Subtraction

Red and gray lego bricks sprawl out across his floor. Piles neatly sorted by color and size are evidence of the order with which he approaches his life. Throughout the day in his spare minutes, he retreats to his room, diligently picking away at the fire station he is so excited to rebuild. He asks me if this can count as math for today.

And I pause and think a hesitant “yes.” Yes. I don’t mind if we skip the math book today. Because today you shoveled the driveway and you hauled the trash cans to and from the curb. And you showered and combed your hair and made your bed. And you interacted politely at the dentist appointment. And later you’ll pick up after your sister without being asked, and you’ll keep an eye on the hurricane that is your baby brother. You’ll pepper me with questions all day, about every possible topic. You’ll brainstorm news ways to earn money for latest interest you’re saving for. And then you’ll clear the table and help with the dishes and end your day with a prayer.

So yes. Today I don’t mind if we skip over the page of three digit subtraction because today you are too busy growing into a smart, kind, hard-working, self-giving, honest man.

Today the subtraction that you do will not be done on pencil and paper. It will be done inside you. Eventually you plow through things heavier than the snow in your shovel. The little ones you watch out for now will one day be your own. Your questions won’t always have answers. And someday you’ll crunch the numbers to see that they don’t add up and that you’ve fallen short. Maybe because of a mistake you made. Maybe because life is just unfair sometimes. But one day soon, you will have to rebuild things a lot harder than legos.

One day you’ll find that subtraction is really just sacrifice on paper; the taking away from a whole to give to other parts. And isn’t that what being a man is really all about?

So go and build your fire station. Sort the pieces, fit and refit them together, envision the final product. Enjoy the process. Enjoy being seven. One day you’ll need to subtract things from yourself and from your life that are so much bigger and far less quantifiable numbers in a math problem. And no text book can teach you that.

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Of Games and Cinderblock

White washed cinderblock walls climb three stories up. Hanging above us a green glow hovers from the fluorescent light, static and artificial. Nothing good ever came from a tube suspended in mid air. A shiny gym floor squeaks with the sound of rubber soles running back and forth across the boards.

It’s all so drab. So lackluster. So manmade. And yet we are lucky to have this place. In a land where the alternative is a harsh, wintry environment six months out of the year, a big warm room to let them run is nothing to take for granted. But today the room itself has this longing filling the air. Everything from the lighting, to the walls, to the shoes made across the Pacific Ocean seem cold and imperfect. It’s all this feeble attempt to make something nice from this crude world. Something to soften its blow. And it’s excentuated by the only good thing in it: the boys.

My son races around the gym, weaving and dodging, trying to outrun his friend who is chasing him in a friendly game of tag. He is six–almost seven–and his friend just a bit older. Watching two school-aged boys play tag is really a site to behold. Incredible, actually.

Their legs pump up and down, blood flowing swiftly to the long fibers that connect their muscles together and animate their movements. Their chests expand, heaving and broadening, a miniature image of how they will look in just a few short years. They are agile, quick, and full of life. Breath. But perhaps most beautiful is the smile on their winded faces. They know no limits, no care. Their world is complete for a moment because they are doing everything they were made to do. Running from one place to another, they look as if any moment they will just lift off the ground and go chase each other around the moon. For a fraction in time there is no limit to their world; nothing holding them back from everything they are suppose to be. In here, in this cold, manmade cage, it is so plain to me how captive they are.

This may be the only world they know, but it is starkly obvious to me that this is not their home.

Later, I watch my princess gallop around the room. She dodges the furniture, giving a whinny here and a neigh there, as she rounds the corner by the dining room table. It’s a daily occurnace, her pretending to be a horse. We indulge her terribly, playing along and calling her “Sparkling Lights,” her splendid pony name. I’ll often feed her carrots by hand, or pretend to brush her sleek coat. I wrap scarves around her middle, a make-shift saddle to add to her delight. After all, how many years of your life do you really get away with fully believing you are such a majestic creature? She prances by, toffee hair floating behind her like a beautiful sun-kissed mane. “Good girl. Easy girl. You’re a beautiful horse, Sparkling Lights,” I soothe. That night I tuck her into her little bed and sing a song of horses running free, and tell her to dream of the day He comes back, riding on His white horse, ready for her to go riding with Him. Her eyes glass over and she says she can’t wait.

And for the second time that day, I see again how inadequate this place is and how exiled we are.

These precious stones of mine are brilliant. They are shining beacons in a world of bitterness, injustice, and cruelty. And for now–thankfully–they do not know much of those things. And until that day comes, they are my evidence of hope. They remind me how someday the Restoration will come, and our home will be a paradise. Our bodies will not break down, never decompose. Our joy will be complete, perfected in being everything we want to be. In everything we are made to be: completely and uniquely human. Royalty. Sons and daughters of the King, reigning and ruling in our real home.

