I read this article this morning about the spring doldrums and, I have to admit, I was relieved to know it isn’t just me that has a sense of things flagging at this time of year. After checking in with my lovely Mum pals I discovered that, indeed, I am not the only one with diminished sense of purpose and enthusiasm. As the weather is shifting I’m feeling a restlessness and desire for change.
When we began homeschooling I set out a few priorities in my own mind as to what I really cared about. Some of those things have shifted but actually a good amount has remained the same. I want our lives to coordinate with seasonal changes, to recognise their influence on our states of mind and wellbeing. I want the boys to spend as much time outside as they can, to feel comfortable in nature. But I also want them to have a broad education that provides them with transferable skills throughout their lives. Sometimes it feels like these priorities are working against each other.
During the winter months I find it relatively easy to stick to a nice rhythm that allows us to get plenty of work under our belts. I’d say that over the course of the year we get the bulk of our table work done between November and April. In the early fall the farm still demands a lot of our time and the same in the spring and early summer; juggling the priorities of the homestead, the farm business and our homeschool schedule takes up a lot of my mental bandwidth. I also really care about doing these things, growing a good amount of our food and teaching the boys these skills; so I’m not willing to step away from them entirely in favour of book work.
When we moved to the farm it was to surround the boys with a certain kind of environment, we wanted to put them in the way of experiences that they could carry forward into their adult lives. Stephen and I both value academics but with practical skills to run alongside them. As I write Huwyl is out feeding the calf her lunch time bottle, while Neirin collects the eggs from the chicken coop. This work has a value not just in terms of the produce but in teaching them the importance of work and effort in making a life. The farm doesn’t simply spring out of nowhere, it takes considerable effort and continuous work, that’s something the boys are a part of and the work they do contributes significantly.
But I also want them to be well read, to understand scientific concepts, to broaden their horizons with a solid understanding of art and history as well as strengthening their bodies with good physical exercise and sport. I want them to experience all of the good bits of school, the bits I really valued and enjoyed, but without all the trouble of having to go to school. Basically I want it all.
Each year I have to sit down and reassess what that means to me, how are we going to strike that balance this year? As the boys evolve and develop, their needs and requirements change, so I have to change my strategies and approaches too. It can be a bit wearing to constantly reevaluate, but it’s also what makes this work interesting to me. I enjoy the challenge of researching, planning and strategising, there are always new possibilities to discover and new options to explore. As the boys are getting older I’m also casting my mind ahead to the next teaching year and thinking about how the work we are doing now can flow into that as naturally as possible.
So, for my own enlightenment as much as anything, I’m going to outline how I mentally breakdown our year, while hoping to avoid actual mental breakdown if at all possible.
Sept- Nov – This season for us is very busy and active. The weather is still nice so lots of outside time, activities with friends and farm work. Our days can still be unpredictable with the demands of the harvest impinging on a regular schedule but we are beginning to get into our stride. This season is an extension of the early summer season where school and homesteading/farming are very intermixed. My goals for this season are:
- Enjoy outside fun as much as possible, soon the weather will keep us in for most of the time.
- Involve the boys in harvest chores, teaching as we work.
- Revel in the freedom our homeschooling schedule provides, allowing us to indulge in time with family and friends.
- Work on seasonal projects that involve outside work.
- Introduce some of the key elements of our new academic year, begin working on our maths, spelling and history programmes.
- Through September and early October we often only do a half day of academics that covers our core work. If we don’t have farm work or an outside adventure we can spend the afternoon doing extra history projects of some science work.
- As we begin to ‘close’ the farm and garden our days become more school focused, though we take advantage of every warm day that comes our way.
Nov – Christmas
- School is now in full swing, we are doing full days (for Huwyl anyway, Neirin’s schedule still accommodates more free time) and touching on all of our subjects over the course of the week.
- We take the odd day for Christmas celebrations with friends, but we are covering a good amount of work each week.
- We still only work 4 days a week with Fridays as a catch-all in case something has dragged on. Usually this is a day for free choice projects, chores around the house or seeing friends.
January – Mid April
- This is where the bulk of our work is achieved. We are doing full days and covering all our subjects.
