Monday, October 24, 2022

Musings on This Stage of Life

* I found this post today, February 2, which I had written in October last fall. Clearly I need to write and publish all at once or I'll simply never quite get back to it! *

A new school year is well underway, and with it many enjoyable things that I want to remember.

It's a bit hard to believe that I have a fifth grader, a third grader, and a kindergartener this year in our homeschool, but here we are -- and with a two-year-old along for the ride too, of course. I find myself amazed at both how much constant effort this life seems to require, and also at how many good things there are right now, in this stage of life.

In terms of constant effort required, we've got daily homeschool subjects to check off, of course. Each child also has her "Responsibility Chart," which includes everything from getting dressed and combing one's hair and giving Mama a hug (some children more than others need these "low-hanging fruit" tasks just to have a few easy check marks in their life... if you know, you know!) to bigger rotating chores. The girls rotate through emptying the dishwasher, clearing and wiping the table after meals, vacuuming the downstairs, cleaning the two bathrooms, and other tasks. We don't get 100% of it done on 100% of the days, but I'm nonetheless pleased with having a more organized system for employing their helpfulness this year, and it's been working pretty well. I'm also continually surprised by how much effort it takes on my part to remind to stay on top of their responsibilities each day, and to make sure everyone has done her necessary tasks throughout the day.

That said, while it does seem to require constant vigilance, it's a delight to have all these things done on the days when we do, indeed, get them all done. It really does make my own life so much better, even if it means bedtime gets pushed fifteen minutes later, if the girls have cleared and wiped the table, put dishes into the dishwasher, and wiped our kitchen counters down. And having kids at ages who can do all these things is pretty great. It's admittedly way easier to devolve into chaos in the household (how does it always happen so fast?!), but if we stay on top of things we can claw our way out on a daily (or at least near-daily) basis without letting the chaos completely overwhelm. 

In addition to homeschooling and staying on top of housework and meals, I continue to teach violin lessons from my home studio. This year during those lessons, Nell (10) is delighted to be earning $4.00 / hr to babysit her younger sisters. In general helpfulness with siblings is just expected as being part of a family, but we decided that during times when Dad and Mom are earning money, it's a good opportunity to begin to teach our own kids about earning, saving, tithing, etc. I found an app I'm happy with that allows each child to have a "virtual account," not linked to any real bank account or money, but essentially a running list of "deposits" and "withdrawals" in one place. It's all virtual until someone wants to cash out and withdraw something to make a purchase. This makes it easy for me to stay on top of paying Nell (or whoever is earning money) without needing to have cash on hand constantly, and really has made the whole process simple. Often during my teaching hours, the girls have a checklist of responsibilities they need to complete, and Nell helps keep her sisters on track. She plans little story hours, often complete with coloring pages she'll select with me online and print ahead of time. She also plans games or imaginative play to do with them like "hair salon" or "playing library," etc. So far it's been a very good solution -- so much more affordable on my end than hiring a sitter to come to the house, and so much better for all of us than utilizing the TV as a "babysitter." 

* * *

So, that's the part of life that continues to amaze me just with how much constant effort it all takes. Generally I reach the end of a day and think to myself, "OK, phew, we did it. We checked off most of the homeschooling things I hoped to do. We talked through and solved sibling squabbles. Two or three kids practiced their violins and at least one practiced the piano. Most of the chores got done. Laundry got folded and put away. Everybody had three square meals. Success! Now... all I have to do is do all that again, every day, for about eighteen more years." An overwhelming thought, no?

* * *

But I'm also amazed at how many good things there are, at how much fun there is in these ages and stages. 

Nell and Marie are loving their Saturday morning ballet class, and are delighted that this December they get to participate in a production of The Nutcracker their ballet school is doing. 

Nell is in a group of children ages 10+ who are reading Shakespeare together this year, starting with A Midsummer Night's Dream. Later this fall they'll present a couple of acts in a dramatic reading complete with simple costumes. She has been enjoying this even more than I expected, often laughing at humorous turns of phrases in the play. In the upcoming performance, she'll be a fairy, one of Titania's attendants. She sings Titania to sleep at one point, and Nathan helped her write a melody for the song, which has come together so nicely and was a fun way for Dad to get involved in homeschooling.