Reflections of a Homeschool Mom on Christmas Break

Fridays tend to be busy days. I clean the house, make a fabulous dinner, run a few loads through the washer, and tie up any loose ends with school. I like having the house all polished and spiffy for the weekend. He comes in from a long work week to a tidy home, a beautiful meal, and music in the background. It’s a wonderful way to close one week and begin the next.

But this one was of those days where the laundry was piled high and the house looked like three small tornados had whizzed through it. I should have been whipping up dinner or reorganizing the art cabinet without my helpers, or at the very minimum, scouring Amazon to find a good deal on the new math book we would need in just a few weeks.

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Home. School.

There is an album on my phone where I keep favorite photos. Little snaps of my life, forever preserved under glass. These photographs have nothing on the images I used to create. Once upon a time I made beautiful pieces of art, losing myself in the creative process for hours. With fractional movements I pieced together delicate 2-dimensional interpretations of the beauty before me. Time was not an object when presented with something as complex as a flower. I could spend hours exploring a single petal. Continue reading

Our First Homeschool Year

I pictured a cute little table, with small chairs, and a colorful rug underfoot. The walls were lined with shelves filled with wonderful books, vibrant pieces of art, and bins of sensory toys made from organic wood. In the corner we would have pillows on the floor for reading and a few lamps to provide a soft glow. Large windows would welcome the outdoors in, and we would probably have a fairy garden with live plants sitting next to our stack of read-alouds from the library. (Never overdue, of course.) The air would smell like crayons and glue, and spring to life with the sounds of classical music intermixed with childish laughter. And we would be happy. We would dive into wonderful learning adventures together, all from the harmony and comfort of our special homeschool room.

A quaint space, a perfect family, a love of learning. Such a pretty picture. Such a calculated plan.

I didn’t plan on moving eight weeks into our first homeschool year, boxes becoming our worktable. I didn’t plan on unloading shelves of books into storage and turning our family room into a school setting in the basement of a home that wasn’t ours. I didn’t plan on trying to keep two active children as quiet as possible so as not to disturb my husband, who worked in the bedroom above us.

But we were given a space.

And I didn’t see the baby. I didn’t plan on near-debilitating morning sickness or depression that left me lifeless. I didn’t plan on a husband traveling for weeks at a time. But it all happened.

We moved from a big city to a small town. And we fell in love with it. The dark country skies led us to a whole semester studying the wonders of our solar system. And our local library had telescopes we could check out for free. We learned to make maple syrup and build a fire. We stumbled into a welcoming community of homeschoolers at the YMCA and looked forward to our gym class each week.  We ended up just a few miles from my parents, who opened their lives to us from the day we got here.

I didn’t plan on tackling some pretty significant issues in our life at 34 weeks of pregnancy, and having to shelve some school to cope. I resorted to just doing the minimum. But the lack of pressure gave me time to heal, making me a better mother and a better wife.

And now, we are a stronger family.

I didn’t plan on driving 30 minutes in the dark, in the bitter cold of a Wisconsin winter to the hospital to give birth to a sweet baby boy who would join our school days and make them even more meaningful.

Our lives so very often do not follow our plans. They do not bend to meet our needs or fulfill our desires. More often I find that my plans, dreams, and desires change shape. Change importance. Morph into a better, more fluid, more becoming picture of the life I am proud to call my own.

A life in which I am always learning.

Advocate

I left the office shaken up. They had pronounced him healthy, growing, thriving. She even said a cheery “No concerns.” Both doctor and nurse commented on how well behaved my other children had been at this check up. They smiled and laughed as my kids answered their causal questions, hearing how smart, respectful, and observant they were. It was obvious they thought highly of my little tribe. It was all going well until I declined a medical procedure. One that was totally optional and medically unnecessary.  “No thanks. We’ll skip that today.” I said politely. The mood shifted and the conversation creaked to a halt. A faded, badly printed waiver was waved at me along with a pen. Sign this and they’d have me on my way.

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Fears of the Homeschool Mom

What if they’re right? What if all the tests and scores and papers are worth the fight for their little minds.

What if the system wins? What if the proven track is where success really lives? Even if dreams die.

What if they say “they need to know all of this before graduation day.”  What happens if it’s not enough, and they fail? Will I fail too?

Do I give them tools and scrap the rules? What if the all the lists and “need to knows” are really true? What does it prove?

But what if they’re wrong. What if I should have trusted my heart all along? What if my first guess was really the right one? What if they’re wrong?

And what if I’m right? What if the answer to all they need to know is found in living life? What if they love to learn and learn to love without textbooks. Despite the looks.

And what if they’re strong? Learning and growing as we go along. Should we go along?

And what if I’m brave. And I stick to this despite what the critics say? I trust in You. Can they trust me too?

What if this whole thing is all we ever dreamed and so much more? They’re worth so much more.

Am I wrong? Am I right? Jesus, give me the answers I need tonight.

Give them what they need for life.