatever that means). For some reason (well, for the reason in bold above), people think that's a miracle.

Lastly, I find it ironic that parents go through the most physically (and sometimes emotionally and spiritually) demanding period of parenthood (and especially motherhood) when their child needs them 24/7 and then as that child (and the parent) begin to blossom, and begins to learn how to care more for their self, our culture teaches us to fear being around them 24/7.  You've made it through the toughest, most demanding beginning of their life and as the curve tends toward increased independence - THEN you waffle?  They're mostly done with the tantrum stage and now you don't think you're up to being around them all day? (BTW, I've found the best remedy for a tantrum is a hug - fill that tank.)

So call me crazy, but I think it's harder to use public school to teach your children in the younger years.  I think if a mother's intuition prompts her that public school is the route for her child when she's still a new mommy trying to learn how to raise a family (which is the case for most mother's I guess), then she has the harder job. Women who make that scenario work are the ones I think perform miracles. I'm the lazy mom. All the things that a family needs to learn if they're going to be happy and enjoy being a family are SO MUCH HARDER TO LEARN when you barely have time to be together as a family.

 This just makes sense, right?  How do you get better at the piano? You have to sit at the piano.  How do you get better, faster?  You sit at the piano longer.  Granted, how you practice, what motivates you, and whether you enjoy piano or not will determine how effective that practice is, but sitting at the piano less isn't going to help those variables.  More time experimenting, finding things that don't work, trying a new approach, experiencing some success (that will motivate you to want to play more) all requires MORE time at the bench. Not less.

Regarding the second comment ("How early should I start my child in music lessons"). . . well. . . I guess you'll just have to wait for part two.  I may still have 2 1/2 hours before my children know mommy's morning time is over and start wanting my help, but who likes (or ever finishes) long blog posts? My mom.