- Mornings are usually focused on core work (different for each child) covering spelling, history, french, literature, language arts and maths for Neirin.
- Once a week we work on art history and some art projects as part of our history curriculum.
- Maths for Huwyl and science projects are done in the afternoon.
Mid April – End of June (officially)
- As the spring ramps up we are back into farm/homestead/homeschool juggling. Life becomes a bit more fluid again.
- Mornings for school with time for catching up or free choice projects in the afternoon.
- As projects/books are finished they are not replaced. This is the time where we get to leave things behind.
- Opportunities with friends are taken up, fun is on the menu.
- LOTS of outside time.
- Nature rule is in effect (as it is all year really) if the boys are outside playing or active I don’t call them in.
End of June – End of Summer
- A bit of review work each day, unless we are of having an adventure.
- Begin nature journalling each day (when possible).
- A list of projects for the boys to choose from each day, to avoid boredom and bickering.
- Adventures with friends.
- Farm work.
- Regular chores.
- Hopefully time for silent moments and drifting whenever needed.
When I was teaching I remember fondly the projects that we used to do post exam season. There was a feeling of space and the diminishment of stress that led to interesting chats and a slower pace. I feel that this phase of the year embraces that philosophy too. We are ticking boxes of work that has been steadily plugged away at over the course of the year and enjoying the sense of achievement that comes with completing things. But we are also aware of being in a winding down phase that allows for other opportunities to be taken up.
This year, more than any other, we’ll be finishing the year with a strong sense of having reached our collective goals, both in school and personally. I’m so proud of what the boys have done this year and I’m a bit proud of myself too. Despite having homeschooled for 6 years now, each year presents new challenges and opportunities, this year was no exception. As the farming season ramps up, demanding new things of us, and we look forward to the opportunities that summer brings, I’m happier than ever that we made this decision. At least I’m happy most of the time. Just like everything else, happiness requires effort and work. But when the work is done, the payoff is always worth it.
According the the larger world, the world that includes mythical things such as the economy, I am unemployed. I do not bring in an income, I do not pay taxes on that income, I do not exist.
That’s cool with me frankly, as I can’t remember the last time I gave a rodent’s rear end about what the wider world thought of me. It was definitely pre 2008. Definitely. However, that is not really the issue in hand, the issue I’d like to write about today. What I’d like to write about is what I do do, not what I don’t do. For example earn cash.
My ‘job’, for want of a better description is Mum. I suppose it would be more accurate to say my occupation is being a Full Time Parent. This has been my job since (coincidentally) 2008, when I left my previous occupation (teacher) in order to bring life once more into the world. To be fair I think that’s a pretty good reason to change track. I was creating and inventing an entire human being. If a man did that he’d be awarded the Nobel Prize; but women do it ever hour of every minute of every day and the world shrugs it’s shoulders and generally makes us feel like we should not be making too much of a fuss about it, if you don’t mind.
I had, in fact, already created a human being. So my resume had previous experience in my chosen field. I had made a person and even managed to keep him alive for 3 years, before embarking on a 100% expansion of the amount of humans I had produced. Which is a long was of saying I got pregnant again. But the first way sounds better.
Once I had 2 human beings under my charge I started to notice how this parenting can be a very full time gig. Between the two boys they kept my pretty busy and, weirdly, I actually enjoyed being around the human beings I had created. Not all the time, I’ll grant that, but in general it was a good thing. I liked it. I decided to stick with it.
When Huwyl was 5 (at the end of a successful year of Kindergarten) I gave him the option to homeschool. He accepted without hesitation and so we began. I seemed a natural step for me, education being kind of my thing pre-human creation, to work alongside one of my favourite humans each day. I couldn’t quite imagine giving up those learning moments, those light bulb moments, those special moments in favour of teaching other people’s children. I decided to simply cut out the middle woman and teach my own.
That journey didn’t end up being quite as I expected, and as the twists and turns of life created new challenges and issues to deal with, I confess to doubting my ability to manage. Well manage and be sane. Sane-ish. I’ve often wondered if I can really pull it off, if I can get my kids through this crazy business we call Education, without literally chewing off someone’s head on a rogue Tuesday morning sometime in November.
