Tag Archives: musings

Organic, Free-Range Children

So Matilda’s gap year has come to an end. 2014 has been an adventure in homeschooling. I’ve had a teacher’s dream job – a classroom with one gifted student, eager to learn.

This is the year I made new friends, learnt Japanese, went on interesting excursions and got re-acquainted with our local library.  Matilda now plays guitar, tutors one of Christopher’s friends, plays a mean game of netball and can rollerskate with the best of them.  She also walks taller, stands up for herself and chatters warmly and effusively to her new friends.

She’s still a sensitive child – she wouldn’t be Matilda if she wasn’t – but her eyes have lost that hunted, anxious look, she eats her lunch and goes to sleep at night.

Of course, it hasn’t all been easy.  It’s hard work organizing regular social catch-ups for Matilda and regular sanity-breaks for myself, and I often feel I could be doing more with her (her brain is enormous).  It’s no picnic having to explain myself everywhere I go, either (No, she’s not sick, we homeschool.  You want me to explain my reasons for homeschooling in 140 characters or less?  Forget it.  She’s sick.)

But it’s a lot easier and a lot more enjoyable than I thought it would be.

I love the lifestyle.  I love learning about how Matilda learns.  I love the rich curriculum and I love being able to tailor it to Matilda’s needs.  I love the freedom and the simplicity.  I love socializing with other families.  I love the space it creates for extracurricular activities.

I feel like the most stress I’ve dealt with this year has been related to Christopher’s school.  The pick ups and the drop offs.  The tiredness and crankiness.  The readers and the homework books.  The bullying and standard-issue cruelty.  And the endless, endless admin.

Homeschooling is rather strange, I guess.  But sending my children off to a one-size-fits-all institution for an inefficiently mass-produced education is a different sort of strange.  Not that I’m anti-school.  And not that I’m telling you to homeschool or judging you for not homeschooling or waiting for you to list the manifold reasons why you can’t homeschool.  I’m just trying to work out what works for my family.

All through the year, Christopher had begged me to homeschool him too and I’ve struggled to find a reason not to do it.  It was difficult saying goodbye to the school, but in another way, I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

So, I’m committing to one more year of homeschool.  After this year, things get a little more complicated.  Harry will be old enough for school and Matilda will be in Grade 6 and might benefit from a year at school before she goes to high school.  But I’m only doing things one year at a time.  I will have a clearer idea of where to go later this year.  At least that’s what I tell myself.

Am I a mad person?

On Writing

Pretty notepad with pen, tea and chocolate

Disclaimer: I suspect this is going to be an insufferably self-indulgent and introspective post.

Suffer.

I love writing. I get such a rush from words tumbling out and jostling for position on the screen or in my ratty notebook.  There is a delicious agony in searching for the right word or the perfect one-liner. I am filled with glee when I finish a piece and it’s done, it’s definitely done and I can totally publish it.  And knowing that I have readers as lovely as you is pure bliss.  I think I know now what I want to be when I grow up.

And here’s the funny part: I think that my job as a stay-at-home-mum fits perfectly with this plan.

I feel a little nervous saying this – in any other profession, it’s perfectly OK to say you love working and that your job is full of fun perks, but the role of full-time Domestic Engineer is fraught with emotional landmines.

You see, we’re all a little bruised by the idea put about that we’re spoiled rich ladies who spend our days wearing pearls and watching infomercials.  Or that we’re a little bit stupid and child-care (being such an unworthy pursuit) is all our poor intellects are capable of. Or that we’re so insufferably dull, we need to surround ourselves with children as a distraction.

This makes us rather defensive.

As a result, we flood social media with earnest posts about how SAHMs should be earning a CEO’s salary for all the work they do (often accompanied by a Vishnu-like diagram depicting all the roles they play); stories of husbands who try to do the work of their stay-as-home wife and fall apart after Day 1 (“I had no idea!”); and heartwarming video clips that involve evocative piano music, baby’s first steps and advertisements for a South East Asian phone company.

I feel like a traitor to the cause admitting I really like what I do – and not just for the worthy reasons like “being there for my kids” and “hearing Baby’s first words” – the lifestyle really suits me.

I’ve been thinking a lot about a proper career as a writer and I see this time at home not as a delay or a roadblock, but as a gift.  Time to practice and develop my skills before I try it on for real.

In fact, I’ve been thinking about it so much, I’m going to write a whole separate blog post about it.

Stay tuned.

The God Who Pokes

God from The Creation of Adam (poking)

Part Two

So if you don’t already think I’m nuts for homeschooling my daughter this year, you might when I tell you why.

