Sunday, 9 August 2015

In Praise of Quiet Time

I love my children. Being a mother is hard. Our days are precious to me. Our days are challenging. Both parts are true, the beauty and the intensity, but the one practice that helps to keep things in balance for me is our daily afternoon quiet time.

Our quiet time is a mini exhale, an oasis of calm in the midst of our usual noise and activity. It is blessed relief to my introverted soul. It is silence and stillness, just for a little while. It is rest for my mind and body and oh, my ears.

Right now there is only quiet. I can hear the hum of the refrigerator and the tapping of the keys as I write. Sometimes a car drives by. For the next hour or so, I will hear little else.

Our practice of quiet time began six years ago. Jay, who was two years old back then, had decided he was done with naps. Kai was an energy-sucking bundle of joy within me. I was tired. Jay might have been fine without his afternoon nap, but I sure needed one. And so it began.

A stack of books. Two cars. One blanket. We'd pile into my bed and for the next half hour, I was not to be spoken to. I would read (sometimes) or nap (usually), while Jay would drive his cars along the lines of my quilt or look through his stack of books. Occasionally he would fall asleep too, and the two of us would nap for as long as we pleased. It was a nice moment in our day. When it was over, I would drag my big Kai-filled belly out of bed and the day would continue. Back to housework and games, meal prep and strolls through the forest.

After Kai was born, quiet time became an on-again, off-again thing for the next couple of years. The off-again times always left me feeling a little more frazzled, a little less calm and collected. But I wasn't very good at consistency and routine, and so the off-again times happened anyway.

Until Ell. Oh, that pregnancy. Quiet time became less of a decision and more of a default-born-of-necessity; I wasn't so much functioning as merely getting through the day for a stretch there. We made it, though, and at some point that afternoon quiet time became part of our day, a simple fact. This is What We Do. And so we do it.

For the kids, quiet time is an opportunity for rest and quiet activity. It is also a chance for solitude, to enjoy (or learn to enjoy) their own company for a while. Jay will read, work on a project, or draw. Kai usually chooses a puzzle or a game. Ell is in that transitioning period; some days she naps, while other days she chooses a quiet activity of her own. And Min, bless his baby soul, consistently naps during this time.

For me, though, its purpose changes depending on the season. There have been seasons (particularly the growing-a-baby seasons) when it has been an opportunity for a nap of my own. Other seasons have given way to creativity, a chance to write or sew or knit. Sometimes I read. Sometimes I sit quietly with God, a tiny baby, or both. It is never a time for a housework, though. I might do a quick tidy of the main room simply because visual clutter feels like chaos to my brain, and five minutes of tidying makes my quiet time feel far more peaceful.

Right now, in this season, it is my work time. I plug in my headphones, turn on some music, and get lost in the world of numbers and accounting for as long as the baby sleeps. It might not be rest in the traditional sense, but it requires, at least, a different part of my brain that the usual negotiating of peace treaties between warring children, the cleaning up of various bodily fluids, and the other assorted duties that go along with raising children.

Whether it be for sleep, creativity, recreation, or work, these minutes have become an integral part of my day. They are given up only for the occasional full-day outing. What begun as a half-hour nap beside a squirmy two year old has become a guaranteed one hour, and often more, of solitary activity for each of us. As important as I believe it is for my kids, it is one of my own primary acts of self-care. I do the next needful thing and the next and the next and then this - a pause, a stillness - and then continue.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

How was my day?

It seems a straightforward enough question: How was your day? I find it a particularly difficult one, though. How do I explain how my day was when anxiety is such a frequent companion?

How do I tell you that I spent the day wrestling with the panicky flutters inside of me? How do I describe the moments when my mind got away from me, when I imagined in vivid detail one or another of my worst fears? How do I explain the amount of effort it took to wrest my mind back from the brink, to remind myself that this isn't real, this didn't happen, this has not happened and in all likelihood won't happen? How do I help you to make sense of the shivering that continued inside even after I'd returned to reality - it's not real, it's not real, but it felt so real and maybe it will happen, who can say?


When you ask how my day was, I don't know how tell you that reality was great - I got things done, I had fun with the kids, nothing went wrong, it was a good day - and yet it was also a terrible day where awful things happened in my imagination and I felt sick and shaky and fluttery. I know it sounds ridiculous because it didn't happen, but it felt like it did.

Other times, there is no specific fear. There is only an empty, floaty, swoopy feeling in my stomach, a tightness in my throat, a feeling like I can't draw in enough air. There's a hum, a vibration, under my skin. I mean, sure, I cleaned like a mad woman this morning, look how productive I was! - but only because I was buzzing with adrenaline, jittery with the blossoming anxiety, feeling it in my veins and my stomach and my shoulders.