Yet here we are, 6 years later with everyone’s head demonstrably in tact and our journey continuing pleasantly. In fact each year it has become a lot more pleasant. Now that I have 2 literate children who can count and are able to put on their own clothing, I would count my chosen profession to be positively enjoyable. That might not seem like a dramatic statement but often, more often than not I think, we see motherhood depicted as drudgery, something to escape from. A constant cycle of dirty laundry and ungrateful children, which is part of the picture but only part. Try and think of any depictions of motherhood that an not either a) excessively sugar coated or b) made to seem like a sort of torture. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground.
Which ignores the many millions of women who are Just A Mum every day. The women who’ve chosen to be at home, who like it, who feel that it is the most important work they can be doing. I’m one of those women. I have a degree, Post grad qualifications, I had a career and I set it aside to be Just A Mum. It was a decision that I made. I didn’t always know that, I didn’t always feel that way, but I’ve come to understand that if this is all I do with my life, it’s a pretty great choice to have made.
I see that times have changed around me. When I was a kid it was the norm for your Mum to be at home. Ignoring the fact that she may well work during the hours of school, or before you even lifted your head off the pillow, or long after you were asleep (my Mum did job’s in all those categories) their primary tie was to the home. It wasn’t until I had my own kids, in fact until I had my second child, when I really came to understand that I didn’t really know how to be a mother any other way. All in. That’s sort of how I am. So that’s what I did.
My mother-in-law says that she hates the phrase Just A Mum. She’s right of course. It implies an absence of something, that what we are doing is easy or negligible. That designing the life and well being of other human beings is something that should be seen as more of a hobby than a profession. My Dad points out that in his day, back when Dickens was a lad, disparaging the role of ‘mother’ would get you very short shrift indeed. Shortly following by an axe to the head. It was not something women were ashamed to be, much as there were many limitations and frustrations for those who wanted to do something else. Note I didn’t say something more.
Because that’s what it comes down to really. Valuing one thing over another. If I say I’m proud to be a stay at home parent, a homeschooling parent, a Mum, then I’m saying women who work outside their homes, who juggle careers, jobs, work and family, just suck. But of course I’m not. The very point of feminism, something I’ve identified with since I was born I think, is to allow women choices and to see that women are varied, different, even unique. That we can be a multitude of things, many of them at the same time, and not be defined by any one of them. I look at women who work outside their home with admiration and respect, just as I do those who do the same work as me. We are all different, we are all the same. We are all doing our best, worried it isn’t good enough and pretty much just so knackered most of the time that remembering the names of the human beings who used to live inside you seems impossibly difficult. Pointing comes in handy around then.
But we know all that. I know all that and I am no longer in a place where I feel the need to examine or explain myself. Apart from writing this blog post which totally doesn’t count. Celebrating my choices doesn’t mean denigrating any one else’s. We can all be great, we can all be amazing. We are all amazing. What I really want to say is that this life really is enough for me. It is full and busy and challenging: I am self employed, I am my own boss, I set my own life. I enjoy having my family as the focus of my work, I love knowing that my efforts benefit them directly, I love thinking about what is coming next.
I have the same sense of value as I did when I worked as a teacher when Huwyl was small. I taught for 2 years and then stopped when I was pregnant with Neirin. Someone I knew at that time talked about Mummy guilt to me one day, when I was working outside our home. I told her I had absolutely no guilt and it was true. I was working to benefit my family, I was working to keep myself sane, I was working because we needed the cash. Why would I feel guilty? There are lots of different ways to support the people you love, there are many ways a life can look and be a good life. This is the version I’ve come up with.
So yes, I help to run a small farm and a small business. I am a homemaker (I laughed at that phrase so much when I first heard it, it seemed like using the phrase ‘sanitation expert’ instead of ‘dustbin man’. Clearly I’ve embraced it since then). I am a homeschooler, effectively running an independent educational institution for two. I am a teacher. I am the head of our little school. I am a partner, daughter, friend and parent. I’m other things too. I cook, I make, I bake, I walk, I read, I write, I do all the things that make my life what it is. The grains of sand that make, in the end, a beach; grains on the ever expanding coastal stretch we call human existence. A beach upon which there is sometimes poo.
