Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Longest Winter, The Loveliest Year

It is March 30, and usually by this time of the year we have already begun the yard work for the spring, beginning the process of turning the soil and planting spring flowers and garden vegetables. Today, however, we were deluged with about two inches of rain, snow, and slush, and five days ago we had about 4 inches of snow. Again.

It has been an incredibly cold and snowy winter for us in Virginia, where we normally receive a paltry amount of snow and winter is mostly a suggestion rather than a big experience. By the time winter is here, it is nearly over. We seldom experience enough of it to grow truly weary of it. This year, most people who live here are crying "Uncle!" Even so, I have been determined not to complain, because the cold and the snow helped the kids and me to have one of the best school years we've ever had.

While most of the moms who teach their children at home are burnt-out-done-with-it-all right now, I have managed to bypass this. I do not say this to boast--believe me. Most years at this point I am nearly deranged with burn-out. Not this year, and I had to sit down and evaluate why not. Four areas of focus seem to sum it up:

Attention to health: All four members of our family have been incredibly intentional about our health this year from clean eating to working out. I have been working out 4-5 days per week at our CrossFit gym (a.k.a. box) and my husband has joined me there. The kids attend their CF Kids class 3 days a week as well. And don't think I'm uppity about all this! Clean eating is not legalism--we have the occasional cheat day, such as a burger and milkshake after a day on the slopes or a dinner out at a grilled pizza place, but we choose carefully and make sure it's a treat, not regular fare.

Attention to spirit: A renewed commitment to our church family, regular time reading the Bible and praying, and spending time in good, deep conversation together has strengthened and renewed us spiritually and emotionally.

Attention to sleep: We have made a huge effort to get more sleep. It's worth it. If we are so busy that we cannot get to bed and get the sleep that we need, then something has to go. Bed is a priority, and it is paying off with better moods, more energy, more productivity and general well-being. Down with the rat-race--I'm sleeping when I need to from now on. Funny thing is, more sleep means I wake earlier and better and have more time for the other three things on the list. See how that works?

Attention to living: School at home is the best. Really, it is, but there are just those days when I cannot face another math or grammar lesson just because it's on the list and needs to be checked off. We set weekly goals, and there have been weeks we didn't meet them all, but went skiing instead. I have encouraged the kids to keep up with their Tapestry and science reading and projects because we have the accountability of the group to keep us on point, but in other things, we have all agreed that we would trade some book work through the summer in order to do more fun things in the winter. It works out to be a very manageable pace and schedule, and it all seems to get done. There have even been weeks we were ahead in reading. Learning to ski this long, dreary winter was the reward for working hard on the days we weren't on the mountain. Figuring out how to balance CrossFit and school time and give both the high priority they deserve is good mental exercise for both kids. Figuring out how to listen to tired bodies and back off from everything rather than be a slave to the check-list has reaped huge benefits.

When I compare the way I feel this miserable, cold, dreary March to how I have been in other years at this time, the difference is remarkable. Allow me to draw an analogy from CrossFit: WODs (Workouts of the Day) are designed to be difficult every time. They are intense and there is always the potential for "redlining," "hitting the wall," "burning out." Whatever word you choose, the point in a WOD is to stay just behind the red line. Chase it as hard as you can, but not to where you have to stop so long that you lose momentum and can't get back into the action. The point is to stay consistent, but intense so that you develop your metabolic capacity. We call it "staying behind the suck." When you can successfully do this you can say that you "crushed" your workout. If on the other hand you redline and continue to push, you cause injury to yourself and your efforts are negated by needing more time to recover.

It may seem a strange analogy, but the truth applies in everything we are currently living. Homeschooling is hard. If it weren't then everyone would do it. When we begin to approach that red line, that breaking point emotionally, spiritually, physically, so many of us keep pushing, thinking that if we just endure a little longer that things will be better. We do it because of fear--fear of failing our kids, fear of not getting that God-awful curriculum done, not to mention wasting money and frustrating the spouse, fear of disappointing the in-laws or fear of appearing to the neighbors as if the kids are just goofing off all day. Actually, things are not better after pushing. We are only more exhausted than when we started and the road to recovery is that much longer.

These fears are so counterproductive! One of the key reasons we homeschool is to teach our children how to live full, healthy, and productive lives, and we think that by stressing out both them and ourselves we will achieve that? No. We must model it. Who cares what the neighbors think?

Let me add this--if you have babies, toddlers and/or pre-schoolers while at the same time juggling the needs of older learners, you have a much tougher row to hoe when it comes to avoiding burnout. However, I do believe that this same balance and pace of life can be achieved, because I have seen it done, and done well.

This time next year may be completely different, but I hope not. Whether we have a cold, snowy winter or not, I hope I can look back on this school term and remember the skills we are learning. I want to continue to let go of what other people expect of us, and do what is best for my children and my family. I want to continue to listen to what God has to say about our lives and use that as our guiding beacon. I want to stay right here, but move forward at the same time, if you know what I mean...