I despise few things more than wasting a good day in imaginary fear.

This is, after all, my year to be fearless. Less worry, more life. And it has been, in its own way - in my own way. I'm speaking my anxieties out loud with those who have earned the right to hear them, and that is a fearlessness in itself. I'm noticing it and naming it, looking it in the face in a way I haven't always done. There you are, Fear. That's what you look like in my life, Anxiety. I see you for what you truly are, Worry.

This is just where I am right now. I'm in the wrestling days. I'm not here with advice or solutions or answers. I take some supplements, I talk myself down from the edge, I pray, I do what I can. I practice intentional self-care and gratitude. Exercise and sunshine help. Lists help, if only to keep myself focused, to prevent myself from either indulging the anxiety or zoning out in front of a trivial distraction in an attempt to avoid it.

Some days are worse and some days are better, and overall I hope that I'm moving in a forward direction. Right now that's as much as I hope for: progress, a little bit of progress each month. Some new insight. A few less days with those panicky feelings beating inside. A few more fears spoken aloud, freed, let go. Fewer sleepless nights, mind flitting from one place to another. Something.

Anyway. How was my day? Good and panicky and productive and scary and beautiful and hard. I guess that about covers it.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Have a Guilt-Free Summer

It's that time again - summer listicles galore. Must do's and bucket lists and you-only-have-18-summers-so-make-them-count reminders. Good things, to be sure, but only when they nurture and encourage us. Too often, though, they feel more overwhelming than anything else, just another burden, extra pressure, another helping of guilt, one more way we're not Living Up to the image of the parents we should be.

Breathe. And breathe again.


What do our kids need this summer? Room. Room to play, explore, run, wrestle, dig, splash, roll, and cuddle. Room to follow their own passions and curiosities. Room to make little mistakes, now, and to learn from them before the stakes are much higher. Room to be bored, and room to push through that boredom on their own. Room to figure some things out. And then some more room to process it all, to rest, and to be inwardly quiet for a while.


This summer isn't a checklist, get it all done or you've failed. This summer won't make or break your children's future. It's three months out of the 216+ months that they'll spend in your care, being nurtured and guided toward the day when they set out on their own.

It's lovely to get out to the beach, to wander rambling forest trails, or to have a picnic at the park. It's equally lovely to send the kids outside to play with water and dirt in the backyard, to ride their bikes up and down the block, or to read in the shade with an apple and a glass of water. A week at camp or a family vacation can be great memories; a week spent wandering in and out through an open back door, grabbing snacks while attempting to dig a hole to the center of the earth in the backyard, can an equally great way to fill a child with a sense of comfort, confidence, and peace.

Short story? It doesn't have to be momentous to be good.


So take the lists for what they are: ideas from which to select a few, tuck them away for a summer day that presents itself open and free and in need of an inspiring prod. Spend your days in whatever way best nourishes you and your family. Leave room for slow, lazy, and wide open; there's no pressure to cram in every opportunity summer offers. And if the end of summer arrives and you have yet to make popsicles, sleep in the backyard, or catch fireflies, it's okay. Love your summer for what it was; don't feel guilt over what it wasn't.

What has your summer looked like so far?

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Year-Round Homeschooling: Why and how it works for us

Summer has arrived in all its heat-soaked glory. We're enjoying the usual summer traditions - berries and watermelon, garden-fresh vegetables rinsed off under the garden hose, sidewalk chalk and bubbles, ice cream and popsicles.

While the parks and grocery stores are busier than we're used to, filled as they are with kids on summer break, I find that claiming the same for us doesn't quite ring true. I do take advantage of late summer to re-evaluate where we are and where we're heading, but there's no official start-and-stop to our homeschooling year. It just continues on, weaving its way through our ever-changing lives.

How dreary that sounds! No break, no year-end celebrations, no first day back? For us, though, it works.


Our homeschool journey is ever-changing, shifting to fit our life and our children. There's an ebb and a flow to it, sometimes a focus here, other times a focus there, sometimes more formal and sometimes less. Sometimes it looks like math and reading and writing, every day. Sometimes it looks like spending hours outside. Sometimes it's weekly science experiments. Sometimes it's maps spread over our laps, history while we each lunch, read-alouds about other people and places and times. Sometimes it's new babies and all the science that brings - not to mention all the love and cuddles. But what it always is is ours. It's what we need, what we love, and what makes sense in our life.

What hasn't yet made sense for us, though, is taking a summer break from our learning. Our educational leanings are whole-life based, a learning that is part of what we do and who we are. Our goal is to nurture that holistic education, in part by preventing, as much as possible, a separation between "school time" and the rest of our daily lives. To disentangle those homeschooling strings from the rest of our everyday life would feel unnatural.

