I often get asked how I deal with having so many kids so young home all day every day. Or instead of questions, I hear comments like, “I don’t see how you do it and get anything else done!” or “There’s no way I could do that.” I’ve had people say I have more patience than them, I must have a special calling to be able to do this, and they could never be as good a mom as me. I struggle, and always have, with caring way too much about what people think of me. As a mom, that manifests itself in worrying about whether people think I’m a good mom, whether they think my kids are well-behaved enough. In the past year or so, I’ve been able, by the grace of God, to put off a lot of that fear of man, but comments like that pile the pressure on to be the type of mom and produce the type of kid that they’ve obviously labeled us as. Well, let me share with you how far my real is from my ideal, and maybe you’ll realize that there’s no way I belong on anybody’s pedestal.
On an ideal morning, I would get up around 6:30 or so and head downstairs for some time in the Word. Then the kids would get up around 7, 7:30 and we’d all gather ’round the table for breakfast. Clay would lead us in Family Bible Time, and we’d go back upstairs to do “morning stuff”–get dressed, brush hair and teeth, and straighten rooms. All this would wrap up in time to start school at 9:00. Now, what really happens?
Well, on a typical morning, I might actually have my alarm set to get up, but since the night was most likely interrupted by Elliot trembling in fear of a rumble of thunder 30 miles away at 12:00, and Lucy’s kittens raising a chorus of hunger at about 2:00, and Elisabeth sneaking into our room at about 3:00 saying there was a sound in her room, and Samuel talking in his sleep at 4:00, and pregnancy heartburn or leg cramps setting in with a vengeance around 5:00, and that one particular student texting Clay at 6:15 just to say hey, and then Samuel wide awake and raring to go and hollering, “All done, Mommy!” at 6:40–I usually do not make it downstairs for that nice, quiet time alone with God. Now, all of these don’t always happen on the same night, but they sometimes actually do, and every single night has some combination of these interruptions.
So the mornings usually begin with all four kids out of their beds and into Mommy and Daddy’s bed by 7:15 or so, because Mom and Dad are still very bleary-eyed. We eventually stumble downstairs when the breakfast demands become un-ignorable, and occasionally actually have that Family Bible Time. On good days, Dad will take the kids back upstairs and supervise the “morning stuff” and I do get some time in the Word. Somehow, even after the rough start, we usually do find ourselves at least dressed, if not hair brushed, and starting school by 9:00.
The ideal morning school would start with Catherine and me in the school room while Abigail plays with Elisabeth and Samuel in the playroom, and Catherine and I would be able to do Bible and Phonics uninterrupted. Now, to their credit, this has actually been the case most of the past week or two. But there is still that occasional day when our Bible story is punctuated by and sometimes completely halted by a distant wailing above our heads, or footsteps thundering down the hallway, or Abigail and Elisabeth screaming at each other over some toy, or even one day, the sound of the dresser mirror crashing down off the dresser and landing on Catherine’s bed.
When Catherine is finished with her schoolwork, it’s her turn to go upstairs and play with the little kids so that Abigail can do her morning school–Grammar and Spelling. Again, to their credit, this transition has been very smooth the past week or so, but it has taken them awhile to learn to close the playroom door back before Samuel can get out. Samuel has figured out that when Abigail leaves the room, she’s going downstairs tto Mommy, and he thinks that sounds like a great idea. The first few weeks after we moved, Catherine would go into the playroom, Abigail would go downstairs, leaving the playroom door open but closing the door to the stairs. So Samuel would follow her down the hallway only to get the downstairs door slammed in his face, inducing wailing and pounding on the door until Mommy finally rescued him. If he was “lucky”, Mommy would take him on down with her and he would get to sit in Mommy’s lap and push Abigail’s book as she was trying to write in it, or scoot the table away from her, or grab her pencil, or just loudly beg for hot dogs or more drink. A few days of this, and he stopped being “lucky”, for Mommy started taking him right back upstairs to the playroom, setting him down in the far corner, telling Catherine to “Please please find Samuel a toy he likes and play with him!” and then running to get the door closed before Samuel can get across the room. As I said, this transition goes much much smoother now, and rarely involves tears at all, but the above scenario was definitely our “real” for several weeks after moving into this house.