But in the end, when it all comes right down to it thank you very much, I am proud, very proud, to be Just A Mum. And when my life changes and the world turns me into something else entirely, I’ll be proud of that too.
My friend and I were chatting the other day about how our two boys will be turning 7 in the next few months. Her eldest and my youngest, the fastest of friends, are slowly moving out of that first phase of childhood and into the next. The boys have been friends since they were both 3 and it occurred to me that they would not be able to remember a time when they didn’t know each other. Since there first memories were formed, the other was there.
I feel lucky that my little chap has two best chums, friends he sees at least once a week and would probably see every day if he got his chance. Both have very different temperaments, both bring out different aspects of his own personality and both have helped him evolve into who he is now. Not so very long ago Neirin really lacked confidence, he’d had some ‘not so nice’ experiences with other kids and his already quiet temperament was being driven underground. But spending time only with good friends, friends who play kindly and who never say nasty things, has given him confidence and happiness.
I’ve watched, marvelled even, at the special moments he’s shared with the other kids in his life. It’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing children as heartless and mean, casually cruel to one another. But that is a learned behaviour and one that is either tolerated or not. Kids often have to evolve a ‘thicker skin’ to deal with the unkindness that adults don’t want to deal with, but I really don’t think that is their job. Whenever I’ve felt disheartened at the behaviour that is ‘out there’ in the world, I’m always uplifted when I see the boys spending time with their close friends; where kindness and support is pretty much a given, a baseline that is expected.
Don’t get me wrong, our kids are learning as they go along, just like any others. But when there are adults around willing to step in, willing to enforce standards of behaviour and kindness that are seen as essential, things tend to go pretty well. All kids have their moments, their not so great behaviours, reasons to apologise, reasons to change sometimes. But that is part of their journey together, something they are teaching each other. They are learning to be frustrated, they are learning to tolerate, they are learning to speak up, they are learning to be a bit more flexible. It’s a journey that we’re all going through really, once that never ends.
This homeschooling adventure we are on in it’s 6th year and so there are people who’ve known my kids for quite a while. Recently we noticed that Huwyl has overtaken a very petite friend of mine who’s known him since he was 5. When we were talking about how big he is now, how the fatal day of being taller than a grown up had finally arrived, she said something incredibly wise that really stayed with me. My friend explained to my ever growing boy that ‘You are always changing and turning into new people, but we stay the same for you. You think you are the same person but to us you’ve changed completely, so we grieve a little for the person that has gone.’ I admit there was a prickle in my throat as I acknowledged the truth of those words, the parent’s lot to be filled simultaneously with joy and pride, alongside a wistful sadness for a person who will never return.
But I don’t subscribe to the notion that “it’ll never be so good again”. That the only time you are ‘truly’ loved by your child is during that time of exhaustion and unknowing dependence that comes in the early years. While they are wonderful, magical and to be treasured, they are also exhausting, difficult and sometimes frustrating beyond measure. To be screamed at by a person when you are simply trying to stop them killing themselves, is an experience usually the province of medical professionals and a tad wearing to the average person.
My boys are leaving (or have left) that first flush of childhood. Diapers and nursing is a thing of the past, we are entering the time of negotiation, of learning to be themselves, of explaining the way of things and sometimes hearing wisdom in return. The footing of our relationships are changing as they learn skills for themselves, learn what they can do for themselves and begin to imagine themselves in the world, just a little. Boxes of trains are packed away, clothes are passed on and books have been removed from shelves that no longer reflect who they are.
There are moments in our house when things fall quiet and no one is drawing on the walls. I sometimes go looking, wondering if there is mischief afoot, to discover both boys reading quietly in different spots in the house. These moments are not the norm but there are spaces developing, spaces where they, and I, can find our own thoughts. And I love it. I love being able to talk rationally to them and not be screamed at, I love not having to bend over until my back breaks, lifting, carrying, holding, dressing, cleaning oh so endlessly. I love laughing at a dry remark or silly joke from one of my boys, I love being able to talk about the world we live in, about why our family lives as we do, about what I’ve learned from life.
