Tuesday, 21 July 2015

How was my day?

It seems a straightforward enough question: How was your day? I find it a particularly difficult one, though. How do I explain how my day was when anxiety is such a frequent companion?

How do I tell you that I spent the day wrestling with the panicky flutters inside of me? How do I describe the moments when my mind got away from me, when I imagined in vivid detail one or another of my worst fears? How do I explain the amount of effort it took to wrest my mind back from the brink, to remind myself that this isn't real, this didn't happen, this has not happened and in all likelihood won't happen? How do I help you to make sense of the shivering that continued inside even after I'd returned to reality - it's not real, it's not real, but it felt so real and maybe it will happen, who can say?

When you ask how my day was, I don't know how tell you that reality was great - I got things done, I had fun with the kids, nothing went wrong, it was a good day - and yet it was also a terrible day where awful things happened in my imagination and I felt sick and shaky and fluttery. I know it sounds ridiculous because it didn't happen, but it felt like it did.

Other times, there is no specific fear. There is only an empty, floaty, swoopy feeling in my stomach, a tightness in my throat, a feeling like I can't draw in enough air. There's a hum, a vibration, under my skin. I mean, sure, I cleaned like a mad woman this morning, look how productive I was! - but only because I was buzzing with adrenaline, jittery with the blossoming anxiety, feeling it in my veins and my stomach and my shoulders.

I despise few things more than wasting a good day in imaginary fear.

This is, after all, my year to be fearless. Less worry, more life. And it has been, in its own way - in my own way. I'm speaking my anxieties out loud with those who have earned the right to hear them, and that is a fearlessness in itself. I'm noticing it and naming it, looking it in the face in a way I haven't always done. There you are, Fear. That's what you look like in my life, Anxiety. I see you for what you truly are, Worry.

This is just where I am right now. I'm in the wrestling days. I'm not here with advice or solutions or answers. I take some supplements, I talk myself down from the edge, I pray, I do what I can. I practice intentional self-care and gratitude. Exercise and sunshine help. Lists help, if only to keep myself focused, to prevent myself from either indulging the anxiety or zoning out in front of a trivial distraction in an attempt to avoid it.

Some days are worse and some days are better, and overall I hope that I'm moving in a forward direction. Right now that's as much as I hope for: progress, a little bit of progress each month. Some new insight. A few less days with those panicky feelings beating inside. A few more fears spoken aloud, freed, let go. Fewer sleepless nights, mind flitting from one place to another. Something.

Anyway. How was my day? Good and panicky and productive and scary and beautiful and hard. I guess that about covers it.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Have a Guilt-Free Summer

It's that time again - summer listicles galore. Must do's and bucket lists and you-only-have-18-summers-so-make-them-count reminders. Good things, to be sure, but only when they nurture and encourage us. Too often, though, they feel more overwhelming than anything else, just another burden, extra pressure, another helping of guilt, one more way we're not Living Up to the image of the parents we should be.

Breathe. And breathe again.

What do our kids need this summer? Room. Room to play, explore, run, wrestle, dig, splash, roll, and cuddle. Room to follow their own passions and curiosities. Room to make little mistakes, now, and to learn from them before the stakes are much higher. Room to be bored, and room to push through that boredom on their own. Room to figure some things out. And then some more room to process it all, to rest, and to be inwardly quiet for a while.

This summer isn't a checklist, get it all done or you've failed. This summer won't make or break your children's future. It's three months out of the 216+ months that they'll spend in your care, being nurtured and guided toward the day when they set out on their own.

It's lovely to get out to the beach, to wander rambling forest trails, or to have a picnic at the park. It's equally lovely to send the kids outside to play with water and dirt in the backyard, to ride their bikes up and down the block, or to read in the shade with an apple and a glass of water. A week at camp or a family vacation can be great memories; a week spent wandering in and out through an open back door, grabbing snacks while attempting to dig a hole to the center of the earth in the backyard, can an equally great way to fill a child with a sense of comfort, confidence, and peace.

Short story? It doesn't have to be momentous to be good.

So take the lists for what they are: ideas from which to select a few, tuck them away for a summer day that presents itself open and free and in need of an inspiring prod. Spend your days in whatever way best nourishes you and your family. Leave room for slow, lazy, and wide open; there's no pressure to cram in every opportunity summer offers. And if the end of summer arrives and you have yet to make popsicles, sleep in the backyard, or catch fireflies, it's okay. Love your summer for what it was; don't feel guilt over what it wasn't.

What has your summer looked like so far?

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Year-Round Homeschooling: Why and how it works for us

Summer has arrived in all its heat-soaked glory. We're enjoying the usual summer traditions - berries and watermelon, garden-fresh vegetables rinsed off under the garden hose, sidewalk chalk and bubbles, ice cream and popsicles.

While the parks and grocery stores are busier than we're used to, filled as they are with kids on summer break, I find that claiming the same for us doesn't quite ring true. I do take advantage of late summer to re-evaluate where we are and where we're heading, but there's no official start-and-stop to our homeschooling year. It just continues on, weaving its way through our ever-changing lives.

How dreary that sounds! No break, no year-end celebrations, no first day back? For us, though, it works.

Our homeschool journey is ever-changing, shifting to fit our life and our children. There's an ebb and a flow to it, sometimes a focus here, other times a focus there, sometimes more formal and sometimes less. Sometimes it looks like math and reading and writing, every day. Sometimes it looks like spending hours outside. Sometimes it's weekly science experiments. Sometimes it's maps spread over our laps, history while we each lunch, read-alouds about other people and places and times. Sometimes it's new babies and all the science that brings - not to mention all the love and cuddles. But what it always is is ours. It's what we need, what we love, and what makes sense in our life.

What hasn't yet made sense for us, though, is taking a summer break from our learning. Our educational leanings are whole-life based, a learning that is part of what we do and who we are. Our goal is to nurture that holistic education, in part by preventing, as much as possible, a separation between "school time" and the rest of our daily lives. To disentangle those homeschooling strings from the rest of our everyday life would feel unnatural.

Our unschoolish bent means that we are ever following what fits with our lives and interests at that moment. Summer might mean less math and more nature study, but it's all learning. It might mean fewer days of dictation and more days of listening to history in a shady spot outside. Yesterday it meant picking wild blueberries, then coming home and turning them into a berry crisp before playing a few rounds of Crazy Eights. Our days have a familiar in-and-out rhythm, but the details within that rhythm are rarely the same.

Sometimes I wonder if our education should look more "traditional", but it always comes back to that time thing, still, now, four years later. It proves itself to be true over and over: Learning just happens as we go about our daily lives. I notice an area that could use some work, I start to worry, I begin planning a formal lesson, and then - they learn it. Without me and my lesson. They learn in their own good time and their own good way, and only my own unsubstantiated worries try to convince me otherwise.

But this is now. Always we are watching, considering, evaluating: What needs to change? What do our children need at this moment? What still works, and what no longer does? Perhaps the summer will come when we put away our books and declare ourselves officially, properly, on Summer Break. For now, though, it's just another ebb, another season in our lives - with traditions and rhythms all its own, yes, but with that ever-present homeschooling thread, too.