Monday, August 24, 2015

Back to School 2015-16

After more than two months of maternity leave, today marked our first day back to school: John is starting third grade, Mary first grade, and Margaret pre-Kindergarten, while Joseph (2) and Thomas (5 weeks) are our school mascots. Daddy bought us doughnuts to celebrate with a fun breakfast.

John decorated his sign really well,
then promptly lost it somewhere in the house.

The children insisted I make Joseph a sign
"so he will feel included!"

I thought my expectations were low enough, but I don't think my expectations are ever low enough to avoid my own crashing disappointment. My big goals for last week (four weeks postpartum) were simply to resume having the children do daily music practice, which had been dropped since I went on bed rest, and for the kids to start reading their new literature books. Then my goals for this week were to add to last week's goals their music theory homework, daily holy reading and catechism (about 20 minutes total), spelling, and mathematics: that's it! (We will add in progressively more as the weeks go by.)

I explained to the children that we've had a very orderly home school for at least the last year, if not two: we were at the table by nine o'clock, done by 11:30, and we finished our lists. Now I am at the whim of a newborn who has no routine yet and insists on being held almost all the time, plus he doesn't know how to nurse so I'm repeatedly dashing off to go pump for him. I forewarned the kids that they will have to learn to be a lot more independent with schooling, do what work they can while the baby is awake and occupying my hands, and then drop whatever they are doing to attend to lessons with me as soon as the baby falls asleep, whenever that may be. Just describing in words that degree of uncertainty and irregularity gives me the willies!

The day was hard. Chris can attest that I was melting down by ten in the morning. My frustration levels spiked when the baby finally seemed to fall deeply asleep after being awake for three hours straight, I transferred him to his crib, I set up a math lesson with a child, and within five minutes the baby was screaming again because I had dared to put him down. We weren't done with our minimal list of subjects till three o'clock in the afternoon.

I remind myself that last time I had a baby, my oldest child was only newly six years old and in Kindergarten. I had a bright three-year-old sitting in on her big brother's reading lessons so she was reading by then too. Our school requirements were minimal and I felt like a homeschooling rock star because I was still a super fun mom--a mom who has, sadly, long since disappeared--who had two children reading well already. Throw a baby into the mix and I was still a rock star.

Now I have kids in older grades doing a lot more work with things like Composition and Latin on the horizon. I have three children in music lessons, which require supervising 90 minutes of instrument practice plus music theory homework daily, something that wasn't happening yet last time I had a baby. I have a third child desperately wanting to learn to read and I have a toddler boy who people keep remarking is "so full of energy"--rather like a ping pong ball!

The short of it is that I thought I knew somewhat what this postpartum would be like as I run the homeschool with a baby in tow . . . because I'd done it before! But I had no idea, this is entirely different, and I spent our first homeschool day bursting into tears and sneaking cookies and candy out of sight of the rascally children.

My husband remains ever supportive and can see the positives when I cannot.

My four-year-old, to whom I've promised to try to give a reading lesson daily now, is eager and already reading at a basic level.

So proud!

The two bigger kids don't seem to have lost much of their math learning, so three cheers for that.

My 8-year-old surprised me today by doing the best independent work, plus cheerfully offering to help entertain the younger siblings at times. Here he is, reading with animation a book to them . . .

Nobody has yet died from toys, shoes, and dirty socks littered about numerous rooms, or the fact that the kids are not yet back in the habit (since I had the baby) of making their beds or brushing their teeth in the mornings.

We are all still clothed even though for the first time in a decade, I can't quite keep up with laundry and there are piles of unfolded, clean laundry left around the house during the day. Even worse, there are, at any given time, several days' worth of dirty, wrinkled clothing covering the floors of the children's closets. The Queen of Laundry is fast losing her title.

Clean laundry sitting unfolded, getting wrinkly, and taking up space: a crime!
Plus note the pile of recycling boxes in the corner, cardboard that has been sitting there for a couple of weeks.

I felt like a failure one night last week when I was so incompetent that I had to ask my four-year-old to make us all peanut-butter-jelly sandwiches for dinner, which she did with excitement and pride. I felt like a failure again today when I had to ask my six-year-old to "make us lunch, just figure it out, make whatever you want"--and she did it, everyone was fed. My good girlfriend reminded me with a loving kick in the behind that this is exactly why I began training the children months ago in basic household and personal care. Now I am in the trenches and now is when they need to help! This is not a failure: this is exactly the adaptation and overcoming of circumstances that I could only hope for! I anticipated this chaos, I prepared for it, I trained the troops, and now we're in the thick of battle, fighting the good fight against disorder as best we can.

The two-year-old coated in yogurt from stem to stern,
and having rubbed it all over the tablecloth as well

I'm so emotionally fatigued from our first day of school that I'm ready to go back on summer vacation, but I will instead try to lower my standards further, accept the chaos with love, and face another day tomorrow. But I won't promise to stay out of my secret stash of M&Ms, not yet!


  1. Having your little people happily prepare a meal (however meager) for you all successfully is a MAJOR success NOT a failure. Your problem is perspective my dear. You are rocking this mom thing! Keep that chin up!

  2. That's neat. Our kids are in the same grades! :-) Leo starts 3rd grade in a few weeks, and Jules will be in First!

  3. I read your blog and then read another blogger's post in my email and I thought I'd share the link:

  4. And, not because you sounded like you wanted to quit homeschooling, but because, as in your own words, you are "in the trenches."