So how did the first day go?

I've been homeschooling something like 20 years, give or take a year because I'm too lazy to do the math. And, I promise you, in this house, the first day of a new term never goes as planned. After all these years, though, it always goes predictably.

I can predict that it's going to be a bit rocky.

It begins with me arising early, super early, because I am eager to have everything just so. The environment is readied–I've spent hours getting everything just so. I'm very visual and I find a certain peace in the order and the color. All good.

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Then, I awaken the children, earlier than usual, because I want them to be eager to begin also. The details from there vary from year to year, but they go something like this:  Despite great provisioning just days before, we don't have eggs for breakfast. Littlest Darling has a runny nose, a fever, and a croupy cough and she doesn't want me to leave her to go to the store. Two little girls mourn the absence of the neighbor's child who slips in and out of our family life. She is going to "real school" today and will join us at 2:30. There is a bit of envy over lunchboxes and school shoes. Little boys are not so little any more and not so eager to be awakened, either. Everyone wants eggs for breakfast.

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We begin determinedly, my enthusiasm ebbing a bit as my lofty plans meet reality. I remember a morning over a decade ago when I had such awesome things planned, such an elaborate environment readied, and three little boys responded … well, they didn't. I'm not even sure they noticed, but they certainly weren't impressed. Those were days before blogs, before the temptation to leave my disappointing crew in our dining room-turned-learning room and go look again at the beautiful pictures of other women's learning spaces (here's where I am resisting the urge to link like crazy–y'all can find them;-) and to download page after page of other people's plans. No, I didn't leave my regular, ordinary, unimpressed boys in my regular, ordinary home and head off to the computer to escape to some sort of blog perfection. I called my husband and I cried. He didn't get it. Well, he got that I was crying, but he didn't get that I thought those things that were so important to me would inspire the boys. And on that day, I learned it's not about me. It's about them.

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Flash forward a dozen or so years. Now, the plans grate up against reality on the first day and I'm not surprised. I know this day is the day I test drive my philosophical underpinnings and see how it all works in real life. And when that beautiful basket with the multi-colored gems is gleefully dumped all over the wood floor and the wee one with the big eyes and runny nose delights in the sound so she does it again, I remember.

They haven't been clicking around Pinterest.

They haven't been trading stories on Facebook.

They haven't been reading wonderful, inspiring books about family rhythm and prepared environments.

They haven't been planning curriculum all summer. 

They are why I am doing this at all.

They are the same today as they were last week. We have to meet in the middle. I have to look realistically on all my ponderings and plans and adjust them according to the real life I live here. With them. I have to recognize where I haven't left margin. Where I didn't consider.

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Room.

Room for stopping to wipe noses and to swish toilets. Room for cooking and eating and cleaning up afterwards. Room to be alone, each of us in our own spaces, to think and dream and create.  Room for balance.

Reading and running free. Staying on task and stopping to notice and wonder. Pencil to paper and needle to fabric. Still at the table with close up tasks and quick on their feet with a ball beneath them. Discussing what I planned and pondering things I never would have considered. Planning with diligence and moving away from the plans.

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The first day is always a little off balance. These days, I plan for that, too. This is as it should be. The grace of the plans that just don't work sheds glorious light on the beauty of educating at home, together. I can adjust the plan. I can allow them to force me to consider each one of them individually and to see where my notions meet their needs and where they fail. When I see that the first day is their day, I begin to understand that the first day might just be the day when I learn the most.

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I learn that I can't do this on my own strength. I am reminded that I must see the child, each child, and meet him where he is. I learn anew that this isn't school at home. It's a lifestyle of learning that requires an incredible amount of sacrifice and even more grace. 

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It's just the first day. It didn't go according to plan. But that was actually part of the plan.  I embrace the rough spots, the weak places, the small failures,  knowing that He is teaching me; He is begging me to show my children that I can be taught.

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Oh, I can!  Show me, God. Show me your holy will.  How does it all fit together? How do we all grow together? What is Your plan for this family? Grant me the grace and the humility to set aside my plan for your better one.

-from the archives

Comments

  1. says

    Today wasn’t our first day. We have been trying for three weeks and nothing is going fit yet. I am feeling very overwhelmed. Ugh. So anyway, I needed this, just wish it was only our first day instead of our third week.
    Sorry to be so whiny, but glad you posted this.

  2. says

    Oh this is comforting. I didn’t even have everything in place. My desk is still a mess and we are missing several books. Hope it smooths out for all of us soon!

  3. says

    Elizabeth,
    Your honest first day posts are so great because everyone can see how great your children are doing, so it really does give those of us with younger children some perspective and hope that we’re not going to ruin their lives when the first day isn’t anywhere near what we had in mind.
    Also, I noticed your comment about Katie being dyslexic and I recently read a wrap up of things that worked on Kristi Bales’ site “weird unsocialized homeschoolers”. Somewhere on her blog, she writes about “Lexercise” and gives it great reviews. I have no idea whether its paid or free, but you might want to check it out.

  4. says

    Ours was a better start than we’ve had in years past. Two of my daughters ended up in tears because things weren’t going has they had wanted, but really that’s an improvement over me ending up in tears :) I handed it all over to God this year, unlike I have in the past. I can finally peacefully accept that all will not go according to plan on the first day, the second day, the third day, etc.

  5. LPatter says

    I think this might just be your best post ever. But I’m a newer and somewhat inconsistent reader. (Just because I’m a sanguine, not because of you!) But this I think sums up my entire experience of motherhood thus far – at least, I haven’t learn-ed it – I’ve learned that I’m going to have to learn it. And if, and only if, I can get a handle on it, can I attempt to homeschool my kiddos. Otherwise, I will ruin them and thus me in the process. If that sounds melodramatic it’s not meant to – I just really need to level with myself because I’m so easily taken into a dreamworld of ideals. This is the other-ness, the self-giving, the reed of God-ness that is fierce and awesome and holy. Thank you for putting it on a page and showing me that you can be an awesome mom of 20+ years and still be learning it. That gives me a path and gives me reassurance.

  6. Kathy says

    Beautiful post Elizabeth, This must be a universal truth that the first day of school is always different.
    A seasoned homeschooler told me many years ago, that her 6 year old daughter wanted to go to school. When she inquired as to why her little darling said, “she wanted a lunch box!” So, my wise friend bought her one. Thanks for the reminder to listen to our children.

  7. says

    Our first days always go beautifully but it is usually the third or fourth day when I end up on my knees in the bathroom having a little wobble/pray/cry!

  8. Kristin says

    Beautiful post. I experience the same first days every year, pretty much,and for this reason I am so grateful to be reminded today that it is all about detachment… and wisdom …to be able to differentiate between which plans need to be plugged away at and which ones s can be reconsidered, redesigned or totally scrapped. Wisdom and grace..it always seems to come down to that.Hmm.

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