You see, I was resisting the idea a lot.  It was a stupid, harebrained scheme.  Who homeschools?  How would I even begin to explain this to people?  How was I going to cope with it all?  Would the school be upset with me?  But God kept poking me.

What is a God poke?  Well, it’s not like I hear the voice of God and he tells me to do things in a deep, rich baritone, or there’s this big thunderbolt and I fall off the horse I’m riding and the statue of Mary gets all weepy and the fish poke their heads out of the water to listen to me preach and it starts raining flowers.  It’s kind of like this persistent gut feeling every time I pray.  And good people seem to turn up in my path with the right advice at the right time.  I know that I can tell God to back off with these crazy suggestions and he would.  But I don’t want to tell him to back off, not right away.  I’m curious and a little excited.  I know that in the past when I’ve gone along with God in his ridiculous suggestions, it’s turned out to be the best thing I could have done.

This all might sound mental, but it’s not really.  It’s not like some compulsion – like I have to do something right now or something bad will happen.  And it’s not like I feel compelled by creepy voices in my head.  Nothing bad will happen if I don’t listen to God and his quiet suggestions (except I might miss out on an adventure exactly suited to my personality and stage of life.  I might miss an opportunity to grow and reach my true potential).  And I don’t feel compelled (or hear voices, for that matter) – like I said before, I feel really conflicted.  I keep telling God his ideas are mental and he keeps bugging me.  I need to really trust God, there’s always that leap of faith required, I guess.

I should probably point out here that I don’t think I’m some child of destiny, that God has a plan for me and me alone.  Everyone gets poked by God at some time or another.  Some of us ignore it, some of us don’t call it ‘God’, but ‘intuition’ or ‘conscience’ or some other name that best fits our chosen religion.

I can hear as I write this what my atheist friends would say to all this.  What about all those awful people who commit atrocities and say they were doing God’s will?  Surely it’s dangerous to blindly follow an idea like this?  It’s true.  Not all ‘gut feelings’ come from God.  I don’t like to give him too much attention, but there is an evil mischief-maker out there who likes to trip us up.  That’s why it’s important that we don’t follow our concept of God’s will blindly.  Here’s a helpful test set out in the beautiful form of an ordered list:

  1. What is my motivation for taking this path?  Is ego and vanity a big factor?  If the answer is yes, it’s probably not God.  If the answer is no, proceed to question 2
  2. What are the fruits of this ministry?  Of course, there will be obstacles, but are good things happening because of it?  If you have declared war on another nation and are claiming it’s God’s will, you might have some trouble finding good fruits.
  3. Did I take this on because I really feel it’s where God has called me to be, or am I loading up with more commitments for ‘extra credit’, so that I might impress God?
  4. Do I feel a healthy measure of doubt about this?  I would worry if not.

Of course, I always try to make God fit into a box, but God does not conform to ordered lists, and the best way to discern his will in a tricky situation is to pray, pray, pray.  Read the scripture and pray,  Sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament and pray.  Peg out the washing and pray.  Pray formally, with the rosary or a novena.  Pray informally, in silence or amidst the noise and mess.  Ask others to pray for you.   Ask Mary to pray for you (she said yes to God’s harebrained scheme too, remember?).  Just pray.  Pray lots.

Then maybe it might be time to poke back.

Special Birthday Edition

I meant to get this post up yesterday, the 15th, which was my birthday, but didn’t quite manage it. 

birthday cards

This is a quick, unpolished post, the electronic equivalent of scribbled notes, but I had to write something about today because it was so beautiful.  I want to capture it and remember it always.

I am 33 years old today.  When I sat in church this morning, as Matilda, Christopher Robin and Harry trotted off to Children’s Liturgy and Annie happily defaced a Vinnies Christmas Appeal envelope, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my love-filled life.

roses from my garden

Last night, I had a group of dear friends over for a relaxed barbeque.  I had tidied the house and made it beautiful with fairy lights and candles and fresh flowers from my garden.  After we had picked at the last of the salad and the birthday cake crumbs, Mr Knightley lit a bonfire and we all sat around toasting marshmallows until the guitars came out.

I think it might have had something to do with the plastic cups of very lovely champagne (a Christmas present from her very generous student) that Lydia poured out liberally for all, or one of the most delicious and rather strong vodka cranberries that Lovely M kept making me, but I sounded AMAZING.  We all sounded AMAZING.  Like magical gypsy minstrels.  Those weren’t fumbled chords.  Those were highly sophisticated improvisations.  It. Was. Awesome.