Ree enjoys math, and is finally beginning to take off with reading, too. Nell didn't read comfortably until age eight, so I've tried not to worry too much when Ree also just wasn't that interested in reading over the past couple of years. We worked at it steadily but the progress felt slow, I must admit. I think there was something at play for both girls where their comprehension level had them enjoying being read to or listening to audiobooks like Little Women, Swallows and Amazons, Marguerite Henry books, etc. etc.... and sitting plugging through elementary readers just didn't interest them. But I'm hopeful we're finally getting there!

Speaking of reading, Molly suddenly started asking me what sound every letter made, and how they blended together into words, and I've been trying to capitalize on her clear interest and readiness and sit down with her daily to do some reading. It wasn't necessarily on my plan or to-do list to teach my kindergartener to read, but she delights in the one-on-one time with me and the process, and is having a wonderful time.

Nell continues to practice her violin with increasing amounts of independence, which is wonderful to see. This year we've started sight-reading in a book of simple duets together. Playing them together with her inexplicably makes me feel that the past ten years of my life, and specifically the years teaching her to play the violin, have indeed been worthwhile! Perhaps it's a silly thing to mean so much, but it brings me a lot of joy to be able to enjoy music with her. It is such a long journey and takes so much time and effort to reach a point in the study of a musical instrument where music begins to become easily accessible and just simply enjoyable-- it's fun to feel that we're on the verge of more and more of that enjoyment being open to her.

At two, Sylvie is suddenly old enough to really play with Molly, and the two of them are often able to play while I'm doing school with the older two. Sure, we still have dozens of interruptions and sometimes the play ends in arguments, but in the best of moments they play dress up together, or legos or magnatiles, or Molly will "read" books to Sylvie just looking through and describing the pictures to her. It's lovely to have those moments of people just... getting along.

Nell and Marie enjoy sketching and watercoloring and other forms of art, and have impressed me with some of their most recent work.

one of Nell's works-in-progress

They've also been participating in a new quilting group of similarly-aged children beginning to learn quilting, which they are enjoying a lot.

Nell has begun doing more of her own "written narrations" to reflect on readings we do in history or other subjects. Her most recent page of writing on Nathan Hale was well done, and made this Mama proud that she's developing a real writing style.

Sylvie's language is exploding, and it brings all of us, parents and siblings alike, sheer joy to hear her able to articulate what she thinks about. Her turns of phrase have us all smiling throughout the day every day. She's mostly moved from the crib (except for naps, which she no longer takes every day) to a toddler bed we've put in Nell's room. Sometimes at bedtime she'll say to me, "It's gark! (dark) Will you keep me safe?" Of course I reply that I will, but once I leave the room she turns to her biggest sister, who she has wrapped around her little finger. "Nell? Sylvie snuggle with you in your bed? If I'm with you, no monsters or bad guys can get me." Always said with the precious little occasional pauses of a two-year-old figuring out each word as she goes. 

The nearly-abandoned crib will be used again sometime in February, with baby girl #5 due at the very beginning of the month. Hard to believe sometimes (Five girls! What are the chances?), and also so nice to think we haven't yet seen our last baby snuggles or cherished our last two-year-old phraseology. 

Life is oh-so-busy, but good. I recently read an interesting little thing on Twitter. 

I don't know who this person is, nor do I know how I came across it, but it struck me as quite interesting and likely true. Though I don't have experience with addiction as such (for which I am grateful), I often think how important it is to have a variety of things that bring joy and pleasure (and this can and should include work, not just leisure activities!). When I think about my goals, hopes, and intentions in raising the girls, I want them all to have deeply meaningful lives, which I think almost necessitates exposure to a variety of things that can interest, intrigue, and bring enjoyment. Here's hoping our little daily efforts add up to getting us towards those goals. 

"We spread an abundant and delicate feast in the programmes and each small guest assimilates what he can."

-- Charlotte Mason  

1 comment:

  1. I always love reading updates about your homeschooling life, as you're a few years farther along the path than I am! About the reading, I read Rosemary Sutcliff's memoir a couple years ago. She didn't learn to read until 9, for the exact reason you speculated about your daughters -- her mother had developed her taste for rich, rewarding literature by reading aloud and she couldn't STAND to read the simplistic "stories" beginning reading required. So she just refused to learn. Didn't do her any harm in the end, since she turned out to be a wonderful author!

    I'm interested in the money-tracking app too, if you wouldn't mind sharing the name of it!