I think part of the joy of now is that when the boys were little(er) we really lived it. We slept, nursed, snuggled, played along side each other. I sling carried, slept with them for years, had them very much attached for as much time as possible. I remember keenly the joys and frustrations of the toddler years, the moments since that have challenged and uplifted. Each phase has something wonderful about it, each phase has lessons and struggles. To deny one is to deny the other, to my mind.
So much as I may miss the little fellows who slept between Stephen and I, equally I appreciate uninterrupted nights and a lack of midnight kicking. Who the boys are now is just as wonderful as who they were at 2. There is just as much magic, just as much hilarity, just as much love as there ever was. When it comes to it, that is the real reason I decided to homeschool, I didn’t want to miss these years. I didn’t want the early years to be the ones with the most memories, I appreciate being able to spend each day with the boys, to walk alongside them as they learn and grow.
And when I squeeze my little chap’s cheek to my own, his skin still smooth with enough baby chubbiness to remind me of his former self, I cling tight. I try to stop and savour the many hugs a day, I try not to get lost in the busyness of life and brush away their offers of affection. I fail as often as I succeed, I know that to be true, but at least I’m trying and that’s all I can offer. But I don’t want to get lost in melancholy because, for as long as I have breath, I’ll walk beside them. When they tower above me, when they are off into the world, my arms will always be there ready to be filled up with cuddles.
While I may not have chestnuts roasting on an open fire, I do have pine needles stewing in a pan of water which is still pretty darn festive if you ask me. I’m always a bit slow to the party when it comes to yuletide cheer, I find December pretty exhausting truth be told; coupling darkness, busyness, pressure and running around does not make for a content Emmalina.
Around this time though, as Solstice Eve dawns damp and remarkably unsnowed upon, I find my cheer emerging. We’ve done everything we need to do to prepare for this special season, shopping has been shopped (mostly), we have treats ready to be scoffed, we’ve seen friends and attended parties, we’ve laughed and made the most of it all. Now it’s time to slow.
I feel grateful to have lovely friends to share this season with, friends who are themselves a gift throughout the year. I feel grateful for the friendships my boys enjoy, their delight in seeing their pals and in sharing their passions with them. But mainly I’m grateful for hearth and home, for a place to come back to, my bolt hole of safety and security. Now that we’ve spent a goodly portion of the last 2 weeks out and about, enjoying activities and time with friends, I’m ready to close the door and turn my focus inwards.
This year has been a busy one, I know I’ve said that before, but it really seems to have been non stop. This year we made conscious decisions to scale back through the winter, giving ourselves some breathing space, some room for rest. It feels like now is the time for that to begin, this Solstice Eve where the main tingle of magic is the simple fact of being able to stay at home and share an uneventful day with the boys. We’ll be doing some chores to prepare for Nana’s arrival this evening (yay!), but mainly I would just like to snatch quiet time, peaceful moments that are meaningful only to ourselves really.
The solstice means different things to different people, like any festival or celebration. To me it symbolises the simple truth that people really don’t change that much, that we can stretch our fingers back through time and brush against all those that went before. Like those who lived centuries ago we turn faces to the darkness and wish for the return of light. Despite our knowledge, our technology, our advancement, our barbarism, we all turn our faces to that life giving ball and hope. We all know, that we are no more than creatures of the earth, dependent on her for our survival, our life. It’s easy to forget that, but I feel at my best when I am closer to the land and remembering that I am part of the fabric of it all.
So this morning, as I rather despondently cruised Facebook, I was inspired by a post by Amber of The Wild Garden, to switch off my screen and go out and do something less boring instead. So I did. With secateurs in hand I clipped branches from Cedar and Spruce trees that sit on our driveway, the scent of their needles wafting up at me and clearing my head. I clipped fragrant Juniper and life affirming Yew from our garden, feeling connected to home as I did so. Traditionally Yew is planted in sacred places, marking them as special; so we planted one here, in this place that is more special than any other to us, our home.