Our unschoolish bent means that we are ever following what fits with our lives and interests at that moment. Summer might mean less math and more nature study, but it's all learning. It might mean fewer days of dictation and more days of listening to history in a shady spot outside. Yesterday it meant picking wild blueberries, then coming home and turning them into a berry crisp before playing a few rounds of Crazy Eights. Our days have a familiar in-and-out rhythm, but the details within that rhythm are rarely the same.

Sometimes I wonder if our education should look more "traditional", but it always comes back to that time thing, still, now, four years later. It proves itself to be true over and over: Learning just happens as we go about our daily lives. I notice an area that could use some work, I start to worry, I begin planning a formal lesson, and then - they learn it. Without me and my lesson. They learn in their own good time and their own good way, and only my own unsubstantiated worries try to convince me otherwise.

But this is now. Always we are watching, considering, evaluating: What needs to change? What do our children need at this moment? What still works, and what no longer does? Perhaps the summer will come when we put away our books and declare ourselves officially, properly, on Summer Break. For now, though, it's just another ebb, another season in our lives - with traditions and rhythms all its own, yes, but with that ever-present homeschooling thread, too.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Inspiring Dinnertime Conversation

"No books at the dinner table" is easily Jay's least favourite rule in our home. Being lovers of books ourselves, the husband and I sympathize with his plight, but that's the rules, sorry Love. Dinner time is for talking, not reading.

Every evening we gather at the table, marked as it is with scratches and burns and glitter and paint. We hold hands as we offer our thanks. Water is poured, food is passed around, pieces are cut for those who need it. There's noise and a few moments of chaos and then everyone settles in to their dinner (save for the occasional "I'm not eating THIS" holdout).

And then our dinner conversation begins.

"What did you learn today?"

It's a simple question, but the discussions it has created since its introduction a few months ago have been nothing short of fascinating. Jay likes to share a random "weird but true" piece of trivia with us. Kai usually insists he didn't learn a thing, but a bit of prompting often coaxes a tidbit out of him - a new word he sounded out on his own, a fact picked up in an earlier conversation, a new game he learned, a unique Lego creation from the day's play. Ell "didn't yearn nuffink today," but she's happy to chatter away just the same.

Then it's our turn. The husband has often read about a new scientific discovery to share with us, and I round things up with something from my own day's reading - a new-to-me nature factoid, a social justice campaign, a young entrepreneur, a bit of world news, a new skill I've been working on, whatever inspires me when the question comes 'round my way.

Sometimes we each share our little bit of learning and the conversation moves on. Usually, though, we find ourselves exploring one of the introduced topics at a deeper level, or branching off into related discussions - from science to math to etymology to social awareness, wherever the kids' questions (and our own) lead us. What started as a deliberate way to stimulate conversation, share information, and keep all interested parties appraised of the kids' homeschooling situation (not to mention take some of the sting out of Jay's book prohibition at the dinner table), has become one of our prime opportunities to learn and ask and rabbit trail to our hearts' content.

Last night's conversation began with the automated cameras recording Serengeti life. But what is an aardwolf? or a zorilla? How big are they? How big are they when they're born? What does "aard" mean? What does "aardvark" mean? How many ants does it eat in a day? How many seconds are there in a week? So how many ants is that per second? And so it goes.

The question itself was chosen not for its informative opportunities, though, but rather for its encouragement to always keep learning. Listen, Daddy learned something new today. So did Mommy. And you? What did you learn? What do you have to contribute to our conversation? We all have something to share. Learning isn't limited, isn't top-down, isn't separate from our daily lives. It isn't dull and boring and forced, something to suffer through until free time can begin again. It has no beginning and no end. It is part of what makes us human.

It has been good, this question, a lovely addition to our frequent bedtime conversations, which hold familiar questions of their own. Keep the conversation going, keep quietly pointing them to all that is good and worthy, keep listening and learning and hearing as they tell you, piece by piece, who they are.

Do you have a regular topic or question that you use to inspire dinnertime conversation?

Thursday, 30 April 2015

What I Am Into - April 2015




What I Am Into :: April 2015

April was an adjusting month for us. Our daily rhythms were evaluated, dusted off, and given a bit of new life as I entered a new season - or, perhaps, reached back for something from an older season. My accounting career has sat quietly to the side as our family has grown over the years, and for us, that was perfect. April, however, brought about a new opportunity, and we decided that the time was right to open that door again. I'm working part-time hours in my field, and thanks to the wonders of technology, I get to do it entirely from home. So my mornings are earlier and my afternoon quiet time has morphed into work time and sometimes I slip away for an hour in the evening or on the weekend; it's ideal for me as a homeschooling stay-at-home parent, and I'm relieved that it's been a smooth transition so far.

