For years, other mothers have asked me, "How did you juggle so many balls? How did we make it to so many different activities?"
"I don't," is now my standard answer. "You can't do it all. We don't do it all - we get the schoolwork done, we get in the activities, and housework comes last."
Super Social, Super Stress
In years past sometimes my house felt like Noah's ark, where the dust bunnies not only became family pets but had names and places at the dinner table.
No one was going to accuse me of keeping my kids from the "s-word" - socialization. They had to have at least one daily outside activity so I could prove they knew how to talk to people.
Last year, at a workshop, the speaker admonished us that sometimes the one-hour foreign language co-op isn't worth it. That one-hour co-op meant she had to spend two hours getting her other kids ready to travel, 30 minutes each way traveling to the co-op, a stressful hour managing other siblings who weren't in the class, and one hour per day preparing the kid who was getting the enrichment from the coop. It added up to 7-8 hours' work for a single, one-hour-a-week class, covering material she could cover at home in four hours tops, minus the gas, stress, and hassle.
After that workshop, we cut the one-hour-per-week foreign language co-op.
But we kept the swim team with four practices per week and away meets on weekends. We also kept music lessons, choir, church choir, Awana, speech co-op which my kids attended and I taught, 4-H, and all sorts of things I enjoy organizing.
The kids' lessons had to be done on a strict schedule so we could get to the "other" stuff. Our outside activities got us home late nearly every night of the week. We ate dinner together, but we were rushed, I was stressed, and by the time we finished and cleaned up, we all nearly dropped from exhaustion at the prospect of the next day on the activity treadmill.
The "other" stuff was so good I couldn't figure out what to drop.
Homeschooling isn't a pass/fail exam but is a journey we take with our children. When we venture a wrong path, we backtrack and begin again.
My husband observed the more we did, the more I carped at the kids, and the more time we argued. It became counter-productive. He asked the kids what they wanted to drop.
It took six months for me understand what he meant.
A Season to Simplify
We are now venturing into bold, new territory. Everything has a season. This is our season to simplify.
We talked with the kids about what they liked and disliked. One dropped music lessons. I dropped the speech co-op. We pulled out of swim team but kept a two-times-a-week homeschool swim workout. This is our last year of Awana. Suddenly, we're home together, without the rush of activities, at least four evenings per week.
It's been culture shock. What do we do?
I discovered how to relax and have fun again. The board games we never had time to play came out. Meals had simpler, more healthful choices, and were more leisurely.
The biggest surprise was that four-letter word: housework There was time to occasionally do it. The only "Fly Lady" in our home is a fly on the wall, but we're trying a daily and weekly chore list.
"Your desk isn't a black hole. It's a clean desk," my ten-year-old son observed after we tackled the living room. Horizontal surfaces sometimes reflect wood now, instead of holding stacks and piles of last month's mail. I learned, five years after they were installed, how to open the windows to wash the outside part.
The kids are learning life skills. The House of Perpetual Chaos is turning into a home. If something has mold on it in the refrigerator, it's a science experiment instead of being a product of too many things to do in too little time for me to notice the fridge contents. The more we live in a home instead of a house, the more we want to enjoy it together.
Making Family Memories
Suddenly, I've started guarding our time. In ten years, what will my kids remember? What about in twenty years? Will they remember my screaming at them in the car to hurry so we can get to the next scheduled activity? Or will they remember the time my kids found those gross words in a game of Boggle and we all burst out laughing together?
The monthly club meeting sounds more appealing than the weekly get-together.
Too many irons in the fire outside the home will get a schooler burned out. This year, we're resting and enjoying the warmth of the fire at the hearth of our home instead.
A simpler schedule, with fewer outside obligations, put the home back in our school.