By all rights, I should have felt rather poorly this morning, but I did not.  My children tumbled into bed with me and gave me presents and kisses.  My husband cooked me bacon and eggs (even better: he fed and dressed the kids!).  We got to church on time, too (this is big)

I was still feeling the love while Matilda, Christopher Robin and Harry walked slowly to the front of the church in the Offertory Procession with the other Children’s Liturgy kids.  Harry solemnly delivered the corporal cloth to Father Jacob and then swiftly ran away, first in the wrong direction, then turning and racing back, almost knocking the priest and half the gifts over in the process.  Annie, meanwhile had quietly progressed to colouring the hymn books.

I felt so good.

These aren't from my garden, but a present from Bess

Later that day, I would eat brunch with Bess and George, my old uni friends ; my parents-in-law would drop by with a lovely present and my house would be tidy (win); and I would have a delightful afternoon tea at my favourite place with my parents, and brothers and sister (Jan’s in England, but was there in spirit).

I was yet to be showered in presents (and so was Cindy, my twin, who turns 23 on Tuesday), was yet to eat delicious gluten-free cake, but I still felt so good and so grateful.

At the end of the day, I would snuggle up with my darling love (my new curling iron) and my husband and watch a movie so compelling I couldn’t blog through it and post this in time.

A day might come that’s not like this one at all, when I feel blackness and despair.  Maybe I might feel consumed by anxiety, like I can’t cope, like I always fail.

Perhaps it might not be blackness and despair, but greyness and blah.  I might feel numb to joy, like I’m just surviving in a bland world of sameness.  I might forget how to be happy and just settle for smug.

A day might come when I really need this post.  When I need to remind myself that things aren’t really all that bad.

Things can be pretty damn sweet.

Mary, Help of Kitchens

Mary Statue

I have a Mary in my kitchen.

Mary Statue

Isn’t she lovely?

I didn’t mean to make my first “God in the Mess” post about Mary.  I can’t imagine many of the people out there who read this are Catholic (well, Mum is) and I figure I’m pushing the boundaries enough, writing a ‘God’ post without coming out of the closet as a full-blown Catholic.  But here we are.  I have a Mary in my kitchen.

I know we’re talking about a piece of ceramic, here.   I don’t get all superstitious about it and bring her cups of tea or rub her head for good luck or anything.  But she’s there as a reminder.

Contrary to popular belief, we Catholics don’t worship Mary as a god.  We just really, really admire her.  She’s a good role model, I guess.  I had some vague idea that when I was in the kitchen at five o’clock, about to whack some one or other of my offspring with a saucepan (possibly because they burnt the roastdestroyed the laundry or were considering vegetarianism), I would stop, look at Mary, take a deep breath and put the saucepan down.

I was so excited when I first bought my Kitchen Mary.  It was exactly what I was looking for: simple yet special, traditional yet different.  Even so, when I first got home, I didn’t rush to the kitchen straight away.  Mary spent a lot of time in the plastic bag from the piety stall, wrapped in old parish bulletins.  You see, I wanted to wait until the kitchen was sparkling clean before I put Mary in it.  But setting to and cleaning the kitchen isn’t a straightforward task when you have little ones.  There are nappies and spills and bandaids and bath time and the kitchen mess remains.  Then it hit me (the profound thought, I mean, not the kitchen mess – though it WAS piled precariously high…): the thing I was doing with the Mary statue in my kitchen was exactly what I was doing with God in my life.

You see, I do want God in my life.  I’m sold on that point.  I’m a much better person, much more myself and I make much better decisions when I feel close to God.  But I’ve been keeping God out, just the same.  I guess, in the back of my mind I figured I’d become all spiritual when I “had it all together” or when I “had time to pray”.  It was like it was on my to-do list right next to “clear out the linen cupboard” or “tidy the random drawer”: we both know these things are never going to happen.

But God doesn’t want the perfect versions of ourselves.  God embraces our broken-ness and meets us in the mess.  So, with this in mind, I put Mary in the kitchen, mess and all.  The woman gave birth in a cattle shed, I’m sure she can cope.  You might be asking “Why Mary?  Why not a picture of God?”, well that brings me back to that thing I was saying about Mary being a role model.  I need to let God meet me in the mess and Mary was really good at doing that.  She changed baby Jesus’ nappies as a refugee in Egypt, and had to watch him die, naked and nailed to a tree, when he was an adult.   These situations weren’t tidy.  And she didn’t always have it all together (losing child in temple, anyone?) but she always let God in.

Plus, I don’t really like pictures of God.  They make him look all strange and beard-y.  Like Santa Claus on steroids.

So here’s my Kitchen-Mary in a candid shot (taken before I cleaned up the kitchen for the glamour shots above).

Mary in the Mess

Our Lady of the Sausages, pray for us in our hour of need.