Two Hands Full

Many times when I am out in public with four or more children, strangers will approach me and say, “You sure have your hands full!” Overflowing, I am thinking. Often they will add, “You must be a patient woman.” The comment takes me by surprise every time, because I am usually irritated at that moment, partly because I do not enjoy being evaluated when I did have other things on my to-do list, but also because going anywhere with seven youngsters tends to run my batteries down. 

The people who know me a little better often comment, “I don’t know how you do it all!” I am wondering, “When was the last time I did do it all?” Then I wonder, “What do they think I am really doing?” I can get everyone cleaned up and the house looking decent for an event, but I can’t keep it that way. Even if I have a warning that you are coming, a little tornado is guaranteed to twist through the house, messing up hair and dumping shoes, toys, crayons, and underwear on the floor. There will be fingerprints in the icing. It would be a minor miracle if the toilet was flushed. I don’t want to know what is caked on the window. I hope you aren’t allergic to dust or tall enough to see most of it. We don’t carpool, do sports, do co-op, or go to park day. I can’t do all that. I’ll tell you what I am doing, in hopes that it will help someone, and satisfy the curiosity of the rest.

I Stay Home

If you know me very well, you know that I strive to stay home as much as possible. Only on two weekday mornings do I leave the house, under normal circumstances. One of those days is for piano lessons and nearby errands and the other is for a trip to the library and the grocery shopping. If I did not have little ones needing naps, I would do all of that on one day and stay home the rest. When I have to leave the homestead more often than that, we don’t eat well, have a tidy home, or get enough sleep. I am not patient under those circumstances. 

I Go To Bed Early

 I try to get enough sleep. My goal is to be in bed by 10:00 and up at 6:00. That doesn’t always happen. I almost always get up at the same time, so I know if I have too many late nights in a row, my life is going to get harder. Everything is hard when I am tired. If I need it, I will take a short nap when my little ones take theirs. I’d rather have that quiet time to get something done, but if getting to bed by 10:00 is not possible, a nap the next day is my back up plan. 

I Am Selective

I already mentioned some of the things I am not doing and it is not because those things are not valuable activities and experiences. I just can’t do it all, and do it well, so we picked what was the most important to us, and limited how many things could be on that list. Outside activities that allow us to do more than one thing at a time and which include more than one family member are the most likely to be selected. We chose piano, AWANA, and Scouts. I can do errands while three children are taking back to back piano lessons. Four children participate in AWANA, while my oldest two volunteer there, and Mike and I have a date night with little Hopesie tagging along. Mike and the boys do all the scouting outings together. That’s about all we can handle and it often feels like too much. I don’t like dinners to be rushed or processed. When that starts happening, we know we need to readjust the activities.

I Don’t Watch TV

In fact, we do not even have cable. Or rabbit ears. We could not watch anything even if we wanted to. But we don’t want to. We have had cable for maybe two years out of the twenty that we have been married. We found if we had it, we watched it. We talked less, thought less, did less. I don’t have any regrets about living my life instead of watching someone else pretend to have a life. The news is on the internet and I can sort through it faster there. We do have TV’s for videos and we enjoy that, but the idea is to keep it for a treat, not a regular thing, and to engage in the real life. 

I Multitask 

We multitask activities, but we don’t stop there. I constantly look for ways I can do more than one thing at a time. Here are a few I can think of. I had a homeschool DVD seminar I wanted to watch to help me plan the year, but I kept putting it off because I just could not sit in front of the TV for three hours when I had so many other things to do. Finally I popped the DVD into Mike’s laptop, set it on my bed and tackled a mountain of ironing while I listened. I had been putting off the ironing, too, so I really felt great for getting both of these done at the same time. I did not iron for three hours straight! It took me about a week and a half to get through the DVD and catch up with the ironing, 30 minutes at a time. 

Similarly, I have several boxes and shelves full of tapes of sermons, homeschool conferences, and other things I am interested in. I found a basket, just the right size for my van, filled it with tapes, and I listen to them while we run our errands. If I find it especially encouraging, I will keep it to listen to again. Many times I find that I have already learned the material (these are old cassette tapes that I have listened to years ago), so then I will donate it to the library book store. My children love to bring books in the car and once they are strapped down, they are usually quiet. If they are listening along with me, that is a bonus! 

I have a huge stack of books I want to read. I piled them up on my nightstand and every night, I will read for 15 or thirty minutes. I may or may not read the same book two nights in a row. I will choose whatever fits my need at the time. After lunch David or I will sit with the nappers until they fall asleep. We always bring a book or project to work on quietly. A little at a time, I chip away at my reading list, but it never gets any shorter. I buy books faster than I read them, but that is OK. I would never want to run out of books!

I have always liked to cook, and am interested in photography. Since I need to make dinner anyway, I decided long ago to have fun with it. I love to try new recipes on my hungry family. Mike especially loves this hobby of mine. I have collected a huge notebook of favorites and decided to take pictures of every one of them and make an heirloom cookbook for my children. It only takes a few seconds to wipe off the side of the plate, put a sprig of herbs on it, and snap a few pictures. They laugh at me when I ask who has the prettiest plate and instruct them not to take a bite until I have photographed it, but then they all vie to convince me that their plate is the most tempting of them all. It is a simple task to cut and paste that to my blog. It all fits together and doesn’t take very much extra time.

