Fall/Winter 2004. My four oldest, ages 5 to 3 months.
When were my children ever this little? Really?!?
I look back on that time with joy and happiness. I think, “Life was so uncomplicated then.” I knew their needs and I fulfilled them. They were simple things like sleep, food, and love. I would hold them, read to them and cook for them. That was my life ten years ago.
Some days I miss those years. Some days I watch young moms as they cope with the stress of taking care of young children — carrying the baby in the midst of multiple other tasks, chasing the toddler, juggling three children under five — and I remember when that used to be me and I feel a tug on my heart. As hard as those years were; they were also sweet. Those children needed me for everything and they loved me unconditionally. They could be wild and unruly. This is true. But they were also just amazing to watch. The innocence that surrounds little children as they play is beautiful.
In retrospect, I do miss those years. However, in reality, I do not. When I really think back I remember that those were hard years. Four children under the age of five can be very demanding. The physical abuse one endures day in day out is exhausting. And I had no freedom. Taking them anywhere was a chore– buckling the car seats, driving to the destination and unbuckling and getting everyone out just to put everyone back in two minutes later. A five minute stop takes 30. And if I wanted a shower, I had to plan ahead and make sure everyone was in there designated spot.
Now I have two teenage boys, two daughters on the brink of teendom, and two more who are still “little”. There are days when my children are teaching me; when I have to ask them how to do things. My oldest has surpassed me in understanding of mathematics and science. My daughter can ask to make cookies and I can allow her to do the entire process on her own — start to finish. If I need to go to the grocery store, it is no longer a major feat. I am no longer Mother Duck with my six ducklings following behind. I can ask my “olders” to please watch my 5 and 7 year old and feel confident that everything will be ok. The shopping gets done twice as fast (and I buy fewer impulse items) when I’m not having to chase and reprimand children all the time.
Spring 2014. All 6 kids gathered around their favorite tree in the woods behind the house.
Life is different now. We have different needs and different wants. They are not so simple like they once were. I’m not always able to provide for the varying needs of my children as their needs become more complicated (and expensive). They are learning more about the world and about themselves, and sometimes this means they argue with each other — especially as my two “born leaders” learn the right and wrong way to lead!
I had a moment of pure happiness the other day. All of us, the four oldest and me, were in the kitchen. I was mixing a meatloaf, Abigail was peeling potatoes, Hadassah was chopping them, and the boys were making biscuits. As I looked around my kitchen at each child as we worked together on the project, I felt my joy overflowing. Those kids who used to claw at me to fulfill their needs at all hours of the day were now helping me. We were having fun together, singing songs as we worked. It was a good time. Now, to be fair, this is by no means an every day occurrence. It took place because they wanted meatloaf and mashed potatoes and I didn’t have time to put it all together myself. I told them they would only get it if they worked with me and helped get it together. Nonetheless, it was a moment I treasure in my heart.
I can look back on my time with young children and enjoy the sweet memories. But we are making new memories now. And these are just as sweet.
Soccer and ballet have changed our lives. We used to have nice relaxing evenings. We would do school during the day while Chris was at work. In the evenings when he came home we would all sit down to a nice family dinner and then watch tv or read or play a game. We left the home for numerous church activities or for a family outing, but on the whole we were either homebodies or doing family endeavors.
Then these activities came into our lives!
Now Chris comes home and three nights a week we rush through dinner so we can head out and take our children to their respective practices. Our once peaceful, open evenings have become scheduled and rigid. Not to mention the Saturdays that used to be open to take road trips to the zoo or Silver Dollar City are now unavailable due to soccer games. And that is with just two of our six children involved! I can’t imagine it with all of them!
So why did we do this to ourselves? Why did we leave the sanctity of our family-controlled schedule to get involved in outside activities? After all, we are a homeschooling family! And not just a homeschooling family, but a large one! We belong to a rare breed! We are independent, preferring to do things our own way, in our own time. We have chosen not to put our oldest into traditional high school because of the toll it would take on our family time, but, rather, to involve him in several independent study classes on the computer and online. We do not fit in the mold of the average American family.
If you think about it, though, these endeavors have followed the philosophical path we have carved for our lives. As parents and educators we naturally observe and watch our children and how they learn, then adjust the curriculum and lesson plans to best fit their needs and individual learning styles. We desire to create the best learning environment for their young minds. Instead of throwing them haplessly into a multitude of different activities in an attempt to find their love, I’ve simply watched them grow. I admit, this choice was not purely based on philosophy, but on necessity. For a long time we could not financially add activities to our lives.
Suffice it to say, I have been observing my daughters for years, seeking to know what brings them the most joy. My 10 year old, Abi, has been dancing and prancing about the house since she could walk. Even as a toddler she seemed to have a dancers body. Listening to music or watching dancers brings such a joy to her heart, such a twinkle to her eyes, that I know this is a desire that burns within her. I sought for years to be able to give this to her. Ballet has given her a sense of confidence and individuality that is so important in life.
Alternatively, my 11 year old, Hadassah, is not a delicate dancer. No. She wants to run and kick. She is aggressive. She is always looking for someone to go out and play sports with her. And even though she has 5 siblings, it was often hard for her to find someone willing to give her more than 20 minutes at a time. She longed for more. Soccer has given her that outlet–for a 2 hour time-span, 3 days a week she gets together with several other middle-school age girls and they kick and run together. She loves it! It has boosted her spirit and given her something that is hers and that she is good at.
To that end, I believe that sports have allowed us to have the best of both worlds. As homeschoolers, we still have the freedom to choose our schedule and what we teach our children. However, sports have allowed my children a social and educational outlet that they can’t get at home. They get specialized training in something they truly enjoy and I still get to “choose” the curriculum!
We are taking it slow, not wanting to go from zero kids in sports to all of them at once! The chaos that would ensue might suffocate us. Abi started last year, Hadassah this year, and I’ll probably put my youngers in soccer this spring. We’re still finding a good fit for our older boys as traditional sports don’t interest them.
So, in the end, soccer and ballet have changed our lives–we think for the better. It took away free time that we formerly enjoyed in a different way. But the trade-off is so much more than what we gave up. These sports have added another dimension to our family life and to our children’s scope of knowledge and skill. I’m so glad we added them.