I snipped the branches and arranged them in vases to be distributed around the house (inspired by my artist friend), twisting them until they were just right, as beautiful as any flower arrangement. The extra pieces went into a large pan of water, it’s now simmering away filling the house with the scent of fresh pine. The air smells clean in here, it reminds me of walking through the woods with a carpet of needles under my feet, I feel that I’ve brought a little of the solstice inside for us to enjoy.
Despite the house being warm I started a small fire this morning, onto it I threw the remaining branches of wood I’d brought in from outside. As they burned they scented the smoke and turned the fire into something a little magical. This afternoon I’ll read some solstice stories to the boys, sharing some thoughts about this special day. Then we’ll clean and tidy and get things ready for Nana, she’s arriving tonight and she feels like the best solstice gift of all.
So here I am, finally able to stop and smell the pine a little. Able to sit for some quiet moments and enjoy the thought of what’s to come. Able to finally get in the festive groove and look forward to the family time we’ll share in the coming weeks. Home cooked, home grown, home loved. I know, I know how lucky I am. Sometimes I get too tired to remember, too rushed, too sad or too worried; I never live up to my own standards, I don’t think I’ll ever really be done. But when the peace comes, when the world slips away a little and I take the time to cook pine needles on the stove, to watch the flames licking around the wood in the fire, to listen to the boy’s laughter as they play some mad game in the basement, then I remember. I remember and my heart is full.
Bright blessings to you all this Yuletide, wishing you a joyful and, above all, peaceful Solstice.
So if your newly arrived Papa said to you, “I have your Christmas present here, do you want it now or do you want to wait for Christmas?” you would, of course, as a reasonable adult fully in control of their faculties say…”Immediately now please!”
And you would be right because then you would get to spend the day messing about with your brand new 35mm lens which is sooooooooooooo fantastically fabulous and wonderful.
And you would be right.
In the Kingdom of Osgoode, once more it is medieval fair time! We are so lucky to live within a few minutes of a great medieval fair that runs for a weekend each summer. This year, like last year, we attended the fair’s education day with some of our homeschool pals. learning all about medieval life. But unlike this year we didn’t attend the whole day as we were picking up Stephen from the hospital, so we just popped over for the afternoon.
To make up for it I took the boys to the actual fair over the weekend, something we’ve never quite managed to do. It was fun to see all the stalls and hear the medieval music being played, and of course we had the chance to watch the jousting. A hobbling Stephen came with us (he’s an injured chap and taking things slowly after a couple of days of being in the hospital) so we didn’t stay too long, but he did see live jousting for the first time!
The boys loved the jousting, despite the hot sunshine, and cheering raucously for their favourite knights. Huwyl was disappointed that none of the knights were unhorsed but other than that is was very enjoyable. Given that the armour weighs upwards of 160lbs I think the knights were happy to stay where they were.
As we wandered we saw a blacksmith working, tried out archery and castle storming. Neirin even volunteered to go into the stocks, an excellent invention that I’m sure we could find a use for around the farm. Ice creams were enjoyed and sword fights engaged in, generally a jolly good boys day out.
Despite his brief interlude as a criminal, Neirin took the opportunity to be knighted by the King of Osgoode and Metcalfe, he took the honour seriously and I was proud of his confidence as he strode into the tent. This boy of mine can by shy with strangers, but he knelt calmly and happily accepted this new honour.
Trying on the armour was, of course, the absolute pinnacle for my two boys. They spent more time in this tent than at the rest of the fair combined (though they lingered pretty heavily at the sword and dagger tent) and it was lovely to watch them trying to bear up under the weight of chain mail and helmet. But bear up they did, with comments on how amazing the jousting knights are for carrying the weight of the armour and helmet while piling along the list.
Though only a brief interlude it felt good to get out as a family for a while. The farm can dominate all of our time if we let it, so we are trying to take breaks and have some down time together. That said I find myself reluctant to drive far and to leave behind the peace and green of our home. I was glad to take part in celebrating the Kingdom of Osgoode, but just as glad to be home again afterwards.