I Delegate

We stress family relationships and team work. There is no way I can do everything that needs to be done here all by myself. I am so thankful I do not have to! I make lists and hand them out. Last Saturday our family was especially productive. Mike was out of town and I had no bread for lunch. I sent the smallest ones to the sandbox, and gave everyone else a job to do. I made four loaves of bread (all at once in my big mixer), then while it baked I began straightening up the garage. I sent David to the shelves of camping equipment, which were noticeably empty, since most of it was on the floor next to the shelves. While he organized that section, I rearranged and decluttered the rest of the garage. Paul built a raised bed to add to the garden and filled three with dirt. Grace, Jonathan, and Victoria cleaned out the bunny hutch. They ended up soaking themselves and asked to put their bathing suits on. I got to thinking, since they were already wet, they could scrub the three musty coolers I found in the garage and let them dry in the sun. Meanwhile David vacuumed the inside of the van. All that before lunch! Lunch was extremely simple, just PB&J on homemade bread and grapes. Then our friends came over to play in the pool and sew. I was so busy sewing all afternoon, that I sent David and Grace to the kitchen to make dinner. Which brings me to another thing I do.

I Teach Useful Skills As Early As Possible

David and Grace had made this recipe before. In fact, my three oldest have quite a few recipes under their belt. All of them are simple, healthy dishes made out of staples we keep in the house. Paul is currently our breakfast chef. He makes two kinds of hot cereal and his own special eggs. David is our lunch chef, mostly doing sandwiches, quesadillas, and reheating leftovers. Grace is more interested in recipes, so she makes quick breads, which we then eat for breakfast, cookies, and sometimes dinner or another dessert. Just giving them a few basic skills has lightened the load for me considerably. Every meal does not have to be gourmet, or even pretty. 

In addition, all our children have chores. Some of the chores are just learning to take care of their own things, but many are meant to benefit other family members. They vacuum, sweep, help with laundry, wash dishes, clean bathrooms, etc. Before a meal or snack I send everyone scurrying through the house for a ten minute tidy. They are to pick up the multitude of items they have dropped on the flat surfaces. We do this again before Mike walks in the door so he can come home to a cozy cottage. 

I Encourage Independent Learning

I teach my children to read when they are only four years old. Not so I can impress Grandma, but because I know once they learn to read and love to read, they will do most of their learning on their own without even knowing it. I use a very simple book called Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons. It is 100 lessons that are about 15-20 minutes long. We try to have a lesson twice a week, but have been known to do more or less, as we are able. They still need to sit and practice with me for a few months after we finish that book. We read the easy readers we already have in the house and I show them where the easy books are in the library. I still keep the reading practice short and sweet. I try to keep the pressure low and the excitement of learning high. Before I know it, they will usually tell me they have outgrown the easy books, so I show them where the library shelves the chapter books. If they have a special interest, such as World War II, I show them where those are, and the rest is, as they say, history! 

I also multitask homeschool students and subjects. I made a list of all the subjects we need or want to study and fit them into a charted schedule. In the morning I have the youngest four in the kitchen at the little table. This is because they need more help, but also because if they are out of my sight, they probably are off task. They just need more supervision. Hope and Ethan color, so they will feel involved and also so that when they do need to do actual school work, it will seem like they have always been doing school with us. Meanwhile Jonathan and Victoria have a list of subjects they can do on their own. I get Grace started on dinner prep, then I move to the couch with Ethan, in full sight of the kitchen table, for his 15 min. reading lesson. Then Ethan and Hope are free to play. I finish up dinner, if needed, then I get Jonathan and Victoria going on math, while Grace heads to the computer to do French and then piano. Grace will do the rest of her independent work alone, checking in with me when she finishes. David and Paul are all on independent tasks all morning, checking in by afternoon with their completed work. As soon as Jonathan and Victoria are on a roll, I move a few steps away to reboot the laundry. You can see why I need to stay home to get all of this accomplished. But I am not doing it all alone. I am not teaching them every single thing they are learning. I do teach, but more often I manage, while they learn. 

In the afternoon we gather to do all our subjects that do not need to be on a graded level, such as singing, art appreciation, composer study, history, civics, geography, Bible, citizenship, etc. Don’t think we do all of those every day, or even every year. Each year I pick the ones I want to focus on, doing a few three days a week, and a few one day a week, while the rest will wait. On Wednesday the youngest ones don’t do much school at all. Piano is enough. We save Wednesday afternoon for catching up or for working on favorite projects. Or for resting. On Friday we have gone to the library and now we have tote bags full of books to plow through. Who needs anything else? 

Sometimes I Chuck the Schedule

I have just described a perfect week. It is never like that all the way through. We have interruptions, conflict, and sickness. Now that I have ten years of homeschooling under my belt, I realize that it all evens up if I just keep trying to stay consistent. Somedays are smooth and full and others are just full of it. When I get sick I know it is a very good idea to have several videos stand in for the regular routine. That is actually the best time for videos. Especially if they are educational, but even if they are more entertaining than educational, they can still be a useful tool. When I am sick, I feel guilty for letting them sit around “all day” like that. I think what are we coming to? This is just going down hill, and it will never get better! It reminds me of being in labor and going through transition. I always think this is too hard. I can’t take it anymore! And then it is over and everything is great. When I am sick, I have a hard time thinking rationally. After I recover I look back and think, “I feel so good now! We are right back on track! Why was I so worried?” It is the same for interruptions I can’t remove such as appointments, emergencies, and child training. It is perfectly fine to take the time to do these things then pick up where we left off. 

I admit, my hands are full, and I do work hard. But as you can see, I am not doing it all, and not doing it alone. It was harder when I only had two or three and they were all small. I had to do everything then. Now I have several older children who pull their load while we are training the younger ones. I figure I will not have to clean bathrooms, wash dishes, or mop for another 18 years. Perhaps sometime before then, we will get to the point where the house is actually clean for more than 20 minutes. But I’ll take a messy house over an empty one any day.

© Being Fruitful, 2012