Monday, October 15, 2012

Manna vs. management

I was talking homeschool with some women new to the beautiful chaos that is spending all day with your children along with a somewhat nebulous list of tasks on which their entire future depends.  One of the things we talked about was how to do school with a toddler.  I told them some things that work well for us like
  1. Stack blocks, line up Matchbox cars or roll a ball with Rand while doing lessons with the older guys. It's not possible with every subject but it works well for some.
  2. Have the big boys take individual breaks to play with Rand.  David puts him in the bike trailer and rides around the block.  They read to him, push him on the swing, build towers for him to destroy, serve as fellow restaurateurs, ...
  3. Take advantage of the time when the boys are doing independent work to play with Rand.  Sometimes just spending five minutes with him recharges his little batteries.
  4. Play-Doh.  It's messy but keeps him occupied for 20 minutes.
  5. Include him in the schoolwork when it's possible and he's interested.  He scribbles in coloring books, cuts paper, plays with math manipulatives, scribbles on small dry erase boards and sharpens pencils (don't judge).
  6. Bring a favorite outside toy in the house.  I let him (and no one else) drive his little red car in the house.  In the interest of honesty, though, this happened as a result when an older kid broke my rule.  When guests ask what happened, I say, "Traffic accident."
  7. Let him fingerpaint with yogurt on a cookie sheet.
  8. I hold him while I teach when he's in a snuggly mood.
  9. We do schoolwork out on the patio sometimes, so Rand can dig in the dirt, pour water into cups, look for lizards, ...
  10. Do school in the bathroom while he plays in the bathtub.
  11. Keep toys in the schoolroom.  Someone more organized than me would rotate these regularly.
  12. Let Rand and Bryan help make lunch as they are the most neglected during school time.
  13. I have a Dora/Dinosaur Train silver bullet.  I save it for when a) the other boys are not available to play with Rand, b) it's the end of our school time and he's done with toddler-puttering for the day, and, most importantly, c) I've exhausted my daily supply of energy for being a good toddler mama and must focus on ONE thing.  Normally I'm rabidly opposed to TV during the week, but as a friend recently said, "Praise Jesus for TV."  Seriously there are some times (like when the alternative is me screaming at everyone) when TV is just awesome.
So, that's my homeschooling with a toddler list.  I've read similar ones.  They're helpful, but when I read them I put all this pressure on myself to come up with a plan to keep Rand occupied and stimulated all day.  Something like 8:00 - 8:20 Play Doh, 8:30 - 8:40 Read to Rand, ...  The thought of trying to maintain a schedule like that while also making sure the big boys get through all their work makes me want to send them all to boarding school.  Seriously, just writing the sentence raised my blood pressure.

The way this plays out for me in real life is like the Israelites wandering in the desert.  God provides daily manna and I have nothing to store for the next day.  Each night I go to bed having only a vague idea how I'm going to do school with a toddler the next day.  In the morning, I pray something along the lines of

God, please help me to love and enjoy Rand and teach the big boys with excellence 
in a way that's fair to Rand,
without yelling at anyone, 
so that I'm not tossing back a couple of glasses of wine at 2:00 in the afternoon.*
And God doesn't zap me when I forget to pray this, but when I start depending on my own resources to live out my days well, I stop being sensitive to Rand's needs, and I forget how short-lived his toddler days are.  I try to just plow through our list as quickly as possible.  My fuse gets shorter and shorter until I realize where I am again and remember that I can't do this without God's daily help.  I simply don't have what it takes to do school, house and toddler well on my own.  Then I go back to praying for help.  I don't really understand how it works, but it does.  On a good day, Rand usually plays independently when we start school.  Eventually, I notice that he's getting bored or decide he's been on his own long enough.  Then I pull something from the list above depending on my mood, his mood and what the other boys are doing.  Once I've reached my toddler limit (usually right before lunch), I let him watch a Dora/Dinosaur Train while we finish up.  Having the discipline to pull from that list instead of just shooing him away or throwing up my hands and yelling at everyone or rushing through our schoolwork and feeling guilty because I know I haven't done things well is simply not in me.  I need help.  I used to pray most often out of guilt and obligation.  Now my prayers are overwhelmingly inspired by desperation

With your help I can advance against a troop;
    with my God I can scale a wall.
It is God who arms me with strength
    and keeps my way secure.
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
    he causes me to stand on the heights.
He trains my hands for battle;
    my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
You make your saving help my shield,
    and your right hand sustains me;
    your help has made me great.
You provide a broad path for my feet,
    so that my ankles do not give way.
Psalm 18:29, 32-36

These verses can seem melodramatic and silly as applied to daily life, but they're really not.  Ladies, we do a lot of care taking, and it's just hard to do that well - with joy and with gracious hearts.  So whether you have children or not; whether they're in school or at home, you're going to face situations that feel as desperate and intimidating as scaling a wall (personally, I can't even do monkey bars) or single-handedly fighting an army (can I get an "Amen!" from anyone who's dealt with vomiting children recently?).  It is God who arms you with strength and makes your way perfect.  May he sustain you with his right hand this week.

* Unfortunately not hyperbole.


  1. Papa: that you would attempt, much less master, raising and educating four little boys simultaneously is a marvel. You, my lovely daughter, are a prize beyond value. It makes me very happy to know your husband recognizes this as well.

  2. Great words of wisdom. Love you my precious daughter. Momma


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