So, whether we’ve had the ideal or the real, Abigail is now finished with morning school, anywhere between 10:15 and 11:00, depending of course on their assignments for the day. Ideally, this would be my prime time to tackle some cleaning before lunch, getting the girls in on the act by giving them their chores to do off of their chore chart. I have dreams of a cleaning schedule for different days of the week that would fit into this time frame, but those dreams have never materialized. In the reality, if it’s before 11, I head upstairs, plug Nancy Leigh DeMoss’s podcast into my ipod speakers and clean bathrooms or put away laundry or find some other reason to stay upstairs so that I can listen to the whole podcast, while the older girls lose themselves in make-believe and the younger two follow me around and “help” by getting in my way and undoing most of my work as I do it. Putting away one load of laundry under these circumstances usually takes a good half hour; basically, the more “help” I have, the longer my chores take (although one good day did see me get both of the upstairs bathrooms cleaned, including the tubs, in about 30 minutes, which is pretty outstanding around here).
Lunch is pretty much the same in the ideal and the real–there’s not a lot you can do to spruce up peanut butter and jelly to make it “ideal.” After lunch, if they haven’t lost the privilege, they get TV time. Ideally, this would involve all four kids sitting happily in the living room watching a show together like one happy family. In reality, although they beg for TV time and cheer madly when I hit that Power button, they watch for about 10 minutes before they’re up off the couch doing cartwheels and having races in the living room, climbing up onto the top of the couch so they can climb the posts in the living room, or doing backflips off of the couches. On these days, 1:00 is definitely a happy time for Mommy.
At 1:00, ideal or real, it’s naptime! Samuel and Elisabeth are ushered upstairs and tucked into bed. Thankfully, this usually is actually the one part of my day that is almost always ideal. Occasionally Elisabeth will get up or holler and have to be tucked in again, but those days are rare. They usually both sleep at least two hours. This is time for Abigail’s afternoon school. Ideally, this will find Abigail and me in the schoolroom doing reading and math while Catherine plays quietly or watches a show in the living room. Actually, Catherine has a really hard time with that concept and usually makes her way into the schoolroom, promising to be quiet but interrupting us several times. But we finally make it through, and then it’s movie time! This is time for the girls to watch a video while Mom crashes on the couch!
The little kids wake up around 3:30, we pull out the snacks, and they get to play, outside if possible, for awhile before clean-up time. On off evenings, ideally, they’ll clean up their playroom while I fix dinner and we’ll eat when Daddy comes home before enjoying the evening together in some enriching family activity. However, more nights than I care to admit, if we don’t already have plans, Mommy or Daddy or both will feel this desperation to get out of the house and find some other way to kill the time before bedtime because the thought of being perky parents for three more hours, entertaining all four kids simply just sounds like too much for that day. Nights like these find us at the Eddyville McD’s in their playplace, going for a drive after dinner with the children all nicely buckled in their carseats, or heading to Marion for ice-cream–anything to pass the time until bedtime.
The ideal bedtime has Samuel in bed between 7:30 and 8:00, with the rest of the family together on the couch having Bible Story Time, then taking the girls to bed around 8:00. This actually happens way less than we want it to–usually we’re scrambling to get them all in bed at the same time because we’ve just gotten home from whatever we either legitimately or desperately had to do that evening. If it’s before 8:00, the girls get a bedtime story; if not, they just get a song and a kiss and the lights go out. On the ideal nights, once we close their doors we don’t hear from them again until morning. On normal nights, Elisabeth makes her way downstairs at least twice before finally being convinced, usually by a spanking, to stay in her bed.
So, after spending the day with us, no one could place me on a pedestal simply because of the fact that I’m a homeschooling mom of a lot of kids. Yes, we are on the whole a happy family and most of our days are way more good than bad. But no day is ideal, the way folks make it sound when they make those comments. I’m just a mom praying for patience every day. God gave me the grace for today. He has not yet given me the grace for tomorrow, so I will just lean on Him for today, resting in that grace when I fail to parent with kindness and consistency or when the chores go undone one more day. Because the ideal is just a dream, a nonexistent image created in my mind, most likely unattainable. The real is snotty noses, teary eyes, rebellious attitudes, dirty diapers, and crumbs all over the floor, yes, but the real is also four little hearts in need of a Savior just like me, and I get to be the main influence in their day every day to point them toward Him. The real is full of joy in the midst of the chaos, because the real is here and I can hug it and get sticky kisses back even when there were tears two minutes earlier. No, my days aren’t ideal, but ideal would be boring anyway, wouldn’t it? And my days are definitely not boring!! So give me the real, and I give thanks for it every day, even when the evenings are marked with exhaustion and discouragement. I love my real.