On My Nightstand:

It did indeed take me a while, but I finished Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell early this year. Such an incredible piece of literature. Easily the best written book I have read in a very long time.

I finally read through Lois Lowry's worthy Giver Quartet. Although I was startled by the sudden ending of the first book, everything was nicely tied up throughout the rest of the books. The final one, Son, was my favourite, but all of them were absorbing and compelling reads.

Speaking of finally getting around to reading, I started Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time Quintet. I quite liked the first three books, but the fourth one is sitting half-read on my nightstand and I'm not particularly fussed about ever finishing it. Truth be told, I rather strongly dislike it. I know, that's barely even allowed, given the L'Engle love from basically everyone who has ever written anything ever. Please don't throw too many stones.

I bought Randall Munroe's What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions for the husband's Christmas present, and then promptly read through it myself as soon as he was done with it. Highly entertaining and interesting content.

I enjoyed Paula Hawkins' The Girl on the Train, as well as Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies and The Husband's Secret. I read both Ransom Riggs' Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and Hollow City straight through. Hello, 3am. Worth it. The accompanying photos are fascinating.

I've just started Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, and I'm utterly absorbed in it already.

Currently on the back burner are George Eliot's Middlemarch and Kate Atkinson's Life After Life.

On the Screen:

Not much, actually. I did watch Gone Girl, which was, incredibly, nearly as good as the book. I absolutely loved The Imitation Game. The Theory of Everything was both fascinating and disappointing; it was rather a depressing love story in the end.

In My Ears:

I have discovered that, for reasons entirely unknown to me, P!nk is absolutely perfect to listen to while I'm working. Put in the earphones, turn on the music, dim the various home sounds around me, and get a good hour of work done while P!nk does her musical thing. Love her.

In My Kitchen:

I've rediscovered the pleasure of yeast breads rising in my kitchen. Actually, that's a lie. They actually rise on top of my husband's computer, which is old and runs hot and rises bread just beautifully. I'm only a tiny bit devastated that he has a new computer on the way, after all these years - exciting for him, very very sad for my breads.

Anyway, my particular favourites recently include French bread, bread sticks, and rosemary olive oil bread.

In My Memories:

Jay ran a 10K marathon with his dad earlier this month. It was so neat to watch the two of them training and then running the race together. It's especially beautiful to have entered this stage where Jay's going to remember this sort of thing forever. While we love watching the little kids enjoy their experiences, knowing that it's contributing to a general sense of security and well-being and so on and so forth, there's just a little extra joy in knowing that some of the things we do will become actual real for-life memories now that our boys are getting older. I love that.

What I'm Looking Forward to in May:

You know, I'm simply looking forward to a quiet continuation of our new daily rhythms. This May holds no particular events and our calendar looks fresh and open and ready for as much sunshine as the weather has to offer.

Well, friends, that is What I've Been Into this past month. What about you?


Linking up to What I'm Into with HopefulLeigh...

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Ridiculous Hope

It's Easter Sunday and we're celebrating resurrection, life and light, victory and joy and hope. He Is Risen!

In the face of my heaviness, the sheer ridiculousness of this hope has never been more apparent. Look at us! Hope? Where?

Hope when we are steadily finding new ways to capitalize on brokenness? Hope in the face of greed that drives us to further and further depths? Hope when we pervert everything that is beautiful and good in this world? Hope in the midst of war and oppression and exploitation? It's ridiculous. Foolishness.

And yet we hope anyway. We trust not in our own selves but in the One Who has already declared victory over the darkness. He has come, He is coming, and He will come again. Alleluia!

Today we remember with the ease and comfort offered through the familiar Easter celebrations, but some days we forget. This is why we have been blessed with one another, this messy imperfect Bride of Christ, brought together that we may remind each other that hope and light and love exist.

This need echoes in my mind often these days. We have been learning to share our stories of heartache, pain, loss, unmet needs, failures, abuse - and it is Good. It is good to share, to understand, to heal. But oh, such stories. Such a steady stream of deep stories.

We need hope, too. Not instead of our stories of brokenness, but as well as. Both. Share our deep pain, always, yes, take away its power and receive comfort and bring more moments of me too so that less of us hide in shame. But the other stories, too, stories of joy and hope and beauty and compassion, stories filed with good and love and kindness - we need them. Let us not forget to tell them.

Let us show each other that this world also holds the good and holy things that we need and long for. Remind us of that ridiculous Hope we cling to, the one that says all is not lost, that darkness has already been defeated, that evil does not win and unity will one day be our song and our reality.

Proclaim your stories of hope, and in doing so buoy one another up. Hold on to that ridiculous hope, rejoicing in it not only today, but every day. He Is Risen!