Burnout or Blaze of Glory?

I’ve finally given in to the fact that I’m suffering from some pretty serious burnout.  Homeschooling is tough stuff, and I’ve made no secret that it is not for the faint of heart.  Partly because of circumstances and partly because I’m really stubborn, I have taken sole responsibility for every aspect of every one of my children’s educations.  I’ve taught phonics and art, astronomy and geometry, advanced algebra and English composition.  Not one bit of this has been farmed out, even to a video program.  Living in a rural area away from support of family or peers, instead of the quiet, country life, I’ve found dead silence all the time.

I’ve striven to ensure that I am competent to do what I’ve purposed, reading every book on teaching style and method I can get my hands on.  I have counseled with others more experienced than I to further my skills, and advised younger mothers just beginning to teach.  Yet, due to moves, illness, or life’s unpredictability, we have rarely finished our studies according to the time tables I’ve set.   Not that time is overly trackable in the homeschool, because so much is intangible.  But as a distributor of educational tracking software for several years, I would think that not only would I have everything documented, but that my plans and implementation would be impeccable as well.  No thought of the fact that most public schools do not finish textbooks, but merely end on the given date where they are.   And, while there is no rule saying I must accomplish anything by any preordained dates or times,  I still get tense when we go over the magic Memorial Day without finishing the spelling book.  We’ve continued lessons through most summers, partly by choice – we have nothing else to do – and partly as “make-up” time.  When summer draws to a close and a new year begins, all the excitement in other families is lost on us, because it is just another day, another book.   What had begun as something so fascinating and world-changing when the boys were little had become drudgery.

My moments of feeling like a complete failure because Junior was out of order in his math classes and hadn’t completed Pre-Calculus by his junior year, and his 7th grade sister was struggling with Algebra were becoming ever more frequent.  So I was shocked one Sunday when the children had come up with some new rendition of snacks for the church brunch, and someone asked who’d made these.  I didn’t know, since I had gone to bed early last night, but I recognized my plate.   The woman I was sitting with was stunned that I was unaware of what I’d brought, and asked what curriculum I used for teaching cooking.  Huh?  I hadn’t thought about cooking being a class, but I guess it is.  Huh.   And I have been teaching it daily, more regularly than spelling, since before they could walk.  Every one of my children over 9 is capable of providing a nutritious meal for the family with nothing more than a word.  We had an amazing spaghetti dinner with garlic toast just tonight; tacos last week, with homemade tortillas and more fixin’s than I’ve seen in a restaurant.  When I mentioned how surprised I was about this conversation and its impact on me to a former bakery owner, he said my children were fine cooks and asked if we weren’t going to pursue chef school for at least one of them.  That had never crossed my mind, yet cooking and nutrition are topics I can lose myself in for hours, and are part of  everyday, household conversation.  M&Ms are just math manipulatives, and we prefer our own Play-Dough to the “hard, store-bought stuff.”

That’s the thing about homeschooling.  It’s a lifestyle, and what is daily living to me is a college degree program for another.   I had not even realized until that Sunday how much I do that is completely untracked.  I will have to rethink major parts of our transcripts.  I had noticed some educational pursuits, such as the season we spent fixing our car more than driving it, qualified for entry as Auto Shop.  The trip we took across country the year before we moved to Texas I had documented as Geography, because we’d let the children navigate.  Each one had his own map, and was calculating miles or alternate routes to the next bathroom, eatery, or scenic stop.  We discussed the history and construction of the Hoover Dam, the Indians of the Painted Desert, the legends surrounding Roswell, NM, and toured White Sands Missile Range.  We covered six states and added up all the miles we never saw Elk through Colorado.  That was a lot of warning signs for nothing.  We drove Route 66 and discussed its history and significance in the country.  We can never quite understand why some cars have televisions playing on the seatbacks; how can they just sit there and miss everything outside?   I remember a trip where we were all hanging out windows at midnight, watching shooting stars and identifying constellations.  The kids weren’t able to go to sleep because there was too much excitement around us.  I’m constantly amused by all the audio information sold to homeschoolers “to help time pass” on the road.

I’ve discovered over the years that education is not necessarily books.  We’ve always had texts and workbooks that we study, but the last few years have been spent solely studying books.  We’re tired.  We haven’t really taken a break in four years.  The fact that the concept of “seasons” in Texas is negligible, has made everything seem to run together so that we’ve had difficulty discerning years.  We talk about the year we failed Spanish en masse, or the season we struggled through Jacobs Algebra as our mile markers.  Just unending work while we have tried to keep pace with the Joneses, who have exceptional transcripts and perfect SAT scores.  This year, my oldest boys have merited several classes with the local fire academy and I’ve gotten a bit of a break.  But I found myself in a tizzy because my schedule was behind while I waited for EMT class to end so we could finish up Biology.  Maybe we need a break just so Mom can recoup some of her sanity!!

That lady asking for my curriculum and how I knew what to teach was a godsend.  She gave me encouragement the likes of which I hadn’t heard in years.  It was fun in the beginning because we weren’t worried about the Joneses – we were merely learning about our world and the opportunities in it.   I’d forgotten that homeschooling is supposed to be about what’s right for me and my children, not following some generic scope and sequence that educrats on the hill decided in committee.

I think it’s time to make a cake, have a dish soap bubble war while it bakes, and then dry everything down before Dad gets home.   Then we can comb the encyclopedias for a proper historical date to celebrate, so we have a theme to guide our decorations.  If I’m going to fall down in a heap of exhaustion, what better way than all of us together in a pile of giggles in a sparkling kitchen, celebrating Nikola Tesla’s 154th birthday?   I think we may put a Tesla coil on top of that cake….


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